Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Hey Jude, The Beatles (1968)

Over the weekend, I heard an interview on NPR with Dr. Deforia Lane , who heads up the Toddler Rock early education program at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame here in Cleveland.  I was not aware there was such a program, but its emphasis is on intervention with at-risk preschoolers, their caregivers and teachers, with the objective being to increase a child’s overall skill sets through the structured use of music. 
Dr. Lane, who is also director of Music Therapy at the Ireland Cancer Center of the University Hospitals of Cleveland, and Rainbow Babies & Children's Hospital, noted in the interview how the music of the Beatles melds particularly effectively with the toddler rock initiative.  It seems many of their songs have the qualities that produce the human response of “entrainment,” wherein the music’s rhythms are so resonant for their audience that the songs can be physically and emotionally healing or otherwise catalysts to promoting a state of liveliness or serenity.  
I’m glad I heard about that phenomenon, because I was asked by my dear friend Meghan to write a post about Hey Jude.  The occasion for this is one of profound sadness, as she was pregnant with a child she learned had Potter’s Syndrome, a fatal condition, and the child could not be carried to term.
Meghan subsequently delivered a baby girl whom she named Jude, after the patron saint of lost causes.  In the time that’s passed, as she has mourned her loss, she has been contemplating Hey Jude, a song she since realized was released in 1968 on the exact day that she found out about the fate of her unborn child.
One of the things Meghan pointed out to me was the high degree of comfort that Hey Jude has brought her in recent days, and there are numerous anecdotes of how it has served in that capacity for millions of people the world over.  We already know that the song was written by Paul McCartney to console John Lennon’s son Julian (the two had a very close relationship, closer than the father and son’s was) during John’s divorce from his first wife Cynthia.  I am assuming that one of the reasons for this effect upon the masses is that it is a living example of the entrainment transformation principle in action.  Anyone who wants to really dissect the song’s unusual structure from a musicologist’s perspective can always read Alan Pollack's extensive treatise on the subject.
I remember eagerly watching the only live performance of the song ever recorded for posterity – a previously aired David Frost Show appearance in the UK that later aired exclusively in the U.S. on the Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour.

The lads had not appeared on TV for about a year at that point, and to say that I was feeling deprived is an understatement.  When Paul looked straight into the camera and sang the first “Hey Jude” as only he could, teenagers the world over swooned, figuratively and probably literally in some cases.    
I always felt the 4 minute fadeout was a bit monotonous, even despite the considerable effort McCartney expended in varying each segment of it with some new scream or scat-like vocal embellishment.  But the full 7:11 song held the #1 spot on the charts for nine weeks, so not everyone agreed with me, obviously.   
For Meghan, Hey Jude has helped her “take a sad song and make it better,” and that’s all that matters.  To her and her husband Kirk, my heartfelt condolences.   

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