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Face cream, a Bristol liquor business, and a lifelong reverence for the elderly are just a few of the rather ordinary and disparate inspirations Paul McCartney brought together in the creation of a masterpiece: “Eleanor Rigby.” In this episode, McCartney and Paul Muldoon tease out the song’s lyrical inspirations and discuss the influence a Bernard Herrmann score for a Hitchcock film had on the lead single from 1966’s “Revolver.”
“McCartney: A Life in Lyrics” is a co-production between iHeart Media, MPL and Pushkin Industries.
The series was produced by Pejk Malinovski and Sara McCrea; written by Sara McCrea; edited by Dan O’Donnell and Sophie Crane; mastered by Jason Gambrell with sound design by Pejk Malinovski. The series is executive produced by Leital Molad, Justin Richmond, Lee Eastman and Scott Rodger.
Thanks to Lee Eastman, Richard Ewbank, Scott Rodger, Aoife Corbett and Steve Ithell.
Pushkin. Hi everyone, it’s palm Wall Doing. Before we get to this episode, I wanted to let you know that you can binge all twelve episodes of McCartney A Life and Lyrics right now, add free by becoming a Pushkin Plus subscriber. Find Pushkin Plus on the McCartney A Life and Lyrics show page in Apple Podcasts, or at pushkin dot fm slash plus. Oh my god, I wild to become a person who wrote songs, and I want it to be someone who’s life was in music. I’m Palm Wall Doing. I’m a poet, a lover of not only the lyric poem, but the song lyric. Over the past several years, I’ve got to spend time with one of the greatest songwriters of our era. And will you look at me? It’s happened. I’m pold two. I’m actually a performer. Oh, I’m a songwriter. My god, Well, let that crypto homey. That is Sir Paul McCartney. We worked together on a book looking at the lyrics of more than one hundred and fifty off his songs, and we recorded many hours of our conversations. This is McCartney A Life in Lyrics, A master class, a memoir, and an improvised journey with one of the most iconic figures in popular music. Each episode is centered around the writing of a particular song, the people and the circumstances that inspired it. In this episode, eleanor Rigby. Not many people know this, but an early ambition of Pael McCartney’s was to be a poet. I feel okay about admitting to the fact that, yeah, I wanted to look a bit bookish. I wanted to smoke a pipe on the top deck of a bus. McCartney was friendly with the poet Allen Ginsburg, who had even revised some of McCartney’s poems. I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness, starving, hysterical, naked. I knew ginsburg work well, and he edited some of my poems. And did he attempt to edit eleanor Rigby. No, he said, that’s a that’s a great poem. I’m very pleased, was like in the best review. The subject of eleanor Rigby kept coming up in my conversations with Paul McCartney. It was like a reference point for him, a beacon he would steer by. There are many ways into this song. Many things to talk about, but let’s start with the central character, eleanor Rigby herself. I wanted a character who some go all the little old ladies that I’d known, and I’m looking back on it, I knew quite a few. Paul McCartney’s dad had brought Paul and his brother up to be rather gallant. He taught them to stand up for old ladies on buses and he was the type who would offer his hat good morning. So I’ve been kind of encouraged to if I ever saw an old lady struggling with shopping, I would pay the gallant young man. Can I carry that for you? Oh glad, I’d betty lovely. Thank you very much. Chat chat chat, go to the house, drop it off. Would you like a cup of tea? Paul was an active Boy Scout and one of his favorite activities was Barber Job Week, a common boy Scout activity throughout England at the time. In Maidenhead, Buckingham Share, a group of enterprising comes turn up at the town hall for their Bobby Job Chat, where kids would knock on doors and offer their services for a shilling. I was glad I had to do all of this like knocking on doors. Yes, excuse me, it’s poor job week. Have you any jobs that you would like me to do? And mostly would be puzzled as to what. Well I’d liked what I said, Well, have you got a shared out of the back and maybe he’s and he’s tidying, Oh yes, it’s good, or if you got a garden needs digging, or say, oh we has. He had to give them the ideas, so I would, And in this way I kind of got to meet a lot of older people and I really loved it. And once I got ten, Bob and I think they kind of liked me. These relationships with elderly women are the original inspiration for Eleanor