Tag Archive: art


cue Empire Theme from Star Wars...

cue Empire Theme from Star Wars

When I was about 13, my sister and I were watching TV and saw a news story about some up and coming boy band (I don’t remember their name). They were riding the crest of the Backstreet Boys/*NSYNC success, and were just one of the hordes of imitators. My sister was a big New Kids On the Block fan in their day. And because I wanted to be just like my big sister when I was 9, I was too, but that was more about my fawning admiration for her than any attachment to the band.

Anyway, this story had cameras follow them through a typical day in the life of their band: voice lessons, dance rehearsals, and since they didn’t have actual press appearances yet (‘cause nobody knew who they were), they practiced them – honest to God. Part of their preparation as a musical group was sitting in a row at a covered table with a microphone in front of each of them, fielding imaginary questions about their favorite color, whether they have a girlfriend or some useless crap like that.

I took offense to this; it violated some high-minded idea I had about “tainting the purity of music” or something. But while I took offense to the fake press conference, my sister took offense to my offense. She saw my disgust, and in an equally disgusted voice said, “What, you think Pearl Jam or Smashing Pumpkins don’t do that same thing? You think they don’t need to learn how to talk to the press? Get off your high horse!”

Nobody knows how to push my buttons better than my sister. Maybe she does it because she knows I’ll always love her and be there for her, no matter what.

Some people (and record executives only barely meet the definition of “people,” in my opinion) work their hardest to suck all the art, joy and transcendence out of music and turn it into a business. They view it not as an art form but as something they can use to make money. It may as well be manufacturing washing machines or cooking meth for all they care. They don’t see the art in it, and even if they do, they don’t care. Whether or not it’s good art has no bearing on whether or not it’s good business.

That was the right side of my brain talking. Now I’ll let the left side have its say.

It is a business, of course. A musician can produce 20 Hallelujah Choruses a day, and it’s all meaningless if no one hears it. That’s where the business kicks in. The record industry, aside from all the other things it does, gets music heard. When you go to the iTunes Music Store, there’s actual money changing hands. This isn’t a bad thing, in and of itself – commerce is one of the things that makes the world go ‘round. Two of the bedrock American principles, for good or ill, are these:

1)      Find something you love to do, and then find someone willing to pay you to do it.

and

2)      If you’re good at something, never do it for free.

How do you balance that? There has to be some happy medium between artistic freedom and financial success. Some bands have found it; R.E.M. is a good example. From the very start of negotiations with Warner Bros., they made it very clear that they wanted to have complete artistic control and they never wanted to be in debt. But for nearly every other band out there, it’s almost exclusively a matter of record executives taking advantage of them to line their own pockets.

In 1975, Pink Floyd was really struggling to find that balance. Perhaps in those days, it was worse than it is now. With the advent of the internet and the readiness of information, music has an easier time getting into the public’s hands, sometimes without record companies’ involvement at all. But before the days of Facebook and Bandcamp and SoundCloud, it was cigar-smoking fatcats and empty suits.

“Have a Cigar,” the first song after the vinyl flip of Wish You Were Here, is a biting examination of one money-grubbing dirtball as he drools over Pink Floyd’s musical potential and the money to be had from that. Its lyrics are a second-person account of this empty suit flattering, exaggerating and outright lying. And in doing so, he reveals his selfish motivations.

Here’s a piece of the lyrics:

Well, I’ve always had a deep respect and I mean that most sincerely

The band is just fantastic / That is really what I think / Oh, by the way… Which one’s Pink?

He has a “deep respect” and thinks they’re “just fantastic” and the douchebag doesn’t even know Pink Floyd is the group’s name and not the lead singer’s. I bet he had visions of a t-shirt that had “Pink” up front and the other members in the shadowy background.

The lead vocal on “Have a Cigar” is performed by Roy Harper, a legendary folk musician who just happened to be in the studio at the time. Both Roger Waters and David Gilmour recorded versions of the song singing lead, but neither of them were happy with the results. In swoops Roy Harper with just the right tone and character to his voice to play the part of a smarmy A&R man. His take wowed Waters and Gilmour; it was meant to be, I think.

“Welcome to the Machine” decries the slavering dogs of the music industry as well, but comes at it from a different angle. It’s still a second-person account from the antagonist (in this case “the machine,” being the soulless mechanizers of an entire art form, or society in general). But it starts with a young and green musician dreaming of rock and roll stardom. It ends with the chatter and clinking of glasses of a high-class party.

