From Dangerous Minds: The Beatles’ In-House Astrologer

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Michael Gerber

Publisher at The American Bystander
is Blogmom of Hey Dullblog. His novels and parodies have sold 1.25 million copies in 25 languages. He lives in Santa Monica, CA, and runs The American Bystander all-star print humor magazine.
Michael Gerber
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Did Harrod’s Food Court have an in-house astrologer, I wonder?

Since the period of late-1967 to late-1968 has come up in several comment threads of late, I wanted to pass along this post from Richard Metzger’s site Dangerous Minds. I’d never heard of The Beatles’ astrologer Caleb Ashburton-Dunning before…I’d just sort of assumed the existence of someone like him. Or a whole bunch of someones.

You really could get anything at the Apple Boutique, couldn’t you?

I personally do not use fortune-telling, seances or any other such stuff as a path towards good life-decisions, but I suspect that they could be, for some people, a useful gateway into their intuition/non-linear thinking. Since John Lennon had an all-consuming trust of intuition, it was natural that he would embrace them the moment they bubbled into Western consciousness. Unfortunately divination can also be used as justification for all manner of silly/hurtful activities, and it certainly seems like John’s moving into these realms did not increase his stability or wisdom. Or his happiness.

Far from shunning authority, Lennon craved it—but for various reasons needed it to be cloaked in esoteric, unconventional garb. For most people, “magic” would be something like The Beatles’ lives; absolute material comfort, endless leisure time, the ability to travel anywhere and meet anyone. It is understandable that Lennon particularly kept seeking magic for the rest of his life; it was his craving for it that began the group, and sustained it for so many years. And so to have achieved his wildest dreams, then still felt the endless pinches of human existence—the parade of gurus and oracles and cures and theories makes perfect sense.

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  1. Avatar Nancy Carr wrote:

    I didn’t know the Beatles had a house astrologer either, but it doesn’t surprise me. Not much of a surprise either that John Lennon fired the astrologer when he predicted Lennon’s relationship with Yoko Ono wouldn’t work out!

    This reminded me of a quote from a 1986 McCartney interview in “Musician” magazine, when he describes John talking about trepanning:

    “Linda and me came over for dinner once and John said, ‘You fancy getting the trepanning thing done?’ I said, ‘Well, what is it?’ and he said, ‘Well, you kind of have a hole bored into your skull and it relieves the pressure.’ We’re sitting at dinner and this is seriously being offered! Now, this wasn’t a joke, this was like, Let’s go next week, we know a guy who can do it and maybe we can do it all together. So I said, ‘Look, you go and have it done, and if it works, great. Tell us about it and we’ll all have it.’ But I’m afraid I’ve always been a bit cynical about stuff like that — thank God! — because I think that there’s so much crap that you’ve got to be careful of. But John was more open to things like that.”

  2. I think the trepaning film Lennon saw was “A Heartbeat in the Brain.”

  3. Avatar Anonymous wrote:

    All afternoon, I’ve been singing “After all, it is written in the stars” and sort of laughing about this article. Guess “written in the stars” depends on who you ask. And if you want to keep your job, tell JohnandYoko what they want to hear. Which isn’t to say that I’m totally cynical about the Beatles’ pursuits into spiritualism. I’m not. I admire their ability to explore new ideas. But there’s a difference between keeping an open mind and being so naive that one gets ripped-off and sometimes John, for all his self-proclaimed streets smarts, couldn’t always see that, which set him up for endless let downs.

    —Barb

  4. @Barb, for a real laugh (?) read Dakota Days by John Green.

    I remember thinking that Green (not his real name) seemed sincere about his occult beliefs, but that telling the client what they wanted to hear was just part of the gig.

  5. Avatar Stew wrote:

    Although “staff astrologer” sounds funny, based on that article, it seems more like the Apple shop had a manager who also knew how to do astrological charts.

    I think it was pretty common for folks of the Beatles’ generation to make astrology a part of their everyday lives (if my parents’ social circle is anything to judge by).

    That would be less unique to Lennon and the traits you describe than his and Yoko’s later, sicker involvement with astrology.

