Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Why The Beatles Still Matter

John Lennon
Paul McCartney
George Harrison
Ringo Starr
`It was forty years ago today....
`I don't think I've ever had a better example as to how cynical we've become as a culture than when I read some of the pieces in various newspapers and on the Internet which took note of the fortieth anniversary this week of the release of the Beatles' timeless 1967 album, "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band". The opinion of many writers seems to be, "Well, it was never really that good to begin with". Some poor, misguided person by the name of Jon Wiener, in a piece published on AlterNet, actually said "some of the songs are pretty bad". He then proceeded to give an example of one of those "pretty bad" songs: John Lennon's brilliant collage of circus sounds and psychedelic merriment, Being For The Benefit of Mr. Kite.
I don't get it. It may not be their finest album - the passage of time has proven that that's probably true. Revolver and Abbey Road stand out across the decades as works of art that have yet to be surpassed in their brilliance and melodic invention. But to curtly dismiss Pepper as overrated is (to be polite) naive - if not just a tad crazy. It was a milestone album that changed the way we listened to rock 'n' roll. Someone once remarked that June 1, 1967 marked the day that it ceased to be ritualistic dance music and became music to be listened to, to be appreciated.
Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band is a masterpiece.
I can still vividly recall the moment I first laid eyes on that cover! It was in the living room of the house across the street from mine where my cousin Michael Cullen lived. As I remember, it was at twilight. My Uncle Tom and Aunt Elaine had a Columbia console phonograph which was (in its time, I'm sure) state of the art. The lid above the turntable was closed and a copy of the brand new Beatles LP was lying on top of it. To a little kid just two months shy of his ninth birthday, that photograph on the album's cover was eye-opening to say the least! Mike was under the impression that the group had actually changed their name to Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band and told me as much. What a peculiar name, I thought. "Mike! They're wearing mustaches! What's that all about???" And who the heck were all these strange people surrounding them? In June of 1967, the only people I was able to recognize were Laurel and Hardy. In the ensuing years, the faces would become much more familiar to me: Bob Dylan, Lenny Bruce, Oscar Wilde, W.C. Fields, Huntz Hall, Marilyn Monroe, Karl Marx, Marlon Brando, Mae West, Terry Southern, Marlene Dietrich - and Stuart Sutcliffe - "Stu", as he was known to the lads; the Beatles' first bass player - a brilliant artist and close friend of and mentor to John Lennon - who died suddenly in April of 1962 at the appallingly young age of twenty-one of a brain hemorrhage.
At the dawn of the summer of 1967, Sgt. Pepper was a revelation! There had never been a record like it before. That year, you couldn't avoid it if you tried - it was being played everywhere and by everybody! And yet, forty years later, many of the very people who loved the album the most during that long ago Summer of Love seem utterly detached from it.
Maybe listening to that album all these decades later is a painful reminder of all that might have been - of all the dreams that were not to be. The world was in turmoil in June of 1967. The Viet Nam War was raging with no end in sight (It would go on for another eight, long years). And yet with the multitude of problems facing the western world at the time, there was a genuine, tangible hope in the air: "Put a little love in your heart/And the world will be a better place...." It was obvious to everyone (even me, young as I was) that the times were indeed a'changin.
There's nothing you can do that can't be done
Nothing you can sing that can't be sung
Nothing you can say but you can learn how to play the game...
It's easy!
All you need is love!
"All you need is love". We really believed it in 1967. I still believe it. And yet it is hard to listen to Sgt. Pepper in 2007 without feeling a very real sense of sadness and even grief. Two of the Beatles, John Lennon and George Harrison, are dead - the former by an act of cold blooded murder and maybe even the latter. Harrison was being treated for cancer in 1999 when he was stabbed several times in his home by a crazed intruder on New Year's Eve of that year. His weakened condition as a result of that attack no doubt hastened his death less than two years later.
There are other things that make us wistful when listening to that album. The hope and optimism that seemed abundant in 1967 is moribund forty years later. The reason Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band today sounds quaint and old fashioned to some ears is because we have become so jaded as a people - mean, callous and indifferent. Our humor has become excessively cruel; our culture obscene. Throughout Sgt. Pepper, are loving, gentle reminders of the joy and wonder of childhood:
Follow her down to a bridge by a fountain,
Where rocking horse people eat marshmallow pies
Everyone smiles as you drift past the flowers,
That grow so incredibly high....
That kind of lyrical innocence doesn't even exist in most children's media and literature anymore. Forty years of war, gratuitous violence and political corruption have left us numb. "Tangerine trees and marmalade skies" we now view through a prism of cynicism and scorn.
Late one night, not very long ago, I had a dream that the Beatles were still among us, making us laugh and sing in the same way they did when they were the undisputed Princes of the Planet Earth all those years ago. That's what was so wonderful about the Fab Four: they not only sang like the scruffy angels they were, but they were so damned funny! All one has to do is view the films "A Hard Day's Night" and "Help" and you're once again reminded that they were a great comedy team - one of the greatest. When I awoke from that dream - thinking it had been real - the blunt realization that the Beatles are gone forever was too depressing to even contemplate.
In 1995, the night the video "Free As a Bird" premiered on national television (the first "new" Beatles song in over a quarter of a century), I watched it with a young woman who was born in 1970, the year they broke up. Hearing them sing together again - Paul and George sounding strong and clear; John, by that time long dead, his voice transferred from an old and faded cassette tape, sounding as if he were singing from far, far away - was a very moving experience. When she noticed my reaction, she laughed and said, "Oh, Tom! What's the big deal"? I told her that no one who didn't live through that turbulent era, could possibly understand what that band meant to their troubled generation.
Is Sgt. Pepper dated? Yes it is - horribly so - But that's not the Beatles' fault. It's ours.
With our love
We could save the world
If they only knew....
Tom Degan
Goshen, NY.


