Norwegian Wood (This Bird Has Flown) - The Beatles

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"Norwegian Wood (This Bird Has Flown)" - The Beatles (1965)

“Norwegian Wood (This Bird Has Flown)” is about an extra-marital affair Lennon was having and in order not to have his then-wife Cynthia suspect anything- he wrote the song as a smoke screen. He called it “sophisticated way in writing about an affair.” He claims it wasn’t referring to any affair specifically.

Norwegian Wood is a fake wood that was used to make cheap furniture. Lennon knew people who were using it in their homes and thought it would make a good title.

He said it was entirely his song- but McCartney disagrees and says when Lennon showed it to him he only had the first line and “perhaps the underlying tune” that it was close to fifty-fifty collaboration.

He adds:

“I filled it out lyrically and had the idea to set the place on fire, so I take some sort of credit. The middle eights were mine.”

Producer George Martin tells of how George picked up the sitar- not really knowing how to play anything on it at that time- not even how to tune it properly - and just started playing the intro to the track. He literally came up with it- on the spot.

The exotic, microtonal flavor of Harrison’s sitar lines accent the flourishes of Lennon’s haunting acoustic guitar.

Music critic David Reck writes:

“The sitar in this song is not just a gimmicky exotic guitar. It is, first, a recognition (perhaps intuitive) by Lennon that his repetitive tune with its major/minor interplay shares sonic qualities with the north-Indian classical music. Elements of classical Indian music in Beatles songs- drones, scales, instruments, rhythms, ornaments, timbre- became a code for ‘trippiness’. The is essential both to Lennon’s storyline and in establishing the mood and setting of the song.”

The light waltz of the opening guitar is deceptive as the scene is conjured up by inference rather than by description- a technique where musical atmosphere can easily outweigh drama, and can be used to tell the story better.

Jonathan Gould points out how the song is something close to an emotional black comedy about seduction between a pair of prospective lovers with different agendas in mind.

He writes:

“The image of this smooth, dark-grained teak works as an extended metaphor in the song. It symbolizes the girl’s pretensions, as well as the minimalist agenda of seduction (wine, talk, bed) she carries over into the music.”

The story of “Norwegian Wood” is full of particularized images instead of abstractions as there is no resolution to the story. Is this love or a one-night stand? Will they be together? Was the affair consummated? None of this is clear and the listener is left to ponder the conclusion.

In fact, it’s the Beatles’ first “vignettes”- little slices of life that are the bread and butter of the novel. The lasting impression of the song is not animosity but wistful regret at the lost opportunities and miscommunications that impede human connection.

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