Posts Tagged ‘Rishikesh’
John Lennon: Essence and Reality
Part 18: Jealous Guy
It is, of course, subjective to say this, but to me, the melody of, “Jealous Guy” is one of the truly haunting creations in music, even though it is only a four minute creation. No other tune I have ever heard falls on my inner ear with such graceful and poignant movement. I hear in it a steady, calm motion, and behind that, the pain and the love of a great soul. There is a noble measure in its stately progression from verse to chorus; each of which speaks with poise and symmetry as the melody modulates, alternately making a statement (“I was swallowing my pain”) and then raising it to a higher pitch (“I was swallowing my pain”). After 40 years, I still receive its impact.
The arrangement is simplicity itself. Captained by a gentle but insistent piano, naked, unaffected feeling is acknowledged, uttered, and ordered in lapping ripples of sound. Mere sentimentality finds no entry here. The moment is too serious for play-acting. “I didn’t mean to hurt you, I didn’t want to make you cry … I’m just a jealous guy.” Lennon’s admission of cruelty-inspired-by-jealousy is balanced by his courage in making this confession without any shadow of evasion, and by his declaration of love-made-tender-by-compunction.
The words arrive directly and clearly, forming a clean stage for the music and the whistling which wordlessly add a level of higher meaning. Because this dimension is wordless, there can be no argument about it: you hear it or you don’t. And, as we shall see, “Jealous Guy” affords a very rare instance where we can objectively test my opinion about the sublime in modern music. But first, let’s take the song itself. Lennon’s opening words are almost confronting in their honesty:
I was dreaming of the past, and my heart was beating fast.
I began to lose control. I began to lose control.
(Chorus) I didn’t mean to hurt you. I’m sorry that I made you cry.
Oh, now. I didn’t want to hurt you … I’m just a jealous guy.
I was feeling insecure: you might not love me any more.
I was shivering inside. I was shivering inside. (Chorus)
I trying to catch your eye, thought that you was trying to hide.
I was swallowing my pain. I was swallowing my pain. (Chorus)
The very first line displays Lennon’s acute facility for naming comon, everyday aspects of human behaviour that everyone else has also noticed, but few of us have pondered. As an aside, Lennon was terribly intelligent, but many people are yet brighter. However, few of us are as willing to accept the reality of what we see: intelligent as we are, we often employ our cleverness in avoiding or excusing the unpalatable. If Lennon was a genius, it was in artistic rather than purely intellectual power, but his emotional courage allowed his intellect more substantial food to work with, and so facilitated his magnificent intellectual insights.
The first insight here is that we don’t just remember the past, we dream of it, reviving it in a tortured melange of thoughts and feelings which acknowledge no logic but that of emotional intensity. Lennon is absolutely spot on about the desperate physical dimension. Here he mentions a change in heart-rate, and, employing imagery, that he was shivering inside and swallowing his pain. To relive our insecurity, our selfishness and our cruelties is to project a nightmare of acute emotional and physical engagement – unless, of course, I can be present to these dreams. If the real essential I is present, or exerting its influence, then I can bear the impression of myself. If I am not present, at least to some degree, these sufferings can unseat my reason, even if only briefly. Lennon did not have this presence when he was “dreaming of the past”. He found it, however, in his fashioning of this song.
It seems to me that in his music-making, Lennon could often touch this higher, essential part of himself. It is this which gave him the strength to face his demons in song. Although, as we all know, he did not always live up to his standards, he had approached them, imagined them, pictured them, made them visible, and even made them present in his music. And this was more than just a start to living his values. This touching of the sublime in music-making, something I believe Elton John also achieves to an extraordinary degree, is what it is because it is a dynamic process. Music is a life process, and music of the calibre of “Jealous Guy” evidences a sublime life process.
The assured line of the melody supports this tale of a man who has suffered from an insecurity which he has overcome, at least within the circumference of the song, because, by his music, he draws a circle of power around his fears. When I listen to it, the artistic union of strength and sensitivity puts me in mind of a fine Chinese “jade carriage” I once saw in Sydney. “Jealous Guy” turns out to have a special significance for me: it lends serious support to my ideas on the sublime in music. In my words, the sublime is: “a feeling of myself as if on the cusp of touching the mystery of eternity.” As I said in the first Elton John blog:
Does the music really speak as I hear it? Yes, I say that it does, because I feel it. My feeling is of myself in whatever state I happen to be in. My feeling is how my individuality is disclosed to me. It is therefore impossible to prove to another that the sublime exists where I feel its existence, because I cannot deliver my individuality to anyone else as if it were a package. … (The sublime) can only be brought down to earth by an alchemical process which takes place between the music and myself.
Of course, not everyone will agree, or more precisely, not everyone senses sublimity in the same place. And it is impossible that they should, because the experience of the sublime necessarily depends on one’s state. Let us take, for example, someone speaking English. We will understand the speaker according to the mix of (a) that person’s capacity to articulate intelligibly at the time of speaking, (b) our grasp of the English language, and (c) any number of accidental circumstances, e.g. whether there is background noise, whether we are tired, sober, distracted, and so on. But also, our familiarity with the with the topic will be an important feature. So, if a person is entirely ignorant of English, even the most celebrated passages from Shakespeare will leave them unmoved. The greater one’s acquaintance with English, the higher the chance that they can possibly be touched by expression in it.
This, as many readers will recognize, is based on Gurdjieff’s insight into subjective and objective art. Objective art will always produce the same impression, even on different people, “presuming, of course, people on one level.” (In Search of the Miraculous, p. 27, emphasis added.) I shall not go into that topic here, but I raise it because of the fact, to my mind extraordinary, that I held these views on “Jealous Guy” more or less explicitly, when I came across unlooked corroboration. The melody of the song had already been worked out while Lennon was still with the Beatles. However, the lyrics were entirely different. Not only different, but of another order altogether, directly addressing the sublime. Apparently they were written while Lennon was at Rishikesh before his disillusionment with the Maharishi. They were inspired by a talk the Maharishi had given about being a child of nature:
On the road to Rishikesh
I was dreaming more or less
And the dream I had was true
Yes, the dream I had was true
I’m just a child of nature
I don’t need much to set me free
— Sunlight shining in your eyes
As I face the desert skies
And my thoughts return to home
Yes, my thoughts return to home
… Underneath the mountain ranges
Where the wind that never changes
Touch the windows of my soul
Touch the windows of my soul
The song was, if the available information is true, meant for the album The Beatles (“the White Album”), but was left off because it was felt to be too close to “Mother Nature’s Son” which Paul had written after being touched by the same lecture. What is almost astounding for me is that I had sensed the presence of the sublime in the melody of “Jealous Guy” before I had the least clue of what Lennon’s original words had been. In other words, there was something objective about the quality of the music Lennon created for this masterpiece.
© Joseph Azize, Joseph.Azize@gmail.com
Some of the ideas in this article, especially those relating to presence, are dealt with in further detail in George Adie: A Gurdjieff Pupil in Australia, George Adie and Joseph Azize, Lighthouse Press, available from By The Way Books, USA.
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.