  6. Totally right, @Stew. A couple of years ago I read a wonderful history called “Occult America,” which traces a whole slew of alt-religious stuff in the US since the days of the Pilgrims. I was particularly fascinated to read how the counterculture turned to these beliefs in the late 60s and early 70s–how things like Astrology, which had been around forever became almost mainstream in our parents’ generation. And how that period laid the foundation for the current set of beliefs lumped under “New Age,” which encompasses everything from crystals to Gnosticism to yoga.

    I’ve had quite a bit of experience with all of this stuff, living here in Santa Monica, and spending the last 20 years with a chronic illness Western medicine can’t even recognize, much less treat, and my experience has been that there are genuine diamonds of wisdom amid the mountains of bullshit and hucksterism. Reading the history of it has helped me identify the latter, while avoiding the former, but it’s a very high-level executive function, as the brain-scientists might say, generally incompatible with smoking tons of Thai stick. And having public millions never helps.

    I guess my original post was meant to suggest why, when the rest of his generation had moved on, Lennon delved so much deeper. In lots of important ways, John Lennon utterly stopped growing in May 1968.

  7. Avatar Stew wrote:

    @Michael Gerber – well put. And that’s what can be lovable yet exasperating about Lennon as a character.

    @Barb – Even funnier is that, by the end of the 70’s, it was “written in the stars” for John to travel without Yoko quite a bit. McCartney also has some astrological lyrics: “A good friend of mine follows the stars. Venus and Mars are alright tonight.

  8. @Stew, I’ve always half-suspected that “Venus and Mars” was meant to open an album of Paul (Venus) and John (Mars) writing together, then touring.

    Remember, they were going to record together down in New Orleans. (The rest of this comment’s from here.

    ““He wanted to write with Paul again,” [May Pang] said. “He asked me if I thought it was a good idea. I told him I thought it was a great idea. Solo they were great, but together they were unbeatable. He thought about it and he said, ‘You know what? Let’s go down and visit Paul and Linda.’”

    The proposed visit was to take place in early 1975, in New Orleans, where McCartney was working on Wings’ Venus and Mars album. Lennon was back in New York by then, still living with Pang. Just before the trip was to be arranged, Yoko Ono phoned Lennon, insisting the stars were aligned for him to undergo a smoking cessation program. The trip to New Orleans was postponed, and was ultimately abandoned altogether.

    Following Lennon’s death, Pang told McCartney about the planned visit that never happened.

    “I said to [Paul], ‘For what it’s worth I just want you to know that John really loved you,’” said Pang. “He said, ‘Oh, I know that.’ Then I said, ‘You know, we were going to come down to New Orleans because he wanted to write with you again.’ Paul looked at me and said, ‘Oh yeah … that would have been great.’ I could tell he thought I was just being nice.”

    Pang went on to say that McCartney seemed not to want to entertain the thought, perhaps because the idea of such a missed opportunity was too painful. A year later, however, at McCartney’s annual Buddy Holly tribute party in New York, the former Beatle rushed over to Pang as she was talking with Linda McCartney. “Tell her!” McCartney said. “Tell me what?” said Pang. “One of Derek Taylor’s postcards from John fell into our hands,” McCartney said. “John had written, ‘Thinking of visiting the Macs in New Orleans.’”

    The postcard was evidence to McCartney that Lennon had wanted, perhaps only briefly, to try and rekindle the greatest songwriting partnership of the century.

    Red lights, green lights, strawberry wine

    A good friend of mine follows the stars

    Venus and Mars are alright tonight

    – “Venus and Mars,” 1975

  9. Avatar Anonymous wrote:

    I’ve read Dakota Days, but man, it was long ago. I’m not sure what I feel about it. I sort of believed it, but it was also just kind of…a bit empty as an experience.

    Interestingly enough, Michael, I too have a chronic illness that Western Medicine can’t treat, so by necessity, I’ve become fascinated with alternative medicine and a lot of things that I would have at one time blown off as somewhat suspect. It’s a little funny…there’s a picture of John and Yoko sitting in their kitchen in the Dakota (John’s in overalls) and there are a bunch of supplements in the cupboard…and I can more of less identify the sorts of things they are by the color of the labels!

