Who Was the Walrus? Analyzing the Strangest Beatles Song

Hulton Archive/Getty Images
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

For almost 50 years, the Beatles have been the most popular singers and songwriters in the world. Also, coincidentally, for the past half century one of the major activities of musical "armchair quarterbacks" has been to dissect, analyze, and interpret Beatles songs.

In 1967, a student from Quarry Bank High School (Lennon's alma mater) sent John Lennon a letter telling him his teacher was conducting a class analyzing the Beatles' songs. Lennon was wryly amused. This letter served as the initial motivation for John to write a song that was beyond analysis for the simple reason that John didn't want it to make any sense at all. The whole purpose of the song, according to John, was to confuse, befuddle, and mess with the Beatles experts.

Who is the Walrus?

"Walrus is just saying a dream," recalled John more than a decade after he composed it.

"The words didn't mean a lot. People draw so many conclusions, and it's ridiculous. I've had tongue in cheek all along--all of them had tongue in cheek. Just because other people see depths of whatever in it...What does it really mean, 'I am the Eggman?' It could have been 'The pudding Basin' for all I care. It's not that serious."

John also wanted to make a point about fellow musical icon Bob Dylan, who, according to John, had been "getting away with murder." John said he wanted to show his fans that he "could write that crap too."

"I Am The Walrus," the song with no rhyme or reason, was written in three parts: part one was written by John during an acid trip, part two was written during another acid trip the next week, and part three was "filled in after [he] met Yoko."

Meaningless gibberish or not, many of the song's lyrics did have an inspiration.

The song's opening verse, "I am he as you are he as you are me and we are all together," comes from the song "Marching to Pretoria," which contains the lyric, "I'm with you as you're with me and we are all together."

"See how they run, like pigs from a gun, see how they fly..." came the next week directly from John's second acid trip.

The song's basic rhythm was actually inspired by a police siren. John heard an oscillating siren blaring in his neighborhood, and this beat served as the basic beat for the entire tune.

"Sitting in a English garden" refers to John's garden in his Weybridge home, where he was living, frustrated and increasingly unhappy, with his first wife, Cynthia.

The lyric "Waiting for the man to come" was written by John, but was amended with "waiting for the van to come" by John's friend from his high school days, Pete Shotton, who was present during the song's composition.

The "elementary penguin" was used by John as a jab at those who "go around chanting Hare Krishna or put all their faith in one idol." John admitted he had poet Allen Ginsburg in mind when he wrote the lyric. (Could he also have wanted to get a sly dig in at his bandmate George Harrison, who was enthralled by all things Indian and Hare Krishna?)

Needing a bit for the song's middle section, John asked his old pal Pete to recall a "sick" schoolboy poem the two used to recite together. Pete dredged up the old lyrics:

"Yellow matter custard, green slop pie,
Dripping from a dead dog's eye,
Slap it on a butty, ten foot thick,
Then wash it all down with a cup of cold sick."

The constantly repeated and apparently nonsense lyrics "Goo goo gajoob" come from James Joyce's "Finnegan's Wake." (The actual term Joyce used was "Goo goo goosth.")

Lewis Carroll's Through the Looking Glass (one of John's favorite books when he was a youth) gave Lennon the song's title and recurring lyric, "I am the walrus." In that book, Carroll included the poem "The Walrus and the Carpenter." John, always the most political Beatle, had it "dawn on" him that the poem was Carroll's comment on "the capitalist and worker system."

It wasn't until later that John realized that the walrus was "the bad guy" in the poem and that he should have called the song "I am the Carpenter."

"But that wouldn't have been the same, would it?" admitted John.