The Beatles

by Bob Spitz


Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band

For more recent postings on this horrendous trash bin of commie propaganda, please go to this link:

"The Rant" by Tom Degan

A splendid time is guaranteed for all!


At 10:06 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Tom.

Thanks for a great tribute to Sgt. Pepper and the Beatles. I have a few years on you and was in my early 20's when this album came out. I still remember VIVIDLY the first time I heard it. I stopped everything I was doing simply to listen to it. It was simply revolutionary and completely unlike anything that had existed in popular music up to that time. These men singlehandedly changed the format of popular music for all time.

As you point out, it was not one of their best,and they went on to better things, but we and the sorry generations behind us that fawn over Paris Hilton, Britney Spears and such owe them a great debt of gratitude.

It never ceases to amaze me how much of their music is still being played 40 years later.

At 12:46 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well, as much as I agree with most of what you're saying, if I had to choose just one album to listen to for all eternity, it would be Sgt. Pepper. Second choice: The White Album (Julia, Rocky Racoon, Blackbird, Martha my Dear, et al).
I was eight when Meet the Beatles came out, and by the next day, my two older sisters and I knew every word, every note, and sang each song perfectly, including the harmony. When Sgt. Pepper's came out, same story.
They were magic---pure and simple.
And music and my life wouldn't be the same without them.
Thanks again, Tom.
P.S. I heard the news today, oh boy: Scooter Libby's goin' down!
Unless he's pardoned...

At 3:58 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Brings back fond memories of those four happy Liverpudians. One could never be neutral about the Beatles and I loved them because they never gave the impression of conceit. I think they had their part in influencing Russian youth in seeing English speaking people as something other than “the enemy”. One of my favorites has always been “The Long and Winding Road”.

At 5:33 PM, Blogger stoney13 said...

Yep! Sgt. Pepper was a MASTERPIECE! Loved it when it came out, and I love it to this day! The reason the dance-band crowd hates it is because Olivia Newton John's disco rip-off remake of it crashed like the Hindenburg! All of Olivia Newton John's movies were a lot like Taco Bell: Cheezy, and hard to swallow!

The Beatles music hearkens back to a simpler time! When GOOD Mexican weed was $10.00 an ounce, and no matter how bad things were at the moment, they'ld always get better, if you believed they would! (sigh!)

The we started smoking the $40.00 an ounce stuff from Columbia, and listening to Alice Cooper, and Black Sabbath! I guess everything we got after that, we deserved!

At 6:27 PM, Blogger Tom Degan said...

God bless you, Mr. Browning.
All the best,

At 6:47 PM, Blogger stoney13 said...

