Sunday, December 11, 2011

She's Leaving Home (sixth in a series)

Sgt Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band
The Concept Album that Never Was -- or Was It?

The sixth in a series by John Atwood, a thinker and guitarist who was inspired as an 11 year-old to learn the instrument after seeing the Beatles perform in 1964 on the Ed Sullivan Show and who followed their career assiduously through his high school years when he formed a garage band just so he could play their songs within a group. He's had a few decades to ponder the import of the Fab Four's music.

This is the hardest one to write about, not because it is a stretch to fit it in my proposed theme, but because I have mixed feelings about who is really to blame in this story.  Paul McCartney probably meant in this that the parents were uptight and selfish, and as a teenager/college student, I felt, as I am sure many did, that “she” was justified in leaving.  Yet now as a parent of teenagers, I wouldn’t say I have done a 180 in my thinking, but I can probably take the side of either one of them, depending on the mood I am in.

A minister once pointed out to me that the process referred to as “leaving the nest” can often be a stormy one.  Many things transpire over the 18-odd years of raising a child, and by the time it is all over, the departure can be rancorous.  And there is often blame on both sides.  I have seen a lot of this in different ways over time, a bit in my own circles as well as in many others.  One develops a deep respect for families where the kids find what they want to do in life, and though it may or may not coincide with what the parents thought or wanted, it transpires with a degree of peace, support and respect on all sides.

The parent’s perspective is voiced by John in the backup vocal parts.

We gave her most of our lives, Sacrificed most of our lives,
We gave her everything money could buy.

We never thought of ourselves, Never a thought for ourselves
We struggled hard all our lives to get buy.

The first time through, the couple sounds like the classic materially-obsessed, over-protective parents. But the second time through, they sound like children of the Depression, as if they were living it all over again.  But, of course they really weren’t, because the mid to late Sixties were times of tremendous growth and prosperity.  But even if they weren’t, that the parents carry on so about their struggle is embarrassing.  Life is a struggle, and there is that old “if you can’t stand the heat get out of the kitchen” comment that is rightfully directed at the parent who doth protest too much on this point.   

On the other hand, the attitude of the daughter seems kind of lightweight.  We are given one very clear statement of what the problem was to her: “Fun is the one thing that money can’t buy.”  Something in me pictures an emcee pointing a microphone back at the daughter and asking, “Are you sure you really want to go with that answer?”  Can Fun really be the significant “something inside that was always denied” that justifies leaving one’s parents as if they were total creeps?

As a parent, I realize I can answer to the law if I don’t provide proper food, clothing, shelter, upbringing and education to my children.  My World War II generation parents could barely even expect that from their parents, given the Depression, and for the last decade or so here in America there are many families for whom it is a challenge.  I suppose it is only the Boomers and the Xers who expect “Entertainment Coordination” to be on the list of parental essentials.

But that all being said, I still can’t quite acquit the parents in this.  Were they truly avaricious people, smothering their child with materialistic expectations, or were they basically well meaning parents whose past experience was working against them?  Jane Austen notes in Pride and Prejudice that it is hard to determine "where discretion ends and avarice begins".  Similarly, it is hard to classify these parents.  But in either case, "discretion" was overplayed, and in their preoccupation with making ends meet they deprived the daughter of something important for life, leaving their “baby” to live alone in their suffocating world. In fact, the mother’s use of that term suggests she never saw her daughter as someone whom she was charged with helping to become a woman who could think for herself.  

We are not told if there had been any discussions of the situation—her leaving comes as a surprise.  One assumes there probably were, but that neither side ever succeeded in successfully conveying to the other how they saw things.  So the situation built up over “many years” to the point where both sides developed their own interpretation of matters.  Since the parents are supposed to be the older and wiser players—we do speak of parents as ‘raising’ children—we should expect them to be more insightful, more cognizant of the need for good communication and thus the ones who could have intervened to prevent all this.

John’s voice poses a very pertinent question the last time through:

What did we do that was wrong?  We didn’t know it was wrong.

Our culture depends heavily on the family for healthy social formation.  How homes are formed, how children are raised and how they cross over into adulthood are extremely serious issues in terms of their effects on society.  And yet, it seems we go at this in England and America as if it were as perfunctory as buying paper towels.  The lack of training and understanding afforded to new parents is better now, but it was terrible in the 50’s and 60’s.  One wonders how our culture has survived as long as it has, or how some parents were able to do as good a job as they did.

And this chronicle of where this thoughtless approach to family development can lead is done in a musical package that is movingly ironic.  The strings were arranged by Mike Leander, who had worked with Marianne Faithful (and orchestrated a lush version of Yesterday, oddly enough), and his arrangement gave this song an exquisite elegance.  Thus you have a family breakdown set forth with a delicate, classy arrangement and a beautiful soaring melody.  A family should get elegance, class and a beautiful theme, but, sadly, not for a matter like this.

1 comment:

  1. It is so sad that she can not just say goodbye. Who knows what will happen to her next. There may be rough times ahead for her, but maybe there needs to be. And then what happens after that. Real stories never actually end.