Rigby. So I imagined this lady and gave her a scenario, and she’s picking up the rice in the church. Helena Rigby picks up the rice in the church where her wedding has been. So she’s cleaning up in the church, which immediately sort of puts her in a social position and gives us an idea that there might be a little bit of poignancy with this rice. And it’s not for her, it was where a wedding had been. And then she waits at the window and facing the jar by the door, waits at the window, wearing the face that she keeps in her jar by the door. Who is it far? My mom’s favorite was Nivia. I love it to this day. Yes, beautiful packaging. Yeah, kind of scared me a little that women used quite so much cold cream uncle ems as they call them, greasy stuff. It was my tread. Yeah, when I got older and got married, and I would marry someone who would say all I love and would put one of these big shower caps on on the curlors and have masses of things, And I really saw that played on my mind quite a bit. So she’s wearing the face she keeps in the jar up by the door. The name Eleanor had come partly from the actress Eleanor Braun, a star at the time who had briefly dated John Lennon and starred in the Beatles nineteen sixty five movie Help. I Am not what I seem. Hey, my skin, so right through to the skin, there’s more here than meet the eye. Eleanor, I think there’s always a fiction. Because we worked with Eleanor Brown, took me a long time to think of Eleanor. Paul’s girlfriend at the time, Jane Asher, was also an actress, and one time when she was playing at the Bristol Old Vic, Paul was wandering around outside. I was wandering I’m waiting for the play to finish, and saw this shop, said Rigby. That’s there’s my surname. Ry. It’s nice, it’s ordinary, but it’s striking, it’s strong, it’s got all this sort of stuff I’ve been looking for. This is how Paul McCartney remembers it. Others have pointed out that the Rigby name have come from somewhere different. There is a grave off in Walton Church with John and I wandered around endlessly talking about our future, and there is a grave there. On the gravestone is the name Eleanor Rigby, and not far from it another grave with the name McKenzie on it. I don’t remember how we haven’t seen that gravestors, but it’s been suggested to me that, you know, psychologically, I will have seen it. Yeah. I think we do see things without seeing, of course we don’t. They plant themselves to rain and then I have to go to Bristol and see it. Go Ah. The other main character in the song started out as father McCartney, but it changed during a writing session with John Lennon. I had father McCartney because it was the right syllables, and I remember playing in said that’s great. Father McCartney loved it. I said, no, I’m really not comfortable with it because it’s my dad and my father McCartney. Father mccays me, you know it’s it’s not I don’t want to I don’t want to be that personal with us. So we literally got the phone book out and went on from McCartney, McCartney, McCartney, McKenzie, that’s good, father McKenzie. And then we had him working, but his work was darning his socks, because he was a sort of poor old vicar, darning his socks in the night when there’s nobody there. What does he care where? Father McCartney didn’t make it into the lyrics of eleanor Rigby, but he did play an important role in Paul’s musical upbringing. My dad had sat me down as a kid and taught me and my brother the idea of harmony. Every brother sang in harmony, so me and my brother did. I once performed at a talent competition with my brother Mike when I was eleven and we sang Bye Bye Love didn’t win, obviously not talented enough for the bottling’s crowd. Bye Bye. My dad was self taught, had learned listen to things and could play them. You know, I said, Dad, teach me planno like you play. He said no. So he said I can’t play. Said you can’t. I can’t hear you. He said no, I can’t play properly. You’ve got to go and learn. So Paul Partney went out to learn from a proper piano teacher, but he didn’t find that kind of music lesson to be so stimulating. He just killed me. I couldn’t do it when you go, and you’d go to go. I’ve heard better stuff than this on the radio. This is not great, but okay, I’m sure we have to start here. And then she said homework. Go home and learn what a crochet and the quaver and thing you use it. Come back les. So it was like I’ve got homework from school. I don’t need your homework. When Paul McCartney was twenty one and the Beatles already gaining national popularity, he gave the piano lessons another go and this was Royal