Friday, January 25, 2013

Hey Jude

Richard Furnstein: Step inside, old friend. Let me take your coat. It's been too long. Now, where were we we? Right, I was telling you about The Beatles. I figure it's time that I told you about "Hey Jude." Sure, you think you know all there is to know about "Hey Jude." You've heard that Paul wrote it to help Julian Lennon heal from his parents' divorce. You've looked deep into Paul's tender browns in their seminal Mark Frost performance. You know that it was the first single for the band's Apple Records business enterprise/tax shelter. You know that McCartney was initially accused of antisemitism because of the title. You've got it all figured out, right? Wrong. You are dead wrong, old friend.  

Robert Bunter: Wait. Hold your tongue, dear one. Richard is right. I want you to think about everything The Beatles accomplished and all the different things they’ve meant to the world. Bold fashion, freedom of thought, cheerful questioning of authority, experimental attitudes. From dear John we learned how to look within ourselves and behold the restless horse of spirit. Paul showed us the poignant comedy and tragedy of the everyday world and we mundane clods who inhabit it. Stern, frowning George warned us of the seductive danger of materialistic illusions and selfishness. Friendly, approachable Ringo taught us to laugh. Ha ha! They taught us that album sleeve art doesn’t have to be boring, that suits don’t need to have collars, that hit singles can be seven-plus minutes long. They showed us that four humble bean-and-chippers from a stinky Northern provincial fishing town could change the world in less than ten years … in less than ten minutes! But underneath all that the Beatles did and were and are is the simple, profound certainty that We can do it. With love and understanding and communication, all things are possible. This was the foundation of everything from “She Loves You” to “The End,” but this primal message found its expression most fully within “Hey Jude.”  

Richard Furnstein: Welcome to the heart of the matter, dear friends. Paul paints a delicate portrait of personal pain (a child realizing that his world is falling apart following the separation of his parents) and slowly draws back his soft and steady lens from a child's eyes to the universal consciousness of the late 1960s. While Paul tended to trade in the small, private emotions in rumpled bedroom scenes in songs such as "Eleanor Rigby" and "For No One," this time he tries to connect personal loss with greater social fears and--more importantly--social obligations. "Why don't you try healing the lonely people instead of just looking at them, you ape?" The fate of young Julian Lennon is not dependent on the disintegrating relationship of the needy and childlike Cynthia Lennon and the sociopath tendencies of John Lennon. Young Julian is all of us. He's nothing more than a symbol of the end of the nuclear family, changing gender roles, and a movement towards inward emotional reflection. I'm not suggesting that The Beatles created divorce or the crisis of the modern family; they simply advanced realization of the self. I'm sure Paul felt somewhat responsible for the fate of all humanity. To me, the lyric "Hey Jude, you'll do" sums up Paul's hope for this new form of humanity. The old world wasn't worth saving, but it deserved a requiem. "Hey Jude" is Paul telling the world that we can heal each other.

Robert Bunter: It really is. And not just telling us – showing. The musical construction of this song is deceptively simple; steady major chords and primitive melodic movement establish the mood of universality. Paul’s message was strong and vital enough to stand unadorned, without the embellishments of harmonic cleverness or studio trickery. His plaintive vocal is recorded dry and close, as are Ringo’s drums. The unobtrusive three-part backup “aaahs” and “wooahs” are low in the mix. The pacing is relaxed and unhurried; we are seated front and center in Paul’s charming, understated personal living room as he gently plays the piano. One by one, the other Beatles gracefully walk into the room and pick up acoustic guitars and tambourines, smiles of comradeship and togetherness warming their handsome faces. As each verse slowly unfolds, the emotional intensity knob (operated by a grinning George Martin from a hidden recording console in the other room) is gently but inexorably dialed to the right. The simple living room seems to expand in size as a crowd of friends and brothers we didn’t even know we had appears without fanfare. Look to your left – is that original Beatles bassist Stuart Sutcliffe? Didn’t he die from a brain hemorrhage? Who is that attractive, smiling woman behind John? That can’t be … it’s not his mother Julia, is it? No, that’s impossible. I can’t even see her anymore in the crowd. That dapper gentleman with the clipboard nodding his head. Brian Epstein? Impossible, but there he is! He has a percussion shaker in his other hand! I think Ringo just smiled at him! Does Ringo know where we are? How can the air be so fresh in here? I can see Bettina, the voluptuous barmaid from Hamburg, dancing with Nicky Iaccono, my friend from the first grade! It’s clear to me now. We are in Heaven, and we have just reached the three minutes and three seconds point of “Hey Jude.”  

