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10.15-WHILE MY GUITAR GENTLY WEEPS (Beatles)

Eric Clapton & George Harrison
Eric Clapton & George Harrison

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[Intro]

I look at you all, see the love there that's sleeping
While my guitar gently weeps.
I look at the floor and I see it needs sweeping.
Still my guitar gently weeps.

     I don't know why nobody told you
     How to unfold your love.
     I don't know how someone controlled you.
     They bought and sold you.

I look at the world and I notice it's turning
While my guitar gently weeps.
With every mistake we must surely be learning.
Still my guitar gently weeps.

[Break]

     I don't know how you were diverted;
     You were perverted too.
     I don't know how you were inverted.
     No one alerted you.

I look at you all, see the love there that's sleeping
While my guitar gently weeps.
Look at you all!
Still my guitar gently weeps.

[Coda]


By this time George Harrison had been identified with the sitar, and the instrument was not only absent from his composition While My Guitar Gently Weeps but from the entire White Album with three other Harrison songs. He would not record with the sitar again while in the Beatles. In fact, the sitar (with the absence of Harrison’s support as its main promoter) disappeared from late psychedelic music from this point onward. Simultaneously, rock critics were beginning, with this song in particular, to recognize Harrison’s songwriting talent for the first time, some stating that his songs were among the best in the entire collection of thirty songs. While My Guitar Gently Weeps set a style of guitar phrasing for George Harrison that would come to be recognizably his own in many of his future recordings, including in his solo career.

It is somewhat ironic that Harrison should find his unique guitar voice in the company of a recording with Eric Clapton, who usually doesn’t sound much like Harrison. This was the first time (but certainly not the last) that the Beatles allowed one of their peers in the recording industry (not a session man) to take a lead role with the group. Actually, as I recall, it was the Jimi Hendrix Experience in Electric Ladyland that first advertised (in the album packaging) the assistance of peers in a psychedelic recording. But it was still unusual in November 1968. The psychedelic aesthetic had been largely built on the concept of the “group”, ideally (though rarely) an alliance of equals committed to mutual success. But by the end of 1968 some musicians (notably Jimi Hendrix, Eric Clapton, Steve Winwood and Neil Young) were beginning to see themselves as free agents that could combine with others temporarily in the loose association of a band of peers. At first this was a positive thing. Harrison is reported (in the Beatles Bible among other places) to have said Clapton’s inclusion in the recording of While My Guitar Gently Weeps forced the remaining Beatles (who were having a difficult time recording together as a group) to take the Harrison composition seriously. Having somebody from outside the group reportedly made the remaining Beatles “try a bit harder; they were all on their best behavior.” [The Beatles Recording Sessions by Mark Lewisohn 1988] However, the free agent mentality proved in the long run to produce only temporary alliances with careers rarely extending beyond an album or two.

Like Pink Floyd’s Chapter 24, Harrison’s While My Guitar Gently Weeps is said to have drawn its inspiration from I Ching. But it is the technique of chance rather than the substance of I Ching that informed the song. Harrison reported that it was inspired by opening a book at random and starting with the first words that caught his attention: “gently weeps”. The lyrics built around this phrase reveal that the composer, who had previously taken a tone of giving spiritual instruction, was by late 1968 very disappointed that his audience hadn’t taken his message to heart. Everything about spiritual love he had tried to communicate had been diverted / perverted / inverted. Still, Harrison expresses in the song his hope that the love he believed was in us all would again be awakened someday and that the psychedelic generation would learn from the missteps which had brought it to revolutionary conflict and violence. (The “weeping” could be interpreted as mourning the assassinations of Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy that year.) The song shares some of the feeling of being sold out by venal interests that another spiritual seeker, The Who’s Pete Townshend, would write angrily about in Won’t Get Fooled Again (June 1971).

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