1965 Songs: Norwegian Wood (This Bird Has Flown)

I first heard this song when I was about 8, and was confused by the title and the final line.  Where the hell did that bird come from?  He never mentioned it before! Having an English mother, I really should have known that “bird” was slang for a girl.  Even if I had known that “bird” meant girl, I wouldn’t have gotten the subject matter.  Lennon covering up his extra-marital affairs with a pretty melody isn’t exactly kid’s stuff.

“Norwegian Wood” is one of the Beatles’ most famous and revered song and for good reason.  Even 45 years later, it still doesn’t sound like a pop-song.  It doesn’t contain a chorus, and its main melody comes from a very un-rock instrument at the time: the sitar.  The lyrics describe Lennon’s encounter with a girl one evening, and the inevitable aftermath.  Everything starts off well (“we talked until 2”) until the woman decides that it is time to go to bed.  Lennon’s delivery of the line “she told me she  worked in the morning and started to laugh” makes his would-be lover sound sinister, and almost devil-ish.  It’s unclear where his reply(“I told her I didn’t”) was meant as another come-on or a snide retort.  Either way, he climbs into the bathroom and falls asleep by himself.

The last line on the song has been one of the most debated in Beatles (and perhaps rock itself).  Does he burn the house down in revenge?  Or does wake up, feeling like shit over what just happened and light himself a joint?  Are both interpretations correct?  Paul McCartney himself had this to say about the song:

Peter Asher [brother of McCartney’s then-girlfriend Jane Asher] had his room done out in wood, a lot of people were decorating their places in wood. Norwegian wood. It waspine, really, cheap pine. But it’s not as good a title, “Cheap Pine”, baby. So it was a little parody really on those kind of girls who when you’d go to their flat there would be a lot of Norwegian wood. It was completely imaginary from my point of view but in John’s it was based on an affair he had. This wasn’t the decor of someone’s house, we made that up. So she makes him sleep in the bath and then finally in the last verse I had this idea to set the Norwegian wood on fire as revenge, so we did it very tongue in cheek. She led him on, then said, “You’d better sleep in the bath.” In our world the guy had to have some sort of revenge … so it meant I burned the fucking place down ….[1]

Norwegian Wood:


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