IF YOU DON'T LIKE WHAT IS BEING SAID, CHANGE THE CONVERSATION

You Only Live Twice

In TV on June 18, 2012 at 5:22 pm

BY EMILY VIVIANI

Lane didn’t quite blow his mind out in a car, but you can’t say he didn’t try. (Credit: Capitol Records/Emily Vivani)

Editor’s Note: Earlier this season, our resident “Mad Men” expert Emily Viviani posited that the Beatles’ classic album “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” is actually serving as a structural and thematic template for the fifth season of the series. The theory spurred much discussion among “Mad Men” fans, and was even discussed by Vulture and New York Magazine. Below is an update on the theory and how it fits into the season’s final three episodes.

Over the past six weeks, I’ve learned a lot about the the Beatles. I didn’t know that before Yoko, John Lennon – like Kenny Cosgrove – had a wife named Cynthia. Or that Paul McCartney – like Bert Cooper – had a penchant to go shoeless. Maybe this matters, but probably not.

I just finished reading the little-known gem, “Turn me on, Dead Man: The Complete Story of the Paul McCartney Death Hoax” by Andru J. Reeve. It’s an interesting read, which traces the origin and trajectory of the rumor-turned-hoax that McCartney was killed in a car accident in January of 1967 and replaced by look alike, William Campbell Shears.  In 1969, American college students in particular clung to the notion, forming clubs and organizations devoted to deciphering the “clues” that alluded to his death, which they were convinced permeated the lyrics, melodies and images, dispensed to the masses through Sgt. Pepper’s, the White Album and Abbey Road.  People really believed it, and after reading the book, I understand why. It’s really really cool. It was a conversation and a unifier, but maybe mostly it was an excuse to listen one more time.

No, I don’t think it will do us any good to watch “Mad Men” episodes in reverse, upside-down or in French. Nor am I suggesting my theory is anyway comparable in depth, influence or sensational wonder, to that which reverberated through the notorious death hoax. However, I do think there are similarities in the flavor of analysis.

Like the tantalizing genius of a somewhat cryptic Beatles’ track, there is something weighted, baited and lingering about “Mad Men”’s poignant silences, detailed discourse and structural control. Things we love that feel random but true impress upon us a need for interpretation. It’s nice to believe a kind of secret code is folded into the dialogue and drama of “Mad Men.” It’s an excuse to watch one more time, ingest one more detail and feel a bit closer to understanding the timeline of a marvelously unpredictable series. So for these reasons and for the sake of completion:

SIDE TWO

1. Within You Without You (Lady Lazarus)

2. When I’m Sixty-Four (Dark Shadows)

3. Lovely Rita (Christmas Waltz)

        4. Good Morning, Good Morning (The Other Woman)

        5. Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Heart Club Band (Reprise) (Commissions and Fees)

        6. A Day in the Life (The Phantom)

511: “The Other Woman” (“Good Morning, Good Morning”)

About the song: “Good Morning, Good Morning”

“Inspiration for the song came to Lennon from a television commercial for Kellogg‘s Corn Flakes. The line “It’s time for tea and Meet the Wife” refers to a BBC sitcom, Meet the Wife. At Lennon’s request, George Martin brought in Sounds Incorporated to provide the song’s prominent brass backing. Lennon asked engineer Geoff Emerick to arrange the animal noises heard at beginning (and end) of the song so that each animal heard was one capable of devouring (or frightening) the animal preceding it. The final sound effect of a chicken clucking was so placed that it transforms into the guitar on the following track, “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (Reprise)“. The song has an unusual rhythmical feel and does not use the same time signature throughout.”[1]

How it relates to 511:

The fact that the song “Good Morning, Good Morning” was inspired in part by a television commercial is similar to “The Other Woman” in that the plotline of the episode directly reflects the implication of the Jaguar campaign. The animal sounds that pervade the song mimic the primal flavor of the episode’s carnal subtext. As commenter Jared Ravich noted, the two times that “good morning” is said in the episode directly precede the most pivotal scenes: Pete’s bold proposition to Joan and Peggy giving Don her notice. The apathy of the lyrical protagonist could allude to the partners’ meek objections to the episode’s tawdry transaction.  The suggestion that “nothing has changed” could be aligned with Joan and Peggy’s inclination that although they’ve established themselves as integral assets to SCDP, the fact that they’re women will forever taint their professional reputations. Ravich also commented that he thinks the final scene, as Peggy’s footsteps overpower the clamor of the conference room celebration, rhythmically echoes the song’s final arrangement of animal sounds with Ringo’s steady drumbeats.

Applicable lyrics:

Good morning, good morning 
(1. Caroline to Joan and 2. Dawn to Don)

Good morning, good morning

 

Nothing to do it’s up to you

I’ve got nothing to say but it’s OK (The partners’ mild objections and Don’s exit from the meeting)

 

And you’re on your own you’re in the street (Joan’s evaluation of her position and justification for accepting the offer)

 

After a while you start to smile now you feel cool

Then you decide to take a walk by the old school

Nothing is changed it’s still the same (Women in the workplace etc.)

I’ve got nothing to say but it’s OK


512: “Commissions and Fees” (“Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Heart Club Band (Reprise))”

About the song: “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Heart Club Band (Reprise)”

“Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (Reprise)” is a somewhat modified repeat of the opening song at a faster tempo with heavier instrumentation. The track opens with McCartney’s count-in (retained in the manner of “I Saw Her Standing There“, the first song on their first album); between 2 and 3, Lennon jokingly interjects “Bye!” Starr starts the song proper by playing the drum part unaccompanied for four bars, at the end of which a brief bass glissando cues the full ensemble of two distorted guitars, bass, drums and overdubbed percussion.

