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rosendo m. makabali
rosendo m makabali RECENTLY I came upon poetry by Paul McCartney–the few poems of his available for sampling via a webpage put up by the W. W. Norton & Company to promote his Blackbird Singing: Poems and Lyrics, 1965-1999, published in 2001.

McCartney was reluctant to let the world in on his inspired verses outside of songwriting. Throughout his soaring career in pop and rock music–with the Beatles, with his post-Beatles band Wings, and solo–had he been carrying the weight of a long-ago rejection by a school magazine, where he submitted "something deep and meaningful" that he wrote as a teenager?

An initial project, a suggestion of his wife Linda's, to compile his growing number of "kept" poems in a book, albeit secretly–to surprise him on his birthday–was abruptly aborted–because he found out. Yet from his grief over the loss of Linda (to breast cancer, in 1998) sprung more poems (that purged sorrow, that paid tribute).

In the Forward to Blackbird Singing McCartney referred to an earlier death (of dear friend Ivan Vaughan in 1993) that nudged him to get back to writing a poem, "rather than a song, (that) could perhaps best express what (he) was feeling." However, the loving memory of life with the late Linda was the inspiration that made his book materialize after all.

Paul, born into a working-class family (as were the other members of The Beatles ), had a relatively trauma-free childhood. He even had his father's jazz band to inform him on music as a child–he began to play the guitar when he was fourteen. Quirky then that the subject of Death always cropped up in Paul's parlor as a Beatle–as in song imagery, that conveyed his "Eleanor Rigby" to classic stature, and in the frivolous "Paul is Dead" conspiracy theory mongered in the mid-to-late 60s (fueled by morbid symbols attached to his poses in album covers–Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band (1967) and Abbey Road (1969)–with a little help from John's "The Walrus was Paul" quip in "Glass Onion").

Blackbird Singing puts together McCartney's 40 previously unpublished poems and over 50 of his best lyrics that are representative of his writing's "clear, unpretentious style, exploring the familiar themes of innocence, love, loss, memory, and social activism with a dreamlike yet thoroughly mature attentiveness."

W. W. Norton & Company's webpage for Blackbird Singing did not post Paul's "Ivan." It posted "Here Today," Paul's lyrics to his song in memory of John Lennon, and, below, one of his heartfelt paeans for Linda, "Her Spirit":

Her spirit moves wind chimes
    When air is still
        And fills the rooms
                With fragrance of lily

Her eyes blue green
    Still seen
        Perfectly happy
            With nothing

Her spirit sets
    The water pipes a humming
        Fat lektronic force be with ya sound

Her spirit talks to me
    Through animals
        Beautiful creature
            Lay with me

Bird that calls my name
    Insists that she is here
        And nothing
            Left to fear

Bright white squirrel
    Foot of tree
        Fixes me
            With innocent gaze

Her spirit talks to me

*

At a press conference in London in 1966, right after the publication of his second book, A Spaniard in the Works [Simon and Schuster], John Lennon was asked: "Why do you kill people off in your books?"

Lennon's characteristic answer was: "That's a good way to end them. I suppose they were manifestations of hidden cruelties. They were very Alice-in-Wonderland and Winnie-the-Pooh. I was very hung up then. I got rid of a lot of that. It was my version of what was happening then. It was just the usual criticisms, as some critic put it."

The loss of a near and dear one came early, and double, to John. He was five years old when he was separated from his mother Julia, to be raised by his aunt, her better sister, Mimi. John was seventeen when Julia, on her way to the bus stop after a visit to Mimi, was run over by a car. His mother's death made him "very, very bitter."

Lennon got his ticket to art college on the distinctive merit of his work that he developed on his own through drawing, reading, and writing poems and stories since very young. It was a singular feat that he got to college at all, as his attendance at early schooling was peppered with (inspired?) mischief. John was expelled from kindegarten; he didn't get to finish college as well.

In 1964, at the height of Beatlemania, Lennon came out with his first book, In His Own Write [Simon and Schuster]. The drawings, poems, and stories revealed an old soul getting by on whimsy, irony, irreverence, and (yet) brotherhood, behind a perpetual child's eye on the world about and the other inside him. One of the tamer entries in the book is "Good Dog Nigel":

Arf, Arf, he goes, a merry sight,

Our little hairy friend,

Arf, Arf, upon the lampost bright

Arfing round the bend.

Nice dog! Goo boy,

Waggie tail and beg,

Clever Nigel, jump for joy

Because we are putting you to sleep
at three of the clock, Nigel.


*

When The Beatles were Fab, Lennon and McCartney wrote many songs with lyrics that verged on poetry. Aside from melodic inventiveness and infectiousness, lyricism delivered with homegrown wit, a rebel streak, and, later, a mystic tinge gave their songs a universal and irresistible appeal that wowed a teeming teen fan base, earned the nod of maturing baby boomers (among whom were disciples of Dean or Elvis), and drew more than the passing notice of either prematurely or long-ageing conservatives, cognoscenti, pedants, and philistines. (That thing they did–The Beatles Effect–endures to this day.)

