WORDS BY LAURA JANE FAULDS & ELIZABETH BARKER,
ART BY JEN MAY
(Last week Strawberry Fields Whatever turned six-years-old. LJ and Liz started SFW as a spinoff of Let It Be Beautiful, a book where we took Beatles songs and rewrote them as stories or essays. Here's a post about how we still love The Beatles.)
LJ: I listened to “Hey Diddle” by Paul McCartney while walking to work last week. The sun was out, and the day was yellow.
The yellow light reminded me of the yellow on the cover of RAM. And it reminded me of myself, and of a sentence I’d written a long time ago: I like the sun, and I’m like the sun. I reminded myself of RAM.
I was listening to “Hey Diddle” for a reason. I knew there was a lyric in it I’d loved a long time ago, which I’d loved most of all one night, sitting on a kitchen floor in England, drinking a bottle of sparkling rosé I’d bought at a Tesco on my way home from work. I was in the midst of coming to terms with the fact that I was NOT going to be marrying a crazy Scottish guy I'd met one month prior — he asked me to marry him on the second day he knew me, and I said yes— I knew it was an objectively bad decision, but, regardless, I took him seriously. Call me crazy, but if someone asks me to marry them, I assume that they want to marry me. And I like myself, so if someone says they want to marry me, it makes me think that they’re cool, or smart, and have great taste in wives. And so, I want to marry them too.
It didn’t work out, which made me sad, so I drank the rosé while sitting on my kitchen floor and listening to Paul McCartney. What more can a sad person do?
I remembered that the sentence existed, but I didn’t remember how it goes. I was walking down Dupont Street, the street I work on. I love that street. It’s shabby and s-shaped, serpentine, and the houses look like junk, like the approximation of a city street a child might construct out of cardboard boxes, shoeboxes, then step on. I felt nervous, almost, to hear Paul sing the sentence: I was afraid I wouldn’t like it anymore, though it turned out I had nothing to fear.
Do you want to find out how it goes?
I haven’t been doing much running lately; my body’s too tired from all the working, and I started smoking cigarettes again, and I don’t want to deal with the reality of what that’s done to my lung capacity. The easiest way for me to stop thinking about work is by putting my phone on airplane mode and listening to songs by Paul McCartney. When I listen to songs by Paul McCartney, the only thing I know how to think about is Paul McCartney. I think about the words he wrote, and also I think about Paul McCartney: actual Paul, the guy.
Same night as the yellow day, I listened to “Hey Jude” on headphones as I closed up the restaurant. I was alone. There are few things I love more than being alone in an empty restaurant, I love it with the quiet and the lights up, and I feel like I live there. A restaurant is like a home, but better. There’s a better kitchen, better food, cleaner bathrooms, more booze.
With my phone in my back pocket and my headphones in my ears, I went downstairs to shut the locks. There’s so many locks down there, it drives me crazy. I hate locking doors. I can never remember if I locked them or not, and I always get so worried that I didn’t. I’m always locking doors to places and then walking back to the place ten minutes later to double-check if I did it or not. It’s so dumb. I always locked them. (But, you know, I get why I'm so scared about it: I can be the best General Manager in the world, I can do everything perfect and right all day every day, but if I don't lock the door at night: I didn't do anything.)
“Hey Jude” sounded the same as it always sounded, which is exactly how I’d wanted it to sound, and it made me feel the same as how it's always made me feel: majestic, and supported. “I’ve lived a million lives,” I thought, “And I can’t believe I’m still so young!”
I thought about myself at that moment, all the things my life is Right Now, the people I care about and the things I like to think about, all the ways that I just am. And I thought about all the other Lauras I’ve been: all the different ages, faces, jobs, friends, men, cities, sizes, jeans, houses, tins of lip balm, phones, and spoons, and how I felt about it, it, the biggest thing that all those tiny other things add up to be— my fucking Life, and whatever it happened to be at that moment, on that day— February 17th, 2003, or November 23rd, 2011, or 04/14/14— the way I used to think about things, or how I wore my hair, how I felt about the past and what I dreamed of, or what I ate for breakfast. I used to eat so much pineapple, and Snickers bars.
