In article <firstname.lastname@example.org> email@example.com (Jim Napier) writes:
>Someone posting on another thread mentioned One After 909, and it made me
>think that I've never understood what this song was about. Can anyone enlighten
>me? Perhaps a posting of the compleat (sic) lyrics would help. Thanks.
For some time now I've been living in fear lest someone ask me to explicate "One After 909". It's not that I don't know what it means; rather it's that, on the surface, it seemed to patently clear what it was about...and written, after all, by a teenager at that! What else could one say?
Ah...that was before I started thinking more sensibly. Admittedly, there's not as much here as there is in "Strawberry Fields Forever" or "Girl", but there's enough for a moderate-sized dissertation.
First, some logistics and definitions, otherwise the song is bound to confuse rather than enlighten. Categorically, it's probably the first of Lennon's "traveling" songs, a precursor to the themes later visited in "Ticket To Ride" and "Day Tripper". Note the distinct preference for railway imagery (was Lennon influenced by climactic scenes in Hitchcock's "North By Northwest"? It's worth considering....) but in "909" we have the addition of another form of rapid transit as well---specifically Liverpool's own bus system (I am unaware whether we can link this element to the bus scene in the same film, but if it were possible, it would create a unique gloss on Lennon's influences).
How do we know about the bus and the train? The train, of course, is the subject of the song---the "one after 909", presumably the train leaving *after* the 9.09 train. Unfortunately for the erstwhile Mr. Sulpy, who used to brighten this newsgroup with his own brand of scholarship, it is not necessarily logical that the "one after 909" should be "the 910"---though it makes for a clever magazine title. It could be the 9.11, or the 9.22, or even the 9.55; trains in the busy but decidedly provincial North don't necessarily leave every minute! We shall leave unexplored the question of whether it's a morning or evening train, for now---though if any of our British bretheren wish to explore actual timetables from 1959 for trains leaving Liverpool's Lime Street Station (if they can examine the Liverpool Echo for air raids on the night John was born, they can jolly well look into this little matter as well), they are quite welcome to do so. And we know it's a train, of course, because the protagonist---the singer---talks to "the railman"! But what about the bus? What bus?
I hypothesize a bus because the preliminary encounter between the singer and his estranged lady takes place, one must presume, on a bus bench. Why not a train-station bench, you might well ask? Now this may be an unwarranted leap, but I'll suggest that this telling encounter which opens the song ("My baby says she's traveling on the one after 9.09"---note the the familiarity of his address! It's clear they're more than "just good friends") takes place on a bus bench because a) they're clearly not already at the train station (because later he has to "run to the station"); and b) if they *were* at the train station already, he would simply follow her to the train...and not be at "the wrong location", as later happens.
It's a clever picture---Lennon's working-class sensibilities (though he was not himself working class, even in this early ditty he's demonstrating his affinity with that group, otherwise the lady of the story would certainly have taken a taxicab/airplane rather than a bus/train) paint the singer in the midst of a personal domestic uproar. Some proto-text, unexpressed lyrically, would certainly make clear some sort of fight or altercation which caused the young lady to pack her bags and leave the singer. He follows her to the nearest bus stop where, coldly, she refuses to allow him to sit beside her (he entreats her to "move over" not once, but twice!) and mutters that she's catching the "one after 9.09". We know it's a train she's catching---and thus her destination locally must be Lime Street Station---because the big green Liverpool buses are referred to by either their terminus ("Penny Lane","Speke") or by their bus number ("86", for instance, which goes to Pier Head), but not by the time of their departure.
Right there in the street he "begged her not to go" on "bended knees"; what feminine heart would not be touched by this entreaty? But in his anger the singer calls her bluff ("you're only foolin' 'round, only foolin' 'round with me")--apparently a fatal move. Her resolve is made all the more icy and she departs, leaving her young man behind.
Not to be outdone, he returns to their apparent love-nest, packs his own bag, and runs to the station (no buses for him!) After consulting with the railway man, who informs the hapless fellow that he's "got the wrong location". Whence comes this mistaken mission? Is the railman in error? Has the lover, in his haste and distress, arrived at the incorrect platform? Or did his enamorata, in her vengeful mood, deliberately give him the wrong train time? The singer runs home, where he apparently consults a railway timetable or some other source of information, and discovers he's "got the number wrong". I'm not convinced that the protagonist is entirely the source of the error, though it's magnanimous of him to shoulder the blame. Doing so would perhaps indicate that he's a more conciliatory character than his soi-disant "companion", whose heart seems inexplicably hard (though without her side of the story, we can't really judge who might have been blameworthy for their altercation).
In a nutshell, this is the tale. What's interesting is the recurrent Lennonesque theme of the woman leaving her gentleman friend (two presumably rail-inspired songs, "Ticket To Ride" and "Day Tripper"); it's worth noting that when McCartney uses such themes, it's usually the man leaving the woman ("I'll Be On My Way", "I'll Follow The Sun"), though mode of transportation appears to be unspecified: no tickets bought, no timetables consulted.
Lyrically it's difficult to assess the intricacy and complexity of "One After 909". Perhaps the only proper analysis can be done with McCartney's contemporaneous "Thinking of Linking" (Macca's earlier work, "I've Lost My Little Girl", precedes "909" by a margin of several years too uncomfortable for comparison). Though we do not possess a performance of "Linking", we do have a brief transcription of the lyrics (see Lewisohn's interview with McCartney in "Recording Sessions"). Excluding the probably-overly-ambitious scat singing ("...dah dah..."), it appears that the essence of Macca's message was "Thinking of linking/...can only be done by two". The angst and conflict present in "909" is nowhere apparent in "Linking", leading us to suggest that "909" presents the more adult relationship; Lennon's seniority (eighteen to McCartney's sixteen) suggests a more mature grasp of the sad realities of life and love.
And you may quote me. :-)
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