Thursday, May 5, 2016

The Beatles - Blackbird

“The Beatles are generally seen as the single most important rock band of all time, because they wrote the best songs. Since both of these facts are true, The Beatles are rated properly.” – Chuck Klosterman – The Ten most accurately rated artists in rock history (Number 4)

The Beatles 1968 album “The White Album,” sometimes referred to as just “The Beatles," is kind of a big deal. It is the only double album The Beatles ever produced and arguably their most experimental. “The White Album” received mixed reviews from critics at the time, probably because some of the tracks were really bizarre and not in the fun playful “Magical Mystery Tour” way, and also the, dare I say progressive, styling of the album may have been so unexpected as to throw off music critics of the time. Regardless “The White Album” is now considered by some as the greatest album of all time, while I am more of “Abby Road” guy, it is impossible to deny “The White Album” as anything other than pretty freaking amazing.

While “The White Album” has a full roster of great songs to enjoy, sometimes the simplest songs are the best, or the least simpler songs can resonate with the listener the most. So while Charlie Manson may have thought “Helter Skelter” was about a race war (I have no idea how), and “Happiness Is a Warm Gun” is among Lennon’s most daring songs while “Revolution 1” is probably his most effective and memorable, and “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” is probably the best song George Harrison ever wrote, I am very partial to Paul McCartney’s “Blackbird.” It is a simple song, just Paul’s alone on guitar is all that it takes to perform the song; a nice short, simple guitar song right in the middle of a circus of psychedelic musical exploration.

It is a nice little poem of simple structuring where Paul sings:

“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.

Blackbird singing in the dead of night,
Take these sunken eyes and learn to see.
All your life,
You were only waiting for this moment to be free.

Blackbird fly Blackbird fly
Into the light of the dark black night.”

Now the real question, is this song really about a bird or African Americans?

It would be the sort of thing for McCartney to do, write a song about a bird he saw in a tree in his backyard, something whimsical like that fits perfectly with many of the odd sort of songs McCartney created. On the other hand using a bird with broken wings finally recovering and being able to fly is a perfect metaphor for the American civil rights movement and it would hardly seem like a coincidence then the bird happens to be black. However political charged songs were more often Lennon's affair and this discourse becomes challenging because Paul has said many, sometimes contradicting things about the song over the years.

Other theories suggest the song is related to Edgar Allan Poe's "The Raven," some people have taken the song to be a metaphor for death and flying is entering the afterlife, others thought it might tie into Harper Lee's novel "To Kill a Mockingbird," which would relate itself back to the plight of African Americans, and lastly some thought it might have been a strange sort of love song, perhaps about someone finally finding it in them to move on after a rough breakup.

For many decade's Paul never gave a clear answer but in recent years he has all but confirmed "Blackbird" is about the civil rights movement, and more specifically the song is about a black woman, since bird was an old slang for woman. In 2002, McCartney had this to say:

"I had been doing poetry readings. I had been doing some in the last year or so because I’ve got a poetry book out called Blackbird Singing, and when I would read “Blackbird”, I would always try and think of some explanation to tell the people, ’cause there’s not a lot you can do except just read the poem, you know, you read 10 poems that takes about 10 minutes, almost. It’s like, you’ve got to, just, do a bit more than that. So, I was doing explanations, and I actually just remembered why I’d written “Blackbird”, you know, that I’d been, I was in Scotland playing on my guitar, and I remembered this whole idea of “you were only waiting for this moment to arise” was about, you know, the black people’s struggle in the southern states, and I was using the symbolism of a blackbird. It’s not really about a blackbird whose wings are broken, you know, it’s a bit more symbolic."

Here is a video of Penn Jillette discussing his battle of understanding “Blackbird:”

There are two things about Penn Jillette's rant that I really appreciate. First the level of humility he is using approaching the topic, he does not pretend to have special insight into McCartney's mind and he is quick to admit that Beatles expert know a lot about the Beatles, I share his stance on this; Beatles experts are intense. Second I really enjoy his musings over the prose versus poetry, he discussed this better then I feel I could, but I feel it is worth drawing attention to, because if we were left to ponder over the mystery of "Blackbird" forever many of us would enjoy that. However it would appear from all recent remarks by McCartney "Blackbird" is about the struggle of African Americans during the 60s civil rights movement and you might think that would be the end of it but I am not entirely sure, and I suspect Jillette feels the same. Why would it take McCartney so long to openly admit the best possible interpretation of his song was correct one? Why would he have offered such small off handed explanation in the past?

Might I make a suggestion?

I think it might be possible that McCartney wrote a whimsical song about a literally black bird, but as time went on and people understandably loved the song and in turn over thought about it they began to suspect something more. Existing in the politically charged 60s and Charlie Manson somehow believing the entire "White Album" was about a race war, peoples' minds began to wander towards possible racial and political symbolisms within the "White Album" and a song named "Blackbird" seemed all too obvious. McCartney after years of hearing how great it would be if "Blackbird" was about the civil rights movement finally concedes and declares that is what he meant all along.

