Archive Page 2


Around the Fire: Pixar’s 22 rules through Faust

This month, How to Tell Stories the Pixar Way and, in case you missed it, #FaustReturns!

Emma Coat’s recently tweeted 22 pithy Rules of Story informed by her experience in the Pixar storyboard trenches; it’s been making the rounds amongst those of us who craft corporate and/or creative fiction for a living.

Because a writer can never learn too much about what does/doesn’t resonate around the campfire…  even and especially when the primal dreaming flame is a computer tablet or a TV screen.

Given recent announcements, it’s fun to look atFaust: Love of the Damned through Emma’s POV. We’ve never met – so I have to say, I am grateful for the opportunity, and I hope she doesn’t mind.

#1: You admire a character for trying more than for their successes.

Well, our protagonist John Jaspers looks like Batman/Daredevil/Wolverine, but he’s anything but admirable. Bait and switch or metafiction? That tension between superhero and Heart of Darkness spawned (pun intended) the uproar the series caused when it launched in 1987. The poor, twisted fucker’s not a hero, though he certainly has elements of the tragic hero, in a Samson Agonistes or Travis Bickle sorta way.

But if there is one thing he has done since Night One, it’s try.

He’s raged against insanity, plunging into evil to fight evil. He’s been tempted to give up on himself, but he has never given up on his obsession with his doctor, Jade, or his love/hate wrestling match with the Mephistophelian father figure, M.

#2: You gotta keep in mind what’s interesting to you as an audience, not what’s fun to do as a writer. They can be v. different.

I didn’t see the difference between the two when Tim Vigil and I started colliding our ideas together to create Faust, just over 25 years ago. I do now. But I am a very different person. And yet I am the same person.

After college, I slam-danced sideways from NY’s music business into independent comics and business communications in the age of Gordon Gecko in the late 80s.

Wall Street and four color fantasy did a number on me.

And vice versa.

And my obsessions, melted in with those of my visual co-creator, are raw on every page, naked. Genre-blending. Overwraught emotion. Grand Guignol. Frank Frazetta body worship. Beat crazy. Esoteric layers. Punk rock and Splatter. James Brown. American “Sex is Dirty” Hypocrisy. New York in the Party’s Over Era after the crash of ’87. Sex and sex and sex and violence and sex.

I really wasn’t thinking about what the audience wanted or needed to be interesting. (Some of you are still saying “Obviously!”)

As dark end colleague Warren Ellis realized in his forward to the Faust/777 trade paperback in 1999, part of the point was getting beyond thinking itself, into the primal, in the sense that Arthur Janov used the word in The Primal Scream. Remember, this was before Wolverine went to Hell (hmmmm, interesting concept, that) and DC superheroes routinely raped, murdered and betrayed each other as they did in the last decade. Faust, like its contemporary The Crow by James O’Barr, spoke to its time and place and carved a narrow but defined pop culture niche, predicting the future.

Their influence echoes in the darker side of comics culture today, for better (The Walking Dead) or for worse (Rapey DC).

#3: Trying for theme is important, but you won’t see what the story is actually about til you’re at the end of it. Now rewrite.

See above. I had enough of theme in college. I was exploring ways to use words and pictures to feel something directly. Body and soul as well as head.

I still try to work this way, actually. Head Hand Heart, my motto.

#4: Once upon a time there was ___. Every day, ___. One day ___. Because of 
that, ___. Because of that, ___. Until finally ___.

#5: Simplify. Focus. Combine characters. Hop over detours. You’ll feel like you’re losing valuable stuff but it sets you free.

Yeah, I get this. Another way to say this: if it works without the character/scene/plot point/line, cut it. And yes, we blatantly – and aggressively – ignored this wisdom in the comic, but followed it in the screenplay for the Brian Yuzna film (Filmax/Lions Gate, 2000).

Will Eisner once distilled the same advice for me, advising, “Nothing in this art form is accidental.” I remember that, and I learned so much from reading and interviewing Mr. Eisner. But no disrespect, professor, in this book, the detours and the sub-text were supposed to rise to the surface like Lovecraftian squids and take over the asylum. Though we did borrow a few visual tricks from The Spirit era, and were very playful with character names – Jade DeCamp, Beef and Hapi, Captain Mulligan – as you would have been.

