Tuesday, August 15, 2006
Pneumonia Ceilings: The Beatles and Bob Dylan's Mythical Song Collaboration
Recently I was the lucky recipient of a Virgin Megastore gift card. What to do with this newfound windfall? Ashlee Simpson was between albums, so I decided to spring for the new Bob Dylan Encyclopedia, written by esteemed Dylanologist Michael Gray. This 736-page, anvil-sized tome is exactly what it sounds like: an alphabetized, cross referenced guide to all things Zimmerman; full bios on band members, Village idiots and influences, reappraisals of previously dismissed albums, and literary allusions buried deep beneath the waves of his lyric sheets. It represents both the best and worst of the thriving Bob Dylan industry. On one hand, it is absurdly academic and pretentious, spewing thousands of words on the significance of, say, the song “Dignity,” — lyrics that Dylan most likely hacked out at the catering table after some pre-show lemon chicken. But there is some fascinating information in there, if you’re willing to look for it.
Take the entry Paul McCartney entry. The two master songwriters have never been especially chummy. However, according to the BDE, in 1966 McCartney, Dylan and John Lennon sat down in a London hotel room and attempted to write a song together. Chain-smoking Dunhills and surely under the influence of many “cups of tea,” the three blinding geniuses of the age took turns trading lines on hotel stationary. But they only got as far as a few stanzas of a song called “Pneumonia Ceilings”:
Words and phrases right
Cigarette ash keeps me up all night
How come your mama types so fast?
Is daddy's flag flyin' at half mast?
Pneumonia ceilings, pneumonia floors
Daddy ain't gonna take it no more
Elephant guns blazing in my ears
I'm sick & tired of your applesauce tears!
Thermometers donat tell time no more
Since aunt mimi pushed them off the 20th floor
So say goodby to skyscrapers
You'll read about it in the evening paper
I picked my nose & i'm glad i did
Thinking it rubbish, the young icons crumpled the lyrics in the hotel wastebasket. A chambermaid found it and sold it to a fan for a few quid, and the fan has the lyric sheet to this day.