Archive for the ‘JOHN LENNON: ESSENCE & REALITY: Memory’ Category
JOSEPH AZIZE PAGE
John Lennon: Essence and Reality Part 16: “Memory”
In this unreleased piece, it sounds to me as if Lennon sings:
Memory, oh memory, what you do to me?
Today is all I really need to know.
Why do you have to haunt me when I thought I’d let you go?
I hear voices whispering through the cold and lonely hall.
Memory, memory, release me from your spell.
Why do you have to haunt me always?
Why do you have to haunt me when I thought you’d run away?
Lennon doesn’t sing much else, here, and of what he does, I can only pick up the odd word. What’s this all about? The song obviously has to do with psychological entrapment and freedom. Lennon feels that he’s haunted, under a spell. He is bewildered: “what you do to me?” The spell is purely within his own skull; it’s the flip side of the liberating magic he conjured in “#9 Dream”. Significantly for the total feel of the song, Lennon uses the noble music he originally wrote for “Tennessee”. What’s going on, then?
As I said in respect of “Tennessee”, my guess, for what it’s worth, is that Lennon felt that his homage to Tennessee Williams might come across as over the top, or perhaps even as inaccessible. If that is right, then he decided to rewrite it with lyrics which might mean something to more of his audience: after all, many more people could relate to a song about memory than to the abstruse lyrics Lennon had written in honour of a playwright.
The “Tennessee” lyrics were not, as a whole, a model of clarity. Although the first verses were luminous and powerful, the latter ones remind me of Hopkins’ more impenetrable poems, such as “Harry Ploughman”. Another factor, too, is that the first stanza of Lennon’s original lyrics referred to the USA. This might be work well in the USA, but would Lennon have been concerned about his international audience? In any event, the original lyrics seems to me not only better as lyrics, but also more appropriate for the music. Overall, I have a hunch that Lennon was dissatisfied with both the “Tennessee” and the “Memory” drafts, and that this is why he left the piece unfinished, although it boasted a truly stirring melody.
Yet, there are organic connections between the “Tennessee” lyrics and those he wrote for “Memory”. In terms of feeling, “Memory” is not so far from “the sadness of your soul”, the “spirit mind”, and the “echoed harmony of the cold and lonely naked human being,” of which he sang in “Tennessee”. More precisely, the reference to an “echo” in “Tennessee” evokes the echo of memories. Another connection between the two sets of lyrics is found in the connection Lennon made between pain and artistry. In his Rolling Stone interview, Lennon said that it was pain which had made the great artists what they were.
So both sets of lyrics deal with human pain and freedom. The “Tennessee” version focuses on the role of the artist in expressing even the bleakest reality so clearly that it shows a way forward for the future. In “Memory”, at least in the rough draft we have, which would not have been its final form, the emphasis is on the pain.
That makes the music anomalous, as Lennon so often was. If the music of “Memory” is deep, the lyrics are puzzling. What is the point of saying: “Today is all I need to know, so stop bothering me, memories?” The memories serve a purpose: they call me to be present before them. They call me to be the adult for myself, to use the Gurdjieff’s language, as preserved in Solange Claustres’ important book Becoming Conscious with Mr Gurdjieff. When I was about four year old, I was trapped in a house by a wild sheep. By myself, frightened child, I could do nothing but wait for it to go away. Fortunately, my father came along and tied it up. Now I have to do that sort of thing for myself.
And so it is with memories. There are very different sorts of memories; each centre has its own proper memory. The memories Lennon is speaking of here sound to me as if they are associations in formatory apparatus, and that the painful feelings they evoke are negative emotions. Negative emotions, of course, are not sourced in the feeling centre, but are a sort of growth drawn from the perversion of instinctive centre (for details of these terms and references to the authoritative sources, meaning Gurdjieff and Ouspensky, see Sophia Wellbeloved’s Gurdjieff: The Key Concepts).
If “I am present”, again in Gurdjieff’s sense, life is real (or “responsible”), and these associations and negative emotions lose their power. But that is not enough. It is not enough to displace them for a time. They need to be seen, acknowledged, and my responsibility accepted, my suffering sacrificed, and my lessons learned. They need to be digested. Precisely here, I think, is Lennon’s problem.
Lennon wants to escape the pain: that is understandable. The pain is a providential arrangement to make us take action. But what action? Sometimes all you can do is to wait in the house until the animal goes away. However, not in the case of memories and negative emotions. There we can take action. In one of the Paris group meetings, Gurdjieff said “I am bigger than my associations” (p.50, Transcripts of Gurdjieff’s Meetings 1941-6). And that is the truth.
The memories which hurt the most are, I find, those where I myself have done something I feel is wrong, or I feel that I’ve failed. And I doubt that other people are too different in that respect. Sometimes the failure is purely imaginary: sometimes something in us feels to blame or regretful, as if we could or should have done more. It may be absurd or it may be quite right. But the real work begins when we can acknowledge it for what it was, whatever it was, and if I don’t know what it was, to acknowledge that, and to study.
