The Fool on the Hill has always been one of my favorite Beatles songs (though I have so many favorite Beatles songs that it’s almost meaningless to say). Besides that it’s a beautiful little tune, in the best McCartney tradition, I always found it particularly meaningful, especially when I was younger. The theme of feeling like an outcast and watching the world from a remove is something everyone can relate to, and that feeling is most pronounced for adolescents. For me feeling ostracized and misplaced was pretty much the default setting, and I’ve only recently started feeling at home in the world. I’m still pleasantly surprised to find myself feeling comfortable with a group of people. That’s a function of growing up and growing in confidence, of course, and everyone goes through that. But I did feel very misunderstood in my younger years, and there was something very gratifying in the message that being ‘the fool’ is a noble position. That’s not just some cheap idea about ‘empowerment’ that Paul McCartney happened to think up one day. For one thing, the pop psychology of personal empowerment didn’t become a selling point until fairly recently. For another, the idea of the wise fool is an ancient one. It’s one of the biggest themes in folk tales from around the world. There are infinite variations on the story of the youth who is labeled an fool or an idiot for being different from his brothers, but he always uses his wits to outsmart whatever villains he meets, makes his fortune and marries the beautiful princess, proving in the end that it was the brothers with their conformity and lack of imagination who were the idiots. That story has been told so many times, in so many ways (right along with the equally popular Cinderella, who is rewarded for her kind heart and her beauty). So it’s a deeply ingrained idea that the weird and seemingly foolish have their own wisdom and see the world differently than regular folks. All of which I’m certain Paul McCartney is erudite enough to know about. If the idea for this song was a deliberate decision to take inspiration from a folk tradition as old as the 1,001 Nights, or if it bubbled up form some unconscious place, I have no way of knowing, but I find it magical that such a simple song can carry centuries of storytelling behind it.