I’ve lived a thousand different lives, and there’s a thousand more to come. I can’t believe I’m still alive, or how long life lasts. It’s so wild to think that, as all those other thousands of Lauras I once was were born and lived and then turned into vapour or folded back into themselves, or exploded, and as all the future ones do, and as this one does too, one thing has always stayed the same—
“Hey Jude” never didn’t sound good. “Hey Jude” never didn’t work.
That’s the thing Paul said, his sentence about love that I love so much. I love how it’s as hyper-romantic as it is coolly indifferent, and I am inspired by its easy acknowledgement of the fundamental and unfuckwithable powerlessness of human existence, the ambling and jarring story of a life, any life: this one just happens to be mine. I myself am a hopeless control freak— a writer of to-do lists and an accomplisher of goals, an earner of money and manager of people, places, things— who is paradoxically incapable of staying in one place, committing to any one thing, or of making a relationship work. Thing is, I suck at love for the exact same reasons I kill it so hard at work: work is a game, and so can be played, and I know how to play it (calmly, kindly, and decisively— that’s the answer. Just so you know). Work-life is manageable, controllable and precise in the exact same way love-life isn’t, and I blow every relationship I’m ever in because I can’t accept that. I come up with a plan for exactly how I think a given relationship should play out before it’s even started, then grow angry or frustrated or lose interest whenever it ventures off course.
It is freeing and healthy for a me-style person to think long and hard and often about Love Not Caring: half because it encourages me to let go of my type-A tendencies and more-than-half because it doesn’t: inasmuch as I know that what I’m “supposed” to get out of all this love-not-caring-thinking is learning to Let It Be (or whatever), the cooler and more convenient-for-me part of Love Not Caring is that I don’t have to change anything. Nobody does! If love doesn’t care, than… well, fuck it, right? Let’s all keep doing whatever we want, in any and every love-situation we’re ever in, and either we’ll fuck it up or we won’t, or someone else will, or won’t— it honestly doesn’t matter. Love doesn’t care!
I’ve lived a thousand different lives, and there’s a thousand more to come. It’s so wild to think that, as all those other Lauras were born and died or turned into vapour or folded back up into themselves, or exploded, and as all the future ones do, and as this one does too, one thing has always stayed the same—
I still love the Beatles.
Love doesn’t care if I have time to think about the Beatles, or if I need them, that day. I can turn it on or turn it off, and I don’t even have to choose to turn it on, or think about it, ever.
I love The Beatles on rote. On cruise control.
Disgusting, I know.
“There are certain things about you that are more you than you yourself,” I thought, and liked, but I didn’t write it down, because, like John and Paul used to say: “If it’s that good, you’ll remember it tomorrow.”
The way I can wear a brand-new pair of shoes for half a week and scratch and scuff them up so bad they look like I’ve worn them every day for the past twenty years. And I sometimes thought-hallucinate my mother’s laugh in the middle of a crowded room, turn around and look for her, and feel so glum when I realize it didn’t happen. I can’t pronounce “rth”s comfortably, I can’t do accents, and I start crying any time I think too hard about some asshole killing John Lennon. The other day, somebody called me “Kid,” and I reacted by thinking, “I will trust and adore you implicitly forever,” because my Dad calls me Kid, and it makes me feel really cool and safe when he does it, but if anybody ever called me by the pet name my grandmother used to call me, words too sacred and scary to even write down, all the blood would drain from my body, and I’d punch their nose-bones into confetti. And have you ever heard a person accurately describe the way you fuck? It’s bone-chilling. I bought a new white purse six hours ago and there’s already a stain on it. And I still love the Beatles.
A ginger sling with a pineapple heart, sang George, and I thought “I wish I could taste that wine!”
I will! One day. It’s going to be a Malvasia.
