Sunday, March 2, 2008

Dylan and Lennon: Feminist Conversations

The rather solid split between "early Beatles" and "later Beatles" is understood by more ore less all of us, even those with the scantest understanding of their artistic evolution. It's kind of a transition between more classic rock and roll with clever if non-intellectual lyrics, and the cosmic philosopher-king era of the drug fueled later years. I might suggest that it can also be seen as a slit between the body and the mind (rock and roll inciting a visceral physical reaction, and psychedelic rock a cerebral one) which is a very gendered binary, but more on this later.

Most Beatles historians and biographers see the relevant split taking place when John and Paul began to listen to Bob Dylan. Dylan paved the way for "message-rock", and Lennon in particular was taken with the new poetic potential of pop music.

Consider the song "It Ain't Me Babe" by Dylan

This 1964 track reflects a moment when the confining chains of gender are cast away by a man aware of the new pre-feminist era (presumably due to the development of "the pill" in 1960). Dylan no longer sees women as dependents, but his female counterpart is still fixated on now antiquated gender roles. This song is explicitly feminist.

Go 'way from my window,
Leave at your own chosen speed.

I'm not the one you want, babe,

I'm not the one you need.
You say you're lookin' for someone

Never weak but always strong,

To protect you an' defend you
Whether you are right or wrong,

Someone to open each and every door,

But it ain't me, babe,

No, no, no, it ain't me, babe,

It ain't me you're lookin' for, babe.

Go lightly from the ledge, babe,
Go lightly on the ground.
I'm not the one you want, babe, I will only let you down.
You say you're lookin' for someone
Who will promise never to part,

Someone to close his eyes for you,

Someone to close his heart,

Someone who will die for you an' more,
But it ain't me, babe,

No, no, no, it ain't me, babe,

It ain't me you're lookin' for, babe.

Go melt back into the night, babe,
Everything inside is made of stone.

There's nothing in here moving

An' anyway I'm not alone.

You say you're looking for someone

Who'll pick you up each time you fall,

To gather flowers constantly
An' to come each time you call,

A lover for your life an' nothing more,
But it ain't me, babe,

No, no, no, it ain't me, babe,

It ain't me you're lookin' for, babe.

Compare that to Lennon's Norwegian Wood from 1965's Rubber Soul. [note: I had to misspell the song and the band so that imeem wouldn't take the track down]

Widely considered to be the first "later Beatles" track, Norwegian Wood tells an inversion of Dylan's story. In this track, the man encounters an empowered pre-feminist (or feminist) woman who unhinges his masculinity with her agency. He reacts to this new sexual politic-- his sudden impotency-- by burning her house where he was made to feel unwelcome.

I once had a girl, or should I say, she once had me...
She showed me her room, isn't it good, norwegian wood?

She asked me to stay and she told me to sit anywhere,

So I looked around and I noticed there wasn't a chair.

I sat on a rug, biding my time, drinking her wine
We talked until two and then she said, "It's time for bed"
She told me she worked in the morning and started to laugh.

I told her I didn't and crawled off to sleep in the bath

And when I awoke, I was alone, this bird had flown

So I lit a fire, isn't it good, norwegian wood.

It's interesting that a pivotal moment of Beatles artistic evolution is also a consideration of feminism, though not all together surprising considering the ultimate trajectory of Lennon's career.


Michael Leahy said...

Trying to enroll Bob Dylan in your gender theory propaganda? More insanity.

Mr. Groneman said...

By Lennon's career trajectory do you mean how he often treated the women in his life like shit?