A CLASSIC SONG RECONSIDERED...

September 7, 2017
A CLASSIC SONG RECONSIDERED...
“Eleanor Rigby” is one of the most popular of the hundreds of songs written by John Lennon and Paul McCartney and recorded by the Beatles. It is also one of the best examples of their growing maturity as lyricists at the time, a song containing poetic qualities not found in such earlier works as “She Loves You” or “I Want To Hold Your Hand.”

Unlike so many of those earlier compositions, which for all their energy were merely variations of the traditional love song, “Eleanor Rigby” is an attempt by Lennon and McCartney to make a serious social statement. In doing so they evoke a powerful sense of despair, as experienced through the lives of two individuals for whom life has become an exercise in futility.

The writers’ treatment of the plight of both Eleanor Rigby and Father McKenzie, told from the point of view of an unnamed third party, is at once objective and personal. Personal because it is obvious that the speaker knows these individuals and is aware of their feelings of despair. Objective because the narrator simply reported the tragedy of their lives in much the same way a reporter would cover a fatal house fire or car accident; there is no attempt to move the reader (or listener) to help these people, only a detailing of the facts.

The feeling of despair is established early on, via the chilling refrain: “Ah, look at all the lonely people.” Immediately we are told that the two whose story is being told are but two of many such wretched individuals.

We are not told how old Eleanor is, but the impression from the beginning is that she is no longer a young girl. She is described as picking up the rice after a wedding, living “in a dream.” The dream would appear to be that of one day finding the right man and being married herself.

We are then told that she “waits at the window, wearing the face that she keeps in a jar by the door.” The “jar by the door” might be a reference to makeup on her vanity, which indicates that she probably has “made herself up” in a seemingly futile effort to attract the attention of a man.

We are then introduced to Father McKenzie, who we assume to be the minister at the church where Elanor lives and works. The good Father appears to be experiencing a crisis of faith; he is “writing the words to a sermon that no one will hear.” Does this mean that he will never give the sermon? Or, perhaps, that he knows his congregation will not take take the message of the sermon to their hearts?

The line “No one comes near” is obviously (to me, at least) the Father’s view. How are we to know that our Eleanor is not watching Father McKenzie “darning his socks in the night” from her vantage point in the window mentioned before? We are not to know; we only have the comment, “What does he care?” This is a man as lonely and as full of despair as Eleanor herself.

We next are told that “Eleanor Rigby/Died in the church and was buried along with her name./Nobody came.” Even with her death Eleanor seems to have left no mark upon this world. And just how did poor Eleanor die? Is she a suicide? This would be consistent with the tone of despair already established, but we simply are not told.

For this reason, the most intriguing passage in the entire piece is that which follows: “Father McKenzie/wiping the dirt from his hands as he walks from the grave./No one was saved.”

Does Father McKenzie grieve for her at all? Does he mourn the fact that he was never able to play a role in the salvation of Eleanor Rigby’s soul, or the possible salvation of her life? Does he see her as representative of the congregation which never hears his sermons?

Or does the good Father see at last the role that Eleanor might have played in his life, if only things had been different?  It’s possible these two lonely people might have actually been secretly in love.

This is mere speculation, of course. Still, we certainly get the feeling that any possibility of the two of them reaching out towards one another – whether as lovers or simply as friends – has been squelched by a variety of factors: by his position as a man of the cloth; by Eleanor’s sense of insecurity; perhaps even by a hardening of both their hearts, brought about by life’s experiences.

Perhaps, in another reality, the two of them might have reached out, might have expressed whatever true feelings they might have had for one another. Perhaps they might even have married, and thus provided one another with the happiness both so desperately have been seeking.

We will never know...

The song’s main refrain piles despair upon despair through the questions “Where do they all come from?” and “Where do they all belong?” But the real question might well be: “What am I supposed to do about it?” And so the despair carries over from the lives of Eleanor and the Father to the rest of us as well, revealing a complexity far beyond what record buyers of the time had come to expect from a “simple pop song.”

It asks the question: “What hope is there for any of us?”

And then it leaves us to find the answer on our own.

(Column copyright © 2017, by John A. Small; “Eleanor Rigby” lyrics © Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC)

 

THOUGHTS ON CHARLOTTESVILLE...

August 16, 2017

My wife Melissa, son Joshua and I were in Monroe, Louisiana, sitting in the living room of our dear friends Win and Lisa Eckert last Saturday, talking about any number of things - most of them far removed from this place we (sometimes grudgingly) refer to as “the Real World” - when we got the news about the act of domestic terrorism perpetrated by white supremacists in Charlottesville, Virginia.

Like so many others - like anyone with even a trace of human decency in their soul an...


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ERB MOVIES OF THE 1970s

June 19, 2017

As Phillip R. Burger pointed out in an essay included in the 2005 Bison Books reissue of Richard Lupoff’s Master Of Adventure, 1975 was a particularly good year to be a fan of Tarzan creator Edgar Rice Burroughs.

For one thing, it was the centennial of ERB’s birth, which meant that much attention was being paid to the author and his works. As part of the centennial celebration, Irwin Porges finally published his long-anticipated (and definitive) ERB biography, Edgar Rice Burroughs: The Man...
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THE TARZAN NOVELS IN CHRONOLOGICAL ORDER

June 16, 2017

This project grew out of my son Joshua’s stated desire to read the entire run of the authorized Tarzan novels - the original series by Edgar Rice Burroughs, and those ERB Inc.-sanctioned novels by Fritz Leiber, Philip José Farmer, Joe Lansdale, Will Murray and Michael S. Sanford - more or less in the order in which they take place. When Josh announced his intent, I decided to compile this chronology for the purpose of helping him and other fans who might be considering a similar reading pr...