“Welcome to the Machine” is one of those iconic Floyd songs, creepy and unsettling. It has the rich, human tones of a strummed acoustic guitar, as well as cold and mechanistic synthesizer rhythms. And both “Machine” and “Cigar” have shifting time signatures that keep you on your toes, something that’s become a bit of a Pink Floyd trademark.

Wish You Were Here is my favorite Pink Floyd record because it communicates an extremely important message: never let the demands other people place on you make you forget who you are.

Next: the Fascist Regime!

Pink Floyd - Wish You Were Here - 9/12/1975

Pink Floyd – Wish You Were Here – 9/12/1975

Two years after their brilliant explosion of success, Pink Floyd made the best song of their career. Not a lot of people agree with me, and with good reason. The title track from their 1975 question mark album Wish You Were Here really doesn’t make a whole lot of waves. Most albums worth their salt have a track like “Wish You Were Here”; it’s a breath inward, a break in the action that usually comes before one final push. Led Zep’s “Going to California”; Black Sabbath’s “Solitude”; R.E.M. with “Hairshirt” and “Country Feedback”; even the Beatles with “Yesterday.” And as to Pink Floyd’s best song, most people would point to “Another Brick In the Wall Pt. 2,” “Time,” See Emily Play,” “Comfortably Numb” or “Shine On You Crazy Diamond” as their greatest defining single. But “Wish You Were Here,” in my mind, surpasses them all.

There’s more than one reason, too. First is that it contains some of the BEST lyrics EVER penned, and certainly the greatest turn of phrase of the entire ‘70s. The whole song is great, but this is the best:

Did you exchange a walk-on part in the war for a lead role in a cage?

Second, the song’s grasp far exceeds its reach, which is opposite of how most songs come out. It’s little more than a lazily strummed acoustic guitar, a drunken piano, and light and airy drums. The final coda has a bluesy guitar solo on top of it that makes the song float away. But the ecstasy the song possesses while it’s playing and the impact it leaves have a size and scope that simply defies logic.

Third and most importantly, “Wish You Were Here” succinctly and beautifully captures the essence and message of the album which lends it its name. Wish You Were Here is about the alienation and emptiness felt by someone who has been given all this world has to offer. The Dark Side of the Moon brought Pink Floyd success on every level. Money, girls, drugs, and hordes of adoring fans – all the things you presumably get into the music business for, aside from actual music – all of this had come Pink Floyd’s way. They had definitely paid their dues; Dark Side was their 8th studio outing, and they had been together for over 10 years by the time that things started settling back down in 1974. They had scaled the heights of rock and roll stardom – now what?

“Wish You Were Here” is in second person, addressing someone directly in the present tense. What passes for a chorus in this little-engine-that-could goes like this:

How I wish you were here / We’re just two lost souls swimming in a fish bowl, year after year / Running over the same old ground / Have we found the same old fears? / Wish you were here

Who is the “you” in this song? Who is the lyricist addressing? Some say it’s Syd Barrett; that’s because Syd is the focus of the song “Shine On You Crazy Diamond,” a 26+ minute opus split into two halves which open and close the album (and the reason most people buy the album anyway). Some say the “you” is musical purity, the elemental material of music unencumbered by corporate greed and financial motivation. That’s what the other two songs on Wish You Were Here are about: “Welcome to the Machine” is a disturbing exploration of how innocent rock and roll dreams are corrupted by money, and “Have a Cigar” paints a clear portrait of a greedy record executive (more on both of those later).

But I think the “You” in “Wish You Were Here” is Pink Floyd itself. Their 9th album finds them completely empty, wondering how they got to this crazy place and desperately wanting to return to a simpler time. In the process of getting bigger, more popular and more successful, they lost who they were. And with Wish You Were Here, they are finally asking the question, “Who are we?” It’s their most existential album yet; Søren Kirkegaard would be proud.

And the title track has all the existential wanderings of the entire album rolled into a naked singularity. Pink Floyd’s desire to strip away all the complications and fallacies the music business imposes on them is reflected in the musical simplicity of the track. It’s not a complicated song – more often than not, a good piece of art is defined by what the artist takes away instead of by what he adds. But since I make my existence on words, the thing I remember the most is the poetic method Pink Floyd uses to work out its angst. The lyrics are simply stunning, and leave me dumbstruck. “Wish You Were Here” is a true poem, right up there with “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” and “She Walks In Beauty.” The mark: it leaves me with nothing to say, because I can find no words better than the ones it uses.

