Monday, October 26, 2009

Ernest Levy: A Remarkable Man

Thanks to Barrie Hibbert for passing on this story.

In the October 2009 issue of the magazine Canonmills Baptist Church (Edinburgh), Tom Fleming shares the story of his friend, Ernest Levy

News reached me, while I was in hospital in August, of the death of a good friend of mine who had a special connection with Canonmills. He was a Slovakian Jew who, after the war, settled in Glasgow and became the Cantor of the Giffnock and Newlands Synagogue, the largest in this country. His name was the Rev Ernest Levy and he was 84.

Forced in 1938 at the age of 13, to flee with his family to Hungary, they were deported, after the German occupation of that country, to concentration camps where most of them perished. After the last year of the war in Europe, as the Red Army moved West, Ernest, then aged 19, was moved between seven different camps ending up, for a second time, in the notorious death camp at Bergen-Belsen, stripped of every vestige of humanity and suffering from starvation and typhoid. That he survived is something of a miracle.

When I first heard him tell his story, some twenty years ago, I was struck by the fact that here was a holocaust survivor talking without hatred and bitterness. Indeed, he said memorably, “I owe my life to three Germans. I only ever knew them by their first names.

One was Helmut, a guard who befriended me and brought me water and bread when his fellow guards were occupied.

The second was a German farmer called Max who took pity on the two hundred Jewish prisoners forced to shelter in his barn from the bitter winter snow-showers whilst on a forced march. Courageously, Max ignored orders to the contrary and supplied each prisoner with one boiled potato per day for three weeks.

The third was a nursing sister in the German hospital to which I was taken after the liberation of Belsen. Her name was Emma. ‘You must get your strength back and find your family’, she insisted. I replied, ‘They’re all dead’. ‘Well you are alive, and life is precious!’ said the formidable Sister Emma, and she kissed me on the forehead.”

When British soldiers liberated Belsen, one of them found Ernest, semi-conscious, lying face down in the dust by the perimeter fence. At the first talk which I heard Ernest give, the meeting was thrown open for questions at the end. An elderly lady asked him if the terrible things he had suffered had changed him in any way. There was a long pause. “Yes,” Ernest replied quite quietly, “I used to think that God was some Supreme Being who watched what happens in the world from an unsearchable distance. Now I know that God lay with me in the dust of Belsen…”

He came to Canonmills at my invitation on a weeknight about fifteen years ago. The place was packed with about a hundred people. He told his astonishing story, movingly, for about an hour. Then he said, “Tom has specially asked me to tell you about the story of the Sardine Tin.”

So he told the story. It was while they were sheltering in the barn belonging to Max, the German farmer, in the winter of 1944-45. The prisoners were allowed outside, briefly, in daylight hours. Ernest saw one of the S.S. Guards throw away an open tin of sardines. Unseen by his fellow prisoners, Ernest picked up the discarded tin, hoping to find a scrap of fish. The tin was empty apart from some sardine oil. He looked around and saw a piece of string lying in the ice on the ground. He placed one end of the string in the fish oil. After several attempts, he managed to light the other end of the string creating a lamp out of the sardine tin. He concealed the tin until later that night when he lit the makeshift lamp and, with his fellow prisoners gathered in the darkness of the barn around the flickering light, he led them in singing the ancient Chanukkah Hebrew hymn, sung since time immemorial at the midwinter Festival of Lights, the feast of the Re-Dedication of the Temple in the time of the Maccabees:

These lamps which now we light
are in remembrance of the wondrous deeds
that You performed for our fathers of old
and still perform for us today.
We cannot look upon them
without giving thanks that You stand beside
us in our time of trouble
and praising the glory of Your Holy Name, O Lord.

Then, to my complete surprise, Ernest opened a little attaché case which he had brought with him to Canonmills. From it he took a rusty sardine tin, a small bottle of oil, a piece of string and a box of matches. He lit ‘the lamp’, held it in his hands, and in his lovely tenor voice sang for us there and then the Chanukkah hymn. Then he said, “That ancient hymn may never reach the Top Ten on the Hit Parade, but it may well have been heard by Jesus himself, sung in the Temple in Jerusalem.”

