The Beatles, “Paperback Writer,” 1966.
It’s the dirty story of a dirty man
And his clinging wife doesn’t understand
His son is working for the Daily Mail
It’s a steady job but he wants to be a paperback writer
1995. The only book of my mother’s I remember was a little bright green thing. “Love Letters to the Beatles,” it was called, I think. It was covered by a scratchy line drawing of a crowd of tweeny girls, cartoon love hearts forming a dense cloud overhead. I can’t remember any of the individual letters, but when I was seven I used to think my mom had written all of them. I also used to think the Beatles were better than the Rolling Stones because they wore sharper suits, which to me meant they didn’t do any drugs. As a seven year old with a bowl cut, this was important.
My choosing the Beatles over the Stones was a point of contention in the house, as my father was a huge fan of the Stones (probably precisely because they were more of a mess). His belief was – and still is – that the Beatles and the Rolling Stones hated each other, so you could not be a fan of both. This was dumb, obviously, but it’s what he believed. He doesn’t care that Mick was at the taping of “All You Need Is Love.” They hated each other, he says, and that’s that.
The Rolling Stones never had a chance. My love for the Beatles was set in stone when I first heard “Paperback Writer.” When I think of the song now, I remember that ratty old book of letters. But when I think harder, I must’ve loved the song because I loved books, must’ve wanted to write them. I didn’t know at the time I’d wanted to write them—I only went to school for journalism because I had an easy time forming sentences. But it must have been true then.
There are times today when things get to me. The search for a job, the lack of love, the seemingly never-ending financial stress that shoves so hard on my chest at night. More than once these things have shoved their way into my long gray dreams of being a writer. I once found the stupid image of an old me above a shop front, huddled around a pile of papers and a space heater, to be terribly romantic. It’s not romantic, though, and not even rooted in 2012. But it’s still what I imagine, and when my head’s on right, it’s still my dream.
So, that’s “Paperback Writer” for me. I get jazzed by a song that is saying the opposite. It’s a shit life for most writers out there. You go on Twitter, you look at the followers for a lit journal, and you see that thousands of people label themselves as writers. But we don’t know who they are; we don’t know what they write. There aren’t enough magazines to publish their stories, not enough shelf space in the collective conscience for them all to be shown in print, let alone for all of them to be read and understood.
So what sets me apart? I don’t know, really. Not yet. I still want to be a writer, though. Paperback or not.