Friday, October 29, 2004

I'm Fixing a Hole Where the Rain Gets In

I’m fixing a hole where the rain gets in
And stops my mind from wandering
Where it will go
I’m filling the cracks that ran through the door
And kept my mind from wandering
Where it will go
And it really doesn’t matter if I’m wrong I’m right
Where I belong I’m right
Where I belong
See the people standing there who disagree and never win
And wonder why they don’t get in my door………..

This Beatles song is a blast from a past which can never return except in the minds of those of us who were There At The Time, although it is doubtless still cascading through the Milky Way, destined to resonate in the course of its journey to Infinity with the eardrums of innocent babes and sucklings on some planet called Oz somewhere in the galaxy.

While the song has become immortal, those of us who were There At The Time in 1967 aren’t. As we lumber into our sixties our numbers will begin to dwindle as the fatty deposits in our arteries, the legacy of all those breakfasts of fried eggs and bacon in our youth, begin to accumulate and accumulate until one day………………….

Even though I was There At The Time I didn’t pay much attention to this song until quite recently when I purchased a CD of Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Heart’s Club Band. And it was quite fortuitous that I did, since I had simply been riffling aimlessly through the CDs one evening in a little record shop near where I live, when my attention was caught by the cover of arguably the most famous record album of the twentieth century.

Yes, there they are. John, Ringo, Paul, and George, bedecked in their psychedelic-coloured nineteenth-century British army outfits. In the extreme left of the picture stands Sonny Liston with boxing robe and menacing scowl. I also see Diana Dors and Marlene Dietrich and WC Fields and Fred Astaire and Tony Curtis and Marilyn Monroe and Marlon Brando and CG Jung and Teddy Roosevelt and Karl Marx and Charlie Chaplin and Mary Pickford and Gene Autry and Oscar Wilde and Walt Whitman and TE Lawrence and……………………

* * *

It is a drizzly winter evening in London where he has stopped over in the course of a journey to visit his Native Land which lies in one of the nether regions of the old Empire far, far to the south. He stands in the doorway of a shop in Earls Court Road to keep out the rain. He can see across the road into a pub out of which waft the distinctive twangs of young Australians and the other Children Of Empire as they guzzle down their pints of Bitter.

They laugh and drink and talk and joke. Their faces are unlined and uncaring. They are on the cusp of their young lives and the world beckons. Confidence and braggadocio ooze through the pores of their skin. He remembers when he, too, had laughed and drank and talked and joked in this very same pub. But it was over thirty years ago, in the summer of 1967, the Summer of Love, when the strains of the Sgt Pepper album, as well as Penny Lane, and Strawberry Fields floated through the scented air of those long-ago evenings in Earls Court Road.

He realizes that the young revellers in the Pub across the road weren’t even born when he had revelled there those years ago. Huddled in the doorway of the shop he feels like a time traveller. The young revellers are unaware he is looking across at them. But even should any look over to where he stands, they would only see through him, for he has become an Invisible Man…………………..

* * *

Carrying my just purchased CD of Sgt Pepper, I run back home, for I cannot wait to play it and go back to that summer of 1967. The more I listen to it, the more I’m caught by the words of I’m Fixing a Hole, for although they seem so inconsequential, something tells me there is more to them than I think.

* * *

A Saturday somewhere anywhere. A deliciously warm October afternoon and the sky is blue, the sort of blue it can only be on a cloudless afternoon in the Fall. Outside, the autumnal leaves rustle on lawns and sidewalks whenever a breeze blows.

Inside a house on a quiet street a plain ordinary guy, wearing a T shirt, pads around in his basement doing routine repairs to his house to prepare for the first chill winds of winter. He notices a tiny hole in the base of one of the walls where water could trickle in from outside should it rain. There is also a small crack in the door leading to outside.

He’ll fix these, using the caulking compound he bought earlier this afternoon at the hardware store down the road. It won’t take long. When this is done he’ll go back upstairs to the kitchen and take out a beer from the fridge. The first game of the final of the World Series will have begun just a few minutes ago. He will go into the living room and turn on the TV. He’ll sit down in his favourite armchair to watch the game.

All will be perfect in his little Shangri-la…………………………………….

* * *

What, then, is “I’m Fixing a Hole Where the Rain Gets In” all about? At first I think it is about fixing a hole where the rain gets in to stop ourselves wondering where it, the rain, will eventually go; and also about filling cracks running through a door to stop ourselves wondering about how far the cracks might extend if they weren’t fixed. By doing something practical we fix our minds on the task at hand, on the present, so we don’t begin worrying about all the terrible things which might happen to us.

Then I think: Isn’t this the story of my life, and of the lives of most of us? We scurry about busy busy busy, to stop from worrying. Even when we are at a loose end, we turn on the radio or TV to provide background noise, to distract us from getting depressed thinking about where everything will go, or where we will go.

I idly read the words of the song from the booklet which accompanied the CD, when I notice that the song isn’t about stopping the mind from “wondering” where it will go, but is about stopping the mind from “wandering” where it will go. Because “wondering” and “wandering” sound so alike when sung, I had assumed - because “wondering” goes better with “where it will go” - that the word the Beatles sang was “wondering”.

But perhaps John and Paul had intended to write “wondering” but had written “wandering” by mistake. Hmm. Then I read the lyrics down to their last line where I see the word “wonder”, where people “wonder” why they don’t get in the door. Perhaps John and Paul had meant to write “wander”, but had written “wonder” by mistake, or as a joke.

But “wander” wouldn’t be appropriate here, since, while we can “wander” through a door, we can’t “wander” why we get in a door, or in this case, why we don’t get in a door. We can only “wonder” why we get in, or don’t get in a door. It appears, then, that John and Paul were right in using “wonder” in the last line.

After pondering the lyrics some more, I conclude that John and Paul had written the words as intended. It is we who “wonder”, but it is our minds which “wander”. Now the meaning of the song becomes clearer. But still not absolutely clear, since John and Paul’s use of the word “wandering” from lines 2 to 6 continues to give me trouble. But I will just have to accept that I haven’t developed the level of consciousness to fully understand why John and Paul used “wandering” the way they did.

So I must take it on faith that they knew what they wanted to say.

* * *

On playing “I’m Fixing a Hole” on my new CD when I returned home from the little record shop down the road, I almost felt I was hearing it for the first time, probably because I hadn’t heard it since the summer of 1967.

Then was when I should have paid attention to it, not thirty-five years later. Had I had done so then, my life might have turned out differently. I would have realized that in my scramble to reach the security of middle class life, I was stopping my mind from wandering where it would go. Instead, I closed my ears to what my mind was whispering to me.

So it came to pass that I became a Well Respected Man about town, doing the best things so conservative-ly.

I send you greetings from my little Shangri-la.