Thursday, September 21, 2006

I'm Only Sleeping


- charcoal/watercolor by Henri Matisse

"When I wake up early in the morning,
Lift my head, I'm still yawning
When I'm in the middle of a dream
Stay in bed, float up stream ......"

Up for auction at Christies a year ago, were some scribbled lines in blue felt pen on the back of a car "radio-phone" bill sent to John Lennon by the post office in April of 1966. They were to become the lyrics for "I'm Only Sleeping", a mysterious wisp of a tune which, a week or so later, commenced recording on the UK version of Revolver.

That song has always stood apart, off the beaten road, in the unmapped place. It captures that twilight sliver just between sleep and waking where the dreamer KNOWS he's dreaming and doesn't give a hang about the pressing issues of the waking world.
The only other song that Lennon wrote that gives me a similar feeling is "Julia" - not, as some might expect, "Strawberry Fields", which is really a different alteration of mind-place altogether.

In my head, the lyrics of "Julia" and "Sleeping" meet and blur as one:
"Her hair of floating sky is shimmering, glimmering,
In the sun" and
"Keeping an eye on the world going by my window
Taking my time"
become that place where the shadows of clouds on a rainy day flicker against a storefront window or puddle in the street - again, the omnibus-shuttle service between waking and dreaming.

When mentioned at all, "I'm Only Sleeping" is referred to as the song where "the backward guitar' of George Harrison makes it's debut. In the fascinating memoir of Beatle sessions by participating sound man Geoff Emerick, "Here, There, and Everywhere", much is made of the exasperatingly long time spent by Harrison getting mere 4 bars or so of guitar just right. Apparently George composed a melody, had it recorded backwards, and then learned it in its backwards form to be played "straight" on the recording. Hard to believe it's "live" in the recording but my hat's off to George for carrying it off. Any artist knows that the absorption in a creative conception, obliterates time (or sleeping, eating, and paying the phone bill as well), so 14 hrs for 20 or 30 seconds of recording is a trifle. Paul too, was caught up in the the backwards guitar bit and the resulting "duet" with George at the end of "Sleeping" is a gem - a bouquet of sonic nerve-end tendrils that suggests bagpipes, hurdy-gurdies or the South Indian shehnai.

Strangely enough for the Beatles, this song always seems on the verge of, or down-right dipped into, the realm of jazz. Paul's walking bassline (with passing tones!)and John's melody give it the lilt of swing. I spent a long walk thinking of an ideal "put-together" jazz quartet to do the song justice - with as little "alteration" as possible; no diminution of the melody by bullshit jazz cliches, just cool and crisp blowing with a sense of breathing space. I'd have Miles Davis circa 1954 on muted trumpet (ala Solar or If I Were A bell) - or maybe Tony Fruscella on straight trumpet - then Jimmy Jones on piano (Sarah Vaughn's brilliant accompaniment for many years) and a straight-forward but swinging rhythm section; Percy Heath on bass and Conny Kay on drums.


"Please don't wake me, no
don't shake me
Leave me where I am
I'm only sleeping

Everybody seems to think I'm lazy
I don't mind, I think they're crazy
Running everywhere at such a speed
Till they find, there's no need

Please don't spoil my day
I'm miles away
And after all
I'm only sleeping

Keeping an eye on the world going by my window
Taking my time

Lying there and staring at the ceiling
Waiting for a sleepy feeling

Please don't spoil my day
I'm miles away
And after all
I'm only sleeping

Keeping an eye on the world going by my window
Taking my time

When I wake up early in the morning,
Lift my head, I'm still yawning
When I'm in the middle of a dream
Stay in bed, float up stream

Please don't wake me, no
don't shake me
Leave me where I am
I'm only sleeping"


- John and music critic Ralph Gleason in 1966

*thanks to Jimmy and Steve for mention of Geoff Emerick's "Here There and Everywhere"
- also of interest to UK "Revolver" fans:
"Every Sound There Is" edited by Russell Reising - a compilation of writings about the "Revolver" sessions.

15 comments:

Jimmy said...

Cool post Tom

steve said...

Whenever I hear this song I imagine John Lennon curled up in an electric,fuzzy cocoon.Paul McCartney enters the dream-like haze with sublime harmonies,nudging Lennon out of his warm,acid slumber.Quietly Paul beckons..."Time to wake up,John...C.S.Lewis has come round for a quiet cup of tea. I'll put the kettle on. Alice is at the back door and it's raining surrealistic.

Anonymous said...

one raindrop falls through the leaky creakin crack by the dreamin' bed
settles on the
chatty flower retreating back to blossom
to bud and bursting
into a flock of geese leaving naught but
a steady teapot whistle scream...

*in '66 when john said the bit about we're more popular than jesus now to maureen cleaves, she thought - an english teapot thought - "well, now at least he'll finally get some sleep"...well, after the shitstorm ebbed, of course.

persephone2u said...

hey steve, great comment! Wish I woulda thought of that...

Great blog entry too Mr. Clohessy, I love The Beatles and those will always be great lyrics that resonate with people forever.

Anonymous said...

they make a pedal for guitar players now that mimics the 'backwards' guitar effect. the horn in your fantasy beatles cover band should definitely blow through that.

-matthew

steve said...

Thanks Persephone2u. I second your thoughts on Tom C's Beatley Ima Only Sleepity Bloggity. T.C. has a way of perking up one's imagination.

Anonymous said...

thc...
please to remind me to send you new sounds, as there are many non-disintegrating musicians who could use some words o' loving by you.. (clohessyverbosity is always quite nice)

Anonymous said...

thc...
please to remind me to send you new sounds, as there are many non-disintegrating musicians who could use some words o' loving by you.. (clohessyverbosity is always quite nice)

Anonymous said...

yuck! apparently others can be loquacious as evidenced by the repetition of my supercomment. math class is hard.

Anonymous said...

not to fret...an undisintegrated person will be the focus of an upcoming blog!
When i saw three new hits on the comment section I feared it was another one of my "party poker" friends
aahhh...what a f*^%#@in relief!
- tom "I listen to dead people" c

steve said...

Hey Everyone! It's time for PARTY POKER!. That's right. PARTY POKER!
The exciting card game where eveyone wins!* This ain't yer old man's poker!
This is the new and improved...Party Poker!
*(Except when they lose.)

"I lurve Party Poker" - Queen of England

" Party Poker is so,uh..wild!" -
Anita Bryant

" Oink,Oink yeah,er..right on! I'm a
F^*#ing pig. What do I know?" -Arnold Ziffel

Anonymous said...

poor, poor partypoker people... you westerners should embrace your sordid past and get gamblin' already. (you, too, stevie.)

Anonymous said...

"...You got to know when to hold em, know when to fold em.."
- kenneth poultry

Trombonology said...

"... that place where the shadows of clouds on a rainy day flicker against a storefront window or puddle in the street - again, the omnibus-shuttle service between waking and dreaming"

– lovely, lovely description of a world I so frequently inhabit.

I always appreciated the extreme prominence of John's acoustic on this track as well as the overall performance's wading-through-sludge quality.

Tom the Piper's Son said...

I always appreciated the Beatles tasteful mixing of acoustic and electric guitars together - so that the acoustic comes through clear and is not "superseded" by the electric'
As in "I Don't Want to Spoil the Party " for instance.