SONG TITLE: I AM THE WALRUS
PERFORMER: THE BEATLES
SONGWRITER: JOHN LENNON / PAUL MCCARTNEY
YEAR OF RELEASE: 1967
COMMENTS: When I was about 5 or 6 years old a dog died on the lawn of an unoccupied house down the block. No one could be bothered to dispose of the carcus, so it lay there decomposing for months, maybe a year. The hide and flesh rotted away in the summer sun, eventually exposing the ribs and the skeleton. It lay there until it became mere sand, and even the flies lost interest in it, right there a few feet off the road.
The sight and the stench of that former puppy made a big impression on my sensitive young soul. I had heard of "death," but here was the basic raw truth. The implications of that experience for humans did not escape me.
Although I would not have begun to have words for it at the time, the Beatles songs of John Lennon were my first major artistic experience of existentialism. "A Day in the Life" is the other most obvious example. The emotional spectrum of this level of experience was broken up in a psychedelic prism, separating and recombining strains of anxiety, sadness and maybe - hopefully - acceptance or, more truly, weary fatalism.
This record is both experimental and simultaneously incredibly morbid. Either of these attributes will usually be more than sufficient to prevent a song from becoming a hit. "I Am the Walrus" was and continues to be a very successful pop song. Thinking about the structure, the lyrical content, the bizarre orchestral palette and the gruesomeness of this recording, this popularity seems like more incredible testimony to the extraordinary charismatic power of John Lennon than anything I can say.
The existential harshness comes from both the lyrics and the tune. The "yellow matter custard dripping from a dead dog's eye" of course pretty much directly invokes my earliest childhood jolts of existential awareness. The images range from the grotesque to the merely banal, which may be worse. The two notes forming the basis at the start of the verses ("I am he as you are he...") were supposedly inspired by the paranoiac anxiety caused by police sirens in the street below where Lennon sat one heavily stoned night.
The lyrics are a senseless random jumble, in one sense, but really also inspired dream logic. They were images of banality mixed with despair, linked by emotional association rather than linear logic. Chaos defies logical explanation.
We are led through this graveyard, however, by a guide with a sure sense of his own soul. This is what gives meaning to all the chaos. There is a beautiful organizational structure to the melody developing up from the two notes to the full swirling leaps of "I'm crying, I'm cry-y-ying." He organizes the chaos to explain his own anxieties. This is what makes it livable.
Besides the actual song, this is also one of the greatest arrangements in history. The various strings, particularly the cellos, could about stand alone as a viable song. There are whole other worlds of melody floating past the main vocal. From the exotic vocal harmonies to the last wisps of half heard "found" dialogue on the extro, this song is cohesive and catchy to such an extent as to seem extra human, beyond human.
Finally, credit must be given to Ringo for giving this thing a credible heartbeat and just generally holding the thing together as a cohesive whole, surely not an easy task. This recording yet again shows the foolishness of naysayers of Ringo.
A MoreThings reader's response to this essay
BEATLES PICTURE COLLECTION - 100 pages PAGE 1 PAGE 2 PAGE 3 PAGE 4 PAGE 5 PAGE 6 PAGE 7 PAGE 8 PAGE 9 PAGE 10 PAGE 11 PAGE 12 PAGE 13 PAGE 14 PAGE 15 PAGE 16 PAGE 17 PAGE 18 PAGE 19 PAGE 20 PAGE 21 PAGE 22 PAGE 23 PAGE 24 PAGE 25 PAGE 26 PAGE 27 PAGE 28 PAGE 29 PAGE 30 PAGE 31 PAGE 32 PAGE 33 PAGE 34 PAGE 35 PAGE 36 PAGE 37 PAGE 38 PAGE 39 PAGE 40 PAGE 41 PAGE 42 PAGE 43 PAGE 44 PAGE 45 PAGE 46 PAGE 47 PAGE 48 PAGE 49 PAGE 50 PAGE 51 PAGE 52 PAGE 53 PAGE 54 PAGE 55 PAGE 56 PAGE 57 PAGE 58 PAGE 59 PAGE 60 PAGE 61 PAGE 62 PAGE 63 PAGE 64 PAGE 65 PAGE 66 PAGE 67 PAGE 68 PAGE 69 PAGE 70 PAGE 71 PAGE 72 PAGE 73 PAGE 74 PAGE 75 PAGE 76 PAGE 77 PAGE 78 PAGE 79 PAGE 80 PAGE 81 PAGE 82 PAGE 83 PAGE 84 PAGE 85 PAGE 86 PAGE 87 PAGE 88 PAGE 89 PAGE 90 PAGE 91 PAGE 92 PAGE 93 PAGE 94 PAGE 95 PAGE 96 PAGE 97 PAGE 98 PAGE 99 PAGE 100
The Beatles Are Masters of the Universe
Music Sustains the Soul
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