Richard Furnstein: Indeed. The spirits are comfortable in "Hey Jude." The ghostly apparitions realize that there is a common portal in this sound; a way to travel through emotions and heal with the other lost souls. I'm sure if you keep searching you will find an aged, balding Julian standing next to his moon-faced childself. "Keep on fighting, little child. Brighter days are waiting." Do you think that this kind of spirit miracle is possible through "Get Together" by The Youngbloods or "For What It's Worth" by The Buffalo Springfield?

Does Ringo know where we are? How can the air be so fresh in here?
If the final volume swells and engineered cacophony of "A Day In The Life" was an audio interpretation of Hiroshima, "Hey Jude" was indeed the sounds of Heaven. The EMI engineers had orchestrated the sonic expansion of the track in part to facilitate the song's inclusion on 45 RPM single (interestingly, George's solo single "Isn't A Pity" clocks in at almost the same length and employs a similar shift in dynamics).The drones and human excitement that underpin the second movement don't represent tension or chaos (despite some similarities to the sonic rush of contemporary epic "Revolution 9"). Instead, it's the sound of lifetime speeding up; the ascent and descent of the sun is sound tracked by the voices of aging children and passing holiday glee. It's almost as if the music is assuring us that time heals everything. Sit still for seven minutes, child. I guarantee that this will heal you.
Robert Bunter: John used to say that on first hearing “Hey Jude” he assumed that lines like “Go out and get her” and “You’re waiting for someone to perform with” were hidden messages encouraging him to leave the Beatles and follow his heart towards Yoko and a solo career. Paul later insisted that it actually had more to do with his own feelings. Meanwhile, Julian’s over here with a tear on his face, like “I thought it was about comforting me in the wake of my parents’ divorce!” and we’re insisting that it was actually a message of togetherness to all of humanity. It was all of these things and more, and it’s perfect. I think it makes a lot of sense as a single (it was backed with the heavy rock version of John’s “Revolution”); “Hey Jude” would have overwhelmed any album tracklist, even the sprawling “White Album,” which would be the nearest potential LP candidate. Like “Penny Lane” b/w “Strawberry Fields” (originally intended for Sgt. Pepper), it was a perfectly realized work on its own. The other nice story that circulates about this song is the one about how Paul apologized when he first sang “The movement you need is on your shoulder” to John, assuring him that this was just a first-draft line that he would revise. As Paul tells it, John insisted it should stand and declared it the best lyric of the song. Paul says that even now, when he plays that song in concert and gets to that line, he tears up a little at the memory of his departed friend. So what you should do is go to the Paul McCartney concert like we did and pay extra attention to the Jumbotron at that exact moment to see if he was telling the truth.  

Richard Furnstein: Paul tells that story every single time he steadies himself at the piano for another bombastic "Hey Jude" performance. The Ghost of John Lennon has usually already been conjured during Paul's solo acoustic performance of the beautiful death lament "Here Today," so he's available for that magic moment. To be fair, Paul's shoulders are usually full of spirits at that point, including his beloved Linda Eastman, his little friend George Harrison, the troubled-yet-well-meaning Mal Evans, and whatever specters float around a sports arena's emotional connection to these songs. He's the keeper of souls. It must be exhausting.

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