When I was growing up, one of the most prized possessions in our household was the complete box set of The Beatles. It was in a large box – the size of a large pizza box (even though in those days pizzas came in round shredded-cardboard boxes and came from proper pizzerias where they threw the dough in the air before dousing it with sauce!) The six (or was it nine) cassettes were housed inside. We had to ask for permission to open the box just to gaze at them and I was a teenager before I was allowed to actually take one out and put it in the tape deck.
As I got older, I came to appreciate more and more the music on those tapes. In my final year of high school those tapes (especially the later albums) got a work out. My best friend Michelle and I spent more time listening to Golden Oldies from the 60’s (Simon and Garfunkel, the Monkees, etc) than anything actually charting in 1991. I remember vividly cranking the stereo up as far as the homemade speakers could cope, Revolution filling the loungeroom while my Dad was out. There was something rebellious about listening to that song really, really loud (and being almost 18 and bouncing on the club lounge knowing the lady who lived next door was deaf and wouldn’t dob on me).
Several weeks ago my Dad told me he had a surprise for Dave and I. We were heading out together Friday night. That’s was much as he told me. Friday morning, he sent me a text message to say our surprise was on the mantle piece. It arrived while we were waiting for the luggage to come off the ill-dated Virgin flight.
He’d dropped hints before we arrived in Victoria: it was something we’d both love, it was something he’d seen before and it was something which amazingly just happened to be in town for the first time in six years. I had an inkling what it might have been and was ecstatic to discover it was tickets to see John Water’s Looking Through a Glass Onion.
Dad saw it on the very first tour back in 1999 when we were living in Cairns and raved so much about it, I wished I’d had the chance to see it.
Now it is my turn to rave about it.
This comes with a disclaimer… I still harbour a bit of a girl crush on John Waters from my pre-pubescent days of being smitten with him as Brenton Edwards in All the Rivers Run (I don’t remember him from his days on Play School – though my Mum does. You can’t tell me they don’t cast for Play School simply on talent – but for the eye candy factor of the parents who watch it too).
Looking Through a Glass Onion is the critically acclaimed homage to the music, mystery and memory of John Lennon. The show was first staged in 1992 with a five week run in a small cabaret room at the Tillbury Hotel in Sydney as a two man show and has since toured the West End of London, New York (where he eventually got Yoko Ono’s approval) and several more Australian tours.
We saw it at the historic Her Majesty’s Theatre in Ballarat as part of the 2010/11 tour which coincided with the 30th anniversary of Lennon’s death last year. Waters’ birthday is also the 8th December – the date of Lennon’s death.
The show begins with a lullaby and several guns shots and John Waters strides out on stage to the microphone and begins a monologue about a man standing on the other sideof the street, a copy of Catcher in the Rye in hand. Then the singing starts and time slips away.
The first part of the show focuses on the early years and the music of Beatles, the second part more on Lennon’s life post Beatles with the end coming full circles to the opening section of the show. The intersection of the songs and Lennon’s words isseamless, with the spoken words giving insight to the songs; the songs providing a greater depth of understanding to the spoken word in an increasingly powerful spiral of entertainment. Waters’ voice is raw and powerful in song; in the spoken word he conveys a mixture of humour, empathy and humility through Lennon’s words – with just the right amount of accent.
From the moment Waters’ opens his mouth to sing… he literally disappears from stage and you could honestly believe Lennon is on stage in his place. He embodies the great man (I border on saying ‘channels’) and perhaps that’s what comes with Water’s interest and appreciation of Lennon, rather than belonging to legions of ‘fan boys’. There is no imitation – just pure awesomeness (yes, the wordsmith is lost for words!)
I realised most of my favourite Beatles songs were from the pen of Lennon: All You Need is Love, Norwegian Wood, Revolution, Come Together. Yes I cried (several times)… the moments when the music fills you up to spilling point and your appreciation comes out in a torrent of tears (good thing it was very dark). I actually don’t think there was a single dry eye in the house as the first verse of Imagine filled the historic theatre.
Walking out at the end, filled up with musical love (and committments to purchase all The Beatles and Lennon albums), I realised something odd. For the first time, in a long time, Dave and I were on the younger end of the audience spectrum.
We wandered up the street hand in hand singing the chorus from Instant Karma:
Well we all shine on Like the moon and the stars and the sun Well we all shine on Ev’ryone come on
Thank you Dad, as always, a perfect present and the perfect way to cauterise the dramas of cancelled flights, 5am flights, seating debacles and an emergency landing, which all led up to us arriving in Ballarat.
Image (c) Jodi Cleghorn, 2011