Pillow talk

Michael Gerber
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I must confess, I did not own the album A Hard Day’s Night until fairly recently. So when I finally did get a copy, I discovered with pleasure that there were still a few new-to-me Beatles songs out there, namely “Any Time at All” and “When I Get Home” (which didn’t make it into the movie).

The latter pops up on my iPod Shuffle now and then, and every time I hear it, this lyric makes me snort:

When I get home tonight
I’m gonna hold her tight
I’m gonna love her till the cows come home

What I love about these lines is that, while the content is quite sexually forward, the image is about as unsexy as you can get. “Till the cows come home”? No wonder the girls used to faint! And I would also like to note that it doesn’t rhyme with anything (the next part goes “And then I’ll love her more / Till I walk out that door again”), so he could have come up with something else. “Till the break of day,” perhaps, John? No thanks, mate, I’ll stick with the cows.

I think this is my candidate for worst Beatles lyric — although “I know that she’s no peasant” is very hard to top. Other nominations? And can you come up with a less sexy (non-Spinal Tap) lyric about sex?

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  1. Avatar Michael wrote:

    Aw, Mollie, I like that lyric. It’s homely in both the UK and US senses. It’s rockabilly, gal! (Of course the fact that I feel comfortable calling you “gal” probably makes my judgment less than sound in this matter. Blame Missouri.)

    The UK Hard Day’s Night–which I scrounged up on vinyl at one of my several *ahem* disreputable record shops–was my all-time favorite Beatles album when I was kid. Love those Lennon rockers!

  2. Do Ringo lyrics count? Because “I’m sorry that I doubted you/ I was so unfair/ You were in a car crash/ And you lost your hair” is pretty awful.

    Policeman [at front door]: Mr Starkey, I regret to inform you that your girlfriend has been in a serious automobile accident.

    Ringo: Is she …?

    Policeman: Yes. I’m afraid … she’s bald …

    Ringo [shaking fist at heavens]: NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!! … Well, at least she’s not a peasant.

    Policeman: Pffttt! She’s bald, mate! What self-respecting serf ‘ud have ‘er, then?

    I still think Paul’s peasant line is the worst, but at least it occurs in a song that is indisputably great. Whereas “Don’t Pass Me By” isn’t even indisputably a song.

    I think this is the point at which Michael swings by to defend both that lyric and that song.


  3. Avatar Michael wrote:

    Is that my role here? Because I WILL DO IT. I am a chronically underemployed Beatlefreak and I WILL DO IT.

    Look, just because I said I liked “MMT,” let’s not get crazy. I’m the guy who hasn’t listened to the White Album since 2007. “Don’t Pass Me By” is a part of that. (On the other hand, I seem to be listening to “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” four times a week.)

    Isn’t there a part in AHDN where Paul and Ringo share a snippet of something that Ringo’s working on, “Don’t pass me by, don’t make me cry”? Or am I misremembering. There’s some early ad-lib where you realize, “Dude, he worked on it for FOUR YEARS.”

    Maybe that horrible couplet was an example of Lennon “not doing all the little things he used to do” starting with White.

  4. Hey, I love MMT, too! Far be it from me to say that anyone’s naming it as his favorite Beatles album displays a lapse in judgment. I avoid saying which album or song is my favorite because my “favorite” changes all the time. But I’ve always liked MMT a lot. John said the “concept” of Sgt. Pepper – which is pretty much dropped after the second song, only to come back for the last two songs on the album – worked because “we SAID it did.” I think that’s exactly right. And even though MMT was not conceived of as an album, it works because … um … they put those 11 songs together, released them and called it an album. They SAID it worked. And it did and does. It certainly has more cohesion to it than The White Album.

    That’s not to say it’s better or worse than TWA; just that it’s, as Hemingway might say, a damn fine album.

    As for While My Guitar … I find that right now I vastly prefer the orchestrated demo version on Love. George’s demo has a totally different vibe to it.

    All that said, I agree with Mollie that “I’m gonna lover her till the cows come home” is … let’s just say “an unfortunate choice of cliché”. And so then the cows come home – what then? Will he abandon her for the cows? “Oooo, I hear a cowbell! The bovines are back! Sorry baby! Time for some cow-lovin’!” Or is he afraid the cows will see what they’re doing? “Not in front of the cows! We’ll traumatize them! Quick! Put some clothes on, baby!”

