Hello everybody, and welcome back to yet another edition of Adventures Through The Mines Of Mellow Gold! Thanks for waiting patiently an extra day, although after today’s choice, who knows? Maybe you’ll wish I had skipped the week altogether! Brace yourself, my wimpy friends.
John Lennon – Woman (download)
Did it suddenly get cold in here?
I know what you’re thinking: Could it be? Could a Beatle really be capable of Mellow Gold? More specifically, could John Lennon – the man responsible for gut-wrenching songs like “I Want You (She’s So Heavy),” “Instant Karma!” and “Cold Turkey” and write something so smooth, so sensitive, so wimpy?
You bet your Mellow-lovin’ ass he could.
John Lennon was originally a member of a band called The Beatles, and…just kidding. I don’t need to waste any space here giving you a biography on John Lennon. You’re probably familiar with some of the details relevant to “Woman,” but just in case, here’s what you need to know: while on vacation in Bermuda, Lennon had an epiphany that led to his opening statement: women are “the other half of the sky.” In an interview with Rolling Stone just three days before his death, Lennon claimed the song was reminiscent of the Beatles track “Girl,” but “a grown-up version.”
“Woman” was included on the Lennon/Yoko Ono album Double Fantasy, Lennon’s first album since 1975’s Rock and Roll. The album was the work of a man content with his life, his family, and his love – apparent in songs like “(Just Like) Starting Over,” “Watching The Wheels,” “Beautiful Boy,” and, of course, the song currently under discussion.
Before we go on to discuss “Woman,” I’m going to ask you to do something for me: I want you to try and be objective about this song. Even my last paragraph most likely brings up memories of where you were when you heard Lennon was shot. (For my part, I believe I was still in diapers…and I was 12 at the time! Thank you! Don’t forget to tip your waitress!) I know it’s hard to hear this song – and perhaps anything off of Double Fantasy – and not think about what could have been if he hadn’t been taken away from us. I think about this all the time. But let’s focus, people. We’re here to talk about The Mellow.
Now, we’ve never defined actual criteria for Mellow Gold, although it’s been discussed in the comments. I think it’s better that we leave it vague, don’t you? Because we know Mellow Gold when we hear it, somehow, even if a song doesn’t necessarily fit any pre-established criteria, and I think that counts for something.
That being said, uh…John Lennon’s “Woman” does seem to meet some of the criteria we’ve used on occasion to figure out if a song fits into Mellow Gold. Let’s look:
Completely effusive lyrics fawning over female………..check
Lots of “oooohs” or other nonsense words to illustrate said lyrics………..check
Self-effacing in presence of female………..check
Calling female by a name like “lady” or “woman”………..check
Gentle female backing vocals………..check
Who’s writing silly love songs now?
Lyrically, there’s no denying the wuss factor. The whole song is literally one long, overdramatic worshipfest at the knees of his beloved. I know it’s hard to imagine, but what if this was Paul Davis, or Dan Hill? We know the woman wouldn’t have stuck around. (Hard to think the same when it’s John and Yoko, right? I know objectivity is hard. Stay with me.) I mean, it’s hard to take some of these lines seriously when you’re just reading them:
Woman I know you understand
The little child inside of the man
Please remember my life is in your hands
Now that’s some Mellow, heavy-handed, overdramatic stuff right there.
Actually, there’s one great Lennon line in here. It’s the opening line: “Woman, I can hardly express my mixed emotions at my thoughtlessness.” “Mixed emotions?” Like what? Like, “ehh, yeah, I was thoughtless when I yelled at her, but in all fairness, she was being a complete bitch that day she didn’t tell me Ringo called asking for money…”
How about the chorus? The “doo doo doo, etc” refrain has been used in many Mellow Gold tunes (“Thunder Island,” anybody?), but I’m not sure if it’s been used to such an extent that it winds up defining most of the choruses. I thought the chorus was supposed to drive the point of the verses home to the listener. “Ooooooh, well well, doo doo doo doo doo” isn’t really making me think, “wow, he’s serious about this shit!”
Musically, as I said before, it’s hard to believe that this Lennon is the same Lennon who screamed through the end of “Cold Turkey.” But it’s true. This song couldn’t get any gentler. It’s damn near ethereal at points. It treads so lightly that I’m actually surprised the song works up the guts to change keys.
Now, I understand that it probably seems like I’m really picking on “Woman.” Well, kind of. But the truth is that I love “Woman,” despite it almost being ruined for me a few years ago (more on that in a minute). I can’t say that I’m completely unbiased by John, Yoko, the comeback and the romantic fairy tale cut short, etc, but being that I heard it when I was young – long before I knew anything about John Lennon – I know that I love it despite all these things. And it’s really all about the chorus for me: the multiple Lennons, combined with the backing vocals – even if he’s just singing stupid words, it works – and becomes even more poignant with the last chorus, when he finds the words to say what he’s been feeling.
Here’s how much I enjoy this song: as you may know if you read his blog, Mike spends just about any warm evening playing to crowds in Washington Square Park. He’s invited me down many times, but I’m always reluctant; it just doesn’t feel like my scene for some reason. One summer evening, I decided to give it a try. Mike and I played by ourselves for a while, and then one of the known “leaders” of the park jams showed up to, well, lead. Except his version of “leading” was “I’ll choose the songs and sing them and try to get laid by looking and sounding really sensitive, despite the fact that I kind of sound like a weasel on helium. And when it’s not my turn to choose a song or sing one, I’ll sulk.”
Needless to say, I thought this guy was a complete, egomaniacal douchebag. (And I’ll also say that it is taking every ounce of my being not to link to his MySpace page right now.) And then – you guessed it – he
sang whined “Woman.” And gave me dirty looks when I tried to sing backing vocals. (You should have seen his face when I sang lead on “Daniel.”) That’s right: I tried to sing backup for this tool singing “Woman” which, with his whine, sounded more like “Ramen.” At Mike’s behest, I recorded my impression of him singing the word. This is exactly what he sounded like. Seriously.
Ugh, I felt dirty. (Don’t you?) I left soon afterwards and was like, “fuck this guy, fuck ‘Woman,’ fuck John Lennon…” I didn’t listen to that song for about six months. But I did come back to it. And I never thought I’d be able to do it, but I was actually able to get his image out of my head when I listened to it, and remember what I loved about the song in the first place. Witness the power of “Woman.” (How much do I owe you guys for therapy?)
So John Lennon, you go with your Mellow self. And for the rest of you, hope you enjoyed (or at least will eventually forgive me for my blasphemy), and we’ll see you again next week for another edition of Adventures Through The Mines Of Mellow Gold!