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Alaskan Range: Words From The Beatles

"Many of my generation possess mental timelines of their youth measured off by Beatles songs,'' writes Greg Hill.

Emily Dickinson knew how I felt forty-five years ago. She wrote about a woman who:

“dealt her pretty words like blades,
As glittering the shone,
And every one bared a nerve
Or wantoned with a bone.”

When I was in the eighth grade, in 1965, I moved with my family from urban West Texas to rural Vermont. It was oil and water. I was expelled from class on the very first day of school, for starters. While taking roll, the first period teacher asked me if I preferred being called “Greg,” and I replied “Yes, ma’am.” Turned out that students there only answered liked that to be sarcastic. And when my father and I subsequently met with the principal about me being kicked out of school for politeness, the episode proved an excellent lesson in the power of moral superiority.

After being readmitted that first day, I was called “Kennedy killer”; it being less than two years since President Kennedy’s assassination in Dallas. Vermonters studied Algebra II in eighth grade, when Texans began Algebra I, and this marked the beginning of my mathematical scholarship’s decline.

Serious differences also emerged over how football was played, since I’d played full contact version football for four years, and Vermont eighth graders played flag football. Then there was dancing. The Church of Christ and Baptists in Abilene, Texas forbade school dances, and I attended my first one that first week in Vermont. As all five-foot-eight of me entered the gym that night, the record being played was stopped with a scratch, and “Long, Tall Texan” came on, and that horror of teenagers occurred: everyone stared. However, everything changed when, a few songs later, a pretty girl agreed to dance with me to a song I never heard before. It was the Beatles' “Yesterday.”

Today that time in my life comes streaming back whenever I hear “Yesterday,” with its lyrics and melody evoking complex, bittersweet emotions and sensations. It came to mind again upon reading a ScienceDaily.com article titled “Words Easily Trigger Painful Memories.” Brain scans known as “functional magnetic resonance tomography” have revealed that “verbal stimuli lead to reactions in certain areas of the brain,” according to Psychologist Thomas Weiss of University Jena. Merely talking about hitting below the belt, for example, activates the pain centers in most men’s brains.

The connotations “Yesterday” holds for me aren’t negative, and many of my generation possess mental timelines of their youth measured off by Beatles songs. So I read with interest that John Lennon’s original lyrics for “A Day in the Life,” which begins “I read the news today, Oh boy,” will be auctioned off this June for an expected $500,000-700,000. You can see Lennon’s actual scrawl, and amazingly few editorial changes, online at http://artsbeat.blogs.nytimes.com/2010/04/29/oh-boy-lennons-lyrics-for-a-day-in-the-life-for-sale/?scp=2&sq=lennon&st=cse and read how Lennon and Paul McCarthy were inspired to write it by reading a drab newspaper that included articles about smalltime potholes and politics.

In the mid-1960s, Lennon learned that literature teachers in his old Liverpool school were requiring students to deconstruct the hidden meanings of Beatles lyrics, so he wrote a song to confound them: “I Am the Walrus.” It appeared on the “Magical Mystery Tour” album in 1967 as soundtrack for an unsuccessful television special of the same name.

According to the excellent secondary educational website, Shmoop.com, Lennon was a fan of Lewis Carroll and “penned ‘I Am the Walrus’ as a kind of homage to the surrealist poet and children’s author. The entire song is infused with the spirit of Jabberwocky.” It was “cobbled together from multiple acid trips, snippets of Lewis Carroll poems, run-ins with the police, misheard children’s rhymes, and, well, plain old gibberish. And then, satisfied that no student could ever make sense of what he’d done, he said, “Let the little (ancient Anglo-Saxon expletives) puzzle that out.”

Joggle some forgotten memories by visiting your library’s excellent CD collection. You’ll find Beatles recordings, and some from the preceding and following centuries, all on CD for you to borrow [how many for how long?]. Sure, you have to bring them back so someone else can revive their recollections, but sharing is how public libraries work. And that, as Mr.Lennon wrote, is nothing to get hung about.


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