There continues to this day, since it's release as a single in 1965, a debate, sometimes hot and other times merely a simmer, as to how successful the Beatles the "Nowhere Man" was in its day and how effectively its travelled through the decades since our first hearing. Not well say some and famously so say others. I’d agree that Nowhere Man is a failure at saying something poetic and relevant. The lyrics are banal and obvious in the straw man sort of it’s making fun of, and the moral of the story (“making all your nowhere plans for nobody…”) is insipid. This is the one time I remember that the Beatles were following a trend instead of setting one.Dylan creates an entire world of surreal and distorted characters that greet the Thin Man as he arrives , suitcase in hand, in a terrain that seems more as if he’s entering the first ring of Hell where he is confronted by every selfish choice he ever made. Dylan wanted to stop writing “finger pointing songs” (as he called his protest work) and explore the possibilities of what he could do with his word slinging.
He accomplished much, as we all know, and it got him a Nobel Prize.I believe songs should be discussed as a whole as well, but what makes some reviewers and critics more dependable**,** intriguing and provocative is to write in earnest about what it is they regard as most germane within a particular song or larger piece of music. Criticism**,** no matter how one cares to address or define it or create proper protocols, is a subjective matter, and the reviewers who’ve I’ve kept reading over many years are the ones who can make compelling and reasoned arguments to make their case. You don’t have to be convinced, but it helps if one listens to and understands the argument being made. In this, I think the intent of Lennon writing Nowhere Man was to deliver a message ala Dylan, Phil Ochs and other folkies and folk-rockers about the superficiality of contemporary life, straw manning the squares of the Establishment with terms and phrases that we would now call “virtue signaling”. Even at age 14, when this song had come out, I thought it sounded false; I had already glommed onto Eliot’s Wasteland , Howl through my interest in Dylan at the time and pretty much had a standard set for me for lyrics that try to tell me about the sterility of Modern Life and the people who refuse to do anything to change it.
Dylan, Ginsberg, Ochs, and others did more than describe the evils of capitalist leisure, they gave listeners vivid portraits buttressed by real, tangible anger but which was mitigated by craft. You can feel the foul wind blowing in Eliot’s wasteland, you were in the cold water flats with Ginsberg’s marginalized miscreants listening to the terror through the wall, you get a real sense of what a hell of one’s making might be like through the arrival of Mister Jones and his suitcase in a purely alienated space. Lennon is a brilliant man and there is much to discuss the abundance of his great work, but this effort, early in the days when the Beatles were showing the influences of other bands creating new and innovative work, is not one that holds up . It is perhaps the least interesting song in their catalog. But back to my point, if I had one, which is that the issue I found with this tune was Lennon’s intent to write a song that would drop knowledge , and the discussion, for me , was how well his attempt succeeded. I don’t think it did. But he did improve vastly. As did Paul Simon , who recovered from the stilted poetics of Sounds of Silence and all the unearned defeatism that particular meditation on alienation wallowed in and who became a songwriting powerhouse , perhaps the best of his generation.