Poetry was the least concern for the Liverpudlian lads when they first set out to scale the top of the pops; to hit the charts they had to constantly work hard and as best as they could at straight composing, recording, and performing songs. Waxing poetic came gradually, pacing up some while the band was flexing songs in the studio for Rubber Soul (late in 1965). Lennon's writing had shining moments here, with "Norwegian Wood," "In My Life," and "Nowhere Man." While McCartney's shimmered with "Michelle," although it glowed previously with "Yesterday" on Help! (1965, earlier).

When The Beatles liberated itself from the rigors and the din of playing live concerts and TV appearances, the band retreated to the cocoon of the studio and began to tweak the effects and affects of its music. The members individually experimented with diverse and exotic instruments to devise arrangements that would complement or enhance their basic guitars-and-drums ensemble.

At the same time, the songwriters broadened the scope and raised the quality of their lyrics by drawing from an eclectic inkwell of themes that spread over through songs in Revolver (1966) and Sgt. Pepper's. Their words touched, if not delved deep into, domestic drama (McCartney's "She's Leaving Home" and "When I'm Sixty-Four"), social sensitivity (McCartney's "Eleanor Rigby"), political economic issues (George Harrison's "Taxman"), philosophical or religious seeking (Lennon's "Tomorrow Never Knows" and Harrison's "Within You And Without You"), psychedelia's flowering (Lennon's "Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds" and "Being For The Benefit of Mr. Kite").

As said, the songs of The Beatles tended towards poetry. The stickler may find the words falling short here and there; he will, however, find it hard to let go of a helluva lyrical lode that entirely is The Beatles songbook.

*

The songwriting team of Lennon and McCartney is legendary. But their collaboration was not always, if ever it was at first, a strictly set formula. The best clue to the orginator of a Beatles song bearing the Lennon-McCartney stamp, however, would be whose vocal part was dominant, if not the only one heard (as is Paul's in "Fool On The Hill" or John's in "Strawberry Fields Forever"), throughout the track.

The collaborative convention was rather a loose one. When John was stumped for a crucial transition in "A Day In The Life" Paul happened to be on hand to help out with his effective "Woke up, fell out of bed" overture. In the same vein, in spite of the tension that permeated the Let It Be (1970) sessions, the Yoko-smitten John still managed to ease in his elegant "Everybody had a hard year" counterpoint to Paul's "I've Got A Feeling."

That was how things clicked between John and Paul, even in the early days. One would present the other, notwithstanding the band, to try out an idea for a song or even one with melody and lyrics already working as a basic unit. The course of the jamming that followed would have the two pitching in alternative lyrics or exploring chord or melodic variations to perfect the song. John and Paul were satisfied with the chemistry, so they made a pact to brand whatever they composed, either individually or complementarily, as Lennon-McCartney.

John and Paul's partnership was formidable. It took George quite a while to launch his songwriting into pace ("While My Guitar Gently Weeps," "Something," more). Ringo was just happy sailing along and slapping the waves with his very few ditties ("Octopus's Garden," "Don't Pass Me By" ).

(I was shocked, at the same time saddened, when Paul sought to revise the mythical billing to McCartney-Lennon where appropriate, coming at a time when John was already–no matter how long–dead. So far nothing came out of his proposal; but the chink on my Beatle heart had been indelibly made.)

*

An unsolicited commentary on the words of Lennon versus those of McCartney. I choose from two songs when The Beatles was no longer. Who wrote which is obvious, even to the non-fanatic.

Case 1: "And when the cupboard's bare / I'll still find something there / With my love" ("My Love"). Comment: Sentiment. Longing. Heart. Sugar. Earth.

Case 2: "Oh, my lover, for the first time in my life / My eyes are wide open" ("Oh My Love"). Comment: Element. Probing. Soul. Spice. Sky.

I do not intend to prop up the merit of one to bring down the other's. There are many cases where the ascriptions interchange or coalesce. Even when divorced from The Beatles, the individual lyric crafts of Lennon and McCartney invariably oozed with the Lennon-McCartney alchemy.

Magic was at work when Paul consulted John on a line that the former was a bit uncomfortable with: "The movement you need is on your shoulders" ("Hey Jude"). The latter ruled to keep it.

References:
Jingle Beatles Songbook; (Entry on Paul McCartney in) Microsoft Encarta 2006/1993-2005 Microsoft Corporation; ; ; The Story of the Liverpool Lennons


[About the author. Rosendo M. Makabali is literary editor of , a website dedicated to new underground guerrilla exploratory art + literature in the new medium. He has published poetry in several Philippine print magazines and online in spreadhead.virtualave.net and . A few of his poems appear in Slam the Body Politik, the Revolutionary Multi-Arts, Multi-Media CD ROM released in 2004 by the Australia-based . A chapbook of his, Last Words and Other Poems, came out in 2005, as a grant under the UBOD New Authors Series project of the National Committee on Literary Arts (2001-2004) of the National Commission on Culture and the Arts.]

-Posted: 1:22 AM 3/18/07 | More of this author on eK!
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