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Read an Excerpt From Rob Sheffield's 'Turn Around Bright Eyes'

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1995: You are still in love, though not quite so young. You're twenty-nine and married and still in grad school. Love is exhausting and it's hard work. You had no clue it would be so complicated. "She Loves You" sounds different now – when you hear it, it doesn't seem like there's such a big difference between the two boys in the song. Sometimes you even notice a warmth in it you didn't notice before. Maybe the Beatle boy isn't sneering at the other boy; maybe he's just trying to help him out. It's like Paul McCartney is putting a brotherly arm around your shoulder on the bus after school and saying, "Didn't you know, chum? Nobody told you before? That girls are like this? Well, now you know. Girls are crazy, and they do not get less crazy when you make out with them."

"It's too late, Paul. She doesn't love me anymore."

"Nah, it's not too late. She loves you. She just thinks you're a little dim."

"I guess I am dim, Paul. Can I call you Paul?" "Of course." "I think it's too late, Paul. I blew it." "She still loves you. I don't love you, by the way. I think you're a wanker and she could find six of you for a shilling, but it's you she fancies and don't ask me why. I'd say you still have another eighteen to twenty-four hours to apologize before she finds some- one else to cry about."

"Why?"

"I have no idea. Girls are like the White Album."

"What's a White Album?"

"Erm . . . that comes a few years later, but trust my time=traveling perspective here. A White Album is a double-album mess that goes on too long and has all these songs you think should have been done differently. Moments you prefer to skip. 'Wild Honey Pie' and 'Piggies' and 'Revolution 9.' Those songs could give pot a bad name."

"Pot?"

"That comes later, too. It's a drug. Oh, and then there's my song about the raccoon, but I like that one."

"You're losing me, Paul."

"Girls are the White Album and they all have 'Revolution 9's. They have all that stuff you wish you could edit out. There's this Anthology documentary, many years from now, where everybody complains about the White Album. George Harrison thinks it should have been edited down to a nice, tidy single album. So does George Martin. Hell, even Ringo. And finally I lose me rag and I say, 'It's great! It sold! It's the bloody Beatles White Album! Shut up!'"

"Damn, Paul, how many White Albums did you make?"

"There's only the one, see. When you fall in love with a girl, she's the bloody White Album. That is what you whisper to your- self, when you don't understand her at all. You just keep telling yourself, she's the bloody Beatles White Album and there's only one of her."

"Is that true?"

"How would I know? That's what I tell myself anyway. If you can't deal with a White Album, you're better off with a girl who is a James Blunt album."

"Who's James Blunt?"

"Well, here's me bus stop. We'll get to James Blunt next time, or not. But we'll get to the White Album someday. And pot."

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1997: It's the late nineties and you are alone. You are sad all the time, which is exhausting (in addition to everything else it is) and boring (ditto) and "She Loves You" is too sad to listen to at all. You are going back and listening to Beatles songs that you ignored in your twenties, like "Strawberry Fields Forever." You first heard this song one Christmas morning, seconds after rip- ping open the shrink wrap on The Beatles 1967–1970, aka the Blue Album. You've always liked "Strawberry Fields Forever," but now you're really hearing it for the first time. John sings like he's down and he doesn't want to talk about it. He feels old and used up. So do you. (He's just twenty-seven, you're just thirty-one, and yet here the two of you are, arguing over which one is wearier like a couple of old Irish ladies.)

John sounds sad, but he's also bored by the dullness and mo- notony of being sad. He sings about it like he doesn't want to talk about it because his sadness is the least interesting thing about him, even though at this point in his life it's practically the only thing about him. Nobody knows if he'll ever not be sad, including him. And he knows everyone around him feels a little guilty for being bored by how sad he is. (Misery might love company, but it's rarely mutual.) He doesn't blame them, because he's bored by it all, too.

So what does John think about all this whole sorry state of af- fairs? "I think I disagree." In your present mood, this seems like the most brilliantly funny line John ever sang.

Nobody knows if your present mood is just your present.

Maybe it's not a mood, maybe it won't end. It shouldn't be that way. It's all wrong. At least you think you disagree.

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Paul loves modern girls the way he loves modern rock & roll. Has any songwriter, male or female, taken so much joy in female company? He just relishes being around girls, whether or not he has any romantic interest, breathing in their presence. It's all there in the way he sings about the nurse in "Penny Lane," the one who sells poppies from a tray and feels like she's in a play. He's just dreamily noticing her, imagining what it's like to be her. He wonders what she thinks, and how she feels.

Who else sang about women this way? Nobody. If Mick Jagger wrote that song, the nurse would have been wearing fishnets. If Lou Reed wrote it, she would have sold him some pharmaceuti- cal groovies. If Bob Dylan wrote it, "nurse" would have rhymed with "her longtime curse drives a velvet hearse."
Paul lights up when there are girls around and gets down in the dumps when there aren't. (Which can't be often. He's Paul McCartney.) He wants to hear their voices and learn their stories. He has zero interest in singing about men, unless it's "Band on the Run," with the Jailer Man and Sailor Sam. (Can you imagine what a terrible sailor that guy must have been? Sailor Sam lived in the desert. That's where you go when you have an anchor tattoo but you don't want anyone asking you to help with a boat.)
Paul likes to listen to girls, even after they go away. He still wants to think about the things she said and how they fill his head. "You won't forget her," Paul sang in "For No One," not sure whether he was giving good news or bad news. But he was right. You won't forget her. What you do with that memory is up to you.

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You once had a shrink who went to Shea Stadium. She brought it up during a session and you wouldn't let her change the sub- ject. She guessed she was around twelve. The helicopter landed on the grass and specks of brown got out; she didn't remember any of the songs, just the roar of the helicopter. She asked, "Is this really necessary?" You insisted. So, she was a Paul girl. The Beatles played for thirty minutes, you kept her talking for forty- five, then you wrote the check and drove home. Eighty bucks you paid to hear that story, which is stupid, but you still kind of think it counted as therapy.

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