The Meaning Behind “The Continuing Story of Bungalow Bill” by The Beatles and the Remorseful Hunter Who Inspired It

“The Continuing Story of Bungalow Bill” tells such a bizarre tale that it seems like it only could have emanated from the boundless imagination of its writer, John Lennon. Well, would you believe that Lennon based it on a strange-but-true story that he happened to encounter?

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What is the meaning of the song? What inspired it? And how did it break Beatle barriers when it came to one specific line of the vocals? To find all the answers, we need to go back to the ’60s and travel to Rishikesh, India.

Retreats and Regrets

The four Beatles made international news when they traveled to India in the summer of 1968 to practice transcendental meditation with the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. It was supposed to be a vacation-like atmosphere. But funny incidents kept happening to inspire their creative juices, especially Lennon’s. Songs like “Dear Prudence” and “Sexy Sadie” came directly from incidents at the camp.

In the case of “The Continuing Story of Bungalow Bill,” Lennon was taking aim at what he believed to be the hypocritical actions of American Richard Cooke III, as he explained in All We Are Saying: The Last Major Interview with John Lennon and Yoko Ono:

“That was written about a guy in Maharishi‘s meditation camp who took a short break to go shoot a few poor tigers, and then came back to commune with God. There used to be a character called Jungle Jim and I combined him with Buffalo Bill. It’s a sort of teenage social-comment song and a bit of a joke.”

When Cooke returned to camp, he immediately went to visit with the Maharishi to explain his feelings of guilt for having killed an animal. Lennon just happened to be there when this was occurring, and he questioned the man on how he could reconcile killing with the retreat’s peaceful bent. That was when the man’s mother, who had gone on the expedition with him, explained that he had no choice but to shoot because of their proximity to the tiger.

When Lennon wrote the song, he decided to include the mother’s defense. To sing that particular section, Lennon employed wife Yoko Ono. It was the first time that any female would sing a lead vocal part on a Beatles record. (Ringo Starr’s then-wife Maureen Starkey also appears as part of the group singing the chorus.)

What is “The Continuing Story of Bungalow Bill” About?

From the sampled Spanish guitar intro to the ramshackle backing vocals to the wild whistling in the runout, “The Continuing Story of Bungalow Bill” registers as one of The Beatles’ weirder songs. Which sort of made it a perfect addition to the White Album in 1968, since that double-LP featured an anything-goes aesthetic.

Lennon gets his shots in by playing the role of the not-quite-impartial narrator of the song. Calling Bill an all American, bullet-headed / Saxon mother’s son sets him for ridicule, especially when he takes that mother along for protection on his hunting trip. It’s also telling that supposedly naive kids are able to understand the contradiction at play here before Bill does: The children asked him if to kill was not a sin.

The gleeful chorus only serves to play up the absurdity of this fellow’s actions. “The Continuing Story of Bungalow Bill” makes a great case that you should never do anything ill-advised in the presence of a songwriter who can immortalize your folly. And that goes double when the songwriter in question is John Lennon.

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