  5. Avatar Michael wrote:

    Maybe I said this in the earlier post, but I’m convinced that the reason I like MMT is that it is the music the guys produced when they had stopped touring, were at the height of their skills as pop musicians, and still close friends. It’s Beatlehood without Beatlemania. It’s Revolver without having to finish up so you can go get death threats and play Cincinnati.

    I’m working on the plot of the second book now, and I keep coming back to the period August ’66 to August ’67 (or maybe December) as the key to everything that happened next. By the way, everybody, please cross your fingers for me–there are some TV folks looking at the novel.

    In late ’66 and ’67, Paul’s clearly cresting, personally and as a musician; George is so confident in himself that he’s suggesting directions for the band (and the others are accepting his lead). The key to all this, as usual, is John–he’s giving the others space, and hasn’t yet defined doing that as selling himself out.

    Lennon during this time is super-hard to get into focus. On the one hand, there’s the standard narrative–“I was miserable, I was trapped, I was suicidal, I was writing shit…then Yoko arrived.” That’s what we hear, over and over–but while it clearly has some truth (Lennon was consistent about it, 1970-80), this reading doesn’t really track with Lennon’s output. “Strawberry Fields,” “Day In the Life,” “Walrus” and “All You Need is Love,” are all Lennon at his absolute best, and his Lennoniest.

    You have to go to Goldman, such as he is, to get a theory which fits, and it’s primarily pharmacological. That doesn’t fit with the myth–the counterculture loves its acid, just like their parents loved their alcohol and Miltown. But I’m still waiting for something that explains it better. It’s possible that Lennon genuinely didn’t admire those songs as much as we did/do, but that seems to question the guy’s ability to judge pop music, and I just don’t think that’s debatable.


  6. Avatar Nancy wrote:

    I may have said this before, but I concur with you in loving MMT, Mike, and agree with you about the vibe (they’re still friends, still having fun). Why it all went so wrong after that, and particularly why John pretty well checked out of the group, is an endlessly confounding mystery to me. I wonder how much he wanted out of his marriage, and how that feeling of being “stuck” got carried over into the band. He seemed to be looking for a ticket out, and to need a strong personality to pull him out, and found that in Yoko. And then, as I think you depict in “LADFB,” the story he told himself (and believed) about why he did what he did solidified and became the truth for him. I look forward to what you write next about this (no pressure!)

    On the subject of lyrics, I think “cows come home” is worse than “she’s no peasant” and “you lost your hair,” but not by much. (And why should bad Beatles lyrics be disproportionately connected to rustic images/country tunes?)

    I have to give the award for worst Beatles-related lyric to Paul’s line in “Hi, Hi, Hi” that he’s going to get his paramour “ready for my polygon.” Yes, because nothing says erotic excitement like a closed plane with at least three sides . . . .

  7. Avatar Cara wrote:

    I’m with Michael on “til the cows come home” – although not one of John’s more elegant lyrics, I think it fits the song. But, yeah, it’s hokey.

    Nothing can beat the peasant, though… not even Ringo’s bald girlfriend, because at least I get a chuckle whenever *that* song somehow slips into the shuffle queue… but hearing She’s a Woman, I invariably cringe.

    Speaking of While My Guitar Gently Weeps (well, someone up there was, anyway…), “I look at the floor and I see it needs sweeping” should be added to the cringe-worthy list. It has potential as a philosophical musing, but I fear George just needed a rhyme for “sleeping” and that he was planning on eventually replacing the lyric before recording it, but just simply forgot. (What with the excitement of Eric playing on the session and all…)

    Almost forgot She’s Leaving Home… isn’t fun something that money actually *can* buy?

    Oh, and can we add the entire song of Hello, Goodbye to the list?

  8. Avatar Ed Park wrote:

    Cara, I fear you are right about WMGGW! Such an epic song…yet that rhyme always makes me think: Hmm?

    (And I’ll back Ringo on the hair line – isn’t jaunty whimsy his raison d’etre?)

  9. Good luck with the TV folks, Michael!

    As for the “sweeping” line in George’s WMGGW, it never particularly bothered me. It seems to me that it may have been left over from the vision inherent in the original version of the song that had that extra verse that included the line: “I look from the wings at the play you are staging”. In that context, “I look at the floor and I see it needs sweeping” sorta makes sense if we think of the narrator as seeing himself as not part of the play and the “life” it depicts, but outside of it, unnoticed, like a stage manager or a “lowly” janitor, who, because of his outsider status, notices things that those on the inside do not. And he notices that they have made a mess, … and he possibly sees it as his assigned role (outside of the play) to clean these things up?