Another apparent nonsense lyric was "Semolina Pilchard." Many Beatles "experts" have interpreted this as referring to Detective Sergeant Norman Pilcher, who was becoming famous for his drug busts of famous musicians (after he had planted the drugs himself). John himself, along with his then-girlfriend Yoko, was to be arrested in a bust by Sergeant Pilcher a year later. John always insisted the marijuana found at his flat was planted. (Sergeant Pilcher later served six years in prison for his corrupt behavior.) But this "interpretation" may be entirely conjecture, as John can clearly be heard singing "Semolina Pilchard," not Pilcher. A "pilchard" is defined as one of "various small marine fishes relating to a herring." It is a commercially edible species of fish. The line may just simply be another bit of Lennon-esque gibberish and wordplay.

Who is the Egg Man?

"I am the egg man" has been interpreted as referring to Humpty Dumpty (who appears in John's beloved "Alice in Wonderland" books). Eric Burden, a popular singer/musician and a close friend of John, has claimed that he was "the egg man," and that the lyric refers to a certain sexual act Eric used to perform with women. (Eric says he would crack eggs over naked women's bodies and that John witnessed him doing it one night.)

The song's closing features a snippet from a BBC Radio broadcast of Shakespeare's King Lear, which John happened to hear when he was working on the song.

At the song's conclusion, the entire chorus (8 males and 8 females) join in. John said the guys sang "Oompah oompah, stick it in your jumper," while the girls sang "Everybody's got one." But according to Beatles expert Mark Lewisohn (a highly reliable source), the chorus was entirely random with both men and women joining in on each of the two lyrics.

"I Am The Walrus" was the first song the Beatles recorded after the death of their manager, Brian Epstein. (Brian died of a drug overdose on August 27, 1967, and the recording of "I Am The Walrus" came mostly in early September of '67.)

Engineer Geoff Emerick was never to forget "the look of emptiness on their faces when they were playing."

"I Am The Walrus" was released on November 24, 1967. It was the B-side of the Beatles single featuring Paul's "Hello Goodbye" as the A-side. John was always angered by this decision, maintaining that "Walrus" was a far superior song.

A filmed sequence of "I Am The Walrus" was to be featured in the Beatles TV movie, Magical Mystery Tour, later that year. It remains the only film of John singing the song. For this reason, Paul has said Magical Mystery Tour has "a special place in [his] heart."

"I Am The Walrus" was banned by the BBC because of the nonsense lyric "Girl, you let your knickers down."

To be fair, "Walrus" is definitely a strange song, but it may not actually be "the strangest Beatles song." That honor perhaps should go to their 1967 song "You Know My Name (Look Up the Number)" or, better yet, John's 1968 "Revolution #9."

But heck, who would have wanted to read an article about "the Beatles' second (or third) strangest song"?

Eddie Deezen has appeared in over 30 motion pictures, including Grease, WarGames, 1941, and The Polar Express. He's also been featured in several TV shows, including Magnum PI, The Facts of Life, and The Gong Show. And he's done thousands of voice-overs for radio and cartoons, such as Dexter's Laboratory and Family Guy.

Read all Eddie's mental_floss stories.

7 Weird Super Bowl Halftime Acts

Al Bello, Getty Images
Al Bello, Getty Images

Shakira and Jennifer Lopez seem like natural choices to perform the halftime show at this year’s Super Bowl, but the event didn’t always feature musical acts from major pop stars. Michael Jackson kicked off the trend at Super Bowl XXVII in 1993, but prior to that, halftime shows weren’t a platform for the hottest celebrities of the time. They centered around themes instead, and may have featured appearances from Peanuts characters, Jazzercisers, or a magician dressed like Elvis. In honor of Super Bowl LIV on February 2, we’ve rounded up some of the weirdest acts in halftime show history.

1. Return of the Mickey Mouse Club

The era of Super Bowl halftimes before wardrobe malfunctions, illuminati conspiracy theories, and Left Shark was a more innocent time. For 1977’s event, the Walt Disney Company produced a show that doubled as a squeaky-clean promotion of its brand. Themed “Peace, Joy, and Love,” the Super Bowl XI halftime show opened with a 250-piece band rendition of “It’s a Small World (After All).” Disney also used the platform to showcase its recently revamped Mickey Mouse Club.

