Saturday, July 01, 2000

We All Want to Change the World

I was driving to work yesterday listening to a Beatles album when "Revolution" came on. This ranks right up there with "The One I Love" in the misunderstood songs of all time.

A few years back, when Nike decided to use the song in an add campaign, much wailing and gnashing of teeth ensued. I remember in particular an op-ed in the Washington Post bemoaning how a song the author associated with protesting the status quo had turned into a tool of commercialism.

Hint: just because a song has a word in (or as) its title, doesn't mean it's a song in favor of that word. The Beatles could be "conservative," after a fashion. Ever listen to "Taxman"? More to the point, ever listen to these lyrics?

You say you'll change the constitution
Well you know
We all want to change your head
You tell me it's the institution
Well you know
You better free your mind instead

I remember being in high school and writing a paper on Brave New World and A Clockwork Orange. I needed to incorporate literary criticism into my paper, so I went to the library and found some big honkin' books full of criticism. Wow -- this was exciting. And there was criticism of everything -- even Beatles songs.

One in particular that stuck out was a screed on "Revolution" writted for some socialist worker's magazine. This guy got it -- mostly. He railed against the Beatles as tools of capitalist oppression. Out there, yes, but at least he had a clue (about music). Of course, like a good Red, he wasn't above distorting things to make a point. He took the lyrics

You ask me for a contribution
Well you know
We're doing what we can
But when you want money for people with minds that hate
All I can tell you is brother you have to wait

and blasted the Beatles for equating "contribution" with "money". In fact, I think that's explicitly not true. They equate "contribution" with "doing what we can." The person they're talking to, by contrast, just wants "money for people with minds that hate." Ah, well.

Anyway, I think this illustrates one of the great lessons of life.

Pay attention!

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