The Fest for Beatles Fans continues today, including my Fest debut at 8:30pm.
The highlight of yesterday's Fest initiation was "Kit and Kaboodle", a friendly debate between Kit O'Toole and Jude Kessler over whose songs on Revolver were better: John's or Paul's?
Jude offered fascinating and original insight into John's songs 'I'm Only Sleeping' and 'And Your Bird Can Sing', both of which I found particularly enlightening. She cited behavioral traits (in particular his late sleeping and perpetual fatigue) which would, in the early 21st Century, classify him as clinically depressed, though no such diagnosis existed at the time. She also illustrated how sleep was not a passive endeavor for John, but an active one - and how his beds served as a safe environment, conducive to creative production and artistic expression. As supportive evidence, she played the first take of the song (as found on Anthology 2, Disc 1, track 23), which is harsher in character than the more dreamy finished product, arguing that this was more realistic portrayal of how John thought of sleeping than the released version of the song.
While Paul has cited sleep as inspiration for songs like 'Yesterday' (which famously came to him immediately after waking up) and 'Yellow Submarine' (which came to him while drifting off to sleep one night), I had never before thought of John's songs in the same way. Of course he wrote 'I'm Only Sleeping' in 1966 and 'I'm So Tired' two years later, but before yesterday I had always thought of these tracks as representing John's withdrawal from life and music. Jude, however, changed my mind - they show John engaging with life, not resigning from it.
My question for her afterwards was about any sexual connotations to "sleeping" and "beds". In 2016, both of those words have strong erotic components. Was that also the case 50 years ago? And if so, does it fit into her theories about John's depressive state of mind? She answered both inquiries affirmatively, even though by 1966 John and Cynthia's marriage had deteriorated to the point where they were probably rarely physically intimate. Fidelity mattered little to Lennon, and other women were common. After all, in the Playboy interviews just before his death, John himself cited the song 'Norwegian Wood' (which, according to George Martin, "he composed in the hotel bedroom") as "about an affair I was having. I was very careful and paranoid because I didn't want my wife, Cyn, to know something was going on."
He also admitted in Maureen Cleave's 4 March 1966 article "How Does a Beatle Live?" (yes, the same one with the infamous "bigger than Jesus" comment), "I don't mind writing or reading or watching or speaking, but sex is the only physical thing I can be bothered with any more." And indeed this does fit with Jude's observations of John because sexual expression is fundamentally a creative act - or, more accurately, a PROcreative act!
Jude also explored the lyrics of 'And Your Bird Can Sing', attempting to discern who the "you" is in the song. Some have speculated that the song was about Frank Sinatra, who was apparently serious competition for the Beatles in the charts at the time despite their substantial stylistic differences. But she hypothesized that the subject was instead Brian Epstein, whose importance to the band was diminishing as they grew progressively and inexorably closer to quitting touring.
You tell me that you've got everything you want
And your bird can sing
But you don't get me, you don't get me
Kit, on the other hand, argued that although John is often thought of as the more experimental and innovative of the pair, Paul's tracks 'Eleanor Rigby' and 'Got To Get You Into My Life' were just as risky as any of John's.
Recorded between 7 April and 17 June 1965, 'Got To Get You Into My Life' was the first of Paul's drug songs. In the June 2004 issue of Uncut, McCartney confessed, "'Day Tripper', that's one about acid." But the band wouldn't record that song until 16 October 1965. Similarly, Paul admitted the song 'For No One' was "an ode to pot" (Miles, Paul McCartney: Many Years From Now, p. 314), but that was recorded later still (9 and 21 February 1967). Thus, 'Got To Get You Into My Life' breaks ground for Paul in that he is becoming more experimental with mind-altering substances.
Similarly, 'Eleanor Rigby' breaks ground in terms of structure and narrative. She cited the somewhat operatic three-verse story in which verse 1 pertains to the Eleanor Rigby herself, verse 2 refers to Father McKenzie, and verse 3 brings the two together. But, of course, it's too late - these two lonely people, who could have been friends, only meet through the title character's death.
Section Timing Lyrics
(B) Introductory Chorus 1 0:00-0:14
(A) Verse 1 + Refrain 0:14-0:46 Eleanor Rigby
(A) Verse 2 + Refrain 0:46-1:17 Father McKenzie
(B) Chorus 2 1:17-1:31
(A&B) Verse 3 + Refrain & Chorus 3 1:31-2:05 Rigby & McKenzie
If I may contribute to Kit's analysis, 'Rigby' is also one of only two quodlibets in the Beatles' catalog. A quodlibet is an archaic term for a musical composition which combines multiple melodies simultaneously. Kit's recent book Songs We Were Singing: guided Tours Through the Beatles' Lesser-Known Tracks (which she generously gave to me when I went to purchase it) describes the other: "'I've Got a Feeling' consists of two separate songs combined; McCartney penned the section referring to the title, while Lennon contributed a song initially dubbed 'Everyone Had A Hard Year'" (p. 173).
'Rigby' is less obvious in its melodic blending than 'I've Got a Feeling'.
First, the track opens with the chorus, the melody of which is supplemented by harmony a third below.
Second, each verse concludes with a refrain.
Just as the two characters are joined, these two melodies come together at the end of the song. But, reflecting the tragedy of the lyrics, we don't hear the full chorus at the end. Where earlier iterations features two voices (melody on top, harmony on bottom), this concluding iteration omits the harmony.
It's as if Eleanor Rigby's ghost remains - her spirit endures, though her body has died.
The Fest concludes tomorrow, but I will be unable to attend because I'm speaking in Amityville tomorrow afternoon:
Sunday, 17 April 2016, 2:00-3:00 p.m.
Amityville Public Library, 19 John St, Amityville, NY
The Beatles: Band of the Sixties
Explore the music of The Beatles in this 60-minute multimedia presentation (part history and part musical analysis) spanning the full 1960's: beginning with the band's seminal visits to Hamburg, continuing through Beatlemania, and concluding with Abbey Road. The program will be supplemented with audio clips of music and excerpts from interviews with the band members.
This blog is a workshop for developing my analyses of The Beatles' music.