John Lennon, it should be noted, was not always a wonderful person to be around. Sure, he may have been the representative of an entire generation of free-thinking youths, but that doesn’t mean he wasn’t a product of his time in a more destructive sense. Lennon’s sons Julian and Sean knew this better than most. But despite their grievances, their father did have one important redeeming feature: his attitude to wealth.
Back in 2020, Sean Lennon released a number of remastered versions of his father’s songs for the compilation album Gimme Some Truth: The Ultimate Mixes. Around that time, Sean sat down with Rolling Stone to discuss some of the tracks on the collection, including the oft-overlooked ‘Steel and Glass’
Originally featured on what many at the time regarded as Lennon’s first “post-Yoko” album, Walls and Bridges, ‘Steel and Glass’ was recorded during Lennon’s famous lost weekend with May Pang after he separated from Ono in ’71. As well as being heartbroken, Lennon was also struggling with his heroin addiction. It’s somewhat unsurprising, then, that this single sees the ex-Beatles member at his most cynical.
Opening up about the record, Sean explained: “It’s darker and it’s the part of my dad’s personality that I admire most. He’s a heavy guy, you know. My mom always talked about the lyric ‘steel and glass’ being about buildings, like high-rises made of steel and glass, and it’s this sort of indictment of the structure of society and how we live in this unnatural world where we worship at banks and money and this Wall Street structure.”
The brilliance of ‘Steel and Glass’ is that it works on both a universal and individual level. It focuses on the decadence and greed at the heart of capitalist ideology as well as the individuals who personify that greed, people like Beatles ex-manager Allen Klien. “I think ‘Steel and Glass’ is sort of about generally those kinds of people, that business types that he was very cynical about,” Sean continued. “The suit guys, the record-company execs. The managers and the businessmen. “But regardless of what it’s about, it’s just musically amazing,” he concluded. “So that’s why I like that one.”
Perhaps the most interesting aspect of Lennon’ s lyrical work on ‘Steel and Glass’ is the way he seems to regard the banker’s rampant desire for wealth as a response to childhood trauma. In the opening verse, he sings: “There you stand with your L.A. tan / And your New York walk and your New York talk / Your mother left you when you were small / But you’re going to wish you wasn’t born at all.”
Whether a product of Lennon’s ongoing therapy or simply a dig at an occupation he felt was devoid of love, the comparison implies a view of money as a surrogate for maternal affection and the filial bond. In Lennon’s eyes, bankers are men who have been deeply hurt and disguise their wounds with a highly-cultivated macho bravado. In this sense, the ‘Steel and Glass’ Lennon sings of isn’t merely architectural; it symbolises the faux-masculinity these people adopt to stop anyone from seeing the truth.