None of us who were there will ever forget that very special moment, or the remarkable Ernest Levy who could, so eloquently, transform a story of degradation and unspeakable horror into a triumph of humanity, faith, courage and survival.

Dr Geoff Pound

Geoff can be contacted by email at geoffpound(at) on Facebook and Twitter.

Image: Ernest Levy; the Sardine Tin Lamp.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Ira Glass on Building a Great Story

Ira Glass, the host of This American Life explains the art of constructing a great story.

He looks at the building blocks of a compelling story, the way that narrating a sequence of events has momentum, suspense and is like being on a train moving toward a destination of discovery.

Glass tells how posing questions is like dangling tasty bait where the implication is that the storyteller will answer the questions that have been so tantalizingly raised.

The anecdote and the questions are insufficient unless there is a moment of reflection—‘Why the hell are we listening if there’s no point to the story? Who cares about a story that has no point?’

The way the storyteller switches between anecdote and reflection is the art of a good storyteller.

Watch Ira Glass Talk about Building a Good Story

Dr Geoff Pound

Geoff can be contacted by email at geoffpound(at) on Facebook and Twitter.

Image: Ira Glass

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Jürgen Moltmann on the Busyness of ‘Homo Accelerandus’

Thanks to my friend Simon Holt for this quote by Jürgen Moltmann on the busyness of humanity, the contemporary ‘distress of time’ and the advent of ‘homo accelerandus’.

The ‘he’ in this statement should stand for ‘he’ and ‘sh

“He has a great many encounters, but does not really experience anything, since although he wants to see everything, he internalizes nothing and reflects upon nothing. He has a great many contacts but no relationships, since he is unable to linger because he is always ‘in a hurry’. He devours ‘fast food’, preferably while standing, because he is no longer able to enjoy anything; after all, a person needs time for enjoyment, and time is precisely what he does not have.”

Simon Holt, Finding Life in Ministry, Simply Simon, 14 October 2009. This is taken from Moltmann’s introductory chapter in Moltmann, Wolterstorff and Charry, A Passion for God’s Reign: Theology, Christian Learning and the Christian Self. Grand Rapids, Eerdmans, 1998, page 39.

Dr Geoff Pound

Geoff can be contacted by email at geoffpound(at) on Facebook and Twitter.

Image: “s/he is unable to linger because s/he is always ‘in a hurry’.”

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Mark Twain on ‘How to Tell a Story’

It is always good advice to listen to experienced storytellers if you honing up your skills in telling a story.

Thanks to Metafilter and About.Com for providing the link to this advice by master-storyteller, Mark Twain.

The Humorous Story an American Development: Its Difference from Comic and Witty Stories.

I do not claim that I can tell a story as it ought to be told. I only claim to know how a story ought to be told, for I have been almost daily in the company of the most expert story-tellers for many years.

There are several kinds of stories, but only one difficult kind--the humorous. I will talk mainly about that one. The humorous story is American, the comic story is English, the witty story is French. The humorous story depends for its effect upon the manner of the telling; the comic story and the witty story upon the matter.

The humorous story may be spun out to great length, and may wander around as much as it pleases, and arrive nowhere in particular; but the comic and witty stories must be brief and end with a point. The humorous story bubbles gently along, the others burst.

The humorous story is strictly a work of art--high and delicate art-- and only an artist can tell it; but no art is necessary in telling the comic and the witty story; anybody can do it. The art of telling a humorous story--understand, I mean by word of mouth, not print--was created in America, and has remained at home.

The humorous story is told gravely; the teller does his best to conceal the fact that he even dimly suspects that there is anything funny about it; but the teller of the comic story tells you beforehand that it is one of the funniest things he has ever heard, then tells it with eager delight, and is the first person to laugh when he gets through. And sometimes, if he has had good success, he is so glad and happy that he will repeat the "nub" of it and glance around from face to face, collecting applause, and then repeat it again. It is a pathetic thing to see.

