john lennon, 50 years after ed sullivanThe original broadcast sounded more like cicadas than beetles.
by T Nelson
by T Nelson
he TV set is broken,” I said, back in 1964 after hearing a high-pitched screeching noise, which sounded to me a lot like cicadas, coming from the television speaker. No, I was informed, those are beetles.
It turned out, of course, that Beatles was the name of some rock group, and the sound was actually coming from Ed Sullivan's really big shoe. The screeching was not being produced by thousands of insects searching for mates but by thousands of teenage girls in the audience, all of whom had seemingly come out of the ground at the same time after seventeen years of hibernation.
A few years later, on the same TV, there were helicopter pictures of the biggest traffic jam in history on I-90, stretching 175 miles from Syracuse in upstate New York to a small village called Woodstock a hundred miles north of New York City. Imagine thousands of hippies all on the road at the same time, driving at seven miles per hour instead of the 7½ they usually drive. The Beatles didn't perform at Woodstock, but these two events bracket a fascinating story of a brief period in American culture when popular music was intimately tied to politics.
Perhaps a more appropriate bookend might be the release of the first record by Lennon's second wife, Yoko Ono. I was one of the few who liked it. It consisted of screeching music-like noises that really did resemble cicada sounds, but they were not real beetles, either. Beetles make more of a buzzing sound. According to britannica.com, beetles produce sound by rubbing the rear margin of the prothorax over a grooved area on the mesothorax or by rubbing the femurs of the hind legs against the margins of the elytra.
Yoko Ono probably didn't make the sounds on her album this way. But the principle is the same, and the results are remarkably similar, so it may be a fitting symmetry. Or maybe not. My training in biology thus gave me a better appreciation for Yoko Ono's music than most others. It could be said that she did more than anyone to bring the Beatles back to their Coleopteran roots.
John Lennon was thought of as the “intellectual” Beatle. His book, essentially a collection of politically-incorrect jokes and cartoons, might not have reached the level of A Critique of Pure Reason, but to fans it seemed brilliant and creative. But Lennon's willingness to experiment led him into many dead ends. The lyrics to I am the Walrus include such pearls of wisdom as
I am the eggman, They are the eggmen.
I am the walrus, goo goo g'joob goo goo g'joob goo goo g'joob.
Goo goo g'joob goo
This is generally understood to mean something like:
I am so wacked out on LSD that I think Lewis Carroll's nonsensical poem is full of profound meaning, which I shall now endeavour to impart to you.
To be fair, Wikipedia thinks there's profound meaning in that poem too, so perhaps John Lennon, if he were alive today, wouldn't need to feel bad.
Lennon's other famous tune, Imagine, is a paean to communism. But this time Lennon was not stoned. He was quoted as saying “‘Imagine that there was no more religion, no more country, no more politics,’ is virtually the Communist Manifesto, even though I'm not particularly a Communist.”
Oh, me neither. But we can't just dismiss it as youthful naïveté. The lyrics capture the appeal that communism has for many young people, and if you want to argue against communism, you have to address its appeal as well. Lennon later grew up, of course, and eventually admitted that his flirtation with communism had been a mistake. But Ed West wrote in the Daily Telegraph, back in the days before they put up their paywall to keep out the flood of Yanks desperate for an accurate source of news information, he actually helped bring it down.
"The protest movement in Czechoslovakia was partly started by a group of young John Lennon's fans who got together to listen to his music in public and sing about peace and stuff. This then snowballed into demonstrations against the authorities, which culminated in the fall of the regime in November 1989."
Quite a stretch, actually, but it makes a good point. It may be that people have to try something before they understand how bad it is. If they survive it, they grow up, as John Lennon did, and learn the facts of life, which are undeniably conservative. Of course, not all who experienced it tried it voluntarily. Russia has a vast sea of unmarked graves to prove it.
Creative people like John Lennon are the ones who would suffer the most under socialism. Having others tell you everything you're allowed to say and do would be torture for someone who just likes to explore new ideas. Writing a paean to capitalism in the society depicted in that wonderful song would have gotten him sent someplace where it's very cold.
It would be hard to write a beautiful tune about people being tortured to death in slave labor camps ... herded into a railroad car with no food ... in the Arctic cold ... with the aurora glowing overhead ... and your girl back in Moscow hating your guts because she's been told you're a traitor. Even if you could put Solzhenitsyn's Gulag Archipelago to music, your record would be longer than In a Gadda Da Vida by Iron Butterfly, and you'd probably find that your fans have stopped listening after the first three or four hundred hours.
Kids just have too short of an attention span for that. They didn't understand the lyrics to the rock tune called American Woman, either. This was another political tune, but it was pure anti-American hatred, so the left-wingers loved it. But it became a smash hit because it was a nice bouncy tune, and the kids misinterpreted the lyrics. Whether that was because they were too stoned on marijuana to notice they were being insulted, or because they just couldn't hear them, we may never know. But the Canadian rock group that wrote it has long since passed into obscurity.
Hate sometimes sells, but it has a short expiration date. Life is funny that way.
feb 09, 2014