2. 88 Grand Pianos and 300 Jazzercisers

The theme of the halftime show at Super Bowl XXII in 1988 was “Something Grand.” Naturally, it featured 88 tuxedoed pianists playing 88 grand pianos. Rounding out the program were 400 swing band performers, 300 Jazzercisers, 44 Rockettes, two marching bands, and Chubby Checker telling everyone to “Twist Again."

3. Elvis Impersonator Performs the World’s Largest Card Trick

Many of the music industry's most successful pop stars—like Prince, Madonna, and, uh, Milli Vanilli—were at the height of their fame in 1989, but none of them appeared at Super Bowl XXIII. Instead, the NFL hired an Elvis Presley-impersonating magician to perform. The show, titled “BeBop Bamboozled,” was a tribute to the 1950s, and it featured Elvis Presto performing “the world’s largest card trick.” It also may have included the world's largest eye exam: The show boasted 3D effects, and viewers were urged to pick up special glasses before the game. If the visuals didn't pop like they were supposed to, people were told to see an eye doctor.

4. The Peanuts Salute New Orleans

Super Bowl XXIV featured one of the last halftime acts that was completely devoid of any musical megastars. The biggest celebrity at the 1990 halftime show was Snoopy. Part of the show’s theme was the “40th Anniversary of 'Peanuts,'” and to celebrate the milestone, performers dressed as Peanuts characters and danced on stage. The other half of the theme was “Salute to New Orleans”—not necessarily the first thing that comes to mind when you think of the comic strip.

5. A Tribute to the Winter Olympics

Super Bowl XXVI preceded the 1992 Winter Olympics—a fact that was made very clear by the event’s halftime. The show was titled “Winter Magic” and it paid tribute to the winter games with ice skaters, snowmobiles, and a cameo from the 1980 U.S. hockey team. Other acts, like a group of parachute-pants-wearing children performing the “Frosty the Snowman Rap,” were more generally winter-themed than specific to the Olympics. About 22 million viewers changed the channel during halftime to watch In Living Color’s Super Bowl special, which may have convinced the NFL to hire Michael Jackson the following year.

6. Indiana Jones and the Temple of the Forbidden Eye

“Peace, Joy, and Love” wasn’t the only Disney-helmed Super Bowl halftime. In 1995, Disney produced a halftime show called “Indiana Jones and the Temple of the Forbidden Eye” to tease the new Disneyland ride of the same name. It centered around a skit in which actors playing Indiana Jones and Marion Ravenwood stole the Vince Lombardi Trophy from an exotic temple, and it included choreographed stunts, fiery special effects, and a snake. Patti LaBelle and Tony Bennett were also there.

7. The Blues Brothers, Minus John Belushi

The 1990s marked an odd period for halftime shows as they moved from schlocky themed variety shows to major music events. Super Bowl XXXI in 1997 perfectly encapsulates this transition period. James Brown and ZZ Top performed, but the headliners were the Blues Brothers. John Belushi had been dead for more than a decade by that point, so Jim Belushi took his place beside Dan Aykroyd. John Goodman was also there to promote the upcoming movie Blues Brother 2000. The flashy advertisement didn’t have the impact they had hoped for and the film was a massive flop when it premiered.

14 Amazing Facts About Lin-Manuel Miranda

Roy Rochlin/Getty Images
Roy Rochlin/Getty Images

Do you follow Lin-Manuel Miranda on Twitter? If not, you should. The Pulitzer Prize-winning creator of Hamilton tweets prolifically—and delightfully—about his life and his work, dropping in inspirational messages along the way.

Twitter isn't the only place you can get a dose of Miranda these days: In addition to making the rounds at awards shows for his work as an executive producer on Fosse/Verdon (where he also made a memorable cameo as Roy Scheider), Miranda had a major role as Lee Scoresby in HBO's adaptation of His Dark Materials and had some fun playing a soldier in Star Wars: The Rise Of Skywalker.

