Friday, August 08, 2008

Fun Friday

Sure, the title is hokey, but I just made it up, and I thought I'd post something to have fun with.

I pulled some song lyrics from the Internet, and I thought I'd post them. The purpose is to interpret what they mean - or not mean. The song is "Nowhere Man," by the Beatles (really a John Lennon song). So, I do think there is something to be gleaned from these seemingly strange lyrics. If it was what Lennon intended, I don't know. But that doesn't make the interpretation any less valid - so long as it is anchored in some coherent reasoning. I'll hold off on my comments and let the lyrics brew for a bit. I will say that I think it might have something to do with identity and who we are.

Nowhere Man
He's a real nowhere Man,
Sitting in his Nowhere Land,
Making all his nowhere plans for nobody.
Doesn't have a point of view,
Knows not where he's going to,
Isn't he a bit like you and me?
Nowhere Man, please listen,
You don't know what you're missin',
Nowhere Man, the world is at your command.
(lead guitar)
He's as blind as he can be,
Just sees what he wants to see,
Nowhere Man can you see me at all?
Nowhere Man, don't worry,
Take your time, don't hurry,
Leave it all 'till somebody else lends you a hand.
Doesn't have a point of view,
Knows not where he's going to,
Isn't he a bit like you and me?
Nowhere man please listen,
you don't know what your missin'
Nowhere Man, the world is at your command
He's a real Nowhere Man,
Sitting in his Nowhere Land,
Making all his nowhere plans for nobody.
Making all his nowhere plans for nobody.
Making all his nowhere plans for nobody.


14 comments:

Charles Gramlich said...

I figure Nowhere man is "every man," going about his life something like a zombie, no goals, no direction, just adrift, and not realizing his power to change.

Vwriter said...

I read this, got in the car, and went to the store to pick up a better brand of coffee. On the way, I passed homeless people huddled in between buildings, lying beneath bus stop benches, and one just lying on the side of the road. The traffic was a bit crowded, I didn't have money in my pocket to give them (the homeless rarely take ATM donations), and started wondering if the song was about them or me. People that don't make plans that include helping others really are Nowhere.

William Jones said...

Charles - I like that interpretation. I find the notion that the "nowhere man" doesn't realize he has the power to change the world around him. I guess he's just waiting for someone else to do it: "Leave it all 'till somebody else lends you a hand."

William Jones said...

Vwriter - That is an angle that I've not considered. I'd enjoy it if you elaborated on it. There is a commonality with Charles' reading of the lyrics. And actually, there is no "right" reading - even if the author says so. :) Each of us respond to the lyrics in our own way. What is interesting is when we respond similarly. Then there is a "common reading."

William Jones said...

My Take

Because it is lengthy, I'll just post a snippet. It might generate more ideas.

I view "Nowhere Man" as being everyone - "Isn't he a bit like you and me?"

This is a trick to get us to look at the Nowhere man who doesn't know who he is, and get us to agree, "we're just like him."

What I propose is that a Nowhere Man is a person who doesn't have his or her own identity - culture and society (and commercialism) provide that identity. Fades, style, and what's popular also help determine it. The question is where is the "real" us inside that? (nowhere perhaps?)

This would mean that the Nowhere Man (everyone) has no point of view (no opinions until told), has no plans ("knows not where he's going to"), and in the end, he/she is really "no one" (while being everyone).

The foundation for this take (for me) is the question: Can you see me at all?

When we look at a person, do we see the "identity" or what we compose and decide is the "identity"? How can we really "see" a person until we get to know the person. Instead, we tend to go with stereotypes. So the question: Can you see me at all? Leads me down the path of wondering, how do we determine our identity and others' identities.

I must confess, some of this comes from my reading of INVISIBLE MAN - a character who is not invisible, but says no one sees him (who he really is).

The short version is we just a book by its cover, and sometimes people judge themselves by their covers. (That's not really short, is it?)

pfong said...

We are nowhere men till we decide on a direction to take in life. Until then the world is a blank slate, in a sense "ours to command".

Perhaps this is a reflection on John Lennon's own state of mind when he wrote the song. Having achieved fame, he may have been at a point where he didn't know what to do next now that the world was his to command.

Steve Buchheit said...

I've always viewed Nowhere Man (except for the "Yellow Submarine" version) as the same kind of person as in the first part of Pink Floyd's "Time."

"And then one day you find ten years have got behind you. No one told you when to run. You missed the starting gun."

That Nowhere Man is just out there, existing, soaking up what's around him but feeding nothing back into the stream.

Steve Buchheit said...

Forgot to mention, I think it was also an intellectual riff on the phrase, "he's nowhere, man."

Vwriter said...

You know what you were saying about commercialism and "implanted" identity- you didn't exactly use that phrase, but you see where I'm going. Perhaps a better phrase would be "assembled identities."

Anyway, I'm a bar ten or twelve years ago with a group of six or seven or eight Russian Literature professors, and their two sponsors for the visit. The sponsors were "The King of Siberian Lumber," and a Russian mobster turned business man. We're all drinking pretty heavily and there is- I swear- a Russian Elvis impersonator cranking out the King's tunes in Russian. Crowd's going wild. So that's the setup. Another round of frozen vodkas.

