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Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Review of Rob Sheffield's Dreaming the Beatles 16 of X: "I'm in Love, with Marsha Cup"

Back with a review of the next two chapters of Rob Sheffield's continuing-to-be-excellent Dreaming the Beatles.  These chapters were particularly superb, replete with discussions of the Abby Road photographs and the Paul-Is-Dead controversy - actually, almost every chapter so far has been particularly superb - but what I most enjoyed was Sheffield's assessment of the public's input on what are the lyrics of a song, transcending at times even the lyricist's, because he or she may not quite know what the lyrics are (certainly not what they mean - see what I say about I. A. Richards below), and may not even get them right.  As examples of that, Sheffield cites Lennon's "two foot small," which he sang in "You've Got To Hide Your Love Away" instead of the intended "two foot tall," or the debate about whether Lennon was singing "hold you in his armchair, you can feel his disease" or "hold you in his arms, yeah, you can feel his disease" in "Come Together".

I've always been an "arms" man myself, but, then, again, when I first heard Elvis's 1957 #1 single I was sure he was singing "I'm in love, with Marsha Cup," whoever exactly she was.  But those kinds of mishearings happen all the time, and what Sheffield is really probing is what is the ultimately correct lyric when there is no absolutely factual record to consult?

Here I. A. Richards, a literary theorist who made his mark back in the 1920s, always struck me as being of great value.  Richards argued that it is the reader (which can easily be translated to listener) not the author of a text who is and has the ultimate authority on what that text means.   In the case of the acoustic realm, where the words are intrinsically not as clear as in the visual, the question can sometimes become not just what the lyrics mean, but what they are.

Sheffield develops the question of lyrics and their reality out of the Paul-Is-Dead nonsense from the late 1960s and after, which emerged out of interpretations of lyrics played backwards.  Although I never believed any of that for instant - it was a form of fake news, years ahead of its time -  I can report that Paul was definitely alive and well and sounding great at his Nassau Coliseum concert last week

Unless he was an imposter.  But, in that case, that imposter has done an unbelievably great job, as Sheffield points out, from "Hey Jude" to "Golden Slumbers" and "The End".  McCartney sang them all last week, including "Let Me Roll It," proving the imposter continued showing his mettle even after the Beatles disbanded.

And I'll be back with another review soon.

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