One Song at a Time – The Beatles’ We Can Work It Out

Story by Brian Nankervis

8.55am. Driving to school, Elsternwick.  July 2003.

We’re running late. Again. Rosie, eight, and Lily, four, are arguing about what tape to play in the car. Again. Rosie wants Sophie Ellis-Bextor’s Murder on the Dance Floor. Lily wants to hear the end of the Dumbo story from yesterday.

Rosie is outraged.  “Dumbo? I am so not listening to Dumbo. What about The Beatles?”

“No! Not The Beatles. Dumbo! Dumbo! Dumbo!” Lily is writhing and kicking the front seats with her feet.

“It’s ok Lily, I’m putting on Dumbo,” I say. “But knock off the kicking or you’ll get Van The Man.”

The girls settle. Lily resumes a daily conversation with her invisible friend, a pink rabbit called Starlight. Rosie plays with her hair, studies the gap in her teeth and stares out the window. I promise myself I will get up when the alarm rings tomorrow and not keep hitting the snooze button.

Rosie slowly fades the Dumbo tape when she sees Lily making Starlight fly and slips on The Beatles, singing effortlessly to her current favourite, We Can Work It Out.

Try to see it my way
Do I have to keep on talking till I can’t go on?
While you see it your way
Run the risk of knowing that our love may soon be gone
We can work it out
We can work it out

After the first verse, Rosie remembers my story about being tied to a goal post at State School and asks me to tell it again.

We are almost at school so I give her the quick version …

My friends turned on me at lunch time, and tied me to a goal post with rope. Mr Stanmore was about to begin dictation when he realised I was missing. Faint cries of “Help!” floated in through the open window. The whole class, running and laughing, came to untie me. Walking home from school a few hours later, Mark Wagner told me he thought I’d be able to untie the knots and he was sorry. We sang We Can Work It Out all the way up Almond Street.

Life is very short and there’s no time
For fussing and fighting my friend …

I pull up outside the school with Rosie and Lily and my heart sinks. Late again! Rosie gives me a withering look. She grabs her stuff and hurries across the playground, looking for friends amongst the other latecomers. I’m watching, willing her to turn and wave and at last she does and walks into a goal post.

I drop Lily at kindergarten and then drive slowly home, station hopping on the radio. Every show seems to be taking calls on the spread of terrorism. The callers are scared or depressed, arrogant, earnest or hysterical and I can’t bear it after being with the girls so I put in The Beatles tape again and turn it up really loud.

I promise myself I’ll track down Mark Wagner, my best friend at Boroondara State School, who I lost contact with for thirty four years until two years ago, when he gave me his phone number at a school fete. I was so pleased to see him again and we talked easily until our kids pulled us apart and I said, “I’ll give you a ring” and went home nostalgic for the good old days and promptly lost his number.


Brian Nankervis is co-host and co-producer of RocKwiz.

His daughter Rosie, now 17, is listening to Grimes, Azealia Banks and Snakadaktal. Her favourite Beatles song is Dear Prudence. Lily, now 14, is listening to Primadonna Girl by Marina and the Diamonds, Awkward by Fremantle band San Cisco and Wide Awake by Katy Perry. She hasn’t listened to Dumbo lately but Starlight lies on her pillow with a small woollen dog called Maxie. Brian’s son Harry likes Jet, The Black Keys, Bob Seger and will still dance around the kitchen to the Greenbriar Boys. Brian is currently enjoying the new Oh Mercy album, the latest Neil Young album and Sherry Rich’s album, Dakota Avenue, which was recorded at the Wilco loft in Chicago ten years ago and finally released this year.

A much longer version of this story was published in The Age in July 2003

We Can Work It Out on YouTube.

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