Tuesday, September 11, 2012

While My Guitar Gently Weeps

Robert Bunter: Sometimes it seems like George's default songwriting position was perched on his high horse, sorrowfully lamenting the shortcomings of the rest of the world. Listen to "Think For Yourself," "Within You Without You," "The Inner Light," "I Me Mine" (as well as most of All Things Must Pass and lots of subsequent solo records) for the characteristic message - the world could be a beautiful place if the rest of you would just open your eyes and transcend the artificial boundaries of ego, like I, George Harrison, have already done. Isn't it a pity? Even his early efforts ("Don't Bother Me," "You Like Me Too Much," "If I Needed Someone") betray a thinly-veiled sense of superiority. This tendency could be grating, especially coming from a smug multimillionaire who had his own personal shortcomings (greedy with money, boned Ringo's wife in the '70s, didn't return phone calls, thick phlegmy voice, questionable facial hair), but "While My Guitar Gently Weeps" is a great song despite its arch, judgmental tone.

Richard Furnstein: "While My Guitar Gently Weeps" presented a new side to George's hectoring. Previous efforts had focused on putting down a lady or moaning about having to do a press junket in Central Florida; "Gently Weeps" finds him judging his aimless bandmates and their self-destructive egos.1 It's a theme that would serve him well during the solo years. I do find that the grumpy George vibe seems a bit easier to take on this one. First off, it's a lovely melody, taking the descending guitar line trick that George loved and pairing it with simple action-based rhyme. The arrangement has a lot of great moments, particularly Paul's bass and his opening piano riff (which always seemed to me to be linked to the flamenco guitar that prefaces "The Continuing Story of Bungalow Bill"). Perhaps most importantly, "Weeps" connects with the listener, despite relying on a series of loose metaphors. We want to take George's side in the slowly evaporating friendships of The Beatles. Like an adult child feeling sympathy for a parent who gave their life to supporting a crumbling marriage, the listener believes that George is on the losing side of the divorce of his childhood gang. I'm not sure they could say that George gave his best years of his life ("You Like Me Too Much"), but he certainly deserved better than to have this number--his best offering yet--dismissed due to an album real estate turf battle between Paul and John. "Sorry, Georgie, no time for your guitar song. We've got to record stupid 'Glass Onion.'"

You could play every blues from "Drivin' That Thing" to "Death Bell Blues" with the same spider fingered finesse, milking the willing prostate of your white Stratocaster.
Robert Bunter: You've got a point there, except for the part about it being George's "best offering yet." Perhaps you've forgotten a little number that I like to call "I Want To Tell You" from an album which I like to call Revolver? Remember my electrifying fantasy sequence about the "Swinging London" undertrousers and the sweet-smelling girl from Stockholm? Although "While My Guitar Gently Weeps" is often cited as an example of George's second-class status in the group (John, Paul and George Martin "could hardly be bothered with it" according to most re-tellings), the first-class contributions of the others belie such pat analysis. Paul's bracing Morse code piano intro and characteristically inventive bass playing don't sound like the products of a disinterested participant. Ringo's drums are better than perfect, understated yet powerful; plus there's that funny galloping percussion noise on the verses, and his crucial tambourine, whcih punches up the second half of Clapton's guitar solo quite nicely. Oh, did we mention the Clapton thing? Less-knowledgeable readers may not be aware that George drafted hotshot Yardbirds/Bluesbreakers/Cream axeman Eric Clapton to sit in on "Weeps" and stink it up with his second-rate Stratocaster noodling; one can only imagine the pursed grimaces, rapidly-shifting eyebrows and other shameless poochy guitar-face mugging that "God" Clapton probably indulged in while the tapes rolled. According to the history books, when Crapton (as I call him) showed up to the previously acrimonious White Album sessions, the others were instantly on their best behavior, not unlike the function Billy Preston would serve during the latter half of the Get Back project. Maybe so, but I'll tell you one thing, I'd rather he'd stayed home, even if it meant John would have pushed this track off the album in favor of "What's The New Mary Jane." If I want to listen to a British guy play shitty blues guitar riffs over a melancholy acoustic guitar strum underneath a set of pretentious "meaningful" lyrics, I'm going to just go ahead and fetch my copy of Ten Years After's "A Space In Time" and cue up "I'd Love To Change The World." It's track three, right after the trippy space alien invasion fantasy "Here They Come." Meanwhile, if everyone is taking my advice all of a sudden, let's just go ahead and make the White Album a four-record set featuring the full "Revolution 1-9" suite, the 27-minute "Helter Skelter," the Anthology acoustic version of "While My Guitar Gently Weeps" and the blurry "Not Guilty" mix from the Peter Sellers tape. Wait, where am I?

Richard Furnstein: I'll tell you where you are. You are in London, England so it is raining. It's 1968 and you are wearing finely a tailored white pirate shirt and cavernous sunglasses to hide your junkie gaze. Your best friend invited you to guest with his band The Beatles to "blues up" a number that he had been nursing over the last few months. You heard the song once. George played it for you on his back patio in Kinfauns, fixing his eyes on yours as he bared his soul with a series of awkward and pedestrian rhymes. Ha, he even had a line about humans as actors in the play of life or some dumb shit like that. Luckily he later scrapped that verse. You tried to break away from his gaze--his famous eyebrows tense with concentration while his curry-stained spindly fingers plodded out the song's progression on an old Martin. To be honest, you only wanted to come over to George's house to be closer to his nubile young wife, Patti. Bugger that, because Patti was off shopping for wide-legged pants and now you were stuck with George's thin voice and his lentil-infused flatulence. He finally finished the song. You lit a Chesterfield and sat back in the recliner, "I could do something with that one." Of course you could. You could play every blues from "Drivin' That Thing" to "Death Bell Blues" with the same spider fingered finesse, milking the willing prostate of your white Stratocaster.

Months later it was go time. You almost forgot about the song (George called it "While My Guitar Gently Weeps" while you liked to call it "Willing Wife Blues"), but you ambled into Abbey Road Studio anyway. "Ricky, what are you doing here?" John asked. "Great to see you, lad," offered Paul. Ringo didn't say anything, he was too busy eating a can of beans that Mal Evans had prepared. "He's here to play on my new song," George said blankly. So you played the song. You could feel the distance between them at the beginning of the session, yet the recording came together perfectly. Like a tray of Walkers' Nonsuch Toffee from God's own oven. You are Eric Clapton. And you stink.

Robert Bunter: Oof, that really hits home. I can almost smell the Chesterfields and lentils. Hey, what was John doing on this song? No backup vocals, no noticeable guitar contributions ... maybe that was the source of George's irritation. Lennon couldn't be bothered because he was cueing up tape loops for "Revolution 9" with Yoko. I think you're right, this song is addressed to the other Beatles as much as it is to the inhabitants of the larger outside world. Still, we can all learn some lessons from Harrison's lyric: wake up your sleeping love, sweep the floor, unfold your love, learn from your mistakes, don't be perverted. Keep this advice in mind and remember not to let Eric Clapton anywhere near your wife. Thanks, Dark Horse. We miss you.

1"Only A Northern Song" is clearly an antecedent, but George's fury was directed at the music business in general. 

1 comment:

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