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A NOTE FOR MY MOTHER...

May 3, 2017

A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away… Me and my mother, Romania Sue Small, circa 1963-64.



I am told that a certain member of my family apparently did not appreciate my sharing the following story at my mother’s funeral last Friday. 


I have to admit to having been somewhat baffled by this response. Certain things being what they are, certain people being who they are, perhaps I shouldn’t have been. I don’t know. 


Everyone else seemed to appreciate the story, and had nothing b...


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31 YEARS AND COUNTING...

April 6, 2017
APRIL 5, 1986, Kankakee First Church of the Nazarene, Kankakee Illinois.


Once upon a time, a boy and a girl from opposite sides of town met and fell in love…

The year was 1978. Jimmy Carter was president; Styx and the Electric Light Orchestra were two of the biggest rock groups in the country; and nearly a year after its release, Star Wars was STILL the numbest popular movie in America.

One Sunday evening in late April of that year, a teenage boy met the girl of his dreams at church. He was a ...

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JUST A RANDOM THOUGHT...

February 22, 2017


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AN EXPERIMENT IN AUTOBIOGRAPHY...

February 17, 2017



Faster than a speeding bullet? 


Ha!! Hardly… 


More powerful than a locomotive? 


Nope. Guess again. 


Able to leap tall buildings in a single bound? 


Not even on my best days back when I was young and thin and full of energy – and even if I could, I'd most likely crash on the way back down. So, wrong again - but thanks for playing.


Who am I?


This is not a question which can be answered simply, for I have worn many hats within the space of what seems to have been a relatively short sp...


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GIVE THE GIFT OF READING

December 1, 2016

I have always loved the written word – reading it, writing it, at home or at school or at the office or sitting in the back seat of one of Mom and Dad's old Volkswagens when I was a child – and it has been my great fortune to have been able to turn this love into something resembling an actual career. (Much to the surprise, I'm sure, of a certain fifth grade teacher who once made the mistake of telling me that I would never amount to anything… but that’s a discussion for another day.)...


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HAIL TO THE CHIEFS...

October 28, 2016


By this time next week it will all, at long last, be over. The American people will have spoken, and - barring any last-second temper tantrums, court challenges or some other kind of monkey wrench thrown into the works - we will know who the 45th President of the United States will be and, for better or worse, we’ll be getting our first real glimpse into what the next four years may hold for our nation.


But I don’t want to talk about the election or the candidates anymore. It’s just go...


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About Me


John Allen Small John A. Small is an award-winning newspaper journalist, columnist and broadcaster whose work has been honored by the Oklahoma Press Association, the Society of Professional Journalists, the Associated Press, the National Newspaper Association, and the Oklahoma Education Association. He and his wife Melissa were married in 1986; they have two sons, Joshua Orrin (born 1991) and William Ian (born 1996). Mr. Small is the News Editor and columnist for the Johnston County Capital-Democrat, a weekly newspaper headquartered in Tishomingo, OK. He obtained his nickname, "Bard of the Lesser Boulevards," from a journalism colleague - the late Phil Byrum - in recognition of the success of his popular newspaper column, "Small Talk." (In addition to the many awards the column itself has received over the years, a radio version of "Small Talk" earned an award for "Best Small Market Commentary" from the Society of Professional Journalists in 1998.) John was born in Oklahoma City in 1963; lived in the Bradley-Bourbonnais-Kankakee area of Illinois for most of the next 28 years (with brief sojourns in Texas and Athens, Greece, thrown in to break up the monotony); then returned to his native state in 1991, where he currently resides in the Tishomingo/Ravia area. He graduated from Bradley-Bourbonnais Community High School in 1981, and received his bachelor's degree in journalism from Olivet Nazarene University in Bourbonnais in 1991. The years between high school and college were a period frought with numerous exploits and misadventures, some of which have become the stuff of legend; nobody was hurt along the way, however, which should count for something. In addition to his professional career as a journalist he has published two short story collections: "Days Gone By: Legends And Tales Of Sipokni West" (2007), a collection of western stories; and "Something In The Air" (2011), a more eclectic collection. He was also a contributor to the 2005 Locus Award-nominated science fiction anthology "Myths For The Modern Age: Philip Jose Farmer's Wold Newton Universe," edited by Win Scott Eckert. In additon he has written a stage play and a self-published cookbook; served as project editor for a book about the JFK assassination entitled "The Men On The Sixth Floor"; and has either published or posted on the Internet a number of essays, stories and poems. He has also won writing awards from the Veterans of Foreign Wars and the National Library of Poetry. He is a past president of the Johnston County Chamber of Commerce in Tishomingo; was a charter member and past president of the Johnston County Reading Council, the local literacy advocacy and "friends of the library" organization; served as Johnston County's first-ever Americans with Disabilities Act coordinator in 1994-95; served two terms as chairman of the Johnston County (OK) Democratic Party; and has taught journalism classes for local Boy Scout Merit Badge Fairs. He is a member of the New Wold Newton Meteorics Society.
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