Looking back into the eyes of hindsight. …….
We can see that John Lennon and his music was able to contradict itself psychologically.
The song “Not a Second Time”, recorded by the Beatles in September, 1963, is a good example of this. The tune begins with piano and guitar vamping between major and minor chords as if to urge the vocalist, John Lennon, to get on with it. On paper the lyric by Lennon is a stern, decisive rejection of false love:
You’re giving me the same old line, I’m wondering why
You hurt me then, you’re back again
No, no, no, not a second time
As heard on disc, however, it feels like something completely different. Lennon’s singing sounds confused and hurt, and it almost sounds like he’s certain of going for the same trap again. There is no bass or electric lead guitar to be heard on the recording, as the only instruments used are Lennon’s double-tracked vocals and acoustic guitar, Ringo Starr’s drums and producer George Martin’s piano. The absence of bass makes the harmony eccentric, and a piano sound exercising an effect of mediating contentment only raises the level of strangeness, especially as the piano solo appears in a section based on the refrain instead of the verse. The sparse instrumentation creates a peculiar touch of fullness, but it is only an illusion in light of the song’s general view. During the fade-out Lennon self-deceptively repeats the words “not a second time” to himself again and again.
It is a part of the semiotic view that the forms of texts depend greatly on identification. To make a text intelligible, the reader, viewer or listener must take a position in the narrative. The listener of songs in the first person is usually advised implicitly to take the singer’s position. When the singer and songwriter are the same person this is emphasized. Lennon’s extraordinary reading of his own text makes the thought of identifying with the singer of “Not a Second Time” an exceptionally difficult and unattractive one: But the strength of this song, “Not a Second Time”, and Lennon’s life in general lies precisely in its incoherence.
In the case of “Not a Second Time” the aestheticity is something downright wilfully fragmented and unpredictable. Yet this is not a Barthesian “writerly text” revelling in its refusal to interpret itself . It can obviously be grasped neither on the listener’s terms nor the text’s. The song’s seeming conclusion’s being faded out suggests that the real meaning cannot be found in the song itself. The song asks those seeking information on it to turn elsewhere.The subject gets its meaning in an open forest of discourses, the parts of which are dependent on each other in unforeseeable ways. Sometimes they have to call attention to themselves quite uninvitingly. Even though it may be impossible to see such a “theoretically flawed” work of art as “Not a Second Time” as culture, it is fruitful to think whether it could be counter-culture.
…Evidently, enmeshed in the canons of art history’s epistemology is the act of looking back for historical perspective. A complementary case can be made for returning to the year of 1969 and revisiting John Lennon and Yoko Ono’s art project “Bed-IN” To understand further this praxis of sociological and phenomenological semiotics, is to understand the context of their times. The year 1969 was a time of social and political unrest: student uprisings in the US, France, and Germany; wars were being fought in Israel, Vietnam, Algeria, etc.; and the constant fear of nuclear annihilation by the then Soviet Union kept the cold war alive.
In the previous year Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy were both assassinated; the first a preacher of non-violence, the latter running for President on a platform of stopping the war. The idea of peace was merely a lamb in a world of wolves. John and Yoko
wanted to talk about peace and they decided to use the over abundance of free media available to them to do it.
At the time, the media had signified John as a Beatle and Yoko as an avant garde artist. John and Yoko took out full page newspaper ads, had billboards purchased, and had posters made reading “THE WAR IS OVER: if you want it. Happy Christmas from John and Yoko”
The effect hoped for was to disrupt conventional oppositions between the youth ‘hippies’ and the ‘establishment’ by using ‘establishment’ mediums of advertising, newspaper,…billboards, posters, to ‘sell’ the youthful ideas of love and peace to a ‘consuming’ public. The billboards, newspaper ads and posters were meant to be found, stumbled upon while one is walking, driving, reading on the subway; found during ones daily routine. Such a result, if a result could have been measured, would have been in Walter Benjamin’s thinking, a wrenching from it’s commodified value into one of revolutionary value. Post-modernism has left us with a language of signifiers, a landscape of signifieds, and a graveyard of signs with no base reality, and Baudrillard and Benjamin fault mass media and consumerism.
“In Baudrillards’s descriptive account of postmodern simulation, the McLuhanesque slogan that the medium is the message reaches an estranging, postmodern limit where the medium of telecommunication infiltrates, mimics, mutates, and finally exterminates the Real like a virus or genetic code, in what Baudrillard describes a a global satellization of the real.” ( mansur)
Jennie Holzer knew this landscape and created for it. She created ‘truism’ which were clichéd slogans that she playfully deconstructs to reveal their platitudinous content. Her collection of “Truisms” are common predictable everyday messages conflicted with
politicized or schizophrenic content. Nonsensical, parodic, and ideologically loaded, such clashing platitudes, mottos, and non sequiturs are meant of force the viewer into redefining the meaning behind the message. John Lennon was not interested in parodic or nonsensical conflicting interpretations. Too many people were dying in the world and he wanted the world to change: THE WAR IS OVER, if you want it. It was a polemic statement of fact, an ‘actualization’ of proletarian power, reminding the masses they have a choice in determining the outcome of a war. Lennon’s use of the media to disseminate an idea within the channels of material consumption runs parallel to Holzer’s. Both are a subversive act, an act of cultural intervention, for the discourse of advertising stands out as a ripe medium for the tactical subversion of dominant slogans and stereotypes. ( Masur )
Lennon-Ono’s statements for Peace were turned into cultural headlines, thirty-second commercials, cultural signifiers not of peace and love but in the words of Walter Benjamin, the cult of personality. What was being said was secondary to who was saying it. Peace and love was consumed as a textual representation of John Lennon, not his message. The media’s focus was not on Peace or love but on John Lennon and his wife Yoko Ono. The message was lost in signification. John Lennon’s Peace Now was soon replaced by John Travolta’s Saturday Night Fever, soon followed by Ivan Boesky’s hit song “Greed is Good!” Luckily Jenny Holzer was a
entering art school and none of this was being lost on her.( Mansur )