Sunday, May 11, 2008

The John Lennon Museum, Saitama

When we arrived to the museum very near the Saitama's Super Arena, there was a sea of Japanese teenage girls - thousands of them - waiting to enjoy a concert from S. Korea's hottest boy bands, TVXQ (Tohoshinki in Japan). Sadly, the picture above is of the museum as we were leaving (when the show was already in progress). It was a curious juxtaposition between a pop icon from 40 years ago to a spectacularly popular boy band in Asia that I'd never heard of. I wandered how many of these teenage girls would shriek in tears when Joongie showed his muscles?

John and Yoko spent time around the Saitama area when they were in Japan and in 2000, Yoko established the John Lennon Museum and adulation center there. It is a nice modest museum located very near the station and can be fully appreciated in about two hours.Despite many many worldview differences and the fact that I find may of Lennon's lyrics (mostly latter solo stuff) totally wrongheaded and occasionally reprehensible, he is still my favorite Beatle...on Tuesdays and Wednesdays. I'm a fan, but I never paid too much attention to his personal life beyond the main points. The museum provides a pretty basic depiction of his life and career that may be redundant for true aficionados, but was informative for me. I learned several things about the man (and the woman) that I had not known before, though nothing that changed my overall impressions. As a die-hard Dylan fan, I did note there was only one brief mention of Bob (a cliche reference to him as a protest singer) and no mention at all of him in describing John's transition from pop star to "serious" artist, which was a central theme of the museum. An even more noticeable omission was any narrative regarding his first wife, beyond a cursory mention. Nevertheless, the exhibits touched on most of the significant stuff - particularly where it concerned Yoko and John's deliverance from unhappiness.

The early period, too, was well represented with school aged notebooks and his first instruments lovingly preserved behind glass. I noticed that his handwriting was much nicer as a lad than it was as a Beatle (something I imagine was by design). His artwork, too, was a little more interesting to me when he was a boy, like the shot below, than his later minimalist scribblings that graced his books.I had never realized that, despite coming from a broken home and raised mainly by his aunt Mimi, John grew up in a nice comfortable and spacious home that his fellow Beatles did not enjoy. This combination seemed to make John the least-happy and most self-centered Beatle.

Several display cases covered the early pre-Please Please Me years of the Beatles. The most handsomely laid out display case is shown below. Heavy use of black leather and brown brick convey the atmosphere of the night club days.
Here's the two track recording machine used during the Sgt. Pepper sessions.
Here's a replication of sorts of the zany Yoko ceiling art that played a part with John and Yoko's initial meeting. One must climb the steps to get an insight into Yoko's genius.The genius, of course, was a plain word printed on the ceiling which made the trek up and down the staircase hardly seem worth the effort. Not only did I not fall in love with Yoko upon ascending the stairs, but I was a little resentful that she played me for a fool. I must say, when thinking about Yoko, I'm always reminded of a joke Dave Foley said on the show Newsradio. Foley's character was trying to provide solace for one of the other characters, who considered herself a Yoko-type figure. He tried to defend that stigma by offering, with a studder (quoting from memory): "Well, there are those that think her work on Double Fantasy wasn't...completely...destructive." The stuttering made the joke. I've always thought she was a poor artist, but an interesting character. I can't say I understand what attracted Lennon to her, but I can kinda understand his later obsession with her. She is a weird and fascinating person - probably just as bizarre to the Japanese as she is to Americans like myself. And just when I think I might warm up to some of her antics, I see stuff like "Bagism" which makes me wonder what anyone sees in either of the two.It's impossible for me to separate the irreverent stupidity John often displayed with his irreverent cleverness. Bagism seems to be on the side of stupid. I've often tried to look into John's eyes, but can never get past the glasses.

Here's the Primal Scream book that influenced John's first (and best) solo album. I haven't read the book, but I can't help but think that the way John sang earlier songs, like "Twist and Shout", he was achieving a similar cathartic release.
The "seal" of John's country. Ar! Ar!A pipe John enjoyed while in Japan. I was hoping the picture of John in the background was his own creation but it was not. The spare style of Japanese art - especially silk screens and ink on paper - is infinitely fascinating. Occasionally, John's own scribbles remind me of that.The second to the last room of the museum was very white and had a wall of his lyrics written in Japanese with a clear plexi-glass wall showing the same lyrics in English. This room looked like something John would have come up with (kudos, I guess, to Yoko and her contractors) and was a good place for photos.Throught the displays, I was reminded time and again just how selfish John and Yoko seemed through most of their lives. John seemed to go through phases so fast that today he would be accused of having ADD. And Yoko - I don't even know where to begin with her.

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