This summer, Miranda will produce and star in the big-screen adaptation of his play In the Heights and is preparing to make his directorial debut with an adaptation of Jonathan Larson's musical tick, tick… BOOM. In celebration of Miranda's 40th birthday (Miranda was born in New York on January 16, 1980), here are some fun—and surprising—facts about the creative Renaissance man.

1. As a kid, Lin-Manuel Miranda couldn’t make it all the way through Mary Poppins.

A photo of Lin-Manuel Miranda at an event for Mary Poppins Returns.
Gareth Cattermole, Getty Images for Disney

In 2018, Lin-Manuel Miranda starred alongside Emily Blunt in Mary Poppins Returns—but he didn't see the original movie all the way through until he was an adult. Miranda recalled to Vanity Fair how, as a kid, certain songs would make him “burst into tears.” Those songs included Stevie Wonder's “I Just Called to Say I Love You,” Simon & Garfunkel's "Bridge Over Troubled Water," and a track from Mary Poppins.

“I couldn’t get through ‘Feed the Birds,’” he told Vanity Fair. “I was very sensitive to minor-key music, and that song was so sad that I don’t think I saw the ending of Mary Poppins until I was grown, because I would just cry. I loved ‘Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious.’ I loved Dick Van Dyke. I loved the whole movie but then that one song was so sad I kind of never survived it.”

2. Lin-manuel Miranda's talent for the dramatic was clear from an early age.

Miranda’s father, Luis, wanted his son to be a lawyer—but according to Playbill, it was clear after a young Lin-Manuel filmed an “infamous” video book report about Jean Merrill’s The Pushcart War in the third grade that he was destined for the stage, not the courtroom. Miranda posted the video to YouTube noting, “I got an A.” (You can enjoy it for yourself above.)

3. Lin-Manuel Miranda faked an injury to get out of summer camp.

Miranda—who was born and raised in New York City—did not enjoy his trips to summer camp. “Sending me to a place without electricity was a very bad idea,” he told Jimmy Kimmel.

Miranda wrote his parents letters from camp describing his malaise, and his flair for the dramatic was on full display: “Dear Mom and Dad, Please come and take me back to New York, away from this hellhole,” he wrote in one letter. In another—in which he called himself “the kid you ditched in the woods for a month”—he drew “a picture to remind you of me”: an image of himself jumping off a building. Miranda recounted to Kimmel that he finally escaped from summer camp by faking a spinal cord injury—and had to keep up the act all summer long.

4. Lin-Manuel Miranda was profoundly influenced by Rent creator Jonathan Larson’s work.

In a 2004 essay application for the Jonathan Larson Grant, Miranda wrote that seeing Larson's rock musical Rent on his 16th birthday “simply changed everything … Never had I seen a show that spoke to me so directly, that used fresh, new music as a way of addressing contemporary concerns in an honest way. By writing about his friends with the problems and anxieties he faced, Jonathan Larson gave me permission to write about my life, hopes, and fears.” The show inspired Miranda to write his first musical (more on that in a minute), which was then performed at his high school. After that, he never stopped writing.

It wasn’t the last time Larson’s work would inspire Miranda. After graduating from Connecticut's Wesleyan University, Miranda saw Larson’s tick, tick… BOOM!—the story of an aspiring musical theater composer struggling to make it—which, Miranda wrote, “spoke to me and strengthened my resolve.”

He was workshopping what would become his first Broadway show, In the Heights, when he wrote that essay; though he ultimately didn’t get the grant, Miranda tweeted that “it turned out okay anyway. Don’t give up. Don’t you dare.”

Miranda is currently in pre-production on a movie adaptation of tick, tick… BOOM! The film will mark his feature directorial debut.

