Robin Renée On… Rock Star Birthdays (Celebrating John Lennon and Jackson Browne)

Each week, one of Biff Bam Pop’s illustrious writers will delve into one of their favorite things. Perhaps it’s a movie or album they’ve carried with them for years. Maybe it’s something new that moved them and they think might move you too. Each week, a new subject, a new voice writing on… something they love.


I love celebrations. I am all about a good party, to be sure, but quiet celebrations can be just as important. They’re a way to enjoy a time of the year recognized by many or to mark a personal rite of passage. Then again, sometimes a celebration is just plain geeky. I happen to enjoy knowing the birthdates of musicians I like. It may not warrant the magnitude of a P-Funk party (George Clinton: July 22nd), but a rock star birthday is a good time to remember that fantastic live show or listen to an album by the artist you haven’t heard for way too long.

Next month, you’ll likely find me sharing some Ant Music on social media (Adam Ant: November 3rd). I have no shortage of Devo in my life, but Mark Mothersbaugh’s May 18th birthday is a great time for a favorite album or for checking out some Mutato art, with the next day, May 19th, reserved for the great Grace Jones. Having just had my world completely shaken apart and reordered by an awe-inspiring Kraftwerk concert (The Electric Factory, Philadelphia, October 2nd), I have taken note and will definitely celebrate the electronic music giants on the birthday of founding member, Ralf Hütter, next August 20th.

Today is a great day for rock star birthdays. Two of my favorites share an October 9th birthday – John Lennon and Jackson Browne. Perfect timing to take a look back and share some thoughts on a few favorite tracks from two classic albums.

I spent a lot of time in late childhood and early teenage years with John Lennon’s Imagine on heavy rotation. One instantly memorable tune is “Crippled Inside.” The irony was lost on me when I first heard it and for a long while after. Now, what I appreciate most about it is the strange and humorous mix of upbeat, country swing with downright dreary lyrics.

“I Don’t Want to Be a Soldier” is atmospheric, even with its strong rock treatment, and has a pleasing, syncopated blues progression. A song of the Vietnam era, it can be heard quite literally as a commentary on the senselessness of war, but also as an exploration of universal themes of inner conflict and struggle for personal peace.

“Oh Yoko!” is a simple and pleasant love song. Though I’m not generally a fan of songs about jealousy, I find Lennon’s “Jealous Guy” an enjoyable radio song.  My dual favorites on the album, however, are “Gimme Some Truth,” with its rapid-fire call-out (“No short-haired, yellow-bellied, son of Tricky Dicky’s gonna Mother Hubbard soft soap me with just a pocket full of hope”), and the caustic “How Do You Sleep?” which was inspired by discord between Lennon and McCartney. It is still hard for me to comprehend the level of intensity and ire that drip from this song, but this work of ‘evil’ genius makes great listening.

Though the title song, “Imagine,” begins the album, its sentiment is an emotional resolution to all the tribulations. It is a gorgeous tune that calls for universality, peace, and love in clear terms. Very songs do this so well, and Lennon does it with a melody that has become one with generations. The cultural importance and masterpiece level of the song would be hard to dispute. In terms of personal listening, I put this song in the “too classic” category. I love it, but I’ve heard it. A lot. Ultimately, though, I am so glad it is a song and sentiment that won’t be forgotten.

Jackson Browne’s Running On Empty may have been the most played of his albums in my coming-of-age record collection, but his first, eponymous album still reverberates most strongly in my psyche. Officially titled Jackson Browne but often called Saturate Before Using, it is a fitting introduction to the moody and deftly lyrical songs that grew into Browne’s canon. “Jamaica Say You Will” begins the album with moving acoustic instrumentation and a tale of love and longing. “A Child in These Hills” resonates with the process of growing up and leaving home as well as a lifelong aspiration toward recognition, meaning, and growth:

Who will show me the river and ask me my name?
Is there nobody here who will do that?
I have come to these hills
I will come to the river
As I choose to be gone from the house of my father

The third track, “Song for Adam” is an emotional requiem for the artist’s friend Adam Saylor, who died in 1968 by accident or suicide. The album is spiritual throughout and sad in many places. To me, “Adam” is its deepest point. I suspect Jackson Browne thought so too, and placed the poppy hit, “Doctor My Eyes” next in line to shift us from that intensity and into the rest of the album’s changes.

Jackson Browne

“Something Fine” and especially the soulful “Rock Me on the Water” also stand out among a collection of songs that are near equals and all necessary to the journey. Aside from the aforementioned hit, I can’t recommend listening to any of these tracks individually. Listening to Jackson Browne, start to finish, is an experience. I invite you into it:

No one can really know what John Lennon would be doing today, on what would have been is 75th birthday. We can be grateful for the 40 years he had to change music and the world. Jackson Browne, at age 67, continues to release worthy recordings that continue to speak to intimacy and global consciousness. By way of celebrating both artists on their birthday, here is a sweet, understated expression of love, awakening, and affirmation – Jackson Browne’s version of John Lennon’s “Oh My Love.”

A freelance writer and performing songwriter, Robin Renee‘s work has appeared in many publications including PanGaia, Blessed Bi Spirit, Big Hammer #12, The New York Quarterly, Songwriter’s Market, and That Takes Ovaries – Bold Females and their Brazen Acts (Random House). Her recordings include In ProgressAll Six SensesLive, and This. She is one of the co-hosts of the Audacious Eleven podcast, part of the Biff Bam Pop! Podcast Network.


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