Tuesday, 19 February 2008

Submarine of Love

A friend said he hates the Beatles. I asked why and he sang: “We all live in a yellow submarine.”

And then he said: “What rubbish.”

It's his problem, not mine. I’ve met a few of these nescient buggers and they typically reference “Yellow Submarine” as a testament to the Beatles’ alleged overrated legacy. I argued with my dear friend. I got flustered, red in the face. I questioned how I could be friends with this man to begin with. What a shame! that the Beatles should be remembered for that song by so many of the uninitiated, the world over. Of all the wit and insight and infectious melodies the Beatles brought, of so many (so many!) songs, “Yellow Submarine” is the staple.

On the other hand, Revolver, the 1966 album on which "Yellow Submarine" was originally released, deserves to be remembered as the essential Beatles album. It was arguably their last display as a tight functioning unit, before egos and drugs and money got in the way of all that the love. Revolver was the album that funneled their past, swirled it in Tibeten philosophy and new heartbreak and LSD and a new social consciousness and spewed them forward into their future. I’ve memorized every chord, lyric, hidden sound in the sonic foray of that entire album and the only song I could never fully embrace was “Yellow Submarine.” It’s a silly, childish song…

...and it dawns on me, discussing with my friend, that this exactly why the song is a classic. It's silly! Childish! Juvenile whimsy is what made the Beatles so damned loveable to begin with. Watching those old black and white clips of their first visit to America is like seeing four kid brothers farting around with each with all who were watching. They were in a bubble all their own. Life at that time was like their own private joke.

They could be lyrically downbeat in those early days—remembering lost love, girlfriends being untrue or whatever—but “I’m Down” could have been a far more depressing affair if it weren’t for that potent youngster energy surging through the song. The Beatles had a way of making a broken heart sound so gleeful. They didn’t just write songs, they played with them and “Yellow Submarine” was the apex of that. They were stoned and probably quite giddy when it was written. They had the world hanging by locks of flowing dippy hair in 1966 and they crafted a 2:38 minutes of aural juvenility with which the whole world could sing along.

But the song isn’t representative of the Beatles’ catalogue as a whole. To base one’s attitude of any artist solely on one song or painting or poem is like writing off all ice cream because you don’t like bubblegum. Songs like “Taxman”, “Blackbird”, “I Want to Hold Your Hand” and “A Day in the Life” are incomparable in their sound, in their depth. There’s a thematic and philosophical thread running through these songs and, like "Yellow Submarine," they're important nuggets in the group's oeuvre but they exist on different levels of the band's understanding of their primary subject: that is, love as a governing force. How it affects the human psyche. How it affects the whole of humanity and how we're all in this obnoxiously bright sea vessel of existence together. "All together now... "

This is part of what makes the Beatles so appealing to so many people in so many places. This must also be why certain souls can't latch so easily. Maybe they feel love is at a loss. Or childhood is a pain. Or fun is strictly for weekends. Whayever. If they don't want in on the Yellow Submarine that’s their problem. Not mine.

1 comment:

lily said...

It IS a classic. Not the best but a classic.

Just click on my name, you will understand..!
You will probably not understand much but I happen to master my own language a tad better. ;)

Anyway it's all about the title.