Next: Syd Barrett, the crazy diamond.

In “The Colony of Slippermen” and the beginning of the fourth side of the vinyl, Rael meets a group of grotesquely deformed men; the Slipperman costume Peter Gabriel wore for the Lamb tour was the same as what’s described in the song. Upon meeting one of them, Rael discovers that he is indeed one of them, all having fallen prey to the lamias’ charms.

Rael’s brother John makes his 3rd appearance – the first being during “In the Cage,” the second in “The Grand Parade of Lifeless Packaging.” He, too, has become a Slipperman, and the only cure for their condition is… um, castration.

If you’ve never heard “The Colony of Slippermen” before and you’re learning about it for the first time now, I know what you’re thinking, because I thought it too. I believe the modern way of conveying the sentiment is WTF??!!?!?

you have issues, my friend...

you have issues, my friend…

Against my better judgment, I’m gonna dip my toe into the ocean of psychosis Peter Gabriel is revealing here. So the progression goes Rael meets the lamia, Rael becomes a Slipperman, Rael visits Doktor Dyper to get castrated, Rael is cured. The rather obvious parallel to the lamia sequence is that there’s an inherent connection between sex and devouring, like a black widow killing and eating her mate. Likewise, the parallel to the Slippermen sequence is this: sex causes deformity, and elimination of the sexual urge cures the deformity.

Again, WTF??!!?!?

Anyway, there’re some bits about John abandoning Rael again when he’s needed, Rael having the chance to get out of this nightmareland and back to his beloved N.Y.C., and saving John from drowning only to find it’s not John but (GASP!) himself.

Honestly, the story of Rael and his journey lost me a long time ago. I agree with Tony Banks when he says that the story aspect of The Lamb is the weakest thing about it. It contains some simply amazing musical elements (the mind-bending heaviness of “In the Cage,” the timeless beauty of “The Carpet Crawlers,” the brief but epic keyboard solo in “The Colony of Slippermen,” others…) and the lyrics present some great ideas, but the actual plot is bizarre and directionless. I get that it’s a sort of Pilgrim’s Progress and that it’s more about the journey than the endpoint, but it winds up more like Naked Lunch without all the drug references.

Speaking of endpoints, the last thing that happens in the plot of The Lamb is Rael finding out that John is really himself. While this brings up questions of the definition of self and other existential issues, it’s quickly forgotten about with the instant segue into the capping track, “it.” The sweeping and epic tone of “it” are offset by its breakneck tempo; it’s easily the fastest song on The Lamb. The lyrics to “it” are very philosophical, descending into a soup of all the things it is. “It is chicken / it is eggs.” “It is real / it is Rael.” By the way, I’ve tried turning “it is Rael” into “it Israel” and making that mean something – it was futile.

The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway marked a change in the way the band operated, a way that proved unsustainable. With Banks, Rutherford, Hackett and Collins composing the music without Gabriel’s input, and Peter writing the lyrics alone, it put strains on what was before a very democratic band.

Partway through the writing process, Peter got his ego stroked by William Friedkin; Having just directed The Exorcist to great success, he wanted to remake Hollywood by bringing in all new people, including Peter as an “ideas man,” based on one of his song intro stories printed on the back of Genesis Live. After the band made it clear that he couldn’t work on the album and be Friedkin’s hanger-on, Gabriel said goodbye to Genesis. Horrified that he might have been responsible for Genesis breaking up, Friedkin backed off, and Gabriel returned to work. But the rest of Genesis could sense the beginning of the end, because they then knew that this could happen at any time.

Add to that the birth of Peter’s first child and the innumerable difficulties with the delivery. Doctors initially didn’t think Anna-Marie Gabriel would survive. Quite naturally, that ordeal became the center of Peter’s world in both thought and deed, and that meant his work with Genesis was dwarfed. But rather than responding with caring and humanity, the other band members were very unsupportive. That, I think, sealed the deal on Peter Gabriel leaving. He had the courtesy to finish the album and the following tour, but it was a poorly-kept secret that this would be Gabriel’s last hurrah with Genesis.