Very often, of course, the rambling and disjointed humorous story finishes with a nub, point, snapper, or whatever you like to call it. Then the listener must be alert, for in many cases the teller will divert attention from that nub by dropping it in a carefully casual and indifferent way, with the pretence that he does not know it is a nub.

Artemus Ward used that trick a good deal; then when the belated audience presently caught the joke he would look up with innocent surprise, as if wondering what they had found to laugh at. Dan Setchell used it before him, Nye and Riley and others use it to-day.

But the teller of the comic story does not slur the nub; he shouts it at you--every time. And when he prints it, in England, France, Germany, and Italy, he italicizes it, puts some whooping exclamation-points after it, and sometimes explains it in a parenthesis. All of which is very depressing, and makes one want to renounce joking and lead a better life.

Let me set down an instance of the comic method, using an anecdote which has been popular all over the world for twelve or fifteen hundred years. The teller tells it in this way:

In the course of a certain battle a soldier whose leg had been shot off appealed to another soldier who was hurrying by to carry him to the rear, informing him at the same time of the loss which he had sustained; whereupon the generous son of Mars, shouldering the unfortunate, proceeded to carry out his desire. The bullets and cannon-balls were flying in all directions, and presently one of the latter took the wounded man's head off--without, however, his deliverer being aware of it. In no-long time he was hailed by an officer, who said:
"Where are you going with that carcass?"
"To the rear, sir--he's lost his leg!"
"His leg, forsooth?" responded the astonished officer; "you mean his head, you booby."

Whereupon the soldier dispossessed himself of his burden, and stood looking down upon it in great perplexity. At length he said:
"It is true, sir, just as you have said." Then after a pause he added, "But he TOLD me IT WAS HIS LEG! ! ! ! !"

Here the narrator bursts into explosion after explosion of thunderous horse-laughter, repeating that nub from time to time through his gaspings and shriekings and suffocatings.

It takes only a minute and a half to tell that in its comic-story form; and isn't worth the telling, after all. Put into the humorous-story form it takes ten minutes, and is about the funniest thing I have ever listened to--as James Whitcomb Riley tells it.

He tells it in the character of a dull-witted old farmer who has just heard it for the first time, thinks it is unspeakably funny, and is trying to repeat it to a neighbor. But he can't remember it; so he gets all mixed up and wanders helplessly round and round, putting in tedious details that don't belong in the tale and only retard it; taking them out conscientiously and putting in others that are just as useless; making minor mistakes now and then and stopping to correct them and explain how he came to make them; remembering things which he forgot to put in their proper place and going back to put them in there; stopping his narrative a good while in order to try to recall the name of the soldier that was hurt, and finally remembering that the soldier's name was not mentioned, and remarking placidly that the name is of no real importance, anyway--better, of course, if one knew it, but not essential, after all-- and so on, and so on, and so on.

The teller is innocent and happy and pleased with himself, and has to stop every little while to hold himself in and keep from laughing outright; and does hold in, but his body quakes in a jelly-like way with interior chuckles; and at the end of the ten minutes the audience have laughed until they are exhausted, and the tears are running down their faces.

The simplicity and innocence and sincerity and unconsciousness of the old farmer are perfectly simulated, and the result is a performance which is thoroughly charming and delicious. This is art and fine and beautiful, and only a master can compass it; but a machine could tell the other story.

To string incongruities and absurdities together in a wandering and sometimes purposeless way, and seem innocently unaware that they are absurdities, is the basis of the American art, if my position is correct. Another feature is the slurring of the point. A third is the dropping of a studied remark apparently without knowing it, as if one were thinking aloud. The fourth and last is the pause.

Artemus Ward dealt in numbers three and four a good deal. He would begin to tell with great animation something which he seemed to think was wonderful; then lose confidence, and after an apparently absent-minded pause add an incongruous remark in a soliloquizing way; and that was the remark intended to explode the mine--and it did.

