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.
Television “Venus" (LJ)
In August I read Richard Hell’s book. I always really loved that guy. I met him once, at a screening of a Jean-Luc Godard movie I mean film in the East Village a couple days after I first moved to New York City when I was eighteen years old. I was hot because it was a very hot day out and I used to always stress about how my bangs were gonna get curly in the heat but on that night I barely cared because I had a crazy-crush on New York that kept most of my brain-room occupied. I thought that I would keep on loving NYC in that crazy deep deep in my bones and skin for thousands of lifetimes kind of way forever but I was wrong about that:
New York was my first boyfriend, but London is my husband.
At the beginning of the movie (I mean film!) Richard Hell got up on a stage and gave a little speech about how much he loved Jean-Luc Godard and then I was bored during the movie b/c I'm a philistine and then it was over I smoked a cigarette and went up to Richard Hell and told him “You’re my Jean-Luc Godard,” which is pretty embarrassing to me now. I told Richard Hell I’d moved to New York City two days ago and he asked me how old I was and I said “Eighteen.” He said, “You’re way too charming to be eighteen,” which was really nice of him. Richard Hell and I, the one time we met, were both really good at indulging one another. I wonder what “You’re way too charming to be eighteen” meant. Should I have been sixteen, or twenty-two, in Richard Hell’s opinion? Oh who knows. Who cares? All that matters is that Richard Hell called me charming. I’d always known in my heart that I was charming but as a high school student in the middle of suburbia people aren’t exactly throwing that word around. It’s nice to think that Richard Hell was the first guy who ever threw that word back at me. I’m kind of dead to it now. It’s pretty much the only good thing I’ve ever been.
I always related a lot more to Richard Hell than his ex-best friend and counterpart Tom Verlaine, from Television. Richard Hell was more badass and wild and his punk name is the name of hideous eternal punishment which is more my speed than naming yourself after a poet from a long time ago; I hate shit from a long time ago. Plus, Richard Hell is an actual poet, like me. Tom Verlaine is a guitar player. I don’t understand guitar players. We’re definitely not on the same page about self-expression.
Television's Marquee Moon is a genius record but, until this August, it never really felt like me. It sounded like steel and early IBMs as big as rooms and was a bit humorless and mathematic and much more cerebral than rock and roll music ever needed to be, angular triangular music for emaciated seven foot tall math majors with chiseled cheekbones who are hot as hell but wouldn’t ever think my hilarious jokes were hilarious and don’t understand what it feels like to be drunk and eat something and have that mean something. Once when I was a teenager I met the rock band Sloan and they signed the back of the booklet of my Television “The Blow-Up” CD and Patrick Pentland said “Girls aren’t supposed to like Television,” and I thought: Television is music for the dull-ass kind of loser who would make that idiot kind of point.
But I really liked the way Tom Verlaine came across in Richard Hell’s book. Richard Hell is so annoyed by him, paints a really negative picture of him, but I related to his particular hate-ability. I mean, I think if someone really brilliant was going to write a bunch of sentences about how annoying I am, they’d probably end up saying a bunch of the same shit that Richard Hell said about Tom Verlaine.
(Aside: the book ends with old-man Richard Hell running into old-man Tom Verlaine at a used-book stand and he talks about how Tom Verlaine’s teeth look really shitty because Tom Verlaine never quit smoking, which is such a fabulously bitchy thing to put in your book and really goes to show you: it’s always the louder and more rascally punk one who ends up quitting smoking.)
I was drunk and hanging out in bed with my boyfriend in the middle of taking in all this Tom Verlaine info and I realized that I needed to play him the Television song Venus. I hadn’t listened to that song, or to Television at all, in like seven years. But I was thinking about how sharp they are, how precise they are, and those vibes sounded perfectly up Mark’s alley. So I bought Marquee Moon off iTunes and iTunes was like “Are you SURE you want to buy Marquee Moon?” and I was like “Never been surer of anything in my life, iTunes!” and then I played Venus, and it didn’t sound sharp or precise at all! It sounded like The Ballad of John and Yoko, like London, like my life. Simple & intense & funny & honest. Scrappy, deeply scrappy, and more precise than something that’s aggressively imprecise (i.e. a Voidoids song!), but no more precise than that. An amount of precise like… precision’s not really involved, in the conversation. They’re a couple of completely unrelated things.
