“Oppression won’t win.
The light comes from within.”
~ Linda McCartney
February is Love and Chocolate Month, and today it’s all about love.
Paul has always been the one.
Ever since 7th grade.
I’ll never stop idolizing him.
This week I’ve been drowning myself in Beatles music, using my big headphones, so I can listen to everything as loud as I want. The old songs still resonate and amaze even after 40 years, and I was once again blown away by some of my favorites: “She’s Leaving Home,” “I’ll Follow the Sun,” “Yesterday,” and what I consider to be Paul’s perfect lyrical masterpiece, “Blackbird.”
You’d think that after forty years, you’d know a song inside and out. I can’t even begin to estimate how many times I’ve heard “Blackbird,” — hundreds, maybe, thousands, of times? I’ve always taken it at face value — the bird symbolizing an inner need for personal expression, breaking free, overcoming adversity — not unlike some of the longings Hopkins expressed in his poem, “The Windhover.” I suppose Paul’s acoustic guitar and deceptively simple lyrics form the perfect whole — with something so sublime, why search for deeper meaning?
Blackbird singing in the dead of night
Take these broken wings and learn to fly
All your life
You were only waiting for this moment to arise.
And then I did a little research, and discovered that Paul had something else in mind. In Many Years from Now, Barry Miles quotes him as saying,
I developed the melody on guitar based on the Bach piece and took it somewhere else, took it to another level, then I just fitted the words to it. I had in mind a black woman, rather than a bird. Those were the days of the civil rights movement, which all of us cared about, so this was really a song from me to a black woman, experiencing these problems in the States: ‘Let me encourage you to keep trying, to keep your faith, there is hope.’
Now, of course, I love the song even more, with its added layer of meaning. And I truly understand what Paul means when he says, “This is symbolic of one of my themes: take a sad song and make it better, let this song help you. ‘Empowerment’ is a good word for it.”
Long before he wrote any songs, Paul wrote poetry. He tried to get his work published in a school magazine, but it was rejected. He has said that he’s been trying to get back at them ever since. Years after the Beatles broke up, Paul befriended Allen Ginsberg, who called “Eleanor Rigby,” one hell of a poem. Paul later returned to writing poetry in the 1990’s, after his friend, Ivan Vaugn, died of cancer. (Ivan had introduced Paul to John Lennon.)
There is an ongoing debate about whether song lyrics qualify as poetry. Jeffrey Stock attended Paul’s New York poetry reading when his new compilation, Blackbird Singing: Poems and Lyrics (1965-1999), was published in 2001. In his article for liveDaily.com, he relates that Paul makes no distinction between lyrics and poetry, citing Homer’s epics, traveling troubadors, and the Beat poets.
Stock contends that there is poetry in the best lyrics, and music in the best poetry. “A poem has its own independent propulsion, but a lyric is part of a whole, pulled ineluctably along a musical current. A good lyric must also make room for singing, which is why many superb lyrics presented without their music come off as light verse at best.”
Though Paul’s lyrics and poems both spring from the same creative well, they are composed in different ways. Paul says his lyrics and melodies are written simultaneously; there is a lot of working and reworking to make things fit perfectly. With poems, however, “the language tends to come and stay put.”
Paul wrote some very sweet love songs for Linda (“Maybe I’m Amazed,” and “I Will”), as well as some touching poems, which stand on their own quite well. Here are two of my favorites from Paul’s book:
I would come back from a run
With lines of poetry to tell,
And having listened, she would say,
“What a mind.”
(Read the rest here.)
Her spirit moves wind chimes
When air is still
And fills the room
with fragrance of lily.
(Read the rest here.)
Poet Adrian Mitchell, who edited the book, says in his introduction:
Paul is not in the line of academic or modernist poets. He is a popular poet in the tradition of popular poetry. Homer was and is a popular poet and loved by millions of people who never saw a university . . . Paul takes risks, again and again, in all of his work. He’s not afraid to take on the art of poetry — which is the art of dancing naked . . . he’s a jeweler and a juggler when it comes to words. Both his poems and lyrics are full of surprises.
When I was teaching high school English in Wimbledon, England, one of my students told me she had seen Paul walking his sheepdog, Martha, in Hampstead Heath. After I stopped screaming, I begged her for more details. Janice and some friends had been kicking around a soccer ball, and Paul remarked that the game seemed a little rough for girls. He was cordial, interested, and gave Janice the nicest of smiles.
Thirty plus years later, I’m still insanely jealous.
Paul has that effect on me.
As I said, he’s always been the one.
For a live performance of “Blackbird,” click here.
To listen to a live performance of “Yesterday,” click here.
To visit the Paul McCartney YouTube channel, click here.
And, for a charming look at Paul in the kitchen, yes, the KITCHEN! — click here. He’s really really really adorable in this :)!
He can mash my potatoes any time . . .
Today’s Poetry Friday Roundup is at Big A little a.