"Are you ever going to write about wine and the Beatles?” people often ask me, meaning wine-and-they-Beatles together, as one thing, because those are the two things everybody who knows me knows I like.
“NO,” I tell them, and then I say something forcefully dramatic like “I’d rather die,” playing it like I don’t want to write about wine-and-the-Beatles because I’m too serious of a wine-writer to write about something so obvious, like it would be regressive, or something, for me.
But that’s not true. The reason I don’t want to write about wine & the Beatles is because it would be too earnest; because, I think: The Beatles are wine. That’s how good I think the Beatles are! I don’t think they’re, like, Puligny-Montrachet or St. Emilion or Sauternes or whatever, and I don’t think that “music is wine,” either; I think that music is more like, the concept of eating in drinking in general.
I think the Beatles are wine, and that every Beatles song is a different kind of wine— “Because,” for instance, is a Savennières, and “I Me Mine” is a lesser Savennières, and “Here Comes The Sun” is Madeira, and “Kansas City/Hey-Hey-Hey-Hey!” is a juice-boxy Zinfandel, “I Feel Fine” is a Moscato d’Asti, and “Strawberry Fields Forever”— “Strawberry Fields Forever” is a Puligny-Montrachet. No! It’s a Chassagne-Montrachet. (Slightly weirder.)
I’m just going to do this, right now, semi-drunk on on-tap Negronis at the wonderful/terrible bar on Bloor Street, the one with the red velvet banquettes. I’m going to bang out “If The Beatles Were Wine” really fast and get it over with, tonight, and from here on out, if anybody ever asks me if I’m going to write about The Beatles-and-wine, I can say, “I already did it.”
If John Lennon and Paul McCartney as a collaborative duo were wine grapes, they would NOT be Cabernet Sauvignon & Merlot; Cabernet Sauvignon is much too stately and conventional to be John Lennon. They’re kinda Syrah & Grenache, but mostly they’re Sauvignon Blanc & Sémillon, the white Bordeaux Blend— Sauvignon Blanc is the only grape acidic and acerbic enough to be John. Also, it’s fucking weird. It tastes like lychees and green pepper, but basics weirdly love it, just like John Lennon himself: “Imagine” is the New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc of modern pop classics.
So, yeah. Crazy John Lennon is crazy Sauvignon Blanc, a nervy, acid reflux-inducing and aromatic wine grape as logically unappealing but somehow universally accessible as an aggro freak from the North of England. Paul McCartney is only waxy, glycolic Sémillon when he's part of the Lennon/McCartney duo; Paul solo is either a boozy and strawberryey single-varietal Southern French Grenache or a dusty, Christmas cake-y Merlot-dominant Right Bank Bordeaux— all or any of which Your Mother Should Adore. George is a Burgundian Pinot Noir, thin and infinite, and Ringo is a sparkling rosé— no particular grape, no particular region. Just sparkling rosé, as a concept, in general.
“Helter Skelter” is the thickest, richest, meanest, cheek-scraping-est Tannat. “Revolution 9” is a Vin Jaune— they’re equally ungettable. Abbey Road is a study in the aging potential of Loire Valley Chenin Blancs, and Revolver is Beaujolais Nouveau Day. The White Album is the greatest wine list ever written, and the early Beatles are alternately Lambrusco, Clairette, or a sweaty green bottle of Heineken. Solo John is Austrian Blaufrankisch, solo Ringo is… sparkling rosé. All Things Must Pass is Alsatian Pinot Gris, but Living In The Material World is a Spatlese Riesling. George’s “Miss O’Dell,” my favourite song that’s ever been written, is the best wine I ever drank. (I haven’t drank it yet.)
Wings aren’t wine, they’re Cherry Coke. Solo Paul records are generally made of Chardonnay: sometimes mind-blowing, sometimes very bland. “Hey Diddle,” the Love Doesn’t Care song, is the wine my father’s neighbour used to make out of apricots while he was growing up in Lethbridge, Alberta. Yoko Ono and Stuart Sutcliffe are both Spatburgunders, and Linda McCartney is a white Sancerre. “Sexy Sadie” is a Sancerre Rouge, the “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” reprise is the drug cocaine, George Martin is Chablis, and “Baby You’re A Rich Man” is Champagne.