Same to you, Mr. Degan!

At 9:43 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yes, I remember too the defining moment when I received a St. Pepper album; it was for my 12th birthday and it signified to me that my parents no longer considered me to be a child, but a teenager. I also associate it with the special time that was the 60's and 70's, when kids my age and a little older were searching for big answers to the problems of the world.

Ours is a very special generation that came of age then. It's more than just a matter of having a social conscious, there's also a quality of heart that I can best describe as being like the pioneers: a willingness or courage if you will, to try new things and go new places. We were nonconformists in search of our real selves. And we felt we could change the world.

St. Pepper made a deep point about finding your inner peace as the war in Vietnam was raging at its worst. I'm sure the Beatles weren't trying to make a point; they were just doing what all great artists do: flowing with their creative instincts.

I miss that time! I haven't given up on this current generation, however, which I have called the "Duh!" generation. One of my favorite sayings is: "The pendulum eventually has to swing the other way" and I believe there will be a new cultural movement appearing very soon, like that of the 60's.It has to be so.

At 10:42 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

What a wonderful post, Tom. Thank you so much.

I think I'm about your age, and strongly identified with your bemused introduction to the world the Beatles circumscribed and described. Whenever I listen to the Beatles in the context of today’s world –a world whose dawn preceded the birth of the Beatles by many years, I can’t help thinking ‘What went wrong? What in the world has gone so horribly wrong? And why does this horror continue unabated?’

While I know there are many answers to such a complex question, I also know that no answer could be definitive, would be subjective, and in all probability is ultimately unanswerable.

But it really doesn’t matter what the answers are if they don’t change the equation. I would still harbor this carefully guarded hope that the seeds planted by the Beatles poetry over 40 years ago --of a world transcended and transformed, still might germinate and light the path back from cynicism, self-aggrandizement, deception, and confusion, to a world of hope, shared prosperity, and a unified clarity of purpose.

I feel this in my heart because the Beatles’ message, a message of wordless dimension, still resonates with a strength that surprises me –notwithstanding the superficial criteria by which their work is ‘judged’ today, and leads me to see that a collective vision of what we want to leave for those who follow us in life on this precious planet, is not only possible, but with sufficient nourishment can be, and will be, realized.

Instead of continually playing defense, running in circles plugging leaks in a weakening dike, endlessly ringing our hands, stabbing fingers of blame at each other and berating ourselves for similar myriad offenses --both actual and imagined, if only we could broaden that vision, build on it, define what it is we would like the world to become and then have the courage to trust the wisdom of that vision. If only that.

There is so much work to be done, and all of us are needed for this task. If we do it lovingly, as The Beatles so clearly suggested, these sands can be, and I repeat, can be, transformed into an oasis.

At 1:35 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wow, John Sutton, what truly inspiring words.
Again, thanks to Tom for giving us the opportunity to speak logic and spread truth and love.
If only the world had leaders who were pacifists, not hateful, greedy war mongers.
All you need is love.

At 1:44 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wow, John Sutton, what truly inspiring words.
Again, thanks to Tom for giving us the opportunity to speak logic and spread truth and love.
If only the world had leaders who were pacifists, not hateful, greedy war mongers.
All you need is love.

At 5:51 PM, Blogger Saltwater said...

Another good post, Tom, thank you.

"Maybe listening to that album all these decades later is a painful reminder of all that might have been - of all the dreams that were not to be."

That's SO true for me. Not just about "Sergeant Pepper" but the music of so many others of the time- the old Dylan or Donovan albums, or the Incredible String Band,or Joan Baez singing peace songs at Newport in the mid-sixties; and so many others which remind me of that time.

It makes me sad to remember what could have been, what should have been.

Yesterday it occurred to me that The Beatles (as we Americans knew them from '63 on) only recorded together as a group for about six more years, and then the band broke up in, I think, 1969. Really, a short career for the world's most popular band.
But in those years, Lennon/McCartney (with George and Ringo, of course) wrote and recorded some of the most beautiful and original songs of the twentieth century. Timeless songs.
I was amazed to notice,a few years back, that my little son was naturally attracted to Beatles' music, as are so many youngsters, even though it is essentially "Grandpa's old music" by now. But it is because so many of the songs- maybe all of them- are just timeless.