For instance, he would say eagerly, excitedly, "I once knew a man in New Zealand who hadn't a tooth in his head"--here his animation would die out; a silent, reflective pause would follow, then he would say dreamily, and as if to himself, "and yet that man could beat a drum better than any man I ever saw."

The pause is an exceedingly important feature in any kind of story, and a frequently recurring feature, too. It is a dainty thing, and delicate, and also uncertain and treacherous; for it must be exactly the right length--no more and no less--or it fails of its purpose and makes trouble. If the pause is too short the impressive point is passed, and [and if too long] the audience have had time to divine that a surprise is intended--and then you can't surprise them, of course.

On the platform I used to tell a negro ghost story that had a pause in front of the snapper on the end, and that pause was the most important thing in the whole story. If I got it the right length precisely, I could spring the finishing ejaculation with effect enough to make some impressible girl deliver a startled little yelp and jump out of her seat --and that was what I was after. This story was called "The Golden Arm," and was told in this fashion. You can practise with it yourself--and mind you look out for the pause and get it right.

Once 'pon a time dey wuz a monsus mean man, en he live 'way out in de prairie all 'lone by hisself, 'cep'n he had a wife. En bimeby she died, en he tuck en toted her way out dah in de prairie en buried her. Well, she had a golden arm--all solid gold, fum de shoulder down. He wuz pow'ful mean--pow'ful; en dat night he couldn't sleep, Gaze he want dat golden arm so bad.

When it come midnight he couldn't stan' it no mo'; so he git up, he did, en tuck his lantern en shoved out thoo de storm en dug her up en got de golden arm; en he bent his head down 'gin de win', en plowed en plowed en plowed thoo de snow. Den all on a sudden he stop (make a considerable pause here, and look startled, and take a listening attitude) en say: "My LAN', what's dat!"

En he listen--en listen--en de win' say (set your teeth together and imitate the wailing and wheezing singsong of the wind), "Bzzz-z-zzz"--- en den, way back yonder whah de grave is, he hear a voice! he hear a voice all mix' up in de win' can't hardly tell 'em 'part--" Bzzz-zzz-- W-h-o--g-o-t--m-y--g-o-l-d-e-n arm? --zzz--zzz-- W-h-o g-o-t m-y g-o-l- d-e-n arm!" (You must begin to shiver violently now.)

En he begin to shiver en shake, en say, "Oh, my! OH, my lan'! "en de win' blow de lantern out, en de snow en sleet blow in his face en mos' choke him, en he start a-plowin' knee-deep towards home mos' dead, he so sk'yerd--en pooty soon he hear de voice agin, en (pause) it 'us comin' after him! "Bzzz--zzz--zzz--W-h-o--g-o-t m-y--g-o-l-d-e-n--arm?"

When he git to de pasture he hear it agin closter now, en a-comin'!-- a-comin' back dah in de dark en de storm--(repeat the wind and the voice). When he git to de house he rush up-stairs en jump in de bed en kiver up, head and years, en lay dah shiverin' en shakin'--en den way out dah he hear it agin!--en a-comin'! En bimeby he hear (pause--awed, listening attitude)--pat--pat--pat--hit's acomin' up-stairs! Den he hear de latch, en he know it's in de room!

Den pooty soon he know it's a-stannin' by de bed! (Pause.) Den--he know it's a-bendin' down over him--en he cain't skasely git his breath! Den-- den--he seem to feel someth' n c-o-l-d, right down 'most agin his head! (Pause.)

Den de voice say, right at his year--"W-h-o g-o-t--m-y--g-o-l-d-e-n arm?" (You must wail it out very plaintively and accusingly; then you stare steadily and impressively into the face of the farthest-gone auditor--a girl, preferably--and let that awe-inspiring pause begin to build itself in the deep hush. When it has reached exactly the right length, jump suddenly at that girl and yell, "You've got it!")

