Wednesday, September 17, 2008

"It's Goo Goo G'Joob"

“It's Goo Goo G’Joob”

When The Beatles first released the song “I Am the Walrus,” it was, at once, a strange conglomeration of pop culture and references—a whirlwind of seemingly nonsensical words that equally charms and confuses. In the year 2007, the movie Across the Universe was released. Using songs by The Beatles, the script constructs the love story of Jude and Lucy and reflects the culture of the 60’s (circa Vietnam). The movie features remakes of classic Beatles songs, some resembling the original with unerring respect while others deviate from the creative with questionable results. “I Am the Walrus,” in particular, is reconstructed with the help of musician Bono (lead singer of the alternative rock band U2) and, on the surface, appears to respect the original work. However, listening closely, the tempo is slowed down, the singer’s voice is apathetically boorish, and the lyrics are unusually altered, giving the song an entirely different feel and even a different—and very negative—meaning.

Listening to the original version of “I Am the Walrus,” the pace of the song is steady and clear. The rhythm is controlled, but still retains a looseness that allows the words to flow effortlessly—and expertly. In the movie version, the notes swim through a Technicolor ocean, trying desperately to intensify the psychedelic aura of the words. It succeeds, perhaps, in its visual format; yet as an auditory piece, the song is no longer an equal blend of silliness and bravado, but a weepy façade of a counter-cultural figure.

Secondly, John Lennon’s voice is distorted; yet, the honesty is still heard in the phrasing and pronunciation of the lyrics. In the newer version, the listener is left with Bono’s thinly controlled whine and unsatisfying hippie impersonation. He squeezes the sounds out with too much effort, and, as a result, the tone slides along clumsily; his performance becomes strained and awkward, and downgrades the original enigmatic tone of the song. The persona of the singer becomes stereotypical. The original honesty—the endearing quality of the song—is lost.

Finally, the main injustice of the cover is the anomaly of “koo koo kachoo.” Originally, John Lennon chants the phrase “goo goo g’joob” (thought to be inspired by James Joyce’s Finnegans Wake). Although it is commonly misheard as “koo koo kachoo” (a phrase that is actually featured in “Mrs. Robinson” by Simon and Garfunkel which was released just months after “I Am the Walrus”), the difference is unmistakable if one listens carefully. By mispronouncing one phrase, Bono opens the question of intent: why? Besides being easily noticeable, the knowledge of the correct phrase can be accessed via the Internet and various Beatles anthologies. If the mistake was purposeful, was he trying to make an allusion to “Mrs. Robinson”? The movie’s inspiration is The Beatles; to veer off course in such a way is confusing and irksome. It takes the experienced listener and diverts their attention away from the main story. Even more insulting is the thought that Bono is merely ignorant of the mistake. If so, his musicianship could be debated. As a professional artist it is his responsibility to treat the derivative work with certain veneration. Perhaps he was too lazy to do the research (i.e. listen to the original song)? In this case, Bono’s performance did not live up to the standard The Beatles created.

In summation, what was once a quirky statement on humanity’s constant need to find meaning in everything becomes an almost mocking rendition of, not only the original Beatles creation, but also of the 60’s. By altering the tempo and lyrics, the song loses the very essence of its purpose. The singer’s attempt to personify a counter-cultural figure is cringe-worthy and laughable at best. Bono’s effort to recreate a classic failed because his alterations did not enhance the original foundation that John Lennon built: they depreciate the spirit of the song and the culture that it represents.

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