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“Helter Skelter”

Posted by purplemary54 on March 2, 2012

For whatever reason, I’m feeling like writing about angry tunes.

“Helter Skelter” is one of the angriest songs The Beatles ever did.  It’s a Paul song, although what Paul was angry about is unclear.  Maybe he’d had a fight with Linda (I think he’d met her by this point).  Maybe he’d been arguing with John again.  Maybe he was just pulling the wool over our eyes.  Who cares?  It’s still fantastic.  The guitars just roar, like the wind of a hurricane.  It starts off pretty normally, but from the end of the first couple lines, Paul’s voice starts cracking and everything starts to swirl.  The chaos just builds and builds until near the end when it fades out.  Only to come back for a few more bars.  I’m pretty sure John meant it when he howls “I got blisters on my fingers!” after the final fade out.  Maybe a tornado would be a more apt description of this song.  It feels capricious, as if you’re not sure where it’s finally going to land. The drums pound relentlessly, and the wall of guitars spit and snarl.  “Helter Skelter” is an experience as much as it is a song.

It’s actually sort of easy to see why a lunatic like Charles Manson would zoom in on a song like this.  I was listening to The Beatles (aka The White Album) on my Walkman while reading Helter Skelter many years ago.  This song took on a decidedly sinister mood when paired with the retelling of the Manson Family crimes and trial.  Given the right circumstances, the song “Helter Skelter” can be downright creepy.  Especially the fade out-fade in at the end.  Just when you think you’ve escaped the maelstrom, it comes flying back at you.  The Beatles had been doing things like that since “Strawberry Fields Forever”; it’s creepy there, too.  And don’t get me started on the inner groove from Sgt. Pepper’s (that actually brought me to tears once, although I couldn’t for the life of me tell you why).  There’s something a little off about a song being over but not ending.  Like that moment in the ghost story when the door creaks open or the rocking chair rocks by itself.

And here I am spooking myself out.  Maybe “Helter Skelter” has been too tainted by its association with death and insanity.  Maybe there’s too many ghosts in this song.  Despite what Bono said once, Charles Manson didn’t “steal this song from The Beatles.”  It was buried under the weight of a cultural moment no one in the band had any control over.  When The White Album was recorded and released, the Sixties were descending into chaos.  All the peace and love that everyone hoped was coming just disintegrated.  Assassinations, overdoses, riots, the unending war.  The whole world had blisters on its fingers at the end of the Sixties.  Of course, it’s kind of hard to promote peace and love when the ones opposing you insist on bombs and hate.  Or knives and blood.  “Helter Skelter” became a symbol of hate, buried alive by the ravings of a madman and a society that wasn’t ready to change.

Change came anyway.  “I’m coming down fast, but don’t let me break you.”

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