Ha.  And on that note, my ride is here.

As we say in storytelling, TO BE CONTINUED

The Unholy 25th Anniversary of Faust erupts this summer. Like the Facebook page to be part of it!


99 Songs I Wanna Hear At My Wake: Spider-Man

At an uptown New York party in the early 90s, I met, well, the lyricist of this morning’s song – Robert Harris, though he introduced himself as Bob.

Setting the scene: this wasn’t my party “home base,” i.e. a music and / or comic book business party, which makes the chance meet all the more memorable. I was among my (first) wife’s people, from advertising and real estate, mostly. I think you know when I mean when I say “uptown.” Billy Joel sang a song about it before you were born. My gig: be a good, hopefully not too downtown arm accessory for my (then) wife. (You men know the steps: shave, look decent, don’t bite the hostess, don’t bang on the piano, make small talk, hold my lipstick and shoes…)

So, I was not expecting to talk about, much less sing about… everybody’s friendly neighborhood Spider-Man.

No one put me next to Bob – no one “filed” us by type or occupation. We mingled into each other by chance. Besides, outside my (that was a practice shot!) wife’s family, no one had an idea that I created characters and stories for comics. I wouldn’t begin scripting Marvel Comics for another year or so, but Faust: Love of the Damned, both the book and the first production of the feature film, and Nightvision were well under way, as were my contracts for DC’s Piranha Press books.

Holding my comic book freak card close to the chest was always sort of private game in those days. Most civilians didn’t even know comic books still existed. Everyone knows that comics source summer movies today, but at that time, they had only Tim Burton/Danny Elfman’s quirky Batman to go by…  unless they remembered Adam West and Eartha Kitt.

Now I’ve always believed that listening – and talking, but especially listening – to all kinds of people is an important part of the writer’s toolkit. This uptown crowd tended to assume, like most people, that if I looked and talked a bit like them, I was like them. I was a writer. Therefore, I must be a advertising copywriter. (And later, as the work-for-hire comics industry imploded, I found rewarding business in that field.)

No one ever expected me to mention that I created characters and wrote stories for comic books. It was always a fun game to wait till the conversation waned, drop it in there, and watch the amusement and confusion:

“Comic books? They still make those?”

“You draw comics in the newspaper.”

“They have writers for that? I thought that was done by computers now.” (I swear I’m not making this up.)

“Is there money in that?”

“If people like your stories, you deliver on time and you’re not an asshole.  Or any two out of three. That’s a well-kept trade secret, by the way. It dates back to the Sumerian comics industry.”

So went the game. Hey, I am not above cheap thrills. Until this night, this uptown party my (Mulligan) wife brought me to, when, instead of the usual baffled civilian response, the man I was talking to, Robert Harris, smiled:

“Comic books? Hey, I wrote a song for a comic book TV show once. Ever hear of Spider-Man?”

Did I ever hear of Spider-Man?

We only sang that song every Saturday morning!

“Spider-Man, Spider-Man,
Does whatever a spider can.”

Music to climb fences and jump out of trees by!

“Spins a web, any size,
Catches thieves just like flies.”

I can still can hear that song!

“Look out! Here comes the Spider-Man.”

Don’t pretend you don’t hear it when you think of Lee and Ditko’s webslinger!

I even see the words “IN COLOR” indelibly splash across the Manhattan skyline to the brassy blast that kicks the theme off!

Chances are, I don’t have to tell you what comes next. I’ve forgotten most of the classical Latin and trigonometry I learned as a teenager, but I can still sing:

“Is he strong? Listen bud—
He’s got radioactive blood.
Can he swing from a thread?
Take a look overhead.
Hey there! There goes the Spider-Man.”

So, instead of party question game, I got a chance to toast one of the guys who provided a theme to kindergarten recess! And thank him for it.

At the time, around 1965 or 1966, I’m sure Robert Harris thought of Spider-Man as just another job. Work for hire. And knowing animation, it was probably not his best payday. Working in New York at that time, I’m sure he contributed to both theater and advertising for better reward.

Robert Harris is also credited with writing the theme for Lolita. Perhaps he thought that a more prestigious assignment.

