A working class hero is something to be
If you want to be a hero well just follow me
– John Lennon, “Working Class Hero”
Artist Candice Breitz knows that a true fan’s connection to a beloved musical artist is a source of power, however lopsided the “relationship” may be.
Favorite albums are touchstones that get us through good times and bad.
They pin us to a particular place and time.
There are patches when it feels like a singer we’ve never met is the only one in the world who truly knows us. Just ask your average teenager.
A dime will net you dozens upon dozens of Beatles fans, but a person who knows all the words to John Lennon / Plastic Ono Band, the 1970 solo album that followed hard on the heels of the Fab Four’s break up inhabits a far more rarified strata of fandom.
That person has earned the mantle of tried-and-true John fan.
And 25 of those earned a spot in Breitz’s 2006 “Working Class Hero (A Portrait of John Lennon),” above, a multi-channel singalong of the aforementioned John Lennon / Plastic Ono Band.
As with Breitz’s previous portraits of Bob Marley, Madonna, and Michael Jackson, the singer is the elephant in the room, the only voice absent from the choir that forms when the participants’ solo recording sessions are played simultaneously, as they are in the finished piece.
Recruited by notices in papers throughout the UK, including the Liverpool Echo, the fans’ degree of devotion, as evidenced by their responses to an in-depth questionnaire, mattered far and above training, talent, or appearance:
I want people who’ve been fans for 30 years or more, who aren’t shy in front of a camera and want to pay tribute to John Lennon.
We’d love some Scousers, it would be a great pity not to have a group of Liverpudlians.
Those who made the cut were reimbursed for travel to a recording studio at Newcastle University, and filmed wearing their own clothes, free to emote or not as they saw fit. Some may have fallen shy of the “30 years or more” requirement, and indeed, may not even have been born at the time of Lennon’s 1980 murder.
Just more proof of this legend’s staying power.
(It’s also really fun to witness them fumbling through “Hold On”’s ad-libbed “cookies,” a salute to Cookie Monster that also harkens to the childhood regression Lennon underwent as part of his Primal Therapy.)
Readers, if you were given the opportunity to contribute to one of Candice Breitz’s composite celebrity portraits, who would you want to pay tribute to, living or dead?
Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inkyzine. Join her in NYC on Monday, October 7 when her monthly book-based variety show, Necromancers of the Public Domaincelebrates the art of Aubrey Beardsley. Follow her @AyunHalliday.