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A Retro Review of the Beatlesí "Norwegian Wood"
By psychologist, Dr. Bruce L. Thiessen, aka Dr. B.L.T., The Rock Doc
Whether you are in the market for furniture or music, products made with Norwegian wood are not likely to lose their value over time. Products bearing the name, Norwegian wood, are generally products you can depend on to last a long time. It is just as true of vinyl cuts (or plastic cuts in the case of CDs) as wood cuts. Norwegian wood is a cut above the rest, and so it is no wonder that the Beatles would use the term to signify the ideal state of mind and the ultimate state of being.
Allow me to begin my analysis of the song, "Norwegian Wood" with the following disclaimer: My interpretation of this Beatles classic could be dead wrong. Therein lies the beauty of songs containing the artistic element of ambiguity. The listener must read between the lines. To do this, one must draw from the cornucopia of imagination. The human imagination is ineffably vast. Furthermore, it is spectacularly colored by the contents of both the personal and the collective unconscious.
On a personal level, oneís interpretation of ambiguous auditory stimuli can be clouded by internal conflict which human beings typically project onto the empty spaces of the ambiguous auditory canvas. Our memories, wishes, hopes, fears and frustrations become indistinguishable in our minds, from the subject matter under observation. When juxtaposed with a piece of artistically arranged music, the song, and our self-imposed, self-portrait become one and the same in our eyes. What we end up is a confusing fusion between what we would have the song represent, and the cryptically concealed memories, wishes, hopes, fears and frustrations of the songwriter(s)).
Music critics often attempt to ameliorate this subjective imposition by asking direct questions of the songwriter(s)). What inspired you to write the song? What was your subject? What did you mean by this particular line in the song? How did you come up with the title? These are all common questions designed to separate the subjective projection of the listener from the songís core meaning.
Such an approach is clearly problematic with "Norwegian Wood" for two reasons: 1. Half of the songwriting team (assuming each member contributed equally to the lyrics) is deceased. John Lennon was tragically murdered in 1980, fulfilling a self-prophesy he proclaimed with the line from "The Ballad of John and Yoko," ď...the way things are going, theyíre going to crucify me...Ē 2. Because we are dealing with elements in the song that are often outside the realm of conscious awareness for the songwriter(s)), the songwriter(s)) may also provide the wrong answer, (if in fact there is a wrong answer).
So how is the dilemma resolved? The answer lies in the collective unconscious of listeners. In other words, to provide an objective analysis, I would need to randomly sample a group of individuals, and then identify common themes, archetypes, and related elements that emerge through a comparison of their individual interpretations.
Quite frankly, Iím too lazy at the moment to set up and implement such a rigorous scientific study, with all of the necessary controls implemented into the research design in order to render the results reasonably valid. So the method I am about to propose is better than asking the surviving member of the songwriting team, but just one step shy of a top-of-the-line, airtight experiment. I will ask you, the reader, to listen to the song and e-mail me your own interpretations. Actually, Iím asking you, the reader, to provide your interpretation of my musical interpretation of the song. Sure, Michael Jackson, the likely owner of the copyrights, has legal problems that greatly exceed the problem of some unknown songwriter making money off recordings he purchased the copyrights for, but just to play it on the safe side (no pun intended), Iíll be giving my cover of this Beatles classic away. Iím offering you my alt rock cover at no cost whatsoever. Hear it and download it for free via this link:
"Norwegian Wood (This Bird Has Flown)" Dr. B.L.Tís cover of Lennon/McCartney
The lyrics are the same as the original, so the fact that itís my interpretation should not interfere with the process. Conduct your analysis before reading the one I have provided below, so it will not influence your own interpretation of the song. Then, send your analysis to :
Now, for what itís worth, hereís my admittedly subjective interpretation of Norwegian Wood (This Bird Has Flown):
I once had a girl
Love means surrendering part of oneself to an intimate relationship. Jesus delivered the ultimate sacrifice, his life, but as humanís our love is often decidedly more limited. To pull of the type of surrender needed for intimacy to blossom, without becoming neurotically, or co-dependently enmeshed with the other person, one needs to have a strong sense of self to begin with. The fear that causes the hesitation is more pronounced in individuals who lack a strong sense of self. The fear is a fear of annihilation of the self. True love, in supernatural terms involves being owned. When we accept Christ, we have been purchased with His blood. We belong to Him. Mere mortals cannot and should not own one another with their ďlove.Ē In the world of mere mortals, ownership, and love, do not mix. Fear of selling oneís soul for the sake of a human relationship can prevent one from entering wholeheartedly into a relationship. The songwriters here seem to be suggesting that the man in the story was once a kept man. The past tense of the songís subtitle, "This Bird Has Flown," seems to suggest that the relationship was an oppressive/possessive one. There is a a parallel between this theme and the one introduced in "Free as a Bird," the Lennon-penned first song released by the ďelectronically-reunitedĒ Beatles for the Anthology CD trilogy. This may indicate that Lennon had a strong or even dominant lyrical influence on "Norwegian Wood," and that his relationship with a particular woman, more than one woman, and/or perhaps even women in general, may have been something he desired to fly away from. Yoko Ono, an apparently dominant presence in Lennonís life, may be one example of the type of woman Lennon was both attracted too, and repelled by. Is Yoko Ono ultimately responsible for the break up of the Beatles?
