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I Am/Was the Walrus

Beller-McKenna, Daniel

For most of his adult life, John Lennon fought to define himself against his public identity as "Beatle:John." That image, crafted by the Beatles' manager Brian Epstein and the pop music industry became a burden to all four of the Beatles during the group's seven years of international stardom. For Lennon, most commentators then and now agree that his primary sacrifice was the rebellious anger that drove him to achieve the very success Epstein offered. Musically, the decision to stop touring led to a freedom to expand the studio experiments begun in early 1966, and the soundscape of Sgt. Pepper and Magical Mystery Tour is defined by a nearly complete freedom from producing songs that could be replicated on stage. "Strawberry Fields" and "I am the Walrus" exemplify this freedom, and the two songs are frequently compared for their use of orchestral instrumental overlay and complicated tape-mixing effects. Here, for the first time in his songwriting, Lennon raises the issue of identity in a self-conscious fashion. Lennon immediately announces the theme of identity-dissipation in the opening line of "I am the Walrus": "I am he as you are he as you are me and we are all together". Not only do these personal equations dissolve the distinct identity of all members (I, he, you, me, we), but the sonic equivalence of he-me-we (mono-syllabic two letter words ending on a long -e vowel) projects an aural sameness as well. A few months after recording Plastic Ono Band, Lennon was busy working on the song and album Imagine, in which many of the 1960s ideals would be resurrected in his music. Within the next two years he would embrace a series of radical political causes, all of which emphasized the legacy of the 1960s.



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Columbia University
Published Here
March 27, 2015