Thursday, June 28, 2018

The White Album 50 Project: "I'm So Tired"

"I love you" is easily the most commonly spoken three-word sentence in the English language - and, as the Avett Brothers have noted, it's sometimes the most difficult three-word sentence in the English language to say.  It's inspired numerous pop songs, including a great deal of songs from the Beatles, right from their very first EMI single in 1962. But it took a genius like John Lennon to make a song out of the second most commonly spoken three-word sentence in the English language. 
John wrote "I'm So Tired" in India at a time when he was between lives and between wives.  He had gone to India with his wife Cynthia to study Transcendental Meditation with the Maharishi but found himself falling in love with his ladyfriend Yoko Ono, whom he continued to correspond with while he was away.  He grew more conflicted and restless as time went by, and all that meditation didn't help him; ironically, after three weeks of intense meditating, he had developed a case of insomnia.  "I'm So Tired" was the result of his restlessness.
"I'm So Tired" sounds tired itself, and convincingly so.  The Beatles play the song at a lethargic pace and to a deadened tempo, the only sign of life coming from Ringo Starr's drums, while John sounds as bleary-eyed as you would an expect an insomniac to sound.  He addresses Yoko with exasperation as he explains that insomnia is harming him, and he tries in vain to find or do something to relax him, ultimately settling for a cigarette when both a drink and a phone call to Yoko are out of the question.  He only gets more disgusted over being addicted to nicotine, putting down the English colonialist who promoted the practice of smoking tobacco - "And curse Sir Walter Raleigh, he was such a stupid git!" 
The most incredible trait of "I'm So Tired" is that John doesn't just convey how he felt when he was unable to get any sleep and trying to deal with his feelings about a woman not (yet) his wife, he makes you feel it too.  Hearing this song makes you feel as exhausted and anxious as John; it effectively sucks the energy out of the room.  It's in stark contrast to John's Revolver song "I'm Only Sleeping," which flows dreamily and leaves the listener in a state of bliss.  John displays and transmits every emotion born of doubt and worry, with the occasional desperate shout to Yoko about maybe calling her and about losing his sanity, baring his soul to her with a direct frankness - "I'd give you every thing I've got for a little peace of mind" - that would be indicative of his solo work.
No song about insomnia conveys the harrowing effect of the condition with more brutal honesty than "I'm So Tired," which may explain why rock critic Greil Marcus found the song to be richer than even "A Day In the Life." In fact, many songs about insomnia reduce it to a cliché, such as Bobby Lewis's "Tossin' and Turnin'," which is more of a novelty song than anything else.  The Fifth Dimension's 1972 hit "(Last Night) I Didn't Get to Sleep at All" shares with "I'm So Tired" the concern of peace of mind over a lover, and Marilyn McCoo has a lot of heart in her vocal - when she sings about calling her lover and not getting an answer, I go cold inside too - but the music is too polite and mannered to be effective.  Writer David Quantick said it best when he called "I'm So Tired" "the only song ever written that manages not only to musically describe insomnia, but to also make it sound entertaining."  It's hard to imagine anyone topping John Lennon's take on dealing with sleepless nights, and Lennon himself was proud of this song.  "I just like the sound of it, and I sing it well," he said in 1980.
Paul McCartney likes this song too.  In fact, when the Beatles began rehearsing for a possible concert at Twickenham Film Studios in January 1969 - which ultimately led to recording the Let It Be album instead - "I'm So Tired" was rehearsed with Paul singing lead.  The Twickenham sessions, though filmed, were not properly recorded for disc, so nothing from these rehearsals was ever released.  However, many Twickenham recordings have gotten out on bootlegs, including the Beatles' take on "I'm So Tired" with Paul on lead vocals, and that particular recording is readily available on YouTube, as evidenced below.

Paul did a credible job, but only John could do this song true justice, because it was John putting himself out in public.  "I like to write about me," John once admitted, "'cause I know me."
"I'm So Tired" ends with an exhausted Lennon apparently falling asleep at last . . . and seemingly dreaming of being in a bar in Paris.  "Monsieur, monsieur, monsieur, how about another one?"      

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