By all the rules of the game, no one should expect much literary talent from a rock 'n' roll singer. Past disk heroes have not been known for wit, loquacity, or literacy.
The Beatles have been different. The appeal of their songs and their movie extended far above the level of the screaming teenager. Even staid adult types enjoyed the Beatles' sophisticated irreverence and quick humor in A Hard Day's Night.
But for one who has seen A Hard Day's Night, John Lennon's little book is disappointing. It contains the same irreverence and humor as the film, without the film's speed and spontaneity.
"There are bound to be thick-heads," writes Paul McCartney in the introduction to In His Own Write, "Who will wonder why some of it doesn't make sense, and others who will search for hidden meanings... None of it has to make sense and if it seems funny then that's enough."
Well, most of it doesn't make sense, and only some of it is funny is just mildly funny and then only once or twice.
What's funniest is Lennon's irreverence for England's society, morals, and language. He's at his best in a small piece called "You Might Well Arsk":
Why were Prevelant ze Gaute, unt Docker, Adenold getting so friendly? You might well arsk. Why did Harrassed MacMillion go golphing mit Bob Hobe? Why is Frank Cummings and the T.U.C. against the common Margate? You might well arsk. Why is the duck of Edincalvert a sailing mit Udda Fogs? Why did Priceless Margarine unt Bony armstrove give Jamaika away? You might well arsk. Why won't friendly Trumap give his Captive his pension?
Lennon constantly assails the hypocrisy of polite society and conventional behavior. Sometimes he attacks them with a sick joke, as in "Randolf's Party," in which all of Randolf's pals and buddies give him a Christmas party by bashing his brains out.
At other times he invents a word or phrase to suit his needs. For instance, he labels a woman as "very house-proud"--because, by the way, she refuses to let her son-in-law leave the fly-infested corpse of his wife on her doorstep.
Using these devices, Lennon mocks pompous politicians, eager brides, mawkish dog-lovers, anything. His sick humor is oten biting and percep- tive, and his rampant word juggling is clever.
His cleverness is, however, limited and his sick humor soon become tiresome. Mutilation of words and syntax, here admittedly meaningless, can be amusing. In this book it seems too contrived and heavy handed. Beatle meaninglessness was hilarious in A Hard Day's Night--that title itself means nothing. But the concentrated dose of it in Lennon's volume is too much. He goes on and on, throwing around words growing less imaginative.
Beatle humor is visual and aural. We laugh when we see them gaily fleeing an army of girls, or when we hear them tossing insults at one another. But their spontaneous charm does not survive the transition from phonograph and movie screen to printed page. In His Own Write needs the sight and sound of John and his three friends. Without them the book book is dull. Sometimes even grotty