The Ghost of Yesterday


John Lennon and Pal McCartney by Ayd InstoneAs 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.

Creativity and the BeatlesSee 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.

Read more here.

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4 comments on “The Ghost of Yesterday

  1. Hi Ayd. Very interesting article. (I’ve arrived here via your newsletter via Donal O’Neill – who started me off in the music biz in the 90’s). I’ve experienced this song-writing phenomenon myself from Feb 2011 I’ve written more than 3 albums worth and still can’t stop writing. I believe I received this after being attuned into Reiki by my Reiki master who is also in the music biz. I think I received more than Reiki. Apparently it can either make you psychic or more creative? Since I’m the former, which is psychic it may have given me this other ability, what do you think?

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    • Thanks Maggie. I don’t know much about Reiki, but it sounds like the effect may be like many thinks that have a connection to our creativity, that they enhance who we are already, help us to be more, rather than change us. So you must be musically talented and psychic already and the Reiki gelps turn up the volume…

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      • Thanks for your response so quickly ayd .
        I’m a singer! singing since I was 4, played guitar, keyboard and accordion when I was younger. And now out of the blue suddenly began to write songs, loads in fact, and can’ stop either. I do come from a psychic family several generations in fact. They read cards, tea leaves, have dreams and sense things. Some Family members dream events before they actually occur – unfortunately that’s not what I can do. With the number strange paranormal events that I and my family witnessed over the years. I who would always look and make judgements on actual evidence now must admit there are certain things that can’t be explained by logic alone.
        And as you say REIKI may have just cranked up the volume and allowed me to be more creative – as now the ideas just keep flowing, but in many other directions too.
        Love Maggie x

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  2. It was only when I began creative writing that I really became aware of the interplay between conscious and unconscious thought. I would get to a point in a story where I wanted the plot to go in a different direction, or to develop a sub-plot, or reveal something different in a character. But sometimes I just could not make the idea work – it seemed to defy logic. The more I thought about it, the more insurmountable the problems became. Then days later when I had largely given up on writing what I wanted to write, an idea would appear, almost fully formed, and with exciting new possibilities. Though I had not consciously thought it through , my unconscious, had obviously remained busy. I don’t know how it works, but I’m grateful that it does. Scientists struggle to understand the conscious mind and the sense of self, yet the working of the unconscious mind seems even more elusive.

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