Just when you thought it was time to pack up the outrage machine for the weekend, along comes one Art Tavana, a sort of sub-Lester Bangs creeper who his editors at the LA Weekly describe as their “angriest (and nerdiest) music critic”, and his column about Sky Ferreira, which has had Twitter in apoplexy over the last couple of hours. Tavana’s column is the sort of thing that men who have never had sex write about women they would like to have sex with — it focuses a lot on her breasts, and the experience of reading it is not unlike looking down while you’re on the subway and noticing that a small dog is humping your leg.
You might argue that Tavana’s column is a Clickhole-level parody of music writing by men about women, but here at Flavorwire, we know that #notallmen write like this — and anyway, it goes both ways, right? And it has done for years! We’ve uncovered a perfect example of how the music press of the time wrote about another famous singer who got naked on the cover of his album — some guy called John Lennon, who we’re told was a decent songwriter, but really, all the coverage he ever got was about his dick. Just read on and compare notes!
John Winston Lennon, 28, has a name that reads like one of those cars with wood panelling on the side, or the kindred spirit to, um, a whole lot of other ’70s rock stars, the most ambitious men ever to claim sex god status despite washing their hair few enough times a year to count on one hand. Both John and his contemporaries have similar rugs and ability to cause a shitstorm.
When John dropped Unfinished Music No. 1: Two Virgins, back in 1968, the naked album cover nearly broke the music press. Music critics claimed it was a desperate attempt to sell records [Fact check this – Ed.]; fans saw it as the calculated move of a defiant young man. A third unnamed group (that included me) couldn’t help but reminisce on John’s dangling whanger — the Johnson that altered the course of pop music.
In the now infamous photo, taken by Tony Bramwell, Lennon looks like a dirtier, well, John Lennon: round glasses, straggly hair, lulled brown eyes, weird necklace, translucently pale skin and a killer cock. America’s already established that Lennon looks like a lot like a homeless man (there’s a Vogue magazine spread based on this concept), but we almost never have the audacity to admit that his looks —specifically, his scruffiness — are his most direct appeal to the American consumer. But to pretend like looks don’t matter in classic rock is ridiculous. Looks matter; they will always matter. This is classic rock music, a genre firmly grounded in the aesthetic of ’70s magazine cutouts and Eagles album covers.
But Lennon is more than just a sex symbol or real-life Sgt Pepper’s character. He started singing semi-professionally when he was 15. He’s got talent — not like Don Henley or the guys from Chicago, but he’s got pipes comparable to Bob Dylan. He’s also a genius self-promoter who understands his brand better than his record label or handlers. Working with Yoko Ono on his album, along with some dudes who co-wrote “Together,” helped him orchestrate a career coup d’état that pulled him away from his label’s outdated vision of making him the next Paul McCartney.
He’s too nasty to be anyone’s schoolboy fantasy; he looks like an unvarnished Jimmy Page styled by Maripol, with the vaguely mystical presence of Jim Morrison, and the faux-punkness of an Iggy Pop groupie. In other words, John Lennon is the most deliberately pimped-out example of a modern rock star. He’s not a mindless product like Herman’s Hermits, or a depressed indie-pop singer like Nick Drake, but he’s also not bitter or punk, like Lou Reed, or an ultramasculine superhero like Robert Plant. He’s the pop star who’s so personally cool that his record label doesn’t need to hire a team to mold him.
Female subjectivity aside, the cosmetic potency of young John’s sex appeal shouldn’t be objectified or rejected; it should be analyzed, studied, photographed in the same way we’ve spent decades writing essays about Elvis’ hips and, um, Elvis’s hips. We need to embrace the untidy concept that sexuality is part of every pop star’s circuitry. We should expect them to be hotter than us.
John Lennon’s appeal is that he’s the geek’s dream guy, Clark Kent from Superman, except he looks like a supermodel from an obsessively vain novel like Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. There’s also something dark and unpleasant about his look, which fans our fetishized interest in both how he composes his career, and the crazy possibilities of Masochism as both fine art and electro hair-metal for baby boomers who need something a bit dirtier than Brian Wilson’s candy-coated fakeness.
Disclaimer: No, of course this isn’t a real article about John Lennon. It’s a parody. The LA Weekly article it’s based on, however, is sadly very, very real.