The Beatles’ weirdly infamous track from “The Magical Mystery Tour”, “I Am the Walrus”, first released as a B-side to “Hello, Goodbye”, and has since become a staple of the fab four’s spacey, drug-fueled hits.
We’re looking back again this week at songs taken from the archives of music history. The ones we choose will always tie in to the day’s date, and will also include a historical context. Over the past few weeks, we’ve admittedly covered The Beatles quite frequently, though we try not to include more than one entry on them per week.
On August 26th in 1967, The Beatles held a press conference in Bangor, North Wales with Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, their spiritual guru from India. During the conference, they renounced the use of recreational drugs. One day later, their manager, Brian Epstein, died of an accidental drug overdose.
With all of this in mind, it’s curious that The Beatles follow up album to Epstein’s death has been viewed as one that captured and heralded the drug movement of the era. So before we look at the song itself, let’s first get some more context.
The Beatles in Bangor
The Beatles arrived in Bangor, North Wales to attend an introductory seminar by the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, after which they held the press conference in what is now Bangor University. The Maharishi joined the fab four during the conference, when they renounced drug use. Paul McCartney and the other Beatles reportedly claimed that the continued use of drugs was unsustainable.
“You cannot keep on taking drugs forever. You get to the stage where you are taking fifteen aspirins a day, without having a headache. We were looking for something more natural. This is it. It was an experience we went through. Now it’s over and we don’t need it any more. We think we’re finding other ways of getting there”.
George Harrison also had a few choice words to share:
“We don’t know how this will come out in the music. Don’t expect to hear Transcendental Meditation all the time. We don’t want this thing to come out like Cliff and Billy Graham”.
I Am the Walrus
While the Beatles did renounce the use of drugs, and seemed to be striving for a more pure kind of inspiration, that wasn’t necessarily the case for every song on “The Magical Mystery Tour”.
Years after the release of “The Magical Mystery Tour’, John Lennon admitted in a Playboy interview that the inspiration for “I Am the Walrus” came from LSD. In it, he also talks about the dangers of blind faith.
“The first line was written on one acid trip one weekend. The second line was written on the next acid trip the next weekend, and it was filled in after I met Yoko. Part of it was putting down Hare Krishna. All these people were going on about Hare Krishna, Allen Ginsberg in particular. The reference to “Element’ry penguin” is the elementary, naive attitude of going around chanting, “Hare Krishna,” or putting all your faith in any one idol. I was writing obscurely, a la Dylan, in those days”.
After the Bangor press conference, it’s strange that John’s sentiments in “I Am the Walrus” seem to go against both their renouncement of drugs, as well as their mentorship by the Maharishi. But perhaps Epstein’s death affected John differently than the others.
While “I Am the Walrus” may have come out of the use of LSD, there’s no doubt that it remains one of John Lennon’s great contributions with the Beatles. “I Am the Walrus” is a weird, wonderful, whimsical song written by one of the greatest songwriters to have ever lived. Who else could make a song with references to Lewis Carroll and Shakespeare, filled with nonsense lyrics inspired in an effort to confuse those who tried to analyze his lyrics, and simultaneously kick off a famous conspiracy theory?
If you couldn’t tell, “I Am the Walrus” is one of my favorite Beatles songs.
Well, that about does it for our discussion today. I hope you enjoyed listening to “I Am the Walrus”. We’ll be back tomorrow with another song to pick apart from the archives of music history.