For many fans, ‘A Day in the Life’ is the pinnacle of The Beatles. It is the moment when the fevered experimentation of Sgt. Peppers culminated in the masterpiece of a purified product of pure musical alchemy. The epic track is a menagerie of interwoven news articles. The song functions as a front to back rock opera of a slow news day, with John Lennon perusing current events, of varying degrees of importance, and transposing them into song while the rather more measured Paul McCartney provided a conventional middle section.
The first story to take Lennon’s interest in the chronology of the lyrics is hilariously played up by The Beatles with melodramatic intent. The following extract from the very article that Lennon may well have read is somehow banal to the point of being paradoxically mind-bending like the so-called ‘satisfying’ videos we now see everywhere on social media.
It is this seemingly overblown triviality of making a mountain out of the polar opposite of a molehill that endeared the story to Lennon in a creative sense: “There are 4,000 holes in the road in Blackburn, Lancashire, or one twenty-sixth of a hole per person, according to a council survey. If Blackburn is typical, there are two million holes in Britain’s roads and 300,000 in London.”
Such is the way that we consume news whereby pointless innocuities often sit inches from reverent tragedies, the song mirrors a story reel in an unfurling wayward journey through incidents and sound. That pothole problem in Lancashire is quickly followed by a man blowing his mind out in a car, which is a reference to a friend of The Beatles and Guinness heir Tara Browne who died in a car accident in 1966. Lennon stated, “I didn’t copy the accident, Tara didn’t blow his mind out, but it was in my mind when I was writing that verse.”
The Irish socialite was a mainstay amid the hip rock scene of the day before a folly befell him. He pushed the highwire lifestyle to dangerous limits one day and sped through South Kensington in his sports car at speeds reportedly around 100mph. Eventually, he cruised through a red light and collided with a parked lorry and died. His girlfriend, the model Suki Potier, fortunately, survived claiming that Browne swerved the car to absorb the impact of the crash to save her life.
However, it is a mark of the transcendence of the song and what it says about modern life, that Paul McCartney had different ideas about the verse altogether. “The verse about the politician blowing his mind out in a car we wrote together. It has been attributed to Tara Browne, the Guinness heir, which I don’t believe is the case; certainly as we were writing it, I was not attributing it to Tara in my head,” he once said.
Adding: “In John’s head it might have been. In my head I was imagining a politician bombed out on drugs who’d stopped at some traffic lights and didn’t notice that the lights had changed. The “blew his mind” was purely a drugs reference, nothing to do with a car crash.”
The song is even more prescient in this sense today as news is a mishmash of petty nothings, masked tragedies, catastrophes that squeezed down a few words to make way for bickering, and the same story stream of wild stories that you can’t be sure whether it’s about a drugged-out politician or a hellbent highflyer dangerously dicing with death.