So I'm trying to get the literature professors' take on existentialism and the search for identitiy. So this one woman professor tells me, "Only in America is lose identity where is it?" She stood up to toast and fell back unconscious. The mobster ignores her and tells me, "In Russia we must have state identity. State give identity. Citizens have papers. All Russian children know who they is will be. Mother Russia has no nowhere men. No nowhere women or children."

I look at those Literature professors still sober enough to sit up. They're all nodding.

So I asked, "What about Prince Mishkin?"

So the mobster tells me, "I have a brother named Mishkin."

Thing is, they'd all worn the same clothes all five days I'd been with them. They just rotated the shirts, socks, etc. among each other to look like they'd changed clothes.

Have you read Ayn Rand's "We the Living?" Kind of clunky style, but throughout the book she uses only collective pronouns so that by the end of the book you can actually see how people who are state property are nowhere men (and women) too.

Vwriter said...

Sorry William, I almost forgot to address your earlier request. It might sound a little abstruse, but here were my thoughts:

To define an object (disregarding quantum considerations) we need to assess its three physical considerations- length, width, heighth, and its location in the space/time continuum. When looking at the concept of a people, four descriptive ideas can apply. First, there is the idea of individual identity. Next, there is the collective identity. These two fall flat without the sense of empathy for the human condition. However, these three attributes by themselves describe a "nowhere man or person." It is the fourth attribute, that of engaging positively in the human struggle that define a person who that frees us from the curse of being "nowhere." Without that fourth consideration, we still find ourselves mired in existential angst.

A person with a singular sense of a identity, who knows how he fits in with others and has human empathy, still cannot be described as anything but "nowhere" if they do not actively and positively engage in the human experience.

Because I drove by and did nothing for the people that I saw, that is why I felt disconnected and untethered- "nowhere."

William Jones said...

Pfong - I'd think you are correct in many ways. We could say that Lennon wrote the song "just because," but quite often art is inspired from personal experience - which is perhaps a part of identity. So I think you have a good take on the song.

William Jones said...

Steve - The idea of the song title playing with the expression is a good one - I'd bet right on the mark. I also like the comparison to Pink Floyd's song is clever as well. It provides another angle to look at, while viewing a bit of the same thing.

William Jones said...

Vwriter - What a delightful set of insights. I see your point about the collective/personal identity. I'm not so sure we can measure identity with length, width, height - I think those might be physical qualities, and I'd venture that "identity" is abstract. But, that does bring up the question: Is identity abstract? Do the clothes make the person?

You insights about the collective and personal identity I think are at the heart of my interpretation of the song. It seems the "nowhere man" is waiting for an external identity to be placed upon him. He "doesn't have a point of view, knows not where he's going to," he's waiting for a collective definition.

This begs the question, is that collective identity HIS identity. If everyone believes him to be something, is he that something? Does he have a choice in it?

I'd think the answer is yes. Perhaps who WE ARE is a collections of our knowledge and experiences (do those form our identity?). But in public, we tend to have a different identity. However, if the "external" (collective" identity is strong, then the nowhere man becomes a collection of imposed ideas. I wonder if that is possible in our society? Can a person be so caught up in "being cool," and owning the latest "toys," and wearing the most popular style of clothes, and living the "(collective) dream life," that the person forgets to be himself? If so, then he's be a man of "nothing" but others' ideas, having do direction, until someone gave him direction. And he's be making all his plans (others' plans) for nobody (because it has no affect on anyone but him).

As for Ayn Rand. :) I've read her works. She was unusually non-objective for a person attempting to be objective. She produced many exciting ideas, as with all philosophies, they are not iron clad. Keen points at times. But I'm not sold on her concepts of "identity."

And because this is a lengthy post, I'll not venture into the Aristotelean qualities and attributes you cleverly mentioned. This was supposed to be "Fun Friday." :) It seems we are really giving this song a run for its money.

I will comment upon your idea of being connected to others. That does seem to be an important aspect of "identity." After all, is an isolated identity still an identity?

To venture upon another question, I wonder if the song simply is asking us to think about who we are? How do we come to be the people we are? How much of that identity is our choice? And, if we do have a choice, are we using it, or simply waiting for something else to shape us? Quite often we hear "Just be yourself." I've seen many people faced with that simply suggestion and at a loss as to how to do that.

pam said...

Because of the 20 some odd references to negation in Lennon's diction: "do'nt", "nobody", "not", "doesn't", "nowhere" that permeate the lyrics, the repetition is key to understanding the meaning behind this song. This is about what every person IS NOT. Not a good humanitarian, not a good friend, not a good parent, not a good Christian, not a good role model, not rich enough, not beautiful enough, not thin enough, etc. It is an private exploration in lacking the so-called identities that we think will define who we are, but paradoxically make us something we are NOT. Thusly, in thinking about what a person IS NOT,there is an oversight -a "blind" spot if you will- in identifying what a person really IS. This is a contemplation all of us share. We question our identities and individualities. We constantly rush ahead through life trying to obtain the next thing that will make us one of the things we continue to be NOT. In doing so there is a displacement of the very simplicities of life. We are a consumption society driven by wealth and power. We have negated the hard work and ethical contributions of our real identities. Life passes us by as we continue living in this "Nowhere land" making all our "nowhere plans" because our pursuits of materialism and status keep us from really seeing who we are. Consequently, we will never be the things we are NOT because society can never be satiated with enough.