Ironically, the first time I heard the Beatle’s iconic song, “Eleanor Rigby,” was as a patient being treated for clinical depression at the Menninger Clinic in 1970.
One of the other patients at the Clinic was a young man in his late teens or early twenties. Some of us nicknamed him “California Boy” or “Surfer Boy.” He usually stayed in his room listening to his newest album on his personal record player. Occasionally, he’d share his music with those of us who listened to music played on the hi-fi in the patient lounge.
I straddled the divide between being friends with patients who were married, had children and the responsibilities of adulthood and those who were younger, usually single and interested in the newest popular music of the day. I was just 23 years old, with a baby girl at home in Texas and a husband deployed overseas in Vietnam.
One day, California Boy shared his new favorite album, Revolver, a Beatles record recorded and released in 1966, which included “Eleanor Rigby.” Paul McCartney gets credit for writing most of the song’s unforgettable lyrics.
The words to “Eleanor Rigby” struck a personal chord with many of us. Its lyrics were haunting for me then and they remain so all these years later. One verse describes Eleanor as a woman who wears a face she keeps in a jar by the door.
“I started doing that when I began to get sick,” I thought to myself as I listened.
While I waited for an empty bed at Menninger, during my worst depressive days, I’d try to put on an upbeat face when I left the house. A face that hid my deep fear and sorrow that Larry might not come home from the war, and the agony and shame for leaving our baby, Laura, while I went for in-patient treatment at the Clinic.
The other line that grabbed me was the description of Father McKenzie. The song describes him as a pastor who wrote words to sermons no one would ever hear. The song almost seems like an ode to the lonely, sad, friendless people living pointless and make-believe existences, who try to “put on their best face” as they do it.
Listen to the lyrics of this poignant song. Even today, it remains riveting to me. In thinking about this song, I’m reminded of how fortunate and grateful I am to have had great treatment when I was ill with clinical depression at the Clinic. It inspires me to continue playing my part in debunking the stigma toward those who suffer from mental illness.
© Tyra Manning 2018