So it’s been almost a week since the last Mad Men episode, and though I haven’t much covered the show (there are many forums that do, such as at Slate and Esquire), I’ve been bugged about the Beatles song taken from Revolver, “Tomorrow Never Knows.” (This would fall under the “Bloviate” section of my site.)
With the exception of “Norwegian Wood,” I’m not really one for the sitar-influenced Beatles. And I’ve tended to skip “Tomorrow Never Knows” whenever I’ve listened to Revolver. I find “For No One” much more compelling, if a bit maudlin, and the guitar on “And Your Bird Can Sing” is terrific. On The Beatles Anthology CD collection, there is an instrumental version of “Eleanor Rigby” that’s wonderful. But back to Mad Men—as others have pointed out, the show must be doing well for creator Matthew Weiner to get permission for a Beatles song. But again, why this song?
Let us turn to that glorious tome, The Beatles Anthology, which I still maintain was $60 well spent (or was it expensed?). In any event, the song was by Lennon and there are references to Timothy Leary and The Tibetan Book of the Dead. Appropriate for this season, the song has much to do with LSD.
But here is how George Harrison thoughtfully explained it, in part:
The lyrics are the essence of Transcendentalism.
You can hear (and I am sure most Beatles fans have) “Tomorrow Never Knows” a lot and not know really what it is about. Basically it is saying what meditation is all about. The goal of meditation is to go beyond (that is, transcend) waking, sleeping, and dreaming. So the song starts out saying, “Turn off your mind, relax, and float downstream. It is not dying.”
Then it says, “Lay down all thoughts, surrender to the void—it is shining. That you may see the meaning of within—it is being.” From birth to death all we ever do is think: We have one thought, we have another thought, another thought, another thought. Even when you are asleep you are having dreams, so there is never a time from birth to death when the mind isn’t always active with thoughts. But you can turn off your mind, and go to the part which Maharishi described as: “Where was your last thought before you thought it?”
Yikes! But it’s clear even if all this were explained to Don Draper, he’d still smirk and turn the record off. He wouldn’t get it, just as he doesn’t get that his world is changing—and he won’t get it until it’s too late. I think.