Friday 24 November 2006

Norwegian Wood

Of the top ten Beatles songs by my evaluation, I give much appreciation to Norwegian Wood. Unfortunately, I am not alone in loving this song as you may see. The proof is that a Japanese author has written a novel titled Norwegian Wood as inspired by the masterpiece of pop. As far as I know, the novel is an erotic story, which is why I tried not to give it even a quick look for fear that dirty contents will spoil the pureness of its namesake. It is very possible that I am wrong, or, at least, self-opinionated, but please forgive my conservative mind; just because I love the Beatles’ Norwegian Wood too much to accept anything outside musical circles that’s based on it.

I think the Beatles might be viewed as Mozart of Pop, because all the endless pureness, innocence, and charming wit that people attribute to Mozart’s works can be applied to Beatles music. The biggest difference between them is genre only. Norwegian Wood is one of the Beatles’ masterpieces, as is Mozart’s Magic Flute.

I once had a girl,

or should I say

she once had me.

She showed me her room

Isn’t it good,

Norwegian wood?...

From the introduction until its final notes, the song is a lilting ballad in which the singer told a story about his one-night romance. In fact it was hardly a Western-styled love affair because no sexual contact was made; the two people just "talked until 2", and then the strange gentleman "crawled to sleep in the bath". On top of that, the song is well-known both for its profoundly beautiful melody and the fact that it is a Western song with much Eastern influence: John Lennon's guitar is accompanied by George Harrison on the sitar, an Indian musical instrument.

In terms of the lyrics, the meaning of "Norwegian wood" is so far mysterious. Some say "Norwegian wood" may be a pun on the name of a strong variety of marijuana, so the song, once again, is a symbol of double-meaning psychedelic pieces. Others suggest that "Norwegian wood" is the euphemism of "knowing she would". Thanh Tung, editor for the International Music Program on VOV radio, went further and more ridiculous to translate "Norwegian Wood" as "Norwegian timber" (gỗ Na Uy). Image 

For me only, however, the song reminds me of a beautiful romance told by Paustovsky in "The Pine-cone Basket". In this short story, maestro Edward Grieg met with a little girl in an autumn pine forest, talked to her, and got deep impression from the child’s blue bright eyes. He would get back home afterwards to write a composition for the girl of 10 years later, a masterpiece that he dedicated "to Daniel Pettersen for her 18th birthday".

For some unknown reason I often associate the pine wood in Paustovsky’s story with the "Norwegian wood" that John Lennon sang about, and the encounter between Edward Grieg and Daniel Pettersen with the one between the singer and the unnamed young woman, "bird", in the Beatles’ masterpiece. Norwegian wood was the place where they met, and possibly it was merely an imaginary land that witnessed a fugitive love. 

I am particularly enchanted by the accompaniment, and the last words, "And when I awoke / I was alone / This bird had flown / So I lit a fire / Isn't it good / Norwegian wood?". I even tried to translate it into Vietnamese, and failed. (Sure I did!) It's a foolish thing to translate any Beatles lyrics into Vietnamese, simply because they are too simple, sometimes meaningless. The beauty of Beatles songs lies in their melody, the accompaniment, and especially the spirit that they hold, never in their simple words. The last words in "Norwegian Wood" show us that the man's once-in-a-lifetime woman was gone, leaving him reflecting on the unexpected, unforgetable encounter with the strange little bird, and wondering if it were a nice memory. "The bird had flown", but her silhouette lingered as the man kept asking himself, or asking the unknown "Norwegian wood" whether it was a good memory he had. The words "Norwegian wood" is mentioned in the first verse ("She showed me her room / Isn't it good? / Norwegian wood?") and again in its last line ("So, I lit a fire / Isn't it good? / Norwegian wood?"), as the melody keeps occupying our mind.

And, just like many other Beatles songs, Norwegian Wood stirs in me the thought of a distant quiet past. Although I did not get to know any Beatles song until 1992, maybe I had heard them somewhere and some time, when I was still a child of 4 or 5, living in a closed country that was undergoing harsh economic recession and isolation. I could not remember where the melody came from, or how it got into my mind and stayed there, possibly until the rest of my life. In my childhood dream, I saw myself in boots and jeans, wandering through vetlvet green fields in the sun, softly plucking my guitar strings and singing alone a beautiful melody. When I grew up and became a Beatles fan, I knew exactly what that sweet melody was: it should be "Norwegian Wood". Hope the Japanese novel would not murder the beauty of the fab four's "Norwegian Wood". A dim hope it is, because I will not read the book.

Let your mind resound with the haunting melody of "Norwegian Wood", and you will know why I call Beatles the "Mozart of Pop".

I once had a girl,

or should I say

she once had me.

She showed me her room,

Isn’t it good?

Norwegian wood.

She asked me to stay and she told me to sit anywhere,

So I looked around and I noticed there wasn’t a chair.

I sat on a rug,

biding my time,

drinking her wine.

We talked until two,

and then she said,

‘It’s time for bed’.

She told me she worked in the morning and started to laugh,

I told her I didn’t, and crawled off to sleep in the bath.

And when I awoke

I was alone,

This bird had flown,

So I lit a fire,

Isn’t it good?

Norwegian wood.