Showing posts with label The Beatles. Show all posts
Showing posts with label The Beatles. Show all posts

Tuesday, November 7, 2023

The failure of "Nowhere Man"

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.

Wednesday, November 10, 2021


In a feature in the current issue of Slate, Jack Hamilton adds some lighter fluid to the controversy slowly boiling over who was the better wordsmith for the Beatles, Paul McCartney or John Lennon. Not coincidental with the release of the pricey two-volume, slip-cased set The Lyrics where McCartney describes his authorship of  150 songs both for the Beatles and other projects, Hamilton, as one could expect, bucks conventional wisdom and argues that Sir Paul was the superior lyricist. Do you remember your younger life when you waxed incessantly, continuously, and oppressively about one album, one exceptional album that was the greatest album ever made, a work of art unlike any other we've ever seen as a species and the likes of which we will ever see again? Do you remember forgetting about that extra-fantastic disc and then listening to it again  decades later,  realizing it hasn't traveled through the years as well as you claimed? And remember what you said at the time? 

I remember my hyperbolic tantrums arguing for the genius of many records I've since abandoned. That is what Hamilton's defense of McCartney's lyrics for the Beatles read like, a gushy mash note. Of course, the man had a way with words, but…please calm down… Like anyone else obsessed with what the Beatles have accomplished and how it was that they created a body of work without peer, I've dived into the weeds to determine who had the more outstanding mind and pen, John or Paul. After much scrutiny, cogitating, late nights scanning lyric sheets wearing headphones while the Beatles blared loudly and made my hearing even worse than it was, my conclusion is that it's a draw between the two. 

As for songwriting partners and as lone authors of single songs while in the Beatles, Lennon and McCartney seemed an evenly matched pair as lyricists, with McCartney having a substantial edge for composing engaging and deceptively simple melodies. Lennon, to be sure, could write a lovely song as well and do so throughout the band's lifetime, but  McCartney has the advantage. As Beatles lyricists,  one can strongly argue that the two were equal for fluidity and agility of expression. Their distinct personalities gave the metaphorical Beatles Universe (with some exemplary additional contributions from George Harrison) a remarkably fresh and finally unpredictable take on the human experience.  McCartney was a fine lyricist with the Beatles, and I'd even agree brilliant at times. Still, I believe the old saw that Sir Paul's best abilities as lyricist and melodist may well have remained dormant if Lennon hadn't become such a significant presence in his creative undertakings. And yes, I would agree, Lennon might have remained yet another Rocker doomed for inevitable anonymity if he hadn't made McCartney's acquaintance.  This will, undoubtedly, be argued about until the end of time.  Notably, McCartney has been showing concern over his legacy as he gets older. He wants the world to realize the weight of actual contribution to the Beatles' longevity, perhaps even a desire to take Lennon's reputation as the superior lyricist and intellect down a peg or two. 

'Though fueled by resentment, I suspect,  there is no getting away from the fact that the solo efforts by Lennon and McCartney, including struggles with Plastic Ono Band and Wings respectively, are depressingly substandard considered against the work they'd done for the Beatles.  Of course, both bodies of post-Beatles music have pockets of the old magic, charisma, wit, and melodic bite. Still, Lennon had descended from the ranks of an artist to becoming merely a Professional Celebrity, an amazingly clueless personality whose lyric acumen was now little else but sloganeering no more subtle than a bumper sticker. McCartney, in turn, couldn't seem to write a cohesive song anymore; his song structures were erratic, jarring, disjointed, too often coming less well than office buildings abandoned during construction. His lyric writing was gibberish, and those who want to defend the words he wrote for Wings come off as wishful thinkers.             

Friday, September 11, 2009

Banking on The Beatles

The marketing of the Beatles continues with undelayed urgency, with the advent of Beatles Rock Band video game, and now the remastering of many Fab Four recordings in a flashy, bulky, expensive package. I cannot see myself having my history sold to me yet again; my memories ought not be what breaks the bank account.I was born in 1952 and was , more or less, a perfect witness to the Beatle phenomenon as it happened. From here , I'll the dulling recollection of what they meant to me and my generation and will not wax on their dually over rated and under appreciated qualities--few popular bands have ever been subject to the kind of exaggerated elevations and damnations than these guys have--and instead cut to the quick; the subject of the Beatles bores me stiff. We gone through an endless series of repackagings of their music since their 1970, none of which has made their great tunes sound any greater, nor made their slightest songs gain any more credibility. I refuse to live up to Tommy Lee Jones' groaning admission in Men In Black ; I will not buy the White Album songs again, no matter how crisp and clear the new versions are promised to be. I'm fine with my copies of Yesterday and Today, Revolver, The White Album and Abbey Road ; this was their finest string of albums, brimming with new melodies, wonderfully elliptical lyrics and wholesale genius in the vocals. To get these albums again would make me a mere fetishists, not a fan. But a fan I remain, and in the time since the rise of the Beatles and my tour of duty as a working music critic for several Southern California publications, my tastes have changed. Not "matured", not "improved" or "gotten more sophisticated", just changed. I remain a rock and roll fan, a Beatle fan, an encourager of loud guitars and passion, but the point of being interested in arts , as the cliche goes, is to broaden one's world, not to continually spend cash money on refurbished tunes in an attempt to relive what is past. I don't want to shut the door on the past, of course. I'm just annoyed that someone my age is expected to go out and buy again the music that I already own.