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*4.07-BEING FOR THE BENEFIT OF MR. KITE (Beatles)

John Lennon
John Lennon

LISTEN

[Intro]

For the benefit of Mr. Kite
There will be a show tonight
On trampoline.

The Hendersons will all be there,
Late of Pablo-Fanques‘ fair,
What a scene!

         Over men and horses hoops and garters
         lastly through a hogshead of real fire!
         In this way Mr. K. will challenge the world!

The celebrated Mr. K.
Performs his feat on Saturday
At Bishopsgate.

The Hendersons will dance and sing
As Mr. Kite flies through the ring.
Don't be late!

         Msrs. K & H assure the public
         their production will be second to none.
         And of course Henry the Horse dances the waltz!

[Break]

The band begins at ten to six
When Mr. K. performs his tricks
Without a sound.

And Mr. H. will demonstrate
Ten somersets he'll undertake
On solid ground.

         Having been some days in preparation
         a splendid time is guaranteed for all.
         And tonight Mr. Kite is topping the bill!

[Coda]


Richie Untermeyer wrote in the allmusic website: “Lennon quickly admitted that most of the lyrics were lifted, almost word-for-word, from an 1843 poster for an English circus. What made Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite work, within the context of Sgt. Pepper's certainly, was the ingenuity of the arrangement, devised with much input from producer George Martin. A hurdy-gurdy circus melody established the appropriate atmosphere, especially via the harmonium part, played by Martin himself, which seemed lifted right off a merry-go-round soundtrack.” The Lowrey organ, used in Lucy, was also used for the organ sounds in Mr. Kite, creating a carnival atmosphere through an elaborate assemblage of spliced tapes, some of them re-recorded backwards. The quality of sound is a bit like Paul Dukas'symphonic poem Sorcerer’s Apprentice.

This is perhaps the first instance of “found art” becoming a Beatles song, but by this time Lennon was familiar with adapting texts, as he’d already translated the Tibetan Book of the Dead into the music of Tomorrow Never Knows. In the psychedelic period there were further translations from texts, mostly of a religious nature, by such artists as George Harrison, Syd Barrett of Pink Floyd, and the two songwriters for the Incredible String Band, Robin Williamson and Mike Heron. But Lennon might be one of the few psychedelic poets to find inspiration in the visual arts. It is visual art, and further pop (naïve) art, that links the inspirations for Lucy with Mr. Kite. Pop visual art, in the form of comic books, may have also inspired Donovan’s Sunshine Superman.

The English circus poster perhaps needs a little explication to enrich appreciation of the song. Pablo Fanque was the first Black circus proprietor in England, according the Beatles Again website (which cites Steve Turner’s Hard Day’s Write and Mark Lewisohn’s The Beatle’s Recording Sessions as sources). “Somersets” would nowadays be referred to as “somersaults”, “garters” were banners held between two people, and “hogsheads” were large wooden casks. Lennon was careful to keep the archaic aspects of the advertisement, and in this way, provides one of the few supports in the album to the theme of an Victorian-styled Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.

I note that Mr. Kite seems to have involved Lennon more lyrically than some of the other songs included in Sgt. Pepper. There is no repeated chorus. The triplet verses are always perfectly balanced in rhyme and syllable, while the B sections always include two lines of prose followed by a line with an internal rhyme. Surely, Lennon was showing more poetic craftsmanship than when he had Nothing to say / But it’s okay. Notice how Lennon swings the lyric between rhymes of Kite and K, giving the poetry an acrobatic lilt.

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