Tuesday, December 6, 2011

"Getting Better" (fourth in a series)

Sgt Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band
The Concept Album that Never Was -- or Was It?

The fourth in a series by John Atwood, a thinker and guitarist who was inspired as an 11 year-old to learn the instrument after seeing the Beatles perform in 1964 on the Ed Sullivan Show and who followed their career assiduously through his high school years when he formed a garage band just so he could play their songs within a group. He's had a few decades to ponder the import of the Fab Four's music.

This to me was always the high point of the album. I loved the driving guitar part coupled with Paul’s octave jumps on the bass. I could never get enough of it, and frankly still cannot. Every time this comes on, I stop what I am doing just to listen. But, I am a guitar player; and this is a great example of how the Beatles were not only good songwriters, but a great guitar band.

The words, however, are something else entirely. Originally, I took this to be a guy in the process of improving himself, or begin improved. He admits from the get go that in the past he was something of a malcontent, and angry, etc. But he claims he sees that now and is moving on, and that is due to his relationship with the person to whom the song is addressed. And if that was all there was to be said, this would still fit in with the theme I am proposing.

But there is another element that creeps in on the last verse. I occasionally like to sing along with records, and as I truly enjoyed the music on this, I would often find myself joining in. But even when I saw this as an upbeat, positive song, I would kind of drop off when it came to “I used to be cruel to my woman I beat her and kept her apart from the things that she loved.” It felt weird on the tongue, if you know what I mean. And the music at that point is different—it is set off from the rest of the song in a way.

Later in life I went through the experience of helping a female acquaintance get free of an abusive relationship, and I learned some things that shed more light on this—and changed my thinking. One key idea is that abusers go through a cycle of violence, then regret, then apology and reconciliation. It happens almost like clockwork, and those who work in the field have learned to treat such protestations of repentance with a great degree of caution.

In this song, who is the speaker talking to? He is taking to another woman. As the chorus repeats “I have to admit it’s getting better, It’s getting better, since you’ve been mine.” (And to the American ear it sounds like “since you’ll be mine”—I had to double check it with the word sheet.) While this could be just a statement of turning over a new leaf, the odds are in favor of the idea that it is a guy who has destroyed one relationship and is attempting to woo (or keep?) a different woman into a serious commitment. In hearing this again, something inside of me wanted to pull this new woman aside and say, “Run, don’t walk, away from this relationship as fast as you can. Don’t wait for him to change, nor believe you will be his salvation. For him to have any hope of getting better, he has to do it on his own first. His improvement cannot be tied to his relationship with you.”

The singer is clueless as to the nature of his true condition, as is often the case with men of this type. And they often find excuses for their problems in others and in their circumstances:
“I used to get mad at my school, the teachers who taught me weren’t cool.
You’re holding me down, turning me round, Filling me up with your rules.”

No argument that teachers and schools sometimes do more damage than good, but does anyone else think it might be a good idea to at least let the teachers tell their side of the story in this case? And who is the ‘you’ referring to? Are these quotes from prior conversations with teachers, or is this evidence that this tendency is already bleeding over into this new relationship? Has she maybe questioned his drinking habits, or the way he handles certain matters, etc.?

Again, it seems a chilling scenario. And the singer’s positive take on things has the power to convince many people. But that would fit the scenario to a tee. Most men are in a blind about the factors involved in abuse. Many are too easily persuaded that the guy must have his reasons, nor do they conceive what a hellish situation the woman finds herself in, so would not find such expressions a sign of danger. But as an example of the delusional, almost psychopathic, outlook of the abuser, it is a brilliant bit of writing and performance.

Next: "Fixing a Hole"

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