But there’s something indelible about this simple song. Like the show’s moodier background themes and over-the-top scene stingers, it’s dynamic, dramatic and just a little… eccentric. To describe it to someone that never heard it, I’d call it a kluge of show tune melody, surfer beat rhythm and advertising jingle chorus.

But I’ve saved the best for last. One line makes the song for me, and I was pleased I was able to tell my best friend for five minutes, Bob. Some of you know the line I am talking about:

“Wealth and fame, he’s ignored—
Action is his reward.”

You have to agree, that’s character core. It’s the flip side, the night ride side, the wild side of “With great power comes great responsibility,” a defining line for what makes Spidey’s stories work after all these years. Even work for hire assignments have their transcendent moments.

Okay, so I really geeked out here, didn’t I? My good friend Kim at Harvard will probably not share this essay to students, as she did my “new literacy” musings.

But if I were Spider-Man, and my life was a great big bang-up, wherever there’s a hang-up, this would be my song!

“Spider-Man,” theme of the 1967 cartoon show was composed by Paul Francis Webster and Robert “Bob” Harris.

But wait, here’s more – this week’s hymn handled nimbly by the godfathers of punk, The Ramones!


Geek Dad War Journal: You Had Me At Azarath, Metrion, Zinthos by David Quinn and Jodi Tong

Geek Dad War Journal: You Had Me At Azarath, Metrion, Zinthos by David Quinn and Jodi Tong — Illustration © Jodi Tong ( 2012

“I believe the children are our future.” 

“I also believe that when you travel into the past, you won’t alter the future, only create an alternate timeline.”

 Geek Dad War Journal

 -February 2012

-The Breakfast Table*

Children possess an uncanny ability to learn, sponging up facts, ideas, and behaviors 24/7. Like the Borg. But they sing and make you Valentines.

Geek Dad groks this, and leverages every little miracle like this he can get… in his never-ending mission.

His prime directive: Keep the first grader safe and healthy in mind, body and spirit. Nurture, protect and lead by example. Inspire her to choose what’s right in an often-wrong world. Prepare her for a life of learning.

And make it to the bus on time.

La Principessa: I hate Chinese homework. Vampires don’t have to do Chinese homework.

Geek Dad War Journal: Wampires did their Chinese homevork in the Old Country, my Baby Grrrrl… ahhh, the Children of the Night, vhat music they make.

 La Principessa: Don’t do Dracula. Dracula freaks me out, actually.

 Geek Dad War Journal: Eat your pancakes and finish one page, please.

La P: I love you, Big Daddy. You’re the best daddy in the world. Hug!

Hug! Then…

GDWJ: Wǒ yě ài nǐ. Bàba ài wawa. <I love you, too. Daddy loves baby.> Now, no stalling, please, honey. You still have to brush your hair, face and teeth. And please don’t say hate. That’s such a lazy word, and you’re not a lazy person, okay, babe?

 La P: You said brush my face!

GDWJ: Just checking to see if you’re listening. Okay, okay, ten minutes till the bus, we’ll finish that page this afternoon before swimming. Eat.

La P: Is a lazy word a bad word? I know lots of bad words, actually. Daddy, David on the bus said a bad word. David said “sexy.”


 Geek Dad War Journal Action Note: Consult child peer population database; ensure David knows that you work at home, keep your guns clean and have mapped the entire bus route.

 GDWJ: Okay, and why did you think that was a bad word?

La P: Um, well, y’know, Lisa said her mommy said it’s a bad word, actually, in England, where a long time ago people used to, um, y’know, speak English.

GDWJ: Well, what do you think sexy means?

She dances in her chair.

 La P: It means you are on stage and a lady, a lady, a sexy lay-deeee.

Illustration © Jodi Tong ( 2012


 What would Sun Tzu do?

GDWJ: I’m not sure that’s really what that word means. Let’s look it up after swimming tonight.

When you’ve forgotten all about this…

GDWJ: Till then, let’s not use that word at school, okay? Or in front of Mama. Or anybody’s mama.

La P: Lisa likes Justin Beaver, but I think he’s the worst. I think he sings like a girl, um, well, y’know.

GDWJ: Mmm… you’re smart to keep an open mind.

