This collage, painstakingly compiled by John Lennon for Elton John and sent to him for his 28th birthday on 25 March 1975, reflects the high regard and deep affection Lennon felt for Elton. As Peter Doggett observes in his detailed analysis of it, this highly personal collage must have taken a considerable amount of forethought and time in its execution:
...Lennon assembled the material for the collage from a wide variety of sources - porn magazines, women's magazines, newspaper advertisements, even the sleeve for one of Elton John's records. It also incorporates a personal photo of Elton, presumably taken by John in the Dakota Building, which appears to show the singer sitting in a room, with Yoko Ono on a bed nearby. Carefully and playfully assembled, the collage was probably planned over a period of time, as Lennon cut out and stored images that he thought would be appropriate for the piece. It is amusing to note the heavy dominance of gay iconography and male images in the collage; in 1975, despite some media speculation and the camp nature of his public appearances, Elton John was still officially portrayed as being resolutely heterosexual...
A recurring theme throughout the collage is the reference to Lennon's highly significant appearance with Elton John at Madison Square Gardens in New York a few months earlier on 28 November, 1974 in what was to become his last live appearance. This came about as a result of the two men's collaboration on Lennon's single Whatever Gets You Thru The Night and a wager that subsequently ensued. As Doggett recounts: ...At the time the record was made, Lennon's career appeared to be in commercial decline whereas Elton John was arguably the most popular solo artist in the world... In a Billboard interview in 1997 Elton recalled telling Lennon: ...Listen, if your record "Whatever Gets You Through The Night" [as part of The Plastic Ono Nuclear Band], gets to No. 1. you're going to come on stage with me in New York. We'll shake on it." To Lennon's surprise, that is exactly what happened..
References to the three songs Lennon performed at Madison Square Gardens [MSG] are woven into the front of the collage. The single word Lucy at the foot for Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds. The song title I Saw Her Standing There clipped from the picture sleeve for Elton's latest US single Philadelphia Freedom where the Lennon/Elton duet from the MSG concert appeared as the flipside; and the title Whatever Gets You Thru The Night cut out from the corresponding sheet music for the song.
The collage reflects more than just a musical resurgence for Lennon, it also marks a romantic milestone for him. The Guest Pass for that Madison Square Gardens concert, is probably the one used by Yoko herself [as it is printed with the words No Stage Access]. That evening John and Yoko who had been separated for nearly 18 months, met backstage, and to use Elton's words ...."they got back together again." As Doggett observes:...As a result, Lennon always held particularly fond memories of the gig, and of Elton John's role in their reunion...
In the course of Christie's research into this piece we discussed it with Paul Gambaccini who had attended the MSG concert on 28 November, 1974 and Seymour Stein who also attended the concert and threw the after-show party. Gambaccini, newly graduated from Oxford University and working for a radio station in Boston recalled that Lennon, whom he'd met for the first time a few days earlier in Boston where he'd attended the Elton John concert in preparation for MSG, was incredibly nervous on the night. Elton too recalled that Lennon was ... physically sick before the show with worry and nerves... and that ...When John came on stage, I've never heard a louder reception in my life for anyone...It moved us all to tears...The band was crying, I was crying. And for 10 to 12 minutes, the audience would just not stop cheering and clapping...it was so moving for him to feel that amount of love...". Gambaccini too recalled how the crowd went wild, he said that he had never seen such a mass expression of enthusiasm, warmth, excitement, before or since and that the power of the emotion the audience expressed was so extreme you felt it could have physically lifted the roof off the building. Gambaccini described Lennon's appearance at Elton's MSG concert as "...the crossroads night in Lennon's life..."
Additional Collage Details:
I Saw Her Standing There. Paul Gambaccini [PG] recalled that when he was waiting in the wings that evening, Elton passed him and said cryptically..."The Third Number". PG felt that Elton was probably remarking on the significance that Lennon was performing a Beatles song at this time, especially one written by Paul McCartney. [Lennon only sang a Beatles song in public on three occasions after the split]. Gambaccini said that Lennon hadn't ever sung this song before in any case, and that he'd introduced it on stage by saying it was written ...by an old estranged fiancée of mine named Paul...".
Pumping Iron publisher's coupon, signed and inscribed by Lennon is embellished by cut-outs of Arnold Schwarzenegger posing, these are not only decorative but highly relevant as according to Peter Doggett the book Pumping Iron ... was a best-selling investigation of the body-building business which turned Schwarzenegger into a national celebrity...
Central comic book hero portrait according to Gambaccini and other comic book afficionados is thought to be that of Edgar Rice Burroughs's creation Tarzan.
The moustache below Tarzan was probably taken from a photograph of one of America's most famous sporting heroes of the early '70s, Olympic swimming champion Mark Spitz, after his record breaking gold medal triumph at the 1972 Games.
Steam train logo to the right of Tarzan is probably a reference to Elton's record company Rocket Records and 'borrowed' from one of their adverts.
Ivory Snow advertisement on the reverse could, according to PG be symbolic of several things. Ivory Snow was a soap powder and therefore could be a reference to cocaine. However, interestingly, the girl in the ad was called Marilyn Briggs who later became porn star Marilyn Chambers who took the lead in the film Behind The Green Door, made and released in 1972, the same year as the notorious Deep Throat which Lennon and Elton were apparently obsessed with at the time. Gambaccini pointed out the great irony of the Ivory Snow ad is that Marilyn Briggs was the sister of Bill Briggs, member of the group The Remains, who opened for the Beatles at Shea Stadium. He thinks it is highly unlikely John Lennon knew this when including the Ivory Snow ad, but it's certainly is a fascinating coincidence.
Who Was Mother Goose the title of the collage repeated on both sides of the collage remains as Peter Doggett comments the biggest enigma of them all and was presumably an in-joke between the two men ...But much of the humour in the collage, from the phallic images and imagery to the suggestive juxtapositiion of pictures and text, is only too obvious, and characteristic of Lennon...
Christie's would like to thank Paul Gambaccini and Seymour Stein for their helpful assistance with the preparation of this catalogue entry.
Photograph courtesy of Redferns Music Picture Library