Sunday, August 22, 2010


Since we are all human, I'm sure we all wish we could go back in time and fix a d'oh! moment we had, or respond to someone in a way we didn't think of until 15 minutes, or 15 days, later.
Herewith is one of the biggest d'oh! moments of my life, something that, if I could go back and do all over again, I would, with satisfying results.
In 10th grade, we had the coolest English teacher ever, Mr. Cuthbertson. It was 1976. He always strove to give us, his honors students, assignments that went beyond reading comprehension. He wanted us to interconnect what we were "forced" to read with the world at large, put the book into cultural context, while also weaving in the popular music, art and movies of the time the book was written. He really was trying to give us a college English experience, but we didn't realize it at the time.
Anyway, a popular assignment was for us to choose a song, interpret that song, and then present our interpretation to the class. It was interesting to hear the music my classmates were into, such as "Landslide" by Fleetwood Mac and "Casey Jones" by the Grateful Dead, never my favorite band, but huge among the Class of '79.
I was, and still am, a huge Beatles fan, and since I always was a bit of a loner, I chose not to pair up with anyone. My song of choice was "A Day in the Life," from Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, what many consider the Beatles' best album. I do not share that view, but it still has some pretty amazing songs and the last song of the album is one of the Beatles' best, a true collaboration between John and Paul, or so I thought.
The song is ripe for interpretation, and I studiously went to the library, researching every lyric, every scene, every change in music. Then came project presentation day.
After giving my talk, a fellow student asked what I thought of the abrupt tempo change in the middle of the song, and the fact that Paul's vocals take over from John's, if only for a minute or two. So what did little Miss English Major say, how did I respond? I didn't hesitate: "I really don't know."
Whaaaaa??? After all the work I had done to prepare and Jeff Hatcher asking me a reasonable question, what did I do? I choked.
So, Jeff, Mr. Cuthbertson and the rest of my 10th grade English class at Vernon-Verona-Sherrill High School, here is my response, 34 years later.
The change in tempo actually represents two things--one is the transformation from the dreamlike feel of the song to an everyday, humdrum, rush-to-work feeling, not unlike what working adults feel every day. But even less interpretive than that, this song is actually two songs put together.
John and Paul hadn't collaborated at all, instead giving us a clash of styles in one, amazing song, all topped off by the longest note in pop-music history. And that explains the dichotomy of "A Day in the Life."
So Mr. C, could I get an A+ now instead of the A you so generously gave me? And Jeff Hatcher, wherever you are? You gave me one of the defining moments of my adolescence. Not a week goes by when I don't think about how I failed in answering your query.
Now for the next do-over.