Everything scared me when I was a child. I grew up smaller and younger than my classmates, and my engagement with the world could be tentative at times. I suppose I saw darkness where there was none. Sesame Street scared me on occasion. The TV show Green Acres. I got over it, but it was a fragile period. Star Trek was scarier than Star Wars, and Space:1999 was scarier than both. Certain music scared me as well. The Beatles were never a particularly scary band—not like Pink Floyd, whose “On the Run” from The Dark Side of the Moon frightened me because of its lack of a vocal (what happened to the singer? is he hurt? is he being held captive against his will?) and its tone of brainless, microchip-implanted panic—but there were sounds that I couldn’t process. I lacked the context for them, the ear and the intelligence to fit them in their proper place.
1. A Day in the Life
A natural aversion to dissonance, disordered sound. Violins sawing away. What is being implied or suggested? The chaos of life—a contrast to Paul’s metronomic “Woke up, fell out of bed…” Yes, but the noise itself is frightening. Someone has lost their mind. Someone who should not be making music is making music.
2. I Want You (She’s So Heavy)
The sudden end, always an unwelcome surprise, white noise swelling, white hot gas leaking into the studio, a hose spewing out vapor, the booth filling with cloud. I would rather pick the needle up from the record myself than let it play through. Silence, retraction, and I’m left with quills on my back.
3. Long, Long, Long
George’s (or whoever’s?) warbled cry, so discordant and disassociated from the rest of the song, which tends to be syrupy and languid, almost innocuous (and then this voice-in-hell pasted onto the coda). It sounds like a woman—a woman in pea-soup fog, wailing with hands to cheeks in an agony of poverty and foot-binding and (?) coerced orgasm.
4. I Am the Walrus
The clips from Lear—an elderly British man suffering, on his back, breathing out last breaths, weighty jewels in his lap, but the lines themselves are indistinct. What is he saying? “Oh… I’m tired…” Comic, uncaring choruses chattering, young people ridiculing the old.
5. Love You To
Being young and not knowing what “I’ll make love to you” means, but hearing in it a threat. Doppler sounds like fast traffic passing right by your ear. Gentle George in a bad mood. The bi-polarity of George Harrison songs: happy “Here Comes the Sun,” sullen “Don’t Bother Me.” Wistful “Something,” bitter “Taxman.”
6. Oh! Darling
Screaming falsetto—a person possessed or in pain. Screaming in Beatles songs always frightened me—“Can’t Buy Me Love,” etc. I couldn’t grasp the point or subtext, the expression of euphoria, youthful delight, maybe the sixties themselves. All I heard was blunt, mechanical pain, situation-specific—a man with a stomach wound, a bleeding arm, a punctured ear drum.
7. Revolution 9
A strained male voice groans “rise” (?)—he sounds like he’s masturbating to an abstraction, a drifting, re-forming, hated shape. Skyscrapers leaning, concrete gray. I used to skip over this one, but now I think it’s the best thing on The White Album. Imagine The Beatles without it?