I say in speeches that a plausible mission of artists is to make people appreciate being alive at least a little bit. I am then asked if I know of any artists who pulled that off. I reply, “The Beatles did.”
–Kurt Vonnegut, in Timequake (1997), Ch. 1, p. 1; courtesy of Wikiquote.
The Beatles vs. the Rolling Stones was the great “This or That” of the 60’s. Despite the unsurpassed creativity and variety of pop music in those days, it sometimes seemed as if the Beatles and the Stones divided the world between them, with there being no third. Certainly, they appeared to be the yin and yang of the rock world. There were the smiling, relatively clean-cut, boyish Beatles, who managed not only to make music for the kids, but to put out what John Lennon later disparagingly referred to as “granny music”, and who even made cartoons for kids (see below). On the other hand, there were the more brooding and snarly Stones, who were definitely not granny or kid-friendly, and who put out such anthems as “Sympathy for the Devil”. Of course, in the real world, the dichotomy was less stark–the Beatles had their dark side, and Charlie Watts, the drummer of the Rolling Stones, was and is into Big Band music. Still, the images and the public perception was there. I was too young to be aware of all this at the time, of course; so I’m going to approach this from another direction.
There has never been a time in my life that the Beatles weren’t in the cultural atmosphere. Their first album, Please Please Me, was released in March 1963, four months before I was born. Beatlemania ensued in the United Kingdom. They came to America and played on the Ed Sullivan Show in February of 1964. Beatlemania ensued in the United States. Thus, throughout my earliest years, there was always something by the Beatles on the air.
My first clear memory of them is of the cartoon TV series, The Beatles, which aired in first run and then in reruns from 1965 to 1969. I watched it regularly and could still remember bits and pieces of it by my forties, at which time I showed episodes to my then-young daughter on YouTube. As far as 60’s cartoons aimed at kids go, it still held up. And what a soundtrack! Going back to my youth, I was vaguely aware when the movie Yellow Submarine came out in 1968, but I never had the opportunity to watch it until it played on network television sometime in the early 70’s. It was very different, to say the least, from the TV series; but I found it oddly fascinating. Several years ago, I bought it on DVD for my daughter, around eight at the time; and she, too liked it.
As I said, the Beatles were always there. I listened to relatively little pop music as a kid, though. The records (yes, it was pre-CD and MP3) I bought were all classical. I heard what was on the airwaves, of course; and there was always Beatles, and later, Paul McCartney, and to a lesser extent, John Lennon, George Harrison, and Ringo Starr, as solo acts, on the radio. Still, it was more background music than anything else.
Alas, this post was originally supposed to be the full album of Abbey Road, the best Beatles album of all time (yeah, so fight me!). However, apparently it’s blocked in the USA. Thus, I’ve replaced it with Rubber Soul, which some critics consider the best Beatles album (it’s kind of a critical showdown among Rubber Soul, Revolver, and Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. I think Abbey Road is best, myself. As I said, fight me!). Hope you enjoy it, anyway.
The penultimate Beatles record recorded, the last released. My second favorite Beatles album, containing my two favorite Beatles songs (“Let it Be” and “The Long and Winding Road”). Enough words–listen.
It was fifty years ago today….
In my last post, which deals with the archetype of the Trickster in pop culture, having been prompted by a discussion of who should host MST3K, I mentioned, in addition to the Trickster, the Holy Fool. I didn’t describe the Holy Fool beyond merely mentioning the term, so I’m using this post as a brief detour to discuss the Fool archetype.
The Holy Fool or Fool is in a sense the Trickster in a religious context. What one might call the spiritual-but-not-religious form of the Holy Fool is the Fool. We’ll distinguish the nuances soon. In any case, the Holy Fool emerges from the very definition of religion. Religion–from the Latin re-ligio, or “binding back” (to the Absolute)–ultimately seeks to connect us to the Absolute, however we may conceive of that (God, Brahman, the Universe, etc.). In short, it seeks to take us beyond the realm of day-to-day existence; it seeks, in short, transcendence. The question is, how does one describe transcendence in the language of the day-to-day world? Mystics–those who claim to have had experience of that transcendent level of reality–are in an even more difficult position. Having experienced the transcendent, how to you convey that experience to those who have not had it? It’s like trying to describe color to the blind or music to the deaf. It is like the man in Plato’s cave who, having experienced the exterior world, is looked at as insane by his fellows still locked in darkness. Not surprisingly, the mystic is indeed often looked at as insane by larger society.