28 thoughts on “friday feast: my paul”
What a wonderful post! Aaaah… the Beatles – thank you! I was a fan from the first moment I heard them. A Beatles’ concert was the first concert I ever attended. I can put on any of their albums and feel like I’ve come home.
I think one of the reasons I love writing YA is because inside, I am still a 15 year old girl, amazed at life. And, listening to the Beatles is something that puts me right back at 15. I can feel those same (universal) teen feelings and remember enough to put it down and make a story.
BTW, George was always my favorite (also an amazing poet/lyricist) 😉 so, we don’t have to fight over them! lol… my two best friends and I loved George (me), Ringo (Sonja – probably because her boyfriend was a drummer), and John (Barb.) I think we shied away from Paul because he was soooo beautiful. (sigh) Remember that pic of him, B&W, where he’s wearing a turtleneck, leaning his face by his arm, looking dreamily off in the distance? (sigh) – Yeah… Paul.
(the kitchen bit was a hit!)
Me and Paul have been on an amazing trip over the years.
It was all about Ringo at first cuz I just wanted to “bang drums!” But soon afterwards I was playing the bass. But there was all media-crap about the fight between Paul and John and the Beatles and all, so, often I found myself on the anti-Paul thing. But it was all stupid childish stuff.
And of course, more times than not it was the band as a whole and that’s what was important.
And the song stuff was always weird… so easy for me back in my youth to write-off Paul as the “sappy-songster” and all and despising such songs as Yesterday b/c the weren’t “about the band” at all and GAWD! my mom like the song!!!
But in the end…. (cue the music)
and especially of late (after reading that Beatles’ book) I have SO MUCH love and respect for that guy. He was SO important to the Beatles as all it was to be and all it’s influence on me.
So, yeah, Paul is alright!
I’m holding back tears.
You know how certain lyrics reach out and touch your soul? How their metaphors speak of your life in ways you might never think of by yourself? That’s how I heard this song when it first came out.
“Take these broken wings and learn to fly…”
Paul may have been thinking of the civil rights movement when he wrote the song, but for me, it was about learning to stand up for myself.
Well, okay, now I’m jealous of you as well. I never got to see the Beatles in concert — Hawaii was just not on their radar. The best I could do was watch Help and a Hard Day’s Night over and over. Paul was too beautiful, actually, making him the perfect stuff of adolescent fantasy. I haven’t tried writing any novels, yet, but the one that I think I’m fated to write is about teenage idol worship — so ditto on your feelings about being perpetually 15 on the inside.
I remember being so jealous of Patti Boyd cause she got George. Part of what made the Beatles pure magic (aside from their music), is that all of them had tremendous charisma and they knew how to ham it up. Paul’s mashed potatoes is a good example :).
What a fabulous post! I had never heard of the origins of Blackbird but I’d always associated the song with Harriet Tubman. Interesting.
Re: YAY, Paul….
I think we’ve all been on that Beatles journey, and your changing feelings make perfect sense because the band was always evolving — like any “family” they would naturally have good and bad times. But the important thing was their constant growth.
The early Beatles’ lyrics couldn’t be classified as poetry — they were simplistic, and the music was more the thing — but as they got into their psychedelic period — wow, the images that came through were amazing. All that Eastern influence and mind enhancing drugs unleashed their creativity. Again — without that, would they/could they, have composed songs in the same way?
I can see why you may have been off Paul for awhile — as a guy, you wouldn’t have fallen for the group’s romantic crooner. As a teenager, it probably didn’t matter that much to me what they were singing or who was singing — it was idolatry, pure and simple, for the whole group.
But now, I’m looking more at their musical accomplishments. Each member made tremendous contributions as individuals and to the group dynamic.
I listened to “She’s Leaving Home” again last night – and those harmonies and strings blew me away.
Why I think Paul’s still packin’ em in today is that he’s got the perfect voice for the type of music he writes — so he’s the best ambassador of his own stuff. Covers just don’t cut it.
I’ll have to wait ’til I get home to see the mashed potatoes (site is blocked here at work.) Yes – I hated Patti Boyd for upteen years… then she goes and gets Eric Clapton as well – sheesh! You know, I was available! :0
Some crushes never go away… I will always love the Beatles. And – yep, I sat through A Hard Day’s Night and Help like a gazillion times! Those were the days that once you got a ticket, you could sit in the theater until your arse went numb – and I did! lol
I’m so with you on how certain lyrics really go deep and remain imbedded in your heart and soul forever. Listening to “Blackbird” again made me tear up, too. I had the same feelings as you, about learning to stand up for myself, when I first heard the song. The mark of any great song is that element of universal truth.
And lately, I’ve been loving your hummingbird posts, and thinking about how a creature so tiny can embody so much about what is beautiful in life. Those little nestlings face the challenge of survival. If they can do it, so can I . . .
I also read that there were associations with Jim Crow — which makes sense, too. There’s still debate over whether the tapping in the background is Paul’s foot or a metronome!
John, Paul, George and Ringo
You said it!
