"You'll never get ahead if you don't take care of what you have." - Doris Waddell, RIP

A historic building on our U of M-Morris campus - morris mn

A historic building on our U of M-Morris campus - morris mn
The multi-ethnic building was the original home of the music department at UMM. (B.W. photo)

Monday, November 10, 2014

The right beliefs can have collateral damage

The famous "Sgt. Pepper" cover
I recently wrote that the Beatles had a rather odious effect with their values. I saluted them on their sheer talent. Talent can be a dangerous thing. The people who entertain us don't necessarily show the best discretion with how they live. This certainly applies to sports heroes too.
I'm not sure the Beatles even lived day-to-day in a manner reflecting their espoused drug use. I observed that Dean Martin was known to be at "cocktail parties" with a glass of apple juice. And, that Hunter S. Thompson made a name for himself from days when he lived very straight-laced. These people learn that the wild and irreverent traits captivate their young fans.
John Lennon said the Beatles were like a "Trojan horse." They got to the top by being reasonably clean-cut. Yes, their "long hair" was a little edgy. But outside of that they were pretty well-scrubbed. However, nothing stayed placid or predictable for very long in the 1960s. I say this with no real sense of nostalgia.
The movie "Almost Famous" tried to get us feeling nostalgia about the 1960s. Nice try. We can always pull some positive memories from any era. But the 1960s were fundamentally disturbing. It's true that the young pushed forward with some very positive values. However, the need for that was due to the Viet Nam War. It was also due to the need to crush Jim Crow. The female gender needed uplifting. There was a time when women's obituaries in newspapers reviewed not the accomplishments of the women, but rather their husbands.
There was a time when women's names in newspapers were preceded by "Mrs." or "Miss," and if it was "Mrs." the husband's name would be used. "Mrs. Bill Dripps."
The 1960s were a time of eradicating lots of bad things. The youth who were at the fore had to adhere to different values. It went beyond promoting new models for living. It went in dysfunctional or destructive directions. Collateral damage? On a cultural level, well yes.
The Fab 4 became household names. At that point, they seized on the opportunity to sing about drugs and sex. Sex? Every generation thinks it's the first to discover sex.
A turning point in the cultural tumult was when John made his comment about Jesus. Katy bar the door! You remember that, don't you? John observed that the Beatles were "more popular than Jesus." A Monty Python satire would report years later that the iconic Beatle was misheard, and that what he really said was "the Beatles are more popular than cheeses."
If you want to cause everyone's hair to stand up, just make a comment about Jesus. I believed John when he said his comment was misunderstood. But such a comment was guaranteed to bring a tempest, as anyone with savvy in the media would readily say. I remember when a letter to the editor writer in our Morris Sun Tribune posed the question "Who would Jesus vote for?" Katy bar the door! There were countless letters to the editor following that, while the "instigator," in effect, crawled out from under the pile.
Poor John Lennon. He was a tremendous musician who was ahead of his time. As fame escalated, I think he got a little crazy being in the fishbowl. I think Paul McCartney understood much better what this was all about. Paul adjusted and continued to see the big picture. John was probably thinking "jeez, all I do is create these catchy and clever songs, and I have the world at my feet."
So, John said the Beatles were "bigger than Jesus." The quote first appeared inconspicuously in a lengthy profile article in the London Evening Standard. The excrement hit the fan when a U.S. teen magazine used the quote out of context, five months later. Christian fundamentalists got all in a dander. We saw public burnings of Beatles records. Yeah, like that will accomplish anything. The Beatles got death threats.
John was just saying that while young people were largely quiet and indifferent toward established religions, they were gaga over the Fab 4.
Hostile reporters tried to get John to apologize. He did deliver a tepid apology. But he had hardly drawn a breath when he moved on to another hot-button topic. It's hard to believe in 2014 that being against the Viet Nam war could get you in trouble. But hoo boy, it sure could in the mid to late 1960s. Brian Epstein had tried keeping the Beatles from making comments about the war. Elvis famously said, when posed the question, "Hey, I'm just an entertainer."
Yeah, and Mitch McConnell says "I'm not a scientist" in regard to global warming.
 
Impartial about war? No
Lennon and George Harrison got uncomfortable with their silence. They would say they felt "ashamed" staying silent. They finally warned Epstein that they were going to start commenting freely. The Beatles began speaking freely, at least John and George.
"Moreover, they went beyond condemnation of the war to a critique of the larger social and economic structures that lay behind it," Mark Hertsgaard wrote.
Lennon commented in 1968 that the war was "another piece of the insane scene."
The Beatles had power with their music. Even so, they were never as incisive as Bob Dylan in his formative years. The Beatles made statements but in a more subtle way. By being subtle, they might connect with listeners who otherwise might tune them out in a knee-jerk way. They showed a sensibility that left no doubt as to their ideas and opinions.
"Sergeant Pepper" was a prime example. I was late in gaining appreciation of that album. It was in the summer of 1973, through a roommate, that I borrowed his headphones and really began delving in.
First and foremost, I thought "Sergeant Pepper" had a surreal quality. I actually thought the quality of the music was rather uneven. "For the Benefit of Mr. Kite." I thought it was hokey, just like the later "When I'm Sixty-Four." But hey, this was the Beatles.
The musicians constantly prodded us to try to envision a kinder, more peaceful reality. Popular music could break through to the mass psyche. The sad part is that the Beatles were never truly deep thinkers or philosophers. They were tremendous cutting-edge musicians who used simple seat-of-the-pants judgment to try to tell us what was right. They were like the boy saying the emperor has no clothes.
Today the media report as fact and not opinion, that the Viet Nam War was a mistake and that the U.S. lost. Yes, Wolf Blitzer has said this. And, the anchorman at NBC news who has the same name as me.
The Beatles' story is also sad because of the embrace of drugs. Long hair and colorful clothing built the iconoclast image further. You could see them as heroes or outlaws. But truly they were socially relevant.
In later years the Beatles would actually pooh-pooh their role. They would say they simply reflected larger forces. Poor John would say it was like the Beatles were "just in the crow's nest." I say "poor John" because I think he never properly understood his position in the world. It was an important position as music composer extraordinaire. As philosopher or political leader? It was a mirage. John was simply a highly talented song man. He got his raw material from the macro picture of what was happening around the world. But he was not truly a part of that.
Paul was more realistic and prescient. Paul probably wanted to grab John by the shoulders and shake him. John was insecure. He felt he had to lose weight after a columnist described him as "the fat Beatle." Losing weight may not have been good for him.
Those were the days when "fat people" invited a sort of stigma, whereas today many such people are among us, and no one thinks anything of it, at least in the general population. We may not appreciate how people in entertainment, all those "talking heads" on TV for example, feel pressure to keep weight down, even today. Candy Crowley has to fight the stigma.
How cruel we are, demanding that the people we see on TV and in the movies be borderline anorexic. An example is Frances McDormand (from "Fargo") who I've read is just tiny. John Lennon was unnerved being called "the fat Beatle." It stuck in his craw. If he was that sensitive, heaven knows how disrupting the other stimuli around him could be.
It would be so wonderful to see John today and how his values would project themselves. Would he finally be happy just being himself? Would he insist to kids that drugs are wrong? He ingested heroin. Why?
Maybe he'd just say "All You Need is Love." I'd be happy with that.
- Brian Williams - morris mn minnesota - bwilly73@yahoo.com

1 comment:

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