Friday, March 1, 2013

Sun King

Richard Furnstein: Let's welcome another creamy sunrise, brought to you by The Beatles. Their heliotropic tendences were previously on display in the energizing bounce of "Good Day Sunshine" and the welcoming of the first blast of spring in "Here Comes The Sun." The only relief from the overwhelming feeling of loss in "I'll Follow The Sun" was the image of the sun as this unattainable state of love and happiness. The rooster's crow in "Good Morning Good Morning" underpins the tension, hope, and tedium of the start of a new day. "Sun King" is a lovely ode to five in the morning. The crickets are slowing down, ready to surrender their rhythmic grip on the night. There is nothing but promise and hope at this time of day. The taxpayers are starting their early morning routine. The babies are gazing into their mother's eyes during the morning feeding. The Beatles always represented total renewal: each new Beatles album was a rejection of their previous take on pop music. These four supermen were there to gently guide mere mortals through life. "Here are the tools that you will require to pass through this world, children. It's so fine, it's sunshine. It's the word, love. Carry on with love."  

Robert Bunter: "Sun King" strikes a deft balance between parody and sincerity. On the one hand, the implied image of an exotic tropical people greeting their primitive deity and chanting gibberish could have been lifted from the pages of "A Spaniard In The Works" (one of Lennon's wordplay-and-doodles books). At the same time, the mood established is one of genuine joy and warmth. It operates as a bit of a companion piece to "Here Comes The Sun," which precedes it on side two of Abbey Road. But where George's sunsong finds him exulting in the joy and freedom that he can see in his solo life beyond the suffocating constrictions of the latter-day Beatles, John seems to be retreating into the beguiling yet illusory warmth of a languorous heroin nod. In his opiated mind, the smiling happy natives are greeting the life-giving sky orb and praying for a bountiful harvest. But in the real world? He's "asleep" with his head slumped down at an uncomfortable angle, barely supported by the atrophied muscles in his noodle-neck. The tendons are straining but he doesn't even feel it. Yoko is slumped next to him, in a similar state of numb dishevelment. They are in Ringo's small Montague Square flat which he's letting them use while construction is completed on their massive Tittenhurst estate. Above them on the wall is a condom filled with stale piss that Yoko tacked up as a conceptual art project. I'm sorry, but these are the facts.  

Richard Furnstein: I just checked Lewisohn. You're actually telling the truth. However, I'm willing to give John Lennon some credit for the wonder and optimism of "Sun King." Think about it: Lennon's songs on Abbey Road are pure vampiric misery, "Come Together," "Mean Mr. Mustard," and "Polythene Pam" are full of dripping, elderly perverts and "I Want You (She's So Heavy)" presents a desperate vision of codependent love. I'm willing to blindly accept the optimism and romanticism of "Sun King." If nothing else, I don't want Lennon to continue to disintegrate into the lurching horror figure of the "Come Together" villain. I want a future of Imagines and Beautiful Boys. I want to believe that Lennon is welcoming the new day with songs like "Sun King" and "Because." Time to open these blinds, Yoko! Let's clear out these room service trays. Throw those resin-caked spoons in the dustbin, love. I hear they are serving waffles in the lobby until 11. C'mon, grouchypants. You love waffles. We'd better hurry!

In John's opiated mind, the smiling happy natives are greeting the life-giving sky orb and praying for a bountiful harvest. But in the real world?


Robert Bunter: That’s a beautiful image. I can imagine a white pajama-clad John gallantly operating the make-your-own waffle station as smiling Yoko wipes the dreams from her eyes. A few startled fans wander over. “Is it really him?” “Why, of course it is! Would you like them extra brown? How about a dab of huckleberry jam and powdered sugar? It’s natural!” Yeah right Richard, get into the real world. There was no waffle station at Ringo’s Montague Square flat. It was an apartment, not a Days Inn. Do they even have waffles in England? Let’s focus on the music. This song is cut from the same cloth as “Don’t Let Me Down” and “Hold On” from the Plastic Ono Band album. John seems to have discovered hard drugs and how to flip the tremolo switch on your amplifier and go from an E to an F sharp minor at approximately the same time. I’ll tell you what this track reminds me of: the Beach Boys’ “Smiley Smile.” It has the same prominent organ (!), lovely harmonies, goofy humor and heavy-lidded stoner haze.  

Richard Furnstein: I definitely hear the connection to the half-realized jokes and weirdness of "Smiley Smile." The other obvious connection is to Fleetwood Mac's "Albatross." The Beatles lift heavily from Peter Green's composition, referencing the song's reverb-drenched atmosphere and the storm-like undulations of John McVie and Mick Fleetwood. The Beatles rise above the mentally unstable yet dreamy textures of classic Mac with a lush wall of harmonies. Then, in order to separate themselves even more from England's new sensation, Lennon, McCartney, and Harrison toss out a series of playful Italianglish terms. It's as if they were returning once more to assert their dominion over Europe. Where The Beatles once recorded their popular hits in German (“Sie Liebt Dich” and “Komm Gib Mir Deine Hand”), they soon realized that Beatles was in fact the universal language. Kids in Arizona related to their dank London vibes. Beatles tapes and blue jeans were the foundation of the Russian black market. "The Inner Light" plays over a supermarket P.A. in Vishakhapatnam. Some guy in Zimbabwe picks up "I'll Get You" on a transistor radio. It's real.  

Robert Bunter: You’re right, that’s a really valid point that has a lot to do with the song “Sun King.”

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