There are, as Gurdjieff said, two types of suffering, conscious and unconscious suffering. The first has a future, it’s the key to our human potential. Incidentally, it’s intimately related to joy, the one can call the other. But to focus on our present concern, the pain Lennon speaks of is unconscious suffering. The trick is to make it conscious. That is, to turn regret into remorse. Mr Adie put it almost perfectly in “It’s A Painful Truth”, from his book (George Adie: A Gurdjieff Pupil in Australia). Mr Adie said to someone who had raised just these issues we’re discussing:
… be with it, to face it; not to try and change it. If you can look at it long enough, and remain present before it, you will understand. It will make you suffer. Intentional suffering is there; and eventually you will repair that. You will see. You will have seen the causes. You will weigh it, see its proper level, so that in a way, it could not happen again, because you will know how it happened, why you went wrong, and how useless this unconscious suffering is. Perhaps I even sense something like remorse, or at least something in that direction. But you will know all that.
It isn’t so very difficult to get a grasp on this, but it is almost impossible to master it, because it’s the work of a lifetime. To repair the past is really to repair myself, because I am the past, a past which is present in some mysterious way to the ever-manifesting moment, and is always opening onto the future. So much is involved in this concept of repairing the past that it’s mind-boggling. But the temptation to retreat before the challenge should, I feel, be resisted. I think the thing is to set out some principles, and in doing so, to take the baton, as it were, from Lennon, and to run with it, even if only for a few steps. So let me try and put out some general ideas.
First, remorse is a feeling of myself. I feel myself in relation to my manifestations. Of course memory is involved, but the memory of formatory apparatus is seasoned, as it were, with the memory of the feeling centre. It’s very difficult to describe this, but when it happens it’s as the old man in a black and white photo has suddenly taken on colour and sat down to talk with you. Gurdjieff described this remorse as washing, soaking and cleaning. In one of the group meetings he gave the example of tangerine. It’s salty and must be purified before it can become jam. And so it is for us, human purification is remorse (p. 94, Transcripts of Gurdjieff’s Meetings 1941-6).
Second, we need to keep our past, our faults our virtues and all, in perspective. We all have a tendency to dramatize and exaggerate the importance of our own joys and sufferings. This is something where we mutually aid each other. We catch theatrics from each other, as it were. If we can look at them, we often recognize that our lingering associations have something of the “beat-up” about them. In this respect, Lennon’s philosophy of the importance of the “artist” worked against him. But to be fair, the press did treat all his actions as media-worthy. Here the achievement would have been to shrink his perception of the newspapers and radio back to size.
Third, when tormented by painful memories, it often seems as if the other people are inside me. This subliminal sense that other people – and even my old self – are inside me is a common and relatively mild form of possession. It is, if you like, possession by one’s own associations, and so Lennon’s reference to haunting is terribly accurate. (A good example is found in Bernie Taupin’s lyrics for “The Boy in the Red Shoes” from Elton John’s Songs from the West Coast album: “It’s all inside my head, the boy in the red shoes is dancing by my bed”). I should add that although it’s usually what I call a mild form of possession, it’s none the less a serious matter for all that, because it’s a function of our lack of being.
Fourth, related to this, something in us believes that everything has to be someone’s fault. And there’s a lot in us (our accursed mirage of justice) which does not like to see someone get away with it. Here it’s particularly important to learn how to sacrifice one’s (unconscious) suffering. Again, we mechanically moralize everything. We say “it wasn’t the ten cents, it was the principle.”
Fifth, the relationship with parents are often paradigms. The memories and associations around parents are often difficult to deal with because difficult it’s difficult for us to not to believe at some level that they were conscious. I dealt with that and Lennon’s contribution in the “Mother” blog. But I feel there’s much more to explore. The next Lennon blog will look at “How” and “Jealous Guy” from the Imagine album.
1 June 2010
Joseph Azize has published in ancient history, law and Gurdjieff studies. His first book The Phoenician Solar Theology treated ancient Phoenician religion as possessing a spiritual depth comparative with Neoplatonism, to which it contributed through Iamblichos. The second book, “Gilgamesh and the World of Assyria”, was jointly edited with Noel Weeks. It includes his article arguing that the Carthaginians did not practice child sacrifice.
The third book, George Mountford Adie: A Gurdjieff Pupil in Australia represents his attempt to present his teacher (a direct pupil of Gurdjieff and Ouspensky) to an international audience.The fourth book, edited and written with Peter El Khouri and Ed Finnane, is a new edition of Britts Civil Precedents. He recommends it to anyone planning to bring proceedings in an Australian court of law.
“Maronites” is pp.279-282 of “The Encyclopedia of Religion in Australia” published by Cambridge University Press and edited by James Jupp.