I grew up listening to my parents’ music. It seems like there was almost always something playing in the background at home and in the car, especially on the many long trip road trips we took. To this day I still love Bob Dylan, Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, and many others, but there’s a part of me that was particularly shaped within the context of the music of the Beatles. As children, my brother and I and two others (practically family at the time) memorized almost the whole Beatles portfolio and would act like a band singing along to their albums.
For Christmas, my family bought me the Beatles stereo box set, and I’ve been immersed in their music again ever since. Several songs from Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, in particular, have stirred reflections on my part. The first is perhaps one of my favorite songs, She’s Leaving Home.
I still remember the intense emotional response I had to this song even as a preteen. My life growing up was … complicated. But my reaction was not that of someone who wanted to escape home. (I wouldn’t say that was true my whole life. I still remember a time staying with my biological father as a young child when I would go to sleep each night picking an earlier moment in time when I would wake up and discover my whole life since that point had been a dream.) At least when things were more on the sane side, I generally liked my parents. I enjoyed talking and doing things with them. Of course, I had the sort of parents who would hang out with us late at night watching Monty Python’s Flying Circus, Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman, and the Not Ready for Prime Time Players on SNL. My mother taught me to play bridge when I was nine and included me in games. (Well, they needed a fourth, but still.) My father taught me to cook and let me experiment. Even so, I remember this song pulling intensely at my heart. I think I recognized my parents’ pain and struggle and the way it bled into my mine. The words themselves are simple, but taken together the song is strangely rich and deep.
I listen to it now and along with my memories as a child, I feel my life experience with my own children, most of whom are adults now. I feel the many mistakes I made along the way even as I did the best I knew to do. In some ways the song is a postmodern deconstruction of the cycle of our experience in the small things that, as it turns out, aren’t really so small after all. I can’t point to any single aspect of the song that provokes my response, but I can’t listen to it without getting tears in my eyes.
In some ways, I suppose I felt the pain of living alone even among those who loved me. But isn’t that a pain we all feel in some way and to some degree?
I also can’t do the sometimes surreal nature of my childhood experience justice any description. And I think that’s at least one reason I’ve always been captivated by A Day in the Life.
I realize now that it’s also almost postmodern as well in its deconstruction of simple life events and the disconnect we feel with the news of the world around us. I didn’t grasp that as a child, but it captured the way my own life sometimes felt to me. Even as I lived it, my life sometimes felt surreal to me. And yet, even in the midst of life’s craziness, you get up, comb your hair, go where you need to go, and do the things you need to do.
Finally, I’ve mentioned elsewhere the influence Hinduism had in my childhood spiritual formation. That’s probably one reason I’ve always loved Within You Without You.
Life flows on within you and without you. The space between us all is really an illusion. Even now when I listen to the song, I empathize with that manner of perceiving reality. There is some sense in which the deeply mysterious inter-connectedness of human beings also reflects the true Christian perspective, though that can be hard to see in the highly individualistic context of much of modern Christianity. I would not identify as even somewhat Hindu today and I could tell you intellectually why that’s the case. But I’m not sure we ever completely cease being, at least in part, the sum of the people we have been, the people we have loved, and that which we have worshiped.
If that last sentence makes no sense to you, I apologize, but I couldn’t think of any other way to express it.