Friday, January 24, 2014

Within You Without You: A Mantra for the Internet!

I've been trying really hard lately to avoid commenting on people's political posts on Facebook and in other online venues. But I made the mistake of getting worked up about something the other day and opened my big mouth, and of course the person I addressed it to responded with about as much give as a brick wall. (Although a polite brick wall, I will admit.)

Kicking myself over the futility of my attempt at dialogue, I for some reason found George Harrison's "Within You Without You" smacking me in the face. When I was a kid, I thought that song was easily the worst thing on Sergeant Pepper's, a weird and droning piece of mysticism that I attributed to drugs making the Beatles overly susceptible to the faddish metaphysical hogwash that was going around in the '60s. (I was kind of a stupidly judgmental kid.)

Over the years, I got used to the song and grew to like it more than "Fixing a Hole" and "Getting Better," which seemed kind of like throwaways from Paul, and generally more than "She's Leaving Home,"which is a terrific song but nonetheless kind of sappy and maudlin. George was clearly being experimental with his vocal style and the Indian musicians who do most of the playing, and I had to give him kudos for that.

But I remained unimpressed with the lyrics until a couple of years ago when I got the remastered album on CD and found myself driving along the highway one day, actually absorbing what the song said.

"We were talking ..." the narrator of the song says, going on to describe a conversation that must have taken place millions of times in the '60s: two like-minded individuals discussing the lamentable state of the world and how much better things would be if only the hidebound and conventional older generation could be made to see.

But the twist is that, unlike most of the revolution-propounding, socially conscious songs of the era, "Within You Without You" is about how useless it is trying to convince those who are stuck in their convictions. It's about the fact that no one can change unless they want to change, and how our energies are better spent working to improve ourselves than attempting to convert others. The world is big and rolls along with an implacable inertia, and it's going to keep rolling along no matter how hard we yell at it to stop.

But we can make ourselves better ... and if a good chunk of us work hard enough at that, then things really will change.

So I'm going to try even harder to keep out of debates revolving around beliefs and politics, and remind myself, whenever tempted, to think of what George was saying.


  1. I'm listening to within you now. Never really heard it before -- outstanding lyrics......and the sitar really does some amazing things as well. She's leaving home always struck me as awful, and Fixing a hole and Lovely Rita has always been my fave. Amazingly, my opinions about this album have always been influenced by the awful/terrific performances of the songs in "Sgt Pepper" movie.

    Robert nagle, aka idiotprogrammer .

  2. Sergeant Pepper's is not my favorite Beatles album, but it's chock-full of good stuff, and "A Day in the Life" is, in my opinion, the Beatles' finest song. Also, the Sergeant Pepper's reprise may well be the greatest short rock-and-roll song ever.