I borrowed a friend’s copy of the the ‘Free As A Bird’ single the other day to put onto my iPod. For whatever reason, I didn’t buy it at the time myself, although I’ve got ‘Real Love’ shoved away somewhere. I listened to it a lot in California in between constant playings of ‘The End’ by the Doors and ‘The Boys Are Back In Town’ by Thin Lizzy. I listened to it a lot before and after George died and the emotions were, as you might assume, quite different.
The last times I listened to it particularly, I was concentrated on George and his endearingly thin voice and that guitar:
"Whatever happened to the life that we once knew, always made me feel so free…"
It changes key and moves into his typically melodic, slide-heavy guitar solo. Last time I was listening to this, on a cassette tape, I was thinking about George.
Now it’s on an iPod and the sound is far better. I’m sure there are some ‘audiophiles’ that detest compression and MP3 and such, but I care about music, not sound, which are not quite interchangeable terms. At the very least, it’s far better than the last time I was really listening to this.
I was once consumed by thoughts of John Lennon. Honestly, I half-wished my eyesight was bad so that I could get round glasses like him. A couple of years later, I did need glasses and got the closest thing I could find. I read, re-read and read again Lennon: The Biography by Ray Coleman. I saw in Johnny Leper everything that was good and terrible about myself. I turned pacifist thanks to him, not altogether successfully (just like him). My humour adopted a few of his comic effects (though not the fascination with the disabled or grotesque), just as later I’d absorb bits of Ronnie Barker from watching Porridge over and over again. It got to the point where it was simply too painful to listen to that voice, that teller of truths. Very late one night, I saw the video for ‘Imagine’ on Vh1 Classic and sat two feet away from the screen, it felt like when he looked up from the white piano in the white room, he looked into my head, saw everything, understood everything and then left again.
Listening to ‘Free as a Bird’ on my iPod the other day, I noticed more than I had previously, how badly recorded the original demo was. I mean, it’s not his fault. He wasn’t to know that he was going to be murdered three years later and that his old mates would be forced to scrabble around for something to play with twenty years afterwards. Maybe it wouldn’t be so noticeable if the rest of the production wasn’t so clear and Jeff Lynne-ish… but as I thought a few days ago, it sounds like John is two rooms away from the rest of them.
This led me to a new thought: ‘two rooms away’ makes for a pretty good ‘dead’ euphemism. I hate most ‘dead’ euphemisms. "He passed away" or the even worse "He passed". What? Passed what? He passed a hippopotamus waddling down the high street? It’s meaningless, false politesse. Empty drivel designed to dodge something we should probably just face head on. He’s dead. He died. Antony is dead. The soup is hot, the soup is cold, Antony is dead. OK? Just say the bloody word.
Yet, I quite like ‘two rooms away’ and not just because I think I came up with it. I mean, it might already be extant but not to my knowledge. I always try to credit my sources, after all (not hard, they’re usually Ronnie Barker, Mark Lamarr c. 1999 or Flynn films). I like it I suppose because it’s silly, it’s not too po-faced and yet… I suppose it’s what I hope for.
‘Two rooms away’ isn’t too far, you see. If someone’s only ‘two rooms away’ then they’re out of sight but not out of mind, nor are they totally unreachable. Spiritually/ecclesiastically I don’t know if it should be two rooms. Maybe three. What do you think? If this big old waiting room of Earth is room one, then dying is room two and dead is room three: two away. I think that makes sense… after a fashion. ‘Two rooms away’ is still just about close. You can just about hear someone if they’re talking to you from two rooms away. They’re not irrevocably gone if they’re only two rooms away. The same building, you know?
I don’t know, maybe I’m talking complete bollocks as usual… but given the number of dead people cluttering up the back of my mind, it makes me feel better to think that they’re not lost to me forever. I can deal with the possibility that God doesn’t exist, but don’t tell me that there’s no afterlife where I’ll see them again. That’s something that chills me more than you can understand. I will see them – again in some circumstances, for the first time in others – because otherwise there is such a thing as hell as far as I’m concerned.
Two rooms… I can handle two rooms most of the time. Of course, there are days when even that seems too far, because it’s still two rooms I can’t enter and too many people I can’t see, touch or speak to… but two rooms away isn’t so bad.
All that said, I just went to research this post – I say ‘research’ and mean ‘put Anthology special features DVD on’ – and remembered why I’ve hardly watched it since it was bought in September 2003 (receipt from HMV is still in the box because I’m a mental geek).
Back when I was still so obsessed with the Beatles that I would carry around the Sgt Pepper CD with me even though I only had a cassette walkman, I remember watching the video for ‘Free as a Bird’ and nearly having a heart attack at one point about halfway through: there’s the Paperback Writer sat typing away at his desk, all fine. What felt like it stopped my heart then was seeing John Lennon sat in an armchair in the room with him, cool as you like, 99% convincingly real. It was a shock, somehow, more than seeing all the other bits of him in the video. It isn’t a shock anymore, but that one moment still makes the hairs on the back of my neck tingle.
That doesn’t even include the wellspring of sadness created when George popped his clogs (see, I don’t mind dead euphemisms if they’re funny). I’m trying to watch this bloody DVD and it’s so ridiculous because there he is, looking well and healthy and lustrously coiffed. I mean, I even posted about it at the time, and used some of the same words!
I suppose some things just don’t change. Even when Ringo is being a bit of a douche, even when Thumbs Up Macca irritates me and tries to be cool and youthful… they’re still the Beatles and I still love them, just a little. It’s just that… I wish the others were here more.
I don’t know what point I’m trying to make now. That I’m still more concerned with dead people I never knew than with the real people I am surrounded by? That six years isn’t enough to put sadness away in its box? That twenty-eight years isn’t enough?
(Sidenote: I still find Jeff Lynne really annoying, too. That will probably never change and will not be aided by Xanadu or even the Wilburys)
I wonder what my life would’ve been like without the Beatles. Answers to the usual address.