I believe I have a new personal rule. If you like a song, NEVER look up the backstory. See, “Norwegian Wood” was my favorite Beatles song. It has such a simple but beautiful melody. I’ve heard it many times over the years. And without even consciously trying to do so, I came up with a backstory based on the lyrics, which would run through my head like a movie whenever it played. Then I recently looked it up on Wikipedia, and found out the actual backstory is considerably different from the version I pictured.
Call me literal-minded, but I pictured the events playing out in a beautiful, old-growth forest in Norway. The “Norwegian Wood” of the title. In the course of his travels around the continent, John Lennon meets a strikingly attractive Scandinavian woman and finagles an invitation back to her place. It’s not hard. He’s John Lennon, after all.
He discovers that she lives in Zen-like simplicity in a rustic cottage, where she’s moved to paint and write poetry in solitude. She doesn’t even have a chair to offer him. No matter. They sit cross-legged on a rug and share a bottle of wine, talking late into the night. About art. About philosophy. About life in general.
John feels a strong connection, and he finds himself quite smitten. He very much wants to make love to her, and takes it for granted that he will. He’s a Beatle. He can have any woman he chooses. To his surprised dismay, she gently but firmly rebuffs him when he makes his move. She’s a strong, independent woman, not some starry-eyed groupie, and she won’t be one more of his conquests. Tail between his legs, John crawls off to sleep in the bath, as the song goes.
She’s gone when he wakes up in the morning, but she’s left him a note telling him to make himself at home. He makes a cup of tea, and lights a fire in the fireplace to stave off the morning chill. As he sits there warming himself, he smiles. Despite his nettled pride, he’s amused and impressed at the way she put him in his place. He decides to write a song about the experience. Maybe she’ll hear it on the radio and it will put a smile on her face when she gets his personal message to her – that even though the night didn’t turn out as he’d hoped, he still treasures the memory of the time they spent together.
THE REAL BACKSTORY:
John Lennon was screwing around on his wife, and quite pleased with himself about it. So much so that he decided to write a song paying tribute to this accomplishment. Paul McCartney helped him with the lyrics, which tell a fictionalized version of the affair. One that goes as follows:
John is trying to get into some woman’s pants. He goes to her place. It’s an apartment with no furniture, done up in cheap-ass Norwegian pine – just like the apartment of every other Bohemian poser chick at the time.
When John tries to initiate sex, she shoots him out of the saddle. He wakes up in the morning and she’s gone. So he torches her place, to punish her for not fucking him.
Oh well. Guess I need a new favorite Beatles song. If “Octopus’s Garden” is actually a douche-y sexual revenge fantasy, please don’t tell me.