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Byron Shire
April 16, 2021

Waters with Lennon

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John Waters
John Waters

In 1992 John Waters and Stewart D’Arrietta took to the stage in a Sydney pub to present their debut production Looking Through A Glass Onion. What was initially a one-week booking sold out and extended to a six-week season. This seeded a show that continues to fill houses both in Australia and overseas more than 20 years later.

‘It was really an idea for a job for myself,’ says Waters, ‘a performance piece that could be moved, just me and some music, and I thought that with piano and guitar it would be enough. To date there had been no real theatrical presentation of the life and music of John Lennon.’

According to Waters, Lennon tells his story in his songs.

‘His autobiography was in his lyrics; they were very personal and his ability to lay himself bare was quite extraordinary.’

Waters was a Lennon fan from early on and he recalled some of the reaction at the time to Yoko Ono, Lennon’s life partner.

‘I remember the racist diatribes that were in the British press at the time; they called her inscrutably oriental. I think she has held herself with incredible dignity.’

So how does one tell such an immense story?

‘This is not a chronological storytelling – it’s a collage – sound bites, quotes and things I imagine he might have said about certain things. I wanted to find his anger, his humour, his redemption.’

Lennon was one of the first musicians to achieve worldwide rock-star-status.

‘It’s impossible to imagine what it would be like to have that degree of worldwide fame. I know what it’s like here in Australia as an actor, but then you magnify that a hundred times, that’s the result of his wanting to be a successful pop star. He wanted the money and he wanted the fame, and then of course, there were the critics at the time who said he’s a spoilt brat, they have all this money and then they don’t want it…

I don’t think it’s a great leap of imagination to realise it doesn’t bring you happiness; everything you want is laid on a plate but that doesn’t mean you are a content person.’

Waters believes the songs of Lennon are poetic and deeply challenging.

‘There is something in each of the songs. There are some major moments in the show that are to do with the message that is to come through – there is an extremely beautiful song HOW and then GOD – where he sings God is a concept by which we measure our pain. The song HOW is the perfect encapsulation of the disconnected nature of the identity and our purpose and this never-ending search.’

He was a songwriting genius and to me that song encapsulates his genius. I close the first half of the show with Strawberry Fields. We stripped it back to a slow song with piano accompaniment with Stuart, who is an amazing accompanist. I remember when I heard this song the first time, and I thought, wow this has redefined songwriting, it doesn’t have a regular structure, or a chord sequence.’

Waters closes the show with Imagine. It’s perhaps the song that Lennon is most remembered for.

‘It’s about the concept of visualisation, and that was a big thing for Yoko as well. She had a big influence on that song. She used that word a lot in her poetry. Much as Yoko gets maligned for sticking her nose in she never claims authorship, and he uses her as an influence a lot.

‘Lennon’s not saying the world will be peaceful; what he is saying is try imagining it, see how it feels. He was much more attached to his philosophies – he read a lot of alternative philosophies.’

John Waters sings the music and tells stories of John Lennon at the Byron Community Centre, Friday at 8pm and Sunday at 7pm. Tickets: Adult $59


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