But, most importantly, it sounded Punk Rock. And I realized that I’d evolved. I used to be an inelegant little Ramones tune. A cigarette butt in a gutter, a Raisinet, a potato chip. Television was like the fucking dictionary, an accounting firm, compared to me. But now I’m thirty, a Londoner with a job. I’m non-psychedelic, and I don’t eat candy. I need to get eight hours of sleep every night. If Beatles songs were punk bands, The Ballad of John and Yoko would be Television. And so would I.
"Where Are Ü Now" by Justin Bieber (Liz)
Miley Cyrus, "1 Sun" (Liz)
Pavement, "Unseen Power of the Picket Fence" (Liz)
One Friday night in the spring I was feeling sickish and my housemates were out of town, and I stayed in and lay on the couch for hours and watched the wonderful movie R.E.M. by MTV. Along with making me fall deeply in love with Peter Buck (via this interview from a long time ago) and reaffirming my theory that Heaven most likely has the same temperature and air quality as the song "Gardening at Night," the movie introduced me to that bit about how Michael Stipe's grandmother thought "R.E.M." should stand for "Remember Every Moment." That line really got to me and I cried a little; both my heart and my love for R.E.M. grew tenfold, and pretty soon I started listening to "Unseen Power of the Picket Fence" at least three times a day.
"Unseen Power of the Picket Fence" is a Pavement song about R.E.M., like how "Alex Chilton" is a Replacements song about Big Star and "Nirvana" is a Blake Babies song about Nirvana. When Stephen Malkmus lists off all the R.E.M. song titles, it makes me feel so tough about loving R.E.M., in a way that lives nicely alongside happily crying about R.E.M. on a Friday night. You can absolutely be all Malkmus-y and virile about loving R.E.M. and still be moony and goopy about loving them. In the context of R.E.M., Malkmus-y and goopy are equally triumphant.
Blur, “Peach" (LJ)
I walked past the Rokit on Brick Lane and some mannequin was dressed up like Damon Albarn twenty years ago, and an NME from twenty years ago with Damon Albarn on the cover was hanging from a piece of fishing line. Just looking at his perfect fucking face filled my heart with the same wistful sadness that twenty-years-ago Damon Albarn’s face has always filled my heart with, and I wondered why Damon Albarn’s face filled my heart with an arbitrary wistful sadness and decided that I must have loved a guy who looked like Damon Albarn in a past life. The guy must have died tragically.
A couple weeks later I got on a bus to anywhere and decided I’d get off wherever the Universe told me to get off, and then I saw the Astrology Shop and thought I’d buy a new deck of Tarot cards, but then I didn't. I walked to the little square where Shelly’s of London used to be, the first time I ever came to this city, where I saw a woman walk quickly down the cobblestone street in a dip-dyed burgundy vest and swore that one day I would be her, or at very least be here. And I realized that the wistful sadness Damon Albarn’s 1994 face and beaded necklace filled my heart with didn’t belong to a past life, it belonged to this one. It was the pain I used to feel when I was a weird adolescent and knew I needed to be here, but couldn’t be here. And then I forgot I needed to be here and moved to New York because it was closer, and then I rejected New York and moved back home and home was brilliant because it was home but now I am here.
What would Mark have looked like to me had I shown my eleven-year-old self a picture of him, nineteen years ago, standing on a train platform in Paris? A few days after seeing the woman in the dip-dyed burgundy vest I saw a woman jump into the arms of her beloved after getting off a train. The EuroStar. I thought, “That is love, and I will know it one day.”
