Tuesday, November 15, 2011

The Continuing Story of Bungalow Bill

Robert Bunter: Another one of the absolute uncontested peaks of Lennon's crucial songcraft. No! It's not. But it's an intriguing side alley that runs alongside the strange, magnificent, enchanting street that is side one of The Beatles (The White Album). It's got the effortless, tossed-off quality that betrays it's origins as an acoustic campfire singalong from Rishikesh, but that effortless quality is an illusion. The bizarre chord progression, obscure yet penetrating lyrics, shifts of meter and creepy, bared-teeth mood are cut from the same dark cloth as "Happiness Is A Warm Gun," "Everybody's Got Something To Hide Except Me And My Monkey" and "Glass Onion." You'd think a guy like me would be happy to hang out with John Lennon under any circumstances, but I'll tell you what: I'm not going anywhere near the terrifying campfire singalong that this song represents. Our camp leader has a weird look in his eye behind the granny glasses, this unfamiliar Japanese lady is making me feel uneasy, and who the hell brought a Mellotron out here to the woods?

Richard Furnstein: A frightening thought. The listener is lulled into an exotic world (red wine in cups, suited monkeys clearing tables) where leisure and mental awakening sits next to poverty and bug eating. The Don Flamenco runs that open this particular terror fantasy serve as the soundtrack to some grainy credits. We see the back of a Caucasian hunter ambling up a hill, okapi pelts draped over his corn fed frame. He reaches the apex of the hill just as the gang singalong starts. Ringo once again is the loudest in the room. Tell me more about the campfire, I can't get that image out of my head. Fascination and retreat. The fear of the unknown. Kill or be killed.

Our camp leader has a weird look in his eye behind the granny glasses, this unfamiliar Japanese lady is making me feel uneasy, and who the hell brought a Mellotron out here to the woods?

Robert Bunter: "Bungalow" Bill is actually William "Billy" Shears, the Ringo-esque Everyman from the happier days of Sgt. Pepper's first side. Remember those happy moments? That was back when group singalongs represented heartening declarations of brotherly togetherness. Those days, Mr. Shears, have passed. As the bumbling, mustachioed Englishman trundles his way out of the dusky gloaming, he is confronted by a really large fire. His haunches clench nervously in his colonial hunting garb and drab festoons. The long-haired, bestubbled hippies seated around the fire are garbed in dhotis and saris. He pretends not to see or hear as the lyrics of their hypnotic, pagan song start addressing him directly, mocking his hollow machismo. 

Richard Furnstein: The band leader leers at him over his glasses (far sighted?) as he delivers the verse with a chiding tone. The lyrics seem to build up Bill's manly exploits in the heart of darkness while poking at the flabby insecurities hiding under his puffed chest. It's a heavy handed commentary on masculinity in the late 1960s (a hunter is reduced to a cartoon character, much like the fictional Captain Marvel). Way to be a man, Bill. We just couldn't help notice that you brought your mother along, you insecure manchild that can't do your own laundry or heat up a can of soup.

Robert Bunter: "Hey, come on over and join the fun, Bill. We didn't mean to frighten you. No, please. It's just a meditation retreat. Ha ha! Come on, would you like some wine? Look at these lovely girls! Surely a brave, virile hunter like yourself is not afraid of a few scrawny, wild-eyed freaks, are you?" Look, this whole fantasy sequence is a lot of fun, but the truly terrifying implications of the two Beatles songs with characters named "Bill" or "Billy" only becomes fully apparent when you watch every single one of iamaphoney's YouTube videos. Let's wrap this thing up. "Bungalow Bill" is really scary, just like most of Lennon's work from this period. Can we agree on that, Furnstein?

Richard Furnstein: No doubt! "His mommy (mummy?) butted in" always put "Revolution 9" level scares in me. John Lennon didn't need brown acid. He didn't need bad junk. His mind was scarier than any hippie nightmare that mere drugs could conjure. 

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