I honestly can’t believe how good it is, how good life is, how insanely fucking lucky I am to be alive in a world I get to listen to “Hey Jude” in. Even if there was none of the other stuff, “Hey Jude” alone would make it all worthwhile.
The Beatles are wine, but “Hey Jude” is better. “Hey Jude” is water.
LIZ: My favorite Beatles song lately is the Anthology version of "She Came in Through the Bathroom Window." It's a song about the girls who used to hang around outside Paul McCartney's house, and one girl in particular who took a ladder from the garden, climbed up into the bathroom window, and stole a picture that meant a lot to Paul- a photo of his dad. The Anthology version is more slow and sleepy and stoned than the Abbey Road version, but the essential difference is in the line that goes Now she sucks her thumb and wanders by the banks of her own lagoon. When the girl in the Abbey Road version sucks her thumb she's being a brat, she's pouting about not getting her way. But the thumbsucking in the Anthology version is just some bad habit she never bothered to get rid of. It has nothing to do with sulking, because the "She" in the Anthology version isn't a girl, she's a grown-up, a woman. She's got a self-possession that the Abbey Road girl isn't even close to finding yet, and "by the banks of her own lagoon" is one of her very favorite places to be.
Earlier this year I got the Spolia tarot deck (made by Jessa Crispin, and Jen May!!!!), and it's been the life-changing-est thing for me so far in 2018. Writing this post, I listened to the Anthology version of "She Came in Through the Bathroom Window" about five thousand times and tried to figure out its corresponding tarot card, and I think it's partly the Queen of Coins* but mostly it's the 9 of cups. Nine of cups is the "alone in your splendor" card, according to Jessa Crispin's book The Creative Tarot, and wandering by the banks of your own lagoon seems like a very alone-in-your-splendor thing to me. It's about existing in a space that belongs to you and indulges you, lets you live according to your own rhythm, rather than the fucked-up and terrible rhythm of the wider world.
In my head I have this dream bathroom that I invented a little while after pulling the 9 of cups the first time I opened the Spolia deck. My dream-bathroom tub is cast-iron and lion foot, and somehow there's a bookshelf built up all around it: a wooden bookshelf, and the wood is waterlogged and so are all the books, and the books are mixed up with all these gooey/tropically-scented body scrubs and bubble baths and other ridiculous potions, and there's candles and seashells and candles burning in seashells. And a radio, obvs, and the radio plays lots of lagoon-y music, like late-'70s/early-'80s Joni Mitchell and Rickie Lee Jones, and the beautiful album Tomorrow Tomorrow and Tomorrow by Bill Fay which I bought a couple years ago cuz this weirdo-genius teenage piano-player told me she loved it. And maybe a potted plant, like a spider plant, because spider plants are extremely early-'80s-Joni Mitchell-chic. And nag champa just burning all the time, everywhere forever.
So that's all very messy and cluttered- but I think messy and cluttered can be good for your soul and your heart, if there's a purpose to it. There's too much pristineness in the world nowadays, like how coffee places are all sleek and blonde wood and stainless steel and white walls, when really coffee places are supposed to be full of ratty furniture and bad watercolor paintings and strange muffins in overly ambitious flavors like Pineapple Coconut White Chocolate Chip, and overstuffed bookcases where there's always a copy of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance or whatever the hell. I don't want to ever spend time or money in places that feel like they were made by and for robots on laptops. The Blue Bottle-ization of America grosses me out and worries me.
