Julia - The Beatles

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"Julia" - The Beatles (1968)

Written during the Beatles stay in India in early 1968, "Julia" was based on the finger-picking guitar style known as “Travis-picking” or “claw hammer” which Lennon and McCartney had learned from Scottish folk musician Donovan. It is considered Lennon’s most childlike and self-revealing song.

Composed for John’s mother, Julia Lennon, who was killed in a traffic accident when he was 17 years old, it has also been suggested that he wrote it for his future wife Yoko Ono, While it memorializes the songwriter’s late mother, it also addresses his spiritual deliverance at the hands of his new-found soul mate, the “ocean child” Yoko Ono whose first name literally means "child of the sea" in Japanese. This is echoed in the lyric “Oceanchild, calls me.” Towards the end of his life, he often called Yoko "Mother."

Lennon is the only one playing or singing on the track- the only time he was unaccompanied on a Beatle track. He recorded it completely live with an acoustic guitar and occasional overdubs on the vocals.

Author David Quantick remarks that the song’s nakedness matches its emotional state and introduced a new emotional rawness to Lennon’s music.

Musicologist Alan Pollack wrote that the song is almost agonizingly exquisite in its restrained, laconic poetry, and its combination of suggestive imagery with a reluctance to be explicit such as in the line “silent cloud touch me.”

The musical text is just as elusive as are the words as Lennon provides a dreamlike feel by merging his gentle acoustic guitar playing with the natural wonder-like feel of his vocals.

Beatle scholar Ken Womack points out how the middle-eight of the composition is simply breathtaking—which he believes is perhaps the finest among the songwriter’s multitudinous compositions, with lines such as: “Her hair of floating sky is shimmering, glimmering, / In the sun.”

He adds:

“By double-tracking his voice in crucial instances, John allows different aspects of his self to emerge, particularly when he draws upon his imagination in order to establish a sense of connection with his lost mother.”

Another Beatle scholar, Wilfrid Mellers, contends that Julia is the only song on The White Album entirely devoid of irony:

“If addressed to his mother, the song can’t be a simple love-song but must be retrospective, in a deeply serious sense that counterpoints the retrospectively parody of most of the other songs.”

In her essay, The Beatles and the Feminist Ethic of Care, Professor Peggy Bowers states that when Lennon writes about his mother- as McCartney did in "Let It Be", it creates a meaningful representation of caring. For Lennon, his mother is a gentle, wise, romanticized, goddess figure, with whom he longs to connect, physically and emotionally, the picture of her so beautiful it brings him peace.

Bowers says that recognizing that the feminist ethic is central to male maturation means boys don’t just think, they feel—in part because of a relational exchange with the feminine. This exchange is not exclusively sexual, but rather, is a way to expand one’s horizons. Many of The Beatles’ lyrics indicate an acute awareness that the development of the self occurs only by recognizing others.

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