Monday, September 02, 2013

Consequential Lyrics #2: The Beatles

It's important to be among friends who view Beatlemania as a completely appropriate and reasonable reaction to the Beatles. In truth, my friends and I often stress to one another that if had we been at the taping of the Ed Sullivan Show or in the stands of Shea Stadium, we would have screamed (and possibly fainted) more dramatically than any of those hysterical girls on film. It's nice to acknowledge that, occasionally. It's nice to agree that the same breed of insane love manages to live on perpetually inside of us.

It's a powerful thing, that we should know all the albums, all the songs, all the lyrics, all the meanings. We know their story back to front and yet, we are still coming up with new bits of information to share with one another. I love the sheer expanse of what there is to know, the fact that they are still making radio documentaries about when The Beatles visited some little city in Wales. I love that there is an upcoming Coursera subject covering The Beatles' music. I love how it all inspires such a feeling of familiarity within us. We now speak about John, Paul, George and Ringo as if they're old friends of ours.

In making the Beatles episode of Consequential Lyrics, I wondered whether it was ever really possible to divorce a song from its historical context. After all, we have books like Ian McDonald's Revolution in the Head which document the circumstances under which every Beatles song was conceived, written and recorded. Even without the books, stories behind these songs are relatively common knowledge. What I'm curious about is whether that common knowledge affects the way we invent private meanings. Can ever really make this music ours, when we know what the artist really meant?

It's a curious term to use, ours, especially since friends have a particularly personal and purposeful approach in dealing with their musical legacy, meaning we often assigning albums and songs to one another. Saying that, for me, it's extremely unusual to take ownership of a Beatles song in a strictly emotional sense. I've only ever done that in two instances: For No One and Crying, Waiting, Hoping (which isn't even a real Beatles song, it's a Buddy Holly cover). I listen to those songs and their personal consequence seems to trump their historical context. Perhaps the associations are too painful or the official meanings are too indistinct, I'm not sure. I just know they're the only Beatles songs to take on that uniquely personal dimension.

Otherwise, these songs form an integral part of that narrative that we're constantly familiarising ourselves with. Obviously, incidental personal associations come about, lyrics often remind us of important places and moments. I've been fortunate in that many of those associations have to do with these Beatlesque-friendships, discussions with these very people who shared that insane love for the Beatles. The consequence was drawn from our fantastic imagining of the Beatles' history, but it was also drawn from this enormous relief that someone gets it: we've finally found someone who shares that intense fascination.

After I made this episode, I kept thinking about the white wall of Abbey Road Studios, crowded with messages of love. It was enchanting to see those Lennon/McCartney lyrics I loved, quotes from I've Just Seen a Face, Blackbird, The End and countless others. Why quote song lyrics? And why quote these song lyrics in particular? Perhaps it's an inscription intended to honour, ultimately designed to provoke a tug of recognition in whoever sees it. Perhaps it's a declaration of affinity, a handwritten sign that says these are my lyrics of consequence. Whatever it is, I can't help but be moved by it. Like those girls screaming in the stands, it's just a comfort that the hysteria is still going on... and it will likely continue on forever.

Consequential Lyrics #2: The Beatles
Eleanor Rigby
Don't Let Me Down
I'm Happy Just To Dance With You
You've Really Got a Hold On Me
All I've Got To Do
Anna (Go To Him)
For No One
I'm Only Sleeping
Free as a Bird

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