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Paperback Writer

I’ve been listening to The Beatles these past few weeks as I’ve been working out and paying closer attention to the lyrics than I ever have before. I always admired them and now I know why: they are well honed stories. I pulled the lyrics of “Paperback Writer” off the internet but won’t break copyright and reproduce them here. I’ll paraphrase, as needed. So ubiquitous are all The Beatles songs that I hear people referring to them in the oddest places: the swimming pool, for example. I was humming "Hey Jude," as I was turning into my 40th lap when I stopped to say hello to a fellow swimmer who was lapping me and wanted to pass. Before we both knew it he had uttered a line from the movie "Help," and I sang a line or two from "Paperback Writer." Truly, this really happened. As he swam off he sang, "Here Comes the Sun," which, in fact, was also true as the sun was rising to the east of the glass-enclosed pool.

I looked up the back story of “Paperback Writer” which was released in 1966. Apparently, those genius four guys were challenged to write a song that was not a love story so the one-note melody seemed appropriate. After all, isn't life without love a one-note melody? Then one of The Beatles walked into a room and saw someone else reading a paperback book. Thus was the song born. But what does it say, if anything? And is it more than melody and beat?

I find it interesting that as nonsensical as we try to be, once words are strung together, they have meaning. This song is silly but it also says a lot about the challenges of being a writer and it has historical context and a setting. The Beatles were from Liverpool and they emerged from the culture at a certain time in its history. They were irreverent, they asked hard questions, and they were fun and wonky all at the same time. The writer in their story will do anything with his novel to make it work. He needs a job! He’s so desperate that he’ll sell all the rights.

I’m not a Beatles historian but I do believe they were very smart about their intellectual property and held on to it. And they weren’t afraid to take risks, to be different, to say what they wanted to say about life and about themselves.

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