As in all myth, the concept of the creative muse, a supernatural goddess who inspires creative endeavour, contains some truth. Those who have found their creative flow often refer to something coming to them from somewhere else. John Lennon once said that he felt as though he hadn’t actually written his best songs, they had instead been transmitted to him. His ‘aerial’ had picked up the signal and he had written them down.
Many songwriters have described how their songs were ‘transmitted’ to them and all they had to do was write them down. Sometimes they had to leap out of bed to catch the tune that played in their head before it was lost. This has happened to me quite a few times.
I awoke in the night with a fully formed song, with music, lyrics and title complete. I jumped out of bed and played and sang it on the guitar, otherise it would have been lost.
So where did it come from?
A 56 year old man from London claimed recently to have written 350 songs that he was suddenly urged to write by channelling, so he said, the spirit of John Lennon*. The creative process is so weird that it’s easy for many to invoke the supernatural. Mike Powell claimed that Lennon’s ghost visited him after he visited the graves of his deceased parents in 1992. I imagine his experience is less likely to be spectral and more likely to be bicameral.
Perhaps emotions and ideas he was unaware of were being presented to his conscious mind from his subconscious in a way that was so out of character for him and augmented his reality in such a way that it felt as though it must be external. There are many cases of previously un-artistic people suddenly picking up a paintbrush or a guitar and being not only proficient but highly talented. The triggers for these transformations are numerous, but are often unusual stress, or sudden release of stress or even physical trauma.
Paul McCartney said this about the creation of Yesterday, (which became the most recorded song ever). In early 1965 he woke with a melody in his head. It was so powerful that he was sure it must be an old jazz tune. He played it to a few people, but no-one knew it. At that time he didn’t have the words, and as it was breakfast time he improvises words of “Scrambled eggs… oh how I love your legs…” just so he could play through the tune.
He later worked out the real lyrics and the song was released on the No.1 Help! LP in the UK and as a No.1 single in the US. (At the time the Beatles felt the song too sentimental to release as a single in the UK). They even poked fun at it and at Paul when it was first performed.
There’s an interesting appendix to the story of Yesterday. It’s well known that Paul McCartney nearly always wrote about other people in his songs. This allowed him to create masterpieces like Eleanor Rigby and Hey Jude, but unchecked and without Lennon’s realism he was also capable of producing banal and meaningless songs like 1985s Only Love Remains. John Lennon on the other hand, always wrote about his own feelings. This allowed him to give us real emotion in songs like Help!, In My Life, God or Jealous Guy. But unchecked by McCartney’s commercial eye he could easily produce self-indulgent ramblings like Two Virgins, songs with Yoko’s name in and the hurtful How Do You Sleep?
But it’s not that clear cut. It wasn’t until 1995 that Paul realised, while compiling the Beatles Anthology that his 1965 song, Yesterday, apparently on the surface, about the loss of a lover was actually about the very real loss of his own mother a few years earlier from cancer. It was written with his own, secret emotion, all along.
Have a listen to the song again with this context in mind and you’ll hear a pain coming directly from Paul’s unconscious, back there in 1965, at the height of the Beatles glory and fun. A pain that he wasn’t consciously aware of when he wrote it.
Perhaps creativity is a ghost after all, a spectre of energy, emotion and hidden memory that at certain times, perhaps when we least expect it, will come to haunt us.
*Make you own mind up on Mike Powell here.
See the Beatles first ever performance of Yesterday. It’s eerie as the fans emotions change from mania screaming to sobbing as they tune into the song.
This is an extract from my forthcoming book, Creativity and the Beatles.
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