You’ve Got to Hide Your Love Away
It’s hard to talk about Beatles’ songs without the larger context they existed within. Much of the magical connection music creates with listeners depends on timing, rumor, interpretation, and predisposition. This is why people fail when they try so hard to figure out what a song is about: because even if the songwriter lays out exactly what a song is supposed to mean, which the Beatles rarely did, songs have layers of unintentional meaning. Music is as personal as it is social, and no song means the same thing to everyone. So, while “You’ve Got to Hide Your Love Away” has been rumored to be about Cynthia Lennon, John’s first wife, and the marriage that was hidden from the public, the song is not limited to this interpretation. To me, any song exists in a space disconnected from the biographical facts of the singer’s life.
A Lennon-sung piece from the Help! album, “You’ve Got to Hide Your Love Away”, was supposedly the Beatle’s attempt to sound like Bob Dylan. But while there is the frustration and moroseness of any great Dylan lament, Lennon maintains leverage over the demons that beset him by his recognition of them.
The song sets the tone quickly with, “Here I stand, head in hand, turn my face to the wall.” The narrator places himself in a depressing state, and he is responsible for his troubles. Like a naughty school boy, he is facing the corner in shame. We then learn the cause of his troubles is a departed woman, and her absence leaves him feeling “two-foot small”. Yet it is unclear why she left and we never really find out, as Lennon is less concerned with the woman than he is with pointing out the people who are judging him for her departure. Above all, the narrator is despairing over the lack of distance between his public and his private life. There is immense pressure from the screaming fans to “hide your love away”, which can be interpreted in many ways.
At face value, the refrain could be advice given to Lennon from the record company to conceal his marriage, as a bachelor is more appealing to female audiences. Possibly, it could be advice from the audience itself, similarly advising Lennon to keep his private affairs from corrupting the image of what they want him to be. Most optimistically, it’s possible that the phrase is being said to help the narrator, instructing him to “hide his love away” for sake keeping. Which is good advice: keep close that which is most important.
While it could be any of these meanings, it is plain that Lennon is perturbed that anyone should give him advice on how to live his life. The loud “HEY” that starts each chorus line is almost a sarcastic insult to the demeaning way people try to tell him what he should and shouldn’t do.
Post-break up, Lennon feels particularly unable to deal with these detractors. Lennon says he is in no mood to take advice “in the state I’m in.” Feeling helpless, he questions the possibility of something his ex-lover said to him, that “love will find a way.” To Lennon, love can never find away: there are too many people trying to hold it back. The only escape route for Lennon is to sacrifice himself to public persuasion. Only then can he reflect the utter impossibility of love in the public eye. When Lennon beckons them forward, “Gather round all you clowns”, he is already demeaning them, but by then requesting their advice, though he already knows what it is, he hopes to pass shame to those who try to judge him with impunity. And in the last chorus, the “HEYs” are even louder and the whole idea seems utterly ridiculous: that it would ever be good advice to hide the way you feel. Lennon has moved past the shame he felt by transplanting it to those he deems responsible for it. It is an emotional passing of the buck, but consistent with many of Lennon’s lyrical tales of relationships gone awry.
There is no doubt some hubris in this song. In a way, it amounts to a few minutes of finger pointing. And by deflecting blame for the end of his marriage, Lennon justifies his movement passed it. But it is mostly a sad affair, relayed in empty tones. No one wins when love dies or is hidden away. In the end, the song is a lament: for the woman he loved, for the man he isn’t, and for the people we aren’t.