If you've got the pause right, she'll fetch a dear little yelp and spring right out of her shoes. But you must get the pause right; and you will find it the most troublesome and aggravating and uncertain thing you ever undertook.

On Related Sites
Ski the Snow Slopes at a Dubai Shopping Mall, Experiencing the Emirates, 12 October 2009.

BMW Oracle Objection to RAK More About Light Winds than Iranian Dangers, America’s Cup in the UAE, 9 October 2009.

Fly to and From Fujairah by Seawings Seaplane, Fujairah in Focus, 11 October 2009.

Dr Geoff Pound

Geoff can be contacted by email at geoffpound(at) on Facebook and Twitter.

Image: Mark Twain.

Thursday, October 08, 2009

Hugh MacLeod on the Key Element in the Best Stories

I am a great fan of Hugh MacLeod.

On his web site, Gaping Void, he describes himself in these terms:

* I'm a cartoonist.
* I sell limited-edition prints.
* I wrote a book.
* I'm CEO of Stormhoek USA, which markets South African wine in the States.
* I also draw private commissions.

Some people find the language Hugh uses to be a little coarse but if you have a high tolerance level you will enjoying scanning his site and ordering one of his prints.

Something Different
About this cartoon (pictured) Hugh makes this statement:

"This print is different than the ones I’ve done to date. It has a sort of Abstract-Expressionist feel to it, as I felt that was more in keeping with the sentiment. It’s a beautiful thought, one of my favorites. 'A story without Love is not worth telling.'"

Like Saint Paul wrote to The Corinthians, “Without Love, I am nothing.”

The Best Stories
Hugh adds: "The best stories are about things we care about, told to the people we care about. This is true whether we’re talking fiction, fact, people, ideas or yes, the story about the business you’re trying to get off the ground."

Hugh MacLeod, love matters. People matter. Everything else is secondary. amen to that, Gaping Void, 30 September 2009.

Other Stories and Related Sites
Said of Obama: ‘He’s Not a Muslim. He’s a Good Man’, Experiencing the Emirates, 7 October 2009.

See Alinghi Settling Into Base at Ras al Khaimah UAE, America’s Cup in the UAE, 7 October 2009.

See Why This Fujairah Resident Has a Smile on His Face, Fujairah in Focus, 7 October 2009.

Dr Geoff Pound

Geoff can be contacted by email at geoffpound(at) on Facebook and Twitter.

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Ricky Gervais Speaks of Being ‘Born Again’ to the Joy of Work

Ricky Gervais, the comedian and the Director of The Office and The Invention of Lying, tells in an interview…about his ‘born again’ experience when he was converted to the joy of work.

About The Office he says, “I enjoyed every moment of it. I enjoyed the result and I enjoyed the pride. I also realised in retrospect that I didn't enjoy all those things because of how good I thought it had turned out. I enjoyed it because of how hard it was.”

The Office, Gervais explains, was the first thing he had ever really worked at. A clever working-class kid from Reading, up to the age of 40 he had always relied on a quick brain and a ready wit to see him through. Life was a breeze, a laugh, a joke. “I suppose I was always creative. I did start 20 novels, and then went, ‘Ah, too hard,’ and went to the bar.”

With The Office, which he devised with his co-writer Stephen Merchant, he didn't go to the bar. They spent years writing it, refining it, honing it, controlling it – their refusal to delegate any detail in its production is legendary.

That, for Gervais, is what makes The Office a watershed. Not its worldwide success, which opened every door and made him impossibly rich….What was really important was the joy of work – not just dashing something off but getting every detail of David Brent and Wernham Hogg ("Where life is stationery") right, a fully realised world.

Gervais said at the outset of the interview, “I think you should know something about me first. I never tried hard at anything. I was born smart on a very working-class estate. A couple of people I knew went to university apart from me, but all the way through I was the smartest kid in the school. That's luck, but I was proud of it. And I was also proud of doing well without trying.”

