Saturday, March 22, 2008

Sergeant Pepper ... It's Really Deep, Man ...

At the end of the summer of 1967, just before Labor Day, the Beatles album, Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band hit the racks. I was working as a lifeguard at the ERA Country Club pool, and the other guards and I were Beatles fans, so we got it and brought it to work, to play on our record player. This was back in the 33-1/3 vinyl record days, you understand.

A concept album, which still a pretty new idea at the time, the record had a major impact on the burgeoning flower children. Grammy for best album, much debate about what the songs meant, and who all those people were on the cover. (For the record, the images were chosen by the fab four, and they couldn't get permission to use some they wanted. The list:

Aldous Huxley
Albert Einstein
Albert Stubbins
Alberto Vargas
Aleister Crowley
Aubrey Beardsley
Bob Dylan
Bobby Breen
Carl Gustav Jung
Diana Dors
Dion DiMucci
Dr. David Livingstone
Dylan Thomas
Edgar Allan Poe
Fred Astaire
George Bernard Shaw
George Harrison
Huntz Hall
H. G. Wells
H. C. Westermann
Issy Bonn
John Lennon
Johnny Weissmüller
Karl Marx
Karlheinz Stockhausen
Larry Bell
Lenny Bruce
Lewis Carroll
Mae West
Marilyn Monroe
Marlene Dietrich
Marlon Brando
Max Miller
Oliver Hardy
Oscar Wilde
Paul McCartney
Richard Lindner
Richard Merkin
Ringo Starr
Robert Peel
Shirley Temple
Simon Rodia
Sonny Liston
Sri Lahiri Mahasaya
Sri Mahavatar Babaji
Sri Paramahansa Yogananda
Sri Yukteswar Giri
Stan Laurel
Stephen Crane
Stuart Sutcliffe
Terry Southern
The Petty Girl of George Petty
Lawrence of Arabia
Tom Mix
Tommy Handley
Tony Curtis
Tyrone Power
Wallace Berman
William S. Burroughs
W. C. Fields

One of the Beatles biographies I read tells you which Beatle chose which image. Fascinating stuff.

Personally, I think Abbey Road is a much better album. The Pepper songs were not the best the band ever wrote, but had some memorable ones among them. One of which was Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds, and despite what Lennon said at the time so it would get air play, was not about his son's friend in school, or a picture the lad drew, but about what everybody thought it was about, an LSD trip. McCartney finally admitted that, three decades later. The BBC refused back then to play "drug" or "sex" songs, if they could recognize them. They blew it on The Velvet Underground's Take a Walk on the Wild Side, having no idea what "giving head" meant.
Or cross-dressing prostitution, for that ...

At the time, in that halcyon summer before the Summer of Love, the other guards and I listened to it, mightily impressed. And one of them, Danny, said, "Wow, this is really deep, man."

I agreed, but I wondered what he meant by saying that, so I asked him, "How you figure?"

And he said, "Because I don't understand it."

I had one of those come-to-realize moments -- it struck me that a lot of people would apply that measure -- if I don't understand it, then it must be deep. That we tend to assume we are smart and clever folk, and that things beyond our ken -- if they have any intrinsic meaning -- must be beyond the understanding of most people. Which would explain things like critics who go on and on about an impressionistic painting, pointing out what the artist is trying to do, and his understanding of color and composition and light, not realizing that the artist was a chimp given a paint set and a blank canvas ...

Sometimes what you don't understand is deep. Sometimes, it's because it rhymed with "Queen." And sometimes, it has no meaning at all ...

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