I Am The Walrus

The lyrics

'Walrus' is just saying a dream - the words don't mean a lot. People draw so many conclusions and it's ridiculous... What does it really mean, 'I am the eggman'? It could have been the pudding basin for all I care. It's not that serious.
John Lennon
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The song's title came from Lewis Carroll's poem The Walrus And The Carpenter, from the book Through The Looking Glass. Lennon later realised with dismay that he'd identified with the villain of the piece.

It never dawned on me that Lewis Carroll was commenting on the capitalist system. I never went into that bit about what he really meant, like people are doing with the Beatles' work. Later, I went back and looked at it and realised that the walrus was the bad guy in the story and the carpenter was the good guy. I thought, Oh, shit, I picked the wrong guy. I should have said, 'I am the carpenter.' But that wouldn't have been the same, would it?
John Lennon, 1980
All We Are Saying, David Sheff

The eggman of the chorus, while possibly a reference to Carroll's Humpty Dumpty, was more likely The Animals' lead singer Eric Burdon following a particularly notable incident recounted to Lennon at a London party.

It may have been one of my more dubious distinctions, but I was the Eggman - or, as some of my pals called me, 'Eggs'.

The nickname stuck after a wild experience I'd had at the time with a Jamaican girlfriend called Sylvia. I was up early one morning cooking breakfast, naked except for my socks, and she slid up beside me and slipped an amyl nitrate capsule under my nose. As the fumes set my brain alight and I slid to the kitchen floor, she reached to the counter and grabbed an egg, which she cracked into the pit of my belly. The white and yellow of the egg ran down my naked front and Sylvia slipped my egg-bathed cock into her mouth and began to show me one Jamaican trick after another. I shared the story with John at a party at a Mayfair flat one night with a handful of blondes and a little Asian girl.

'Go on, go get it, Eggman,' Lennon laughed over the little round glasses perched on the end of his hook-like nose as we tried the all-too-willing girls on for size.

Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood
Eric Burdon with J Marshall Craig

I Am The Walrus contained words ("crabalocker", "texpert", the chorus refrain "goo goo g'joob") coined by Lennon. As such, it owed more to his books In His Own Write and A Spaniard In The Works than anything The Beatles had previously recorded.

You know, you just stick a few images together, thread them together, and you call it poetry. Well, maybe it is poetry. But I was just using the mind that wrote In His Own Write to write that song. There was even some live BBC radio on one track, y'know. They were reciting Shakespeare or something and I just fed whatever lines were on the radio into the song.
John Lennon
All We Are Saying, David Sheff

According to Lennon's childhood friend Pete Shotton, he was further inspired to turn the song into a nonsense tour-de-force after receiving a letter from Stephen Bayley, a pupil at his old primary school Quarry Bank. The letter revealed that a teacher was having his class analyse Beatles lyrics.

Lennon asked Shotton to remind him of a playground rhyme they'd known from childhood:

Yellow matter custard, green slop pie, all mixed together with a dead dog's eye. Slap it on a butty, ten foot thick. Then wash it all down with a cup of cold sick.

This became "Yellow matter custard, dripping from a dead dog's eye", followed by a stream of mostly meaningless nonsense. "Let the fuckers work that one out," was his response to Shotton when he'd finished.

'Semolina pilchard', according to Marianne Faithfull, was a reference to Detective Sergeant Norman Pilcher, the notoriously anti-drug zealot who made it his mission to bust people from the music world for possession of illegal substances. Elsewhere, the beat poet Allen Ginsberg made an oblique appearance:

I'd seen Allen Ginsberg and some other people who liked Dylan and Jesus go on about Hare Krishna. It was Ginsberg, in particular, I was referring to. The words 'Elementary penguin' meant that it's naive to just go around chanting Hare Krishna or putting all your faith in one idol.
John Lennon, 1980
All We Are Saying, David Sheff

The BBC banned the song for the lines "pornographic priestess" and "let your knickers down". As Hunter Davies recorded, the lines were particularly admired by George Harrison.

Why can't you have people fucking as well? It's going on everywhere in the world, all the time. So why can't you mention it? It's just a word, made up by people... It doesn't mean a thing, so why can't we use it in a song? We will eventually. We haven't started yet.
George Harrison
The Beatles, Hunter Davies

112 responses on “I Am The Walrus

  1. Johan cavalli

    Interesting, Marcus. You have good ears. That´s typical Lennon: At the same time he is singing a straight melody on the same notes, the accompaniment is descending! That´s more evident in Strawberry Fields Forver (“Living is easy with eyes closed”) and Julia, where the desceding notes are more numerous than in Walrus.
    According to McCartney himself in Many Years From Now, he didn´t contribute anything to the song. Amazing is even the switch to “sitting in an English garden…”.That is a change from darkness to light, so typical for — as a matter of fact — Wagner!

  2. kirbygene

    I downloaded a clean stereo version of this masterpiece from YouTube and it’s the only version I listen to now. It has a “full” sound all the way through without any abrupt jumps into one side of the stereo picture. The orchestration comes through beautifully. I listen to most music at home through headphones so this “stereo-all-the-way-through” effect is much more pleasing

  3. Bongo

    They should have just released it as an A-Side with any other song from the EP as a B-side, and did the same for Hello Goodbye and everybody would have been happy. I’m a little surprised he didn’t push the subject a little more, but I guess that would have been too many singles coming from an EP.

  4. OldFartBassPlayer Walt

    This song is SO much an example of the magic of music. How many post-ers claim it as one of their favorites Beatle songs (myself included). But I can’t tell you WHY, and I bet others would have trouble putting it into words also. IT’s MUSIC, DANGIT, don’t make me explain! (and others just don’t resonate with it…)

    Closest I can come to describing it’s effect on me, is like standing in the hot sun, and having someone slowly dump a 55 gallon barrel of cool gumbo over you- your all awash in multiple textures, pieces of food, smells,
    and its a gloriously refreshing feeling.

    Reading over my post, I am aware of how strange it sounds. But, that’s just me. It’s music dangit!

  5. manteau

    Frank Zappa used to play “I am the walrus” very seriously on stage, he must have loved and respected a lot this song. In 1976 when I first listened to MMT, I found it too far out for me, but it grew on me, and I’ve loved it for ages now

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