Hammering the piano like a ticking bomb, Lennon recalls how when he was young it seemed the outlaw heroes always escaped. But now it’s different; he’s been busted for pot, the stress of which contributed to his wife Yoko’s miscarriage, and more battles with the Establishment (such as President Nixon) loom. It all reminds him of the earliest authorities in his life: narcissistic parents who forced him to do whatever suited them and still abandoned him.
The beat cuts to half time as Lennon’s vocal soars, exhorting himself not to regret the path he has chosen. Perhaps he’s reflecting on all the bridges he’d burned in the last two years (1969-1970): to his band, to his first wife, to the cultural mainstream. Thinking clearly thanks to the Primal Scream psychotherapy he had just undergone with Dr. Arthur Janov, he tells himself to remember this moment of self-assurance in the future, when life will no doubt threaten to drive him crazy again. Then the relentless pounding resumes, in a stunning display of how Lennon could milk power out of the most minimal accompaniment, until he screams to remember November 5th and an explosion ends the song.
On November 5th the English commemorate the death of Guy Fawkes. In 1605, Catholics realized King James was not going to grant them religious tolerance, so Fawkes joined a movement called The Gunpowder Plot to kill the king. Fawkes was put in charge of blowing up Parliament, but was captured. Before the authorities could hang him, he leaped to his death.
Lennon said he just ad libbed the “Remember the 5th of November” line. Afterwards, the take degenerated into him goofing around and became unusable, so “I cut it there and just exploded, it was a good joke … I thought it was just poignant that we should blow up the Houses of Parliament.” That fall Lennon would blow up the House of Beatles with a legendary Rolling Stone interview that pulled back the curtain for the first time on all the backbiting and resentment that had cast a pall over the group’s final two years — not to mention all the decadence that went on during the Beatlemania tours. In an era of innocence before Watergate and revelations of JFK’S philandering, Lennon’s candor was unprecedented.
“Remember” carries all the fear and conviction of a man setting fire to the gilded cage of being “Moptop John” and heading out for an uncertain but exhilarating future.
As for Guy Fawkes, his image would be popularized as a mask in the film V for Vendetta, and later adopted by the Occupy Wall Street movement.