Rachel Manteuffel is a writer in The Post’s Editorial Department.
’Sup. It’s us, the millennials, here for once not to talk about ourselves. We want to talk about you. You’ve had plenty of time to wallow in your unique generational greatness in the 50 years since the Beatles went on Ed Sullivan, but this week marks a darker, more grown-up anniversary. It has been 50 years since the Beatles left our shores after that first trip, and now you’re old enough to have a talk, like adults, about giving up your last sacred cow. No, not Social Security. We need to talk about your music.
In our interminable generational debates, the thing you always come back to is your unshakable belief that your music is better than ours. That it had soul and meaning and purity and cynicism and a message — that something magical happened, ’round about 1959, and we, your children, will never really understand. It’s time to demolish that myth. We’re sorry, but this has to happen so we can move forward together.
We are going to present evidence that you are perhaps a teensy bit forgiving of flaws in your music. Perhaps your memories are sweetened by sanctimony or weed. We are going to discuss the anthem of heartbreak for your generation, the song that by general agreement took the Beatles from Popular to Important, the most-covered rock song of all time. We think you know the one we’re talking about. The unassailable one.
Please remain calm.
Yesterday, all his troubles seemed so far away.
Okay, this is not so bad. Paul doesn’t have a great sense of planning, but many of us are so afflicted. Now, it looks as though his troubles are here to stay. Again, this was probably predictable, but let’s let the man sing. Nice voice, Paul.
Paul believes in yesterday, which is not a particularly impressive act of faith; most of us were there, too. Still.
Suddenly, he’s not half the man he used to be, and there’s a shadow hanging over him. Oh, yesterday came suddenly.
Now, let’s examine the chronology. Suddenly, Paul’s fortunes have fallen dramatically. Yesterday he was fine, with distant troubles, and today he is half of his previous self. This is, so far, everything the song has expressed. So what on Earth does “Yesterday came suddenly” mean? Yesterday was the GOOD time, Paul. You just TOLD us that. You mean today came suddenly. Only that doesn’t scan.
Also, you think we didn’t notice you rhyme “suddenly” with “suddenly” there, but we did.
Then we learn the catastrophe that occurred: He lost a girl. Why she had to go he doesn’t know, she wouldn’t say. She left him this morning or so, since yesterday was great, despite also coming suddenly. She wouldn’t say why she left. And he quick, giddyup, wrote this song today, which might explain a few things about its cohesiveness.
Consider: This cannot have been a very deep relationship. He says something wrong and she leaves him and won’t say why? What a drama queen. What kind of person leaves someone for a very good but unexpressed reason, based on something he said that was so subtly wrong he hasn’t a clue as to what it was? Paul wants to talk about it — but she is flouncing out the door.
Clearly, Paul is better off without her. She is a shallow, coldhearted jerk. But he still longs for their relationship; in fact, now, in her absence, he is half a man! This makes Paul a sap and a dip.
Paul’s lady, we have established, is high-maintenance with a flair for the dramatic and punishing gesture, so nobody believes love once was, with her, an easy game to play. It’s not easy for anyone, Paul, not even for a day. You were deluding yourself.
And now you need a place to hide away, even though she left you. This implies you no longer have a place. Are you getting kicked out? Did she pay the rent? Were you a sap and a dip and a freeloader?
The essential message of the song is that things were nicer in the past. Except, as the nonsensical timeline and shallowness of the heartbreak show, these things were not that great but only seem so because of nostalgia. Ahem.
The rest is just repetition and humming.
Boomers, please believe that we are not trying to be cruel. We simply urge you to assess your music in the harsh light of reality. Of today.
And, on a personal note, we mean to cause no lasting pain when we report that the person to whom we first pitched this essay, an editor at The Post born in the 1980s, didn’t recognize the lyrics. At all.