    Two problems with this though:

    1: This is NOT the context in which George chose to present the song. That verse was redacted and he gave EC that extended guitar solo at the end, instead, in the officially-released version.

    B: With the inclusion of the lost verse, the narrator is now both stage manager (or janitorial staff) AND guitar-player. This mixes the metaphor in much the same way that someone who enumerates his two points by calling the first “1” and the second “B” does. But … you still get his point that he’s making a grand total of Two (or B) points.

    [Not that one can’t be both stage manager/janitor AND guitar player. Some of my best friends are manager/janitor-guitar players!]

    I stand by my original opinion that “You were in a car crash and you lost your hair” is a horrible line in a pretty awful song, though.

  10. Avatar Mollie wrote:

    I was wondering if I would have to be the one to bring up “I see it needs sweeping.” Doesn’t the demo version of that song have a different couplet — one that rhymes “raging” with “While I’m sitting here doing nothing but aging”? So much better. But George has a weakness for lyrical self-sabotage: he couldn’t seem to write a “serious” song without undercutting it with a wink or a clumsy line (or a burst of laughter). And he couldn’t seem to write a “silly” song without throwing in something serious.

    Never bothered by “Don’t Pass Me By” — in that case, the nonsense is the point, whereas in this case I don’t think the lyric is supposed to stick out. As for the cows, it doesn’t say “rockabilly” to me — there’s nothing else effortfully hound-doggy in this song, except perhaps for the pronunciation of “more” and “door.” It just says, “I need to work harder on my euphemisms for sex.”

  11. As Don’t Pass Me By has been taken (incidentally I’m sure I remember Lennon telling a BBC interviewer at the time that it was the best song Ringo had ever written), can I nominate the middle eight of Wait from Rubber Soul?

    It’s sung by Macca, which might suggest that he also contributed that portion of the lyric for what I think was an old song resurrected for the album. It’s not surreally bad, as with Don’t Pass Me By, but it’s so dreadfully, and obviously, functional and unpoetic:

    I feel as though
    You ought to know
    That I’ve been good
    As good as I can be
    And if you do
    I’ll trust in you
    And know that you
    Will wait for me

    We know what he means, that he’s referring to fidelity, but come on: “as good as I can be” – what is he, five? And it feels more prosaic, less impassioned, than the rest of the lyric. It’s serviceable, it plugs the gap in John’s song, but it doesn’t raise it to greater heights.

    Oh, and as a companion piece to Macca’s “presents/peasant” rhyme, how about John’s “sermon/determined” rhyme from Run For Your Life, also on Rubber Soul? He famously expressed his disdain for the attitude expressed in the song in his Rolling Stone interview, but maybe that was a way of masking his real shame, about that laboured rhyme.

  12. Avatar Nancy wrote:

    Tony, I really like that part of “Wait”! I always hear “As good as I can be” as more “Well, as good as I’m capable of being.” Maybe that’s because I’m filtering the song through knowledge of the Beatles’ sexual exploits. But I think it’s also because of the way Paul sings “I feel as though / You ought to know”: it’s like he really wants credit for being (relatively) good. Pretty psychologically believable.

    Me, I cringe at “In the middle of a shave I call your name” in “Oh Yoko.” I get what John’s saying — he needs her all the time — but I find the image of him stopping mid-shave to call her name goofy/disturbing.

  13. Avatar To wrote:

    Nice try, Nancy, although your interpretation does make the next part of the lyric where he offers a reciprocal belief in her conduct somewhat confusing:

    And if you do
    I’ll trust in you
    And know you will wait for me

    So is he saying something along the lines of: “accept my partially successful attempt at fidelity while away and I, meanwhile, will have absolute faith in your behaviour”?

    Or is this about two imperfect spirits acknowledging each other’s frailties and persisting in their relationship nevertheless – “if you accept my patently untrue claims I’ll return the favour”?

    If that section was indeed penned by Macca, I think it’s more likely to be a “dovetail joint” situation. Unless he was subconsciously sabotaging his friend’s composition, or at least ensuring its threat was neutralised, by that unambitious bridge? Think I need to lie down in a darkened room for awhile …

  14. Avatar Michael wrote:

    “Wait” makes perfect sense to me, especially the middle eight, especially in the sense of Macca and Jane Asher and sexual fidelity while she’s in the West End and he’s on tour.

