The Beatles – The Beatles – 11/27/1968

The White Album begins with the sound of a plane flying overhead, and then goes right into a rollicking, funky rhythm featuring hand-claps, Lewis-style piano, and fat, crunchy guitars.”Back In the U.S.S.R.” sounds like 50s rockabilly in its excitable groove. The quick and punctuating notes and “woo-hoo-hoos” in the chorus remind me of the Beach Boys. Mike Love of the Beach Boys was at a transcendental meditation retreat in Rishikesh at the same time as the Beatles, where this song was written.

As well-written both musically and lyrically as this song is, I can’t get around that Paul is really just talking out his ass here. He’d never actually been to the U.S.S.R. His choice of Russia for the song’s setting doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to me, other than it’s a place that you wouldn’t expect a party song about chicks to be about. In a seemingly erudite but ultimately immature way, he sings about balalaikas and calls himself comrade. Chagrin as I am to compare the two, this isn’t a whole lot better than that god-awful song about liking girls who wear Abercrombie & Fitch.

“Back in the U.S.S.R.” segues right into “Dear Prudence,” a lovely song about Prudence Farrow, the sister of Mia Farrow, both of whom were with the Beatles when they went to India. Prudence had taken to the teachings of the Maharishi more obsessively than the others; she spent long hours in meditation and would barely socialize with the rest of the group. John wrote this song as “a simple plea to a friend to snap out of it.”

To me, this song is a caution to not have your head so high in the clouds that your feet leave the ground. From my own perspective, this is what a lot of Christians do.

Our parents told us over and over again that we as Christians are “not of this world.” They were teaching something Jesus himself said, but he was saying it to his own disciples, who were wondering why everybody hated them so much. Unfortunately, our take-away from the not-of-this-world thing seemed to be that we need not be concerned about what goes on in this world. After all, it’s not ours and we didn’t choose to be in it, so why worry ourselves unnecessarily? Our focus should be on heavenly things, not worldly things, or so we thought.

There have been several instances for me where this line of thinking simply didn’t work. The earliest is when the people who ran a homeless shelter in Springfield did a presentation at my elementary school. A more recent example is the destitute pregnant woman begging in Union Square that I couldn’t ignore.

The not-of-this-world teaching I learned from my parents still has value, though. I think it really means that as a Christian, I’m different. The world will look at me a little cock-eyed from time to time because my actions, attitudes and entire mindset are going to be different than theirs. And that’s okay; it might make them wonder about mindsets other than their own.

Friday: the real Bungalow Bill

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