to play in the womb
written by elliott smith, taken from spin magazine - 2000
on john lennon as a songwriter
and i were just starting to teach ourselves to play guitar in 1980.
i was 11 and really into beatles songs like "julia" and "sexy
sadie"-- cool, kaleidoscopic chord changes. i was totally immersed
in trying to figure it all out, and it was slowly happening when some
madman gunned down the guide. at first, kids at school acted like it
was a hoax. it didn't seem real at the time, and to be honest, i rarely
think of john lennon as dead. there's too much life in his music to
think of him as gone.
reason when i think of him now, i usually picture him the way he looked
and sounded during the "hairy and scary" phase, around the
time of abbey road. definitely on his own trip. it's neat when you're
a kid to see people who aren't scared to change. i was mainly into the
musical side of things, however, and lennon's murder further separated
his music from his fame in my mind. i went back to figuring out how
to play his songs and pretty much acted as if nothing had happened.
were beatles fans and supposedly played sgt. pepper's for me before
i was born. in junior high i thought that "a day in the life"
was probably my favorite song ever. of course, now i have many, many
favorite songs, but a lot of them are still lennon songs. for example:
most songs that bring up wanting to be left alone in some way or another
don't do it as gracefully as this one. it's cool to express and defend
your own interior space without getting all hostile about it; this song
makes it seem easy. i also like the way it feels as if it's pulling
itself along with its own momentum instead of bring pushed forward heavily
with the kick drum.
the first line ("turn off your mind, relax, and float downstream")
kinda says it all, really. again, it's like he's describing a solid
internal state you can maintain without doing battle with the outside
world. sometimes the most amazing thing to me about lennon is that he
kept a positive identity despite such a cracked upbringing and crazy
fame. on the other hand:
sometimes you gotta freak out. maybe it's cathartic; definitely unavoidable.
people generally try to hide their own meltdowns, unfortunately. that's
probably why it's a relief to hear a song like this one, at least for
me. "feel so suicidal, even hate my rock'n'roll!" that kind
of thing is gonna get out somehow, so why not just detonate it all at
turkey and jealous guy"
being this honest can be risky-- which, of course, is an excellent idea.
it'll either be sappy or brave. or both. he chanced it and won. other
people have to write this way all the time. lennon had access to all
floors. didn't he also write:
it's dark, complicated, funny, and popular; it rocks; and it contains
the phrase "goo goo g'joob." lyrics all over the place. i
like songs like this because they activate my imagination. coherence
is fine and all, but it's not the measure of interesting lyrics. sonically,
this song seems to be coming from a person who just busted out of incarceration
this song is fluid and musical in a way that, to me, overarches all
the cultural and political commentary that surrounds his life. a really
cool song can sometimes make a dream and reality trade places, maybe
for the better.