She’s Leaving Home
For me, both musically, and lyrically, this is the unsung hero of Sgt Pepper. My 17 year old self felt close to tears when hearing this song. I remember poignantly listening to this track in my old bedroom, feeling every breath of the young girl who felt the need to leave her parents and abscond with her heart.
Inspired by a front page story of a girl gone missing, the song begins with a beautiful intro of a harp, and then some of George Martin’s trademark strings kicks in before Paul sets the scene with the tale of a young girl (whom we now know is called Melanie) creeps downstairs while her parents are sleeping, and leaves a note that ‘she hopes will say more’. The girl is obviously very upset to be taking this pathway, but equally obviously, doesn’t feel she has any choice but to leave the people she has felt so trapped by.
The song was primarily crafted by Paul, but at the end of the first verse, John’s genius kicks in with a haunting commentary from the parents who bemoan the fact that they had given their child most of their lives and had evidently seen it as a total sacrifice. It is such a clear demonstration of conditional love. ‘We will love you child, as long as you love and obey us’ is the connotation that will have imbued every interaction she had with her parents. It’s no wonder she wanted to run away!
To compensate for the anorexic love they were offering, they offered the bargaining tool of giving her ‘everything that money could buy’. But whilst children hanker after toys and playthings (and indeed, us adults too), what we are all really searching for is unconditional love. The toys and playthings are mere distractions so that we can lose ourselves in our fantasies because the reality of our everyday existence is a lack of full, unconditional love. It happens in every household in the land, not because the parents don’t truly, truly love their kids, but because we are all worked to the bone, under intense pressure, and are all bearing the scars of our own upbringings of conditional love.
As a result, we find ourselves wanting to live vicariously through our kids, or we want them to live for our benefit (or both). We think that will help fill our own holes. But it won’t.
Again, in my real life example, when my friend wanted to leave university, her father’s response was to get the mother to tell the daughter that he was disappointed that she was betraying all his hard efforts to pay for her education. What a triple whammy of harsh parenting! First he doesn’t really seek to understand. Second he is unwilling to communicate directly with her. And third, he gets his wife to do his bidding and double-team her, thus alienating her even further. Even when we love someone we can find ourselves engaging in manipulative behaviours that totally contradict our professed love. The cascade effect of these distortions can and often do echo for decades.
But who can blame the protagonist of this song, Melanie, and the thousands of girls like her, who have felt the need to break free from parents who have stifled them in the name of ‘good parenting’. It is not good parenting, it is fear based parenting. Now I don’t have children, and so I can’t necessarily say I would be any better, but I can observe the common thread that this song so tear-jerkingly highlights. And in doing so, my hope is that I can nudge myself in the direction of unconditional love, using techniques like meditation, so that I will be able to nurture any children I may have into a state of emotional wholeness.
The song then proceeds to the discovery of the disappearance by the mother and father. At first, we are led to empathise and feel a wave of compassion for the parents who are so hurt by the disappearance. But Paul then adroitly turns it around and shows that their entire perspective and hurt is based upon what the child has done to them. Why would she treat us so thoughtlessly they ask? How could she do this to me? There is a barely credible lack of understanding or introspection on their part. Could it be perhaps that they have alienated her with their lack of love and by making her feel the burden of their struggles?
The song ends with a description of her journey far away and finishes with the highly emotive line ‘something inside, that was always denied, for so many years’. That’s what the girl was chasing!
Nobody leaves home when they feel that the thing inside of them has been nurtured and honoured. They leave because it is better to risk all and escape, or to love and lose than to not feel love at all. Unfortunately, others get caught up in the web and will always remain emotionally dependent on the very people who have left them feeling wanting. But they will bury their parents with an uncomfortable level of hatred in their hearts and unresolved pain to deal with.
So for all of us who have a son, daughter, nephew, niece, or someone who we have taken under our wing, let’s take a moment of inspiration from Lennon and McCartney and let’s offer the people we care most about, or look up to us the most, a sample of our unconditional love. Not because we fear them leaving us. But because deep inside of all of us there is a place where unconditional love is a fundamental truth of our being. If we have to spend an entire lifetime finding that place and cleaning up all the muck that has dulled the connection, then it is the greatest use of our time and energy. For when we radiate this, the ripple effect is generations of people taking succour from the untapped source of pure love that is there for us all to bathe in.
I am happy to report that my dear friend’s father is currently fixing his own hole and is in the process of realigning his relationship with all his children so there is hope that the story will have a happy ending! The true test will be when she brings a boy home that he doesn’t like 😉
I’m glad to report that this wonderful bit of song-smithery won Lennon and McCartney the 1967 Ivor Novello award and a famous composer of the time considered it to be as strong as anything that Schubert had written – from a famed classical composer that is high praise indeed!
There was always a magic when Lennon and McCartney worked together to craft a song. It was the same when they co-wrote the album closer, A Day In The Life. This time, with John providing the main bulk of the song and Paul adding the cheeky interlude in the middle.
Another fascinating fact is that although Paul wrote the song based on a newspaper article, he actually met Melanie three years before and gave her an award for her dancing on Ready, Steady, Go! when she was fourteen. Isn’t it amazing that three years later he would be receiving an Ivor Novello for unwittingly writing a song about her!
I really do love the synchronicities in life.