Friday, May 3, 2013

Blackbird

Richard Furnstein: It's a quiet night in for Paul. He pads around his London flat in his woven khussas. Time for a little tea and breeze. A lonely bird called from beyond the black, sharp images dancing across his window glass. "You and me, pal. You and me." Then he grabbed his standard D-28 (strung backwards, of course), sat on a helpful beanbag chair, and joined the lonely bird in a song. Whip-poor-will and wait. Keep waiting. The night will burn off eventually.

Robert Bunter: To me, this is the most beautiful song Paul ever wrote. I think it's better than "Yesterday," "You Won't See Me" and "You Never Give Me Your Money," or "the three second-most-beautiful McCartney songs that all start with 'Y'" as I call them. I will admit that I was surprised, after many years of listening to this song, to hear Paul explain that it was written as an oblique statement of support for the civil rights movement. For me, it was always a song about his own sublimated yearning for independence from the stifling confines of the Beatles' insectoid chrysalis to the free-flying avian future of mature development that was Wings. But the subtexts are really beside the point. It's a beautiful melody and lyric. A baby could understand it. Purity. Simplicity. Unadorned acoustic fingerpicking, no effects on the vocal, don't be afraid to let the mic pick up the sound of your foot tapping on the floor. It's a natural affair. There's a goddamn bird with a broken wing hopping around on sad little bird feet and this earnest, beautiful man is encouraging it to muster its resources and take flight. Are you telling me you wish the other Beatles had been in the studio for this session? You want 1968-era Ringo tom-tom plodding and Lennon's tortured falsetto? Maybe we'll have George add some of the beefy horn sections he was experimenting with on "Savoy Truffle." Yeah, that would be a GREAT idea. Get the hell out of here.

"Blackbird" was always about Paul's sublimated yearning for independence from the stifling confines of the Beatles' insectoid chrysalis to the free-flying avian future of mature development that was Wings.

Richard Furnstein: Hey, great point. Much as been made of the solo recordings aspect of The White Album, but I can only think of one of the songs that would have benefited from the full band arrangement ("Why Don't We Do It In The Road"). The sparse and solo-focused songs are some of the most effective on the album (think "Blackbird," "Julia," and "Martha My Dear"). There is a confidence in the individual pieces of The White Album; it's as if The Beatles were asserting that they were more than the raucous backbeat or the distinctive harmonies. They were producing pure musical love. Is that Clapton on guitar? Is Yoko singing backup? Is John making the pig noises? It doesn't matter, simp. Focus on Paul's voice here--a single beam of light in a pristine clearing. Nothing else matters.

Robert Bunter: Much has been made (by me, here) about the way Paul’s tendency towards crowd-pleasing, eager-to-delight showmanship can serve to obscure the primal essence of the man. I would submit that “Blackbird” actually exemplifies that phenomenon, even though it seems like an exception to the rule. The sparse production and intimate setting seem to be at pains to cue the listener that, hey, this is the real McCartney, caught in a personal moment, behind the curtains – as you evoked so beautifully in your opening statement about the pajamas and the beanbag chair.

Richard Furnstein: Thank you, kind friend.

Robert Bunter: As we listen, our mind’s eye conjures these fantasies. A little too readily, if you ask me. Paul paints a self-portrait of a wistful dreamer cradling his backwards-strung guitar and whistling a little tune for his own personal amusement, and maybe that of the injured crow hobbling around his windowsill. Finally. The man behind the eyebrows. I love you, Paul. Yeah, well, keep your powder dry, Kemosabe. The whole thing is just as much of a contrivance as “Your Mother Should Know” or “She’s Leaving Home.” I’m sorry, but there is only one Paul song that allows us to glimpse the reality of its composer, and that song is “Fixing A Hole.” There’s a lot to unpack there, but we don’t have time right now. We’re talking about “Blackbird.”

Richard Furnstein: Thanks for the reminder. "Blackbird" is the first in Paul's esteemed bird series. The later installments ("Bluebird" from Band On The Run, "Single Pigeon" from Red Rose Speedway, and "Jenny Wren" from Chaos And Creation In The Backyard) share the fragile beauty and reflective tone of "Blackbird" but never reach its wondrous heights. I could write pages about Paul's oaky voice and his absolutely perfect guitar part (still the only part to play when testing out a acoustic). I'll tell you what absolutely slays me, though: the gentle tapping on the body of the guitar. The organic rhythm box would also help define "I Will," but it's almost more effective here. Again, we're down to just Paul. A man with a guitar in a room surrounded by lovely Disney birds. The pulse you hear isn't brutish Ringo and his unforgiving stickplay; it's simply Paul tapping the box. Flesh hitting wood. All come free.

Robert Bunter: Yeah, it’s a light moment on a record that doesn’t have too many of them. Only McCartney’s very similar “Mother Nature’s Son” and Lennon’s pastoral “Dear Prudence” are in the same room of the crazy, endless house that is the White Album (Lennon’s “Child Of Nature,” an outtake that was cut from the White Album lineup and later repurposed as “Jealous Guy” on Imagine, was cut from the same lovely cloth). Otherwise it’s just a nightmarish collage of tiger hunts, oedipal love ballads, cannibalistic swine, unabashed monkeys, terrifying playground equipment, wounded bloody raccoon cowboys, soiled sheepdogs rolling around in their own filth, hairless car crash victims, insomnia, guru betrayal, lizards crawling on windowpanes, violent revolution and toothaches.

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