Just a behind-the-scenes peak here. The material below was removed--not by me--from one of the new Beatles pieces I wrote. It's all true, but the nature of the content gave pause.
Editorial types often balk when things get real. Typically editors would prefer mindless factoids and that is how most editors who are also writers write: they tell you what you would already know if you really knew much of anything at all. There are no ideas. The language is plain and always unmemorable. Most nonfiction I see is very much like Wikipedia, though gappier. The better the editor, the more open they are to the stuff that actually matters, new modes of expression, the thrill and excitement of great writing that moves and compels us.
Sometimes this kind of excision is explained away by a kind of blame that one has been gratuitous. In other words, it's directed back at me, when it's a them thing, not a me thing. It is impossible for me to be gratuitous in my art. Gratuity happens when the writer is insecure, when they want to be noticed because the quality of their work wouldn't be reason enough. When they're immature. When they lack prospective and think persona and pose matters more than content and the authenticity that is crucial to quality writing.
I couldn't put something in anything to get a rise or a shock. That's not in my artistic nature. And I am someone who just wrote a unique, masterful story about a guy trying to suck his own dick in "Powering Through." But it's not really about a guy trying to suck his own dick, is it? It's a story that contains the full measure of our humanity, and given the ostensible subject matter, I think that's an amazing achievement. Or considering any subject matter.
And what if the most human, heartbreaking, soul-shaking story happened to be about a guy trying to suck his own dick? Well, I think that's brilliant. And who can do that? How is that even possible? But then someone does? What does that open up to us, in terms of possibilities? That's revolutionary art. That's the point. Crushing all expectations and opening every door and window, including all of the doors and windows we didn't know existed.
Anyway, the Beatles piece in its pre-ablated state is already in Just Like Them: A Piece by Piece Guide to Becoming the Ultimate Thinking Person's Beatles Fan. But again, just a pulling back of the curtain on here.
The official version of “Yellow Submarine” starts with the words, “In the town where I was born.” On the songwriting tape, Lennon instead sings, “In the place where I was born, no one cared,” and immediately we think, “What is happening here?”
The suggestion is that no one cared from the precise moment of birth, of entry in this world, of the submarine surfacing, in a way. This was a man whose mother gave him up without really giving him up. Lennon was essentially both adopted and not adopted. He regularly saw a person—until her tragic, premature death—who ought to have loved him more than anyone else, who didn’t want to raise and live with him. A woman who flirted with him sexually, who he knew more as a good-timey aunt he nursed his own sexual fantasies about, and whom he’d often witness performing fellatio on her significant other.
That is one cluster, as they say. But we should also never make a song chiefly biographical, which strikes me as disrespectful to what the song is. The best art is autonomous, or deserves to be looked as such. If we can look at a work of art and say it improves based upon biographical details, then the art has failed. It wasn’t good enough on its own to be self-sufficient.
I would never say that about this song fragment that runs to just a little over a minute. You could have put it on Plastic One Band, the 1970 Lennon release that I regard as the only out and out full-on work of art that any of the Beatles made in their solo careers.
Lennon repeats the “no one cared” line, and his voice breaks. I’ve heard Lennon sing with a cold (check out the outtakes to Please Please Me) and warble off-key in fetching fashion (the early, guide vocal stab at “Yes It Is”), but nothing like this. The singer is barely getting through his own fragment of a song. He’s gone in, and he’s going under, a submersible unto himself. The waters have him.
This is Lennon on September 5, 1979 with a kind of audio therapy diary he was making. Very few people are aware of it. I'm aware of all of it. Would one expect less? Sometimes someone will say, "I've read a lot of books on such and such," when they question something I've included that is not a factoid-y type thing with which they are familiar and additionally things are getting real, and I think, so? Do you think we're going to have the same amount of knowledge? Why would you think that? I don't say it. I'm very polite. It's just something to be dealt with right now, and by deal with it, I mean do whatever I need to do and get back to what else I'm doing.