17 Feb

All thru your life: I, me, mine; I, me, mine; I, me, mine…. The best song on Let It Be was written by George Harrison.

This album was the second to last recorded by the Beatles in a terse atmosphere in which Paul McCartney strived in a somewhat authoritarian manner to keep his band together whilst John Lennon attempted to wrestle back the leadership he’d relinquished during Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts’ Club Band. By the time The White Album was released the two principle songwriters of the Beatles were cleaving in different directions. And its third poet was royally pissed off and walked out possibly more than once.

When the Let It Be sessions began it was Lennon who set the tone for them by telling George Martin that his ‘production bullshit’ wasn’t wanted; that what was was a straight-up rock n’ roll record. Lennon was sick of what he called Paul’s Grandma music. He was over the sentimental strings and the quaint brass. So the extensive use of the studio as a creative utility in its own right that had marked Beatles’ recordings since Revolver/Rubber Soul; the attempt at a kind of operatic form implied by Sgt Pepper and the pop arrangements that had been around since the beginning were rejected. Back to the straight format…

They hated each other’s guts all the way thru it. In the end the session produced such an incoherent mess that it delayed the album’s release. After the Beatles finally went snafu Lennon handed the tapes to Phil Spector who ironically stitched it together with a shitload of production bullshit. Thankfully the Beatles buried their knives and went to bed one final time. Like the survivors of an intense, hence doomed, affair they knew it was over. Abbey Road is the sound of the tender last fuck before goodbyes are said and the no longer starstruck finally head down different roads.

And so the Beatles decade-long career has two endings; one for them, one for the fans. The fans got the sour deal. From their point of view Let It Be was their last record. Hearing it, you think maybe they were running out of juice. It would have disappointed. Whereas Abbey Road tells you that “in the end the love you take is equal to the love you make.” Let It Be‘s most profound track (arguable I know) laments and proclaims the ‘survival trip’ that Hunter Thompson described in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. All thru your life – I, Me, Mine. Love isn’t all you need after all, people are still selfish shits they’ve always been and always will. The dream is over and all that’s left is….

Maybe five years after the Beatles parted ways Tom Wolfe wrote a lengthy social commentary for New York Magazine which speculated that the psychedelic vortex experienced by certain groups in the 60s was the third in a series of American religious awakenings that began in the mid 18th century. For Wolfe this goes back to the end of World War II and the start of a three-decade era in which, for the first time anywhere the working class, the lower third – whatever condescending term bothers you the least – those people… Those people actually got money! They became, in comparison with their ancestors, everyone’s ancestor’s really, rich. In America. In Britain they had socialism.

The cultural wave that exploded from the 1960s on both sides of the Atlantic and laid waste to centuries of self-denial was underwritten by the post-war boom during which the cultural heroes of that legendary decade grew up. Wolfe concludes: “The prophets are dead.” The new prophets strapped guitars.

By the time he wrote this, the optimism of the 60s and the long boom had faded, tho’ the wealth continued to accumulate albeit sluggishly. The 70s was an era of darker energies, of fragmentation and crime, of alienation and oblivion offered as a range of commodities. The commercial wisdom of Hollywood studios required script pitches be cynical and in some way anti-authoritarian. The generation that grew up on John Wayne and Roy Rogers on Saturday afternoons saw Travis Bickle and Harry Callahan as more their type of hero. This was the Me Decade and in it Wolfe saw some kind of spiritual awakening? Yes, he did. One with “the mightiest, holiest roll of all, the beat that goes …Me…Me…Me…Me…

Many custodians of more traditional faiths shook their heads sadly at this assertion. A good few shook angrily their fists. But Wolfe’s article isn’t some kind of manifesto for the Me Movement. It drips with Calvinism. Particularly, he notes the high divorce rate which he attributes to men ‘shucking’ their wives (altho’ I’d wager many women shucked their husbands too). This Me-ism excused all sorts of indulgence that would’ve marked one a pariah only a generation before. But it happened. Marriage was now a casual thing, something that could be exchanged if you didn’t like the colour. And naturally all this set people free to cause great destruction.

The destruction included the meltdown of Harrison’s marriage to Patty Boyd who would finally leave him for Eric Clapton in 1973. John Lennon had married his girlfriend Cynthia early in the 60s when she fell pregnant. That was the way of it. He did it without question and then, with an insensitivity that’s hard to equal, he found his true love and dumped his wife. By the time this happened, a mere few years on, it was the new way of it.

Now Lennon and Harrison are gone and the divorce rate in the modern world is such that it is perfectly normal to come from a broken home. In the past, Boyd would have put up with Harrison’s messianic excursions into Eastern mysticism without complaint and, probably, she and he would’ve entered sometime another happy phase of their marriage. Lennon would’ve remained married to the mother of his first son and become more miserable and morose, spreading it around with interest. What can you do? What was the right thing for them to do?

Such statistics are the ammunition used by traditionalists in the culture wars. If only the 60s hadn’t’ve happened we wouldn’t be in this mess blah blah. Whereas rock n’ roll had proclaimed the vital importance of ‘me’, hip-hop nowadays speaks of the importance of family. Strange claim, some’d think. But true. Hip-hop is full of egotistical bravado but the status claimed by a million testoterone-fuelled MCs is usually grounded as much in membership of a community as individual acumen. Pay attention, dese thugs be family men.

There is a general feeling in the culture that marriage is broken, that the culture is fragmented and hollow and that all this has something to do with the fantastically high expectations people have courtesy of the Cult of Me. But what about all those people trapped in cruel situations that outsiders regarded as ‘marriage’ for so long? What about the waste that rigid laws wrought on the lives of so many trapped? Aye! yet another rub. These days I hear a lot of people in their early 20s are getting married, in the gossip blogs sometimes they boast of being together three years! Perchance are they rebelling against their parents’ cavalier way with an ancient institution and perchance will they learn again and hard why that institution is outmoded; why it, perhaps, needs renovation? Revival? Perchance they are the revival. I raise a glass to them for doing what I’ve never done.

‘Me’ – it’s important isn’t it? After all you only have one life, far as anyone knows. It’s said that the soul is immortal and about this I have no opinion. The soul is there – that I know. But does it snuff it when our bodies do? I haven’t found out yet and when I do I probably won’t be letting you know. ‘Me’ is important, but so is ‘you’ and so are ‘us’. Ethics are agreed upon principles for negotiating the conflicts of interests between the self and the other and the everybody. Ours are risen fresh from ashes, They’re in a nativity stage submerged in infantile nescience. We have a globe stuffed full of customs and the freedom to pick and choose them if we wish to. And somewhere in our collective unconscious this desire is strong…

But as always, the flesh is weak

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