Paul McCartney tells an interesting story about the writing of “Hey Jude,” one of the Twentieth Century’s great love songs. Shortly after he wrote it, he played the tune for his songwriting partner, John Lennon. When he came to the line, “The movement you need is on your shoulder,” he said, “I’ll fix that bit.” Lennon asked why, and McCartney answered “It’s a stupid expression; it sounds like a parrot.”
At the time, McCartney thought the line was filler that needed refining. Ever the great song craftsman, McCartney knew awkward when he heard it.
Per McCartney’s telling, Lennon’s response was, “You won’t be changing that, you know. That’s the best line in the song.” So McCartney left the line in the song, and to this day, he says he thinks of Lennon when he sings that line.
Many years later, McCartney was asked what he believes the line means. He responded that it means we have the wherewithal to face and overcome life’s challenges. Bingo. And maybe the most awkward line ever in a great song is also its most meaningful line.
The line could be translated to: what we need is within us. “Hey Jude” is my favorite love song. It’s also the favorite song of my 18-year-old daughter, and she loves all of the contemporary music. “Hey Jude” is a song of immense hope and encouragement that transcends time and place.
The final answer to the song’s insistence on turning to love and away from fear is that we have what we need to “take a sad song and make it better.” It’s on our shoulder.
Great song, great line, awkward though it may be.
Lately I’ve been listening to the late Texas folksinger/songwriter, Townes Van Zant – always worthy time spent. One verse in particular stood out. On first blush, the words are rather plain. But the power of Van Zant’s words floored me on this recent go through. The lyrics come from the song “To Live Is to Fly”: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2JGc2CvM0EQ
Everything is not enough;
nothing is too much to bear.
Where you been is good and gone;
all you keep is the getting there.
While Van Zant is not ordinarily considered a spiritual songwriter, great songwriting always has spiritual aspects. You can’t say anything truly meaningful without saying something spiritual.
The first line, “Everything is not enough,” captures the crux of life. In this illusory world, true satisfaction is not possible. Since the world is an illusion, it cannot nourish. We must take nourishment from the vision of oneness within. So “everything” is the world could never be “enough.”
As for the second line, “nothing is too much to bear,” we get another look at the same thing – the world can’t give us what we need. Indeed, if we look to the world for satisfaction, we will receive “nothing,” and that’s a heartbreaker – it’s “too much to bear.”
The next line, “Where you’ve been is good and gone,” shows that the past also cannot nourish. Where we have been is “gone.” Then, he shows what we can “keep” from our experience in this world, it’s “the getting there.” The “getting there” is the now. We get to keep the now. It’s all we receive in this world because it’s the only thing that’s real.
These simple words sung in the folksinger’s vernacular – no fancy or poetic language here – says something quite powerful about what it’s like to be alive. In just 24 words, he has said enough to fill a book.