Sunday, October 30, 2016

And the first song up is . . .

"Norwegian Wood" / The Beatles

Yowsa.  I promised myself I'd write a post on the first song that came up on my shuffle . . . and what comes up?  This iconic Beatles song that I've avoided writing about for years. 

 I've never known what to make of this song, Oh, yeah, I can dig the folk-rock sound, especially with George layering in some early sitar; and my (perhaps puerile) fascination with 1960s Swinging London gives the song's casual sexual encounter a lip-frosted mini-skirted dimension of glamour. (Cue up clips from Darling.) But still . . .

Received wisdom has it that John Lennon (who by the way was married at the time) wrote this song after a baffling evening with a liberated woman journalist. And with the pressure on for the Beatles to be more "Dylanesque," John was no doubt reaching for allusive cryptic lyrics and social commentary. So here was an obvious target: A Girl Who Wouldn't Play By the Rules -- a chick who was even more elusive than the guys who wanted to make time with her -- for the Beatles, working-class kids from provincial Liverpool, feminists like this must have seemed like a strange new breed of woman.

But I have to say -- while we were programmed to love everything the Beatles did, this song drives home a wedge of doubt.

And it's not just John. Though for years John claimed this song was totally his, evidence has it that Paul (yes, my Paulie, my true love) conspired to write the middle eight: "She told me she worked in the morning and started to laugh / I told her I didn't and crawled off to sleep in the bath." So now she's the bread-winner and he's the free spirit, and that sounds just fine to me -- but I'm guessing that the Beatles couldn't go for that.

What if John -- trapped in that spare Danish Modern flat with this clever liberated woman -- simply could not handle her feminism?

"So I lit a fire / Isn't it good / Norwegian wood?"        

Seriously? That's arson. Because she was a "nasty woman"?

Anybody have another take? Because it's a beautiful song and I sure would like to continue loving it....


Alex said...

John was very much a product of his time and his anger issues. He famously took that out on his friends and on women verbally (and, unfortunately, physically).

I think this is a less violent and more veiled story of how he mistreated a woman he met... and then covered it up to massage his ego.

In Carole King's autobiography, she wrote about how excited she was to meet the Beatles when they came to New York in 1964 (or maybe 1965). She said that the others were pleasant, but that John got graphic and weird and sexual in talking to her and made her flee the room. More than ten years later, she ran into him again and told him off for the way he'd treated her. He owned up to it, apologized, and basically said that when he felt bested by women he'd start trying to demean them one way or another.

For better and often worse, John was relatively unguarded about what he really thought and felt. And that often made him look like a jerk. I know his thinking about a lot of things (including the power of women) evolved over time. One of the saddest things about his (relatively) early death is that we never got a chance to see how he would have treated people as a mature adult.

Holly A Hughes said...

Well, Carole King is one of my alter-egos and so I'm intrigued by that connection.

But I love what you say about John's unguarded admissions of what he really thought and felt. So different from today -- God forbid he'd have to tweet every thought as he evolved into a person we could respect.

How rare is it that a person who scored such unprecedented levels of early fame could still be willing to learn, to grow, to evolve?

I credit Aunt Mimi for making John such a stand-up guy. She gave him room to be a rebel but called him home when push came to shove.