To me, The Lamb is kind of like a train wreck that explodes in glorious fireworks. It’s quite an awful sight, but a beautiful one too. It confuses me, frustrates me, fascinates me, and ultimately leaves me wanting more. Even though it never has a payoff, I can’t walk away from it – I don’t even want to, because it’s such a fantastic mess. It does what a precious few great pieces of art can, and that’s constantly being ALMOST within reach of its spectators… but not quite.

There a several different arguments for what The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway is ultimately about, which really means isn’t not about any one particular thing. That element makes for good art, but also makes my job much harder. The best I can do is provide insight, and you’ll have to figure the rest out on your own. You’re supposed to, though; when someone tells what a piece of art is about and you don’t come to it on your own, it’s not art.

The next section (“Cuckoo Cocoon” and the intro to “In the Cage”) have one interesting interpretation: heroin. In the plotline, this is Rael’s entrance to this other world, a world that’s bizarre, hellish and nightmare-filled, but populated by his innermost fears, desires and drives. But alternatively, “Cuckoo Cocoon” could be about Rael’s first taste of heroin. The description of a soft feeling all around him (“wrapped up in some powdered wool”) and the awareness that it’s too good to be true (“I feel so secure that I know this can’t be real, but I feel good”) are similar to the sensations of a heroin high. I wonder what Lou Reed would think of this, being a sort of PhD on this subject.

Rael then drifts to sleep and wakes up with “sunshine in [his] stomach,” which is an arty way of saying he’s gonna puke. Again, this is consistent with heroin. I’ve never been on the drug myself, but I imagine everything is worse when you come down from a high. Nowhere else on the entire album can a case be made for the songs being about heroin (with the possible exception of “Carpet Crawlers”), but it’s interesting, anyway.

Then we get into the real meat of “In the Cage,” and come to the place where the themes of The Lamb really take shape. Now that the “high” of “Cuckoo Cocoon” has worn off, Rael discovers his situation to be startlingly and distressingly changed, the powdered wool turning to cold stone. Stalactites and stalagmites close in on him to form a sort of cage, and Rael is trapped.

It’s is here that Brother John makes his first appearance. As Rael’s despair is growing, he sees his brother outside the cage and calls to him for help. But like the callous, selfish child he is (and as we all are), he turns away. The name “John,” which is one of the most common male given names in history, suggests John’s anonymous nature and his ability to be any one of us, someone we’re meant to use as a stand-in for ourselves. Even some religious imagery is employed with John’s tear of blood; in some Catholic traditions, Jesus is said to have cried blood at his crucifixion.

“In the Cage” is one of the big showpieces on The Lamb, which is mostly made up of shorter songs (or at least “shorter” by Genesis standards). It clocks in at over 8 minutes and features the first of several spectacular synth solos courtesy of Tony Banks. For that little piece of keyboard awesomeness, we have only Tony to thank. Peter Gabriel penned almost all of the lyrics for The Lamb, leaving the rest of the band to come up with the music. It was a very different way of composing for them. Genesis was used to writing songs using a more organic, natural method – all of them sitting with their instruments and creating ex nihilo, contributions coming from all members. Here, Peter went off into his own space in a singular fashion, and the music was composed as a four-piece.

Peter must have liked that I’m-the-boss mode of songwriting, because The Lamb was his last album with Genesis. He soon embarked on a very successful solo career spanning another 30+ years, and most people know him more for his ‘80s solo singles than anything he did with Genesis. In fact, he’s mostly just known as the dude with the train tracks around his head.

When I first heard “In the Cage,” it was on the Phil-era live album Three Sides Live. “In the Cage” was the first part of a medley that included segments of “The Cinema Show” and “The Colony of Slippermen.” Before I bought that 2-tape copy of Three Sides Live, I didn’t know any of these songs existed. Now, I appreciate it (as well as the late ‘70s live Seconds Out) as Phil’s interesting take on Peter songs. Some Genesis fans think it a sickening travesty that Phil would even touch Peter’s songs, and it does seem strange considering the wildly different direction Phil steered Genesis into during the ‘80s. A few of the more vocal (read as “stupid”) Genesis fans would have rathered that Genesis just dissolved after Peter left.

