#79 “words flowing”

In England on October 9, 1940, Winston Churchill was elected as the leader of the Conservative Party. Adolf Hitler was creating problems for Jews in the occupied Netherlands.  And in Liverpool, England John Winston Lennon was born. 

At the age of 24, John and his bandmates Paul McCartney, George Harrison, and Ringo Starr would have their own invasion and revolution when they landed in America on February 7,1964. 

The band, named the Beatles, had already created chaos and hysteria in their homeland with their music. Now, it would be America’s time to experience that same bedlam and mania.

For the next sixteen years, John Lennon would experience all of the ups and downs of becoming a rock star, a public figure who could create friction with his views and activism. Whether, you were a fan of the music or not, we all know that John’s life ended much to soon at the age of 40. 

In 1964, I was in the fifth grade at Hillcrest Elementary School in Burlington, North Carolina. I too became caught up in the frenzy of Beatlemania. Something about their sound resonated with me. I became a dedicated fan.

I’m not sure that I had a favorite Beatle, but as they evolved, the lyrics to some of their songs stuck to me. While song writing credits were printed on the orange and yellow Capitol Records label as John Lennon and Paul McCartney, I could sense when a song had been birthed by John.

“I’m A Loser” from the Beatles’ 65 album was one of the first to make me think a bit. A simple song about a boy losing his best girl. I love the lines from the chorus—“I’m a loser, I’m a loser, and I’m not what I appear to be.” I wonder how many times in my growing up and even as an adult I felt like a “loser.” 

Today, we know that mental health is a significant issue in our country. How many people walking around us each day might be captured by these words from “I’m A Loser”:  “Although I laugh and I act like a clown, beneath this mask I am wearing a frown.”

The title song to their second movie—Help! caught my attention too. I could easily quote the entire song. To get through life, we all need help. Think about this insightful observation:

      And now my life has changed in oh so many ways

      My independence seems to vanish in the haze

      But every now and then I feel so insecure

      I know that I just need you like I’ve never done before

I’m 66 years old. I think about how my life changes everyday. Where is my independence? Will I continue to lose more of it as I age? When do I feel insecure? Who is going to guide me through the haze of my future insecurities? I wonder what was churning through young Mr. Lennon’s mind at the time.

With the release of the Rubber Soul album, the Beatles were laying the groundwork for their recording future. The album contains many nuggets, but “In My Life” is a real heart tugger. Here is the last stanza:

Though I know I’ll never lose affection

For people and things that went before

I know I’ll often stop and think about them

In my life I love you more

I remember the lyrics for “In My Life” appearing in my high school yearbook in 1971.  That was the year I somehow managed to eek out of high school. But, the song makes me reflect. How often is my daily routine politely interrupted by a name, a face, a memory? Do I pause and think about those people? Have I lost affection for their molding and shaping my life?

But, it was another song written during the Rubber Soul time frame that really caught my attention—“Nowhere Man.” 

A long time ago, a friend told me that a pastor played this song as a part of a sermon for his congregation in Raleigh, North Carolina. I wonder what ran through the minds of the congregation. Maybe, the older members thought their pastor was losing his marbles, but the youth in attendance were probably pleasantly surprised.

“Doesn’t have a point of view, knows not where he’s going to, isn’t he a bit like you and me?” We all have points of view about life. And, it is difficult at times to maybe know where we are headed with our views and ambitions. But, the question he asks really is the kicker. How similar are we at times to “nowhere man”?

Two more lines naw at me—“He’s as blind as he can be, just sees what he wants to see.” How many times has that been me? Just seeing what I want to see as it pertains to me, and ignoring an opportunity to help out a “nowhere man?”

John Lennon took us on whimsical word journeys too. “Being For The Benefit Of Mr. Kite,” “I Am The Walrus,” “Hey Bulldog,” and “Mean Mr. Mustard” come to mind.

He could be raw with the emotional “Yer Blues” or “Don’t Let Me Down” and also as gentle as a breeze with “Julia”—“Julia, seashell eyes, windy smile, calls me, so I sing a song of love for Julia”.

Religion from time to time created an uneasy tension between Lennon and the public. In 1966, he made the comment about the Beatles being more popular than Jesus. That set off a fire storm. In protest, Beatles records were burned, and radio station dropped them from playlist rotations. 

Three years later, the single “The Ballad of John and Yoko” created a stir with these lines—“Christ you know it’s not easy, you know how hard it can be, the way things are going, they’re going to crucify me.” 

Yet, despite these agitations, Lennon still wrote songs with a grounding in “love”.

Gradually, the undertow of personality conflicts, management quarrels, and an assortment of challenges, wore the Beatles down. The smiles for publicity photos were gone, and the breakup occurred. 

For a period of time, I eagerly followed their solo careers. Lennon’s lyrics continued to resonate with me. Songs like “Love,” “Crippled Inside,” and “Watching The Wheels” had lines that made me ponder my own outlook.

By now, you might be thinking to yourself, Bill, how could you not reference “All You Need Is Love” or “Revolution” or “Imagine” or, or, or? 

Well, I let you grapple with selecting your own personal John Lennon playlist. The depth of his catalog is impressive. For this piece, I attempted to focus on a few songs that for good or bad stuck to me.

And, as I work to bring this piece to closure, I’ll reference the song “Across The Universe”. This song appeared on the Let It Be album. Originally, it was on a compilation album of assorted artist for the benefit of the World Wildlife Fund.

John had a very interesting observation about “Across The Universe” in a 1970 interview with Rolling Stone

Lennon referred to the song as perhaps the best, most poetic lyric he ever wrote: “It’s one of the best lyrics I’ve written. In fact, it could be the best. It’s good poetry, or whatever you call it, without chewing it. See, the ones I like are the ones that stand as words, without melody. They don’t have to have any melody, like a poem, you can read them.”[5]

I agree with his assessment. Here is a sample from the opening verse:

“Words are flowing out like endless rain into a paper cup. They slither while they pass, they slip away across the universe. Pools of sorrow waves of joy are drifting through my opened mind, possessing and caressing me.”

Today, Wednesday, October 9, 2019 would have been year 79 for John Lennon.

Sadly, an assailant’s mental health and a firearm ended John’s life. Perhaps, even more heartbreaking is 39 years after his death, in America every day mental health and firearms are still robbing people of life. 

Like all of us, John Lennon, had his imperfections. 

Yet despite these challenges, John found a way to put words on paper. Words that captured his feelings, his emotions, and his experiences. His lyrics did “ flow out to us like endless rain into a paper cup”.

I’m thankful that paper cup full of lyrics was shared.

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