Saturday, January 30, 2010

In My Tree

About three weeks ago, I wrote a short blog entry on the famous cynic Diogenes, the great anti-Socratic. Diogenes was greatly admired by Alexander the Great for the freedom exemplified by his way of life. According to legend, the famous conqueror approached the sage on a day when he, Diogenes, was sunning himself. Alexander the Great asked him, Diogenes, if there were anything he could do for him. “Yes,” said Diogenes, “Get out of my light.” It’s said that Diogenes asked to be buried standing on his head, because, so he thought, one day down would be up, and up would be down. In the earlier blog, I claimed that one can hear Diogenesian thought in many pop songs, including Bob Dylan’s “Subterranean Homesick Blues,” when Dylan sings, “You don’t need a weather man/To know which way the wind blows.” One can hear him in the Rolling Stones’ “Get Off Of My Cloud” and in Ian Hunter’s “Standin’ In My Light.” It occurred to me this morning that one may also hear Diogenes in the Beatles’ “Strawberry Fields Forever,” written by John Lennon. I have excerpted a few of the lyrics below:

Living is easy with eyes closed
Misunderstanding all you see
No one I think is in my tree, I mean it must be high or low
That is you can't you know tune in, but it’s all right
That is I think it’s not too bad
Always know sometimes think it’s me,
But you know I know when it’s a dream
I think a “No” will mean a “Yes” but it’s all wrong,
That is I think I disagree

I was prompted to revisit “Strawberry Fields Forever”—a recording which, in my view, represents one of the Beatles’ finest moments—because according to Dave Haber’s The Internet Beatles Album, it was on this day in 1967 the Beatles shot the night scenes for the “Strawberry Fields Forever” video (available here), in Sevenoaks, Kent. Watching the video this morning, shot over forty years ago, I thought of Jean-Luc Godard’s observation that the cinema also happens to be a documentary record of persons and things at a particular moment in time. Godard said about his film Breathless, for instance, “This film is really a documentary on Jean Seberg and Jean-Paul Belmondo.” Thus the “Strawberry Fields Forever” video is really a documentary recording about how the Beatles looked on 30 January 1967—an example of how photography connects us to what we, even now, still call “the real.”

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