StreetLegalPlay by Kyle Thomas Smith

Plastic Ono Band

Posted in Uncategorized by streetlegalplay on February 18, 2010

This afternoon, I walked over to BAM Rose Cinemas to see “The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus.” What’s the big deal with that movie, other than that it was Heath Ledger’s last? It’s all special effects – flash sans substance.

The highlight was actually the previews – more specifically, the pre-previews, where Brooklyn Academy of Music flashes those self-congratulatory ads about its mission and programs. I sat there, alternately yawning and stuffing popcorn into my pie-hole when a blurb for tonight’s event hit the screen:

Plastic Ono Band

Tonight at BAM

I’ll say it again:


Tonight at BAM

John Lennon’s Plastic Ono Band is one of the greatest albums of all time.

"Plastic Ono Band," John Lennon, 1970

It was Lennon’s first solo album after the Beatles’ break-up.* To cope with the transition, Yoko and John underwent primal scream therapy as evidenced by the cagey, wall-shattering howling and wailing suffusing the album from start to finish. The arrangement and production are drastically scaled-down, sheerly minimalist. The whole experience is light years ahead of punk at its very best (Clash included). In the crushing dirge “God,” after diminishing the Almighty to a mere “concept by which we measure our pain,” Lennon cries: “I don’t be-lieve in Hitler/I don’t be-lieve in Jesus/I don’t be-lieve in Kennedy…/I don’t be-lieve in Elvis/I don’t be-lieve in Zimmerman (Bob Dylan)” and with a final line to this litany, “I don’t believe in Beatles.”

The Beatles would never regroup.

But somehow the Plastic Ono Band has. Without John.

Yoko** is the frontman now. She’s about to turn 77.

I didn’t get tickets. I didn’t want to. (I don’t think I could have gotten them on three-hours notice even if I did want them.) Not that I have anything against Yoko. In fact, I’m hugely grateful that she helped raise so much money for the Harvey Milk School for gay teens, many of whom are runaways. (She even held a charity event for it where guests could pay to snip the black dress off her otherwise nude body.)

But she’s not John and I don’t trust her (or anyone else) to carry the show.

Plus, I’m getting sick of going to all these shows of all these past-their-prime all-stars. Patti Smith is gigging everywhere now. So is Iggy Pop, so is Sonic Youth. No matter how they might rev up their act in their old age, you know they’re just reprising their salad days, and their new stuff seems tragically incidental, no matter how perfunctorily we may smile and clap.

While we’re on the subject, let me have my Kathy Griffin moment and cite a celebrity sighting…I’ve been running into Lou Reed lately.

“Lately” is a relative term, actually. The first time was a little over a year ago when I attended a dreadful performance-art spectacle at Manhattan’s Chelsea Art Gallery that was written and performed by an unfriendly British friend of my friend Rachael in London. As I died by degrees, taking in the endless inanities of the actors’ monologues as we milled around the gallery, Lou Reed and Laurie Andersen stepped in to join the ten or so audience members, shifting their weight from side to side with increasing frequency. No one among our throng seemed to notice them, or maybe they did and they were just being polite, but I was electrified. You should have seen the shit Reed and Andersen were wearing, though! We’re talking neon satin sweatsuits here! So much for the Warhol Factory days! The two of them looked like they just got back from the Early Bird Special at the Fort Lauderdale Sizzler’s.

I call this encounter, “My Brush with Badly Dressed Fame.”

At the sit-down portion of the show, where we all sat in a small auditorium, Julius positioned us so that we’d get to sit right next to Lou and Laurie. (He had no idea who they were at first, but I told him in a panting stage whisper as people shushed me.) I got to share the same armrest with Laurie Andersen! Lou was sharing her other armrest. I don’t know if you’ve seen Lou lately, but he’s skeletal, wrinkled, emaciated with a full mane of steel-wool bristle hair. Warhol’s Factory, Metal Machine Music, and all those walks on the wild side have caught up with the rock n’ roll animal (come to think of it, this aesthetic decline kicked in long ago, but let’s keep going…). Lou fell forward in his chair and his head hung abysmally; the lower vertebrae leading up to his cervical vertebra spiked up like the ridges on an alligator’s back. And then, as the dreadful oratory sounded from the front of the room, Lou took a deep breath and snored!

