Sunday, February 17, 2013

Getting "Better": Listening to the Beatles

I've been familiar with the Beatles since I was a child. I have heard all of their studio recordings more times than I could even aspire to recollect. I have sung along with every song of theirs (with the exception of "Flying"—because that's an instrumental—and "Revolution 9"—because I'm not sure repeating "number nine… number nine… number nine…" counts as singing along). In many respects I interact with their music on a subconscious level.

As is my brain's inclination, the song "Getting Better" popped into my head one morning, and as it "played" and got to the lines "I used to be cruel to my woman/I beat her and kept her apart from the things that she loved" I found myself snap to conscious thinking: Oh yeah, Paul's protagonist admits to being physically and psychologically abusive, and what is "getting better" is how he's "changing [his] scene" about being "mean" and "doing the best that [he] can." Then I think back to the "angry young man" and being "mad at [his] school" mentioned in earlier stanzas, and it's clear that, in short, it's a song about not being as much of an asshole as one used to be, all thanks to the person to whom the line "since you've been mine" is directed.

It's always been a song about that. Every time I've heard it that has been its theme. Yet when I listen it (or even merely have my mind conjure it up for no discernible reason) my connotation is not that. The association, to the extent it's evident on a conscious level, falls more into an upbeat category—one which the lyrical content does not really uphold on even rudimentary analysis.

I'm not sure I can deconstruct that any deeper at this point in my relationship with the song. I suppose I could speculate it's due to the melody and the way the chorus is filled with the eponymous line, which, on its face, is positive in tone. However, that seems too surface-level to really capture what it operating in the recesses of my brain. Were it merely that, my analytical side long ago would have re-categorized the song; I'm not sure what it is, but to the extent I can draw in conclusion it would be: That's not it.

I suppose all we can do is identify this as further proof of the way music, more than any other art form, affects us in ways that defy an explanation that is anything more than grasping at figurative straws.

Perhaps if we dwell on that it would only drive us to perform ignoble acts—which, were we talented, we could harness as inspiration for a song that (if it somehow captures the same elements as "Getter Better") just might burrow its way into the depths of the minds of others, leaving them singing along without fully realizing what they're singing.

If nothing else, it might achieve what seemed like was step one in the process that created this song: Becoming an asshole. Things do have to be bad before they can get better.

Of course, the superior means of dealing with this is almost certainly to stop thinking about it. Perhaps the best course of action (to go with another Beatle track) is to turn off our minds, relax, and float downstream.

Or listen more to the Stones.

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