The Beatles song on which John Lennon proved he wasn’t a “lunatic”
During his all-too-short lifetime, John Lennon was a rather maligned figure of the music industry. As highly-regarded as a songwriter as he was pawed and stared at like a museum exhibition. That’s because, honestly, before The Beatles and Lennon, there was absolutely nobody like him around.
Lennon, unlike his Fab Four counterparts, possessed innate creativity and philosophy. The singer and guitarist was comfortable explaining his own philosophy and spirituality but it was a discussion which would often see him labelled a “lunatic musician”. One song, however, proved that Lennon wasn’t crazy in any way, he just saw things differently.
As LSD hit the streets of London, something changed in Britain. The mind-expansion of hallucinatory drugs meant that a new wave of counter-culturalism was sweeping the nation and the mouthpiece for such a wide revolution was Lennon. While other bands and acts were more deeply entrenched in these thoughts and ideals, nobody had a bigger stage than Lennon.
Of course, alongside Yoko Ono, Lennon would soon take up the mantel of demanding world peace for a new generation. But before that, he was still struggling with the ideals and notions that were put upon him by the mainstream, as the music world tried to keep him quiet and stuck in his little box. Lennon instead would use his music to tell his and countless others’ stories.
One such story was that of ‘Strawberry Fields Forever’, a song which featured on the LP for Magical Mystery Tour. The track succinctly, according to Lennon, captures the complexity of Lennon’s personality. Not only is the track rooted in his history with Liverpool but it also explains why Lennon has always felt like an outsider.
Speaking in 1980 with David Sheff, Lennon said: “Strawberry Fields is a real place. After I stopped living at Penny Lane, I moved in with my auntie who lived in the suburbs… not the poor slummy kind of image that was projected in all the Beatles stories. Near that home was Strawberry Fields, a house near a boys’ reformatory where I used to go to garden parties as a kid with my friends Nigel and Pete. We always had fun at Strawberry Fields. So that’s where I got the name.”
Previously, Lennon has suggested that the name was chosen because it was “groovy” but with a bit more time for reflection, Lennon lets us in on a secret of the track; really it’s all about John’s mind. “I used it as an image,” he recalls. “Strawberry Fields Forever. ‘Living is easy with eyes closed. Misunderstanding all you see.’ It still goes, doesn’t it? Aren’t I saying exactly the same thing now? The awareness apparently trying to be expressed is— let’s say in one way I was always hip. I was hip in kindergarten. I was different from the others. I was different all my life.”
Working on the outside is always a difficult thing to do for those expecting mainstream success and an even more baffling option when you’re expected to lead it. Lennon continues to explain the song’s content: “The second verse goes, ‘No one I think is in my tree.’ Well, I was too shy and self-doubting. Nobody seems to be as hip as me is what I was saying. Therefore, I must be crazy or a genius.”
“‘I mean it must be high or low,’ the next line,” explains Lennon of the clearly deeply personal track, “There was something wrong with me, I thought, because I seemed to see things other people didn’t see. I thought I was crazy or an egomaniac for claiming to see things other people didn’t see. I always was so psychic or intuitive or poetic or whatever you want to call it, that I was always seeing things in a hallucinatory way.”
It wasn’t until Lennon started to realise about the different facets of art, namely surrealism. “Surrealism had a great effect on me, because then I realised that the imagery in my mind wasn’t insanity; that if it was insane, I belong in an exclusive club that sees the world in those terms. Surrealism to me is reality. Psychic vision to me is reality.”
The singer continued in his detailed debrief of the track: “Even as a child. When I looked at myself in the mirror or when I was 12, 13, I used to literally trance out into alpha. I didn’t know what it was called then. I found out years later there is a name for those conditions. But I would find myself seeing hallucinatory images of my face changing and becoming cosmic and complete.”
Being different and, by his own diagnosis a crazy person, meant that Lennon’s outlook changed dramatically. “It caused me to always be a rebel. This thing gave me a chip on the shoulder; but, on the other hand, I wanted to be loved and accepted. Part of me would like to be accepted by all facets of society and not be this loudmouthed lunatic musician. But I cannot be what I am not.”
On ‘Strawberry Fields Forever’ Lennon not only acknowledges that he isn’t a “psycho” or “lunatic” but that we are all so different in our perspective that labelling anybody with such a word is rather irrelevant.