But not me. It can’t be denied that Phil Collins is a consummate performer, an expert showman and a dynamic frontman. He’s the Dave Grohl of the ’70s – the drummer behind a shiny star of a lead singer that becomes an even shinier star once the first star makes its exit. And as such, Phil does Peter in a way that Peter never could (and wouldn’t really want to); the result is fascinating. He’s added colors of interpretation to each pre-Phil song he’s chosen that simply weren’t there before, and that’s worth something. He doesn’t subtract anything from Peter’s base – just makes it different.

Master of Reality – Black Sabbath – 7/21/1971

You’ve probably already had an inkling that I’m a Christian. While I’m very much aggrieved at the misunderstanding the use of that term causes (people assume all sorts of stuff they shouldn’t…), I’m also not ashamed of it, and I can’t change that I’m a Christian any more than a bumblebee can change that it makes honey. So of course, my Christianity plays a big role in what I see through my Coke bottle glasses.

Everybody has Coke bottle glasses. They’re why two people can get completely different things out of a piece of art, why there’s such a thing as political parties, and why historical events look different the more time that’s passed. Some things look the same through everyone’s, but art isn’t one of them. Art, in some cases, can have as many interpretations as there are people interacting with it.

Suffice to say, my own Coke bottle glasses usually look at a thing and see God reflected in it, however he may be disguised. So what do they see when I look at the Black Sabbath song “Sweet Leaf?”

“Sweet Leaf” is an ode to the wonders and miracles of the ganja, though you might not know it at first due to the sappy sentiments the lyrics put forth. They’re downright gushing, like a teenage girl in love with her first boyfriend. Its squishy romanticism would be touching were the love it portrays not for an inanimate object, and an illegal one at that. As such, it’s pretty unabashed. It stops just short of actually mentioning marijuana by name.

The music is in deep contrast to the lyrics, however. Ozzy sings about his romance with weed with the same snarling intensity he would have if he were describing a witches’ coven. The guitars are slow, sludgy, unyielding and repetitive; the perfect soundtrack for getting completely stoned.

There is, however, an alternate interpretation (my own), one that doesn’t involve pot at all. Keep in mind this is absolutely not what the author intended when he wrote “Sweet Leaf.” There are few songs that are more obviously about a thing (and likewise not another), but I can’t help but think about Jesus when I hear it, just like I can’t help but chuckle at that thought.

That’s right, I said Jesus. Why couldn’t “Sweet Leaf” be about how much the singer loves Jesus? The rhetoric in the song is strikingly similar to what new believers say about their new-found love of Christ (“my life is free now” and “you gave to me a new belief”). The gushing adoration “Sweet Leaf” shows could easily be transferred to Christ. Heck, it even has biblical support. Consider this line:

You introduced me to my mind

 Hebrews 8 says, “I will put my laws in their minds and write them on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people.” Also, consider this:

 Straight people don’t know what you’re about / they put you down and shut you out

 In Acts 19, some of the people Paul was telling about God “became obstinate,” “refused to believe,” and “maligned the Way.” Then there’s this:

 You gave to me a new belief / And soon the world will love you, sweet leaf

 God had this to say, speaking through the prophet Isaiah: “Before me every knee will bow; by me every tongue will confess.”

Remember what I said awhile ago about Christians who use the bible as a means to support what they already think, and how you shouldn’t do it? Pretty ironic, huh? It’s okay, though; I’m wearing my self-awareness hat.

It’s almost silly how blinding and obvious the parallels are between the love of pot and the love of Christ. Or at least, they’re obvious to someone with my Coke bottle glasses. So why not? Why can’t “Sweet Leaf” be about Jesus?

I’ll answer my own question, if you don’t mind. There are some very glaring inconsistencies within the text of “Sweet Leaf,” things that simply don’t make sense under this interpretation. Here they are:

You introduced me to my mind / and left me wanting you and your kind

I love you, sweet leaf / though you can’t hear

hey, don’t let me stop ya

The “you and your kind” line is enough to kill it right there. There’s no way for that to make any sense if the song is about Christ. “Your kind” would be who? Buddah? Mohammad? Vishnu? The Flying Spaghetti Monster? In addition, the “you can’t hear” line doesn’t even make sense if the song’s about pot. Of course marijuana can’t hear; it’s a plant. The most intelligent thing I can come up with is, “duh.”

Of course, I’m not saying “Sweet Leaf” is really about Jesus Christ. I’m only saying, “Wouldn’t it be weird/ironic/hysterical if it was?” I do this to illustrate two things. The first is that with art, truly nothing is off-limits. The second is this: where’s the fun in art if you’re not allowed to come up with outlandish and indefensible  theories from time to time?