The idea for a reprise was Aspinall’s, who thought that as there was a “welcome song”, there should be a “goodbye song”. The song contains broadly the same melody as the opening version, but with different lyrics and omitting the “It’s wonderful to be here” section.”[2]

How it relates to 512:

Since this song is a reprise of the opening track on the album, I looked for similarities between this episode and the season’s premiere.  There is a notion that “A Little Kiss” is a welcome whereas “Commissions and Fees” is a goodbye: “A Little Kiss” is oriented around a celebration of Don’s birth, while “Commissions and Fees” is an account of Lane’s death. This correlation could have been alluded to through Pete’s superfluous inquiry at the partners’ meeting about the upcoming birthdays. The episodes similarly inversely mirror each other in that in the premiere, Lane finds a stranger’s wallet and sees to its return, whereas in this episode he is caught embezzling money. Also, the premiere episode closes with Lane accepting applications for a new hire, and this episode closes with his tragic resignation. Additionally, a few of Lane’s lines from the premiere episode eerily foreshadow his fate this season, namely “I’ll be here [at the office] for the rest of my life,” and “It’s only a matter of time before they discover I’m a sham.”

Applicable lyrics:

We’re Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band

We hope you have enjoyed the show

We’re sorry but it’s time to go. (Suicide and resignation)

513: “The Phantom” (“A Day in the Life”)

About the song: “A Day in the Life”

“According to Lennon, the inspiration for the first two verses was the death of Tara Browne, the 21-year-old heir to the Guinness fortune and close friend of Lennon and McCartney, who had crashed his Lotus Elan on 18 December 1966 in Redcliffe Gardens, Earls Court. Lennon’s verses were adapted from a story in the 17 January 1967 edition of The Daily Mail, which reported the coroner’s verdict into Browne’s death.

“I didn’t copy the accident,” Lennon said. “Tara didn’t blow his mind out, but it was in my mind when I was writing that verse. The details of the accident in the song—not noticing traffic lights and a crowd forming at the scene—were similarly part of the fiction.”

The second verse contains the line “The English Army had just won the war”; Lennon was making reference to his role in the movie How I Won the War, released on 18 October 1967. In Many Years from Now, McCartney said about the line “I’d love to turn you on”, which concludes both verse sections: “This was the time of Tim Leary‘s ‘Turn on, tune in, drop out‘ and we wrote, ‘I’d love to turn you on.’ John and I gave each other a knowing look: ‘Uh-huh, it’s a drug song. You know that, don’t you?’.”

McCartney provided the middle section of the song, a short piano piece he had been working on independently, with lyrics about a commuter whose uneventful morning routine leads him to drift off into a dream.

The final verse was inspired by an article in the Daily Mail in January 1967 regarding a substantial number of potholes in Blackburn, a town in Lancashire. However, Lennon had a problem with the words of the final verse, not being able to think of how to connect “Now they know how many holes it takes to” and “the Albert Hall“. His friend Terry Doran suggested that they would “fill” the Albert Hall.”[3]

How it relates to 513:

Many of the episodes this season foreshadow Lane’s death through various allusions to mortality, but the season finale was the first episode that plays with the concept of rebirth (the episode concludes with the song “You Only Live Twice”). Set during Easter season in the wake of Lane’s suicide, most of the character plotlines ended with some version of a fresh start. Pete’s mistress Beth receives electroshock therapy, which expunges the affair from her memory. Peggy and Joan excel in their new professional positions. SCDP gets a new floor to renovate. Megan (via Don) gets a part in a commercial and Roger takes LSD.

The song “A Day in the Life” mirrors the episode insomuch that the song opens with the description of a tragic, morbid accident, then touches on people’s response to it and moves quite jovially into a jingle about a monotonous morning commute and the protagonist’s desire to “turn you on.” Similarly, the drama of this episode traces the characters’ subconscious responses to Lane’s suicide. While everyone appears to be maintaining composure and routine, they all seem to be simultaneously fighting an internal urge to reevaluate and rejuvenate their existence. Don, however, is just fighting a toothache.  (See “Mystery Date”/“Getting Better”). So it makes sense that his version of “reincarnation,” which we sense in the final scene of the episode, looks a lot more like retrogression. After all, as Don is told, “It’s not your tooth that’s rotten.”

Applicable lyrics:

He blew his mind out in a car (Lane’s suicide)

He didn’t notice that the lights had changed

A crowd of people stood and stared

They’d seen his face before (Adam visions)

 

I saw a film today oh boy (Peggy and Don at the movies.)

 

I’d love to turn you on (Affairs and drugs.)

 

Woke up, fell out of bed,

Dragged a comb across my head

Found my way downstairs and drank a cup,

And looking up I noticed I was late. (Megan: “Don, you’re gonna be late!”)

Somebody spoke and I went into a dream (Adam dream sequence)

 

Four thousand holes in Blackburn, Lancashire (Pete: “I fell asleep and ran into a ditch.”)

  1. […] “Inspiration for the song came to Lennon from a television commercial for Kellogg‘s Corn Flakes. The line “It’s time for tea and Meet the Wife” refers to a BBC sitcom, Meet the Wife. At Lennon’s request, George Martin brought in Sounds Incorporated to provide the song’s prominent brass backing. Lennon asked engineer Geoff Emerick to arrange the animal noises heard at beginning (and end) of the song so that each animal heard was one capable of devouring (or frightening) the animal preceding it. The final sound effect of a chicken clucking was so placed that it transforms into the guitar on the following track, “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (Reprise)“. The song has an unusual rhythmical feel and does not use the same time signature throughout.”[xiii] […]

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