I’m watching and listening to The Beatles’ Hello, Goodbye, having been earwormed with it:
A simple song, almost like an exercise in opposites. That’s how the song came about, according to the Wikipedia page. Listening to it, something lifts from me.
Some of you may have heard that we recently lost my cousin, Clay Cobb, to complications following the flu. Clay was only fourteen. He’s the son of my mother’s half-brother, the nephew of the aunt who took such good care of me while I was struggling to live in San Francisco. He was one of the kids in her summer rock band camp.
I’ve been down and anxious ever since I heard Clay was in the hospital; since he died, there’s a small hole in my awareness of the world. I didn’t know Clay well. For historical reasons of the “half” in half-brother, half-sister, my sisters and I were raised a bit more distant from that part of the family, the way you are when a child’s relationship to someone is inexplicable in terms they could understand. More to the point, Clay and his brother Jesse are a lot younger. But getting to know them and their side of the family has been really important to me, for the sake of clearing any clouds that linger. For healing wounds we didn’t know were there. Being Facebook friends isn’t much (the newspapers all agonize over that, as they’ve forgotten how to agonize over telephones, the rail system, global mobility) but Clay would always invite me to his concerts when he was playing with The Flounders or Cheez-It Failure from all the way across the country, and I was genuinely bummed to miss them.
Clay and Jesse and their dad and my aunt Patti are all musicians. Clay was only fourteen, and already notorious. Patti would say — what was it — he looked like Robert Plant, played like Jimmy Page? (update — no, Patti says that’s what she says about Jesse, but still, Clay got his share of rave reviews) — I don’t know, that side of the family grew up soaked in rock and blues, and my own education in those genres is poor. But everyone said Clay showed great promise, and he and Jesse played together extensively.
I don’t know if the Cobb boys care much for the Beatles, but maybe because I’ve heard Patti do Beatles covers — Hello, Goodbye among them — the song and the video have caught me right now.
Maybe because we know the characters and their story. The whole trajectory. The Beatles turning on, breaking up, reuniting. Losing John. Following the remaining Beatles to other bands, for better or worse (I don’t get the appeal of Wings, but George in the Traveling Wilburys taught me a lot about music). Losing George, eventually. Honors for Paul; Ringo going on to entertain younger generations. There’s something about viewing the full life of an artist that’s comforting. I’ve studied Martha Graham and Pablo Neruda, and knowing how the smaller pieces of art fit into a bigger picture lifts you back out of the Lamentations, and the Songs of Despair.
Clay didn’t get a full, long trajectory of his own, and it feels like a horrible cosmic mistake. But he’d played a prodigious number of songs for a kid his age, even cut an album. (I’m hoping some of the concerts got recorded, too.) His story is part of other artists’ stories already, even at fourteen, and that’s really something. His brother’s, his dad’s; the dozens of kids who have been showing up on Facebook, saying “I hope we’ll get to jam together again someday.”
Hello, Goodbye has a melody that skips towards the sky until we lose it, out of the range of the human voice. It is a lightweight song about a big picture which escapes us: you say why? And I say I don’t know. I don’t know why you say goodbye. I say hello.
With the release of the song, McCartney gave an explanation of its meaning in an interview with Disc: “The answer to everything is simple. It’s a song about everything and nothing. If you have black you have to have white. That’s the amazing thing about life.”