Yes, even “Magical Mystery Tour.”
Since I’ve long and loudly proclaimed my love for the MMT LP, I look forward to any and all hullabaloo regarding the re-release of the film. Here’s a piece in The Guardian touting the upcoming Arena programme “Magical Mystery Tour Revisited.” (When it is rebroadcast in America, it will of course be “a program.”)
The apparent angle of the documentary—that MMT was an affectionate send-up of rationing-era Britain—is something that I’ve always sensed in the film but never had the good sense to write down. This vein was being mined since the group reconvened to record “Strawberry Fields” and “Penny Lane” in late 1966. Or maybe it began with “Eleanor Rigby,” or even “In My Life”? From Anthology to Live at the BBC to navel-gazing fan sites like this one, The Beatles have become literature and history so comfortably in part because The Beatles were obsessed with literature and history.
Only adults have the ability to look back, and only mature talents can do it well. The periods directly before and after 1966-67, exuberant and interesting and enjoyable as they are, lack this context, and feel much thinner to me as a result. In the era of the mania, they were too young to be about anything but themselves and the overwhelming things happening at that moment; after Brian’s death, they absorbed the curdled narcissism of that era. Even as solo artists, their highpoints are often works with a nod to history. All Things Must Pass—POB—”I’m the Greatest”—and so forth.
We are as far in years from The Beatles as they were from World War One—which is to say, not far at all. Thirty years of war, twenty of poverty, and then, life returns. Sex and speed and color and experience; all that hippie symbolism of “NO” turning to “YES” becomes a lot less symbolic if you watch Andrew Marr’s series on the Making of Modern Britain.
YES there is meat today.
YES we can have sex.
YES you can try to make a better life.
YES there is a future.
Out of grimness The Beatles made joy; raised in emotional and physical repression, they chose freedom. John, Paul, George, and Ringo weren’t the sole authors of Swinging London, but they played a central role in it, and Swinging London was the first good news to happen in Europe since 1914. So much of psychedelia was an attempt to close that psychic wound, which is why so much of it is based on Victoriana and Art Nouveau.
When I see The Beatles, I see art’s ability to conjure abundance, which is the only real magic I’ve ever found. But even as they were helping to turn the page, John, Paul, George and Ringo were nostalgic. Of course they were—and of course we are for them.