Tomorrow: what is “stoner rock?”

A word of caution: what follows is how I remember things, but not necessarily how they actually happened. An event can happen, but if it doesn’t happen to someone, did it really happen? To a certain extent, the meaning of a thing is assigned to it by the person describing it. So bear in mind that what follows is my version, which is probably different from other people who were there.

The high school I went to (7th-12th) was very small – 15-20 students in the entire school. It was a little private school in Amherst, MA that’s not there anymore, called Harkness Road High School, or HRHS. My older sister went to HRHS, too. I was still in 6th grade, not yet old enough for HRHS, when I first laid eyes on Debbie. HRHS was holding its annual prom-like event (not a dance, but rather a themed dinner). I was there, since families of students were invited. Debbie was one year older than me, and was close to finishing her first year at HRHS. I remember I was struck dumb that first time seeing her.

Debbie was incredibly quiet, passive and introspective. She didn’t talk very much, and probably wasn’t noticed a lot in her family of 8 siblings, her being the youngest. She wasn’t unusually good-looking, but she had a killer smile. It was probably so powerful ‘cause she didn’t use it very much. Seriously, she could level mountains with that smile; she leveled me.

There’s just something about girls like Debbie; a lot more is hidden from view than is shown. Most guys just pass them by, but I’m intrigued by a girl that doesn’t just give her gold away to any passing stranger. For me, though, intrigue lead to attachment which lead to kinda creepy behavior. Being a teenager, everything was a big deal for me, and thus my infatuation with Debbie became all-encompassing, 10 times larger than the vessel that held it.

For her part, Debbie viewed me as an annoyance, an unfortunate bug in her ear she couldn’t get rid of. But as irritating as my unrequited affections were, it’s regrettable that she didn’t respond with more grace, or even more temperance. Because of the people we both were (she wasn’t very direct and I wasn’t able to take a hint), things got messy. Instead of just telling me flat-out that she would never date me, she withdrew further inward, hoping I would just go away. In such close quarters – and in a school of only 20 students, everything is close quarters – I couldn’t; not completely.

Throughout my 7th grade year, Debbie and I pretty much ignored each other, though my feelings were still lightly simmering. But in my 8th grade year, they started boiling over. Everybody knew – granted, “everybody” is relatively few – including Debbie.

If the story had gone on like that, it probably would have been fine. My feelings would have eventually faded (a fire that hot can’t burn for long), and Debbie would have relaxed about me. But around a month into my 8th grade year, Debbie started dating a friend of mine, named Nick. Nick was my “bad” friend, the one friend your parents think is a “bad influence.” He was into some stuff I wasn’t, like gangsta rap and weed and smashing mailboxes. I went over to his house after school sometimes, and we spent the summer after 7th grade working for the same guy, doing random manual labor jobs around his property – if I never see another post-hole digger as long as I live, it will be a-okay with me. I didn’t really understand Nick, though I thought I did. His life was a lot harder than mine had been, and he had a large will to rebel.

But obviously, Nick didn’t value our friendship very much, at least not enough to keep him from saying yes to Debbie’s advances. Debbie might have just started dating Nick, a friend of mine, to get me to leave her alone, but it pained me for more than just the obvious reason. Other than the blatant scorn that I felt, there was that Nick didn’t view women as human beings who had actual thoughts and feelings. Instead, he thought of them as walking sets of tits, objects to be used and discarded. Or at least that’s the big talk he advertised to me, anyway.

So there you have a real-life soap opera-like love triangle, rife with teenage stupidity and groan-inducing melodrama. It seems like a much smaller thing 17 years later, but back in 8th grade, it was the literal destruction of the universe.

So I can totally understand Clapton’s wailing, moaning and sobbing over a woman he loves that just doesn’t love him back. When he sings in “Layla” to the title character, “you got me on my knees,” I get it. ”Layla” and the rest of the album it’s on mean so much to so many people because his pain is our pain. And nobody that album touches hasn’t felt that pain in some form or another.

Sometimes a musician presents his pain so honestly that it’s like watching someone committing suicide. But when you share a little empathy with the musician, it changes. His pain is your pain, so his catharsis becomes your catharsis. Art is therapeutic, but not just for the artist; it works for the spectator as well.

Tomorrow: oh, the damage a simple zipper can do…

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.