Books and Beatles (A Thousand Pages, Give or Take a Few)
Two things I am to my core are a librarian and a Beatles fan.
This decade, it seems as if we Beatles fans are always celebrating the 50th anniversary of a major milestone. In 2014, we commemorated their arrival in the United States and first appearance on the Ed Sullivan show. In 2017, we'll mark the 50th anniversary of Sgt. Pepper. This month, we are looking back at the release of Revolver and The Beatles’ final concert tour, which ended right here in the Bay Area (Candlestick Park, August 29, 1966).
Because of who I am, I don’t actually need a particular reason to celebrate books and Beatles, but I’ll take the excuse of these anniversaries to write about them. Here’s a look at some of the literature that inspired some of those marvelous songs:
Through the Looking Glass by Lewis Carroll
In the sequel to Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, we meet The Walrus and the Carpenter in a poem. So did John Lennon, and the Magical Mystery Tour masterpiece “I Am The Walrus” was born. Years later, Lennon remarked that he hadn’t realized he’d picked the bad guy from the poem, but concluded “I Am the Carpenter” would not have been the same.
Cradle Song by Thomas Dekker
In the medley that closes Abbey Road, some of the lyrics for “Golden Slumbers” are taken from this poem by Elizabethan playwright Thomas Dekker. The poem appears in his stage comedy Patient Grissel, which in turn is an adaptation of a story in The Canterbury Tales.
Ubu Roi by Alfred Jarry
Around the time of Abbey Road, Paul McCartney became interested in the works of avant garde French playwright Alfred Jarry, who coined the term “pataphysics,” to go a step beyond metaphysics. In the song “Maxwell’s Silver Hammer,” quizzical Joan studies “pataphysical science in the home.”
Reading this ancient Chinese book of divination inspired George Harrison to open a nearby book at random and write a song based on the words he saw there. Those words were “gently weeps,” and so we were gifted with “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” on The White Album.
I do wish I knew what that nearby random book was.