The legendary Beatles album Abbey Road recently turned 40 amid much fanfare-cum-eye-rolling, slow-head-shaking, dear-golly-gee-in-the-mental-construct-of-heaven-what-the-fuck-am-I-doing-on-this-planet idiocy. It’s not just a milestone for arguably (and I will most certainly argue that it is) the best Beatles album, it’s my milestone as well.
Sure, I turned 40 in March which would make me all of 5 months old when the album actually came out, if you want to want to get all persnickety with the graphing calculator and the slide rule. I won’t deny that at the time I was (and, in certain unflattering regards, still am), completely oblivious to everything but the business of breastfeeding, teething, diaper defilement, and the crying inherent in the successful completion of the same, but I’m planting my flag in that little hole in the middle of Abbey Road anyway.
Abbey Road turning 40 is, to me, a much more meaningful pop culture mortality head-check than the recent bucket-kicking of one Michael Jackson. A lot’s been made about how Michael Jackson’s passing is the semaphore signalling the landing of the Virgin Airways jetliner of our Gen X youth, but I didn’t even really listen to Michael Jackson, growing up. I listened to White People from England: The Who, The Rolling Stones, Fleetwood Mac (give or take a couple of Amazing Flakes from California*), The Bee Gees (born in Manchester, exiled to Australia*), and the crown Princes of all White People from England: The Beatles. This made me extraordinarily out of step with my moon-walking colleagues and, by extension, what was considered at the time This Modern Age. I can only guess that even then, I had the feeling that the seating was more comfortable facing out of the rear of the caboose of the silver bullet train known as Progress as opposed to its terrifying forefront as it screamed a slice through time on its careening collision course with inevitable oblivion. Or you could just call me a curmudgeon, which may very well be more accurate an assessment.
Anyway, that Abbey Road is 40, and survives 2 of its creators along with at least 6 White People From England contemporaries, is a sad unsurprise that jolts the system just the same. Abbey Road is the child that grows into greying orphan-hood, just like my generation. With its lonely birthday comes the cheery insinuation that we will return to bald toothlessness and diaper defilement, that our crying will go unheeded as it just isn’t that cute the second time around. Just like the heroine of “She Came In Through The Bathroom Window”, we’ll all suck our thumbs and wonder by the banks of our own (doubtlessly poluted and putrid) lagoons. Hooray!
The following is my scrapbook of Abbey Road Reflections.
- “Come Together”: A surrealist call-to-arms, a sort of Pledge of Allegiance to the Freak Flag of our Alienation (long before Green Day’s incredible “American Idiot”came along) . I took this song as a bracing reminder that individuality and personal freedom were privileges, not rights. “Come Together” was a rallying call for all misfits to circle the wagons against the threat of the squares. This may sound paranoid, but remember: a few years after this song was released, John Lennon did catch the eye of one J. Edgar Hoover. Was this song a self-fulfilling prophesy? And it can be argued that Lennon was sort of asking for it, but still.
- “Something”: George Harrison’s “killer” contributions to the Beatles catalogue finally overtake the “filler”. “Something” captures the dizzy-dazzle of romantic uncertainty. Is that attractive “something” enough to build a life upon? Harrison’s “I don’t know” is not one of dismay, but of a damn not in the least given. It’s a celebration of the here and now magic of infatuation. It’s like a singable swoon. Being a sucker for a pretty face, this song is pretty much the soundtrack for some of my less-than-brilliant romantic capers.
- “Oh, Darling”: This yowling -and-crawling-through-the-shards-of-broken-promises-on-your-no-damn-good-knees blues tune would have to be the anthem of the above’s aftermath.
- “Octopus’ Garden”: I can’t hear this song without remembering its role in my very first panic attack. It was at The House On The Rock in Wisconsin, the Giant Octopus Vs. White Whale display. The THOTR phenomenon can only be described as a cavernous depository of nightmares. It has something for everyone. Creeped out by mannequins? Check out the topless “angels” descending from the ceiling in the carousel room, wigs disturbingly askew. Do carousels trouble you in some inexplicable, visceral way? Well, they will after you visit that carousel room. Then there’s an entire room devoted to that most terrifying of musical instruments, the organ. Tinny, animatronic, jarringly out-of-tune instruments that play themselves? Check. Vertiginous heights? Double check. THOTR’s culminating terror has to be the Giant Octopus Vs. White Whale display as it combines almost all of the above, with the obvious exceptions of the organ and the carousel. Contained within a room roughly the size of a Big 10 basketball arena, the GOVWW display crowds all breathable air out of the room from the farthest reaches of the top to its distant bottom, and manages to terrify both the claustrophobic and the acrophobic. Climbing up the glorified scaffolding that coils ever upward along the perimeter of the arena, somewhere near the 75 foot mark, I learned the hard way that I was indeed both claustrophobic AND acrophobic. Panting and practically clinging to the wall, I descended to the hatefully mocking tune of “Octopus’ Garden” as played by a 3 piece tinny, animatronic, jarringly out-of-tune instruments that played themselves. I can feel my chest tightening up, just thinking about it. So this is my least favorite Abbey Road tune.
- “I Want You (She’s So Heavy)” : Sometimes it’s fun to pretend this song is about Chubby Chasers.
- “Here Comes The Sun”: Mandatory February listening for those suffering from Seasonal Affective Disorder. Hundreds of cover versions of this tune are available, spanning dozens of genres from Hillbilly Hiccup to Jazzamatasm to Salsa Fusion. It’s cheaper than Prozac with no disruption of sexual function.
- “Because“: This tune seems to have fluttered out of the songbook of a long-lost opera. “Because” is the aria of the villain explaining his dark philosophy on why It All Must End. This is a song just so out of nowhere, it has to have transcended the space-time continuum to have joined the album’s play list. Just exquisite.
- “You Never Give Me Your Money”: “Oh, that magic feeling–nowhere to go.” It’s McCartney at his least twee and most psychologically realistic. Anyone who’s been the proverbial there and done the proverbial that, and sees no end in sight to the treadmill or the expressway can testify to the magic of that feeling.
- “Sun King”: Phony baloney Romance language gumbo. Those who listen closely can hear “paparazzi”, “cake and eat it”, “carousel” and feel like a member of the Beatles’ in-joke inner sanctum.
- “She Came In Through The Bathroom Window”: (See Paragraph 4 above. I don’t think I have the emotional fortitude to rehash that depressing horse shit.)
- “Golden Slumbers”: I like to sing this song to my little girl. Sure, this song is more or less about what I’ve been talking about in the beginning: adults as lost children. My daughter has never been lost in her life, so I guess this song is actually my silly wish that she never will be, swaddled warmly in a lullaby.
I’ve been playing Abbey Road on ridiculous repeat all day. I think I’d better call my folks before the sun goes down.