The Canadian Writers' Collective

Writing, and writerly tangents

Sunday, February 04, 2007

Oh, Yoko

by Joseph Young, today's guest blogger

I've decided after some little deliberation that the best love song in the world is "Oh, Yoko," by John Lennon. Do you know it? "In the middle of a shave/In the middle of a shave I call your name/Ohhhhh, Yo-oh-oh-ko." It's a lovely, cheerful song, brimming with simple affection, love for the woman he chose as his life-long companion. The refrain--that long "Oh," that "Yoko" drawn into four syllables--the harmonica solo, are so infectious, so direct and plain. It's a foot tapping, happy-making song.

But what exactly makes a great love song? Well, love. The expression thereof. But what is love, its constituent parts? Happiness? Yes. But what else? Pain? Yes.

Love, as we know, is pain. There is no love without it. Pain of separation, pain of worry, pain of suffocation, pain of the heart, pain of love.

A great love song, then, is a song of pain, but within that pain, happiness. Or, if you'd rather, a song of happiness but with pain inside. It has to be this way to reflect the love it wants to capture. It's why those sappy songs on the radio of putting girls on pedestals and white horses are so bad, and why the simplest, silly songs of heartbreak and honky-tonks sung by George Jones are so effective. Oh he was happy with that two-timing bit of fluff in a crinoline skirt.

But okay then, if that's true, how does "Oh, Yoko" qualify as the world's best, as cheerful and plain as it is? Where is the pain?

It's in her absence. There he is, shaving cream all over his chin, bright mirror over the porcelain sink, and he thinks of her, oh, Yoko, and he calls to her. But she isn't there, she's somewhere else in the house, or out shopping, or taking a walk in Central Park. The thought of her makes him happy, but he can't have her, not just then, and when he shouts to her, lingers over her name, isn't there a just bit of anguish too? Isn't there a trace of fear just behind his voice, the dread that he will call and call--like a small boy to his mother--and she won't respond? She's left him, he knows, she's gone on, she's been hurt, yes, she was mugged, shot, gunned down in the street.

And here we see the great, inescapable tragedy of the song, the history we know that surrounds it. It wasn't she that left him, but he that left her. The song is a love song because we know that his happiness, his fear, they left her, for good. The love that shone in his mirror as he shaved his beard was darkened, and the song is just a leftover, a picture of it, an artifact. All of that joy, but all that loss as well. Love--loss--death.

"Oh, Yoko." Such a happy song. And such a love song too.


Blogger Andrew Tibbetts said...

My favourite love song is “Begin the Beguine”- I don’t have a favourite version of it, or- more honestly- my favourite interpreter of it is me-in-the-shower. Or me-in-the-car. Or me-in-the-abandoned-gold-mine (long story). I love to sing this song. It’s hard to sing. The range is enormous. Like the Star-Spangled Banner, if you don’t start low enough, you’ll be squeaking by the end like a rubbed balloon. The song is as brilliantly composed as a classical sonata. Each verse is a variation of the last. They go different places. From major to minor. To higher and higher spots in the scale. The tension building the whole time. And the lyrics! The singer doth protest too much that he doesn’t want them to begin the beguine. He goes on and on and on about how beginning the beguine is just about the worse thing the orchestra could do. A beguine is a latin dance. The rhumba’s less popular cousin. Or maybe the cha-cha-cha’s slow little sister. Lord knows I have no idea. I don’t dance the thing. I sing it. By the last verses the song reveals its true heart and in a fantastic return to the major tonality, with a new focus on repeated, insistent notes instead of sinewy lines, the singer sings “Oh yes make them begin the beguine!” We knew it all along of course. You can rhumba but you can’t hide.

Sun Feb 04, 11:59:00 am GMT-5  
Blogger Tricia Dower said...

"...the song is just a leftover, a picture of it, an artifact." You've captured in these words what often makes a song poignant for me. Thanks, Joseph. My favorite songs are attached to memories of people and events and, yes, there is often pain involved. Even songs that Colin and I consider "ours" bring tears because we know that something will separate us one day: senility, death, something else?

Sun Feb 04, 01:08:00 pm GMT-5  
Blogger Antonios Maltezos said...

The kind of love captured in "Oh, Yoko" is a fleeting, temporary, kind of love. It serves its purpose, and then we move on. Except maybe for Yoko. Great choice, Joseph. Paul had a nice little ditty for Linda, as well. I forget what it's called. The Lovely Linda?

Sun Feb 04, 02:02:00 pm GMT-5  
Blogger J.A. McDougall said...

Thank you for this Joseph, I'm off to find this tune. My favorite is the sentimental country song 'The Dance' Talk about pain, I tear up every damn time. ~ Jen

Sun Feb 04, 03:00:00 pm GMT-5  
Blogger Darby said...

My favorite love song is a song very few people have probably ever heard, and even if you've heard it, you've probably not heard the version I'm refering to. It's a small live performance in a coffee shop. I don't know where or when it took place. All I know is I acquired an mp3 of it at some point. It's 'Sunset Blvd.' by Dan Bern.

Dan Bern is difficult for a lot of people to listen to. He's not very melodic or pleasant sounding. He's an amalgam of Springsteen (raw raspy passion) and Dylan (deliberate tendency to veer out of tune). His lyrics are sort of a combination of them both also, often inexplicable (a Bern song called 'Thanksgiving Day Parade' strikes a close resemblance lyrically, or at least atmospherically, with Dylan's 'Visions of Johanna' or 'Desolation Row') but he's also surprisingly American, political, patriotic (Springsteen's newer song 'Devils and Dust' shares an almost too similar melody, and therefore feel of an older Bern song called 'Crosses', and even Bern's 'Sunset Blvd.' has a kind of 'Thunder Road' thing going on in it).

The live 'Sunset Blvd.' version I like the most is Bern at his most aching. His songs and performances are more like a public 'aching' exhibition and less like a concert. The lyrics in 'Sunset Blvd.' are a kind of story about a couple who drive to Vegas and dream of the life they'll live after they 'hit it big'. In that sense, it's not so much a love song in that the theme of love is not handed to the listener, but rather there's a kind of underlying feel about it, about a couple who've been through hard times and the dream that it will get better for the two of them.

Sun Feb 04, 10:36:00 pm GMT-5  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Solid choice - John Lennon's love song. Reminded me of Carl Sandburg.

The Maple Room

Mon Feb 05, 07:47:00 pm GMT-5  
Blogger Patricia said...

love this Joseph, thanks for gracing us with your words. Wonderful. xo

Mon Feb 05, 11:38:00 pm GMT-5  
Blogger Joseph Young said...

Thanks, y'all.


Tue Feb 06, 10:23:00 am GMT-5  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm late to read this. Great, great post Joe Young! You make me want to hear that song again...


Thu Feb 08, 08:39:00 pm GMT-5  

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