    “I feel as though you ought to know, Jane, that I’ve been good.”
    “Seriously, Paul?”
    “As good as I can be! There are masses of women throwing themselves at me constantly! And if *you’re* true–“
    “Because nobody would ever make a pass at me–“
    “Obviously they do; and maybe sometimes you slip. But since I can’t know that, I’ll trust in you–I’ll assume you’re being faithful, in mind if not always body, and know that you will wait for me.”

    Am I overthinking this? 🙂 Actually makes me like the song–never been a fave–to think of it reflecting the sexual lives of John and Paul vis a vis Cyn and Jane. Thanks, Dullbloggers!

  15. This is all quite innovative, I think, parsing Beatle lyrics not as symbol, metaphor, or onomatopoeia, but ordinary speech: just two people talkin’. This is the kind of lyrical exegesis I can get into.

    About “lost your hair”: isn’t there a Britishism to the effect of, “Keep your hair on,” meaning, “Don’t lose control”? I’ve always heard it as Ringo saying, “You almost died in that wreck; you were shaken afterwards — unstable, not yourself. I should have taken that into account before applying normal standards of veracity and rationality to your post-crash speech. Now that the crisis is past, I ask your forgiveness and forebearance. Don’t pass me by.”

    All I want to do now is comb “The Beatles Illustrated Lyrics” for other bits of eccentric syntax, queer usage, and concentric conversation!

  16. Avatar Ed Park wrote:

    I love this blog! (I feel like a spambot.)

    Trying to figure out a context in which the “peasant” line would work…They should have used it in KNIGHT’S TALE (the Heath Ledger jousting movie with “We Will Rock You” et al.)…

  17. Avatar Mollie wrote:

    Mike – The problem with your “Wait” theory is that you’ve rewritten the one line that has always struck me as odd. “And if you’re true” would make more sense, but I think Tony has it right – “And if you do” – which always makes me wonder, If I do what? If I do know that he’s been good? Why would his trust be contingent on that?

  18. … which does tend to support a subtext of “if you accept my patently untrue claims I’ll return the favour.”

    He feels that his lover “ought to know” of his “good” behaviour when confronted by sexual temptation. Whether or not he was actually faithful while away is neither here nor there; what matters for their future happiness is that she believes that to be the case – fully absorbs that possibility so that it becomes a kind of truth, a thing she now “knows.”

    If (and I admit it’s a mighty big “if”) that interpretation is halfway correct, then Macca’s contribution strives to make the song into an endorsement of the transformational power of the imagination.

    Lennon’s side of the song allows for the possibility of rejection, of there being too much pain to make amends (“if you heart breaks … turn me away”); Macca’s part simply refuses to countenance such a conclusion: a happy ending, he seems to be saying, can be brought about by a mutual act of will. All you need is imagination. To coin a phrase.

  19. Avatar Cara wrote:

    This is a brilliantly hilarious discussion!

    Tony, this so-called happy ending all hinges on denial: “Just accept what I tell you and I promise to do the same.” Maybe it’s my natural inclination to rebel against male authority, but it’s reminiscent of another lyric that “gets on me wick”:

    “Try to see it my way, only time will tell if I am right or I am wrong
    While you see it your way, run the risk of knowing that our love will soon be gone”

    i.e., “Just do as I say and everything will be all right… for now.” Yeah, Paul really *is* a control freak!

  20. Avatar Michael wrote:

    Cara, my wife Kate uses the exact same lyric during her periodic anti-McCartney rants! 🙂 Several mellow Sunday mornings have been rent asunder by the playing of “We Can Work It Out,” I kid you not.

  21. While we’re on Paul’s oddities of romantic logic, don’t forget “I’ll Follow the Sun,” whose narrative seems to be, “On the off-chance that life with you won’t be all beer and skittles, I’ll split now, before you have the chance to realize I was the love of your life.” Gee, thanks. In the middle eight he professes vague sorrow for “losing a friend,” but confidence that the lost one will, ultimately, “know.”

    Know what?

  22. Avatar Ed Park wrote:

    I love this blog I love this blog.

  23. It all makes sense if you see it as an early (perhaps the first, as it dates from 1960?) example of his control-freakery in song.