    So, with the unusual avenues I’ve had to traverse, I certainly don’t put down John and George’s beliefs. I certainly don’t laugh at things like cleanses or meditation. And I’m also open-minded about astrology and so forth. I’m just sad that John didn’t have more discernment concerning some of the ideologies, philosophies, and people was so quick to trust…and that George’s attitude often turned increasingly dour when singing about some of his beliefs.

    There’s an interesting book called Let Me Take You Down about the occult and rock and roll that sort of puts some of the 60s’ beliefs into perspective. It’s pretty well written, too. It’s worth picking up if that sort of a thing is of interest. Most of the stuff in it about the Beatles is old news, though.

    I’ve been meaning to pick up Occult America. I’ll try checking it out!

    Stew, I love that line of yours: “And that’s what can be lovable yet exasperating about Lennon as a character.” Sometimes, when I write about John, it almost sounds like I don’t like him when the opposite is the case. I do like him a LOT…which is why at times he’s frustrated me so much!

    —Barb

  10. Avatar Stew wrote:

    @Michael Gerber – Totally agree with you about the intention behind that album and the meaning of the title.

    I do think it’s interesting that “the stars” suddenly started telling John to travel without Yoko right when, by some reports, John became miserable in the relationship. Talk about “casting the perfect spell.”

  11. Avatar Anonymous wrote:

    Lennon was susceptible to every new age huckster with a creative hustle, but at the same time, in a tiny part of his Liverpool brain, he maintained some skepticism. Remember the “Lennon Remembers” interview, when Yoko found him some practitioner who claimed access to higher spirits? Lennon asked him why, if he had such spiritual powers, why was he so fat. Dude was seriously obese. The guy told Lennon that in order to connect with the higher spirits he needed to eat a whole bunch of cream donuts. It apparently made enough of an impression on Lennon that he felt compelled to bring it up to Wenner.

    When Lennon trusted that tiny, tiny little sensible Liverpool part of his brain, he was okay. When he surrendered to the bullshitters, he was lost. Magic Alex was the grandfather of them all.

    I don’t suppose Lennon was unique in this. Creative folk have always been preyed upon by hustlers. Even the author of Sherlock Holmes believed in fairies, based on some schoolgirls fake photos.

    It continues today. Look at all the celebrity scientologists,

    – hologram sam

  12. @Barb, if you can contact me privately I’d love to hear more about your situation and hear what’s worked for you.

    I feel the same way about John’s lack of discernment; what’s the old saw about having such an open mind your brain falls out? And I definitely think his beliefs made him easy as heck to manipulate. As to George, I don’t really understand what that’s about; I don’t get the resentment, especially before Lennon was killed. After, it makes more sense; but as nutty and frustrating as the Beatles experience was, it doesn’t really explain George’s hostility, especially in religious matters. If someone is hostile and unreceptive to Krishna, wouldn’t that simply be the ripening of their Karma in this lifetime? Wouldn’t it be useless to get bugged?

    @Stew, remember that the gent who recommended travel was a Japanese-speaking numerologist. I suspect John’s travel wasn’t John’s idea. 🙂

    @Sam, the shift from “Liverpool brain” to “Yoko brain” is such a malign development for everybody concerned (including, eventually, Yoko too). And I don’t think Lennon’s skepticism about that medium is Liverpool brain; I think it’s “I’m fat, Yoko’s fat, fat is bad”–ie, Yoko brain.

    Funny you should mention Scientology: that’s my best guess for Lennon’s future, had he survived. That or something like that. Ironically, if the group had gotten back together (which I also think would’ve happened) it might’ve protected him, but…

  13. Avatar Anonymous wrote:

    I’d love to contact you, Michael. I don’t know how to get your e-mail on this site, though. Is there some link that I’m missing on the site? But I’m betting you’ve tried everything from supplements to energy work. Having Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and Fibro might not be the same as what you’re going through. I will say that knowing that you’re dealing with health issues makes me admire the fact that you’ve written a novel even more.

