There is a general consensus that the lyrics to the Beatles song “I Am The Walrus” are meaningless. The truth goes much deeper than that. Here we will take a look at some of the hidden meanings behind the lyrics of one of the Beatles most well-known songs.
I Am The Walrus – The Beatles
On Friday, August the 25th, 1967 the Beatles set off from Euston station, bound for Bangor, Wales. They were on the way to their first encounter with Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. Transcendental Meditation was something the Beatles were interested in – their trip away came as no surprise, they were always ready to jump on any bandwagon. What did come as a surprise though was, on the Sunday, the breaking news that their manager Brian Epstein had been found dead – accidental overdose was the verdict. The Beatles had lost their manager, their mentor and, to some, the one person that could hold it all together. Within days, the Beatles had decided to continue without a new manager – plans were already in effect for the ‘Magical Mystery Tour’. Back in the studio by September 5th, it is interesting to consider that the first song they worked on was ‘I Am The Walrus'; a song that, to many, seems rather irreverent but to others has a meaning that transcends the normal.
Cover of Magical Mystery Tour (1990)
When John Lennon first put a piece of paper in his typewriter, he had decided that he was going to take his time writing the lyrics – let the imagery, let the words flow into him and then out of him. It was to build into a collage of vivid imagery, a collage of Lennon’s thoughts, beliefs and pre-occupations. Even producer George Martin got into the spirit of things by adding arrangements that harked back to the days of Beethoven and Vaughan Williams; even the montage of the ending adds to the thoughts of randomness of the whole.
There was two things that prompted John Lennon to write ‘I Am The Walrus’. The first was Procul Harum’ssummer of love hit ‘A Whiter Shade Of Pale’ – the rich imagery of the lyrics appealed to Lennon. The second was Bob Dylan – Lennon admired the wordplay but also felt that Dylan could write a lot of nonsense and get away with it. Lennon roped in the help of old school friend (and ex-Quarrymen member) Pete Shotton to re-visit schoolboy rhymes like ‘oompah, oompah, stick it up your jumper.’ and ‘Yellow matter custard dripping from adeas dog’s eye’. It may have been nonsense but it added a certain humour to the piece.
Drugs also played their part in the song, and also the rather antithesis aspect of illegal drug taking – law and order. The song contains a police siren in the arrangement and Lennon is quick to savage law enforcement, especially at demos and picket lines (“pretty little policemen in a row”). The persecution and prosecution of drug takers is also touched upon – (“Man, you should have seen them kicking Edgar Allan Poe”). What Lennon was hinting at with that line was that some creative work is dismissed erroneously simply because the writer is seen as a ‘junkie’. Even the words ‘semolina pilchard’ was in reference to a drug incident – it was in reference to Sgt Pilcher who arrested Mick Jagger and Keith Richards on charges of drug possession. Lennon may not have realised the irony when he referred to the users not heeding the warnings of drug use because they were too stoned to notice – (“Don’t you know the joker laughs at you”).
Image via Wikipedia
Sex and religion were also noted in the lyrics. (“I am he as you are he”) was probably a mantra he read in some book somewhere but he uses it here to pour scorn on eastern religions. He also considered Hare Krishna as a total waste of time – (“Elementary penguin singing Hare Krishna”). Lennon later told Playboy that the penguin reference was about Allen Ginsberg. If taken literally (“Boy, you been a naughty girl, you let your knickers down”) could have been about a transvestite – the Beatles would no doubt had come across the seedier parts of life. Most people presume that the ‘eggman’ is just a made up piece of nonsense to fill part of the song. The truth is though that the eggman was actually Eric Burdon, of the Animals, who had a passion for breaking eggs over his girlfriend’s bodies. This was, at the time, a private reference that the general public would not have known about; there is no surprise then that the reference would be lost on them.
As for the walrus itself – it is in reference to the children’s poetry of Lewis Carroll and especially ‘The Walrus and the Carpenter’. The imagery of the song though owes as much to James Joyce as it does to Lewis Carroll. It was only after releasing the song, and subsequently going back to the poem, that Lennon realised that the’walrus’ was the bad guy – this was probably the reason that in the song ‘Glass Onion’, Lennon sneers that “the walrus was Paul”.
All in all, there are probably many personal references that Lennon included in the song that would ensure that no one could quite make out the full implications of the lyrics but there is one consideration that has to be taken into account – the recording of the song only a week after Brian Epstein had died. Perhaps Lennon was trying to hide his true feelings, or at least dress them up in references that only he had the key to but one thing lyrically still comes through that may show the truth. While in Bangor, and after they had been told of Epstein’s death, the Maharishi had told them to have happy thoughts as Epstein had gone to a better place – comforting thought perhaps, but Lennon littered ‘I am the Walrus’ with the words “I’m crying” – does that indicate the true feelings at the loss of his friend and manager? Perhaps he couldn’t hide his love away.
The song was released as a double A-side, along with ‘Hello-Goodbye’, later on that year – it was destined for the top spot. Boxing day saw the nation-wide broadcast of the film ‘Magical Mystery Tour’ – it was critically panned. The last four months of 1967 had seen the Beatles world change dramatically, it was the beginning of the end for the band.
P.S. This article was originally published by the same author on Triond on the 24th of February 2010 and can be found by clicking HERE.