Thursday, December 15, 2011

Within You Without You (eighth in a series)

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

The eighth 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 second side doesn’t begin with a strong note or downbeat.  The music eases in, creating an ambience, until finally the tabla drums start, and then comes the tune.  It is not unlike the first side, which began with ambient sounds, then a rhythmic, pounding intro and finally a melody.  In both cases, it has the effect of getting you in the mood for what is coming, of getting you absorbed in the setting.  But this side takes about 10 seconds longer to do it.   

The album so far has been like going down a long hall in an ornate building, opening one door after another taking in what you see in the rooms, and maybe being blown out.  But when you opened this one, it was different.  It is more peaceful, and the voice that eventually begins to sing is almost like a genie or prophet floating in the room, who welcomes you and bids you be at ease.  He speaks in a voice that is plain and direct, not in figures, not in ‘negative narration’, completely easy to understand.  And he begins to explain to you what you have been seeing and experiencing: 

“We were talking, about the space between us all,
and the people, who hide themselves behind a wall
of illusion, never glimpse the truth, …” 

In my youth, when rock and roll was everything, I suppose we all put up with George’s Indian thing—the sitar and all that—as well as we could.  Maybe we congratulated ourselves that we were being open minded and exploring new musical ideas, etc.  But it reminds me of Christmas Eve church services we attended as kids.  We were OK with giving Jesus and God their portion of the celebration, but deep down inside we couldn’t wait to get home and get at the presents.

You will surmise that I do not at all feel that way now, and it is not because I have converted to George’s religious persuasion, nor because I have a hankering to return to hippiedom.  Things change, as they say.  Now I am not at all anxious to leave.  I want to remain in this room and try with all my heart to see if he really knows the answer, and to see if I can gain from it.  Plus, now that I am actually listening, I realize this is arguably the greatest composition George Harrison ever did, and I feel it does not get near the credit that it deserves. 

But back to the story.  You had seen some disturbing—though brilliant—things in the previous rooms.  Your mind is troubled, and you don’t know what to make of it, but George explains it all to you in measured, peaceful tones.  He speaks of space, and illusions, of truth and love, and saving the world, and losing your soul.  And he artfully stages an egregious ‘conversation’ between the sitar and violins, and entertains you to the utmost.  And finally he leaves you with these parting words:

When you’ve seen beyond yourself than you may find peace of mind is waiting there.
And the time will come when you see we’re all one and life flows on within you and without you. 

You quickly wake up from the trance in which he has held you, and though you know you understood what he said, you don’t retain it.  Maybe it is too easy, maybe it is something you don’t want to deal with right now, but whatever it is, you take his parting words, stuff them in your pocket and go back out in the hall to explore the remaining doors.  But as you leave, for the briefest moment you think you hear the sounds of people happy in a social context, and it stirs an unconscious hope that there is, somewhere, a world of happy relationships. 

1 comment:

  1. I remember often skipping this song when I was a teen, but I now look forward to it in its place. I prefer now to listen to the album as a whole, much more than any other Beatle album. I wouldn't even think of pressing the shuffle button.