Study Guide

I Am the Walrus

I Am the Walrus Introduction

In a Nutshell

What did John Lennon do when he found out that teachers at his old school were assigning his song lyrics to students for formal literary analysis? He wrote "I Am the Walrus," a wildly experimental song cobbled together from multiple acid trips, snippets of Lewis Carroll poems, run-ins with the police, misheard children's rhymes, and, well, plain old-fashioned gibberish. 

Satisfied that no student could ever make sense of what he'd done, he said, "let them puzzle that out."

The funny thing is, the rest of us just won't let it rest. Unable to accept fun, meaningless nonsense for fun, meaningless nonsense, we really are still trying to puzzle it out, to find some kind of deeper meaning here. It seems like there ought to be something profound in between the "goo goo gajoobs" and the "oompa oompa stick it up your jumpers." 

Some people hear obscenity; the song was banned from many radio stations for "offensive" lyrics. Others hear secret messages in the background of the mix ("Paul is dead"). Still, others hear things in the lyrics that aren't there at all ("Everybody smoke pot, everybody smoke pot"). 

So, what's it really mean? We'll have to leave it up to you to puzzle that one out.

About the Song

ArtistBeatles, The
Year1967
LabelParlophone (UK), Capitol Records (U.S.)
Writer(s)John Lennon and Paul McCartney
Producer(s)George Martin
Musician(s)John Lennon (lead vocals, electric piano, mellotron, tambourine), Paul McCartney (bass, backing vocals), George Harrison (electric guitar, backing vocals), Ringo Starr (drums), orchestral accompaniment (violins, cellos, horns, clarinet), the Mike Sammes Singers (background vocals).
Learn to playGuitar
AlbumMagical Mystery Tour

Music Video

Influences on Beatles, The

Chuck Berry
Elvis Presley
Ravi Shankar
The Beach Boys

On his own personal influences, along with explaining that he liked to write purposely vague lyrics "á la Dylan," Lennon said:

Only dead people in books. Lewis Carroll, certain paintings. Surrealism had a great effect on me, because then I realized that my imagery and my mind wasn't insanity; that if it was insane, I belong in an exclusive club that sees the world in those terms. Surrealism to me is reality. Psychic vision to me is reality. Even as a child. When I looked at myself in the mirror or when I was 12, 13, I used to literally trance out into alpha. I didn't know what it was called then. I found out years later there is a name for those conditions. But I would find myself seeing hallucinatory images of my face changing and becoming cosmic and complete. It caused me to always be a rebel. This thing gave me a chip on the shoulder; but, on the other hand, I wanted to be loved and accepted. Part of me would like to be accepted by all facets of society and not be this loudmouthed lunatic musician. But I cannot be what I am not. (Source)

Influenced by Beatles, The

Let's face it. Nearly every band or artist who has been making music since 1960 cites those British boys as an important influence. Their songs have been covered countless times and have skyrocketed unknowns into fame or rejuvenated old acts. They have shown up in the theme songs of TV shows, the credits of movies, and on every DJ's track list. 

The Beatles' songs are inescapable. They are as imbedded into our culture as Elvis, perhaps even more so, and are as well known as Cheerios and Wonderbread (and they weren't even Americans).

I Am the Walrus Resources

Books

Hunter Davies, The Beatles (1996)
From their official biographer comes a sweeping timeline of the band's saga, with all the history and heartbreak that we have come to know and love.

Cynthia Lennon, John (2006)
His first wife's take on his life, obviously a little less worshipping and a little more scathing than some of the other biographies.

John Lennon, In His Own Write (2000)
Published posthumously, this collection of John's writings contains an introduction by Yoko Ono and also a humorous Carroll-esque "About the Author" section.

Barry Miles, Paul McCartney: Many Years from Now (1998)
"If you think John Lennon was the smart, arty Beatle while Paul was an empty head twittering prettily, this book will hip you to the facts."—Tim Appelo

Philip Norman, Shout! The Beatles in Their Generation (1996)
Here's "the best, most detailed, and most serious biography of the Beatles and their time."

Philip Norman, John Lennon: The Life (2008)
The definitive biography of the musical genius for peace, written by the author of Shout!

Yoko Ono, Grapefruit: A Book of Drawings and Instructions (1964)
This is the collection of instructional poetry that got John to fall in love with Yoko. The first line of the book is, "Burn this book after you read it," and John's contribution is, "This is the greatest book I've ever burned."

Movies & TV

Magical Mystery Tour (1967)
Originally a big flop, this psychedelic journey of a movie has become a cult classic amongst Beatles fans.

Help! (1965)
One of the films the band released to supplement their albums, this one has the band doing a James Bond spoof while traveling the world.

Yellow Submarine (1968)
This kid-friendly film follows a cartoon version of the band on all kinds of wacky adventures.

The Beatles Anthology (1995)
A collection of documentaries spanning the entire career of the band.

Across the Universe (2007)
This film is an artistic tribute to the Beatles; it's a musical journey which follows a young couple, Jude and Lucy (both song title characters) through a crazy trip of love and discovery. The band's songs are covered throughout the movie by various famous artists. ("I Am the Walrus" is covered by Bono of U2.)

Websites

The Beatles Official Site
Here's everything you ever wanted to know about the Beatles.

"I Am the Walrus," at About the Beatles
This page breaks down the song and explains some references.

Magical Mystery Tour: Interview Excerpts
This site contains a huge database of Beatles interviews, sorted by date or album.

Jonathan Cott's Interview with John Lennon, Rolling Stone (1968)
This interview between John and Rolling Stone discusses various songs as well as his personal artistic process.

David Sheff's Interview with John Lennon and Yoko Ono, Playboy (1980)
We've quoted this interview of John and Yoko over and over because it contains so much insight into his thoughts and the rest of the band. Read it; you won't be disappointed.

Pete Hamill, "The Death and Life of John Lennon," New York Magazine (1980)
A touching and well-written article detailing the biography of Lennon and the appalling news of his assassination that rocked an entire generation of people.

Lewis Carroll, "The Walrus and the Carpenter"
Here's the poem that started it all.

Imagine Peace
This website is dedicated to John and Yoko, created by Ono after his death.

Video & Audio

"I Am the Walrus" Music Video
Here's our song of the hour, in all its Beatles glory.

John Lennon, "Imagine"
One of John's most influential solo works, this song gained immense popularity worldwide and continues to have a profound impact on its listeners today.

John Lennon and Yoko Ono, "Give Peace a Chance"
This is one of the couple's collaborative records protesting against violence. One line is, "Stay in bed and grow your hair."