And besides, yesterday Paul rocked us out. Today let's give him a chance to sing us to sleep. Oh, the many faces of Paul McCartney.
Art thou poor, yet hast thou golden slumbers?O sweet content!Art thou rich, yet is thy mind perplexed?O punishment!
As you might know, Paul took some of the lyrics to "Golden Slumbers" kind of loosely from a poem of Thomas Dekker, a contemporary of Shakespeare. This morning I hauled the ol' Norton Anthology off the shelf to look up some other work of Dekker's, just because I realized I knew nothing about him, but there's actually no Dekker at all in my edition. Which struck me as odd. But then I remembered the rest of the story: Paul read the poem in a song-book lying on the piano at his father's house, not in a normal poetry book. And Dekker's bit about golden slumbers has been, if memory serves, written into all kinds of songs. The above lines are the opening lines of the poem they're from, but here's the part we're interested in:
Golden slumbers kiss your eyes,Smiles awake you when you rise.Sleep, pretty wantons, do not cry,And I will sing a lullaby:Rock them, rock them, lullaby.
See, I think that somewhere along the way in my years of being a chorus geek, I might have actually sung a choral version of that text myself. So Dekker is maybe sort of a minor poet who happened to write sung poems, or at least poems that work well as song texts (I found a few more poems here that seem to prove the point-- lots of "hey nonny nonny" stuff).
ANYWAY, so Paul saw this poem in a song-book and, since he couldn't read music (and still can't, so he says, which almost annoys me considering he's now a gazillionaire and has delved into classical music, but I digress once again), he wrote his own little melody to it. Of course he also added that "once there was a way to get back home" thing, which kind of makes it for me. As in "You Never Give Me Your Money," Paul's being wistful-- this time more cryptically-- about the impending breakup. Or at least that's how one is tempted to read it in the context of Abbey Road.
"Once there was a way to get back home" sounds like the beginning of a fairy tale and the end of one all in one sentence. Innocence has been established and then lost in the same moment-- and lost irrevocably, as it doesn't sound like the way to get home will ever be found again. Does that make sense? (I can't tell with this damned haze in my brain.) It is a wicked dark way to begin a lullaby. And that line casts a shadow of a very mature, adult wistfulness over what comes next. Paul might sing that smiles awake us when we rise, but did you notice that on this part he started singing in that showman's voice of his? Like maybe THAT'S the part that's a performance? That he's lying to us, or trying to make us feel better even as the tears hang still in his eyes?
Not to get too deeply into the harmonic stuff here, but the music seems to back this up. It opens with those shifty ambiguous minor piano chords, then pushes ahead-- it sounds like it's going somewhere, but it's hard to say where. It actually hits the tonic, a.k.a. the home key (C, if you're curious), the second time Paul sings "home," but it only stays there for a bar before veering off again into minor territory, so it sounded like just a passing chord. By the time you finally come home, on the syllable "by" in "lullaby," you're almost surprised to find yourself there, but you also can't imagine being anywhere else. It would have killed you to be anywhere else. Paul has effectively caught you before you ever knew you were falling, even as his lyrics doubt that you could ever truly be home again.
Is this a little too bullshitty? Eh. Sorry. I'll just wrap up by saying that normally the gargantuan string sound would bug me here, but it doesn't for some reason. I think it's because the whole song sounds so sincere. You can't call the strings corny because the song is so decisively not corny (in my opinion). I don't know, it works. What might also be helping is Paul's bass coming in to ground everything a bit, to say nothing of Ringo crashing into the wash of piano and strings in the middle section. Like a superhero, he comes at exactly the right time, saves the song from being too boring and string-y, and then flies off nobly when his work is done.
Gees, I sure have gone on. Who knew I could say so much about "Golden Slumbers"? Truly, the Abbey Road medley has more to it than meets the ear.
(And one last thing: I've noticed as I've linked to my past posts recently [like, just now] that there are totally comments back there in months past. Thanks for commenting, kids! I didn't even notice it til now, so my apologies, but I appreciate the insightful and interesting and very kind things you've had to say. And I'm glad you're having fun reading back over what I've listened to this year. This has all been fun for me. I'm writing the kind of blog I would like to read, I think, so I'm glad you seem to like reading it too. If I can yammer on like this about "Golden Slumbers," my posts on the REALLY daunting songs still to come in the canon are probably going to be freaking novellas, so good luck and thanks for sticking around.)
"Golden Slumbers," released in the U.K. side B track 8 of Abbey Road, September 26, 1969; in the U.S. October 1, 1969.