BAKING WITH JOHN LENNON

 

There was no escaping what would have been John Lennon’s 70th birthday last Saturday. Besides a smattering of movies, re-issues and new publications that have hit the market, every pop or rock radio stations in the country played Lennon songs all day long. On NPR, a Playboy journalist who conducted the first interview after five years of seclusion and what it turned out to be the last, was talking about the three weeks he got to spend with John, Yoko and Sean, all the while with a tape recorder running.

It was wonderful to hear John’s rich and unmistakable voice again, his Liverpudlian flavor that tinged most of his sung lyrics still at the forefront. I forgot how interesting and provocative and simple he could be. He had apparently spent the previous five years running from fame and watching Sean grow. He was caught on tape baking with his son “I am teaching him to make a loaf. It’s fantastic, you see it coming out of the oven and it’s a miracle, just like watching a record being made”.

That remark, that could only be uttered by a musician, lingered on in my head. I never subscribed to the platitude that cooking is an art – it really isn’t. Rather, it’s a creative medium that transforms raw ingredients into something that didn’t previously exist. But, unlike Michelangelo’s David, it is not exactly enduring, if not in our memory and our willingness to recreate a dish. Great cooking can be artistic, sublime, experimental but, above all, it should be approachable and fun.

But Lennon’s remark, equating a loaf of bread to a record (such a lovely word that has fallen in sad disuse) made me look at the “art” of baking from a different standpoint. A musician’s creative seed becomes a song, usually composed on guitar or piano but every musician knows that it will be the painstaking and technical work inside a studio, in the hands of producers and engineers that will transform the original idea into the final version people will get to hear. The creative endeavor needs to avail itself of engineering constraints and countless hours of tweaking.

Likewise, in baking, there is room for improvisation and artistic flair but, not matter how creative an idea or recipe can be, it has to abide by the laws of chemistry that make bread rise, chocolate perfectly melt at a certain temperature, caramel harden and frosting come together. Every baker knows he/she needs to work within those parameters. Like in music, the technical limitations can actually be liberating, pushing one to either find ways to work around them or to use them to one’s advantage.

Only John Lennon, whose songs taught me English, could have me go off on such a tangent. Shortly after all his talks of baking, he went on to recount how Eleanor Rigby came together and he  made his collaboration with Paul sound simple, stripped of all the magic we tend to imbue art with. Only a true artist can make art approachable and demystify it of all the hidden meanings we like to ascribe to it. What struck me the most was how he obviously applied his vision to the most mundane tasks. As only true artists do.

 

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