‘Nowhere Man’ was the inner workings of John Lennon’s brain during a tumultuous time in which he lost himself, struggling to recognise the man that he’d unknowingly become.
The song was written during the final stages of Rubber Soul and when his personal life was in tatters. It was beginning to dawn on him that his marriage with Cynthia was heading for divorce. Despite the unfathomable fame and levels of success he’d achieved in the preceding years, Lennon still felt lost, and there was an overwhelming void inside that he was aimlessly looking to fill in desperation.
After trying his darndest to write something unique, Lennon gave up and conceded that his mission was going nowhere. Instead, amid a sense of hopelessness, the Beatle resorted to an afternoon sleep and admitted to himself that today simply wasn’t going to be his day. Then, suddenly, ‘Nowhere Man’ unexpectedly arrived at him.
Lennon later remembered: “I’d spent five hours that morning trying to write a song that was meaningful and good, and I finally gave up and lay down. Then ‘Nowhere Man’ came, words and music, the whole damn thing, as I lay down”.
Elaborating on that day, he told Hunter Davies: “I was just sitting, trying to think of a song, and I thought of myself sitting there, doing nothing and going nowhere. Once I’d thought of that, it was easy. It all came out. No, I remember now, I’d actually stopped trying to think of something. Nothing would come. I was cheesed off and went for a lie down, having given up. Then I thought of myself as ‘Nowhere Man’ – sitting in his nowhere land.”
McCartney later looked back on Lennon during this period and noticed that he can now acknowledge how unlike himself his bandmate was during this time with the benefit of hindsight.
“When I came out to write with him the next day, he was kipping on the couch, very bleary-eyed. It was really an anti-John song,” he told Barry Miles. “He told me later, he didn’t tell me then, he said he’d written it about himself, feeling like he wasn’t going anywhere.
Adding: “I think it was actually about the state of his marriage. It was in a period where he was a bit dissatisfied with what was going on; however, it led to a very good song. He treated it as a third-person song, but he was clever enough to say, ‘Isn’t he a bit like you and me?’ – ‘Me’ being the final word.”
Macca’s comment about how Lennon treated it as “a third-person song” perfectly highlights where the singer’s head was during this isolating time when he felt disillusioned with everything and everybody, not discounting himself.
While ‘Nowhere Man’ is a stunning piece of work, more poignantly, it represents a timestamp of Lennon at his lowest, and even then, he was still able to produce a piece of songwriting brilliance from the very top draw.