Danny Collins and John Lennon
By Jeff Walker
The soundtrack for Danny Collins, starring Al Pacino, features excerpts from nine Lennon tracks, almost an album’s-worth: Cold Turkey, Instant Karma, Love, Hold On, Working Class Hero, Whatever Gets You Through the Night, #9 Dream, Beautiful Boy, and Nobody Told Me. A good selection, though Hold On John was never a favorite of mine.
I’m not so sure how well the tracks are integrated with the plot-turns during which we hear excerpts. Despite a great performance by Al Pacino, it was a film to see once but ‘Not a Second Time’, so I have to rely on memory here. I recall thinking that some songs were a bit iffy in terms of appropriateness for their scenes. Perhaps the director was just so happy to have gotten Yoko’s permission to use practically whatever he wanted that he went a bit overboard. Of course, as a Lennon/Beatles fan, for me just about any movie could be improved with a John, Paul, George and Ringo soundtrack, appropriate or not. (Tomorrowland would have been vastly improved by a Beatles soundtrack and two hours of blank screen.)
While it’s great to hear a movie soundtrack of Lennon tracks 35 years after his death, it also reinforces my contention that solo Beatles works sound better in a Beatles context. I would have preferred excerpts from 20 Beatle solo tracks, mixing up five from each Beatle. For me, no Beatle had a solo career in the half-century since the recording of Love Me Do. The best of their solo work simply sounds so much better when mixed together on would-be post-1969 ‘Beatles’ albums. For me, 1970 merely marked another phase in their illustrious recording career.
However, the plot of Danny Collins is strictly Lennon-based: John’s responding by letter to a young artist’s interview in a music rag, the editor’s decision to selfishly abscond with the letter as potentially-valuable memorabilia, the buying-up of that letter 40 years later by Danny Collins’ manager as a birthday present to Collins, Collins’ soul-searching reflections of how his life and career might have gone in a less commercial but more soul-satisfying direction had he met up with John and Yoko as per the letter’s suggestion, and then what he does to weave together the strands of his commercial trajectory and his might-have-been life devoted to authentic artistic expression and a family he never knew.
In the coda we are surprised to find out: the letter is real, but the young artist in question faded into obscurity. He didn’t become a commercial sensation singing other peoples’ catchy tunes à la Danny Collins. Presumably an opportune meeting with Lennon might have led to an Apple recording contract, and then who knows, a future never-to-be on account of a greedy magazine editor.
The film certainly lost an opportunity to deploy Lennon’s 1980 masterpiece Watching the Wheels, when Collins decides to pack in his ‘Greatest Hits III’ tour of America. Of course, the irony is that it was only after Lennon had recorded Watching the Wheels, a song about retiring from the limelight, that he informed Yoko that indeed he was now confident enough to re-enter the limelight and that, yes indeed, they had a whole album to record. Here, though, is the bona fide John Lennon movie that begs to be made: ‘John Lennon and The Fateful Voyage of the Megan Jaye’. It would be all about John’s epiphany-laden sailing adventure to Bermuda in June 1980, featuring a storm so fierce and long-lasting that the entire crew including the captain were put out of action by seasickness or fatigue. The house husband/ex-junkie was obliged to assume command. For several adrenaline-pumping hours. It could very well be that Captain John saved the boat and all aboard. When it was all over he was so wired on having risen to the occasion with such aplomb, physically and mentally, that his creative tap went from dribs and drabs here and there to full blast. Ahead lay the greatest artistic comeback of the 20th century, foreshortened by a pathetic assassin several months later.
In fact, though, all four Beatles mounted huge comebacks after bouncing off rock-bottom: George in the 1987-1992 period and again posthumously in 2001, Ringo after he dried out in 1989, a comeback that continues to this day, and of course Paul, whose comeback since the early 1990s has been going on for a quarter-century and is perhaps the most extraordinary of all. Each solo Beatle found himself in a Danny Collins-like ‘what the hell am I doing?’ phase of self-questioning. And for each, that phase wound up serving as springboard to bigger and better things.