La P: Remember in Tiny Titans, Beast Boy liked Terra and hearts came out of his mind, heart heart heart heart?

GDWJ: That was a great story. Hey, want to read that to me tonight?

La P: And Beast Boy changed into a puppy, poof. But puppies aren’t green, actually.

GDWJ: Speaking of poof, are you done with your pancakes?

La P: Bàba, my pancakes are cold. Warm them up.

 GDWJ: What’s the magic word?

La P: Shazam!

 GDWJ: Okay, another magic word.

La P: Azarath Metrion Zinthos!

 GDWJ: Try again…

La P: Engage!

 GDWJ: I’ll accept English, Mandarin or Espanol.

La P: Not Bizarro?

GDWJ: Come on, you know it…

La P: Fine. Warm them up, por favor?

GDWJ: Fine. I’m warming them up. But tonight, we finish that page before swimming. Because you know who likes it when you do your Chinese homework? Tinkerbell. And when you don’t do it, her light flickers out.

La P: You made that up! Tinkerbell’s not real, you know.

GDWJ: Pancakes.

La P: They’re too hot! Actually, I’m joking. I’m done. Time to wash my face and brush my teeth! Hug!

Hug! Then…

GDWJ: Ugh! Did you just use me as a napkin?

 La P: Wawa ai Bàba.

“He who knows when he can fight and when he cannot will be victorious.”

– The Art of War, Sun Tzu (600 BC)

David Quinn is Diane’s husband, Olivia’s dad and an independent producer of branded content.

 Geek Dad War Journal is a work of fiction. Ish.



Tiny Titans copyright DC

*Originally posted 2/8/2112, refreshed here today with the addition of some fine illustrations by Jodi Tong!

Terras Irradient*

I’m visiting my college for a reunion – the first formal one I’ve attended, though I made my way back there once before at a critical turning point, which I’ll detail in a bit. And it’s got me thinking about learning.

Okay, I felt a lot of clicking away right there.

But that’s cool — I’ll try to make this quick. Because it may not be as melodramatic, absurd, sexy or hate-fuelled as the rest of the web this morning…  but what I have to write to you here just might save you, or someone you know, from wasting precious seconds of your life.

Fun fact: when we left college, we knew everything. Decades later, it’s our kids who know everything, and we’ve grown wise enough to know that the day that we stop learning, we’re dead.

Because that’s what literacy means on the twenty-first century clock.

Not what you’ve learned about words. Not what you’ve memorized about numbers. Not what you’ve mastered in media, culture and technology. No, not even what you know you know about people, places or things.

Literacy, simply put, means the ability to learn…  and recreate yourself.

Some call it information literacy, adaptive literacy, learning literacy. (Lotta trees perished so that volumes of scholarly work on the subject might see bookshelves. Lotta trees.) I just call it literacy.

Because that’s where literacy lives right now, and will live for some time – not what you’ve learned, but your ability to learn, to teach yourself. Including, at times, your agility when learning requires unlearning – dumping what doesn’t cut it anymore – and mastering a dance that’s new.

I once stood up during a freshman psychology exam, said loudly, “Everything you know is wrong,” and sat back down to continue writing.

Yeah, I was that kind of smart ass.

But the laughter that followed, and the surprise, helped us all clear our thoughts, relax and get to work. And more than that, I think I had the right instinct.

Because we create the future by rendering the past obsolete…  or at the very least, incomplete. We dump…  and dance on.

I mentioned at the top that I returned to my old school before. That story should illuminate my point: five years past my undergraduate degree, I was asked by a mentor, my former writing professor, to come talk to students about “a life in the arts.” I was seriously conflicted, I told my friend.

I was crashing.

My band was traveling to promote our first album, negotiating terms to record a second. But we were the indie act, the warm-up act, the grungy punks in the little bus – in the music business, indie wouldn’t have cachet and clout til a couple of years later. Worse, it was a frustrating strain dragging the band together to develop new songs through financial pressure and some ugly substance abuse issues.

And that wasn’t all. My other creative outlet was theater – chiefly, writing and performing off-off-broadway. But, I told my friend, I had hit a wall there, too. Twenty years ago, Off-Off-Broadway was vital, the place to create – but what was once revolutionary was now just the smaller, poorer cousin of dead corporate theater.

