Saturday, July 11, 2009


Last night I had this dream in which I was in Paris with Paul McCartney. Now, the one time I actually went to Paris, outside of my dream life, I was there by myself, which was awesome, because every time I wanted to stop and eat some of the multitudes of delicious things in shop windows and cafes-- roughly every 10 minutes-- I could do it without protestations from less gluttonous travel companions. By the end of each day I was about as fat and drunk and happy as can be imagined, practically waddling back to my hilariously awful hotel (I had a tiny room in an attic-- the kind of room that poets rent to drink themselves to death in). So anyway, in my dream it was late at night and I was trying to waddle through the Parisian streets off to bed, but Paul McCartney (circa 1968 or so) kept handing me these outstanding pastries and crepes and such things, until I said, "I just can't eat any more" and then he started kind of putting truffles directly into my mouth, and at this point I was like "I just want to go to bed" and was starting to get angry. And in the dream I was aware that I was getting angry at Paul McCartney and probably ruining my chances of getting him to have sex with me, but he was being so damned annoying. And the point is that, as he tried to cram food in my mouth, he kept smiling winningly and singing "Blackbird."

I went back and forth on whether or not to actually share that stupid, stupid look into my psyche. You're welcome. Those who have not run screaming from the blog, thanks for staying, and I hope I haven't ruined "Blackbird" for you forever.

Because you wouldn't want to have "Blackbird" ruined. It's quite good. Not everyone really loves "Blackbird," and perhaps it does carry an air of Paul consciously trying to change the world with a bird-cliche-ridden song, or something. (Tim Riley in particular is less than fond of it, comparing it to "The Fool on the Hill" in its use of uninspired metaphor, to which I say, ouch.) But I can get very into "Blackbird." Unlike Riley, I feel that the bird-with-broken-wings cliche works simply because it's not beaten to death-- Paul wisely keeps his lyrics really simple and understated here. And I like the line "you were only waiting for this moment to arise," which takes the image somewhere a little different, a little surprising.

But, you know, this isn't a poem, it's a song, and if your song has musical integrity you can always sell less-than-adequate lyrics. And I think "Blackbird" has heaps. For one, it's a great melody, and unlike some of Paul's melodies it feels a little stuttery and naturalistic-- as if it's following speech-like rhythm, which is always something John is more apt to do than Paul. So, neat. And for two, the acoustic guitar accompaniment is pretty epic. It's only Paul playing on the track, but he's exploiting all you can do with a guitar melodically, playing two beautiful countermelodies-- the bass melody and the treble melody aren't at all contrapuntal, but each stands out as distinctive to me nevertheless-- in a sweet yet complex-sounding harmony with each other and with the vocal line. And the finger-picking in between is just intricate and delicate as can be, like the musical equivalent of a spiderweb. I wasn't surprised when I first read fairly recently that the guitar part is based on a bouree by J.S. Bach that's apparently a frequently performed classical guitar piece. When Paul and George were kids, they tried to learn that piece for the hell of it, and I guess Paul revisited that as he wrote "Blackbird." The only other thing you hear on this track (until the tweeting birds come in) besides Paul's amazing guitar is Paul's amazing foot, which is what that tapping on the beats is. When I was a kid I always thought it sounded like a metronome, and there's also been speculation that it's the sound of a record scratching, but according to Paul himself it's just him tapping his foot. Oh well.

When I saw Paul perform in 2002, he played "Blackbird," and he told this story about how the song was actually written about the civil rights struggle in America-- the title really means "black bird," like, an African-American woman, you know? And my boyfriend, who wasn't yet my husband at the time, looked over at me and asked, "Did you know that?" (He's used to me knowing things like this.) And I was like, "No, I've never heard that, but that's the dumbest thing ever. He's gotta be bullshitting us." I really thought he was bullshitting us, because it struck me as the kind of thing Paul would think was funny to do, and also because what he was saying made the song so much less meaningful if it were true. I'm all about civil rights songs, really, but why not keep "Blackbird" in the metaphorical realm where it's much more powerful? And why did he not talk about how "Blackbird" was about civil rights in 1968 when it might have mattered? (Or perhaps he did? Can someone point me to it if so? I'm no expert, Lord knows.) Point is, I thought the whole thing was a joke. But apparently Paul is still going around telling this story-- he told it again at Coachella and tied it in with how now we've elected a black president, we've come a long way, yada yada-- so I guess maybe it's true after all. I'm going to continue to pretend that it's not, though, just because I prefer it that way.

"Blackbird," released in the U.K. side B track 3 of The Beatles a.k.a. the White Album, November 22, 1968; in the U.S. November 25, 1968.


  1. Hmmm. That's the first i heard about the civil rights theme. Not sure i buy it, but who am i to say? Personally, the song doesn't work for me in that vein. I like your observation about perfect music "carrying" less than perfect lyrics. In this song, it's more about mood and expressing a feeling. At least, for me. Plus, I'm of the school of thought that I'd rather not know too much about "the story behind a song." I prefer art, be it music, fiction, painting to stand on its own. Let the observer interpret as he/she wants. Also, for me, if the metaphor is as Paul states, then the bird affects are over-the-top and intrusive. But, that's just me. I like things understated so i can take them where I want.

    Regarding your dream, well, uh, I imagine if I don't listen to the song for a good while, I can purge the association. Just joking, Meg. You're aces!

  2. there's a "fan club recording" of Paul + Donovan at a Mary Hopkin sessions for "Postcard" 1968 - Paul performed the song, and then said something like : "I played it for Diana Ross, and she took offence . .just joking" . . .

  3. That's such a weird comment to make. But I still think it just means he thought the pun was funny, or something.

    On this subject, as true as it might turn out to be, I am sticking my fingers in my ears and singing LA LA LA LA LA LA to myself very loudly. :) That said, I'd love to find that recording-- is "Blackbird" the only song on it, or are there some other good ones too?

    haven't listened to it here -
    but here you go !