‘The Beatles’: John Lennon Wrote ‘Norwegian Wood’ About an Affair, But Can’t Remember the Woman

So many songs have hidden meanings that fans never know about. Beatles member John Lennon was notorious for throwing in obscure references in his lyrics that only the most perceptive listeners could decipher. And sometimes he was intentionally vague about them.

Lennon admitted that the popular song “Norwegian Wood (The Bird Has Flown)” is about an extramarital affair he was having. The Beatles star his sexual references because he didn’t want his wife finding out. But perhaps the strangest part of all is he can’t remember who it’s about.

The ‘Norwegian Wood’ lyrics are intentionally obscure

There’s a bit of intrigue that comes from figuring out a riddle. It seems Lennon understood that, and seemed to make the song bizarre on purpose to hide its true meaning. Fans spend hours speculating about what each line can mean, which is really half the fun.

But we do know that Lennon wrote it during a brainstorming session with Paul McCartney in 1965. In his book Many Years from Now, McCartney recalled, “I came in and [Lennon] had this first stanza, which was brilliant: ‘I once had a girl, or should I say, she once had me.’ That was all he had, no title, no nothing. I said, ‘Oh yes, well, ha, we’re there.’ And it wrote itself.”

He continued: “Once you’ve got the great idea, they do tend to write themselves, providing you know how to write songs. So I picked it up at the second verse.”

John Lennon admitted ‘Norwegian Wood’ was about an affair

John Lennon being interviewed by journalist Steve Turner of Beat Instrumental magazine
John Lennon | Michael Putland/Getty Images

It’s no secret that Lennon cheated on his wife, Cynthia, but there was a time when he tried to keep those indiscretions quiet. Still, his true life became part of his art eventually, even if he tried to hide it.

“I was trying to write about an affair without letting my wife know I was writing about an affair,” Lennon said during a 1970 interview,  “so it was very gobbledegook. I was, sort of, writing from my experiences, girl’s flats, things like that.” 

He further clarified those statement in 1980. “’Norwegian Wood’ was about an affair I was having. I was very careful and paranoid because I didn’t want my wife, Cyn, to know that there really was something going on outside the household. I’d always had some kind of affairs going, so I was trying to be sophisticated in writing about an affair, but in such a smokescreen way that you couldn’t tell. I can’t remember any specific woman it had to do with.”

Fans have speculated the song is about journalist Maureen Cleave. But that’s never been confirmed.

Bob Dylan thought Jonh Lennon stole the idea for ‘Norwegian Wood’

Lennon wasn’t the only artist accused of plaigarizing music Legend Bob Dylan. But he was especially vocal about the perceived theft of “Norwegian Wood” and even wrote a parody response, “Fourth Time Around.”

In response to the scathing criticism, Lennon reviewed “Fourth Time Around” during a Rolling Stone interview in 1968. “I didn’t like it…I was very paranoid. I just didn’t like what I felt I was feeling – I thought it was an out-and-out skit, you know, but it wasn’t. It was great.”

Somehow, Lennon managed offend a fellow musician and his spurned wife all with one short song. But at least the fans still loved it.