(Okay, I would learn later that vital regional theaters existed all over the country. They were rare, but very alive. But I was living and working in NYC, non-negotiable, so I missed out, there.)

In short, I told my friend I wasn’t  his dream speaker. I was a rock star in one neighborhood, a produced downtown playwright, okay, but broken and dirty and moving on. Looking for what was next. If anything, I was going to send his students shrieking to pre-med and pre-business disciplines.

“I should come back when I’m done recreating myself, you know, the whole phoenix from the ashes plot always works.”

“Talk to them about that,” he said.

There’s a reason I call him a mentor. Still do.

And so I told my story. I was blunt. Students later told me I was pretty brutal. But they got that I wasn’t going to waste any more precious seconds of my life feeling stuck. I had the ability – and agility – to remake myself, and with a little luck, I was doing it.

I hadn’t yet worked out my little theory, the new literacy, but I was putting it into action instinctively. What I had learned as a writer, a performer and a creator of dramas for the rock show and the live theater, I knew I could make that the foundation and energy source for two new kinds of writing: comic books and related media and storytelling within business.

I would unlearn what I had to, teach myself what I needed, and take the next creative trip with the same energy I had once given punk rock – take my writing as far as I could.

Hopefully, reaching more people. Hopefully, getting paid.

It began with Faust: Love of the Damned and a business writing consulting gig for an international bank. I lost a lot of sleep working on both…  and learned. At times, the only way to get through it was to think of it as a performance…  I played a person who knew how to write all that I had to write.

That wasn’t the last time I hit a wall creatively. And I know I will be in crisis again someday. But with practice, you perfect that literacy we all need today – the literacy of learning in order to recreate yourself.

*Terras Irradient is NOT Latin for “Cover Your Ass” or “Fake It Till You Make It.”

It’s “Let them bring light to the world.” Kind of an ancient way of saying, ”With great power comes great responsibility.” That’s the motto and mandate of my old school, and on my good days, I try to live that. Have a nice Memorial Day Weekend – I’ll be back in two weeks.


We Ain’t Got Money, Honey, But We Got Rain; Charles Bukowski Wrote That

Faust: Love of the Damned, by David Quinn and Tim Vigil is 25 this year

To make the writing life work, you simply focus on the work in front of you – in any weather. You get all the business lined up…  for the pleasure and privilege of the writing itself.

This week began with the weekend’s MoCCA Fest, a lively international alt-comics show in NYC. Besides seeing and working with my diverse, talented collaborators in this arena, I was also pleased that That Respected Editor (AKA TRE, name withheld for his own good) stopped by the Not for Children Children’s Books table.

Michael Davis and I have been developing a project or two for TRE for over a year. We’re convinced he’s the right editor for our story, because he gets what we are trying to do and sees his job as helping us make sure we grab as many hearts and minds as possible. He’s not a frustrated writer out to hammer our story into his own… he’s a keen reader who can nudge and pull and cajole us to tell the story we want to tell better than if we were left alone. That’s a quality that’s much rarer in comics and other media development than it should be.

I’m paraphrasing a bit, here, but TRE mentioned that he had pitched our story as one of the most original and exciting points of view in heroic storytelling since (Howard Chaykin’s) American Flagg, and if the decision-maker would only read my treatment, TRE didn’t see how he could pass.

I was in a good mood after that.

That, in the writing life, is the good weather.

But like I said, it’s not about the weather. It’s about focusing on the work in front of you, doing your best, whatever the weather.

So, a bit exhausted from the con – hey, I am a word-guy and a work-at-home dad, I don’t usually talk to people that much – it’s time to get my ass in the chair and polish off two white papers for a marketing services client. Basically, I am doing for my client what my editor promises to do for us – understand their story that they tell about how they work, and help them tell it powerfully so their “thought leadership,” reputation and business grow.

That’s not the weather. It’s the work. But when I am done, I think I’ve made solid improvements, so I pass the documents back to my client for review and run to my daughter’s school bus.

Time to give Olivia a snack and help her with her reading and Mandarin language. This can take a lot of energy, but it sustains itself. Helping my daughter learn is even better than good weather. It’s a job that matters.

