Maxwell v. Murphy

When I was about 5 years-old, one of my favorite songs was Maxwell’s Silver Hammer, written by Paul McCartney and performed by the Beatles.  Last week the hook, “Bang, bang Maxwell’s silver hammer came down upon his head” got stuck in my head and it was driving me crazy because it was the only line of the song I could remember.  So, I pulled it up on YouTube for a quick trip down memory lane, but was startled by how violent the song is.  As a child I thought of “Maxwell Silverhammer” as more of a concept like “Murphy’s Law;” I never internalized the violence of the song, I simply heard it as an abstract about bad luck.

Still slightly disturbed this was one of my favorite songs as a child, I did some research and upon further reflection, I found my differing impressions of the song to be very interesting and in fact, my childhood insights were much deeper, and closer to the artist’s thoughts behind the song, than my initial reaction as an adult.  Paul McCartney explained his vision behind the grisly song to Barry Miles, author of Paul McCartney Many Years from Now, “Maxwell’s Silver Hammer was my analogy for when something goes wrong out of the blue, as it so often does… I wanted something symbolic of that… We still use that expression even now when something unexpected happens” (Paul McCartney, as quoted by Miles, 1997, p. 554).  I found the child-like innocence behind the gruesome song to be ironically funny, but endearing at the same time, and it has made me think about how I perceive things differently as an adult.  Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could all keep that childlike attitude as we grow?

Maxwell’s Silver Hammer, The Beatles, Abbey Road, 1969

Miles, B.  (1997). Paul McCartney Many Years from Now.  Henry Hold and Company, Inc.; ISBN- 0-8050-5248-8.


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