    Essentially, it’s all a bluff: he’s going through the motions of leavetaking in order to secure her future submission: “see it my way or I hit the highway, and then where will you be?” is the implicit message – not a million miles from the sentiments in We Can Work It Out.

    Maybe there’s even a missing final verse, vetoed by the rest of the group (possibly in one of the notebooks of Paul’s early compositions accidentally thrown out by Jane Asher during springcleaning) in which, abject and contrite, the woman rushes to the smirking, manipulative Macca.

    Me, I reckon Jane Asher knew *exactly* what she was doing.

  24. Avatar Nancy wrote:

    Okay, now I have to defend Paul, though I acknowledge his gaffes.

    “For No One” covers a multitude of sins, in my opinion. It’s psychologically fascinating — the speaker is talking to a man (himself, referred to in the second person?) about a woman who has had enough of him. Consider:

    “The day breaks, your mind aches
    You find that all her words of kindness linger on
    When she no longer needs you

    She wakes up, she makes up
    She takes her time and doesn’t feel she has to hurry
    She no longer needs you

    And in her eyes you see nothing
    No sign of love behind the tears
    Cried for no one
    A love that should have lasted years

    You want her, you need her
    And yet you don’t believe her when she says her love is dead
    You think she needs you”

    So Paul can write both the admittedly “recognize that I’m right, already” lyrics of “We Can Work it Out” and the “wow, really didn’t get what was going on here” lyrics of “For No One.” (Telling, perhaps, that “For No One” isn’t written from the first person point of view.)

    And while “Another Day” has never gotten much critical love, it’s at least interesting that it’s a very emphatic description of a single working woman’s inner struggles during a single day.

    So I think we have to give Paul some credit, in the writing-about-women arena.

  25. Avatar Nancy wrote:

    Okay, I have to defend Paul here, despite his gaffes. “For No One” covers a multitude of sins, in my opinion. It’s fascinating, psychologically: the speaker addresses a man (himself, in second person?) who has lost a woman’s love:

    “The day breaks, your mind aches
    You find that all her words of kindness linger on
    When she no longer needs you

    She wakes up, she makes up
    She takes her time and doesn’t feel she has to hurry
    She no longer needs you

    And in her eyes you see nothing
    No sign of love behind the tears
    Cried for no one
    A love that should have lasted years”

    So, although Paul could write the just-see-it-my-way-already “We Can Work It Out,” he could also write the wow-I-really-missed-what-was-happening “For No One.” (Telling, perhaps, that it’s in second person and not first person.)

    And while “Another Day” never gets much critical respect, it’s at least interesting that this McCartney song from 1970 is an empathetic view of the inner struggles of a single, working woman.

    I think Paul deserves some credit in the writing-about-women department.

  26. Avatar Cara wrote:

    Nancy, I think that men who are controlling and manipulative usually *do* understand women and their situations. It is precisely *because* they understand that they are able to manipulate!

    But I wasn’t going on one of Mrs. Mike’s anti-McCartney rants; I mean, I didn’t mention Maxwell’s Silver Hammer, did I? 😉 No, I’m just pointing out that where some people view his songs as positive and optimistic in contrast to that moody and cynical Lennon, I think he can sometimes be a little “everything is hunky dory… as long as you agree with me.”

    Now, what about that misogynistic Maxwell, then?…

  27. Avatar Nancy wrote:

    Good points, Mollie. I absolutely agree Paul’s dark side. One of the interesting things about both Lennon and McCartney as songwriters is that they’re capable of such a range of emotions and attitudes. I mean, just considering songs about “love,” John has “Girl,” “Yes It Is,” “In My Life,” and “Run For Your Life”; Paul has “Here, There, and Everywhere,” “I’m Looking Through You,” “You Won’t See Me,” and “Oh, Darling.” Tenderness, anger, devotion, desperation, you name it.

    I always thought “Maxwell” expressed frustration and anger at the other Beatles, in a disguised way (and I’m not saying Paul ever consciously thought of that, just that the time period when it was recorded, the song’s violence, and Paul’s insistence that the group keep redoing it makes me think that). Maxwell kills women and men, so I don’t see it as especially misogynistic, more misanthropic.

    Similarly, I think “We Can Work It Out” could have been spurred as much by John as by Jane Asher. The same could be said of “Hello Goodbye” (“You say goodbye, I say hello . . . You say why, I say I don’t know . . .”)