The next day, the press starts to hit on our 25th Anniversary Celebration of Faust announced on Ain’t It Cool News and the positive feedback and interest that lights up the web is once again good weather.

Of course, this being the web, there’s a little hate in with the love. A few little head explosions of righteous geek venom when Rich at Bleeding Cool comments, “There was Watchmen. There was Dark Knight. And there was Faust.

But there’s actually not as much sniping as I expected, actually. It’s overwhelmed by readers genuinely pleased by the news – and down for Quinn and Vigil’s Faust finale. Several big-hearted colleagues trumpet and retweet the news. (I know our little DIY adult comic will need all the attention we can get when the Faust trade collections come out again starting this summer, and the final two issues hit this fall.)

Good weather?


Must be my day to strap in to the dentist for some long overdue dental surgery. Uncomfortable weather. Followed by a chance to take Olivia to a park. Carpe Diem weather.

And when I’ve recovered from that, it’s Friday morning: no notes on the white papers from my client yet, so I have some time to write this blog and work on some song lyrics for my virtual zombie punk band, The Romeros.

Has TRE has landed our project? Godspeed, but I’m not even thinking of that right now.

To make the writing life work, you simply focus on the work in front of you – in any weather. I remind myself. You get all the business lined up…  for the pleasure and privilege of the writing itself. Look at the writing life that way. Just don’t get blown away by that weather.


I Know You Are, But What Am I? By The Littlest Bitch

The Littlest Bitch, The First Not For Children Children’s Book™ Copyright David Quinn, Michael Davis and Devon Devereaux – from Sellers Publishing

Shoot to the bottom of this post to learn how you can meet The Littlest Bitch in person. Till then, this week features an excerpt from:

I Know You Are, But What Am I? The Littlest Bitch’s Five Excellent Tips for Excellent Leadership

People ask me how I, Isabel, demonstrate excellent leadership totally excellently.

Well, at least Mummy asks. She doesn’t shut up about it. I tell her George Clooney’s on the porch, then when she runs out there, I deadbolt the door. Peace and quiet at last.

Anyway, here are my five top tips, for those of you who aspire to the Executive Suite:

1. Walk the Walk.

Inspire your workforce by what you do, not simply what you say.

Lip service to employee development and hollow promises like “pay for performance” just don’t cut it anymore. No, no, no, no – instead, institute a “confidential” employee survey – require a social security or other unique identifier on each poll to heighten that flair of “big sister” paranoia.

You’ll truly make the little people feel little.

And, you can make all sorts of amusing changes to compensation and benefits afterwards, claiming your new scorched earth policies are “in response to employee survey results.”

You’re welcome!

2. Never Stop Learning.

You’re the boss. But your real job is to never stop learning.

I learned something today. Did you know you can serve on as many directorial boards as you want to? And do next to nothing? And be compensated for each position?

Yes, “You can take home stupid money,” as my Uncle Richard used to say as he bounced me on his lap.

Accountability. It’s for everyone. Except the board.

You’re welcome!

3. Today is Your Last Day in This Role – and You Can Have That Heart Attack Outside, Pal.

Some managers like saying, “Win-win.”

Other leaders like saying, “Team player.”

Some bosses go for, “Leverage our synergies.”

What really warms my heart and spreads my pate are those 17 little words, “Today is your last day in this role – and you can have that heart attack outside, pal!”

You’re welcome! 

4. When the Employee May Have a Weapon, Sit Near the Door and Let Your Human Resources Pawn Do All the Talking.

Quite ‘nuff said, True Believers.

You’re welcome!

5. I Don’t Care What I Asked For, I Want What I Want! 

No, no, no, no! COME ON, people, FOCUS!

Mummy! The lock is stuck! Wait, what’s that – is George taking off his shirt?

You’re welcome! 

Who is The Littlest Bitch? Little Isabel is a deliciously funny cross between the mischievous Eloise and The Bad Seed – and she’s tapped into her inner CEO to become the 5-year-old tyrant readers will love to hate. Like all good children’s stories for adults, this one has a moral – if you dream of swimming with the sharks, you just might get eaten alive! Become a fan at The Littlest B on Facebook.