“As you get older, and it took me a long time to realise it, that's a disgusting attitude, revolting. It's ignorant and it's a tragic waste, and I realised that the work itself is the reward. The struggle itself is the reward. Everything else – fame, money, being best mates with Jonathan Ross – is secondary.”

Link to entire article
Stephen Moss, Ricky Gervais: ‘Before The Office I Never Tried Hard at Anything’, Guardian, 28 September 2009.

Other Stories and Related Sites
Your Business is My Business and My Business is Your Business in the UAE, Experiencing the Emirates, 6 October 2009.

This Will Be One of the Highest Swimming Pools in Fujairah UAE, Fujairah in Focus, 6 October 2009.

Luxury Pen to Commemorate Gandhi’s Birthday is Not Write, Stories for Speakers and Writers, 4 October 2009.

See More Photos and Video of Alinghi in UAE Waters, America’s Cup in the UAE, 6 October 2009.

Dr Geoff Pound

Geoff can be contacted by email at geoffpound(at) on Facebook and Twitter.

Image: Ricky Gervais.

Sunday, October 04, 2009

Luxury Pen to Commemorate Gandhi’s Birthday is Not Write

Montblanc, the Swiss luxury pen maker has issued a $23,000 pen to commemorate the birth of Mahatma Gandhi (October 2, 1869).

The limited-edition pen, priced at Rs1.1m ($23,000, €15,800, £14,400), has an 18-carat solid gold, rhodium-plated nib, engraved with Gandhi’s image, and ‘a saffron-coloured mandarin garnet’ on the clip.

Dilip R. Doshi, chairman of Entrack, Montblanc’s distributor in India, said “We are creating a thing of simplicity and beauty that will last for centuries.”

How inappropriate can you get? The pen may have been his most powerful tool but an expensive and exclusive writing instrument is not in keeping with the Indian leader who lived a life of poverty and simplicity in the cause of ordinary people.

What next? Giant soft drink cups issued by McDonalds adorned with Gandhi’s portrait? Commemorative Gandhi guns that come with a round of bullets engraved with his initials?

It is astonishing how we celebrate the birth and death of great people in ways that fly in the face of the values they embodied.

Gandhi Used to Sell 11-Lakh Pen, NDTV, 30 September 2009.

Dr Geoff Pound

Geoff can be contacted by email at geoffpound(at) on Facebook and Twitter.

Image: The pen with a close up of the 18 carat nib to commemorate a man who lived each day on rice and carrots.

Friday, October 02, 2009

Dying to Work or is Work Killing You?

Another suicide this week of a France Telecom worker, adding to a spate of suicides at the partially state-run firm, prompted Rupert Wright to remember and review his favourite French business book.

‘Bonjour Paresse’ is by Corinne Maier an underling at Electricite de France.

Her book (‘Hello Laziness’) suddenly became a bestseller in 2004 when an idiot manager at the company threatened to sack her for writing such a scurrilous guide to office life. This led to a front-page story in Le Monde and thousands of extra sales.

10 Commandments for Work
The author has a very cynical view of the corporate world, which includes a list of 10 commandments. Here is a sample of her gems:

1. You are a modern day slave. There is no scope for personal fulfilment. You work for your pay cheque at the end of the month, full stop.

2. It's pointless to try to change the system. Opposing it simply makes it stronger.

3. What you do is pointless. You can be replaced from one day to the next by any cretin sitting next to you. So work as little as possible and spend time [not too much, if you can help it] cultivating your personal network so that you’re untouchable when the next restructuring comes around.

4. You’re not judged on merit, but on whether you look and sound the part. Speak lots of leaden jargon: people will suspect you have an inside track.

5. Never accept a position of responsibility for any reason. You’ll only have to work harder for what amounts to peanuts.

6. Make a beeline for the most useless positions – research, strategy and business development – where it is impossible to assess your “contribution to the wealth of the firm”. Avoid “on the ground” operational roles like the plague.

