“I’m Looking Through You” is a fairly angry song, mostly from Paul’s pen, that Dandelion Wine certainly stamps with a rough-edged beauty in this wonderful cover. The unusual trio (voice/guitar/cello) slows it down a bit, and when you hear Danny Musengo’s voice—which channels the absolute best of Rod Stewart’s gravelly charm—your first thought is probably going to be “Maggie May.” That was my first thought for sure. The next: “Two amazing songs. So many miles apart.”
Try to imagine any other band from the 60’s recording “I’m Looking Through You.” Would you buy it? I don’t think so. Let’s limit it to bands made up of white kids, but consider that the Beatles own songwriting was strong enough that they didn’t have to keep imitating rhythm and blues to sound emotional and authentic. The sentiment of the song is simple—people change, things change, how do we deal with it? How do they? Does it matter? But when we scratch our heads and wonder why The Beatles mattered so much, maybe we need to remember that those four kids didn’t have anything to fall back on or any surplus on which they could afford to maintain many illusions.
Even their involvement in Eastern religions seems as practical as it was indulgent.
The line from Maggie May that kept coming back to me was “It’s late September and I really should be back at school.” Paul and John weren’t college kids (like me, say, when I was in a band) and though they helped launch the baby-boomers into permanent adolescence, in some important ways they really look back to a generation that grew up faster—I mean, Paul wrote “When I’m Sixty-Four” when he was just sixteen.
The singer in “Maggie May,” feels used, made a fool of, mistreated. He wishes he’d never seen Maggie, and he even sees her in a different light now: “The morning sun when it’s in your eyes really shows your age.” But he’s still “as blind as a fool can be” and couldn’t leave her if he tried. The thing is, he could collect his books and “go on back to school” or even find “a rock and roll band, that needs a helping hand.” “Maggie May” has a handful of alternative fantasies and maybe it’s the selfish luxury of the poet to choose none and have them all.
No such wiggle room for “I’m Looking Through You.” There is the cliché in songs, or maybe more in movies, that love was in front of me all the time, I just had to open my eyes and see “the real you.” “I’m Looking Through You” is the anti-fantasy of this—like “Hello, Goodbye” Paul juggles a paradox, “I’m looking through you / And you’re nowhere”. He’s trying to find the difficult line between “the real you” and the “you” I was in love with.
A big part of love is the agreement not to change too much or so fast that it strains the pleasant illusion of coupledom. A song like “Wait” explains the rules:
It’s been a long time
coming back home…
’til I come back to your side
We’ll forget the tears we’ve cried”
We’re driven to look for some redemption, some hint of a way out, a turning point that let the beloved materialize again in the eyes of her lover—“I believe / in Yesterday”—or else what are songs for? When I saw the “real you” and fell in love, I saw something I wanted to lift up to the heavens. To keep love alive, I have to hold you aloft until we can get back home, where we can forget the tears. By the rules of love songs this has to happen, but the agreement is prone to one side changing the rules without really letting on. That leaves the lover holding his beloved aloft, then feeling that all he did was give her a height advantage. But that was Yesterday, today is something else:
You’re thinking of me, the same old way
You were above me, but not today
The only difference is you’re down there
I’m looking through you, and you’re nowhere
What is there when you have to open your eyes? Nothing good for sure, and you can’t just lay back down and think, maybe you’ll join a rock band one day. It’s angering and bewildering and you have to pick a spot to stand firm or else get dragged under. What makes “I’m Looking Through You” so grown up and part of The Beatles evolution of pop music is that it’s sung from a place beyond that turning point, that can no longer afford to believe in Yesterday.
ABOUT THE ARTIST
Dandelion Wine, like most religions, began with a mushroom trip in the desert and will end in eternal life.
Ukulele Version #120 recorded – March 2011
Written by Paul McCartney
Credited to Lennon/McCartney
Danny Musengo – Vocals guitar
Tom Hopke – Guitar
Nathan MacCormack – Cello
David Barratt – Ukulele, bass, guitar
Lightning – Percussion (0:43)
Produced by David Barratt at The Abattoir Of Good Taste, Brooklyn
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