I don't know what the first Beatles song I ever heard was, but it might as well be "Twist and Shout." "Yellow Submarine" is Beatles for babies but "Twist and Shout" is Beatles for kids, for dancing crazy and getting out of hand. If you play "Twist and Shout" for a little kid, he'll jump all around and bang his head and probably try to scream his lungs out. It's punk rock for four-year-olds, it's so fucking joyful, it's sweet and it shines but there's still a hint of something dirty and reckless. "Twist and Shout" is in my favorites because safe and dangerous at the same time; maybe that's why I've always needed it. When you're a kid you might worry that Rolling Stones songs are secretly a vehicle for satanic communication, but you know the Beatles are only ever going to make you better and better.
I like listening to Shea Stadium "Twist and Shout" because they sing the "Ah..."s at the end and at the beginning. Those "Ah..."s sound like the beginning of everything, and everything is going to be so goddamned good, and the Beatles will never not be on your side.
When I was seven years old, my mother picked me up from swimming lessons, and Michelle came on the radio. What burns me most about this story is realizing that I once existed in a world wherein Michelle playing on the radio was not a particularly strange thing to have be happening. There are so many things to be grateful for, and you never notice any of them. It never occurs to you that sixties music will get cornered out of oldies radio next decade change.
I knew by how immediately I loved it, how it felt like I'd already heard it a thousand times while at the same time sounding completely new, that it was a Beatles song. Face it, homegirl: you were born to love the Beatles.
They were always the most exciting thing to think about; they taught me how human existence corresponds to the passage of time. It was a compelling point, a ton to take in but I was up to the task: the world existed before I did, and it was a different place without me. People dressed different, looked different, and did different things. My mother was once the age that I am now. One day, though it was impossible to fully fathom, I would be my mother's age. And in between our two ages were a bunch of other ages: ages that I'd be, ages that she'd been. And when my mom was thirteen, she had the Beatles.
The Beatles: those four silly cute men who are old or dead now, but once, a long time ago, in that time before I was born, they were boys. And I'm always seeing so many pictures of them, from a long time ago, but when I see those pictures, they're boys in the pictures. So even though I know that they are old and dead, I also know that they are boys. I know that the pictures of the boys mean more about the old men then do the old men about themselves. I know that those old men, and the dead one, will always be boys for the world. Three of the boys are named: John Lennon, Paul McCartney, and Ringo Starr. Ringo Starr! How I feel about those two words means I am beginning to love words. I get such a kick out of saying it- Ringo Starr! I don't know what any of them look like. They are all three identical boys, plus another one, with all flat white where their eyes and nose and lips should be. They have that hair, and those suits. The Beatles are John, Paul, Ringo and another boy.
("John Lennon, Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr," I recited to my mother, in a kitchen I once lived in that I'll never see again, "Who's the other one?"
"George Harrison," she told me, "George! George was my favorite."
"George Harrison," I repeated, and made a mental note to never forget it. (I didn't.))
The Beatle I longed to love best was that brilliantly-named Ringo, and he sounded pretty good once I asked my mom to describe him: "fun-loving," "clownish," "happy-go-lucky." Those were all such fun and happy words! What an awesome guy. Ringo!
"Did he wear lots of rings?" I asked.
"Yes, but it was sort of... unrelated."
"What was John Lennon like?" (John Lennon, the second most boringly-named Beatle after George Harrison. George Harrison is the worst name for a famous person I've ever heard.)
"John was the genius," she said, just like that, and that was when I knew he was the Beatle I should care about. It just didn't make any sense to me, why anyone would ever bother loving any Beatle but the genius best.
