Monday, March 21, 2011

I'm A Loser

Robert Bunter: My brain is bursting with excitement at the chance to talk about this perfect song. It seems shabby to even attempt to subject such a magnificent specimen to the disrespectful charade of verbal analysis, like trying to catch a beautiful butterfly so you can kill it and mount it on a piece of soiled brown corkboard.

Here goes: It's late 1964 - early 1965, and we're rapidly approaching the point where the Beatles become perfect: they're in complete command of their craft and performing like geniuses, so what do they do? They frown, don scarves and overcoats, and take the opportunity to expose their deepest vulnerabilities, allowing the rest of us mortals to feel like we're just like them. But we're not, because they just proved it with this supreme work of art. You couldn't do this, and neither could I. The reason? You're not God Lennon, as I call him.

Richard Furnstein:
Lennon takes off the costume from the Beatlemaniacal days and heads to the honky tonk saloon. The fit was getting a bit tight on his old Beatles suit (both figuratively and literally), so the visit to the country and western styles of Beatles For Sale was a necessary adjustment. Where Beatles For Sale or a solid song like "I'm A Loser" fails, it is in the Beatles' inability to completely give in to the stylistic change. "Loser" mainly feels like a redirection due to John's C&W acoustic shuffle (later taken to extremes by American-philes the Rolling Stones), George's prickly guitar work, and the face-in-whiskey subject matter. Beatles For Sale ultimately goes further into the saloon ("Baby's In Black," "Honey Don't," and "I Don't Want To Spoil The Party"). The fit is never entirely comfortable for our boys, especially in the harmonies and Ringo's bam-thwok.

Robert Bunter:
Yes! Oh, man. Please continue that line of analysis further, my friend!

Richard Furnstein: That's all I got! But really, this little gem is mainly a first draft of Help!", one of John's first huge songwriting triumphs. However, we shouldn't completely ignore the triumphs of this song just because he quickly perfected the model of the upbeat acoustic guitar misery-fest. "I'm A Loser" is a missive from the bottom of a night of drinking. It's tough to tell who John is singing to in this one; I mainly hear it as John singing to his own reflection. "You're a loser, pal. Sure, she brought out this misery in you but she had little choice. You are a loser at heart." It's hard not to feel for the sad clown in this one. The other Beatles keep this from going too far into the islands of misery. There is more pop and enthusiasm than you would expect from the naked lyric. In particular, Paul finds a nice little groove pocket in the sadness and his howls on the chorus are more naked glee than wailing. Don't get too sad, John, your superbuddies are hear to help(!) you out of this funk.

Robert Bunter: No doubt. Ringo's tambourine takes the chorus from brilliant to superhuman, Paul does just the right thing, George plays a solo so primitive it makes Buckminster Fuller look like Keanu Reaves, and dear John just breaks my heart with his candor and great harmonica playing.

Richard Furnstein: Oh yeah, that harmonica! That's like a trip to the filthy men's room for a snort of diphenhydramine and a splash of cold water to the face. Snap out of it, man!

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