Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da

A short essay by Haruki Murakami, from the book Murakami Radio.

As teenager in the 60’s, I experienced the Beatles from their debut to their breakup as it was happening. At the time I didn’t think they were that big of a deal. I liked “Yesterday” when I first heard it, but the next day, and the day after that, all I heard was “Yesterday” playing over and over again. Eventually I got sick of it. “Knock it off already!” All these years later, whenever I hear the intro to “Yesterday” I still automatically think to myself, “Knock it off already!” I wish I didn’t.

I was really into jazz and classical music in high school so I kept the Beatles at a comfortable distance. Their global popularity made me dismissive. I had a terrible attitude as a teenager in the height of my brashness. But try as I might there was no avoiding them. The Beatles boomed out of every radio, and as much as I disparaged them, their songs were like the background music to my teenage years. Now I genuinely think they were an important band with great songs. Why couldn’t I be honest with myself when I was younger? Listen to me grumbling away.

Once I was out on an errand and I ran into a marching band playing “Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da.” I’ve seen a lot of marching bands but never any that played Beatles music so I stopped and listened. They were using traditional instruments like clarinets and Japanese drums. As I listened to the song I got this strange anxious feeling like I was trapped in a Mobius strip or a maze and that no matter how hard I tried I couldn’t find a way to escape. Feeling stuck, unable to do anything else, it finally hit me: this marching band’s version of the song looped without getting to the hook. They’d taken the song’s AABA structure and removed the “B,” so the “A” part repeated over and over again.

Why’d they take out the song’s hook? Maybe it was too technically difficult to play. Or maybe they knew that repeating the song’s first part had some kind of sinister magical effect on the listener. Either way that feeling of anxiety has stuck with me. When I think back on it I can feel it again. I’m glad they pushed themselves to learn something new, but would it have killed them to play the whole thing? I have the same issue with cell phone ringtones: they never go anywhere. It saps my energy.

Now that I think about it, there are some people who are “hookless.” At first blush they seem to be decent enough, but when you think about it they’re not really doing anything in particular to progress things on a large scale. It’s like they’re stuck going around a circuit with no exit in sight. Talking to those kinds of people is exasperating. It’s laborious and leaves a lasting effect. The Beatles themselves, however, don’t bear any of the responsibility for all this.