I must’ve heard the song ‘In My Life’ hundreds of times, on CD, records, my iPod, radio, TV, movies, the Anthology series… I’ve always loved it: John’s voice is as good as it ever was: firm without being overpowering and softened by Thumbs-Up’s backing. I’ve never loved the instrumental bit because it’s a bit too baroque (and played half-speed on a piano and sped back up, rather than actually being a harpsichord, fact fans), but I like it well enough.
I’d easily put ‘In My Life’ in my Top 5 Songs by the Beatles, which also slides it into the very upper tier of my favourite songs by anybody ever. It’s been my intention to have it as a part of my funeral since I started planning said event when I was about sixteen or seventeen (a decision only partly doubtful now having learned it was used at Cobain’s). It’s a song that means a massive amount to me for various reasons, one of which is that himself was murdered. It’s one of those songs that makes my eyes burn with unshed tears of grief for someone. Bohemian Rhapsody is the same for Mercury, True Love Ways for Buddy, Feast of Friends for Jim, Brainwashed for George. It’s the lightning rod so that I can listen to everything else that the Toppermost did without being consumed by the desolate lamentation of the Unknown Fan.
I was listening to my iPod on shuffle as I walked home yesterday. I couldn’t settle on anything and none of the usual suspects was working: the Wilburys weren’t making me smile, Rory wasn’t distracting me and so on. I must’ve flicked through fifty songs with the impatient disdain I so often exhibit on days like these, until ‘In My Life’ came on. I can’t imagine I’ve managed to dismiss this song very often and I couldn’t yesterday. I sang along, of course, like I always do, earning scowls from people talking on their phones as they walk.
Funnily enough, only the day before that I’d listened to a clip of Johnny Cash singing it on The Man Comes Around. I dismissed it not because it was bad (it isn’t) or misses the point (it doesn’t, though most covers seem to, to me), but simply because it wasn’t them. Him, really. There are some songs by the Beatles that – right or wrong – I associate with only one of them, and this is his, not theirs like ‘Fool on the Hill’ is Paul’s and ‘Something’ is George’s. Incidentally, ‘In My Life’ is on Rubber Soul, which I happen to think is the record on which they sound the best as a group and not just a bunch of blokes in the same room.
An aside: I haven’t actually put much of the Beatles on my iPod yet. I don’t even have Revolver on there yet and I don’t have all of Abbey Road. Huh.
Anyway, this isn’t about the minutiae of my music device, it’s about ‘In My Life’. It means all sorts of things to me and mostly to me it was always a song about the people and places we lose. As a fan of The Doors, Thin Lizzy and the rest, I always felt like I’d lost a bunch of people I’d never even been able to know so consequently (and breathtakingly arrogantly) I took the song and made it my own and all about me and the things and people I’d lost. That I never had them in the beginning was just part of the melancholy attitude. It was about people and places I had known, loved and then lost and for the people I was too late for.It was about the childhood I mourned most bitterly and the people and places I’d lost in the process of being forced to grow up, forced to leave people and places I didn’t want to leave. It was probably for the little girl I lost and the grown up she therefore didn’t become.
Listening to it yesterday, something shifted. I couldn’t tell you honestly that I was happy (I wasn’t) or contented (never), just that I thought about it from a slightly different angle, one that I knew was there and just hadn’t really thought too much about before.
It isn’t about the people and places lost, it’s about the person we love enough to be willing to consign those things to the past where they probably belong. This I knew already. What I really thought about yesterday was this: there may be someone in the world who will render this song true for me. One day I might well be willing to brush aside the everlasting boys for someone and I will know it because of this song. ‘In My Life’ is what makes me understand that I’m not really some heartless creature unable to love but it also confirms that there really is a high standard in place. This is the litmus paper test I’ve created for myself and I don’t think it can be dismissed. Imagine all that from one song…
For me now, ‘In My Life’ is about the dead and the gone. It’s about a little boy who was, for awhile, the other side of the coin, it’s about an old man with magic in his smile, it’s about wild loves, silver foxes, the beautiful, the magnificent and the wondrous. It’s about Panshanger, California, the Old Town, the street where I live and a time disappeared that I cannot retrieve.
One day, it might be something else: an absolute declaration of love so deep that it casts aside all the above. Maybe.