WORDS BY ELIZABETH BARKER & LAURA JANE FAULDS, ILLUSTRATION BY JEN MAY
The Beatles, “The Ballad of John and Yoko” (LJ)
Once upon a time it was a zillion years ago and I didn’t live in London and I was really young and I lived in a room that felt like an attic. And in that atticky little place, which I loved, and miss dearly, I sat at my desk with the top drawer pulled out and my laptop, with the broken screen that refused to show me anything but a series of crackling rectangles in saturated pastel, resting precariously upon that drawer and connected to an ugly Dell monitor with a series of cords that always got jangled up in each other and knocked over bottles of Diet Coke, I wrote a thing.
It was for the dead old blog that Liz and I used to write for. The thing was called "If People Were Beatles Songs," and it was about which Beatles songs all the different people would be if they were Beatles songs instead of people. Like, for instance, Jay-Z would be “Baby You’re A Rich Man,” and God would be “Hey Jude.” I like that kind of thing; I think it’s really comforting. You can’t just limit somebody to being only their name and address and phone number and birthday and personality. People also have to have zodiac signs and spirit animals and spirit Beatles and spirit wine grapes and Spice Girl names from the parallel Universe they were a Spice Girl in. They have to know which Hogwarts house they’d belong to, and they have to know which Beatles song they are. If People Were Beatles Songs is the most important people-category of all, because Beatles songs are just about the only thing that exists that are as complicated and nuanced as actual people.
Over the years, since I was twenty-four and first thought of the idea, I’ve been Maxwell’s Silver Hammer, Girl, Wild Honey Pie, and Tomorrow Never Knows, in that order. I was Tomorrow Never Knows for longest of the four and I did once believe that I’d be Tomorrow Never Knows forever. But ever since I moved to London and ripped myself out of my comfort zone of being a big fish in a small pond, Tomorrow Never Knows has seemed to have less and less to do with the way I perceive myself— or, more accurately, to the way I perceive the way I’m perceived by other people. I used to feel like I was this, like, weirdo psychedelic, like, guru who came along to shake up other peoples’ perceptions of, like, what life is all about or whatever…
I don’t feel like that at all anymore! I feel really drab in a cool way. Drab In A Cool Way. I’m so disinterested in psychedelia, and being involved in other peoples' perceptions of things. I like for things to be simple and intense and funny and honest. I wear tortoiseshell horn-rimmed glasses and some variation of plain button-up shirt with either jeans or a miniskirt and black pointy-toed flats or penny loafers. I boringly/elegantly eat eggs and English muffins and white Burgundy and red Burgundy and pieces of fish and coffee and bagels. My favourite weather is: eighteen degrees, grey sky, makes me nostalgic for several Septembers ago. I don’t want a Dalmatian but Mark does so I’m like, fine, whatever, let’s just get a fucking Dalmatian, as long as we can name her Francine. My favourite shape is: rectangle.
I listened to The Ballad of John and Yoko like twenty-five times over the course of two very grey days at the beginning of August. I became obsessed with the perfection of the bassline, and I thought about how special it is that only two Beatles play on that song. You know which two Beatles? John and Paul.
Paul really smashes out that bassline. It’s the same little phrase over and over again and you can hear in your head the way you want him to switch it, to satisfy you— it’s some weird bodily impulse that explains why music exists at all in the first place— and he doesn’t, he doesn’t, he doesn’t— but then… he does! And he’s been depriving you of the thing you wanted for so long that once he does it tricks you into feeling like it’s so generous of him. What a classically Paul McCartney thing to do. (Side note: earlier today, I read an interview with Art Garfunkel where he talks about how George Harrison once came up to him at a party and said “My Paul is to me what your Paul is to you.” I don’t really know how I feel about that yet but… food for thought, you know?)
The day I realized The Ballad of John and Yoko is my new Spirit Beatles Song was- of course- perfectly, gorgeously grey. I was on my way to the beigel store to go buy myself a (chopped herring) beigel, thinking about the bassline, and then hating on myself for thinking too hard about the bassline. What I actually should have been thinking about was the words. The words!
John Lennon wrote them. They are my exact style and shape of words, perfect words, the way my and/or all perfect words should be. Brown and slack and lazy, like all the chillest John songs ever written by John. I’m So Tired, Mother, Jealous Guy… I love when he just writes the simple, easy truth. The truth is sharp and dull and usually a little bit funny. It’s a shrug, smirk, and an eye-roll. He says they’re going to crucify him because he gets a naughty thrill out of saying it, pronounces “Seines” incorrectly and name-drops the irrelevant Beatles Inner Circle member Peter Brown. Marriage is supposed to be the best thing that ever happens to a person but when it happens to John Lennon it’s just, you know, fine.
The most important part of the song, to me, personally, is when he sings the word “London.” London is the name of the place where I am, the place where I am always standing or moving when I hear him say it now, and that means something very very heavy to me about the trajectory of my own life. I did it! I got myself to the place where the Beatles were! The place where John and Yoko caught the early train back to.
And he sounds so coolly indiff, so bored of saying words out loud, when he sings it. He kind of makes it sound like his own last name: “Lon'in.” I feel so proud when I hear him sing that word.
I am thirty years old and have accomplished so little of what I thought I would have accomplished at this point but I have accomplished two very, very major things. 1) I moved to London, and 2) I didn’t die. I’m thirty years old, my spirit Beatles song is The Ballad of John and Yoko, I should buy something tweed, or maybe I won’t, and I’ve got my whole life ahead of me. I’m feeling very coolly indiff about how intensely Ballad of John & Yokoey it’s gonna be.
The Breeders, "Safari" (Liz)
I'm so fascinated by Kim Deal and the way she puts words together; I don't understand how this woman from Ohio who was a cheerleader and a lab technician ends up writing a lyric like:
I wait for you in Heaven on this perfect string of love, and drink your soup of magpies in a pottery bowl that looks as I am now: brown, round and warm
- I mean that's crazy, right? Those words were from "Fortunately Gone," and "Safari" has words about a safari and a guy, and the vocals are some kinda tropical air. In the video Kim's wearing a bomber jacket and art-teacher earrings and Kelley's dressed like a high school administrator, Tanya Donelly has hoop earrings and a scrunchie. It's too bad that lineup of the Breeders didn't exist for at least three more decades. But it's also neat that it's this flash-in-the-pan kind of situation that's so faraway now, it may as well have been completely made-up in the first place: a band as perfect and imaginary as something from Greek mythology or Norse folklore, or an ancient-Egyptian love poem inscribed on a tomb.