Writing my Thesis and Smelling the Sawdust

While this post was intended to be a rundown of the various ways I entertained myself while writing my Honors College thesis over the weekend, I realized my entertainment was entirely Beatles-centric. So, this is post is a rundown of all I learned about the Beatles in the past two weeks and reflects many of the songs I listened to while writing my Honors College thesis.

Side note: I will defend my thesis on Wednesday, May 30 – a day that feels like it’s years away and like it’s coming way too quickly at the same time. More to come later on all I’ve been researching, but I’m essentially covering the development of social media policies for college athletes and how those policies are portrayed in the media. I’ll spare you the gory details, but if you’re into that kind of stuff, please read this article and revel in the irony of the University of North Carolina’s former athletic director quoted in a story that makes zero mention of Twitter as a platform to be monitoring. Here’s looking at you, Marvin Austin.

Anyway, onto the good stuff. My adoration for the Beatles has skyrocketed to levels I did not know existed when I last posted about the class. Since then, we’ve discussed Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band and Magical Mystery Tour (mostly the former).

For years, I felt really confident saying Rubber Soul was my favorite Beatles album. I don’t even know why, honestly. I probably thought it sounded cool and rebellious, because everyone else said Abbey Road. Then, two years ago, I realized I probably liked Abbey Road more. And a couple weeks ago, I realized I liked Sgt. Pepper more than both of those combined.

In addition to the usual sampling of Anthology clips, we watched this terrific 45-minute documentary devoted solely to the making of Sgt. Pepper. It discusses influences, inspirations and the recording process for most of the songs. My favorite part was toward the beginning, when George Martin plays a bit of Paul’s isolated vocal track for the opening song.

The perfect rock n’ roll voice.

Other interesting tidbits from the documentary:

  • Paul had to give Ringo a pep talk to help him sing the final high note of “With a Little Help from My Friends.”
  • I loved this quote from John Lennon about the Victorian circus theme he wanted to conjure up in “Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite!” (he’d taken many of the lyrics straight off a circus poster found at a vintage store): “I want to smell the sawdust.” He wanted the song to be so real that it captured an entirely different sense. I don’t think too deeply about how to be more creative, but I think that’s a unique perspective.
  • During the discussion of “When I’m Sixty-Four,” Paul mentioned he hadn’t really set out to be a rock n’ roll artist. He pictured himself writing tunes for Sinatra (!), which influenced this homage to songs of the previous generation.

Having loved the Beatles for awhile, I came in with a pretty clear idea of my favorite songs – “In My Life,” “Penny Lane,” “If I Fell,” etc. Never, ever would I have thought “Good Morning Good Morning” would become one of my Top 10 favorites, but it has. (Video not important – just enjoy the song, even though those Lego Beatles are pretty cool.)

On the surface, this is a song about waking up and going through the motions of life. Digging deeper, you learn a) the song was inspired by a Kellogg’s Corn Flakes commercial b) in a way, it’s Lennon’s attack on the mundane-ness of suburban life and c) the animal noises at the end were ordered such that each animal was capable of eating the one whose sound came before it (cat eats bird, dog eats cat, horse eats dog, etc.). I’m not sure why Lennon wanted it that way, but it’s the best fun fact of all time. Learning about this song (and really listening to the words) gave me an appreciation for it that I wouldn’t have come close to earning without this class.

We moved on to Magical Mystery Tour, and while our discussion didn’t drive me to Sgt. Pepper-like levels of obsession with the album, I gained a new appreciation for that period in the Beatles’ history and for a couple of songs they produced.

For whatever reason, “Your Mother Should Know” is one of my favorite Beatles tunes. I love it even more now after seeing the super-awkward dance-down-the-stairs-in-tuxedos video  of the song from the Magical Mystery Tour movie. Laugh with me:

I think George is the worst dancer of the four.

Finally, we listened to a song that wasn’t on the Magical Mystery Tour album but was recorded around the same time, when they were just messing around in the studio.

I’d never heard this song until a few weeks ago, and even though it’s drenched in LSD and a little bit crazy, I think it’s wonderful – from the parody of Jamaican ska music (1:05) to Ringo’s nightclub announcer voice (2:21). They repeat the same two phrases for nearly six minutes, but that’s sort of the point. From innocent songs like “Love Me Do” to this? No one saw that coming.

As always, there’s much more I could say, but there’s also much more of my thesis to be written. If you have any favorites from these two albums (or disagree with my conclusion that George is the worst dancer), please let me know!

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