NOTE from Dr. Wayne Baker: Please welcome journalist and educator Charles Honey for a thought-provoking series based on classes he has taught about the impact of the Beatles’ music. Here’s Charles’ fourth column …
One of the deep bonds between Paul McCartney and John Lennon was that they both lost their mothers at an early age. Paul’s mother, Mary, died of cancer when he was 14, and John’s Julia was killed by a car when he was 17.
Their shared grief of loss was powerfully captured in the excellent 2009 movie Nowhere Boy, in a scene showing John’s anger after Julia’s funeral. (The British film was released in October 2010 in the US to coincide with what would have been John’s 70th birthday—and there’s a video clip below.)
While John worked out his feelings explicitly through songs such as Julia and Mother, Paul’s were more indirectly expressed and, characteristically, to uplifting effect. Let It Be finds Paul taking solace from his mum speaking from beyond the grave–and passes it along to us as a comfort for our own hardships.
When I find myself in times of trouble,
mother Mary comes to me
speaking words of wisdom: let it be.
And in my hour of darkness s
he is standing right in front of me
speaking words of wisdom: let it be.
Like Yesterday, Paul said the seed of this song came to him in a dream. It was while recording of the White Album, when the band was bickering and the Beatles had begun to disintegrate. In the midst of his distress, Paul dreamed his mother told him not to worry, that things would turn out OK.
The gist of her advice, he told biographer Barry Miles, was “let it be.”
The song’s hymn-like quality and reference to “mother Mary” led many to think he meant the Virgin Mary. That was OK with Paul. “I’m quite happy if people want to use it to shore up their faith,” he told Miles.
Without a doubt, many people have–this writer included. When released in the spring of 1970, it spoke to my inner teen turmoil as graduation approached. Now it makes me think of my late mother, Betty, her love of music and her words of wisdom that still strengthen me. She, too, comes to me in dreams.
Never religious but always spiritual, Paul speaks his own wisdom to all “the broken-hearted people … There will be an answer, let it be.”
How is letting it be an answer? Where’s the comfort in that? Does it sound like passivity?
To me, it’s acceptance. Yes, there is grief in loss, but fighting reality won’t help. Accepting what is, and faith in what can be, brings a measure of inner peace amid the grief.
A month after Let It Be was released, Paul announced the band had broken up. The screams of the girls were just echoes, and suddenly the Beatles were no more.
But though they had parted, they sang to us like angels: Let it be.
Care for more? Here’s the funeral scene from the 19 film Nowhere Boy …
And, here is Let It Be …
Care to read more?
Charles Honey is a freelance writer specializing in faith, education, music and baseball. He wrote a religion column for The Grand Rapids Press/MLive for 20 years, is a staff writer for School News Network and writes a blog on everyday spiritual experience, Soulmailing.com. He teaches a short adult-learner course called “Love is All, Love is You: The Spirituality of the Beatles.” Recently, Charles was featured in a ReadTheSpirit Cover Story about his new book Faith on First.
ALSO THIS WEEK, our section on Holidays, Festivals & Anniversaries looks at the many ways the Beatles reshaped popular culture in the second half of 1965—a golden anniversary in 2015. Plus, to help you sense what it was like 50 years ago, this column includes two short videos of the Beatles taking the stage at Shea Stadium and then performing A Hard Day’s Night on that historic occasion.