And musically, although they often seem simple in melody and chord and arrangement, the songs are much more sophisticated than they first seem to be.

And especially, I think we all miss John, each of us missing him personally, as if we had lost a close personal friend. The death of John Lennon was comparable to the murder of JFK. In both cases, a "Camelot" was taken from us all.

Long live the Beatles. I really think that their songs will still be sung and hummed when we are all long gone.



At 2:01 PM, Blogger Crucian by Choice said...

indeed, if we all believed all you need is Love.

Blessed to have been young then, but just old enough to be allowed. To have been located where I could attend the concerts, see the movies over and over, play hooky to go stand in front of the hotels.

Sgt. Pepper—listening from the lawn in front of the house of the lucky friend who had an advance copy—too crowded in the living room.

The Beatles will ALWAYS matter to me
Thanks, Tom

At 2:10 PM, Blogger Tom Degan said...

To hear an advance copy before the rest of the world was able to. How fortunate you were!

Thank you so much for a great posting!

All the best,

Tom Degan

At 5:20 PM, Blogger Fred Garnett said...

I love the passion in your posts Tom. This is my Sgt Pepper story http://fred6368.wordpress.com/2009/08/28/good-morning-good-morning/
And I agree with you, Free As A Bird was so emotional, and remains the best Beatles video for its gloriously specific nostalgia

At 12:41 PM, Anonymous Jeff Blanks said...

"All you need is love"?

Love is A LOT. Love, most of all, is NOT "easy"; "nothing else has ever been as hard as love", the Beatles' fellow countrymen Marillion would sing more than two decades after Sgt. Pepper. That might've been the bane of the Sixties generation--as a whole they didn't seem to understand that this sort of thing is a lifelong investment that one can't give up just because Utopia doesn't materialize by one's thirtieth birthday. With all due respect, a truly "special" generation would've made it happen. And some people just felt the need to get out from under it--and so punk was invented.

But if it hasn't happened yet, just remember: A dream has no deadline. If it's successfully handed off to a new generation, that's an accomplishment, too. But again, that's hard; people normally want their own dreams. But in this dreamless world, we could do a lot worse than fix up the Last, Best Dream of the West.

At 12:47 PM, Anonymous Theresa Z. said...

Wonderful post on Sgt.Peppers and the Beatles. I saw your link at the Beatles Examiner site and had to come and see your blog.
Keep up the good work, I will be back! Have a wonderful, safe, weekend@!

At 12:50 PM, Blogger Tom Degan said...

Thank you so much for that, Theresa! You gotta love them fabulous Fabs. You just gotta!

All the best,

Tom Degan

At 8:18 AM, Blogger James Percival said...

This is a great post. The Dutch have a saying: tall trees catch high winds, and I have always felt that the amount praise ladled out to SgtP (and the Beatles in general) resulted in a backlash. It began almost straightaway with the infamous New York Times review, and the Rolling Stone record guide from the early 80s gave every Beatles album 5 stars except for SgtP a 3. I laughed outloud when I saw that. One of my first ever books on the Beatles (Carr and Tyler's Illustrated Record (1972) was also very snooty about SgtP. It also comes and goes in cycles. For the 20th anniversary (which coincided with the CD release) there was a wave of enthusiasm. The colossal success and sales of the anthology and 1 albums in the 1990s was bound to generate a backlash. I suspect that the 40th anniversary was just perfect timing for the negative views to emerge. I think the pendulum will swing again this time around. 50 years is a big, big anniversary and so many of the baby boomers are reaching the end of the road.
Finally - it was the second album I ever bought, aged 15 in 1978 (after MMT). It had a massive impact on me then and I think it is right up there. Maybe Revolver is a better artistic statement, and Abbey Road slightly slicker; the White is my emotional favourite because it wasn't an immediate experience-I really had to learn to love that one. And it could have been even better had the first two songs not been pulled for a single; but I can only imagine the impact it had on first listening in 1967.

At 5:03 PM, Blogger rjw said...

It occurs to me that Sgt. peppers and citizen cane have shared a fate; each introduced so many brilliant artistic innovations, each was imitated countless times by second rate efforts that when we hear it/see it we bring all that second rate experience to bear


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