I’m Only Sleeping – 4 of Cups
John Lennon was the vibrant, passionate, and prodigious leader of the greatest rock band that ever existed. He was the band’s elemental fire and had an exceptionally creative, intelligent mind. He also happened to be extraordinarily lazy at times. In spring of 1966, around the time he composed “I’m Only Sleeping”, John was the subject of a profile in the London Evening Standard, written by Maureen Cleave. The lengthy article became notorious for John’s quote that the Beatles were “more popular than Jesus”. Elsewhere Ms. Cleave referred to John as “perhaps the laziest person in England.”
The lyrics of this song are both a description and celebration of sleep. John sings about how it feels to be woken from his slumber, and requests that he be left alone to float upstream into dream consciousness. Considering this song comes during the Beatles’ psychedelic period, it’s tempting to assume John was referring to taking drugs. But Paul later said there was no coded message in the song. He recognized it was about the “luxury” of “having a lay-in” and staying in bed all day.
The song’s soporific arrangement is cleverly designed to elicit a dreamlike feeling in the listener. George’s guitar solo and flourishes during the verses were double tracked and then played backwards, giving them an otherworldly quality. Meanwhile, John’s vocals were manipulated to make them sound surreal, as he frequently did during this period. And of course, the song’s languid tempo leads up to the moment when we hear an audible yawn at the 2:00 mark.
The 4 of Cups is the tarot card signifying a time of withdrawal or retreat into oneself. It’s healthy to take time out sometimes, and when you’re as busy and mentally active as John was, it’s necessary to make time for relaxation. But taken to an extreme, the 4 of Cups can also be laziness, apathy, and disengagement from life. When you draw this card, consider whether it’s time to take a time out for a healthy re-charge, or if you’ve been spending a little too much time “just lying there staring at the ceiling”.
It was tempting to correspond this song to the 4 of Swords; many versions of the card depict a sleeping figure. Despite this image, however, the song is more aligned to the spirit of the 4 of Cups. This determination was based on the astrological meaning of this card, as devised by the Golden Dawn. The 4 of Cups corresponds to the Moon in the sign of Cancer, which is a fitting symbolic depiction of laying at home in bed and dreaming the day away.
By 1966, John was growing tired of the never-ending demands of being a Beatle. Oftentimes Paul would have to wake him up on days they were planning on working on songs together, regardless of what time it was. With “I’m Only Sleeping” John made it clear he’d rather be left alone in bed.
“Everybody seems to think I’m lazy
I don’t mind, I think they’re crazy
Runnin’ everywhere at such a speed
‘Til they find there’s no need (there’s no need)”
This is song #85 of the Beatles Song Tarot Project. Click here to learn more about this magical, mystical trip through the Beatles catalogue. (scroll down to hear an early, alternate version of “I’m Only Sleeping” from the Beatles Anthology.)