5. The first musical Lin-Manuel Miranda ever wrote was about … a dissected fetal pig.

Writer/actor Lin-Manuel Miranda attends the curtain call for the opening night of 'In The Heights' at the Richard Rodgers Theatre March 9, 2008 in New York City
Steven Henry, Getty Images

According to Miranda, the show “involved a dissected fetal pig rising up for revenge.” It was directed by Chris Hayes—yes, MSNBC host Chris Hayes, who was then a senior in high school—and ran about 20 minutes. “I can still hum the tunes of that show,” Hayes said in 2017.

6. Before he was a Broadway star, Lin-Manuel Miranda was a substitute teacher.

After college, Miranda “taught 7th grade English for a year,” he tweeted in 2016. “[T]hen I was a professional substitute teacher UNTIL I got Heights on Broadway.” He was subbing at his old high school, Hunter College High School, for a while, he told Playbill, when he was asked to “stay on to continue to teach part-time.” At that point, one of the future producers of In the Heights had also reached out to Miranda because he was interested in his writing.

Unsure of what to do, Miranda asked his father: “Should I keep teaching or should I just kind of sub and do gigs to pay the rent and really throw myself into writing full time?”

Luis wrote his son “a very thoughtful letter, in which [he] said, 'I really want to tell you to keep the job—that's the smart 'parent thing' to do—but when I was 17, I was a manager at the Sears in Puerto Rico, and I basically threw it all away to go to New York, [and] I didn't speak a lot of English. It made no sense, but it was what I needed to do ... It makes no sense to leave your job to be a writer, but I have to tell you to do it. You have to pursue that if you want.’ That was very opposite advice from, ‘Be a lawyer,’ and I'm glad I took it.”

7. Lin-Manuel Miranda wrote music for local politicians.

Luis is a political consultant, and while his son was working on getting In the Heights to Broadway, he used his connections to get Lin-Manuel gigs writing music for ads for many of New York's leading politicians, including former governor Eliot Spitzer. “He’d say, ‘I have a Sharpton radio ad—I need 60 seconds of smooth jazz,'" Miranda told The New York Times in 2012.

According to Miranda, the music he composed was “generally accompanied by footage of the candidates shaking hands, doing very task-oriented things,” so the music needed to be “generally hopeful.” Music accompanying an attack ad, on the other hand, would have “sad strings” before transitioning to something more upbeat. “It’s a little like movie scoring,” Miranda told the Times. “If you’ve got a scary scene, you’ve got to write music for the scary scene.”

8. The version of In the Heights that Lin-Manuel Miranda wrote in college is drastically different from what ended up on Broadway.

Writer/actor Lin-Manuel Miranda attends the after party for the opening night of 'In The Heights' at the Richard Rodgers Theatre March 9, 2008 in New York City
Steven Henry, Getty Images

Miranda began writing In the Heights as a sophomore at Wesleyan. The college version, he told The Guardian, “was really just a love story set in” New York City's Washington Heights neighborhood. But when he came back home after college and saw the changes happening in the neighborhood, that began to change, and the show became, “In a sense ... a time capsule of a Washington Heights that's not going to exist in 10, 15 years,” he said. “All I know is I wanted to write a little show that captures what it was like, as I remember it. And so that will exist. My little memory of the neighborhood, through the show.”

In the Heights—which Miranda also starred in for a time—ran on Broadway from 2008 to 2011; it was while Miranda was on vacation between the show’s off-Broadway and Broadway runs that he read the biography by Ron Chernow that would lead him to Hamilton.

9. Lin-Manuel Miranda was really nervous when Hamilton author Ron Chernow came to see In the Heights.

Christopher Jackson, who played Benny in In the Heights and George Washington in Hamilton, recalled to Rolling Stone how Miranda told him about the idea for his next musical just a few days after he got back from vacation: “When Ron Chernow came to see Heights, I had never seen Lin that nervous,” Jackson told Rolling Stone. “He said, ‘Ron Chernow’s here!’ I said, ‘What does that mean?’ And he said, ‘The show needs to go well today.'”

