There's a website out there called The Beatles Bible. I discovered it during my freshman year at IU, and along with Mark Lewisohn's work it's an indispensable fount of Beatles knowledge that I find myself returning to over and over. By far the strongest memory I have of The Beatles Bible is sitting in my bed, unable to sleep, reading its articles in the dark of my house on Bloomington's east side, and listening for pieces of "I Am The Walrus" I had never paid attention to before.
I'm very familiar with John Lennon's supremely psychedelic and tongue-in-cheek song, arguably the best thing to come out of Magical Mystery Tour. I first heard it in the stripped-down version from Anthology. Without the violins and BBC King Lear recordings, I had only the lyrics to listen to, and those were magical in themselves. Magical, of course, in the sense that they painted a vivid, yet entirely non-sensical, picture in my head. I saw Semolina Pilchard as a large, nonplussed, King-Kong-only-in-demeanor woman in a yellow dress (even though the two words are really foodstuffs), and so I have in my head an image of her climbing the Eiffel Tower, followed up to the top by literal penguins that were kicking Edgar Allan Poe back down to the ground. The image will NEVER leave me, no matter how much I want to grow out of it.
I never tried to read anything into those lyrics, which apparently put me ahead of the curve. I reacted just the way Lennon wanted me to; he wrote the song in reaction to people who read too much into his lyrics, saying after writing, "Let the fuckers work that one out." I was critically behind the curve, however, in a (by now) very familiar respect: It took until near the end of high school for me to hear the original release.
Curiously enough, I wasn't all that impressed by the real deal. At least, I wasn't memorably impressed, for I don't exactly remember what the first listen felt like. The Anthology version was basically the master lyric track without all the added effects, so it wasn't an entirely new experience. Plus, even with all the Beatles listening history behind me, I didn't try to listen closely to every part of the song, from "stick it in your jumper" to "Oh, untimely death!" It was always a passive listening experience.
It took The Beatles Bible to create that feeling of, "Whoa!"
Just like some people get with the Christian Bible, reading The Beatles Bible put all I had learned about the Fab Four in a context that transported me to a higher level of Beatles knowledge. (I know now not to assume that I have nothing more to learn, but I do know I'm in a more "enlightened" state than before.) The site does it in large part because the writing is accessible, is well-sourced, and lives in a web of links to Beatles events and personalities, a web that, before, I only knew in small parts. Now that I see how the recording process, the artistic evolution, and the context of events interacted to create "I Am The Walrus," I have that feeling of, "Whoa!" every time I listen to the song.
I highly suggest you read the Bible's article on the song and find your own transcendent aspect. For me, it's the violins. For the longest time, I only knew of one layer of violins at the end, the one whose notes went higher and higher as the song faded out. I learned, however, that there are two layers: the familiar one that goes up, and another one that goes down. The first time I heard it, my mind's fuse was primed so much by reading about it that it was ready to blow. And blow it did. And it does every time I hear it. Every time, I feel as if I'm privy to knowledge that only a select few possess. (That may be true, outside of the "select" part, but it's more like I'm privy to knowledge that my younger self was not interested or tuned in enough to notice!)
Next week: Rubber Soul and Abbey Road, both of which underwent great changes in importance because of my time in London.