Monday, May 31, 2010

Seven Songs: Song 4 - "Watching the Wheels" by John Lennon

One of my favorite things about music is that it's open to interpretation. Sure, the songwriter has the final say when it comes to what he or she meant when writing it, but the listener can take whatever they want from the song and that meaning can even change over time.

(I suppose I just recapped why I'm writing this series of posts. Bear with me.)

John Lennon's “Watching the Wheels” has always been near and dear to my heart since the first time I heard it in high school. If you'll recall from the last post, I had just been dumped and was naturally feeling sorry for myself. Enter “Watching the Wheels.”

I listened to those lyrics obsessively and determined that Lennon had taken a break from something important – perhaps life itself – and that it was just fine with him, thank you very much.

I was on the right track, sort of. “Watching the Wheels” was John's response to his critics deriding him for taking five years off from music to raise his son: “No longer riding the merry-go-round / I just had to let it go.” When you really think about it, taking that time off was quite the admirable thing to do. He was John Lennon, after all, and instead of taking cues from his contemporary rock stars – penetrating groupies with seafood, being in the throes of heroin addiction – he chose to correct a mistake he made with his first child.

My connection to this song isn't so noble.

I wanted to take a step back from life not because I needed to get my head straight but because I was hurt and vulnerable and I didn't want to feel anymore.

Lennon came back from exile and wrote “(Just Like) Starting Over” and “Woman” along with “Watching the Wheels”; I started an exile of my own and wore black while listening to angry music. If “No Surprises” was my immediate reaction to the breakup, “Watching the Wheels” was the confirmation of those feelings. Maybe I didn't need her after all. Maybe I would be all right on my own.

Now I could just leave it at that – a childish reaction to a teenage relationship – but I did write above that the meaning of a song to me can change over time, and “Watching the Wheels” has done just that since my first experience with it in 1998.

John Lennon has always been my favorite Beatle – though George Harrison is running a close second – for as long as I've loved the Beatles. It started out as being that way because of his way with words and his sarcastic sense of humor, but as I learned more and more about him, it became apparent that he was a deeply flawed and conflicted human being. He lost his mother not once but twice: she abandoned him at an early age, then just when he was reconnecting with her as a teenager she was run over by a bus. He supposedly beat his first wife. But then he turns around and writes a song like “All You Need Is Love.” Lennon was a millionaire many times over, but he didn't forget his roots with his song “Working Class Hero.” It just goes on and on and on.

I admire the man for not being afraid of wearing those scars on his sleeve, and I've taken “Watching the Wheels” as a sort of philosophy. That, of course, is a conflict in and of itself. (I'm pretty sure I don't need to spell out for you why, so I won't.)

I've never been one to show much emotion. I might feel it inside, but it's rare that it would actually come out. This has led to being described at least twice on separate occasions as “cool” by coworkers. I just don't let the bullshit of a workaday lifestyle get to me. Sure, I get pissed off once in a while, but I'll always try my hardest not to let coworkers see me cursing to myself, ready to destroy something.

This isn't just about work, though. I am certainly a proponent of not getting caught up in your job – your profession does not define you completely. There's so much more to life that's not worth losing your shit over. (Note: I've lost my shit over stupid things. It happens to everyone. This is okay.) I started off by referencing my first relationship and I think the message of “Watching the Wheels” (how it speaks to me, anyway) carries over even into adulthood. I'm not saying that if a relationship ends – even with someone you love dearly – you should just go out and drink whiskey until you're so pissed up that you can't see then try to nail the nearest warm body with a pulse. But the world has not ended at that point. To let something like that cripple you, to let it affect your everyday life, is like letting them win. It's okay to take a few steps back and say “I will not let this ruin me.”

In the song Lennon wrote “Well I tell them there's no problems, only solutions.” I think that line about sums up what I'm trying to say here. I've had people do shitty things to me like everybody else. I get flustered and angry just like everybody else. But at the same time I don't think – I hope – I dwell on it as much as most other people do.

My philosophy courtesy of “Watching the Wheels” probably won't work for too many people. There is a level of disconnection involved here that probably would make a lot of people feel uncomfortable. But over the years it has held true that being on the fringes of whatever it is that I'm supposed to be involved in has been nothing short of a calming influence on me. It's not perfect, but what is?

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