I could tell right away that Michelle wasn't a song by the genius, which was probably when I started to figure out that Paul was a genius too. I loved the way he sang it, The guy singing sounds so dopey, and the instrument playing behind him sounds so dopey like his voice (that was the first time I'd ever registered the sound of the bass guitar, heard it the way I now always hear it: second, after the voice). He's singing this song in French, and my mom's French, so I'm supposed to like French, which I do. I already liked this song but now I like it extra: because it's French, like me. The guys in the background are singing "Oooh-oooh-oooh," and it reminds me of a malt shop. I know about "malt shop" because of my Barbie video where Barbie and the other two go back in time to a malt shop, although I'm pretty sure this song is from after malt shops. NOTE TO SELF: ask Mom about when there stopped being malt shops. ALSO: What is "malt"?
The guy in the song sounds glum. It's a fuzzy song. Sometimes he sounds nice, but sometimes he gets scared. When he sings, "I need you, I need you, I need you"- that's a crazy thing, that a person can feel like that. When I'm a grown-up, I'm going to feel "I need you, I need you, I need you" about boys, like the guy singing: either John Lennon, Paul McCartney or George Harrison. It's definitely not crusty old non-genius Ringo, because that guy plays the drums, and drummers can't sing; they have too much other work to do. Near the end of the song, either John Lennon, Paul McCartney or George Harrison plays a part of music on what I can only assume is a guitar, and it kind of goes up and down and becomes more important than the singer or the words, and the way it sounds is so excited but so pale, like dum-dum-dum or hum-hum-hum; it's better than the singing. It's the best part. It makes me happy and sad.
We pulled into the parking lot and Mom pulled her keys out of the ignition before the song was done. I know now I could have just asked her, "Can you not turn off the car? I want to hear the end of the song," but I was seven and weird about shit, so I didn't. She turned off the car, and it was gone.
It would be nine years before I heard Michelle again, but I thought of incessantly. When I imagined myself a grown-up, that freedom and independence, I always imagined Michelle as being the backdrop. I imagined my grown-up self listening to Michelle with a boy; I imagined my grown-up self asking him if he'd ever heard of it before we heard it, and I imagined that's how I'd know if he was the right boy or not. The right boy would have learned about Michelle on his own, and he would love it too. We would hear the song together.
When I imagined my life, my future, the best that it could be, Michelle was always the first thing that came to mind. I dreamed of a life wherein I could listen to Michelle whenever I wanted. And this is it.
THINGS WE SAID TODAY (LIZ)
Have you ever walked a labyrinth? I'm bad at spiritual practice in general, but I can totally get down with a labyrinth. There's one at this beautiful place I love and you wind along the stone path, toward the center and back out again, staring at the stones and staring at your shoes, and your mind kinda comes apart but you get one cool and mystical thing stuck in your brain, or that's how it happens for me anyway. One time I got "Love is luck" and I loved it. I wholly believe that love is luck, and that's hard sometimes, when you're unlucky, and then other times it's not hard at all. I just did this thing for my book where my main girl's in love and getting what she wants for the first time in her life and she's high as the sky, on love, and she writes a letter to her man and there's a line in that letter that goes "I like being lucky." When she wrote that line, I was so charmed by her and happy for her, all I wanted was to kiss her cheek.
I love "Things We Said Today" because it's dark and heavy and ominous, but it's also so light and bright and hopeful. But more than anything I love how fucking resolute Paul sounds when he sings "Me, I'm just the lucky kind." He sings it like being lucky is something he earned, and it absolutely is.
TOMORROW NEVER KNOWS (LJ)
Here is a picture of an iTunes playlist I made called "cooler revolver":
YOU NEVER GIVE ME YOUR MONEY (LIZ)
I'm sick of telling the story of the time I listened to "You Never Give Me Your Money" while driving through a North Carolina snowstorm with my ex-boyfriend on a Sunday night in November a trillion years ago, how he poked fun at Paul's vocal delivery at the "out of college, money spent" part, how it was the first time I ever really stuck up for Paul McCartney and how I felt weirdly, presciently proud of myself for doing so. It's a nice story, nice enough to sum up in the first sentence of this paragraph, but from now on I don't want to ever talk about or think about "You Never Give Me Your Money" in a way that has anything to do with anyone besides the Beatles and me.
