3-year-old Julian’s picture that inspired “Lucy”

When I was in elementary school, there was a girl in my class a few years named Lucy. At the beginning of the year, we would all take our desks, then go around and say our names. It seemed like every year it would come around to Lucy, she would say her name, and the teacher would say, “huh, like that song.” Then the teacher would sing the first line of the chorus to “Lucy In the Sky With Diamonds” and say, “I love that song.” Lucy would just nod. She must have heard that a billion times.

The responsibility for “Lucy” lies with John Lennon’s son Julian. He was 3 years old when he brought home from school a picture he had drawn. Kid pictures are a funny thing. We praise and laud them to the kids as if they’re the prize of the century, and hang them on the fridge. Viewed with a critical and objective eye, of course, kid pictures unilaterally suck, but that’s not the point. It’s the kid that made the picture that matters, not the picture itself. And if it’s our kid, then Jackson Pollock better make way. Aside from their usefulness as a window into the child’s psychology, they make parents feel proud of their kid. And they can even inspire a song.

“Lucy” was one such song, and a big fat thank-you needs to go to Julian, and the real-life Lucy who in turn inspired the picture. It’s a wonderful piece of psychedelic whimsy, and has a childlike boppiness. It also features a shift from a 3/4 time in the verses to 4/4 in the chorus. This normally annoys the crap out of me (especially when it’s accompanied by a big tempo change), but it works here. The lyrics speak of tangerine trees and cellophane flowers and marshmallow pies, but the strange and perhaps drug-induced imaginings of the narrator don’t make the listener feel ill-at-ease.

I can hear the question on your lips before you say it. “Is the song about drugs?” There’s the simple fact that it’s called “LUCY in the SKY with DIAMONDS.” L. in the S. with D. LSD. Any 2nd grader (with an unsettling knowledge of controlled substances) could figure that one out, so that’s not enough. But the song has a weird, other-worldly quality, encouraged by the celeste-like intro. The picture I get from the lyrics is of a crazy, colorful world, but it’s more Dr. Seuss than Timothy Leary. Personally, I don’t buy the drug subtext thing, but here’s the main reason. It’s a quote from John himself.

“It was purely unconscious that it came out to be LSD. Until someone pointed it out, I never even thought of it. I mean, who would ever bother to look at initials of a title? It’s not an acid song.”

That settles it for me.