5
Nov 09

The Most Important Game Ever Made #20: Frere Jacques

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The final tour song… ever! And it was actually the final tour song for the Beatles in real life, according to the in-game factoids. (Well, almost. But it was definitely the last song they played that was written by them.)

This was the only even faintly decent cover version of ‘Paperback Writer’ I could find – Gershon Kingsley, from his album ‘Music To Moog By’. That said, there’s something ill-fitting about ‘Paperback Writer’ devolving into a psychedelic wilderness over the course of the song.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6_qcX1jr764

The reason Kingsley’s moog madness probably doesn’t quite work is that ‘Paperback Writer’ is all about the crushing reality of total failure. And why not? According to wiki (DON’T JUDGE ME) it was written after one of Sir Macca’s aunts demanded that Paul stop being such a PIMP DADDY and write a song that wasn’t about fabulous rings. A dark, kitchen-sink comedy about a failed novelist is probably about as far as you can get from the Walrus’s usual bling fixation.

‘Paperback Writer’ finishes off the five-song look at the meaning of Fame with a cold, hard glimpse at the muddy reality of the creative life. The protagonist is desperate to be a paperback writer, which seems to mean reworking another novel and sending it off as his own while blithely admitting to the plagiarism. (Is this a sixties thing? Was there ever a market for reworked pulp versions of ‘real’ books, or is our protagonist just clueless?) The story proposal touted by our wannabe writer – a grim bit of kitchen-sink melodrama seemingly hanging on the coattails of the Angry Young Men – loops around on itself to get back into the chorus, meaning that this book by a would-be novelist is itself about a would-be novelist.

I’m honestly not sure how far the narrator is basing his terrible book on his own life – like all good pop, the listener helps build the story – but we’re either left with a blatant Mary Sue tossed in with a medley of other cliches of the period (“it’s a dirty story of a dirty man, and his clinging wife doesn’t understand”), or – and I don’t know if this is better or worse – a thinly veiled autobiography where the aforementioned awful couple are the narrator’s own parents.

I guess it depends whether you believe this shlub could hold down any job, never mind one at the Daily Mail, which was at the time a newspaper of some kind as opposed to a screeching fear-sheet that advocates a return to the Dark Ages. Looking at it that way, I’m heading towards the Mary Sue argument. But I digress!

After that we get into a sustained period of grovelling as our hero explains how he’ll do seemingly just about anything to be a paperback writer — paperback writerrrr!! – chopping and changing his book to order, making it longer (though the listener can tell that at a thousand pages it’s already far too long) and giving away the rights if the publisher really likes it, until finally he seems willing to do anything at all to the work he’s hurled years of his life into if it’ll just get him THE JOB. The desperation is palpable. The one constant in all this – apart from the sheer savagery which the Beatles joyously pack into every line – is that he really, really, really wants to be a paperback writer. PAPERBACK WRITEERRRR!!

The entire song flip-flips between increasing desperation on the part of the narrator and increasing joy at the heady thought of achieving his goal – presumably the Beatles had seen a fair amount of acts crashing on the rocky shoals of the business by this time in an attempt to grab a slice of their pie, and this mix of desperation and fantasy was familiar to them. This is as close as most people get to Fame – the pleading letter to the publisher/editor/record executive – and there’s something bittersweet about this moment before the rejection hits. Especially since a paperback writer (paperback writerrrr!) in the sixties would have probably been writing this sort of thing. LUST LODGE. THE GREEN WOUND CONTRACT. CALL ME DEADLY. She was beautiful and depraved… A smashing story of hatred and explosive violence.”

Put like that, it’s hard to deny him his lust for the writer’s life. As someone who’s gotten into pulp novels partly for the romance of the situation – banging out lurid trash at roughly fivepence a word, just like the greats! – I can understand this young scamp wanting to live the dream. Maybe that’s why I love this song so much – like the best pop, I can recognise myself in the lyrics.

Of course, that’s completely ignoring the musical side, which is fantastic, but I’m out of space. The game side too – this is one track I recommend getting a couple of spare microphones in for. You’ll want to do the harmonies with your friends.

NEXT: We get away from my favourite Beatles songs EVAR and things get a bit more objective. And also a bit more acid-crazed as Ringo describes the horrible things he sees under the sea in his terrifying yellow coffin to a startling visual accompaniment.

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