Watching the Wheels: When John Lennon Sidestepped the Rat Race
In 2015 I wrote about a concept called slow living as an alternative to the rat race. It’s another way of describing the concept of mindfulness. Instead of cramming as many things as possible into a day, week or lifetime, mindfulness is a means of slowing down so we can appreciate the experience of living more fully.
I think this is what the saying, “Stop the world, I want to get off!” is about. It’s also the central idea in John Lennon’s “Watching the Wheels,” the first track on side two of his last album, Double Fantasy, produced in conjunction with Yoko Ono.
For most of us, it’s hard to imagine what it must have been like to “become The Beatles.” Not just becoming a group and making records, but becoming a bigger than life symbol of sorts.
In their early years they were anything but famous as they worked out an identity while playing clubs in Britain and Hamburg. At a certain point in time, with a manager and a record label, it was as if they stepped onto a golden escalator to heaven. Their fame was bigger than life.
When The Beatles broke up, this bigger than life stature did not disappear. They each continued to be public figures, making albums, leveraging the fame they’d achieved. John and Yoko used this fame as a platform to make statements about peace.
Eventually, however, another theme which had been apparent years earlier (eg. “Fool on the Hill,” “Across the Universe.”) asserted itself and John chose to become a recluse. For a two year period he lived in L.A. and hung out with Harry Nillson, who became a successful pop artist without ever doing road tours to promote his records. Upon completion of his time in L.A. John returned to New York where he assumed the role of father and househusband.
Here are the lyrics to “Watching the Wheels.” Notice how natural and direct the language is.
“People say I’m crazy doing what I’m doing. Well, they give me all kinds of warnings to save me from ruin. When I say that I’m O.K. well, they look at me kind of strange. Surely you’re not happy, boy, you no longer play the game.”