At its most basic level, art is a narcissistic thing. Musicians and poets in particular make art about themselves. This is how it should be, really; saying something about yourself can often get people to ask themselves if they share that quality. But taken too far, it really stinks. Self-reference can invite the listener in, but when it’s direct and specific, it keeps the listener out. When you talk about yourself in specific terms like naming yourself or the people around you, or talk about things that apply to only you, the listener is unable to relate.

In short, that’s why “Glass Onion” always bothered me and made me roll my eyes. Before you draw and quarter me for speaking ill of St. John Lennon, let me unpack this a little more. The lyrics make reference to a cadre of previous Beatles songs, as well as actually mentioning Paul by name. John makes mention of songs like “Strawberry Fields Forever,” “I Am the Walrus” and “Fixing a Hole,” and that eliminates the possibility of further interpretation. I like interpretation. It means a piece of art has life beyond that injected by the artist.

John wrote this song as a response to fans who read too much into his songs. They had let their interpretations run away with them and started finding things that weren’t there. So instead of telling them directly to shut up and just enjoy the music, John wrote “Glass Onion” to confuse them. I don’t know how that helps matters in the slightest, but it is what it is.

Like “With a Little Help From My Friends,” I first heard “Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da” as the theme song to a TV show, this time Life Goes On. I didn’t even know it was a Beatles song because it had some faceless woman singing it. It also didn’t have that splendid tack-piano track that really makes the song hold together. The lyrics are sorta silly and very Paul, and threaten to undo it. If the music weren’t so darn infectious, they might.

“Wild Honey Pie,” a short but super-weird interlude, runs straight into another kind of goofy song with a goofy name, “The Continuing Story of Bungalow Bill.” When John was in Rishikesh, he met a well-to-do American kid named Rik Cooke and his better-to-do mother, Nancy Cooke de Herrera. Nancy was the publicist for the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi when the Beatles et al went to study under him. They ingratiated themselves with the rest of the Beatles, but John thought they were real pricks. One day they set out on a hunting trip, native guides and jungle hats and all, with elephant mounts to complete the cliché. A tiger attacked their elephants and Rik, in a lightning reflex moment, shot the tiger with his rifle. Though he immediately snapped a picture with his kill, he had mixed feelings about the incident.

John didn’t, though. Nancy, who retold the story of the incident to anybody who would listen, said it was “kill or be killed,” but John saw it more as “kill or lose our ride.” He was repulsed by the conflict between these rich American snobs finding spiritual enlightenment in the morning, and then thoughtlessly killing wild animals and trampling nature in the afternoon. His reaction was the song “Bungalow Bill.” It’s bouncy and kind of silly, offsetting the disgust John felt when he was writing it. This was one of John’s great skills; couching a pretty serious subject in more harmless surroundings. It’s like crushing aspirin tablets and mixing the powder in chocolate pudding.

On Sunday: while Eric Clapton‘s guitar gently weeps, George Harrison gets lead by the nose.

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