It is possible right? I mean why would a black woman's eyes be sunken eyes and she need to learn to see? Who would blame McCartney for changing his mind about his own song and accepting praise from involuntary genius? I mean Paul is so humble he never took credit for “Yesterday” and that was amazing, could we really hold it against him for claiming he meant for something brilliant all along that was in reality serendipitous?

The nicer cleaner theory is obviously that Paul is telling the truth, and I do not imagine any of us was to put the screws to Paul to figure out if he might possibly be misremembering or mixing up inspirations after the fact. Regardless either intentionally or quasi unintentionally McCartney has created a multi-dimensional song that is if not directly about the African American civil rights movement it is culturally.

Until next month keep on rocking in the free world.

- King of Braves

Monday, May 2, 2016

The Beatles - All You Need Is Love

1967 was a great year for Beatles fans, it was the year the albums “Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Heart Club Band” and “The Magical Mystery Tour” came out, and those are two of my favorite Beatles albums. Before the release of second album, “The Magical Mystery Tour” The Beatles were asked to contribute to “Our World” which would be the first live global television event. Naturally The Beatles, being bigger then Jesus at the time, were asked to participate and perform a new song. This was a great opportunity for the biggest band in the world, arguably ever, to send a message to fourteen different nations live.

The Beatles were changing at the time mostly because John Lennon was changing his focus. Legend has it that Bob Dylan was very critical of John Lennon and the Beatles when he first met them. Dylan was very entrenched in the hippie culture and the message of peace, love and drugs they were espousing, and Dylan had invested a huge part of himself and his music towards forwarding these messages of political change. Meanwhile The Beatles were singing songs about holding hands and being in love, but to be fair the Beatles were writing amazing songs that happened to be about holding hands and being in love.

Supposedly Bob Dylan has these choice words for John Lennon when they met:

“Yo John... Enough of this teenybopper crap! ‘Help!’ is a real cry for help! Show me you have a pure heart, show me you have something to say.”

This quote comes from the fine people at:

I highly doubt that the above quote is accurate, but I have always been told that Dylan said something to that affect to the Beatles, and more specifically Lennon, however the above quote was the best representation I could find online. Regardless the point is Dylan had a huge affect on Lennon and afterward a more serious and sage like Lennon began to send many an important message to the world, and among his first bits of wisdom he would share is “All We Need Is Love.”

So the scene was set, The Beatles had such a huge audience what they said in their songs could change the world, and with the opportunity to perform on international live television their audience would not only broaden even further but their words could reach many listeners. John Lennon knew what the world needed to hear, a simple but universal truth “All You Need Is Love.” Later that year the hit song would be included on “The Magical Mystery Tour” album and would later appear on “The Yellow Submarine” album/soundtrack.

The song is credited as a Lennon McCartney creation and that makes a lot of sense, Paul McCartney had an almost unnatural talent for writing catching lovable pop rock songs and “All You Need Is Love” feels like such a song, but the political drive, the desire to inspire the world towards cooperation and understanding clearly the message of John Lennon it is hard not to credit him more so for the creation of this song.

But perhaps we should give some credit to Bob Dylan.

If Bob Dylan had not provoked/shamed John into trying to make a difference, or prove he had a “pure heart,” the high lord of hippies may never had made such a strong effort to do so much with his music to encourage peaceful revolution.

It is one of the often overlooked charms of The Beatles how they managed to write so many upbeat songs while living through such political charged challenging times, all the more so, while they, especially Lennon, actively engaged in the turmoil of many potentially ugly debates. It is easy to criticize, and it would have been easy for The Beatles to present a song on the “Our World” broadcast denouncing the political rivals of the UK or some of the long lived backward ideas still held by the populous. It would have been even easier to write and perform another fluff pop rock song. However they did something else entirely, they told the world what it needed to hear and reminded everyone who listened something they had always known, but easily taken for granted, that all we really need is to love one another.

This is where credit to Dylan should be halted, because the key difference between Lennon and Dylan is cynicism. While both men are clearly politically aligned, and have many similar messages and philosophies they share with us via their music Lennon is so much more embracing of the world and its people. No meaningful slight is intended toward Dylan in this remark, it is just amazing how positive Lennon could always be, maybe it was from years of hanging out with McCartney, I do not know.

I have always found it difficult to write about The Beatles, because their history and influence is so huge, and so well documented and discussed, that it is nearly impossible to add anything. It is possible that I am way off the mark connecting various Beatles tales and events together to accumulate to the creation of the great song “All You Need Is Love,” and maybe I am overselling the importance of that track. It is always possible that The Beatles and songs like “All You Need Is Love” had a subtle rippling effect on all of us that ultimately changed the world is many positive ways that no one could ever hope to connect all the dots.

Anyway long story short, Beatles theories are numerous, the importance of The Beatles cannot be overstated, and yeah... all you need is love.

- King of Braves.