A year ago today, a special online friend whom I met at my old LiveJournal blog passed away. Though Slatts and I never met in person, we bonded over our mutual love for the Beatles and Bob Dylan. For eight years, we chatted about lyrics, album covers, adolescent memories, and biographical tidbits. As an artist and musician himself, Slatts was the logical go-to guy for backstories and questions, and I greatly admired the many caricatures and portraits he created of my rock idols.
Since Ringo was Slatts’s favorite Beatle, it seemed like a good time to feature this Octopus’s Garden picture book published in 2014. It contains Ben Cort’s vibrant jewel-toned illustrations inspired by Ringo’s original lyrics, and comes with a CD of Ringo reading the story aloud + vocal and instrumental versions of the song.
So, what inspired Ringo to write “Octopus’s Garden”? Seems that things were falling apart while the Beatles were recording the White Album back in 1968, so Ringo walked out to escape mounting animosities and to find some peace. He took a much needed break from studio sessions with his family aboard Peter Sellers’s yacht in Sardinia.
One day, he supposedly ordered fish and chips for lunch and was served octopus instead. He refused to eat the octopus (can you blame him?), and the Captain began to tell him all about octopuses, how they trawl the sea bed for shiny objects and stones to place in front of their caves, sort of like making a garden there. Ringo said, “I thought this was fabulous because at the time I just wanted to be under the sea too. I wanted to get out of it for awhile.”
I’d like to be under the sea/In an octopus’s garden in the shade.
The book opens with a spread of a young boy gazing at his pet goldfish, a vaporous blue cloud populated with colorful sea creatures rising from the top of the bowl. This fantastical stream leads him to the bottom of the ocean, where the boy is greeted by a friendly octopus. He’s joined by four friends and they happily swim along and ride sea turtles until they reach the entrance to the octopus’s cave.
As the song states, they have a joyous time, singing and dancing around, and swimming amongst the coral, feeling happy and safe in their magical hideaway beneath the waves. Cort embellishes this singular adventure with pictures of even more fun: the kids playing pirates by the ruins of a lost city, discovering a sunken treasure chest full of gold jewels, swimming with a giant whale, playing with crabs, riding piggyback atop a giant snail, and listening intently as the octopus reads them a story.
He’s captured the spirit of Ringo’s song, which not only touts the primacy of the imagination, but the human need to occasionally find solace in one’s own fantasies. What child doesn’t sometimes wish to visit a place where there’s no one there “to tell us what to do”? The exhilarating, carefree feeling of playing and exploring with friends to your heart’s content aligns perfectly with Ringo’s steadfast credo of Peace and Love.
“Octopus’s Garden” was Ringo’s second composition, and the last Beatles release featuring him on lead vocals. He was given full songwriting credit for it on the Abbey Road album (George Harrison helped with melodic structure). I’ve always seen Ringo as lovable, endearing and comical, as evidenced by his amiable vocals not only on “Octopus’s Garden,” but also on “Act Naturally,” “Don’t Pass Me By,” “Yellow Submarine,” and “With a Little Help From My Friends.”
The rare instances where Ringo sang lead were for upbeat tunes, jaunty melodies easily adaptable as children’s songs. Indeed, children find his voice appealing and reassuring, further evidenced by his role as Mr Conductor and Storyteller in the Thomas and Friends TV series. All this from a sickly only child, who had a rough beginning, being twice confined in hospital for long periods of time for tuberculosis and appendectomy-induced peritonitis, and having his parents divorce when he was only about four.
It’s wonderful that a new generation will get to know Ringo’s song through this book. They will have a ball hearing him read aloud, singing the song themselves, identifying and counting all the interesting sea creatures (crabs, fish, seahorses, starfish, clams), and submerging themselves in Cort’s delightfully conceived underwater world.
I daresay “Octopus’s Garden” seems to have cosmic significance, having been written when Ringo was 28, during August, the 8th month, in the year 1968, with Ringo’s final vocals recorded the following year on July 18. Octo-coolness. 🙂
This book also makes a nice keepsake for longtime Beatles fans like me, who’ll enjoy reminiscing about their favorite Ringo moments. I especially love the “This Boy” sequence in “A Hard Day’s Night,” when Ringo, coincidentally, feels the need to go off by himself to go “parading.” And who can forget when Ringo is kidnapped in the movie “Help!”, and George opens the car trunk to find Ringo under an orange blanket, just his head showing, and he simply says, “Hello” in the most adorable way? So huggable and endearing. And of course I’ll always remember playing “Abbey Road” over and over on my stereo full blast from my dorm room in college. ”Octopus’s Garden” gave everyone a good excuse to sing along, go prancing around, and forget their troubles.
But before I get carried away even more, enjoy the book’s official trailer, a video featuring Ringo discussing the book, and a live performance of “Octopus’s Garden” by Ringo and the Roundheads.
written by Ringo Starr
illustrated by Ben Cort
published by Aladdin/Simon & Schuster, February 2014
Picture Book/CD set for all ages, 32 pp.
Margaret Simon is hosting the Roundup at Reflections on the Teche. Swim over and check out the full menu of poetic goodness being shared in the blogosphere this week.
Happy Weekend, and here’s to you, Slatts!
“The Beatles were just four guys who loved each other. That’s all they’ll ever be.” ~ Ringo Starr
Copyright © 2016 Jama Rattigan of Jama’s Alphabet Soup. All rights reserved.