7. Once you've found one of these plum jobs, never move. It is only the most exposed who get fired.

8. Learn to identify kindred spirits who, like you, believe the system is absurd through discreet signs (quirks in clothing, peculiar jokes, warm smiles).

9. Be nice to people on short-term contracts. They are the only people who do any real work.

10. Tell yourself that the absurd ideology underpinning this corporate bullshit cannot last for ever. It will go the same way as the dialectical materialism of the communist system. The problem is knowing when...

Link to Full Article
Rupert Wright, Make a Beeline for the Most Useless Positions, The National, 1 October 2009.

Dr Geoff Pound

Geoff can be contacted by email at geoffpound(at) on Facebook and Twitter.

Image: The book cover and the author.

The Question that Has Fascinated Interviewer Michael Parkinson

Sir Michael Parkinson, the king of the TV chat show, has interviewed John Lennon, Katherine Hepburn, Nelson Mandela and more than 3,000 people but a single question has driven every one of his interviews.

The show, he said when he was interviewed, was about the indefinable difference between these ‘superstars’ in sport and entertainment and us—the viewers.

“It is the question he says that has driven him on through the 3000-odd interviews he reckons he has done, both on behalf of the folks at home and to satisfy himself. ‘Why? Why you and not me? That is the question that is fascinating.’”

“He does have some answers to that question. ‘Two things I discerned…is that in the main, the people who have it, knew from a very early age what they wanted to be so they didn't spend a lot of their life pondering 'shall I do this, shall I do that?'. They knew from the first show that they wanted to tap-dance, or whatever it was. But the second thing - and this was without exception the rule - was that the very best worked hardest with what they had. They have gifts, of course they do, but they build on them.’”

Stephanie Bunbury, Taking a Shine to Folk, The Age, 26 September 2009.

Dr Geoff Pound

Geoff can be contacted by email at geoffpound(at) on Facebook and Twitter.

Image: Parky.

Thursday, October 01, 2009

John Lennon on the Skill of Creativity

John Lennon, the English rock musician and member of 'The Beatles' was asked in an interview whether his song Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds was inspired by drugs.

In his reply he revealed some secrets into the source and skill of his creativity.

On the Dick Cavet Show Lennon remarked how the song’s initials spelt ‘LSD’ but the inspiration for the lyrics had nothing to do with the taking or advocacy of drugs:

“This is the truth. My son came home with a drawing and he showed me this strange looking woman flying around and I said, ‘What is that?’ And he said, ‘Lucy in the sky with diamonds’ and I thought ‘That’s beautiful.’

Lennon said he immediately wrote a song about the painting and Lucy, the Weybridge nursery friend of Julian Lennon who has recently died.

The Girl with Kaleidoscope Eyes
Lucy may have been the one with the enchanting ‘kaleidoscope eyes’ yet there is something about Lennon’s eyes and his way of looking at ordinary scenes that tells us how creativity is stimulated.

Sometimes, as with his son’s painting, we might get a flash of inspiration that suggests a lyric, a tune, a project or a plan that we had never contemplated before.

Reflective Eyes
In the same interview John Lennon gives other examples that suggest he was practiced at reflecting on things and seeing something more.

Lennon expanded:

“Another song, ‘Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite!’, most of the lyrics I got came from an old poster for an old-fashioned circus in the 1800s.”

He said a similar thing happened with the writing of the song, ‘Happiness is a Warm Gun’:

“It was the front of a gun magazine that said, ‘Happiness is a Warm Gun.’ They’re advertising guns and I thought it was so crazy so I made a song out of it.”

Seeing Something More
John Lennon may have been born with the disposition for creative brilliance but the stories behind these songs, indicate a skill which we can all cultivate:

“Reflecting on the ordinary things that happen everyday, seeking to see something more and using the insights to spark our creativity.”

Dr Geoff Pound

Geoff can be contacted by email at geoffpound(at) on Facebook and Twitter.

Image: John Lennon and the drawing by Julian Lennon of Lucy that inspired the song.