Friday, February 25, 2005

The Beatles' Monument to Misogyny

I keep seeing Rubber Soul on the all-time lists of great rock albums, and even though I've got it burned into my mind, I don't give the album that much thought. Big mistake, I think. ITunes spit it up today, and I actually listened to the lyrics for all the songs of the original LP in the order they are. I'm sure Beatles aficianados will have all the biographical explanations about how the boys were tired from the road, the hype, etcetera, so the bitter cynicism spilled out on the record. But at face value, the 'masterpiece' has to be one of the most misogynistic, self-centered artifacts on vinyl, a monument to obsessive possessiveness, stalking, and threats of violence against women that puts the worst of the gangstas to shame for ominous ill-will.

Paul starts with Drive My Car innocuous enough -- a guy picks up a girl who wants him to "drive" her, although she doesn't have a car. John chimes in with Norwegian Wood, the narrator stays up until two talking but ends up having to sleep in the bathtub. Paul: You Won't See Me turns up the volume, with the narrator of the song taking on the air of a stalker -- "time after time you refuse to listen/I wouldn't mind if I knew what I was missing" -- since the protagonist lost the girl, he's lonely, and he warns, "I can't go on" if you won't see me, and warns with a double entendre, ominously, "you won't see me". In "Nowhere Man" John bitches about the everyman nowhere man -- a cynical comment on the ubiquity of the aimless drone of modern society, warning the Nowhere Man "please listen, you don't know what you're missing" -- yep, same exact phrase sa in the previous song. John continues in "Think For Yourself", whining "You're telling all those lies / about the good things that we can have if we close our eyes" and then "Think for yourself because I won't be there for you." He continues to complain that the life the object/woman of the song had envisioned for them isn't what he had in mind. "Although your mind's opaque / try thinking m or if just for your own sake." I think, basically, he's trying to whine the woman into bed, dismissing her perhaps more romantic or traditional complaints about waiting -- perhaps fed to her by somebody else, thus the imprecation to "think for yourself...because I won't be there for you." Then John continues in "The Word": in the beginning I misunderstood, but now I know that the word is good" -- the word is "love". Getting on the stump, John assures us "Now that I know what I feel must be right, I'm here to show everybody the light." Paul comes back with the treacly Michelle, more seduction -- but the poor girl doesn't even understand his language (probably not even his French). Ringo, chiming in for his usual contribution, comes back with the rockabilly classic "What Goes On", about the usual lying, mean bitch. She's two=timed him, and "it's so easy for a girl like you to lie. What goes on in your heart? What goes on in your mind? You are tearing me apart, when you treat me so unkind." John reverts to stalker mode in "Girl," opining "When I think of all the times I tried to leave her She will turn to me and start to cry, and she promises the earth to me and I believe her after all this time I don't know why," then "she's the kind of girl to put you down when friends are there," he continues. He then continues to complain basically that he could work himself to death and this harridan won't believe he has to work to earn his "leisure" with her. Paul bounces back with the jaunty "I'm Looking Through You" -- "I thought I knew you / what did I knew" -- "you have changed -- I'm looking through you -- you're not the same." "Love has a nasty habit of disappearing overnight," he finishes off the last verse. John's sentimental "In My Life" (my favorite song off the record, fwiw), remarking nostalgically about all the places and people, noting some things are there but some are gone, some are living but some are dead. He sweetly, however, compares all these memories to the thought of the object/person in the song, and says they can't compare. But he is stuck on the memory, saying "in my life, I love you more" in a way which is ambiguous -- is it the girl he's with now, or the memories of things he can't get back from his past? He's stopping and thinking about them often. In "Wait" the boys seem to have sprung a bit of regret, but can't decide whether the girl can wait for him or not. He tells her "I've been as good -- as good as can be -- I know that you will wait -- wait for me." So the narrator's been out astray, but ultimately wants her to "forget the tears we cry". If her heart breaks, she can turn him away, but if it's strong, she'll take him back. Whatever I did, baby, I felt alnoe without you, so forgive my wandering and infidelity. George whips out the 12-string Rickenbacker for "If I needed Someone" -- "If I had some more time to spend / then I guess I'd be with you my friend -- If I needed someone" he sings, saying the girl is too late, and he can take her or leave her but wants to make it clear he doesn't need anyone. So there. Just to leave on a low note, we have the invigorating "Run For Your Life": "I'd rather see you dead little girl than to see you with another man" which continues the explicit death threats from the start to the end. "You better run for you life little girl, hide your head in the sand little girl, catch you with another man -- that's the end." And it goes on.

Musically, there are some interesting things going on in context -- but with the distance of forty years, is it right to call this an original album, or one that cobbled together the Beatles' style with a few obvious influences? Does that make up for the psychotic center of this album's sentiments?

Some fucking masterpiece.


Tim said...

I can understand the lyrical criticism. But the last paragraph doesn't really have any points to back it up. Most music is a distillation of prior influences. The synthesis and choice of those influences can be original (as I still think the Beatles were on "Rubber Soul") or not.

Anonymous said...

dude this is such bs.