"You Never Give Me Your Money" is my favorite Beatles song, absolutely. I love it for the counting-to-seven part, how they sound like angels, and how Paul's voice is a bird flying away after he sings the words "Yes it did." I love the guitar between "came true" and "today," the way it climbs and climbs and carries you up. And I love how "Oh that magic feeling, nowhere to go" will always be the lyric of my "purest self," a happily insomniac 15-year-old in the middle of the night, lying in bed with her stereo at her head, praying for a snow day and writing stories and just starting to figure out how to be in love with everything, even when it's shit.
Now that I'm older than fifteen, "You Never Give Me Your Money" means lying in bed or on the floor or in the grass or on the couch on the porch and not caring that I'm not doing anything, which is something that hardly ever happens anymore but when it does, it's so good. Most of the time there's that anxiety that comes with knowing there's a zillion and one things to get done but when I put that lyric in my head, it's the perfect antidote. Thank heavens for the Beatles, and especially for Paul.
SHE SAID SHE SAID (LJ)
Hey what's up I'm scared of dying and obsessed with it!!! A couple months ago I wrote a short story about a girl who is a conceptual artist and she says, "I'm thinking, from now on, I want my art to be mostly about death. No, not mostly about death- exclusively about death," and now when I read it back I'm like, "Way to be obviously talking about yourself, asshole." I have an idea that when I die my heavy and powerful eulogy might begin, "Laura Jane Faulds spent every day of her life believing she would die that day. She went to bed every night believing she would die that night." I'm cool with my eulogist omitting "Laura Jane Faulds woke up in the middle of the night every night believing she was dead and this was hell" because that's just kinda psychoconuts and I don't want my kids to know it about me. And hopefully I'll have worked through that by the time I'm forty or a million or however the hell old I am when I die. (PS: Immediately after writing that sentence I thought, "That sentence is bullshit. You know you're going to die in your sleep tonight," and immediately after writing that sentence I thought, "You're going to die in your sleep tonight, which makes this piece of writing prophetic, so that's kind of cool at least.")
John Lennon, as you know, is dead, and knowing that John- my hero, my buddy, my guy- has already confronted my greatest fear is pretty much the only thing that assuages the terror. When you cut the She said out of the statement, you're left with John Lennon singing I know what it's like to be dead, and I like to imagine that he's singing to me directly, which makes it all a little easier- like if John's been able to deal with it, then so will I be too.
HELTER SKELTER (LIZ)
Proof that I'm psychic is that the first time I went out with the most/only evil dude I've ever dated, I drove home blasting "Helter Skelter" so hard that my doors shook and my ears ached. It was a really good date, we got on swimmingly and had a really sweet night together. But then he turned out to be bad, crazy-bad, evil-bad, and I think some part of me must have known that from the get-go, if "Helter Skelter" sounded so right to me right then. "Helter Skelter" is the only Beatles song that's got evil in it, to me, which probably has almost everything to do with Charles Manson rather than the actual Beatles, but there you have it. I can't extricate Charles Manson from "Helter Skelter" in my head or my heart, and I really would never even want to. I like there being that little bit of Beatles evil.
So his name was Matt and he lived by the beach; we met in a bar in Topanga Canyon. He was movie-star-hot and kinda greasy and I liked that he talked just like the dashing juvenile delinquents I loved when I was little, all dropped "R"s and that bad-wolf rasp that comes from smoking too many serious cigarettes. On our first date we went to a bar near his house, shook hot sauce into our beer. He showed me his left hand, still warped and hurting from when he fell off a ladder on a housepainting job two summers before, told me how he won a whole lot of money in the lawsuit and then spent almost every penny on a brand new black Porsche.
It's not so practical, to blow all your lawsuit money on a hot car. I'm a practical girl but I appreciated his brashness, the novelty of it. I liked the stories he told about his car, like the one about driving down the PCH after work earlier that night, pulling over and pulling off his clothes and jumping in the ocean just because he wanted to. Under the table we took turns stepping on each other's feet, cutely.
