Sunday, September 14, 2014

Beatles -- "I Am the Walrus" (1967)


I am he 
As you are he 
As you are me
And we are all together

Ever hear of a "Shepard scale"?  I didn't think so.

You've probably never heard of "Penrose stairs" either.

Penrose stairs
Watch this video, which features a Shepard scale and a Penrose staircase:



Note now the ball keeps bouncing up the steps -- never down.  And notice how the scale keeps ascending but never actually gets any higher.

The last 70 seconds or so of "I Am at the Walrus" feature a Shepard scale, which has been called a "sonic barber's pole."  

Watch this video for a brief explanation of a Shepard scale (also known as a "Shepard tone"):



There are Youtube recordings of Shepard scales that last for hours -- each note seemingly higher in pitch than the one before.  Click here for a TEN-HOUR-LONG recording of a rising Shepard tone.

(Who are the people who create such recordings and post them to Youtube?  Henry David Thoreau might have been thinking about them when he wrote in Walden of those men "who lead lives of quiet desperation.")

In 1980, John Lennon told Playboy magazine that the opening lines to today's featured song, "I Am the Walrus," were written during an acid trip.

Click here to read the entire interview.  If you want a good example of someone who was so full of sh*t that his eyes were brown, John Lennon's definitely your guy.  (Not to mention his charming wife, Yoko Ono, whose eyes were browner still.)

The very brown-eyed couple
One commentator speculates that the lines quoted above were inspired by these lines from the traditional British song, "Marching to Pretoria":

You sing with me
I'll sing with you
And so we will sing together

It's certainly possible that Lennon heard that song as a child, and that he remembered its lyrics when he sat down to write "I Am the Walrus."  But I would give most of the credit for the song's opening lines to the drugs Lennon apparently consumed in gynormous quantities.


Don't get me wrong.  I've always loved the lyrics to "I Am the Walrus," which is one of the songs that Mark Vidler of Go Home Productions used in his mashup, "(I Am The) Trampolene (To The Other Side)," which was recently featured on 2 or 3 lines(You can click here to read about that mashup if you haven't already.)

Those lyrics make even less sense than most rock lyrics of that era.  They make even less sense than most of John Lennon's other lyrics, which is saying something. 

Lennon wrote a song about a walrus because he was a fan of Lewis Carroll's poem, "The Walrus and the Carpenter," which is famous for these lines:

"The time has come," the Walrus said,
      "To talk of many things:
Of shoes — and ships — and sealing-wax —
      Of cabbages — and kings —
And why the sea is boiling hot —
      And whether pigs have wings."

"The Walrus and the Carpenter"
Years later, Lennon had an epiphany: he realized that Carroll's poem was about the evils of capitalism.  (John Lennon was reportedly worth about $150 million at the time, so he knew all about the evils of capitalism.)

To me, ["The Walrus and the Carpenter"] was a beautiful poem.  It never dawned on me that Lewis Carroll was commenting on the capitalist and social system.  I never went into that bit about what he really meant, like people are doing with the Beatles' work.  Later, I went back and looked at it and realized that the walrus was the bad guy in the story and the carpenter was the good guy.  I thought, "Oh, shit, I picked the wrong guy. I should have said, 'I am the carpenter.'"  But that wouldn't have been the same, would it?  "I am the carpenter . . . "
When John was right, he was right: "I Am the Carpenter" most definitely wouldn't have been the same.

Here's "I Am the Walrus":



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