From saki@evolution.bchs.uh.edu Wed Nov 22 22:41:17 CST 1995
Thoughts on "FAAB"<BR>

Thoughts on "FAAB"

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Pools of sorrow, waves of joy.

I have been unable to separate them over these several days, the scant time I've had to try to comprehend what's happened to me since I first heard "Free As A Bird".

It's not Beatlemania, and not something new. For surely the old order never left me, not once in nearly thirty-two years that it's held me in its thrall.

It's not that I can't figure out the substance of a song that's sweeping through the airwaves, cutting through the autumn air with its aural expression of opposites: its sorrow, its joy.

I know all that. It's an elementary paradox. Metaphysicians wrestled with philosophies far more curious in the past, and far more serious. Technically, "Free As A Bird" can be simply explained, and I'll wager the bare bones of its harmonic structure seem too glib for real artistic depth.

But that's the easy way out.

To be honest, this song is unique; it's nonpareil in the Beatles' pantheon. It's designed to bridge the void between then and now, between life and death. Most of the time, that's the job of religion, not a pop tune! Or maybe poetry can do it, sometimes... surely not the recombinant parts of an erstwhile pop phenomenon.

No wonder critics have been occasionally harsh.

But this is no mere bundle of words and music, although it began that way as a tenuous demo, its potential cut short by tragedy. Now it's inevitably more: an anthem, a melodic banner. Whether you consider it technical trickery or substantive craft, it bears a greater burden of expectation, and it carries that weight into the ether as its haunting chords build and finish.

Strange...so many of us know what "Free As A Bird" *should* do to our souls, but perhaps we lose sight---expecting so much---of its subtleties.

For it's a rare song that works through its own music as well as its external referents. That's partly where its power is embedded, with lyrics so simple that you find yourself searching for more substance; music too restrained and familiar...yet somehow the package of it haunts the mind after it fades from the air.

Then something twists your recollection...the way Ringo's drum gently caresses the tune, augments it with just the extra texture it needs; the way Paul's voice sweetly lilts and embraces John's; the deft "Because"-like harmonies; George's guitar, mourning an inexpressible loss, renewing an indelible legacy.

Here's the paradox of it, a finality that was only an illusion. Everything's set free, everything soars, as a result. But you have to see the song as a symbol of all that went before to sense its message for the future. Somewhere outside the words and melody, its gesture is implicit.

Listen! Even in the last chord before the first (false) fade, there's an echo of "The End"...only there's no real end, it turns out. Paul's fretful, regretful lyrical complement---where is the life we once knew, can we live without each other?---is made free by John's reassurance: *that* life is here *now*. It has never left us, not any of us who have heard and loved the songs they designed. And I don't think it ever really left the Beatles, either, although intruding pain must have obscured it for years.

Can we live without each other? The very existence of "Free As A Bird" answers that one!

For me, it was joy that predominated when I first heard it---the rapt cleverness of its visual presence (for these days, unlike all those years ago, music comes enmeshed with pictures), the newly-unfurled intricate arrangement splashed with lyrical austerity.

It was about forty minutes later that it hit me straight in the heart, or deeper than that...but it hit me so hard that it knocked the words right out of me. Because I *knew* then what the song was about, but words wouldn't tell the story. Only tears could do that.

That was the point.

I'm left with the sense that *something* happened, a feeling deep inside that quite elegantly belies explanation. If I try to pin down the word, it eludes me. "Love" is something like it; that sounds close. But even that word succumbs to a variety of uses and meanings, so that love is only a dim approximation of what must have been meant.

Anyway, which love?

Which thousand permutations of its meaning comes close enough to capture this song's inner strength?

Once alone with its reality I was stunned and amazed, not because I had heard a song to equal if not surpass "In My Life" or "Strawberry Fields" or a handful of others in that realm...but because I was somehow made one with the men themselves as they came to terms with their past and future.

They'd touched me in many ways over the years with their lyrics, but this is a new one.

They used to write messages to their fans in their simpler days, the direct pronouns they felt would sound like an intimate message: from me to you. That was then. Now, through *this* song, there's an invitation to share with them all that made us reciprocal, communal---the music they made, the lives they fashioned. Yes, I know, it wasn't always nice. That's partly my fault. I persist in thinking I know them, when (in many significant ways, I'm sure) I haven't got a clue. The mania that affected me and millions of others was not always appreciated by the men who unknowingly encouraged it.

Yet that was part of reality, too.

How clumsy words can be! All I know is that the Beatles offered me some enigmatic acknowledgement of interdependence, a statement of mutuality...almost a secular genuflection, a mirror of the love I have for them, and will always have.

Somehow they coded this into the song, and like their lives and accomplishments you can take everything apart, dissect the words backwards and forwards, tear up the production...and all you have is a mystery that won't quit.

It's a wonderful mystery. It promises a lifetime of renewal, of rediscovery---not just of ourselves, or the Beatles, or how we're twined together, but of the truths they've given to us through their music, truths that help us see what's here today...and beyond.

--
"While it lasted, everything they did astonished. Long hair! Talking funny! Cheeky to the Queen! Going to America! Moustaches! Indian music! No more concerts! Taking ages to make a record!..."
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