Culture Rover

#91 - Scrambled Eggs, All My Troubles Seemed So Far Away

Ann Hood's moving essay, "Now I Need a Place to Hide Away" (New York Times, Sunday, 26 February 2006) on the Beatles and the death of her daughter, Grace, reminded me of a passage in Devin McKinney's book, Magic Circles: The Beatles in Dream and History. ""There is no way of quantifying the changes the Beatles catalyzed in private lives," McKinney writes:

The affairs begun or ended to one of their songs; the career paths and passionate avocations inspired by their creative example; the spiritual inquiries spurred by one Beatle's famous blasphemy; the filial bonds deepened by a common love of their music. Because they don't move mountains, such things fall into the vast wastebasket of unrecorded history. Are we to consider them unimportant for that reason? I think we may consider them as important as any history ever recorded. They are the changes that determine how people live within history, day to day -- as opposed to how populations live because of history, era by era.

In Hood's article, she describes her five-year-old daughter's passion for the Beatles.

Her daughter argued with classmates who did not believe that there had been two other Beatles besides the Fab Four (Stu and Pete Best).

And she insisted on having her mother tell bedtime stories, such as the one about when Paul wrote the music for "Yesterday" He sang "scrambled eggs" instead of what would become the title of the song. From then on, Grace herself went off to school singing, "Scrambled eggs, all my troubles were so far away."

Singing was the main thing. Daughter and mother would sing along to the Beatles at home, in the car, anywhere.

When Grace suddenly went into the hospital with a fever, the nurses told Ann Hood to bring in her daughter's favorite music. The family -- father, mother, and Grace's brother -- sang "Love Me Do" to Grace as she lay in the intensive care unit. When Grace died, her brother sang "Eight Days a Week" at the top of his lungs during the funeral service.

But Ann Hood could not bear the sound or sight of the Beatles. She hid anything related to the group away. She stopped listening to the music on the radio. Nonetheless, she explains, the music crept back into her life. Her son picked out the songs in his guitar lessons, and lines from the songs come into her head all the time.

As Bob Dylan remarked about the Beatles in his memoir, Chronicles, "They were so easy to accept, so solid. I remembered when they first came out. They offered intimacy and companionship like no other group. Their songs would create an empire."

The music of the Beatles was -- and is -- intimate and world-historical all at once. It occupied and continues to occupy everyday life, as McKinney argues. It also formed -- and continues to sustain -- an "empire of song," as Dylan puts it.

And all that the Beatles created came from nothing more than a set of compacted, perfectly-crafted pop ditties that were both effervescent and eternal.

These were lullabies that did not lull the listener to sleep so much as explode the void and filled it up again all at once. They were tunes that moaned and buzzed and crackled and popped. They were predictable and shocking -- bringing these two seeming opposites together on the same sonic frequency.

They were -- and are -- summations of life, death, pain, and grace.

12 March 2006

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