Eleanor Rigby: Fifty Years

Perhaps the greatest lyric, I mean song-text ever written. Go back and check it out and you’ll see what this young man from Liverpool who might have been my senior in school was capable of doing back in 1966 – not ebony and ivory but to suck the essence of modern poetry, what the hell, of modern film & literature, like a hummingbird from a wilting fuchsia and distil it into a scarifyingly simple lyric – won’t even talk abut the music – to the despair of all poets & songwriters.

Who starts a pop song with Ah, look at all the lonely people, eh? And then the images: Eleanor Rigby picks up the rice in a church after the wedding and can be seen waiting at the window wearing a face she keeps in a jar by the door. I won’t go any further, though Father McKenzie joins the cast soon after in an almost Joycean opening to an unwritten, stillborn novel that will adumbrate forever.

And the joke is that Paul McCartney was 24 years old at the time. And the joke is that Michelangelo was 24 years old when he completed the Pietà. Which is neither here nor there, but I’m fascinated by Eleanor Rigby and the Madonna figure in La Pietà. Both are women, unhappy women in a church. Both have a connection with death and burial: one of them is even holding her dead son on her lap and looking more radiant and beautiful than any woman has ever done in stone.

Of course I’m overdoing things and I’m not even a Christian. I myself was a teenager in Kolkata when Revolver hit the stands. I don’t think I even noticed that a revolution was taking place, that a song had come into being which would affect and influence my attitude towards western pop music forever. But I noticed that Rigby’s personal ogre was somehow also mine – as that of every sensitive youngster anywhere in the world – a thing called loneliness. In the midst of a world full of people, all the lonely people.

How was Paul to know that another young man – just 20 years old at the time (his own time, not Paul’s or Michelangelo’s) – would be starting a miracle cure called the Facebook which would be the saving of all the Eleanor Rigbys of the world together with their daughters and granddaughters? We’re writing now the 12th year since the launching of “Thefacebook”, as the Germans say so formally and liturgically, whereas Mark Zuckerberg was worth around $46 billion as of December 2015, Wikipedia tells us. Which shows the number of lonely people in the world, Eleanor Rigby and self, a new Facebook user, included.

In short, both Eleanor Rigby and self are ‘connected’ now, so connected that we can’t possibly feel lonely any more. Don’t have to stand at the window and peep out from behind the curtain; just go into Facebook and watch people post selfies of themselves at the pyramids or in the shower.

And the face that Eleanor Rigby used to keep in a jar by the door?

It’s on Facebook now.

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