I wrote this in 2004…..
I really liked the line in the Beatles song “I Am the Walrus”: “I am he as you are he as you are me and we are all together.” The song was inspired by the nonsensical Lewis Carroll poem “The Walrus and the Carpenter.”
Described by Ian MacDonald as “the most idiosyncratic protest song ever written.” “I Am the Walrus” highlights some of John Lennon’s brilliant verbal efforts. Some critics believe it may also have served as the Beatles’ greatest moment of musical triumph. In one sense, “I Am the Walrus” seems completely devoid of meaning. The angry outburst unapologetically tackles the prevailing social structures and creates the need for further contemplation.
The song, indisputably a rage against forces outside John Lennon’s control, took root after he read a letter from a student at his old school. The same institution of learning whose headmaster commented: “This boy is bound to fail.” Following the usual expressions of adulation, this young man revealed in the letter that his teacher was playing Beatles songs in class. After the students had their turns analyzing the lyrics, the teacher would weigh in with his own interpretation of what the Beatles were really talking about.
A masterful stroke of finality concludes the song with a scene from a BBC radio production of Shakespeare’s King Lear, one of Shakespeare’s most depressing works. The reference to death, which the protagonist has feared along with his madness throughout the song turns into the inevitable nothingness, the last piece of pandemonium. After he wrote, “I Am the Walrus,” Lennon challenged the authority figures that he felt had tormented him to figure out the meaning.
Another great Beatles song “A Day in the Life” was another dramatic climax on an album where the Beatles practically changed the world and themselves.
Overflowing with vivid hues and an assortment of fascinating sound effects, the Beatles contrasted deceivingly upbeat insert with the effects of the workaday world with expressionless stories of disillusion and regret. A Day in the Life’s radiant, open-ended refrain, “I’d love to turn you on,” represents the possibility of escape. Yet the song suggests a hint of guilt and that our emotional release will always remain an unrealized dream. Sound familiar? Like intellectual refuse, written by a perturbed woman with paranoiac anxiety aimed at an aging, political frustrated audience. Someone you cannot turn off, and would never turn on.
Writers, actors and singers seem captivated by everything from the grotesque to the merely banal. While film director and actor Mel Gibson gets brutalized for portraying the crucifixion of Christ in a vicious manner, Lennon took the existential harshness and emotional spectrum and placed it in a psychedelic prism carefully separating forms of anxiety, sadness and fatalism.
So, what can we discover in a meaningless morass of musings? The boy did not fail.
JC Bowman is the Executive Director of Professional Educators of Tennessee, a non-partisan teacher association headquartered in Nashville, Tennessee. Permission to reprint in whole or in part is hereby granted, provided that the author and the association are properly cited. For more information on this subject or any education issue please contact Professional Educators of Tennessee.