A British journalist named K.V. Turley has been inspired—by the release of a newly restored digital version of the Beatles’ first movie, “A Hard Day’s Night”—to write about “The Beatles and the Dawning of a New Era”. However, Mr. Turley writes for Crisis Magazine, so you can bet his view of the Fab Four will be through a glass, darkly.
Though the Beatles began all innocence and youthful exuberance, according to Turley that was a mere pose that was quickly shucked. “Things began to grow darker” when the Beatles posed for a controversial cover (quickly re-done for the American release) for their 1966 album “Yesterday and Today”: “the Fab Four dressed as butchers with decapitated baby dolls and pieces of meat strewn around them.” What was that all about? For Turley, it could only have presaged, "subconsciously perhaps," Roe v. Wade and the age of abortion on demand. For the Beatles, depending on which one you asked, it was either (a) an improvised lark, (b) a protest against the war in Vietnam, or (c) a stupid mistake born of boredom and bad judgment. Turley does not entertain any of those possibilities. Indeed, writes Turley with ominous foreshadowing, there was “something more sinister here” than any supposed social or political commentary.
What might that “something more sinister” have been? Eastern religion and philosophy, the antinomian devil worship of Aleister Crowley (“Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law”), drugs and sex and self-indulgence: the whole Summer of Love was a hedonistic sham, and worse. “The so-called ‘Age of Aquarius’…was entirely bogus; nevertheless, through these mists now came entities all too real.” Entities? Yes, and one in particular: in retrospect, writes Turley, we can now “recognize to whose lies the world had turned once more to listen.”
Lies? Ah, the Father of Lies—the devil! The Beatles had unwittingly opened up a portal to hell! And no wonder—as Turley points out, just look at who their influences were, as revealed by the notorious cover of their “Sgt. Pepper” album: “The ‘Founding Fathers’ of this coming reality [included] assorted Hindu gurus and deities, Jung & Marx, H.G. Wells & G.B. Shaw, and, of course, Aleister Crowley…” But if we're going to name-drop, why stop with just those? The Sgt. Pepper cover abounds with suspicious characters: Mae West & Fred Astaire, Marlon Brando & Tony Curtis, Laurel & Hardy, Dylan Thomas & Sir Robert Peel, E.A. Poe and T.E. Lawrence, Johnny Weismuller & Marlene Dietrich, Albert Einstein & Shirley Temple, Tom Mix & James Joyce. You have but to consider that roster and you begin to comprehend the decline and fall of the West, as celebrated by the Beatles in the “strange disillusioned melancholy” of the song “A Day in the Life”.
Oddly enough, K.V. Turley never mentions any reason for the Beatles, or anyone else of that generation, to have been either disillusioned or melancholy. Though he does briefly reference the assassination of JFK (in 1964, America was “on spiritual recoil from the gunshots heard at Dealey Plaza only months earlier”), Turley fails to mention subsequent events of the decade—the murders of Malcolm X, Martin Luther King, and Bobby Kennedy, the war in Vietnam, racial turbulence and resistance to integration, etc.—much less the shadow of the Bomb and the ghastly and still-fresh memory of the Holocaust. For all one would know from reading Mr. Turley’s article, the Beatles and their unwitting diabolism emerged inexplicably out of a clear blue socio-cultural and historical backdrop.
Here is K.V. Turley’s epitaph for the Beatles and for the era they symbolized:
“Unfortunately, it was not love that had been trumpeted during that [era] but license, and, surrounded by illusions, this led many only to enslavement, made all the more bitter having turned away from that which could have set them free—the Love that was really at that was needed.2 In the end, the ‘free love’ of those sunlit days came at a price, and, sadly one still being paid to this day. Watching its [“A Hard Day’s Night"’s] four heroes on screen today, one feels only sadness at the forces then carrying them into a future they could never have dreamed of, or even bargained for.”
Looking back at the heroes of our youth—anyone’s youth—always has about it an element of sadness over dreams unfulfilled, ideals not lived up to, and youthful innocence lost. “Strange disillusioned melancholy” indeed: it’s called growing up, and it always comes at a price. It wasn’t Satan and his sinister demonic forces that kept the Age of Aquarius from being realized; it was nothing but the stubborn (and, in retrospect, predictable) inertia of human nature and human institutions.
But I’ll tell you this: in the Sixties, by God, we gave it a try. I for one won't apologize for it. If K.V. Turley thinks the whole thing was nothing but a Satanic deception, he’s welcome to his opinion, but as for me, I choose to believe this:
I dreamed I saw the bombers jet planes riding shotgun in the sky,
Turning into butterflies above our nation.
We are stardust, we are golden, we are caught in the devil's bargain,
And we've got to get ourselves back to the garden.
There are far worse things to have believed in. It turned out that love wasn't all we needed after all, but there's no shame in having wanted that to have been true.
2 By “Love,” he means God and/or Jesus.
3 Joni Mitchell, “Woodstock”