Friday, May 7, 2010

If It's Funny, I Might Not Understand

This pic comes courtesy of the Forthlin Road tumblelog (you know that Forthlin Road is where Paul McCartney lived, right? Just checking.)

This is John, doing his "spastic" or "cripple" impersonation. He did it frequently on stage (apparently very frequently in the Hamburg days) to get a laugh from the audience; the lame foot, the twisted face, the claw-bent hands.

What I find most interesting about this is what John's biographers have said about his almost-irrational fear of the lame, disfigured, or mentally handicapped. Norman writes in John Lennon: A Life that, on one occasion, John was sitting down to a meal in a public place, and when a slightly disfigured individual came in and sat down at a nearby table, John quickly bolted and left his meal behind.

Another twist: John also thought he himself was ugly. You've seen those video clips, where the camera settles on John's face, and he almost immediately pulls his mouth into a tongue-stuffed distortion and crosses his eyes? I think that's a defense mechanism; using humor as a way to distract from a personal insecurity. If I make my face look exaggeratedly grotesque and get you to laugh, it might distract your attention from the (self-perceived) ugliness of my natural face.

The on-stage "gimp" act certainly got more than a few laughs. But when I see it, in pictures like this or in film clips, it makes me slightly sad, because it points up John's inner fears and low self-esteem. And it was so unnecessary. He was a beautiful guy, and the camera captured that on more than one candid occasion, when he didn't realize he was being photographed. But, alas, we tend to mock what we fear, and we tend to fear what we do not understand.

When I remember John, this is how I like to picture him. Without the "spastic" face; without the cold-eyed defiant stare (which was also a defensive facade); just smiling, relaxed, probably unaware that his picture was even being taken. In short, I like to remember the John Lennon face that reflected, to use his own words, "the little child inside the man":

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