I was so proud. He was thunderously expressing my-thoughts-exactly as I endured and endured in receding consciousness. Laurie maintained her poise, however. She was regal as a queen (a far better queen than the one who was up there prating in polyurethane pants next to Rachael’s friend) even though her attention seemed to be whisking away like sands across the vast desert of time. So, I made bold. I leaned over to her. I said, “Excuse me.” She snapped her neck my way. I said, “Are you Laurie Andersen?” She nodded. I gulped. I didn’t know how to follow up. I just garbled, “I’m a fan.” She shook my hand, said thank you and looked away.

I didn’t try Lou. There was no waking him.

And I didn’t bother them on their way out. I looked away too. I understand. They must go through this a lot. Everyone loves to be appreciated. But where do you take these fawning conversations once they start coming on?

So, last month, I went to see Marianne Faithfull – yet another wizened bad-ass – at Jazz at Lincoln Center. As I stood waiting in the lobby for my friend Steve, Lou Reed strolled off the elevator with a young but wised-up-looking bohemian vixen. (I’m not implying anything. I’m just saying what I saw.) He was wearing a full-length, black gortex coat with egg-shell white Nikes. This is what it’s come to. I looked at him. He looked at me looking at him. He had the aura of a bulwark standing against any and all intruders.

I said nothing. I sensed that, at the slightest hint of admiration, Lou would’ve told me to fuck off, and my thin skin is having a hard enough time holding up under the weight of all my anti-aging lotion, which I have been applying all the more liberally since that night.


* Although Plastic Ono Band is a masterwork, it only sold 600,000 copies, compared to Imagine (1971), which sold over 3,000,000 copies. Lennon credited Imagine‘s success to the title track. In his own words, “Anti-religious, anti-nationalistic, anti-conventional, anti-capitalistic, but because it is sugar-coated, it is accepted. . . . Now I understand what you have to do. Put your political message across with a little honey.” Come to think of it, that’s something I have to learn how to do.

** Julius is my Yoko Ono.

“Tell No One” And Artist Dates

Posted in Uncategorized by streetlegalplay on July 18, 2008
Tell No One

Tell No One

Just got back from seeing the New York premiere of Guillaume Canet’s Tell No One (Ne Le Dis a Personne) at BAM (Brooklyn Academy of Music). I’m not a mystery buff, but wow! If you can get through the tortoise-like, Paris-cafe pace of the first half of the movie, you’ve got yourself the biggest nail-biter since Blood Simple.

The Artist's Way

The Artist's Way

I went by myself as part of the weekly Artist Date that I’m supposed to go on as part of my Artist Way program. You know, today I realized that it’s been 11 years since I started The Artist’s Way: A Spiritual Path to Higher Creativity by Julia Cameron. I started it a couple months after I graduated from University of Illinois at Chicago in 1997. What a trip my life has been since then!

Anyhow, The Artist’s Way has two essential tools, The Morning Pages and Artist Dates. For Morning Pages, you’re supposed to write three, longhand pages of free-written, stream-of-consciousness, whatever’s-on-your-mind writing right when you wake up. I am proud to say that, in 11 years, I’ve only missed one day of morning pages and that was because I was in the Emergency Room of New York Methodist Hospital with a broken leg after my cab got hit by a car. Cameron considers morning pages a viable form of meditation, where you’re most apt to broadcast your deepest self and deepest heart’s desire to the Universe. Each morning, I start my day with morning pages and then head into my first daily sitting meditation.

For Artist Dates, you’re supposed to take yourself on a solitary excursion for two hours each week to wherever you want to go – a movie, a restaurant, a park, a museum, a fabric store; whatever’s fun for you. I have to admit, I haven’t been as on-the-ball about doing those. Sometimes I go for weeks without taking myself on an Artist Date. But Cameron believes that, by doing Artist Dates, we often attract synchronicity and discover the very things we need to discover in order to move forward with our lives and our art.

Today, I did do my Artist’s Date, though. I saw Tell No One. Just thought I’d tell you.