Wednesday, November 30, 2011

17. Beatles, "A Day in the Life" (1967)


John Lennon and Paul McCartney were always steadfast in their denial that this was a drug song, a tag that earned it a ban from the BBC and a lot of unwelcome stigma as well. I think it's true that "I'd love to turn you on" and "found my way upstairs and had a smoke / somebody spoke and I went into a dream" are fairly slim reeds on which to hang the charge. On the other hand, the eerie racket that follows those lines is not, particularly. That is some strange stuff, and I still remember the moment I first heard this because of those passages. I was getting up early, before daylight. I was getting dressed. I was putting on a blue and white plaid shirt, buttoning it. It was winter and I was wearing long underwear under my pants. I knew it was the Beatles by the voices and general tenor of it but I didn't know anything else about it. And it scared me badly. I thought something was wrong with my radio and kept fiddling with the tuning and then the song would come back. And then that weird shit would come back. And then the song again. It reminded me of a frightening dream I'd had before, in which I could not make my radio stop playing, even unplugging it from the wall and finally smashing it, only to discover a small person inside it singing. I was basically too young (and/or naive) to understand about drugs, but "A Day in the Life" was profoundly disturbing and unsettling for me. Eventually, perhaps artifact of Stockholm syndrome or something like it, I came to embrace it as basically my one favorite Beatles song. It's got all the tunefulness I loved and came to expect from them, but it really packs a wallop as well, and on multiple levels.

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