Friday, December 16, 2011

The Beatles changed my life (and perhaps the course of human evolution!)


Directed by Richard Lester, produced by Walter Shenson, scripted by Alun Owen


Released four days after the film opened in the U.K., A Hard Day's Night was The Beatles' third studio album and instantly became a chart-topper. I remember the film as a life-changing event. It opened at the Rex Cinema in Batu Pahat in early 1965 and completely knocked my socks off. From that moment I was hooked.

Prior to that, I fancied myself as a bit of a snob. Even though I did hear a few early Beatles hits on the radio ("I Want To Hold Your Hand," "She Loves You," "I Saw Her Standing There") I was inclined to shrug the moptops off as just another passing fad. You see, I was never really into radio music, even if I confess to briefly being a fan of Cliff Richard and The Shadows when I was 11. But Elvis didn't drive me wild and I was more into soundtrack music from epic films like Exodus, Spartacus, Cleopatra and The Magnificent Seven.

I got interested in Broadway musicals after hearing an EP with songs from West Side Story and subsequently acquired a taste for Igor Stravinsky, Tchaikovsky, Bach and Beethoven, before moving on to progressive jazz - specifically the non-swing variety produced by maestros like Dave Brubeck, Charlie Mingus, Thelonious Monk and, later, Miles Davis and Sun Ra.


Watching John, Paul, George and Ringo on the big screen in A Hard Day's Night got me off my musical high horse and made me pay close attention to "pop music." I realized then that the new generation of popular bands in the 1960s were more than mere entertainers - they were harbingers of cultural evolution, prophets of a radical new consciousness, shamans and wizards shaping the dreams of post-war youth across the world.

From Tierra del Fuego to Vladivostok, adventurous pop groups like The Beatles, Cream, The Jimi Hendrix Experience and Pink Floyd were creating a world culture that demolished linguistic, racial, ideological and national barriers - and paving the way for the evolution of a true planetary consciousness.

Wilfrid Brambell as Paul's "very clean" grandfather

The eleventh Beatles studio album, Abbey Road, was released in late 1969 - but an earlier project, Let It Be, didn't appear till May 1970 because tensions between John Lennon and Paul McCartney got in the way. Soon after that The Beatles dissolved themselves as a coherent musical entity and went their separate ways. I will always respect them for knowing when to call it a day and quit while their music was still strong - instead of forcing themselves into churning out more albums just for the money.

The Beatles turned on a lot of teenaged girls (sexually) and teenaged boys (mentally)

Brian Epstein (1934-1967)
PhD dissertations have been written on the cultural and sociopolitical impact of The Beatles phenomenon on the later part of the 20th century, so I won't attempt to reinvent the wheel. Suffice to say, as can be evinced from watching A Hard Day's Night again - after 47 years - the dynamic, complementary chemistry of these four lads from Liverpool created a powerful synergy that's akin to what happens when you mix Fire (John Lennon), Water (Paul McCartney), Air (George Harrison) and Earth (Ringo Starr) into a cohesive, coherent whole. A lot of the credit goes to the genius of director Richard Lester, whose use of hand-held cameras and quirky editing influenced a future genre of music videos and the popularization of cinéma vérité in mainstream movie-making.

George Martin,
wizard producer
The creative input of two latter-day wizards must not be discounted. Initially, it was Brian Epstein the visionary entrepreneur, who saw the Beatles' commercial potential and undertook to manage the boys, shaping their trademark hairstyles and smart dress sense, without muting their natural exuberance and playful wit. In the studio, George Martin took over the wizard's role in helping refine and shape the Beatles' unique sound. Martin did all the orchestral arrangements and was savvy enough to not stand in the way of their innovative spirit.

What The Beatles did for me was to inspire me to be more myself - to become aware of the vast possibilities of creative synthesis. Their musical output - especially beginning with their seventh studio album, Revolver - began quantum jumping in terms of lyrical and musical eclecticism.

The Beatles were adventurous in that they experimented with altered states through cannabis, mescaline and LSD - and were able to incorporate their expanded consciousness into their artistic vision. In so doing they became cultural messiahs to subsequent generations, leading them beyond the rigid dogmatism of tradition and offering them a vivid glimpse of a hipper, funkier, more psychedelic version of the Promised Land.

2 comments:

newd acid said...

their album Sgt Pepper Lonely Heart Club Band was a trip on for us.

Antares said...

@newd acid - For sure! If I hadn't been turned on at 15 by A Hard Day's Night, I probably wouldn't have been ready for Sgt Pepper's at 17... how I first heard the album is another story for another day!