Look, I know Taylor Marshall is a good guy. He is a courageous and clear spoken advocate for the faith (a little bit of “NFP is for when you’re schizophrenic or in a concentration camp” kookiness notwithstanding); and he has that wonderful, alt-universe-Johnny-Cash face:
But this aggression will not stand, man: Marshall asks, Did the Beatles Promote Abortion?
Marshall zeroes in the covers for the albums Sgt. Pepper and Yesterday and Today as evidence of the Beatles’ sinister influence.
Let’s look at Sgt. Pepper first. Now, I will concede that the title song itself is neck deep in the hyper-self-aware, absurdist, non-specific smug condescension that dogged the second half of the Beatles’ career. It’s technically a good song, but if I never heard it again, I would shed no tears. Ditto for “She’s Leaving Home” (a “STFU, Paul” moment if ever there was one.) “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds” — meh. But the rest of the songs are all good, some of them great.
But Marshall (oddly, for someone commenting on musicians) doesn’t mention the music. Instead, he dutifully lists the names of all the people who appeared on that wretched cover:
Ah, the cover. I’ve read a bit about what it’s supposed to represent, but I think what it really comes down to is a bunch of young guys who started playing in sleazy bars when they were teenagers, and abruptly got pushed around so much by their own talent that they needed to show the world that they’re done being cute. I remember doing edgy, baffling montages like this when I was about 17. You want to be taken seriously, and you’re hanging out with a bunch of arty types, and you feel like Making a Statement, even though you don’t exactly have anything specific to say, beyond, “I’m smart! Not like everybody says… like dumb… I’m smart and I want respect!”
Only the Beatles had more money to spend, so this is what they came up with. That’s the statement they’re making when they stick together Shirley Temple and Oliver Hardy and Aleister Crowley: hey, lookit us! It is not, as Marshall says (italics his),”a collage of intellectual poison” — although Marshall struggles manfully to describe everyone in the most sinister terms he can muster, including:
- Mae West (occultist, actress, sex idol)
- W. C. Fields (comedian/actor, alcoholic)
- H. G. Wells (socialist, eugenist, [sic] author, advocate of the “World State”, open critic of Catholic Church)
- Marlon Brando (homosexual, actor)
- Lewis Carroll (author, alleged pedaphile) [sic]
- Marlene Dietrich (bisexual, actress, singer)
“Marlon Brando, homosexual, actor?” “Lewis Carroll, alleged pedophile?” I ‘m sorry, when you come up with descriptors like that, you gotta turn in your “I understand stuff” card. I’m relieved, at least, that he didn’t come up with anything bad to say about Johnny Weissmuller. I love Johnny Weissmuller.
The fact that Weismuller is included here, along with Shirley Temple, Tom Mix, Dylan Thomas and Fred Astaire, says one thing to me: “Things! And the other things! We’re awesome and edgy because look at all the things, oh man!” But in Marshall’s analysis, this is “an assembly of occultists, political socialists, eugenists, homosexuals, and sexual provocateurs.”
So here is your first clue that Marshall is not going to offer an especially perceptive analysis of the Beatles. His list reminds me of someone who wants to prove that the American flag has its roots in Freemasonry because, as all scholars know, that odious color blue is so closely associated with Masonic ritual, duh. Never mind the red and white because holy cow, how can we overlook the obvious significance of blue? Blue!!!
The four Beatles are wearing white doctor’s coats covered with flesh and decapitated babies. John looks mildly pleased. And Paul looks happy, even delighted. Ringo looks depressed (“Am I really doing this?”). George Harrison looks straight up evil. I feel like George is giving me the bird with a dead infant’s head. This is just gross.
Okay, I’m with him there. It’s also naively executed. They were trying a little too hard to be ever so shocky-wocky, leaving us feeling like Ringo looks. Marshall continues:
Pause. What did this represent in 1966? John Lennon said it was a commentary on the Vietnam War. But I don’t see what physician smocks with dead babies has to do with the war. Yes people are dying in each, but still. Kinda weird. For what it’s worth, the Parliament legalized abortion in the UK with the Abortion Act of 1967 on 27 October 1967. Abortion was being hotly debated in the United Kingdom when this photo was taken.
Or, they are wearing butcher’s coats, and it is a commentary on the Vietnam War — something along the lines of “killing is bad; and yet we are rock stars. Isn’t this edgy as crap?” Oh, and Harrison looks “straight up evil” because that’s his face, circa 1966. He had bad teeth and was not yet coked to the gills.
My conclusion is that there is something really dark about the Beatles. It’s not just a happy “Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da Life Goes On” quartet. There is something sinister here. This album cover just screams it. It’s not normal. I used to think that the great “evil minds” infecting the 20th century were men like Heidegger, Jean-Paul Sartre, and Michael Foucault. However, I think the biggest wrecking ball of Western culture might have been resting in every American’s record collection (or iPod) – John, Paul, Ringo, and George!
Okay. I actually agree with him, if not his analytical technique: as with 99% of musicians, playwrights, painters, poets, novelists, sculptors, and bloggers worth reading, there is something really dark about the Beatles, and some caution is a good idea. I encourage my kids to listen mostly to the earlier stuff, where their technical brilliance can be enjoyed unimpeded with the navel gazing muzziness that came later. We have discussed how people in Hell are probably holding hands and singing “Imagine” right now; and I have taught them to identify the sitar, when played by a white man, as the sound of bullshit.
But . . . oh, I don’t even know what to say. I’ve said it so many times, and I don’t know if there’s any way to persuade people who don’t already see it so clearly. We’re Catholic. Our main job isn’t to apply “censor” bar across everything that doesn’t come straight from the Baltimore Catechism. We take what is good. We’re supposed to beexperts at identifying what is good. We’re not supposed to be screaming meemies who bite our lips and blush every time someone dips into a minor key. We’re supposed to use sifters, not dump trucks, when sorting through culture.
My daughter says that most of her friends only know two Beatles songs: “Yellow Submarine,” and “Eleanor Rigby.” Lord, what a shame. No musical education is complete without:
- And Your Bird Can sing
- Back In The U.S.S.R.
- Can’t Buy Me Love
- Drive My Car
- Got to get you into my life
- I feel fine
- I need you
- I’ll follow the sun
- Paperback Writer
- You never give me your money
- You’ve Got to Hide Your Love Away
- Ticket to Ride
So much heartache, so much loveliness, so many moments of pure music, written by people who are in love with music. Did the Beatles confuse its fans and popularize bad ideas? Sure. But they used their God-given talents to produce music which elevated the world in a real, valuable, irreplaceable way. Everything that is good sings the praises of God, and the Beatles were good. Really good. As long as they were together, they worked in the service of the muse, and they produced something great.
I really do like Taylor Marshall, but I don’t like the world he seems to want to live in.