Nov 192010

Somehow this post primes me for this weekend’s coming edition of Saturday Night Shut-In. The cache of the rock cult artist is a wonder to behold. When this post was first launched, it was hard for us to imagine Lennon and McCartney as cult artists, but a few you could dream. As I revisit this I think about other artists who might have benefitted from cult status – and artists who once were cult figures who became harder to like after “graduating” from that status.

This post initially appeared 11/17/07.

Hey, where’ve I seen this guy?

I was reading an interview with Robyn Hitchcock that had the following Q&A in it:

Interviewer: Has it ever offended you that you are constantly mentioned as a cult musician?

Robyn Hitchcock: Not at all. I always wanted to be in a cult band but I just didn’t know what that meant. All the people I liked when I started playing music were people like Captain Beefheart, Arthur Lee, Syd Barrett, Nick Drake, and a bunch of others. I have always loved The Beatles and obviously they are the biggest band of all time, but I think if they were not all together, Lennon and McCartney could’ve easily been cult figures themselves. I’m really quite pleased where I am right now.”

I’m fascinated by this thought of John and Paul (and George for that matter) as potential cult artists if there had never been a Beatles.

Might they have only been cult artists? Or would the talent and drive have pushed them beyond cult artist status as individuals? If they were cult artists, what other cult artist might they have been most like?


  9 Responses to “Lennon & McCartney As Cult Artists”

  1. Mr. Moderator

    I’m not seeing it. Is this Hitchcock’s way of making himself feel better?

  2. BigSteve

    Were there really cult artists right when the Beatles started out? I don’t think the age of the cult artist begins until the later 60s. The Kinks evolved into a cult group for 10 years or so, but they had achieved pop fame first. I’m not sure any of the individual Beatles would have been pop stars on their own.

    I think before there were cult artists there were just one hit wonders.

  3. Lennon I could see as a cult artist–Plastic Ono Band really is a cult record, on some level.

    But not McCartney. Guy was born to write hit singles.

  4. saturnismine

    this is like that thread we had going where we had to imagine that the beatles first album was pepper.

    it’s kind of impossible to imagine it, because they wouldn’t have become those beatles if they hadn’t done all the stuff that came before it.

    so the “lennon” and “mccartney” we try to imagine as cult figures are the superstars we know. we can’t retrofit them…

    but i’ll try. i think there’s every chance that lennon would’ve been the more obscure “cultish” figure. but he would’ve been slagged for being a dylan wannabe. without the beatles pop context, he may not have written those pop takes on dylan ca. 65, but if he had….they…umm…..

    shit, i can’t perform this exercise…

    i had fun trying, though.

    i like the mod’s question, which suggests that we should ask why is hitchcock saying this rather than indulging his cockamamie scenario…

  5. meanstom

    McCartney’s too good looking to have been a cult artists, maybe a minor pop artist with a loyal following.

    Going by his solo career, Lennon wasn’t weird enough to be a cult artist. He seemed to be more “cult like” when he was reacting against his situation in the Beatles.

  6. Before I let this thread die the death it is headed for, a few comments:
    * Why Hitchcock said this is another thread, I guess. Why any answers to that would be any less speculative, any less hard to imagine, requires any more or less imagination than what might have happened to John and Paul if they never met puzzles me. But then, I like fiction where Germany won WWII.
    * I think one-hit wonders by definition can’t be cult artists. Cult artists are no-hit wonders. I think there are a lot of definitions that could distinguish the two but I won’t waste space here on that.
    * If John and Paul never met, I could see Paul going on to a career much like, say, Ray Davies. Fronts a band that is successful, but not extremely so. One that he dominates. A heavy influence from old British dance hall music. Maybe even a mid-career revival by emphasizing the more hard rock side of rock & roll. Not a cult artist though.
    * I see John as less successful but also with a mid-career revival leading a Stray Cats type band. Remember that early picture in leathers? With his love of that early R&R era, I can see him leading that revival and probably making more of an impact than the Stray Cats ever did.
    * I think both John and Paul, for all the experimentation of their later Beatles music, were too mainstream to ever be cult artists. They were too firmly rooted in traditional song structures and topics.

    And on a pretty unrelated note, rest in peace Hy Lit. Hy, along with a lot of other Philly DJs on WFIL and WIBG were a cornerstone of my youth. When I heard of his death I went to to check it out and read of Hy’s website, There’s some streaming music there that I’m sure I’ll go back to a lot as it’s a better oldies station than anything you’ll find on terrestrial radio. No commercial, plus old WFIL/WIBG radio promos. If only I could listen to it on a transistor radio…

  7. Mr. Moderator

    Thanks for the added thoughts, Al. Your rockabilly revival take on Lennon is interesting. Now I’m thinking he might have been a late-blooming glam artist had he managed to make it through the ’60s without The Beatles. Could you imagine a Bolan with something to say or, likewise, an Elton John with lyrics that made sense? I’m digging the thought of Lennon tarted up, wearing platform shoes, and spectacular specs.

  8. alexmagic

    McCartney has or at least had something in him that could have led him down the cult artist route had things gone differently. Left to his own devices, this is the guy who bought a little studio on a sheep farm and interviewed himself for an album he played everything on, and he’s still the guy who got them into the whole musique concrete deal and called himself The Fireman and Percy “Thrills” Thrillington and made McCartney II.

    I do have this theory that having so many melodies in his head has driven him insane over the years. When he makes all those noises and assorted weirdness in interviews that form the basis of the Dana Carvey impression of him, it’s random bits of songs slipping out that he never got around to doing anything with. Think of the whole story behind Scrambled Eggs/Yesterday. And be glad that he managed use some of them by welding songs together in the Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey and Red Rose Speedway Medley style, or else we might all be dead by his hands.

    I still stand by my exhaustive research on how no Beatles ends up with Lennon fistfighting Peter Sellers and McCartney winning an Oscar last year for his supporting role in Children of Men, but I am open to contemplating a second alternate timeline where Paul spends the ‘60s putting out three albums a year, each under a different alias. And he occasionally uses his brother to appear as him in public, Tony Clifton style. This alternate timeline may also involve a series of killings patterned after the Whitechapel Murders, eventually solved by George Gallacher from The Poets, but I don’t know, I’d have to look into that some more.

  9. trigmogigmo

    When he makes all those noises and assorted weirdness in interviews that form the basis of the Dana Carvey impression of him, it’s random bits of songs slipping out that he never got around to doing anything with.

    BRILLIANT hypothesis, alex!

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