If for no other reason to obtain this book, I will say with enthusiasm that author John Kruth has given the most extensive read on Yoko Ono and HER version/release of 1970’s ‘Plastic Ono Band.’
The preview of Hold On World: The Lasting Impact of John Lennon & Yoko Ono’s Plastic Ono Band – 50 Years On (Backbeat Books, 2021) had my eyesight focused on the recording, release and retrospective narrative of Lennon’s ‘Plastic Ono Band,’ released in 1970. The cathartic nature, stark production and legacy of this watershed album cannot be lost on those who know Lennon and this soul-baring work.
However, I cannot tread too heavily on how Kruth chose to structure the chapters in regards to context and explanation of influences – past and present. While showcasing a view of Lennon and Ono in that time period, he also dives around in many corners, explaining and expanding on various historical incidents – both in The Beatles and solo Lennon that defies sequencing – and also wades into a good portion of the times that propelled ‘POB,’ some political and some personal. It makes for a challenging, non-chronological read.
Kruth’s own voice is quite unique in that he opines on how various family, ‘characters’ and associates influenced the Lennons’ life story and how and why it drove them to extremes, most notably the time spent with Arthur Janov with his Primal Scream therapy. The narrative here is primitive and raw but what most benefits the reader in “Hold On World”’ is not John Lennon’s transformation from his years in one of the most influential bands of the 1960s to stomach-churning, searing early-70s provocateur. It’s the insightful and haunting life of Ono and how her version of ‘POB’ came to fruition.
Most listeners know that an album takes months to conceive and record. Ono’s ‘POB’ was done in one day. You read it right. Recorded and mixed with the same musicians – Lennon, Ringo Starr, Klaus Voorman and George Harrison – Ono’s shrieking “like a giant radioactive insect from a 1950s horror movie” had the desired effect: it one fell swoop she was able to stand alongside Lennon as both a collaborator and artist… and also managed to sustain the pure energy needed to keep up with Lennon as a musical supernova.
Ono’s unconventional upbringing – bookended by World War II and her meeting with Lennon – is ripe for dissertation within these pages. As Lennon was channeling his painful past (the abandonment issues brought on by his parents’ separation) into a commercially-acceptable package, Ono was dealing with her private demons, most notably the miscarriages she suffered which were couched in the standout song from ‘POB,’ ‘Greenfield Morning I Pushed An Empty Baby Carriage All Over The City.’
Moved at a 180-degree angle from her accepted distorted keening, ‘Greenfield’ has a haunting, mesmerizing backbeat (enhanced by Harrison’s sitar contribution), while Ono’s mono-symbolic vocals give way to iridescent bird calls – not unlike Lennon’s ‘Across The Universe.’ Kruth also gives over several pages to the performance of trumpeter Ornette Coleman and Ono’s collaboration ‘AOS,’ recorded in 1968. While Coleman had already embraced free-form jazz, the inclusion of Ono’s vocals helped propel this style beyond what would be musically and culturally ‘acceptable.’
What remains is a final critique on the “Lennon Remembers” interview, first published in Rolling Stone in 1971. The caustic wit, the deep-seated pain he levied against McCartney and producer George Martin and the circus atmosphere known as The Beatles came down like a sledgehammer. While Wenner published the interview in book form (costing him his friendship with the Lennons), the myth-busting conversation contained contradictions that Lennon later regretted. The dovetailing into more political ground with the release of ‘Sometime In New York City,’ a loose collaboration with Frank Zappa, the continuing paranoia and battles with immigration effectively eroded the Lennons high profile prophesying.
Lennon/Ono shared a great love and however their messages came across to the public during Lennon’s lifetime was both unifying and divisive. Kruth has painted a rich mural, which can be a little demanding on the senses, given the textural background that this complex couple projected. While I highly recommend this read for those who would appreciate a deeper delve into Ono, I will say that overall it can be a tricky read.
I tentatively give this book 4 out of 4 beetles.