Strawberry Fields Forever… and ever… amen

“No one I think is in my tree…” John Lennon

“Strawberry Fields” shouldn’t work – but it does. Brilliantly. The intriguing question is – why?

John Lennon (image courtesy 100.7 KOOL FM)

Adulthood is all mixed up, as almost everyone reading this knows. Not that childhood isn’t all mixed up, too, but in childhood we find coping mechanisms. It can be as simple as finding one’s happy place and going there.

John knew this. He also knew how important that finding coping mechanisms is for us.

“Strawberry Fields Forever,” arguably his finest song as a Beatle, is about remembering. Remembering had become a favorite lyrical theme for John (“In My Life,” “Norwegian Wood,” “Girl”). An equally important theme, and one that John sometimes explored in tandem with the remembering theme, is differentness, especially differentness in how one looks at the world (“Rain,” “I’m Only Sleeping,” “She Said She Said”).

It is that combination of those themes – remembering and differentness – that makes “Strawberry Fields Forever” the masterpiece it is. 

We can begin at the beginning:

Let me take you down, ’cause I’m going to Strawberry Fields
Nothing is real and nothing to get hung about
Strawberry Fields forever

Strawberry Fields, as we all know, was a real place:

I’ve seen Strawberry Field described as a dull, grimy place next door to him that John imagined to be a beautiful place, but in the summer it wasn’t dull and grimy at all: it was a secret garden. John’s memory of it wasn’t to do with the fact that it was a Salvation Army home; that was up at the house. There was a wall you could bunk over and it was a rather wild garden, it wasn’t manicured at all, so it was easy to hide in. – Paul McCartney

As Paul notes, John loved climbing over the wall at Strawberry Fields. He found the wildness of the garden liberating, a place where he could avoid his Aunt Mimi who didn’t always appreciate John’s own differentness. In remembering Strawberry Fields John was remembering a place of solace and escape.

But after evoking the memory of a favorite childhood oasis, the song takes a turn. Lennon begins an inward journey starting from noting the mundanity of most people’s lives:

Living is easy with eyes closed
Misunderstanding all you see
It’s getting hard to be someone but it all works out
It doesn’t matter much to me

In the next stanza he explores his recognition of his own differentness:

No one I think is in my tree
I mean it must be high or low
That is you can’t you know tune in but it’s all right
That is I think it’s not too bad

And finally he reflects upon his realization that, because of his differentness, he will face uncertainty and self-doubt – and that that’s okay:

Always, no sometimes, think it’s me
But you know I know when it’s a dream
I think I know I mean a “Yes” but it’s all wrong
That is I think I disagree

What makes all this rambling reflection on differentness hang together is that recurring chorus:

Let me take you down, ’cause I’m going to Strawberry Fields
Nothing is real and nothing to get hung about
Strawberry Fields forever

In truth, this shouldn’t work – it’s as if John started out writing a memory song then changed his mind and wandered off into navel gazing meditation about his differentness from those in the world around him. It shouldn’t work – but it does. Brilliantly. The intriguing question is – why?

Leave it to John to give us an answer:

Well, what I was trying to say… is ‘Nobody seems to be as hip as me, therefore I must be crazy or a genius.’ It’s the same problem as I had when I was five: ‘There is something wrong with me because I seem to see things other people don’t see. Am I crazy, or am I a genius?’ … What I’m saying, in my insecure way, is ‘Nobody seems to understand where I’m coming from. I seem to see things in a different way from most people.’

What’s the answer to John’s question about himself? Decide for yourself:

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