Sean Ono Lennon has created a series of captivating and innovative animations using the Spotify Canvas medium to visually accompany the eleven album tracks and three singles of the Enhanced Spotify release of John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band – The Ultimate Mixes. Written and directed by Ono Lennon, “I Am the Egbert” is a series of short looping scenes that tell the story of a character named Egbert, whose life experiences strangely mirror the sentiments in the sequence of songs on the album tracks and the encores, “Give Peace A Chance,” “Cold Turkey,” and “Instant Karma! (We All Shine On).” The Ultimate Mixes were recently released as part of a suite of releases to celebrate 50 years of John Lennon’s influential and transformational first post-Beatles solo album, John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band.
Working closely with the team behind the Emmy Award-winning, Oscar-nominated 2007 animated short, “I Met The Walrus,” about his father John Lennon, the Egbert films were written and directed by Ono Lennon, with producer Jerry Levitan, illustrator James Braithwaite and Director of Animation Josh Raskin. They were Executive Produced by Yoko Ono Lennon and produced by Simon Hilton on behalf of Lenono.
“I Am The Egbert” can be experienced on mobile here.
“When it comes to creating something new for someone like my dad, it’s challenging because so much of the footage and photos of him have been used so much over the years and they already evoke certain feelings and memories with people, and of course the music is so classic,” said Ono Lennon. “Animation is a great medium because it allows us to recontextualize the music in a new way for both new audiences and longtime fans. My dad loved cartoons and drawing so we wanted to honor him by taking a page from his illustrations and life story, and while it quotes from his aesthetic universe, it isn’t just a copy and paste. I feel like we’ve created something unique and beautifully done that is within the vocabulary of what you understand to be something that makes sense for my dad and that whole time period without being derivative.
Instead of just creating disparate digital wallpapers for each track, Ono Lennon felt that within the music and lyrics of the album lay an opportunity to tell a short yet meaningful biographical life story. To do so, he reached out to an animation team whose work he greatly admired. “I’ve always loved ‘I Met The Walrus” and for years have been interested in working with Jerry, James and Josh who made the short film. “There's something about what they created that stands out about everything I've ever seen about my dad; it nailed his relaxed vibe and the animation was aesthetically on point with the style he liked. It's as if they ate everything that my dad did and then digested it, it really absorbed the language of John Lennon.”
Jerry Levitan met John and Yoko at fourteen years old, when, armed with a reel-to-reel tape recorder and a Super 8 camera, he snuck into their room at the King Edward Sheraton Hotel in Toronto on May 26, 1969 and persuaded them to do an interview just before they left for their famous Bed-In For Peace in Montreal. In forty minutes, they ran the gamut and spoke candidly about war, politics, life and music.
Nearly forty years later in 2007, Levitan teamed up with illustrator James Braithwaite and director/writer Josh Raskin to create a short animated film using a segment of that interview that was so brimming with truth, ideas and originality that “I Met The Walrus” won (among many other awards) an Emmy, an AFI Best Animated Short and was nominated for an Academy Award.
While Ono Lennon was a longtime fan of the film, he had never met the makers until February 2021 where, like so many others in the pandemic world, they met virtually via Zoom. The combination of Ono Lennon, Levitan, Braithwaite and Raskin proved to be electric and after a series of enthusiastic and creative video calls and email exchanges, it wasn’t long before Egbert was hatched, and his narrative began to unfold.
“On May 26, 1969 I spent a most perfect day with John Lennon and Yoko Ono,” said Levitan. “Being 14 in 1969 in the days of the Beatles was magical. I met my hero, he treated me with kindness and generosity, and he exceeded my dreams of what he was like. That day changed my life forever. Amidst the political turmoil strangling the world and the hardship and worry of the pandemic, Sean Ono Lennon reached out to me and told me he loved my animated short film ‘I Met The Walrus’ and wanted to explore collaborating with him and assembling the same team to create animated visuals to not only be a companion to the Plastic Ono Band reissue, but a bold, respectful and unique standalone adaptation of his dad’s masterpiece. It was surreal.”
Levitan quickly enlisted Raskin, the director/writer of “Walrus” who then brought on Braithwaite as illustrator.
“James and I met in high school and he became my best friend and favorite artist pretty much immediately,” said Raskin. “His art always reminded me of John’s drawings but taken in a whole other direction with his own dark, hilarious magic, so when Jerry approached me to make the film, James was the only pen wizard for the job. For this project, the idea was really to make animated loops in a similar style to ‘I Met The Walrus’ but with all the fanciness stripped out, the way we would have made them in 1970. Less computers, more moms. Sean came up with the big picture direction and then I would come up with individual scenes and direct the process of making them into animations with James’ artwork.”
Braithwaite adds, “When Sean discovered the hero's journey hidden within this record, it completely blew my mind. It's one of those things that's hard to see at first, but once you see it, it's impossible to ignore. Once the story arc was established, each canvas was then a complicated little puzzle we had to work at until the perfect balance was found. But once that balance is found, I think this micro format can be extremely powerful – like a little visual poem that you can read extra meaning into as you repeatedly watch.”
I AM THE EGBERT
JOHN LENNON/PLASTIC ONO BAND – THE ULTIMATE MIXES
The story of Egbert’s life plays out on the canvasses in the following order, with descriptions from Sean Ono Lennon:
Egbert is born into a world that is not so much cruel
but rather indifferent to his existence.
Egbert finds respite from reality in the bosom of a
I Found Out
Egbert finds further alienation from his interactions
with the other boys at school.
Working Class Hero
The adults in Egbert’s life seem to want him to be
something or someone he is not.
Egbert feels utterly alone.
Loneliness leads Egbert to creativity.
Creativity leads Egbert to meet the girl.
Well Well Well
The girl leads Egbert to become a man.
Look At Me
Little Egbert Jr. is born.
As Egbert and his wife grow old together, they realize
that everything they need they have in each other.
My Mummy’s Dead
Egbert remembers his mother. Now that he himself is a parent,
he regrets having judged her so harshly.
Give Peace A Chance
Former adversaries resolve their differences and
come together in dance and song.
Despite finding love, Egbert remains troubled by
events in his childhood that cause him to act
irrationally at times. Here he can be seen trying to
escape these behaviors unsuccessfully.
Instant Karma! (We All Shine On)
We are all of us, Egbert included, just a blink in the
eye of Brahma.
Stills © 2021 Yoko Ono Lennon