10. Lin-Manuel Miranda's favorite Hamilton verse is in “WE Know.”

The moment occurs when Hamilton is accused of embezzlement. “I decided that when Hamilton is backed into a corner, he gets super internal rhymey,” Miranda told Katie Couric. As he’s telling Jefferson, Madison, and Burr about the Reynolds Affair, Hamilton raps:

She courted me
Escorted me to bed and when she had me in a corner
That’s when Reynolds extorted me
For a sordid fee
I paid him quarterly
I may have mortally wounded my prospects
But my papers are orderly
As you can see I kept a record of every check in my checkered history
Check it again against your list n’ see consistency
I never spent a cent that wasn’t mine
You sent the dogs after my scent, that’s fine.

“Those are enormous fun to put together,” Miranda said. “When Hamilton’s mad, it’s, like, Super Eminem, I’m going to destroy you with my mind.”

11. Lin-Manuel Miranda identifies with The Little Mermaid’s Sebastian.

“As a child, the [character in The Little Mermaid] I related to the most was Sebastian the crab, and I think as an adult he’s still the one I relate to the most,” Miranda said in WIRED’s autocomplete interview. “He just wanted someone to sing in his concert, poor guy. He’s a frustrated musician! I relate.”

12. Lin-Manuel Miranda compares himself to other people, just like the rest of us.

Miranda has packed a lot into his 40 years. To name just a few of his accomplishments: He has created Hamilton and In the Heights, co-written the music and lyrics for Bring It On: The Musical, penned a mini-musical called 21 Chump Street for This American Life, and translated the lyrics of West Side Story into Spanish for a 2009 Broadway revival. He has also appeared in The Sopranos, Modern Family, the revival of The Electric Company, and Sesame Street, among other shows.

While starring in Hamilton, Miranda wrote songs for Disney’s Moana (with Opetaia Tavita Foa‘i and Mark Mancina) and composed music for a scene in J.J. Abrams’s Star Wars: The Force Awakens. He co-wrote Hamilton: The Revolution, wrote a book with illustrator Jonny Sun, and somehow finds time to do monthly "Hamildrops" of remixes and new music inspired by the show.

But despite all Miranda has done, that doesn’t stop him from comparing himself to other people, just like the rest of us.

“I’ve seen people my age and younger shoot to success, and I measure myself against people by age,” Miranda told Rolling Stone in 2016. “Paul McCartney had already ended the Beatles and was midway through Wings when he was my age! Like, the entire Beatles, and he was not 30 yet. There’s always someone to measure yourself against when you’re like, ‘F***, what am I doing with my life?’”

13. Lin-Manuel Miranda keeps a high school math trophy next to one of his Grammys.

Composer, actor Lin-Manuel Miranda celebrates GRAMMY award on stage during 'Hamilton' GRAMMY performance for The 58th GRAMMY Awards at Richard Rodgers Theater on February 15, 2016 in New York City
Theo Wargo, Getty Images

In his career, Miranda has been nominated for an Oscar, won a Pulitzer Prize and a MacArthur Genius Grant, and taken home three Tony Awards, two Laurence Olivier Awards, four Drama Desk awards, three Grammys, and an Emmy (among other awards). But, as he told Variety in 2016, he’s “just as proud” of a trophy he won for math in the 11th grade, “Because I got straight C’s in math all through high school.” The award, he said, “is on my shelf next to my Grammy.”

14. Lin-Manuel Miranda works hard to stay grounded.

Despite all that he has accomplished, Miranda doesn’t intend to get a big head. “I think the trap is in getting caught up in the importance of those titles and letting that make you think you’re important. I try very hard to fight against that,” he told Variety. “I have friends who are very happy to remind me that I’m myself,” adding that most of his friends “roast” him whenever they see him: “That’s why they’re my friends.”

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