I was in Scotland playing on my guitar, and I remembered this whole idea of “you were only waiting for this moment to arise” was about, you know, the black people’s struggle in the southern states, and I was using the symbolism of a blackbird. It’s not really about a blackbird whose wings are broken, you know, it’s a bit more symbolic. [Paul McCartney, Interview with KCRW’s Chris Douridas, 25 May 2002 episode of New Ground]
Blackbird is one of those songs. Sir Paul, who actually did most the writing, meant for the song to recognize the burgeoning civil rights movement. For many black people across the United States, it seemed that their time had come. The symbolism of the broken wing was clear and evident to a people who had struggled and at the time it seemed they were about to break free of those shackles. Unfortunately, what we see happening now brings the actual progress of that movement into question. Was the wing actually mended or was the bird simply put into a different cage?
Contemporary interpretation of the song probably leans more strongly to the LGBTI movement and the social progress we’re seeing among those people. Certainly, they, too, have existed as an unwanted, unrecognized subculture forever, a bird whose wings were at times not merely wounded, but often removed completely. As society becomes more accepting of people of different sexualities, though, I wonder if there’s a lesson to be learned from the civil rights movement of the 60s, that a mended wing doesn’t always mean freedom from the cage.
The words of the refrain are worth taking through the day:
Blackbird singing in the dead of night
Take these broken wings and learn to fly
All your life
You were only waiting for this moment to arise.
I think a lot of people relate to the experience of having their wings broken, their spirit crushed by a seemingly unending tidal wave of negative events. This song carries the assurance that things are going to get better. You were just waiting for the right moment.
Maybe that moment is today.
Blackbird, a song by Sarah McLachlan on Spotify