    But then, *I* don’t know!

  28. Avatar Anonymous wrote:

    “You have to go to Goldman, such as he is, to get a theory which fits, and it’s primarily pharmacological. “

    I was just reading about amphetamines on Wikipedia out of general early-Beatles related curiosity, and I stumbled across this interesting piece of information that I didn’t know: “Withdrawal symptoms of amphetamine primarily consist of mental fatigue, mental depression and an increased appetite. Symptoms may last for days with occasional use and weeks or months with chronic use, with severity dependent on the length of time and the amount of amphetamine used. Withdrawal symptoms may also include anxiety, agitation, excessive sleep, vivid or lucid dreams, deep REM sleep and suicidal ideation.”

    I’m well aware that John Lennon had a lot of other issues in 1965-67 that would have pushed him into a deep depression, but could it be that periodic “withdrawls” from speed, which he relied on when the Beatles were touring or recording, exacerbated the problem? That is, when he was hanging around the house and tripping, but maybe not doing uppers in the same quantities, could it be that speed withdrawls only made things worse? Or was he always on that, too?

  29. Avatar Michael wrote:

    As soon as I read those symptoms, Anon, I thought of three words:

    “Fat Elvis period”

  30. Avatar Anonymous wrote:

    Michael- me too. I know Lennon was still using amphetamines in 1965, but I suspect that as pot became the recreational drug of choice, his use tapered off—and since he was using so many in 1961-64, even a reduced dosage probably resulted in withdrawl symptoms. It makes me wonder just how many of the Lennon “troughs” really were caused or seriously affected by his choice of chemicals, rather than simply accented by whatever he was taking at that time. Certainly Peter Doggett’s book suggests that Lennon’s heroin use (and even the rest of the group’s drug use) contributed in a major way to the breakup by impeding the Fabs’ ability to be rational about things.


  31. Avatar Michael wrote:

    Michael, the effect of drugs is an essential, if untold and untellable, part of The Beatles’ story, and that goes double for John Lennon. Yet nobody really wants to tell it–drugs-as-mostly-benign-force is the counterculture’s sacredest of cows, for a lot of reasons. It was the very shallow “LSD =/≠ Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds” level of examination that initially made me discard the conventional narrative and dig deeper, eventually resulting in the novel.

    Prolonged and/or intense use–which seemed to be Lennon’s style with every drug he ever took–leaves its mark on the brain of the user. )This is true even for “domesticated” ones like alcohol and nicotine.) Drug use is, I suspect, an area where the sanitizing of the Beatles’ story has been most intense–which is really a shame, because it could be so instructive. During his Beatle years, when he should’ve been his happiest and most fulfilled, Lennon abused harder and harder drugs. That wasn’t his “rock ‘n’ roll”-ness, but his addictive personality; he suffered and the group suffered as a result. It’s one thing to say, “Don’t do drugs, kids”–it’s another to admit that the frontman of the greatest rock band ever, met his Waterloo.

    And I don’t buy in the least that drugs “liberated” Lennon’s imagination or improved his creativity–maybe LSD did that for a repressed Ohio schmoe like R. Crumb, but Lennon was already a world-class songwriter when that dentist slipped him the dread lysergic. The chemicals he took shaped Lennon’s innate creativity, and some of those shapes are splendid; but Lennon didn’t need drugs. My favorite Beatles song is “Tomorrow Never Knows”; and while a more acid-y song hardly exists, I’m sure John Lennon could’ve written a song just as mesmerizing if all he’d ever eaten was cornlflakes and tap water. Which is a shame, because on balance I think drugs were a real hindrance for him, and got more so as he aged. He suffered for them, and I don’t like to see people suffer–especially in service of a fairy tale, when the truth has so much more power and, ultimately, dignity.

  32. Avatar Anonymous wrote:

    Michael, I generally agree with you, although I think that late 1966/67 represents the one exception to the your thesis that Lennon didn’t need drugs—it’s hard for me to imagine that he would have been able to get from “You’re Gonna Lose That Girl” to “Strawberry Fields Forever” so quickly without them, not because drugs magically opened up doors or creative pathways that Lennon would otherwise never have been able to access, but because Lennon didn’t have the time, inclination, or social context (at this time) to pursue meditation, therapy, or any other natural method of stripping away some of his layers to access the parts of his psyche that he did in the psychedelic period.

