Monday, December 5, 2011

Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds (third in a series)

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

The third 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.

The record really switches gears in the next track.  Beginning with the opening organ-sounding-like-a-harpsichord line, and the strange way that John’s voice is mixed, you feel like you have been ushered into something completely different, as Monty Python would say.  Now you are making your way through a fantasy land, or in George Martin’s words, “a weird world of strange people”. 

And at the time, it was entrancing.  I recall that all the interest in poetry I ever developed stemmed from hearing this song.  The music augments the effect, but John essentially with words alone paints a world that is fascinating, shimmering, colorful and hypnotic. 

But that is just it, it isn’t any kind of real world that a person can inhabit.  And the protagonist of this world walks through it without connecting to a soul.  There is no interaction with Lucy; she just appears, doing nothing but manifesting her “kaleidoscope eyes”.  And the plasticene porters, the rocking horse people and everyone who is smiling have no more humanity than the boat, the river, the newspaper taxies, the bridge, the fountain or the turnstiles. 

Much has been written about whether or not this song is about drugs.  On the one hand, everyone admits the idea came from a childhood drawing by Julian Lennon, and the fact that Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds spells out LSD is nothing but a coincidence.  Yet Paul did state in one interview that the drug connection was obvious, and anyone who ever inhaled or swallowed will tell you that the song has a tremendous empathy for the druggy state of mind.  But whether it is or isn’t is not really the point here.

Whatever may be its inspiration, what is being put forward here is a dreamscape, a world devised out of our own imagination.  But as to that, I am reminded of what CS Lewis pointed out in the third installment of the Chronicles of Narnia, the Voyage of the Dawntreader, that we don’t think of our dreams properly. 

In his story, the ship begins approaching a menacing island hidden in a fog of darkness, and as they do, each member of the expedition begins to find that their imaginations are running wild.  They rescue a sailor who has been marooned there for years, and though they are bent on exploring the island, he begs them to leave, telling them it is “the island where dreams come true.”  The crew is at first exited about the prospects of this until the man wakes them up with:

            Do you hear what I say?  This is where dreams—dreams, do you understand—come to life, come real.  Not daydreams: dreams.
It takes about half a minute for the import of this to sink in, and then the entire crew rushes to the oars to get out of there as fast as they can.

Ever thought about the content of your dreams?  I don’t mean the nightmares, that is obvious, but how about your more normal ones?  Is it a place you would want to inhabit? 

It was one thing as a teenager or even 20-something college student to listen to this and think it was charming.  As my Dad always reminded me, “nice for you to say, you don’t have to pay any bills or answer to any responsibilities.”  As an older person, upon more serious thought, what is being described here, though beauteous, is empty.  The protagonist in the story is very alone—almost stranded—in what amounts to nothing more than a beautiful, sterile painting.  The world we conjure from our own fancy may have bad guys but it seldom allows for equals with independent thought.

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