At a time when live concerts appear nothing but a distant memory amid the pandemic, we’re exploring the Far Out archives to get our music fix. Here, we look at the moment when Alex Turner, the enigmatic frontman of Arctic Monkeys, expressed his admiration for the expansive wordplay of former Beatle John Lennon.
Turner, who is considered to be one of the most prolific lyricists of the 21st century, answered every fan’s question by naming Lennon as his inspirational figure. Turner’s own writing witnessed two distinct phases in which he started off by noting down teenage nightlife in England, reflecting on the social-realism and kitchen-sink variety. But it became more abstract, oblique and open-ended as his artist-self evolved. Turner confessed that after writing “so directly”, there was a phase “wanting to reject that and, you know… just be the walrus for a bit.”
If we join the dots, we’ll see that this fascination for surrealist lyrics has its source in John Lennon’s works. In fact, one of Turner’s favourite songs are The Beatles’ ‘I Am The Walrus’. Penned by Lennon, it first featured in the 1997 television film Magical Mystery Tour. Inspired by Lewis Carol’s nonsense verse ‘The Walrus and the Carpenter’ and partly by two major LSD trips, Lennon wrote this song to confuse listeners and critics who dug deep into every Beatles song, offering scholarly interpretations.
The effect of ‘I Am The Walrus’ was a significant one according to Turner: “I remember when I first started writing songs and writing lyrics, I really wanted to be able to write an ‘I Am The Walrus’-type song. And I found it very difficult. You listen to that and it sounds like it’s all nonsense, but it’s really difficult to write that sort of thing and make it compelling. Lennon definitely had a knack for that.”
But it wasn’t the only Lennon song that stood out and appealed to Turner. The Beatles’ 1969 song ‘Come Together’ is as inspiring as the previous one to Turner. The song was originally conceived by Lennon as a political cry, rallying for the pro-drugs activist Timothy Leary. When Leary was imprisoned for cannabis possession, Lennon altered the song and recorded it with The Beatles. Arctic Monkeys chose ‘Come Together’ to perform at the opening ceremony of the 2012 London Olympics.
Talking about the song’s obscure charm, Turner said, “‘Come Together’, which we just played at the Olympics – I found that song difficult to get anywhere near. I’ve heard that song a thousand times before, but there’s not one word in that song that logically leads into the next one. It’s all a jumble, but it’s not just that if you know what I mean. It paints you a picture and puts you in this place. He’s got a way of leading you somewhere with these unusual words that don’t make sense, but also make perfect fucking sense.”
Lennon’s versatility, in general, impressed Turner beyond words. The anger Lennon channelled into some of his songs was particularly attractive for Turner. He described this type as songs “where the writer is almost singing right into the listener’s ear, and you know exactly where it’s going, but you want to go anyway.” In conclusion, Turner said that Lennon’s status of a legend is well-deserved as no one could match up to his level and that Turner himself tries to write a little like him but without success.