Halfway through the night a song came on the bar stereo and before the music even started, when it was just a car horn blaring backward and some nasty-throbby bass line, Matt pointed to the air and asked: "Who’s this?"
"Van Halen, man!" I squealed like I was sixteen. "'Runnin' with the Devil'!"
His eyes got all dreamy then, pretending he was in love. "Oh, you and me are gonna get along just fine," he said, and then he came around to my side of the table, kissed me for a long time in front of everyone, like we were the sluttiest teenagers in town.
We kissed at the table and kissed in the parking lot and kissed in his car and he tried me to steal me home but I slipped away and said goodbye. Standing on the curb before getting into my own car, I turned around and blew him a kiss. I never remember to blow kisses, and that's a noteworthy failure on my part: it's so sweetly old-fashioned to blow a kiss, so suggestive of some secret yet irrepressible romantic temperament. I always mean to turn into the kind of girl who blows kisses and I always forget -- but with this boy I made it happen, I remembered, and right then I was sure that maybe that meant the world. I blew the kiss and he blew it right back, drove away and called me ten minutes later. I didn’t pick up the phone or even hear it ring -- I was driving and driving, playing "Helter Skelter" so fucking hard on the 10 freeway, all the way from the beach to downtown. It was right when LJ and I started writing our Beatles book and I said, in my head, “I’m Paul McCartney, MOTHERFUCKING 'HELTER SKELTER' PAUL MCCARTNEY, and I'm in love, or maybe I’m going to be, soon," and I thought all of those things were true. I was electric and ecstatic, so happy to be Paul McCartney Almost In Love.
What really happened was we never fell in love at all, and every night after that his sweetness abated until eventually there was very little sweetness left, and he hated himself and turns out "mutual Van Halen affection" isn't quite enough to sustain a relationship, or even a half-relationship. Matt was prone to black moods and one night his mood was blackest, and there was a moment when I went to touch him and he swatted my wrist away like it was some ugly bug (which offended me: my wrists are exquisite), and it got worse from there. I ran away from him, literally, and in the car home I didn't listen to anything, I was too rattled to even turn on the radio.
Soon after that night I started listening to Van Halen a lot, to prove I was badder than the baddest man and I could love Van Halen harder than he could ever dream of. It was my only avenue for revenge and it worked; it cured me and made me tougher. I still listen to Van Halen sometimes but I'd rather listen to "Helter Skelter" for him, and for me, and for the thrill of knowing I've psychically destroyed the most evil man I'll ever know.
GET BACK (LJ)
I don't know how it happened but it sort of feels like one day I was lying in bed shooting a gun boredly at the ceiling when I heard a knock on my door. I might've opened the door only a crack because my room was always messy then, a level of messy I've never been cool with another person looking at. But then I would've seen him and he wouldn't have bothered with introducing himself; it all would have been too urgent.
"Will you write about me?" he would have asked, "I need to exist."
I would have opened up the door up all the way then. I would have picked up on his chill vibes and guessed that he wasn't the type to care about the state of another person's bedroom and that, if anything, he was more slovenly than I am. I would have looked him up and down and done that thing where you spin your finger in the air to get the other person to turn around. He would have turned around.
"Okay," I would have said, "My answer is yes," and I would have asked him his name then, and he would have told me Mitch.
Mitch is a guy I write about, a character I made up who is perfect. He's everything I've ever thought was interesting about everything I've ever seen, and all I want to do is write about him, but I kind of suck at writing about him, because life's cruel that way. I mean maybe suck is an overstatement, but I just love him so much, it's impossible to get the words as good as he deserves. I come back to him again and again, and every time I write him I improve, but I'm still not there yet.
I'll spend the rest of my life trying. That's what I want to do, and that's what I'm going to do. He's the point of my life as I see it, and he definitely gets a novel. Maybe not the first or even the second, but whichever one he gets, it's going to be the best.