    Oh, as a final thought, not quite connected with the Beatles, thank you all for making this site. For years, I’ve been a person who has thought a bit too much about the Beatles—and what made it worse was the fact that I couldn’t find a forum full of intelligent people who RESPECTED each other even when they disagreed. I wasn’t one of those who deifies them or excused their behaviors. I saw how flawed they were, but I also saw how wonderful they were, as well as how great their art was. So I feel kind of at home here.

    —Barb

  14. @Barb, just go to mikegerber.com; there’s a contact email there. I have tried all that stuff, and much more besides, and have finally found some things that work. If you’ve found some, I’d love to hear about them–or just the things you’ve tried. It’s a very strange lonely journey–who knew the frontiers of medicine were so close?

    Thank you for your kind words about my writing. If you ever read any of my books, I hope you enjoy them! 🙂

    It is a pleasure to be Blogmom for Dullblog. We all feel that the commenters are what make it so special. Thank you so much for giving your time and good thoughts.

  15. Avatar Anonymous wrote:

    George is hard to figure out. Part of the problem is that unlike the others, that at an impressionable age, he didn’t have a big chance to experience much else than the Beatles. J had art school. P finished school. Ritchie had a variety of experiences. But George was someone who had the guitar as his main source of individuality. Then in the middle of the Beatles, he had to find himself, which was difficult because J and P had pretty big personas and such a variety of interests. George was really smart…and one of the most laconic people I’ve ever seen.

    But something about George’s spirituality didn’t seem…I dunno…fulfilling in a way that seemed to give him a sense of joy. Perhaps privately, it was a different story. Maybe Krishna and company made him happy as a lark outside of his songwriting. I think I did see joy in the documentary about him—I’d like to think so for the sake of someone who made a lot of people happy. But he had that “I love Shiva but I’m not convinced about humanity” streak in his songwriting that actually put me off of Eastern Religions for awhile. Then I learned about them and liked them…there’s a lot of beauty there. But still, I wondered, where was the contentment for George? Maybe it was there…but outside of My Sweet Lord, most of his spiritual songs seemed kind of dogmatic. Maybe it’s just sometimes difficult to marry spirituality and good rock and roll without sounding dictatorial (Slow Train Coming, for instance).

    I dunno…I don’t want to sound like I’m slamming George. I just wish that there had been less of a sense of judging in a negative way and an almost depressing sadness in some of his spiritual songs. I just wish he’d seen that we’re all trying to get along (whatever gets you through your life) and trying to find meaning in our existences…that we’re all not just unwakened, uninspired, shallow people only into the material world of maya. Having said that, I didn’t see him as Lennon did, as “Lost”. It seems to me that lost is running from one ideology to another, looking for meaning, getting enthusiastic about them for awhile, and them dropping them because they no longer gave one a buzz. George did find meaning…but I wonder if it didn’t take him a heck of a longer time to find himself.

    One a totally different subject, it’s funny how happy I am here because I was (years and years ago) once one of the Rolling Stone influenced John’s the genius types. But ultimately, the more I read about Paul, the more I said, this guy is being made a scapegoat. How can J be a genius and a brilliant arranger and songwriter like P only be seen as clever? No way. He’s a British Brian Wilson, in his way. So, all the Paul apologist articles here did find an audience with me because, increasingly, that’s what I’ve been thinking. Not that I’m a J vs. P person. I just think that P got a bit shafted in the whole revisionist history out there.

    And Michael, from the few pages I’ve read, I really liked your narrative voice. A J type is REALLY hard to write. I know because I’ve tried it in short story. It’s almost impossible! So good for you for finding a proper narrative voice. Now on to your site!

    —Barb

  16. Many, many thanks, @Barb. I worked on that voice unceasingly for three years. Whole books were written and discarded in the process. Looking back, I think I probably spent so much energy on the voice I didn’t have enough for the plotting. But people do like the book, and that makes me happy. I briefly considered a sequel but the subject matter upset me. I am not heartless enough to be a top-notch fiction writer. 🙂

    As to George–@Barb’s responding to this comment of mine on an earlier thread–I’ll continue this thought on that thread, for housekeeping’s sake.

  17. Avatar Anonymous wrote:

    I did read your comments about George and John…I think they influenced mine a bit! —Barb

  18. @Barb, I think you emphasized some really key points that I often forget. So thank you.

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