Getting the message by Trevor Plumbly
We all strike moments when we doubt our intellect and I had one the other day. I was listening to the radio and this bloke, a Prof of some sort, was explaining the inner meaning of Bob Dylan’s lyrics. Dylan was pretty deep but this bloke was even deeper! Dissecting the great man’s thoughts like an emotional coroner, he left me verbally stranded after about five minutes, but what I did catch left me gobsmacked by his grasp of the unspoken. He shamed me into thinking that, by taking the piss all these years, I might have missed a lot of coded wisdom. Whilst not academically gifted, I reckon there’s a bit of stuff out there worth poking around for enlightenment.
‘My Uncle used to love me but she died.’
Nonsense? But was it? There’s turmoil here; an enquiring mind might suggest that Miller was warning us of the gender crisis to come: the use of the possessive ‘my uncle’ hints at a longing to be regarded as part of a male dominant society. Note also the exclusive ‘she’, rather than the familial ‘aunt’, indicating a deep seated rejection of female influence. The words ‘but she died’ could well lead us to think of the end of some sort of pubescent physical attraction. All-in-all it opens the thought of emotional turmoil and sexual uncertainty camouflaged behind comedy.
Then there’s poetry…
William Hughes Mearns
‘Yesterday upon the stair, I met a man who wasn’t there.’
Surely this is the poet’s reference to early insecurity and a single parent upbringing. Due to the popularity of war around the time the piece was written, there was a shortage of male parents. Mearns’ yearning for a father figure is made somewhat obvious by his reference to, ‘a man who wasn’t ‘there’. He goes on to say, ‘He wasn’t there again today’ indicating a fruitless search for lost stability, before crying out for reality with, ‘I wish, I wish, he’d go away’: definitely autobiographical with lots of repressed grief posing as children’s verse.
Then it gets complicated…
‘A whiter shade of pale.’
A probing mind can find heaps of 1960s angst in this one: it possibly refers to the writer’s feelings at Labour losing power to the Conservatives and the unease he felt at Thatcher’s leadership. It’s a masterclass in deception if one sifts through the lyrics. The line, ‘and the ceiling flew away’, clearly refers to her breaking the ‘glass ceiling’. I don’t know if Thatcher actually burnt her bra, but for the sake of sound sleep, let’s hope not. The writer’s disquiet is emphasised further with, ‘I was feeling kinda seasick and the crowd roared out for more’: disgust and frustration behind two simple lines. The final lines, ‘her face at first just ghostly, turned a whiter shade of pale’, says it all for the writer: the infection, sickness and eventual death of the maternal spirit of the Labour Party.
That’s only three examples so far but my research is in the early stages and I expect it’ll be broader based than the Prof’s. It could become a parlour game, replacing Charades, a welcome relief from cryptic crosswords and scrabble because there’s no shortage of material. In Lennon and McCartney’s ‘Penny Lane’, the Banker has a motorbike but the Fireman has a photo of the Queen. Surely the English system would suggest that their token values would be quite the reverse and that this is Lennon perhaps, amusing himself by tweaking symbols of social status? What about Kristofferson’s ‘ Me and Bobby McGee’? Did he ‘let her slip away’ or, did she get the smarts and do a runner after realising that whilst ‘nothing ain’t worth nothing’ sounded great in the abstract, it didn’t offer much in the way of creature comforts?
I won’t do Elliot, all those ‘Hollow Men’ and Cats, or Leonard Cohen.
There’s a lot more sinister stuff out there camouflaged as innocent. I’m dissecting ‘Teddy Bears’ Picnic’ at the moment, but it’s a bit of a struggle.
Any thoughts? This thing could be big! T.