If people were Beatles songs, Mitch would be Get Back, and when I hear it I think of him, feel a swell of love and wonder what he's been up to- all I can really pick up on is that this summer he grew his hair long, and is afraid he looks like a hippie. But in awhile I'll listen to Get Back and know exactly what he's saying, so I'll try again. And if there were no Get Back to remind me, I don't know, I'm pretty intellectually lazy- I might just conclude it's easier to write autobiographical music shit and let myself forget him forever. And it's no coincidence, I don't think, the title and all- not so much because I feel he's something I want to get back to, but because, I'm pretty sure, he's the only place where I belong.
LONG LONG LONG (LIZ)
One night three Novembers ago I had a dream about a boy. In waking life I hadn’t seen him in half a year, but in the dream we lived together on a couch in the back of a bar with so many pinball machines. All day long we just sat on the couch and held hands and loved each other; we were so in love. And I woke from that dream and my dream self got mixed up with my real self and I loved him and I missed him but I went on with my day: took my tea, begged off work early and drove away to a diner on the Sunset Strip to do some writing for Let It Be Beautiful. I was drinking bad coffee and eating bad pie and writing my face off; after a while I fished my phone from my bag to check the time and guess what? That boy, the boy I was in love with when I woke up that morning, he’d sent me four text messages. The most recent read: “Wanna be my date?”, which seemed sweetly old-fashioned, and the jukebox was playing Buddy Holly.
Then I called my two best friends and told them how I’d dreamed that boy back into my orbit, because my life is so beautiful and cosmic.
I wasn't his date that night but I did go to see him a few nights later, at a bar by the beach. We drank Christmas-y beer, because it was getting to be Christmastime, and we ate pieces of melty milk chocolate and said sweet things to each other. I was still stuck in my dream brain and I loved him a little, even though I'd never loved him before. I wanted us to be in love so it felt the same as being in love, for that one night. It was a lovey and lovely night of Christmas-y beer and melty chocolate and saying sweet things and this really cute moment when the boy wrapped me up in a blanket and my hair had the perfect level of wispy-in-the-face-y-ness, and he said something wonderful and kissed me good and then hugged me big like a big snuggly bear.
I saw him again a week or so later, and it was a letdown, we were over it, we really never made much sense together. But that first night was such a good start to winter, and it made me decide I was going to be very good at winter that year. I started spending a lot of time at this one superlatively cozy Starbucks in the Valley, putting cinnamon and too much sugar and cream in my coffee and sitting for hours in the corner with my earbuds in, slipping into a state of being over-caffeinated but still moony, the kind of moony you get sometimes when the red wine's really working. Very often on those days and nights I listened to "Long Long Long" on repeat, ten or twenty times in a row, and I thought of that boy, and of the memory of feeling like I was a little bit in love.
"Long Long Long" is one of the most beautiful songs I'll ever hear in my life but I hardly ever listen to it anymore -- I don't wanna desecrate it with some insufficiently enchanted listening experience. I'm precious with it, and I mostly think that's good: I think it's lovely to save it for lovely moments. It was a nice winter when I made "Long Long Long" about that boy but it can't be about him anymore; the memory of that night no longer undoes me. I don't know what's the "you" of "Long Long Long" -- maybe it's the Beatles, maybe it's the girl or the boy in my book, maybe it's god or the ocean or home. Maybe "Long Long Long" is all of that, and maybe it's just love. I think it's probably love.
NORWEGIAN WOOD (LJ)
I remember in a very fuzzy way being a very little kid and learning of the concept, "the moral of the story." It fascinated me on a level that could belong only to a small child who was going to grow up to be a writer.
Stories were the only thing besides animals and my parents that I cared about, and the idea of each of them having a moral, something that was as much as or more a part of the story than the story itself, made me see that stories weren't just some silly thing meant only to be sweet and entertain me; they also had to have a point. And I assumed that every story had to have one, and that with adulthood came the ability to intuit them.
My mother read me a story, probably just some dumb baby book about a cat talking to a rabbit, and I asked her, "What's the moral?"
