Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Happiness Is A Warm Gun

Richard Furnstein: I'm completely stymied. How do you even approach this incredible pile of genius? I just thought it over in the shower and considered a few angles: 1) Yoko as savior of John's creative genius; 2) John's late period ability to unravel time signatures while still preserving his gift for melody; 3) the well trod "history of rock" angle (progressive to heavy to anthemic to doo wop, all in under three minutes); 4) the mutual heroin/heroine fixation; 5) John's frequently creepy lyrical themes. It's all there, and it's all great. It's hard to comprehend this song happening. Please tell me about The Beatles. How is this possible?

Robert Bunter: Yeah, every one of those ideas deserves its own lengthy exegesis. If the Beatles were a house, this song would be a weird, musty closet in a forgotten corner, filled with strange implements, unnameable smells and implications unthinkable in sane, daylight hours. Lennon could do creepy better than anyone, and White Album Lennoncreep beats all other terrifying Lennon eras (I'm including Plastic Ono Band and "Beautiful Boy," too.) We've just finished George's melancholy dirge full of gently weeping guitars and smug, judgmental evaluations of our spiritual development. It's almost the end of side one. Time for some light relief! Paul, have you written any songs about your dog? Oh, wait, it looks like John is here and he'd like to introduce us to a world of perverts, junkies, lizards, toilets, nuns and firearms. At least there will be some nice music! Oh, wait: section one is weird jazz, section two is tense, agitated rock and section three is like a '50s rock revival, except the Brylcreemed greaser of 1958 is now a decade older and he's addicted to drugs. His leather jacket is crusty with mold and blood and his eyes aren't right. Oh well, there's always side two!

It looks like John is here and he'd like to introduce us to a world of perverts, junkies, lizards, toilets, nuns and firearms.

Richard Furnstein: Jesus, I don't even want to think about that aging greaser, full of methamphetamine and regret, fidgeting in the corner of the malt shop while leering at school girls. It's like a lost innocence pizza with everything on it. Still, I bet even that guy (I'm naming him Leo in my mind) would be terrified of this song. He starts off lulled into Lennon's hypnotic guitar (like a harpsichord played backwards in a gentle breeze) and then the bottom falls out and we're welcomed to the mean streets. You know where you are, baby? Needless to say, you are in a jungle and are going to die, but you'd better have a shiny pair of hobnail boots to get you through the endless obstacles in your path. What are hobnail boots, you ask? You child, you aren't ready for this world. This is the world hidden in your dad's pornography stash, between the stereo adverts, the swollen tired nipples, and the musty (de)scent of mildew. It's all hair and blood and phlegm. Watch your step.

Robert Bunter: That's a lot for us all to think about. Lennon was very proud of this track, and I can't say I blame him. One gets the impression that this song wasn't difficult for him to write, despite the jarring key, tempo and time signature changes. It has an effortless feeling, like John just dropped a tattered fishing net into the swampy underbogs of his unconscious mind and swept up a few of the slimy, unearthly creatures which were swimming around down there the whole time, even when he was just singing things like "Twist And Shout." With heavy eyelids and a quiet, opiated moan, he slowly drags the net out of the water. The startled, noxious aquacreatures snap and blink and click and hiss in the unfamiliar sunlight and oxygen while Lennon surveys the day's catch with grim satisfaction. If you touch them, they'll sting your finger before they shrivel. That's what it was like for John to write "Happiness Is A Warm Gun."

Richard Furnstein: Not far from the truth, surely. But can you imagine what it was like for Ringo when John wrote "Happiness Is A Warm Gun"? He was probably driving to the studio in his new Bentley, listening to acetates of his "Don't Pass Me By" working tapes. "Hold tight, Richard," he'd tell himself. "You are almost there. Hit them over the head with this when they least expect it." Then he arrives at Abbey Road and realizes that John's all strung out and has been babbling in the corner for hours. Paul's working out "Junk" on the grand piano. "Maybe I won't release this one..." Paul thinks. George is reading about elephants or something. Then John is like "Let's try that one about the gun," and poor Ringo has to switch time signatures to meet the crazy drug-fueled whims of his increasingly distant yet undeniably brilliant band leader. I'm here to tell you: I'm sure those acetates didn't sound as good on the trip home. Ringo was just getting used to the idea of roots rock (The Beatles had The Band fever for some reason) and thought his first song would fit nicely in the new mode. Meanwhile, John took the concept of roots rock and ran it through a blender with a few tablets, his childhood nightmares, and his crippling love and anxiety for a weirdo Japanese artist.

Robert Bunter: You've got a real point there, Rich. Let's just summarize: John went fishing in the darkest part of his brain and dredged up a 1950's greaser in a world of moldy pornography, which created drumming difficulties for ace sticksman Ringo Starkey. Just a typical Tuesday in White Album land, the scariest place The Beatles ever invented. Can you take me back where I came from? Turn left at Greenland.

Richard Furnstein: They were originally going to call The White Album "A Doll's House." But it's full of the dolls that are missing limbs, have rust tears coming out of their dead porcelain eyes, and spiders crawling over their stunned remains. "Warm Gun" is one of the scariest rooms in that house.


  1. Now that you've suggested his name is Leo and you've got me thinking about his boots, all I can picture is the Leo Johnson from Twin Peaks. This song just got creepier.