John Lennon’s 75th Birthday
Local Beatles maniac Jody Denberg blows out some candles
By William Harries Graham,
11:00AM, Fri. Oct. 9, 2015
John Lennon would’ve been 75 today. Austin’s Stephen Doster thus leads his #9 Orchestra in celebrating its 25th annual tribute to the late Beatle. From 2:30-4pm, Jody Denberg hosts an on-air tribute for KUTX 98.9 anchored by the #9 Orchestra. The party then continues at Threadgill’s downtown, 8pm. Guests for both include Shinyribs, Gurf Morlix, myself.
Lennon remains singular and eternal, of course. Denberg notes the “visceral quality of John’s voice coupled with his unabashedly insightful lyrics.” The veteran Austin deejay began interviewing Lennon’s widow, Yoko Ono, in the early Nineties. The two have also produced promotional Lennon material together.
Austin Chronicle: First thing you think of when you think of Lennon?
Jody Denberg: Honesty.
AC: Favorite Lennon song?
JD: I honestly don’t have a favorite song, but I do have a favorite album, Plastic Ono Band, also referred to as the Primal Scream album. Some people think that album is partially responsible for the rash of confessional singer-songwriters that followed in the early Seventies. I just find it to be one of the purest expressions in all of rock & roll history.
AC: The story of the night Lennon and Ono met is a good one.
JD: The apocryphal story is Yoko saying that John would have to pay five shillings to hammer a nail in before her art opening, and John offering an imaginary five shillings to hammer in an imaginary nail. Also that he climbed a ladder at the exhibit and looked through a hanging magnifying glass to view a sign that simply said “Yes” and was happy the message was positive. The whole crux of John and Yoko’s “imaginings” in her book Grapefruit, and in his song “Imagine,” seems to have its roots there. Positive visualization, which I wholeheartedly embraced until John got shot.
It’s hard to reconcile conceptual idealism with Lennon’s violent death, and I never have. Yoko helped when I asked her once how she could believe in “instant karma” in light of how John was killed. She said, in essence, that the measure of a life isn’t in its length but its quality.
AC: Lennon and McCartney bonded over losing their mothers as teenagers. How much do you think that and the absence of Lennon’s father influenced his music?
JD: The totality of an artist’s experience comes out through their work, so unquestionably John growing up without a father influenced his music and personality. I think Paul has even said that the fact both he and John lost their mothers at a young age bonded them. And John has said that, in retrospect, he thought “Help” seemed like a cry for just that. He called that time of his life his “fat Elvis period.”
AC: Do you think Lennon really believed that world peace was possible?
JD: He must have or he wouldn’t have devoted his life and energy to it. He definitely thought we should give peace a chance!
AC Was part of the success of the Beatles their tap into universal feelings?
JD: The Beatles’ music ran the gamut of human emotion, loss included, as well as love, happiness, doubt, confusion, etc. They tapped into our spectrum of feelings so deeply and articulately, and with such panache and humor, and they touched us profoundly. There was a certain magic alchemy that lifted them above the pack, a magic that it would be futile to try and explain away.
AC: You got to see Lennon’s last performance when you were a teenager in New York. What do you remember about that night?
JD: It was one of the most amazing experiences of my life. Elton John was playing a two-night stand at Madison Square Garden in New York and the rumor was John was going to sit in on the second night. We slept out at Madison Square Garden to buy the tickets when they went on sale, and when we got to the front of the line, they said that Friday, night two, was sold out. We reluctantly bought tickets for the first night, Thanksgiving 1974, and that wound up being the night John played.
I remember running down from my nosebleed seats to the front – and to do that I had to leap down the escalators that encircle MSG. So I have all these great visions of New York through the glass on my way to stand by John for his last ever concert appearance. I knew it was a life-changing moment at the time, and it’s turned out to loom larger and larger as the years go by.