She explained to me it didn't have one, that not every story must, and I felt like I'd been cheated out of something. Whatever that book was, I hated it. I swore to myself in some loose kid way that if I ever became an author, I would always make sure to give my stories morals.
A story without a moral, I decided, was a waste.
Norwegian Wood has two morals. It is a perfectly balanced song.
First we have the girl's moral, the moral I relate to less (if John Lennon's a character in a story, there's a 100% chance he's going to be the one I team up with; relating to John Lennon's my style/baby/thing), though maybe the cooler moral, though maybe not. On the one hand, she's definitely the more empowered member of the Norwegian Wood duo, which is very cool, especially for 1965. Her moral might be, "You don't need to sleep with emotionally unstable men who are members of the band the Beatles to prove that you are valuable" or maybe "Fucking a Beatle is not worth fucking yourself over at work tomorrow," but then again, she might just be a square. Maybe in her soul she wanted to bone John Lennon all night long but then stupidly over-prioritized pointless rules like "Get a good night's sleep!"; "The early bird catches the worm" (dumb)- NOT VERY YOLO of her. If I were the girl from Norwegian Wood, my moral would be, "Bone John Lennon and call in sick YOLO duh."
Who cares. I like the John moral. I like John. Once I tried to end a relationship with a dude by writing him an email concluding with the sentence "This bird has FLOWN, Motherfucker!" which was a cool move but I couldn't hold up my end of the bargain. I was the John of that and every stupid situ and Johns, needy babies, have wilder things to do than plain old fly. And hey can you picture the Norwegian Wood apartment in your head??? I can. And it works best as a claw-footed bathtub, with his legs hanging over the sides.
I'm a big believer in vengeance, a big believer in hatred, a big believer in never forgiving anyone who ever fucked me over; "What did you think would happen when you wronged me?" is a question I ask a lot, or imagine myself asking a lot, and often I say "When you love someone and hate someone at the same time, it does not balance out to indifference," and then there's "Being open to the possibility of love means opening yourself up to the possibility of heartbreak," but most importantly there's "When you fuck with Laura Jane, you're only really fucking yourself," which is the moral of John's half of Norwegian Wood, only you replace my name with John Lennon's, obvs.
I would die without Norwegian Wood because it cures what ails me, the only Great Break-Up Song, the only song or art or thing that indispensably snaps me out of simpy cryey baby territory and slams me back to "God it's great to be a hothead and make art about it," my natural state of existence, and it makes me think of the kind of guy John Lennon is and remember why he's always been such a big part of me. When I was young I used to imagine myself talking to John or that we were for-real connected in a bunch of crazy ways and it really felt like he was there, I was fifteen and no one understood me; only John did. When I think back to certain periods of my life, I imagine the physical person John Lennon standing next to me; I felt it that hard. That doesn't happen anymore, he's never there, which is probably nope DEFINITELY a good thing, but I miss it, I miss him, I miss really caring. Even saying he's my hero feels like a bit of a lie now, I feel it more than usual at this moment because I'm writing about him but for the most part, I don't care. I don't think very much about John Lennon. I'm a writer, and he's dead.
I'm getting older, have never had the luxury of being a Beatle and tragically, have had to calm down a bit. At this point, I relate to John Lennon more as an artist ("HERE IS MY SOUL I'M GONNA SCREAM ABOUT IT PS I WROTE IT IN FIVE MINUTES, IT GETS A LITTLE WEIRD IN PARTS") more than I do as a person, but the truth is I only have the luxury of distancing myself from the more John Lennon-y aspects of my personality, why there even is a "this personality," is because I found John Lennon, on a city bus in October when I was fifteen years old. It was John Lennon who allowed this little person, this little LJ, to flourish in the first place. I don't think I ever could've been boring but without him I definitely wouldn't have ended up this much on fire. And it breaks my heart to think what kind of drab mopey stunts I might've pulled if I hadn't always had John Lennon there to grab my hand and whisper, "Burn that motherfucker's house down."