Friday, February 1, 2013

Yer Blues

Richard Furnstein: A cry from the bottom of a well. John set "Yer Blues"--his exorcism of the unholy spirits that were increasingly consuming his hairy figure--in the leaking swamps of the Mississippi Delta. Sure, he could downplay this brutal testament of self-loathing and suicidal thoughts as nothing more than a Clapton-infused bit of searing blues, but the truth was closer to a drooling hellhound that greeted Lennon in each of his junkie dreams. John and the boys ambled into the closet-sized EMI Studio 2 Annexe to record "Yer Blues." While it's easy to construe this as an effort to instill unity into the fractured and independent White Album sessions, I think the Annexe was chosen to limit the external energy in the recording session. The Devil can't sit in on mouth harp if he can't fit in the room. Barghest himself can't beg for the crumbs of Lennon's shattered soul in such conditions.

The listener conjures a mental image of a wracked, tortured man writhing on the floor while his erstwhile buddies stare blankly ahead and plod their way through this ponderous dirge, not even acknowledging the situation.

Robert Bunter: If you look at the rapid arc of the Beatles’ career with hindsight, their startlingly accelerated rate of development seems obvious. In a mere two years they’d taken the quantum leap from “I’m Happy Just To Dance With You” to “Tomorrow Never Knows,” for example. A closer look, however, reveals an unsettling parallel side development: the harrowing, rapid descent of the John-figure into hell. Recall that “Yer Blues” appeared in 1968, a mere four years after most of the world had met the man. He’d always seemed kind of intense; even his early love songs were uncomfortably raw. Seemingly seconds later, his insecurities were illustrated more vividly during his 1965 Dylan phase as he sings about being a loser with “a chip on my shoulder that’s bigger than my feet.” During the psychedelic period his demons seemed to have been temporarily stoned into submission by the shifting perspectives and blurry colors of chemically-expanded mind-dreams, but even here, the despair and dementia were never far from the surface on tracks like “Strawberry Fields Forever” and “A Day In The Life.” A year later, we’re confronted with lyrics like “The eagle picks my eye / the worm he licks my bone” and “black cloud crossed my mind / blue mist surrounds my soul.” Makes Robert Johnson sound like Keanu Reaves!

 Richard Furnstein: Great point. Lennon went from harmless self-pity ("I'm A Loser") to actually admitting suicidal thought. It's just startling that Lennon would sink to the worm-lickin' depths of loneliness in the lilac gardens of India after finding his true love. His gentle moping on Beatles For Sale or Help! suggested a sensitive man going through an identity crisis--caught between the boredom of his house husband phase and the relentless mania of The Beatles' touring life. As usual, Lennon blames his dark mental state on childhood woes. He presents his parents as the angel and devil on his shoulders. His mother was an angelic spirit "of the sky" while his loathsome father, hapless seaman Freddie Lennon, was vulnerable to earthly temptations and sins. Lennon cast himself, the product of this failed union, as "of the universe." Where he once lamented that no one was in his tree, now John is floating alone in the cosmos. But wait, John realized that his best friends in the world were there with him. Lovable and shouty Paul, reliable and handsome George, and loyal and funny Ringo were there to help him through this rough patch. That's the beauty of "Yer Blues." John assembled his best friends in the world into a tiny closet to grunt out a searing rock number. Maybe he even fit a stool into the room for pie-faced friend Mal Evans! Do you guys want to grab a pint and some chips after this one? It's like the old days. Woops, sorry I bumped your ride cymbal, Ringo. It's like being back in the Cavern!  

Robert Bunter: Yeah, you’d think so. But that’s what makes the line “Feel so suicidal / even hate my rock and roll” so devastating. The cathartic, soul-cleansing power of music which was once redemptive for John has soured; he looks at the three other faces in the cramped studio closet and tries to see his rockin’ buddies from the leather jacket days, but his fevered mind can’t focus the image. There’s Paul with his dumb eyebrows and stupid Ob-La-Di song, George’s pocked skin and offensive moustache stinking up the room with curry breath; even Ringo’s hangdog mug seems distorted and offensive. The tiny recording space mirrors the desperate psychic box that John finds himself in; there’s no escape. The effect is heightened when he screeches the reprise of the verse off-mic; the listener conjures a mental image of a wracked, tortured man writhing on the floor while his erstwhile buddies stare blankly ahead and plod their way through this ponderous dirge, not even acknowledging the situation. This is the moment where the Beatles broke up. Finally, the gentle, fresh acoustic breeze of Paul’s “Mother Nature’s Son” wafts softly in as the cramped, stinky room of “Yer Blues” fades into silence. Abbey Road boasts a similar moment, when George’s airy “Here Comes The Sun” warms the horrifying frozen tundra wind-blast of the “I Want You (She’s So Heavy)” fade at the end of side one.  

Richard Furnstein: You caught me. I was trying to put on a brave face. Of course, it was all over. The Hand of Death had long guided The Beatles, providing closure to their early scrappy days with the passing of Stu Sutclliffe in April 1962 and closing out their identity as comfortable idols with Brian Epstein's death in August 1967. Perhaps Lennon was trying to coax the reaper into his life once again with "Yer Blues." Take another soul, dear reaper. Let us run wild into the world without the burden of The Beatles. Lennon didn't have the guts to follow through on the threat of suicide, much like he could never effectively put an end to his rock group. His frequent calls to action (romanticized in his posthumous image as a peace merchant) never overcame his drug-addled daydreams.

Robert Bunter: It's bad, man. Real bad. How the hell are we going to break the news to Ringo?

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