In 1865 a classic story would be published by Lewis Carroll; a story about a girl who would dare to venture after a white rabbit, down a hole filled with wonder. It was one of my favourite stories, in fact, it still is.
Alice in Wonderland captures the imagination of adults and children alike and removes its audience from a painfully normal existence, catapulting them into a world where all things are a little more than nonsensical. “Oh, but we know all this!” I hear you cry! “What does this have to do with music?” A lot actually! Some of the most recognised songs have been inspired by the tale of Alice and her magical adventures.
There has always been some kind of mystical energy which surrounds the story, a kind of magic which we connected to easily as children. A fantastical world where hatters are mad, hares are as tea-crazy as we Brits and where Royalty has a fascination with decapitation. When you look through the eyes of an adult it all seems much more sinister but, through the eyes of a child its nothing but magic.
So, how have some creative minds perceived the great tale of Alice in Wonderland/Through the Looking Glass?
For a week or so I have been listening to some very interesting musical interpretations of Alice’s tale. I found it quite difficult to settle on a number of compositions which I could fully focus on, so instead I chose to share with the two that stood out to me.
Reading through the lyrics and hearing the accompanying music I can only attempt to separate these two compositions into two perceptions; drugs and adolescence.
(Of course this is just my understanding of the lyrics, I could be completely off-the-mark but I do enjoy a good lyrical analysis.)
Song One – White Rabbit – Jefferson Airplane
We have all heard the first line, at least, from this gem of a song! Sing it with me….
“One pill makes you larger and one pill makes you small….” We’ve all probably put it on at our “whacky friends” house and eaten some things we shouldn’t have and woken up in a field of Llamas. No? just me then? Ahem, well, anyway…
This popular hit for Jefferson Airplane was released in 1967 (no surprise there!) written by Grace Slick who based her lyrics on her belief that Alice in Wonderland was covered in drug-pushing-innuendos.
There are people who may be shocked by this accusation and I could sit here and debate that it is merely an innocent children’s story, but, you can kind-of see her point. What, with all of the madness and trippy imagery in there; not to mention the “funny cakes” Alice keeps eating to make her large or small. There’s also a smoking caterpillar who sits on a mushroom, obsessed with vowels. The Cheshire Cat who is sometimes just a grin, the Mad Hatter and March Hare who both have very little sanity left, poor dears.
So, where is all this in the lyrics? Well, apart from the first verse, in which lies a reference to Alice attempting to control her size with substances in order to retrieve a key to the tiny door which will lead her to Wonderland. In the second verse we can hear references to the Caterpillar who converses with Alice in Chapter Five of the book. In verse three we hear about a chessboard, a white knight and “some kind of mushroom”. These aspects are taken from Through the Looking Glass where Alice is used as the White Queen’s pawn and journeys across a chess board. Then the song returns us to Wonderland’s beginnings in verse four where we’ve apparently lost logic and proportion as they’re described as being “sloppy dead”. An interesting choice of words and doesn’t really put across hallucinogenic drugs as a pleasant experience.
I dare say that this interpretation would make anyone think twice about “tripping”.
Song Two – Sparrows Will Sing – Marianne Faithful
This is one of my favourite songs. Her vocals are wise-sounding and somewhat magical in their own right. There is another song by Marianne called Jabberwocky which was released in 1965 and is also inspired by Alice in Wonderland.
For this article I wanted to use Sparrows Will Sing because there is something so different about it.
It was originally written by Roger Waters (Pink Floyd) and so, I have possibly been hasty in my lyrical analysis. I assume adolescence is the key as the opening line communicates to me that moment when your eyes are first awakening to the harsh realities of the world.
“A child breaks the ice and peers into the hidden depths, and tries to decipher the whole of this unholy mess…” It makes me think of Alice tumbling into the rabbit hole with no idea of how she may return but, it also makes me think back to when I realised the world was full of chaos, too. Additionally, the words “Challoo, Challoo, Challay” are used which are taken from a poem written by Lewis Carroll called Jabberwocky. It is apparently a celebratory phrase which is possibly used in Sparrows Will Sing in a hopeful manner. I say hopeful as it describes a world which is controlled, power-hungry and speaks of a younger generation who wish to make a difference.
In the second and third verse, I feel, the key lines are in regards to a generation who are not fooled by false promises and foolish utopian ideals. My favourite line from these verses reads “The new generation is eager to master the helm; they cannot be seduced by this candyfloss techno hell…” it’s a rather powerful and poignant line, in my opinion.
These lyrics which have clearly been inspired by the writings of Lewis Carroll have made Wonderland a dream to reach for, rather than a dream you’ve had.
Whether the story grabs your imagination in a simply child-like way or, inspires you to look for coded messages about the use of hallucinogenic drugs or inspires an adolescence to be more aware of the world they are in, it is, no doubt, a wonderful story.
I think with the amount of genius compositions written due to this amazing story it shows, nay, it proves, that Alice In Wonderland/Through The Looking Glass has so many layers that the inspirational possibilities are endless.