I am so convinced (and I know I’m biased) but I truly feel, they –all four of them– were meant to happen. John’s band at first but he would have been nowhere without the magic that happened between him and Paul. And George, always seen as so secondary but I don’t feel that really was the case. He wasn’t “there” with the songwriting magic that J&P had but he was always there when it came to “whole band” contributions. And that’s where Ringo comes in. George Martin said the technology was just non-existent in the sixties. Ringo was just a good drummer and solid time keeper. And that was very important.
You can see when the music started to evolve into more than the “traditional guitar-bass-drums band” and didn’t involve touring that both Ringo and George (as lead guitarist) would feel more out of it, not part of the band so much anymore.
Lyrically, the Beatles were never as intense or even visual as Dylan (they knew that and they idolized his talent). They were always about the “love song” not topical at all (and even when they tried like “Revolution”, it never really “came off” as important more than a great tune –lyrics made little sense).
And as far as poetically (within the love song), Rubber Soul and Revolver is where J&P really shined.
Yeah, the Beatles are a good thing!
Don’t even bring up Eric Clapton! I keep wondering, what does that woman have any way — that all these rock gods adore her? (I, too, was available.)
Yeah, I remember being able to sit through a movie numerous times. What a bargain compared to the high ticket prices today.
Re: John, Paul, George and Ringo
You’re right on with the differences between the Beatles and Dylan. If you just surveyed the general population, you’d find more people able to sing the lyrics to entire Beatles songs, as opposed to Dylan songs. Dylan has his big anthems, of course, but much of his material is not as “sing-able” as Beatles music. So the Beatles lean toward what Mitchell called popular poetry, and Dylan, with his obscure references and deeper layers of meanings and textures, leans more towards the literary. This is probably also the result of who was producing their records and the demographic they were shooting for.
The Beatles and Dylan
That and what was their “agenda”. The Beatles always saw themselves as “pop music performers” like their idols: Elvis, Everly Bros. and Buddy Holly. Whereas Dylan set out to be “Woody Guthrie” and did so successfully with his whole “protest song” era. (those are the songs “people can sing” Blowing in the Wind, Times They are a-Changing, A Hard Rain’s Gunna Fall –well, at least the choruses). BUT Dylan always reinvented himself more drastically than the Beatles. The Beatles would progress from “Me To You” pop songs to more moody sophisticated “Help through Rubber Soul” songs to psychedelic “Revolver” to (big leap) high-production ‘theatrical’ “Sgt. Peppers” to back to roots “The Beatles to Abbey Road” songs.
Dylan suddenly becomes “Blonde on Blonde”. (How differently drugs affected him). I think at that point, Dylan didn’t care who was listening or not (much less so than the Beatles — I read where poor reviews of Magical Mystery Tour album really freaked them out and why they began “cranking” and produced 2 albums worth for the White Album)….
Dylan at one point admitted he was trying to be “unpopular” w/ Nashville Skyline. But it didn’t matter, his songwriting always came thru any disguise he put on….
I second (and third and fourth) the loveliness of this post. He’s my favorite, too. I had no idea about his inspiration behind “Blackbird.” Very interesting to read.
And what a great pic of him.
I enjoyed this post. There are lots of songs that are beautiful poems put to music. Kelly Fineman blogged about Sting a few weeks ago. Thanks for the links to the videos.
Yes, jama—you ARE fated to write a novel about teenaged idol worship, because after reading this post, I’m going to bug you until you do. Yes, I will. Paul says you have to.
Yay, another Paul fan! Let’s have a mad tea party and invite him :).
Re: Your Paul
Thanks, Elaine. Yes, I do remember Kelly’s wonderful post about Sting, another of my favorites!
Well, if you and Paul say so . . .
“There is poetry in the best music and music in the best poetry…”
So true. I love this post and Paul’s songs.
Thanks for reading, and for loving Paul’s songs!
This is the most delightfully gushy post! You teenager you…
Such is the “power of Paul.”
How did I miss this post on my friends page?!
Anyway, thank you! Paul was my favourite, too, when I was a teen. He’s so charming in that mashed potato video.
Did you see that I posted a YouTube of “Here Comes The Sun” just a couple of days ago? Got Beatles on the brain, apparently.
Must buy “Blackbird Singing.” Thanks again!
Re: How did I miss this post on my friends page?!
Yay, another Paul fan! Thanks for mentioning your video — I hadn’t seen it, but just watched it. Man, do I miss them — we need their positive message more than ever now. I have this hankering for mashed potatoes now.
Lovely post, Jama. To me, some lyrics are indeed poetry, even if they do feed off the music, as well. That’s just another form to me, like haiku feeds off the restraints of that form, or photopoetry feeds off the pictures. Besides, the lyrics that are true poetry, to me, stand alone as poetry when I read them, even if I’ve never heard the melody.
You’re right — each distinct form has its own set of limitations. Your analogy to photopoetry is a good one — the poem could stand alone without the photo, and it would be another experience entirely with the photo.
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