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Tuesday, January 16, 2018

John Lennon: Two Virgins


1) Two Virgins No. 1; 2) Together; 3) Two Virgins No. 2; 4) Two Virgins No. 3; 5) Two Virgins No. 4; 6) Two Virgins No. 5; 7) Two Virgins No. 6; 8) Hushabye Hushabye; 9) Two Virgins No. 7; 10) Two Virgins No. 8; 11) Two Virgins No. 9; 12) Two Virgins No. 10; 13*) Remember Love.

General verdict: Some records are better admired than heard. And I mean mentally, not visually.

It is actually quite hard to find the proper tone in which to discuss this record. The two most likely candidates are Vicious Sneer (of the «crazyass egomaniac» or «witchy woman» variety), particularly if you play the part of the simple-minded Average Joe or the self-righteous Bullshit Fighter; and Respectful Homage (of the «who gives you the right to decide what is art and what is not?» variety), particularly if you play the part of the Progressively Open-Minded Intellectual. Years ago, I'd probably be happy enough to take the Sneer and use it to nuke the hell out of the Open-Minded Intellectual. But today, I find this all too boring and predictable. It is all too easy to write off Two Virgins — or any other early experimental release on Lennon's part — as stupid crap. On the other hand, trying to go the other way and fit it into some equally stupid conception of Art is no fun, either. Or maybe it is fun, but it's highly pointless fun.

I think it is futile to deny that Two Virgins, as a phenomenon worthy of our attention, only exists within the general framework of the history of The Beatles — but within that framework, it carries quite a bit of importance. If we exclude soundtracks as a special type of affair (leaving out George's Wonderwall Music), Two Virgins were the first proper solo project by any Beatle. The album marked the existence of a special spiritual — and, of course, physical — union between John and Yoko. And the album took John's rebel image up a few notches: the rowdy Beatle was always the most unpredictable of them all, but Two Virgins was his biggest and harshest slap-in-the-face to public taste up to date. Whatever one thinks, even given John's near-Godlike status around the world in 1968, doing something like this was a bold risk, and a six-month delay in release over the protests of the other Beatles, most notably Paul, was understandable.

We all know what this record contains — the results of a spontaneous «experimental» recording session that John and Yoko held on May 19, 1968, at John's house in Surrey (with Cynthia happily out of the way), before allegedly making love for the very first time (the photo, apparent­ly, was taken several months later, by which time they should have grown accustomed to the sight of each other's privates). Describing, decoding, evaluating, or philosophizing over these results is a pointless waste of time: where something like ʽRevolution No. 9ʼ is at least a well thought-out sonic collage that tells a story of sorts, Two Virgins just throws together some tape loops that John had around the house and puts Yoko's talking, singing, screeching, and kitten torturing on top of them. On that night, they simply allowed themselves to behave like curious 12-year olds, suddenly having access to their parents' recording equipment — then, by morning, they hit the age of consent, and signed the death warrant for The Beatles in the process.

Was it egotistic and arrogant to actually have this shit packaged, distributed, and sold to poor unsuspecting customers (apparently, the album managed to sell about 25,000 copies in the US — though it was never certified how many people bought it for the musical content and how many merely wanted to make certain if their dick was bigger than John's)? This is a moral question that does not have a certain answer. In a way, the very idea of an album like this — random, barely listenable noise wrapped in an openly offensive sleeve — is appealing: there is no precedent, not in the Sixties at least, for an artist of such high stature as John Lennon making such a defiant gesture. And, after all, it's not as if he was forcing the record down anybody's throat. There must have been a bit of a mean streak in his intentions — clearly, people were going to buy Two Virgins just because it had John's name attached to it, but perhaps he also regarded this gesture as a nasty medicine against fanboyism, and that attitude, too, is justified in a renegade sort of way.

Having gotten all that out of the system, I must safely state, though, that while over the years I have changed my mind about many things, certain antipathies remain as constant as the speed of light, and one of them is the vocal art of Yoko Ono, allegedly grounded in traditional Japanese practices, but actually having very little in common with those particular traditional Japanese practices with which I have had the honor to become acquainted. I do believe that Yoko is in possession of a very special gift: not everybody has the range of vocal frequencies required to repeatedly drive a listener up the wall. Each time the bleating starts, I find myself ready to under­stand the opinions of those who still believe that the woman was an evil witch who had to brew poor John a really strong pot to put him under her spell. Then again, it must have been precisely in John's character to pick out somebody like Yoko — so completely extraordinary, an almost alien presence on Earth, yet at the same time more agreeable and, as it turned out, more amenable to a reasonable family life than somebody like, say, Anita Pallenberg.

Anyway: the only reason to listen to Two Virgins in its entirety is if you have made a noble vow to hear every fart officially recorded by any of The Beatles. If you have not, a thirty-second sample from YouTube or whatever is fully sufficient to give you a comprehensive understanding of what the record is about. Owning the album, however, is a must for any respectable music lover — at least it makes for a somewhat classier wall decoration than your collection of Cannibal Corpse sleeves, although Hieronymus Bosch would probably have a hard time deciding between the two. Additionally, if full frontal is not for you, you can turn it to the other side and alternate between contemplating the two lovers' somewhat shabby asses and one of the most enigmatic quotations ever credited to Paul McCartney ("When two great Saints meet it is a humbling experience. The long battles to prove he was a Saint" — allegedly, something randomly extracted from a copy of Sunday Express, but who can prove this now?).

Odd enough, the CD reissue of the album (yes, somebody actually remastered this stuff) throws on a bonus track: ʽRemember Loveʼ, Yoko's B-side to ʽGive Peace A Chanceʼ, a half-baked acoustic ballad that has John doing the same picking style he used for ʽDear Prudenceʼ, ʽJuliaʼ, and, later, ʽSun Kingʼ (in fact, the concluding acoustic flourish here is precisely the same as used on ʽSun Kingʼ). The decision to throw on a piece of actual music at the end is a bit jarring, as if the CD buyer was earning a right to a brief bit of redemption after having just endured half an hour of aural boredom / torture. On the other hand, it might just be a subtle hint so that we our­selves would never forget that behind all the screeching, behind all the silly loops and feedback, behind the provocation, there was, you know, love. In that way, ʽRemember Loveʼ would fulfill the same calm-after-the-storm function that ʽGood Nightʼ fulfills for ʽRevolution No. 9ʼ. With the appropriate corrections — ʽTwo Virginsʼ has nothing on ʽRevolution No. 9ʼ, and ʽRemember Loveʼ, with its completely redundant nature, has nothing on ʽGood Nightʼ.


  1. Absolute garbage. The music - not the review!

  2. "his biggest and harshest slap-in-the-face to public taste"

    Is this a subtle reference to the Futurist publication?

  3. Well said, George! Now I can go back to having no desire to listen to it myself. As always, you listen so we don't have to.

    I do wonder what role drugs play in all this.

  4. I'll take Paul's domestic bliss first solo album over this pompous claptrap anyday. Having written that, I do appreciate very much John Lennon's great musical and songwriting talents. They just ain't there, at all, on this LP.