(P.S. also in my bathtub-bookshelf dream house there's a garden that's a total ripoff of this little house down the street from where I live now- the yard's like a cave of flowers, roses and daisies and a million other flower species I can't identify, and sometimes on my morning run I see the owner lady outside watering the flowers in her burgundy velvet housecoat and slippers. I want a flower cave like that, and I want a couch and a coffee table and an easy chair in the backyard, like the yard's a second living room. And in the kitchen there's lots of jars filled with teas made from flower petals, and a raku bowl full of bananas and mangoes, and a blender so I can be like the part in Klute where Jane Fonda makes herself a health shake for breakfast and then drinks the shake right from the blender pitcher while putting on her makeup. It's the kind of kitchen that's made for dinner parties where you drink white wine from a carafe and serve recklessly assembled stir-fries, and maybe use pineapple shells as dishware. And along with the mangoes in the raku bowl there'd be mangoes in the freezer, so you can eat frozen mango whenever you want. I don't know- I just feel like constantly eating mangoes has a really nice effect on your disposition and overall presence in the world.)
I think what I'm going for with all this is something like hygge, only kind of trashy and grunge and wacky and groovy. It feels like every day that goes by there's more of a need to have your own little space that lets you hide away from the world for a while, like a grown-up version of a treehouse or a secret fort. You've got to make your own lagoon happen, and find that little space and fill it up with things you love. It's good to love a lot of things and love them too much, to love more and more all the time, and gush about everything so maybe other people will fall in love too. That is the most Strawberry Fields Whatever-y thing to me.
*One of my favorite things I've read and reread his year is Jessa Crispin's tinyletter from 2017 about how Anthony Bourdain is the Queen of Coins, which includes these paragraphs:
The Queen of Coins works from love and expresses it through work, through the body, through pleasure, through presence. And it's easier to copy the form of embodiment (the leather jacket, the forms that pleasure takes) than what is being embodied.
All Queens come from places of love, empathy, intuition. It's not about gender, it's about the source material. And you see it in Bourdain's show, the way he never tries to make himself look better by humiliating someone else, the quality of his attention given to whoever he is talking to, his sincerity and frankness. He's not trying to make himself look clever or like the expert about something (a Kingly attribute), nor is he a dilettante (a Knightly one). He's a Queen.
I think a lot about the segment of the Koreatown episode of Parts Unknown when Dave Choe takes Anthony Bourdain to Sizzler, and at the end Anthony Bourdain says something about understanding why Sizzler would be a wonderland to Dave Choe. That's such an advanced form of generosity: to be fascinated by what other people love and to dedicate yourself to trying to understand that love, instead of just automatically dismissing something that doesn't make sense to you or that you've never considered to be of value. It's almost radically open-hearted.
Laura first told me about her idea for Strawberry Fields Whatever when she was visiting L.A. in March or February of 2012, and on that trip we went to this restaurant in Koreatown because Anthony Bourdain had gone there on The Layover, a place called Dan Sung Sa. I remember eating some kind of pancake and drinking blackberry wine and ordering Yellow Peach on Ice for dessert, and when the ice melted we used our spoons to drink the peachy icemelt. We were still doing Beatles-book things back then, and one of the things I remember most fondly about the Beatles-book era of my life is the way that constantly thinking about the Beatles changed my head and gave everything a Beatlesy glow. I don't live in that way anymore, but lately when I listen to the Beatles I notice so much I never noticed in 2010. There are so many song parts I never paid attention to before, like the way George's backing vocals on "The Night Before" rise and fall and go on forever, and so many lyrics I never bothered to care about because I couldn't immediately make them mean something about me. Like on "Penny Lane" when Paul sings He likes to keep his fire engine clean/It's a clean machine- I don't think I even heard that lyric until two Sundays ago, but now I know it's as good as William Carlos Williams. Part of me's like God, Barker, what the hell were you even doing all that time?, but mostly I love that I was so out of it back then, such a spaced-out little jerk, and over the past 8 years or whatever I've gotten a little better at getting out of my own way. Now I get to hear all of Paul's basslines that never meant much to me, and they always work, they always unlock the Beatlesy part of my heart. That's really the only advice I have for anyone: if you're lost just find the bassline, and hopefully it'll do something cool to your head.