Blackbird

In the title track to their 2003 album “Welcome To The Monkeyhouse,” the Dandy Warhols made an offhand comment that as soon as Michael Jackson died (releasing the Beatles catalog for general use), they would record “Blackbird.” When Michael Jackson had an untimely demise, fans of the band held them to their promise [1]. It seems a strange choice, for while the color black is traditionally associated with death, dark, and other related terms, the song “Blackbird,” which is really a solo acoustic track for Paul McCartney under the Beatles name, is really a lovely song associated with freedom and life and not death at all. It is, however, a song that has an interesting resonance, and a relevance that is worth discussing in greater detail. As is my fashion, I would like to discuss the song’s lyrics (which, as the song clocks in at just over 2 minutes, are not that extensive) and then discuss its larger cultural relevance as an example of a deliberate choice that wise artists make to give their work a greater breadth of appeal.

The entire lyrics to “Blackbird” are as follows [2]:

Blackbird singing in the dead of night,
Take these broken wings and learn to fly.
All your life
You were only waiting for this moment to arise.

Blackbird singing in the dead of night,
Take these sunken eyes and learn to see.
All your life
You were only waiting for this moment to be free.

Blackbird fly, blackbird fly,
Into the light of the dark black night.

Blackbird fly, blackbird fly,
Into the light of the dark black night.

Blackbird singing in the dead of night,
Take these broken wings and learn to fly.
All your life
You were only waiting for this moment to arise.
You were only waiting for this moment to arise.
You were only waiting for this moment to arise.”

The lyrics of the song are simple and straightforward. There are two short verses, a short vocal bridge, a simple acoustic instrumental bridge with the sound of chirping blackbirds, and then the first verse is reprised with a repeated closing line. Two minutes and eighteen seconds from the song’s beginning strums, the song is done, and done simply as well. Yet the song has a deeper resonance and a deeper context, and marks a deliberate choice on the part of Paul McCartney to seek an approach that has wide appeal and many layers of application by virtue of simplicity and not one that forecloses those options by being too politically pointed in its language; furthermore, it does this by not sacrificing any emotional depth in the process. This is a difficult task to accomplish, and one that is worth discussing.

The mid-1960’s, when this song was written and recorded, were a time of great cultural and social disorder in the United States, and many other countries as well. Recent legal changes had sought to once and for all end the second-class citizenship held by black Americans in the United States, and one result of rising social freedoms was a rise in civic disorder in many cities in the US. Yet, rather than write a song decrying life in the ghetto, or trying to score obvious points with urban slum denizens, Paul McCartney wrote a song that spoke favorably to their desires for freedom and opportunity, and made the identification with “blackbirds” and black Americans sufficiently subtle to appeal to a vastly broader audience without feeling like pandering to anyone. This is a surprisingly difficult task.

In terms of its identification, anyone who has desired to be set free from anything, whether a past of abuse and oppression, and unwanted identity, a dysfunctional identity in which one feels trapped, or anyone who has lost sleep over the horrors his eyes have seen can look at the song and identify with the broken wings and sunken eyes, the desire to see and the desire to learn how to fly. These longings are common, if not nearly universal, and so the song resonates widely and deeply. It has an emotional focus and clarity, and does not get lost in political messages, and it is all the better for it. If only all singer-songwriters were equally skilled in the art of knowing that one can sometimes say more by saying less, by letting others draw out meanings rather than trying to beat their head with it. If people want to read themselves into a song or a creation in general, why not write and sing in such a way that the naive reading or listening gives comfort and encouragement. God only knows how much we all need that.

[1] http://www.dandywarhols.com/news/blackbird/

[2] http://www.metrolyrics.com/blackbird-lyrics-beatles.html

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
This entry was posted in American History, History, Music History, Musings and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to Blackbird

  1. Pingback: Song Review: Color | Edge Induced Cohesion

  2. Pingback: I Can Dream About You | Edge Induced Cohesion

  3. Pingback: Book Review: Common Birds Of Washington & Oregon | Edge Induced Cohesion

  4. Pingback: Book Review: Birds Of The Pacific Northwest | Edge Induced Cohesion

  5. Pingback: Book Review: The Atlas Of Birds | Edge Induced Cohesion

  6. Pingback: I Just Want To Fuh You | Edge Induced Cohesion

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s