New Yorkers: Meet The Littlest Bitch in person – with her lowly assistant David Quinn at MoCCA Fest, Exhibitor A11, April 28-29

MoCCA Fest Poster art by P. Craig Russell


99 Songs I Wanna Hear At My Wake: Instant Karma!

These are the songs you hear as your life flashes before your eyes the instant you die. The carpe diem dance – live with all your head, hand and heart, ONE MORE TIME. 

“Instant Karma’s gonna get you

Gonna knock you right on the head

You better get yourself together

Pretty soon you’re gonna be dead”

Rogue Beatle John Lennon’s “Instant Karma! (We All Shine On)” challenged, but ultimately was bested by his parent corporation’sLet it Be on pop charts in the grey early days of 1970 – just as the group made public their official divorce.

Listen here

Both seminal Abbey Road recordings. Both built to be played loud. (Lennon even had “PLAY LOUD” inscribed on the first pressing of his rebellious “out of school” single. Do that on your MP3.)

And both songs can save your soul. But they couldn’t be more different.

I imagine the Paul McCartney-driven anthem of anthems (#1 on those charts) took longer to develop, produce and commercialize as some operas. Not that it ever lost its spontaneous, celebratory feel…  don’t get me wrong. It’s a clean production, lushly overdubbed, serenity achieved, if your serenity screams in electric guitar epiphanies and Paul’s Little Richard whoops.

The stripped-down Plastic Ono Band stomper we’re replaying today (#3), on the other hand, was quick and dirty – immediate. Written and recorded in a day. Released still wet less than 2 weeks later.

Lennon quipped it was written for breakfast, recorded for lunch and put out for dinner.

Let it Be is the song you sing along with in Electric Church, but Instant Karma! is pirate radio, under the radar, over the emergency broadcast network… and a wake up call for the soul.

“What in the world you thinking of

Laughing in the face of love

What on earth you tryin’ to do

It’s up to you, yeah you”

Producer Phil Spector erected his fabulous Wall Of Sound around Klaus Voorman’s chthonic bass. Three descending chords, booming with maximum sustain and volume, like something out of the 1950s, where the Beatle sound was born copying American R&B in a basement in Germany – but now. Hear echoes of Elvis and his generation of crooners, especially in Lennon’s voice, but don’t be fooled – the black and white world of “Love Me Tender” has crashed and burned, gone forever.

“Well we all shine on

Like the moon and the stars and the sun” 

Pounding drums and piano chords chime in to pummel “Seize the day” into every verse. Motown hand claps shuffle swing slightly behind the beat. And ultimately, the military tattoo chorus propels us to… a new place, in spite of the nostalgia.

“Instant Karma’s gonna get you

Gonna look you right in the face

You better get yourself together darling

Join the human race”

The recording is stripped down, deliciously full of negative space, no musical wanking; the closest thing to a solo is a careening, near wipe out of a drum fill. It’s urgent.

I use this song as a wake up call for body and soul, “This is your life – don’t waste it!” Lennon would summon up many other primal scream songs in the coming years, trying to wake up the world – and himself. I love them, though I know people who find them self-indulgent.

No time for self-indulgence here. Just three minutes and twenty-one seconds of instant coffee to blow away the cobwebs.

Committing this song to vinyl DIY style was Lennon’s attempt to escape Beatles celebrity and get on with his life. Defiant in creating a new place for himself, he was also willing to give himself over to fate, embracing, with some effort, responsibility for his actions. Like Gandhi, the singer got it – we have to be the change we want to see in our world.

“How in the world you gonna see

Laughing at fools like me

Who on earth d’you think you are?

A superstar? Well right you are”

Of course, with hindsight, we know it took John Lennon a long time to get over himself and grow up. He would eventually make his marriage work. His second marriage. He would eventually be a devoted father. The second time around. And life was taken from him too soon.

But nothing diminishes his transformational songs. And in the best of them, like Instant Karma!, he’s willing to stand naked. I try to have that same courage, the first to acknowledge “fools like me” may not get it right, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try. John might say, “You don’t want a guru, it’s up to you, yeah you.”

“Why in the world are we here?

Surely not to live in pain and fear

-Instant Karma! (We All Shine On) – John Lennon

99 SONGS I WANNA HEAR AT MY WAKE will continue. You’re all invited. Shine on.