    However, after maybe “I Am The Walrus,” it’s clear that Lennon had reached the end of the line in terms of what LSD could help him accomplish; from that point on, his endless tripping seems only to have further weakened his grip on reality and on himself. I don’t think it’s too much of a stretch to say that if John had used acid only and handful of times (like McCartney reportedly did), we’d still have the psychedelic masterpieces that may have been influenced by the creative memory of those trips, but we would not have had a Lennon who careened from psychological breakdown to psychological breakdown for the rest of his life. Frankly, we may not have had Yoko, since a Lennon with a firmer sense of himself, his abilities, and the possibilities facing him might have been resistant to someone who was so dominant and so disruptive to the Beatles—which, up until 1968, John seemed to need more badly than the other three.


  33. Avatar Michael wrote:

    Michael, I think that’s 100% correct. I agree that Lennon needed drugs to develop the way that he did; but my point is that a Lennon without drugs–or with nothing stronger than pot–would’ve been just as artistically valid and challenging. His life–and The Beatles’–would’ve had a totally different shape, but an equally interesting and fruitful one. IMHO.

    “Strawberry Fields” in particular is a great test case for this: if one listens to the song’s development via “It’s Not Too Bad,” the way from Help/Rubber Soul-era stuff becomes a lot clearer. Psychedelia was a style, a frosting on a cake Lennon was already baking.

    Pot and booze and mushrooms and peyote have been used by humans for milennia–they have much more room for error than a lot of the stuff Lennon was encountering. Nobody (except the CIA) knew much about LSD in 1965; or STP in ’67. And that’s if you believe acid is acid is acid, which I don’t.

    Given Lennon’s background and behavior, it’s likely that he would’ve abused any drug he encountered–but the drugs available to him damaged him very quickly. Which brings me to my real issue about Lennon and drugs: there’s a huge amount of enabling in his story–all the fools and “friends” and people wanting to keep him weak and confused. It’s tragic. And the most tragic thing is how everybody spun it to him as “freedom.” When he talks about “breaking out of the castle” a well-read Beatlefan can’t help but recall that what waited for him outside “the castle,” what saved him from being “Fat Elvis,” was…heroin.

    And THEN, after the guy dies, all these same people rush around pretending that it was just part of the Great Man’s Tragic Genius. Lennon with LSD and junk; Peter Cook with booze; it’s always the same.

    Your last paragraph reminded me of Lennon’s early ’68 trip with Derek Taylor, where Taylor had to give his ego mouth-to-mouth. Egos–like ears–have a purpose, and can’t just be removed without consequence. While a little LSD was probably a great thing for Lennon, a lot of it was unquestionably a terrible thing, for him personally and for this group. Not to mention the whole pharmacoepia on top of that. I suspect that people were coming up to Lennon saying “try this” for his entire adult life. Very sad. It’s slow-acting human sacrifice.

  34. Avatar Anonymous wrote:

    I totally agree. One fact (verified by photographic evidence that you can see in the Kenwood blog) in Peter Brown’s “The Love You Make” that I found alarming was the mortar and pestle Lennon kept full of a variety of substances (some kind of mixture of acid, speed, downers, and cocaine, it seems like), and from which he would take a hit whenever he felt himself coming down. There’s nothing creative about that. It’s just sad, sad to think that he was so lost that this was, to his mind, the best solution he had available, sad that he was slowly killing his productivity and his psyche, sad that no one around him had the ability or inclination to help him out.

    Obviously, when you’re on top of the world, there are a lot of people who would prefer to keep you drugged up. What’s really alarming to me is the evidence that starts to suggest the woman he counted as the love of his life was included in this. People say John made the decision to start using heroin on his own, but he was extremely easily influenced by this point, and I find it hard to believe that someone who genuinely cared for Lennon, even in the anything-goes sixties, would’ve allowed such a fragile man to start using smack.

    There’s very little in any of the standard Beatles books about the hangers-on that surrounded the group and pushed stuff on them. We know they were there, and accounts of the Rolling Stones in this same period give a slightly better indication of the types of unsavory characters that latched onto the toppermost of the poppermost. And presumably, for a while there, a friend was anyone who would smoke, snort, or trip with Lennon, just like Keith Richards or Brian Jones.

    It’s really the perfect storm—Brian Epstein dies just as Lennon is dosing himself into oblivion.