At the end of August, Mark went to Switzerland. It reminded me that my heart is a piece of meat. It felt like that, just sitting there, raw and throbbing in my body. I have never felt so lonesome in my life. I texted all my friends on a Sunday but nobody got back to me. I decided to go to Marylebone, to visit a house where John and Yoko used to live, in 1968. I listened to Peach by Blur on headphones, which sounded as wistful as I wanted it to. It’s the second-saddest Blur song after Blue Jeans, but it sounded sadder than Blue Jeans, since I hadn’t heard it before. It still had the capacity to hit me as hard as it was capable of hitting me. Blue Jeans just sounds like how hard it hit me when it first hit me a long time ago. “Hair in a locket/Around your neck from a girl you once loved/Where she is now?/You’ve gone crazy.” I thought about my long damn life and I thought about London. That day: something happened, something changed. Between London and I.
I really felt like we were in it together. All my friends were ignoring me, but London wasn’t ignoring me. She was right there with me; took such good care of me. We were friends and on the same page about everything. I call a ton of girls my best friend but it’s just a shorthand way of explaining to a stranger that I really dig her. In real life, I’m everybody’s second-best friend. My best friend, in real life, is London. I'm so happy with that. Why have her best friend be a person when you could have an entire city instead?
It was a grey day out, obviously, and John Lennon’s house was pretty Whatever but I had to make it mean something to keep myself from drowning so I made it mean something. I was like “Yeah, this really means something,” and then walked away from it, walked to a Pret to go buy a bircher ‘cause I was hungry for a snack. I thought about the grey day a hundred years ago when Kritty and I went to the beach back home, when she said “You’re a grey day at the beach” about me and I felt so seen! A few days later I repeated it to Mark— we’d been together for about a month at that point. And he said “No,” and told me I was perfect and sunny. I knew in my heart of hearts that he was wrong, that I’m the grey day— but that’s what happens when somebody loves you. It’s a beautiful thing. They always think you’re a sunny day out.
That’s why I love London so much, why I don’t care if it’s always grey out. I love the grey. It’s like the sun to me.
Electric Light Orchestra, "Alright" (Liz)
"Alright" is the wisest and most instructive song. It's exactly the point I was trying to make when I wrote this thing two and a half years ago about beaches and dresses and dogs and frogs and death and death and death and death. It's basically about living forever, in the chillest way possible.
Spoon, "Carryout Kids" (Liz)
i. the first and only time I saw Spoon, at the hell-on-Earth event they call Coachella, ten springtimes ago. They played at night and before their set we were lying on the ground, wrecked or whatever from being at stupid Coachella all day long. I was probably staring at the sky and not even thinking about how creepy the desert is, I was just lying there being 27 and Spoon was fussing around, pre-set, and at some point they played the weird trembly part that happens 20 seconds into “Paper Tiger.” And the notes kind of bounced off the mountains and into my head, and I was thinking about a then-very-recent Sunday morning when I'd kissed to "Paper Tiger" with a boy I was terribly in love with. "Paper Tiger" is a good song for kissing, and a hard song to hear when you're not kissing the person anymore, but you can get some good heartache out of it. Something I love about Spoon is how that's the most they've ever indulged the part of me that's so into aimlessly luxuriating in melancholy.
iii. how Britt Daniel has the same general facial structure as the first boy I ever kissed, and how lately that's made me think that more men should wear button-down shirts and have a certain twitchy intensity to their mouths and pay too much attention to records like The Who Sell Out
iv. how I'm lucky to have lots of idols who are seven to 10 years older than I am, how it's really helpful to watch people like Mary Timony and Britt Daniel move into the next phase of life and see how they navigate it and figure out what I can steal from that. The things I most want to steal from Britt Daniel are:
-He's self-assured in a way that seems almost completely unremarkable to him, like it's something he could never even be bothered to think about
-Most Spoon songs have a searching feeling to them - like he's looking for something and maybe doesn't fully trust that he’s going to find it, but he’s probably not going to ever stop trying. You can feel his weariness but you also feel that he’s tuned into that rock-and-roll-romantic side of things, and there's nothing embarrassing about it. The self-assuredness and the elegance keep it from ever being embarrassing.