A Conflicted Love Note to a Conflicted Love Song
When I was little, I hated the Beatles song “Something”. I genuinely hated it, in the same appropriately childish way that I hated school, or cabbage. My dad played Abbey Road from start to finish regularly — in the car, in the house, even outside on the modern speaker system he had rigged, complete with wires leading back into the house through an open window (it was the early 90s). My ears would perk up upon hearing the iconic bassline of “Come Together” as I chased the dog in the backyard, only to have my spirit dampened by the slow snorefest of “Something”. It was an eternal three minutes that kept me from my beloved “Maxwell’s Silver Hammer” which would inevitably revive me from this torture. I was young and foolish. I was 9.
Over two decades later, “Something” is a contender for the greatest song I have ever heard in my entire life. Whenever it plays, I go into emotional conniptions, I go on diatribes about how it’s simply not enough that the Beatles became rich beyond their wildest dreams and unanimously considered one of, if not the greatest bands of all time. Is that it, people?? We owe them more! My convictions are so deep, that anyone who speaks to the contrary gets an angry, trolling rant from me where I sink to the deepest levels of depravity (insults to their mother/ethnicity are not off the table — “typical Latvian!!”), my heart racing, my face red. All I want to do is cry. Sometimes I direct this vitriol at “Maxwell’s Silver Hammer” for cutting off “Something” prematurely. I am older and still foolish. I am 32.
I hesitate to write about this song, because I know I will never really understand it. And part of me never wants to, for fear that I may unearth its true meaning and then tire of hearing it (this is the day I plan to die). To me, it’s full of tiny contradictions, beginning with the simple 5-note melody, that almost sounds more like the end of a song. It immediately jumps into the lyrics, not waiting for the standard 8+ bars of intro. At just under 3 minutes, I thank them every day for this (in what is possibly the coolest, most useless prayer), never leaving a moment to spare.
Something in the way she moves
Attracts me like no other lover
Something in the way she woos me
Aside from the minor heart-attack I have when I hear George Harrison hang on wearily to the word “woos”, it sounds like a straight-forward love song. Until he gets to the refrain “I don’t wanna leave her now”, which quizzically gets repeated three times throughout the song after a series of adoring sentiments, and is sung over a guitar line that almost stutters, perhaps out of shock.
Okay, I know this is beginning to sound like a college essay, but please… I have been on a “Something” bender for the last 14 days, and “emotionally leached” doesn’t begin to describe my mental state. Please dear god just give me this.
The second verse is an even more intimate portrayal of affection between two people.
Somewhere in her smile she knows
That I don’t need no other lover
Something in her style that shows me
This time it’s the object of these words who is reflecting back his love through her smile, her style. The way he breaks his near monotone with a lilting “tha-at shows me” evokes a young man getting lost in a blissful dream, and is enough to leave me in a coma for 3 to 5 weeks. Until inevitably, we’re reminding that he doesn’t want to leave her now. Stop torturing me!
Later, the song’s timid tenderness is broken up by a powerful bridge where we feel as though we’re witnessing a couple of many years fighting about fundamental uncertainty:
You’re asking me will my love grow
I don’t know, I don’t know
You stick around now it may show
I don’t know, I don’t know
You can almost feel the exasperation in his voice, and really, how could anyone answer such a question honestly, how could anyone know?
A few years ago, I was in a relationship that had long since entered its dying stages. One night while still living together, I found myself laying in bed next to him, and asked “Are you just not that into me?” I hoped that the jarring randomness and ridiculousness of the question would beget quick reaffirmation that I was being silly (even if he didn’t say I was wrong). But instead, I got a few moments of silence, after which my partner repeated “I don’t know. I don’t know.” It was extremely honest, and felt worse than had he said yes. I couldn’t end it right there and begin healing. There was the chance that if I stuck around, his love might grow.
There have been many interpretations of “Something”, some of which claim it was a love song to his partner, Pattie Boyd. Others suggest that it was instead about his love for a spiritual calling, specifically the Hare Krishna movement. Even Harrison himself, ever the tease, has been ambiguous about it, going back and forth on the matter over time. Overwhelmingly, though, it’s considered an unequivocal declaration of love. In fact, some have argued that the bridge was merely a reflection of how impossible it would be that his love for Pattie (or Krishna) could grow, given how immense it already was. I hate this interpretation. It forgives the sadness that could lie beneath any lyric, any complex mix of emotions that doesn’t fit the mold of what love should be.
The truth is most of us don’t know if our love will grow. It kills me every time I hear someone in a deeply committed relationship declare how she just knew he was the one. But it’s unthinkable to say anything else, despite regularly experiencing major highs and lows, and many uninspiring lulls. Not everyone has the courage to talk about it. Not everyone writes the greatest song of all time about it.
It should also be noted that Pattie Boyd (or Krishna) was also famously the subject of Derek and the Dominoes’s “Layla”, a gorgeously overwrought, brutal ballad that frontman Eric Clapton penned about his obsession with Harrison’s wife*. They later married, but not before she rejected him initially, leading to a dark number of years where Clapton became essentially a hermit and heavily abused drugs. So it seems highly plausible that any declaration to such a complicated and appealing woman (by multiple rock stars, no less) wouldn’t be straightforward, and likely tinged with tumultuousness or worry. (As an aside, how bad is it that this story makes me think “they don’t make ‘em like they used to!”, lamenting that men these days can’t even be bothered to text back, let alone almost die for me?)
I’ve listened to this song no fewer than 5 times while writing this alone. Aside from being on the verge of a strange combination of calling everyone I know and declaring my love to them/the world/life, and committing suicide, I feel I’m no closer to understanding the song than when I was 9. But remarkably, I can say the exact same thing about love. Perhaps some things are always uncertain and conflicted. Or perhaps this is the first and only thing I have in common with a Beatle.
*It should also ALSO be noted that George Harrison was not famously the subject of my song “Georg” (cryptic, no?), a painfully overwhelming, devastatingly under-appreciated “song” that frontman me penned about my obsession with Harrison himself. We later did not marry.