  35. Avatar Michael wrote:

    …and you just described the scenario I’m working on for book two. The trick will be keeping it sufficiently sunny and life-affirming.

    Because, for all that shit–and there was a lot of it–in the end John Lennon really WAS a positive guy. He really DID believe in love, peace, etc. I’m less saddened by the prospect of Keith Richards succumbing to smack because, for all his worth as a human and musician, Keith Richards never, ever had the kind of connection abilities that Lennon did. The world NEEDED John Lennon, or somebody like him. It still needs one today, and the devilish conflation of musicianhood with drug abuse is in part why we don’t have another Lennon, just Steven Tylers and Axl Roses (and Kurt Cobains).

    I’ve said this a million times, but the tragedy of Lennon’s murder isn’t the songs we lost, it’s that he wasn’t able to become the person he seemed likely to become. And I don’t mean the househusband cartoon he pushed so desperately, but somebody who was more fully himself, not such a big hairy deal in the culture, who could take advantage of the advances in addiction therapy and treatment for mental illness.

  36. Avatar Anonymous wrote:


    I completely high. Even though it eventually came back to kill him, Lennon’s greatest ability was to project, through his music, his basic humanity so clearly and accessibly that it could touch and uplift people who, on closer inspection, were probably a lot better adjusted than he was. The real tragedy of his life was that the man who sang “All you need is love” never really got enough love from the people he needed, when he needed it, and all too frequently rejected it from or denied it to others. And, as you note, he never got the chance to rectify that—but everything suggests that he was always trying to move in that direction.

    I can’t wait to read the follow-up; I really enjoyed LADFB (which I found out about from finding this blog).

  37. Avatar Nancy wrote:

    Really enjoying this discussion, even though it’s so brutally sad. I concur that what’s heartbreaking are the indications that Lennon really might have been getting to a point where he could have come to terms with all this, just when he was assassinated.

    It seems to me the Beatles’ cardinal sin — the one that led to their downfall as a group and the one that caused its members problems later — is evasion. They evaded directly talking to Pete Best about replacing him with Ringo; they evaded talking to each other about what was happening in the group; they evaded difficult feelings and hard decisions with drugs.

    In 1968, just when they really needed to regroup, literally, they’re evading each other during recording sessions, and evading talking about what was really going on. To stay together would have meant recognizing new realities: that George deserved more space and respect within the band, that John and Paul needed to hash out their leadership/partnership troubles, and that maybe they all needed more flexibility about outside work. But none of that happened, in part because John and Paul — John just more extremely — choose to evade the issues, in part with drugs.

    Truly a powerful cautionary tale, just one that a lot of us don’t want to contemplate.

  38. Avatar Anonymous wrote:

    *Totally AGREE. That’s an embarrassing mistake, especially considering I wasn’t using the stuff!

    In any event, corollary to this is another story that’s not told, but—I think—deserves telling, and that’s Paul’s use of cocaine for about a year, apparently between 1967 and 1968. There’s no question to my mind that a coke habit would only exacerbate the “controlling” and “bossy” tendencies that John and George grew to dislike so vehemently. Especially given that John’s drug of choice at this time made him especially non-assertive and rather pliable. Furthermore, whenever Paul stopped using the drug on a regular basis (if we believe him that his habit lasted about a year, this would be sometime in 1968), might the resulting withdrawl have also contributed to his depression in the summer of ’68? By most accounts, Paul was a very difficult and unusually unhappy man in 1968.

    I don’t think you can tell the story of the Beatles’ break-up without telling the story of how drugs impeded their famous ability to communicate with each other (and it probably also severely undermined their ability to work productively in the studio, which made recording sessions less fun).

  39. Avatar Michael wrote:

    Michael, where did I read that Paul was using coke during Pepper? Peter Brown, maybe.

    And was it a Beatle who said, “Cocaine’s a stupid drug. As soon as you’re done doing it, you want to do it more”?

  40. Avatar Anonymous wrote:

    It may be in Peter Brown’s book—I can’t remember—but it’s definitely in Barry Miles.

  41. Avatar Gabriel McCann wrote:

    Least sexy lyrics about sex

    ‘My love for you is like diarrhoea
    I just can’t hold it in ‘


    ‘Your eyes are even bluer
    Than the water in my toilet’

    both from WA Yankovic’s Wanna B Ur Lvr

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