Guildhall School of Music guy and he tried, but by than and written Alana Rigby and he had to take me back to the five finger exercise. Do dodo? I couldn’t. I couldn’t do the show. I just didn’t want to do it. Many of Paul’s peers felt the same way about traditional musical training. Everyone in my generation, all of us groups John, George, Paul and Ringo, Mick, Charlie Peace and c. I don’t think any of us can read music. And now I will teach a kid how to play the piano how we learned it, and I will show them a couple of chords to get started on. And if they’re musical, they’re off that you get see D minor E minor f G a minor writer. That’s like most of the Beatles songs. That’s more than you need to know, which leads us back to eleanor Rigby, a song that grew from a single chord. In his basic sense, it’s just an E minor chord, and all the fun happens with my melody and the syncopation of the words do do do do? It’s all against the forms by the who is it. George Martin, the Beatles producer, had introduced Paul to the idea of the string quartet on the song Yesterday. And I had resisted the idea at first, but when it worked, I fell in love with the idea. So I knew now that I wanted to do a similar thing with eleanor Rigby. So I would go around to George’s house. We’d arrange a little session, and I said to him, you know what, I’m fascinated by Bach because I’ve suddenly grasped that there was mathematics. I can see one two one two, and then on top of at one two three four one two three four one two now forming a sort of pyramid, and then one five six seven eight one to three four five six seven, one to three four sixteen star. So I loved this two four eight sixteen thing. And I brought this idea and talked to George about this, and he said, well, Bach, you know, would have done this, and he laid out the chords as he had done on yesterday. George, talking about this later, would say that he then became inspired by Bernard Herman, who had written the Psycho music right, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah yeah, which is very dramatic, and he wanted to bring some of that into the arrangels. Alfred he Cox nineteen sixties classic about the Sinister Bates Motel had been a huge box office success. Dirty Nice. He had a vacacy. Oh, we have twelve vacancies. Twelve cabins, twelve vacancies. In the movie, Anthony Perkins character mels with his dead mother and takes revenge on his desires. Whether she’s just a stranger, she’s hungry and it’s raining out together. They kill Janet Lee in that famous char scene, and it’s Bernard Hermann’s stabbing violins that make that scene so iconic. While eleanor Rigby isn’t a film, of course, McCartney says that writing the lyrics was like structuring a movie. Well, I was seeing it like a film, just in my good imagination. I’ve got two protragonists that are lonely, she and then him. He’s not sort of you don’t feels so sorry for him, but he’s lonely. So you’ve got these two. So all the lonely people now becomes the chorus where do they belong? Whether they come from? And in the third verse, the characters are brought together. Died in the church, so we brought her back to a rice cleaning duties. And so one day she keels over in the church who was buried along with their name. So, yeah, she dies, and then he comes back. He’s the one who buries. And then he’s wiping his hands as he walked from the great No one was saved. And that’s your sort of wrap up to the story. And of course there’s some kind of strange connection between the elderly woman, and of course in Psycho it turns out to be a woman who’s kind of mammified in some ways, the kind of crazy strange. Maybe George thought that link as well as possibly he’s thinking just purely musically. You know when you finished it, did you realize at that moment, you know, this is one hell of us all I thought, some dinger of us. I thought this is a cracker. Yeah, you do you do when you’ve when you’ve got something that Linda’s dad used to say, he’s left ball twitched. There’s a physical response. Yeah, Rigby died in the church and was buried along with the name. Nobody came father McKenzie wiping the dad from his hands as he walks from the grave. No one was saved, dude, They all going along the dude beloved eleanor Rigby from the Beatles nineteen sixty six album Revolver. In the next episode, we traveled behind the Iron Curtain to Neverselve’s in on one of the greatest jokes of the Cold War era. Back in the U. S s r Us are back in the USS are being aways Alan only new place McCartney A Life in Lyrics is a co production between iHeartMedia NPL and Pushkin Industries.