Sunday, May 4, 2008


My previous blog entry, “The Sentimental Lunatic,” on the song "Everyone's Gone to the Moon," prompted my friend Tim Lucas to post an interesting comment, which can be found at the end of that blog (portions of it are reproduced below). His response prompted me to reflect on some issues I raised in that blog, which I’d like to expand on, briefly, with this post. For the sake of convenience I’ve reproduced Tim’s response below, splitting it into two parts in order to discuss two distinct issues. I reproduce the first half of his comment here:

... My own take on it [“Everyone’s Gone to the Moon”] is quite different, and simpler, than yours. To my thinking, the song sketches a moment in Swinging London’s history when the scene began to darken as harder drugs than marijuana, like cocaine and heroin, came into fashion. Consequently the lyrics are organized to depict various pleasures in contrast with their own cancellation or contradiction, painting a world of plenty that still exists but is beyond the reach of people who are perpetually zonked (e.g., “gone to the moon”), with strength enough only to “lift a spoon.”

His notion that the song is a response or reaction to the darker side of the “Swinging London” scene is very plausible. In my own discussion of the song, I explored the way the song corresponded, in a rather remarkable way, to what Louis A. Sass, in his book Madness and Modernism, calls the schizophrenic Stimmung, or the onset of the radically altered perception of reality that accompanies a schizophrenic break. My own view is that while the song ostensibly offers itself as a quasi-mystical insight into the nature of reality, on closer inspection it is actually closer to an anti-epiphany, an insight into reality that may be true, but one that is terrible or nightmarish rather than positive. I therefore included some image files of paintings by the severely schizoid painter, Giorgio de Chirico, in order to provide a sort of visual equivalent of the perceptual alteration of the world that characterizes the anti-epiphany (supported musically, incidentally, by the song fading out to the discordant sounds of violins being played out of tune).

It seems to me, though, that Tim’s view and my view are not incompatible, just focused differently, his narrowly on the immediate social context in which the song was made, and mine more broadly, on the subjective response to a rapidly changing world of ever-increasing complexity, a response that Alvin Toffler would characterize in the title of a book, published only a few years later, as “future shock”:

Streets full of people all alone
Roads full of houses never home
Church full of singing out of tune
Everyone’s gone to the moon

Eyes full of sorrow never wet
Hands full of money all in debt
Sun coming out in the middle of June
Everyone’s gone to the moon

Long time ago, life had begun
Everyone went to the sun

Cars full of motors painted green
Mouths full of chocolate covered cream
Arms that can only lift a spoon
Everyone’s gone to the moon

My best estimate is that the song was recorded ca. April 1965, thus making it a bit too early to be considered psychedelia, although lyrically speaking it shares features with that form of music. Still, most psychedelia is more benign, more epiphanic, than “Everyone’s Gone to the Moon” (as evidenced by psychedelia’s transformation, as I’ve argued in previous posts on this blog, into bubblegum music). The last set of lyrics, beginning with “Cars full of motors painted green...,” seems especially directed toward a certain “social type” (following Tim’s interpretation), one whose life is composed of affected pretensions and effete mannerisms, and also one of privileged self-indulgence. Indeed, the “Swinging London” of the 60s has been characterized as an unusual mélange of slumming aristocrats and posturing hippies. Along these lines, the aforementioned lyric referring to “Cars...painted green” struck me as a possible oblique reference to John Lennon’s Rolls-Royce Phantom V which Lennon had re-painted in psychedelic colors, but according to this website, Lennon didn’t acquire the Roller until 3 June 1965, and it wasn’t repainted in psychedelic fashion until April 1967—long after “Everyone’s Gone to the Moon” was recorded.

Speaking of historical dating, I’ll return to Tim’s response. Here is most of the second half:

It could even be a criticism of then-fashionable acid rock, given the lines about how “long time ago, life had begun/everyone went to the sun,” which reads to me as an allusion to Brian Wilson, The Beach Boys, and their fun- and life-affirming brand of rock. Indeed, given the fact that The Beach Boys were contemporaneously releasing their masterpiece Pet Sounds, criticized at the time as too downbeat by some, the song could almost be interpreted as a direct criticism of the “moon” music emerging from Brian Wilson's withdrawal into coke and LSD.

Appropriately, Tim brought up a lyric of the song I hadn’t discussed, but allow me to correct him on one factual point before I continue: Pet Sounds wasn’t released until May 1966, almost a year after “Everyone’s Gone to the Moon” had charted in the UK. However, and more importantly, I think he’s correct to associate the reference, “everyone went to the sun,” with American West Coast (“surf”) music such as that played by the Beach Boys, and with California in general. For me, the song that immediately comes to mind in this context, though, and which preceded “Everyone’s Gone to the Moon,” is The Rivieras’ 1964 hit, California Sun. According to this source, “California Sun,” which appeared on the pop charts early in 1964, was one of the last chart-topping songs by an American band on the Billboard Hot 100 chart before the so-called “British Invasion.” And according to another source, "California Sun" would have reached the No. 1 spot on the pop charts if it hadn't been displaced by the Beatles' "I Wanna Hold Your Hand." If this information is correct, then the lyric, “long time ago, life had begun/everyone went to the sun,” can be understood as referring to a time prior to the “British invasion,” the time of the popularization of rock 'n' roll by Elvis (“sun” as in Sun Records, Elvis’s first record label) and American rock ‘n’ rollers such as Buddy Holly, Chuck Berry, The Rivieras, and of course the Beach Boys, displaced by (among others) the Beatles—and even, ironically, “British invasion” songs such as “Everyone’s Gone to the Moon.”

When I set out to discuss "Everyone's Gone to the Moon," I hadn't expected to encounter the richly allusive density of the lyrics. However, thanks to comments such as the one by Tim Lucas, the song is vastly richer than I had ever imagined. Although I frequently curse the amount of time it takes to maintain a blog, it's frequently the case that because I took the time to sit down and write about a particular topic, I end up learning a great deal, much more than I'd imagined, as I did in this case, when writing about the aforementioned song.

1 comment:

Tim Lucas said...

Another fascinating entry, or sequel, or whatever it is! I don't know why this song is lodged in my brain as being released later than it was, but I appreciate the correction and readjustment of my lens. I like your description of the song as an example of anti-epiphany; this and other... epiphanies in this discussion call to mind the lovely string section on this recording, which at one sounds romantically wistful, nostalgic and inviting, but on the other hand, rather mournful.