How the Beatles’ Eleanor Rigby inspired my debut novel – Camille Di Maio

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By Camille Di Maio

I have always loved books, and I’m easily mesmerized by good music. So, it goes without saying that ballads are some of my favorite types of songs. A story told in lyrics and melodies – what could be better than that? ♥

You wouldn’t think that a good, complete story could be told in about three minutes, but if you add some violins, a piano, or a soulful voice, the rich tapestry of a tale unfolds.

Some favorites of mine are Piano Man, Candle in the Wind, Vincent, or even the cowboy tunes of Marty Robbins.

But one has always haunted me … eluded me. Because there is no complete story, there are just two compelling characters. We know almost nothing about them. We don’t even know if they are acquainted.

I’m talking about the classic Beatles song, Eleanor Rigby.

You know the one – All the lonely people, where do they all come from? All the lonely people. Where do they all belong?

What is it about this song that has captivated people for five decades? Why has it been covered by nearly a hundred artists including Alice Cooper, Aretha Franklin, and John Denver?

I don’t know what drew these artists to recreating it with their own voices, their own styles. But I can tell you what it means to me. And why it inspired my novel, The Memory of Us.

It all came to me one day as I was driving my minivan around town, running errands with my four children. I have over five thousand songs on my iPod, and it was on “shuffle”. I love that. You never know what will come up next.

On this particular day, Eleanor Rigby rotated through. And, although I’d heard it countless times before, something about it struck me so intensely that I had to hurry home and start taking notes.

Fr. McKenzie. A lonely priest. Writing a sermon that no one will hear.

Why?

Eleanor Rigby. Alone after a wedding has taken place in the church.

Whose wedding?

And, at the end, the priest buries the old woman.

How did she die?

And, more importantly –

How did they know each other?

A flood of questions like this rushed over me. There were so many possible answers. And researching the song didn’t provide many clues. It appears to be entirely fictional, the brainchild of the genius lyricist, Paul McCartney. And, even in interviews with him, there don’t seem to be any real answers as to what inspired these two characters. In fact, his original name for both the song title and the woman was “Miss Daisy Hawkins”, but he feared that it didn’t have enough of an everyday ring to it.

So, it appeared that I had a blank slate on my hands.

I wrote down fifteen plot points, and spent the next six years working on it. I began by going backwards.

The song was released in 1966. How old did I imagine the characters to be in that year? I decided that their youth would be in the late 1930s – just before war broke out. I wanted to set it in Liverpool, the home of the Beatles. So, I had my characters, my time period, and my location. And, given that I intended to make it a love story, they had to have some conflict. What could that be?

Well, if, by the end, he is a priest and she is somehow connected to him, I had to go back to how he became a priest in the first place.

I had some familiarity with the Catholic/Protestant conflicts going on in England at the time. As a teenager, we participated in something called The Ulster Project, where teens from Belfast came to the United States for the summer. Half were Catholic, half were Protestant. The tensions – inconsequential to our own country founded on religious freedom – were, in fact, very much alive in our guests. Even in the early 1990s.

So, there was my source for conflict. She was a Protestant socialite. He was a poor Catholic immigrant. She was destined for a great marriage. He had entered the seminary.

Neither of their families wanted them to be together.

And so, my own interpretation unfolds in four hundred pages. The names are different, but the inspirations are evident. I answered the questions the song asked of me, and I hope readers will enjoy how it plays out. How they overcome their cultural and religious rifts. How they navigate the tragedies that the war places at their feet. How they come to be in the same church, at the same wedding. And how her death in the song isn’t necessarily what you might think it is.

Are you intrigued? I hope so, and if you are, I invite you to read The Memory of Us. Incidentally, this year marks the 50th anniversary of the song. I think it’s time the story was told.


Camille Di Maio is an award-winning real estate agent in San Antonio. She has a bucket list that is never-ending, and uses her adventures to inspire her writing. She’s lived in Texas, Colorado, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and California, and spends enough time in Hawaii to feel like a local. She’s traveled to four continents (so far), and met Mother Teresa and Pope John Paul II. She just about fainted when she had a chance to meet her musical idol, Paul McCartney, too. The Memory of Us is Camille’s debut novel. Her second one, Before the Rain Falls, will be released in Spring 2017.

camilledimaio.com

1 Comment

  1. Debbie Williams

    June 19, 2016 at 12:38 am

    Camille, I wrote an essay in college on Eleanor Rigby my sophomore year of college in 1990. It was about loneliness and sorrow. I am intrigued and will surely read this novel.. And by the way the song must be good material for reflection and contemplating. Oh and I got an A on my essay with many comments from my professor. Can’t wait to read your novel!

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