17 December 2012
I’ve been thinking a bit about those John songs that he would later comment “That was about me again…” about (mainly) after the fact. Help !, In My Life , Nowhere Man , Norwegian Wood , Strawberry Fields… In many ways, they are the songs on which much of the legend is built… the confessional, troubled artist as opposed to Paul’s professional tunesmith & PR man. Yes, I do know it’s far more complicated than that, but am just talking about public perceptions and not the realities of the flesh-and-blood men.
These songs continued — if not increased, to varying degrees of success for the rest of his life.
There are two songs that stand out though, for me anyway. The two the John changed who they were about, the McCartney-baiting How Do You Sleep? and the Klein-farewell of Steel & Glass.
Certainly, I’ve never bought John’s claims that How Do You Sleep? was really about him. Just couldn’t see it. But today I had a thought as it came on and I started listening, and wonder whether he was being more honest than I’ve previously allowed myself to consider.
This idea isn’t fully formed yet, so I hope you’ll forgive nonsense I disown. It seems that, for many lines there are strong about-John arguments. Don McLean has the line “…the jester sang to the king and queen/In a coat he borrowed from James Dean”, and the coat he’s wearing in places is Paul McCartney ‘s — to disguise that it’s another song about himself.
As I have said before, this is not the finished hypothesis… I don’t think. Really just wondering if there’s any sense here…
So Sgt. Pepper took you by surprise…
Did it really? Paul stepped forward with an idea to keep things going, as would happen increasingly in their last years, and Lennon shrugs his tripping soul until he’s got the energy for this Beatles thing again. And when he looks around again, he finds Paul has come up with “a turning point in Western Civilization”. That wasn’t mean to happen. John was the one who’d been to fecking Art School.
He’d taken a short snooze at the rudder, and suddenly finds Paul is somehow steering His ship, and over time he realises he’ll never get it so it’s his hand steers when he wants ever again, and the slow retreat of Beatle John speeded up slightly, and then came Brian’s death. In 1967 John lost his natural dominance of the band and the parent-figure who would prop-up his position in the band… The slow implosion had begun and it couldn’t be averted. They no longer had a referee.
But, instead of reinserting himself, he left the reins in Paul’s hand, and (however viewed now) he came up with MMT viewed as their first disaster (apart from the music). John knows something needs to be done, so turns to play let’s follow-George (which had been on hold since Brian). So off to India they go…
…and that doesn’t turn out too great either. But they do have lots of songs, and they might not even need too much help from each other…
…and now there’s Yoko, and then Linda, and Twickenham, the Eastmans, and Klein… and it’s all just picking up speed and picking up speed…
…and it all began with Pepper. How was he to know if he looked away Paul might surprise him, and forever shift that balance they had always had too close to 50/50 for John’s liking.
And worse still, he didn’t even like Pepper much. He thought it was a fraud, a public relations con, but people bought the illusion. He was a singles man… Jerry Lew Lewis and Whole Lotta Shakin’… etc.
You have Paul’s two great visions bookending the studio years, the concept of Pepper and the AR medley. John was dismissive of both.
“Pepper worked because we said it worked.”
I’d say choosing between who was most shocked by the success of Pepper, I would suggest that that was John.
Anyway, said way more than intended, and have thoughts on other lines (erm… part 1 of… erm… sorry!).
The following people thank Ron Nasty for this post:IveJustSeenAFaceo, Starr Shine?, Mr. Kite, Von Bontee
17 December 2012
Sorry… Oops! Back again, try to be quicker here. Next three lines.
Okay, I’ll try to be more precise here.
You better see right through that mother’s eyes
John had changed massively since he and Yoko had got together, as had the way he related to the world. Almost as if he was now seeing it through “Mother ‘s eyes”?
Those freaks was right when they said you was dead
Oh! A PiD line, how do you explain that one?
Lennon was being questioned by left and right about what his message was. There could — and I know I am stretching for some of these — be a view that he used the PiD to cover a comment about him being derided by both left and right: each telling him his voice was “ridiculous”! Or you “in” or “out”?
Just a bit of an idea… Sorry…
The one mistake you made was in your head
This is a straight at Paul line, no disguise — he’s throwing Paul straight back at Paul but disagreeing.
Paul tells him, in Too Many People —
Too many waiting for that lucky break
That was your first mistake
You took your lucky break and broke it in two
Now what can be done for you
You broke it in two
Though he knows he’s lying, he meets Paul’s stare, and says, “I could have been talked down. I said I’d left The Beatles, you sued us to break the band. You jumped, Paul! You jumped! You stupid barsteward! If you’d just given us some time! But what can I do now?”
Again, just suggestions of how something can be argued — not necessarily well, but all with a little thought…
The following people thank Ron Nasty for this post:IveJustSeenAFaceo, Mr. Kite
14 December 2009
Lots of thought-provoking stuff up there!
My own take on the whole thing is that, by writing such a venomous, vindictive song, John was ultimately revealing more about himself and his own nature than about the supposed subject of the song, Paul. And in that sense, “How Do You Sleep?” was more about John than Paul.
Also, many years ago, I had this vague supposition that “Mother ‘s eyes” actually referred to Frank Zappa‘s eyes! And that John was aligning himself with Zappa’s supposed contempt for SPLHCB , since John seemed to have a Zappa fixation for awhile back around 1970-71 (mentioned his admiration a coupla times in the Wenner interview.) But that was just my particular fantasy, since I had a Zappa obsession myself around that time.
One day, a tape-op got a tape on backwards, he went to play it, and it was all "Neeeradno-undowarrroom" and it was "Wow! Sounds Indian!"
-- Paul McCartney