Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Review of Rob Sheffield's Dreaming The Beatles 10 of X: I. A. Richards

The most interesting aspect (and there were many) of Rob Sheffield's chapter on the Beatles and LSD is his Dreaming the Beatles - brilliant, I'd say, to any state of mind - was his discussion at the end of whether "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds" was a John Lennon anthem to LSD.

The story that it isn't is better than well known:  John's son Julian came home with a picture of Lucy, a girl at school, with a sky and diamonds, and told his father that he had drawn a picture of Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds.  Or something like that.

And then there's the story, not quite as well known,  about Peter Yarrow and his "Puff the Magic Dragon" (actually based on a poem by Leonard Lipton).  Yarrow (and Lipton) have always insisted the lyric was as much about pot as the "Star Spangled Banner" and its bombs bursting in air was about some psychedelic drug around at the time of our War of 1812.  Even though it seemed obvious to just about everyone else that "puff" and "paper" and "dragon" aka "draggin'" were about grass.

I had already encountered I. A. Richards - a British literary critic, not a rock star - years before. Nearly a century ago - in the 1920s, to be more precise - Richards propounded a series of things that the literary critic, or anyone wanting to understand a literary work, should avoid. Among the most important was what Richards termed the "intentional fallacy" - it doesn't matter what the creator of the work may have intended, what counts is what the reader objectively gets from the work.

From that, it's a relatively small move to the position that it doesn't matter what the creator of the work says the work is about - or, to use a modern parlance, that the creator of a work is an unreliable guide to what the work may be about.

When I first encountered Richards in the 1970s, I could immediately see his injunctions could apply to creative work in any medium - the Beatles and Peter, Paul, and Mary lyrics, and, much later, to the ending of The Sopranos.   So, with that in mind, it was especially fun to read Sheffield's account of LSD and "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds".

Other strong parts of this chapter were the competition between the Beatles and Dylan, and McCartney's confidence that the Beatles had surpassed Dylan's understanding of them by the time they were doing Revolver (the subject of the next chapter).

It's of course possible that Sheffield might say that this wasn't one of the strongest parts of this chapter - but I'll place my confidence in Richards.

And I'll be back with more soon - maybe tomorrow, though you never know.

See also Review of Rob Sheffield's Dreaming the Beatles 1 of X: The Love Affair ... 2 of X: The Heroine with a Thousand Faces ... 3 of X: Dear Beatles ... 4 of X: Paradox George ... 5 of X: The Power of Yeah ... 6 of X: The Case for Ringo ... 7 of X: Anatomy of a Ride ... 8 of X: Rubber Soul on July 4 ... 9 of X: Covers
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