Iíll save that one for another day. What is clear is that Lennon was abandoned by both his mother and father, and that he was raised by his aunt Mimi. Throughout his childhood, his aunt Mimi played a dominant role, and he was constantly surrounded by Mimi and her female peers and relatives. Was he trying to overcompensate for the vacuum his mother created by her absence by later filling his life with dominant women? This is getting a little to deep, so I suggest we move on.
...She showed me her roomIn the world of the unconscious, a room, or a house, is representative of the self. There is nothing more gratifying than the experience of someone else letting you inrevealing their inner self to you. This is particularly true if that person represents a love interest or if that person is the object of your desire. Isnít it good? Yes, but will is it sturdy like Norwegian wood? Is it the real deal? Is it meant to last? Or is it simply faux wood?
Mixed MessagesThis is the mixed message typically delivered by a person psychologists believe may be suffering from a Borderline Personality Disorder. At the very least, this "Strange Invitation" (to draw from a Beck song title), seems to be offered by a person who fears intimacy and yearns for it at the same time. Perhaps Iím wrong. Maybe she was just too poor, or too cheap to buy furniture (or maybe she had expensive taste and just couldn't find or couldn't afford any made of Norwegian wood). Clearly, there was no comfortable place to sit.
...I sat on a rugApparently, the visitor in this story didnít take ďmaybeĒ for an answer. He erred on the side of ďyes.Ē He took the liberty of finding a seat, sitting down, and drinking her wine, (code for taking her in), which she apparently offered willingly, if reluctantly. He readily took in her bitter sweetness and perhaps her seduction.
All Talk, no Action?Did all of their talk lead to any type of action in the sexual sense? The listener is left with the sexual tension, wondering if it led to anything more than idle chatter. Television and the movies would often have us believe that intimacy and sex are one and the same. Jesus teaches us that intimacy goes way beyond sex, and that sex, outside of a relationship christened by His blessing and strengthened by marital vows of commitment, is something far less than the intimacy He desires us to partake in. All we seem to be left with in Norwegian Wood is a tension (Iím not sure itís simply sexual tension), and a desperate struggle to achieve intimacy.
...She told me she worked in the morningThe tension is sustained in these lines. He had no excuse for going to sleep, and may have wanted more from her. Or perhaps he was a bum, and she was the responsible one of the two.
...And when I awokeIn the end, ending up alone appears to have been experienced as a relief. A great weight appears to have been lifted off of the young manís shoulders. Itís not "This Bird Had Flown," but "This Bird Has Flown," signaling a more enduring sense of having been freed. Could this be the type of freedom expressed in the Elton John/Bernie Taupin classic, Someone Saved My Life Tonight, when the story character hears a voice saying, ď...youíre a butterfly, and butterflies are free to fly...fly away...Ē? Has the character in Norwegian Wood escaped the grasp of another potential dominatrix in his life? Or does he think heís found his wings by losing his virginity? In my estimation, the young man realizes the existential angst and utter sense of alienation associated with waking up alone can be experienced as freedom, and not bondage. For him, he seems to have found the real deal, as opposed to an illusion that could have crushed him. Heís found his Norwegian Wood. Heís managed to see the forest that lies beyond the tree. Even if he sees his Norwegian Wood burning away in the fireplace, at least it creates a flame big enough and warm enough to bring him comfort---if only for a short season.