Friday, June 8, 2012

In My Life

Richard Furnstein: "In My Life" is John's first journey through his past. While future songs like "Strawberry Fields Forever," "Mother," and "Julia" would filter nostalgia through his pain and longing, "In My Life" is all John's surface level memories. It's his painful childhood, sure, but it could just as easily take you to your happiest childhood memories. Black and white waterlogged photos of Fred Lennon, Julia Lennon, and Stuart Sutcliffe haunt this song, but you probably just see photos of your childhood dog and Ms. Boland, your beautiful and pert second grade teacher. The early draft featured more specific references to Liverpool landmarks, including Strawberry Field and Penny Lane, but the final version cuts out those sensitive bits to better convey the general life experience. This is your life, my life, our life. Let's weep for what we've lost and toast to the days ahead.  

Robert Bunter: Cheers, mate! I think you’ve got it right. John offers one of his typically navel-gazing self portraits, yet the presentation allows us all to make the emotional connection. If you list all of John’s many songwriting personas, then cross-reference which songs belong to which persona in a comprehensive pdf file with flow graphs and “pie” chart [attached], you’ll find “In My Life” emerged from the same gentle John mindspace as “Dear Prudence,” “All You Need Is Love,” the background vocal parts on “She’s Leaving Home” (the parents’ voices, a masterpiece of Lennon empathy) and “Because.” This was the most loveable of the many Johns we were blessed to know – a vulnerable yet wise and loving friend-figure. How great would it be to sit around and shoot the breeze with this wistful dreamer, perhaps over a pint of lager in some damp Liverpool dive? The only problem is, how long would it be until the terrifying monster of “Hey Bulldog” and “I Am The Walrus” [see attached chart] reared its bloodshot, leonine head? Not long, I’d wager.  

Richard Furnstein: Not long at all! I'd bet that John's eyes would cloud at the end of pint two (maybe pint three during the chunky Help! years), unleashing the vicious fang-toothed Lennon. A man who would cauterize his crippling fear of rejection and inadequacy with a dangerous blend of drugs, fractured gurus, and rage-filled wit. The pie chart should consider the true golden hour between the contemplative dreamer ("and I'm not the only one") and the self-hating psychopath ("no one I think is in my tree"), a man who was eager to connect his emotions and experiences with other humans. This Lennon Version was refreshingly non-self obsessed--in fact, his most effective use of this voice was decidedly global. "All You Need Is Love" was famously broadcast across the world via satellite. A song like "In My Life" is a much more personal version of a wide-reaching transmission. Sit down and cry, love. We'll get through this together.  

Robert Bunter: Well, whichever Lennon persona we’re dealing with here, he has created an almost painfully beautiful tune. The mood of rose-tinged nostalgia is perfectly evoked by the introductory guitar riff (reminiscent of a young child studiously practicing his music exercises), the chord progression (a blend of fake-classical formality with 1950’s pop conventions and just a few touches of the Beatles’ characteristic harmonic innovations - the flat vii chord on “with lovers and friends”), the arrangement (stop-start drum lurches from Ringo, nice cymbal chimes on the bridge and George Martin’s faux-harpsichord solo – actually, it was a sped-up piano) and the lovely vocal harmonies. John saves his best and most emotionally devastating moment for the very end. I’m talking, of course, about the falsetto “In myyyyyy life” that closes out this beautiful track. John knew that his falsetto was an absolute killer, every bit the equal of Paul’s main vocal trick (glorious throat-shredding rock belting). When John sings really high (“Happiness Is A Warm Gun,” “She’s Leaving Home”), grown men weep. And those men are me.  

I think you’re right about the angels

Richard Furnstein: Those men are we, old friend. The track is lovely. The introductory guitar riff is incredibly beautiful, largely because of the fumbling guitar student aspect. The slow plunking of the open E string at the end of the figure is such a naked and emotional sound. I can hear the entire moment in that one note: that slow and ringing E is pregnant with the paint on the studio wall, the snare ringing delicately, dragons of smoke curling from the ashtrays on top of Vox amplifiers. The rhythm of that repeated note always seems a touch off, or perhaps it is just too delicate and perfect. The first blossom of spring that could be crushed before it fully opens up to the sun. McCartney later claimed that he wrote the music for the track. While it doesn't sound quite like a John backing track (the closest song in the catalog may be "I'm Only Sleeping"), I can't say it really suits McCartney's style either. I'd say that God and all of his angels most likely wrote this track. Geniuses are allowed to have a few moments of divine inspiration, right?

Robert Bunter: I think you’re right about the angels. This is a song that really fits nicely into the warm vibe of Rubber Soul. Despite some jagged emotional shards poking out from “Norwegian Wood,” “Run For Your Life,” “Girl” and “I’m Looking Through You,” overall the album is suffused with a nice emotional warmth, a golden glow. The next record, which I like to call “Revolver,” presents a much sharper, acidic feeling. So, let’s summarize: a beautiful song, written by angels, which melds Lennon’s autobiographical impulses with a larger desire to find universal human connections, nicely recorded in a smoky studio with Vox amplifiers by a nice man who we’d like to share a beer with.  

Richard Furnstein: Thanks for tidying up the place, Robert. Let's publish this and wait for the money to come pouring in.

Original Beatles fan art by Scott McMicken (

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