Scott Eric Alt

On How Not to Talk About The Beatles

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ideous. Ugly. Grotesque. Shock­ing. All those things; add your own adjec­tive. Indeed, one sus­pects — one should — that the pho­tog­ra­pher, whose name was Robert Whitaker, intended that reac­tion. He meant for us to be dis­turbed by this depic­tion of The Bea­t­les draped in red meat and hold­ing the dis­mem­bered parts of baby dolls. Quick: Does The Iliad glo­rify war, or sim­ply expose its hor­rors? That is a long-debated ques­tion in the human­i­ties, not just with respect to Homer, and every­one who approaches the arts must answer it. It also mat­ters a great deal whether you get the answer right.

Robert Whitaker, 1966

Robert Whitaker, 1966

Another ques­tion that is impor­tant to get right is this one: What is this book, this poem, this paint­ing about in the first place? What is the sub­ject? What did the artist intend? What was Flan­nery O’Connor up to in “A Good Man is Hard to Find”? Or “Good Coun­try Peo­ple? Why should any decent Chris­t­ian read those sto­ries? She was just sick, sick, sick! Right? Or Slaughterhouse-Five? The title alone is just sick, and Kurt Von­negut was a dis­turbed man!

Dr. Tay­lor Mar­shall recently posted this arti­cle, in which he asks the same ques­tion that may have occurred to you: “Did The Bea­t­les Pro­mote Abor­tion?” From his inclu­sion of the album cover above, we are meant to con­clude that they did. (By the way, it is impor­tant to note that the pho­to­graph was never intended for use on an album cover, but in an alto­gether dif­fer­ent con­text. More on that below.)

How­ever, Dr. Mar­shall offers no real evi­dence for inter­pret­ing the cover as a com­men­tary on abor­tion, other than:

(1) his char­ac­ter­i­za­tion of the white coats as “physi­cian smocks” (in fact, The Bea­t­les are dressed as butch­ers, not physi­cians); and

(2) his irrel­e­vant obser­va­tion that “[a]bortion was being hotly debated in the United King­dom when this photo was taken.”

Well; case closed, then!

Let us stip­u­late two things from the outset.

First, it is cer­tainly pos­si­ble — maybe even likely — that the indi­vid­ual Bea­t­les were pro-choice. It would not sur­prise me if they were. But that is not the issue here. The issue is whether the album cover reflects a pro-choice ethos, for that is Dr. Marshall’s claim: The album cover is sick because the album cover is joy­fully pro-abortion!

Sec­ond, whether or not abor­tion was “hotly debated” at the time is irrel­e­vant. When Dr. Mar­shall points that out, he is imply­ing that the cover must nec­es­sar­ily be a com­men­tary on abor­tion, because abor­tion was being debated at the time. That is the fal­lacy of con­cur­rence: x occurs at the same time as y, there­fore the one must be a response to the other.

But I have searched, and I can find no one (other than Dr. Mar­shall) who sug­gests that the cover has any­thing to do with abor­tion. Not one. Unless there are some fairly obscure ref­er­ences out there (but he does not cite any such source), Dr. Mar­shall is the first and only, in fifty years. If the cover were intended to “pro­mote abor­tion,” how is it that that escaped dis­cus­sion back in 1966? The Bea­t­les, and their lack­eys in the press, cer­tainly did an excel­lent job keep­ing quiet about it. The Bea­t­les must have been very bad at pub­lic­ity. Shh. I am going to pro­mote abor­tion, but don’t tell any­one about it. You are not to dis­cuss this. If any­one asks you who John Lennon is, you don’t know.

Even if we assume the cover is a com­men­tary on abor­tion, how do we know it is not pro-life? Could it have been that the band mem­bers wished to sug­gest the out­right evil of abor­tion? Could they have meant to imply that abor­tion­ists are sadis­tic and glee­ful at the the hor­rors they per­pe­trate? The Bea­t­les are por­tray­ing abor­tion­ists, not advo­cat­ing what they do. For after all, if The Bea­t­les are depict­ing the remains of an abor­tion, is that not the kind of thing that a pro-choice advo­cate would wish to keep hid­den? Why depict it so openly unless your intent is to make peo­ple recoil at abortion?

Dr. Mar­shall does not answer these ques­tions, nor does he ask them.


2. Cover sto­ries

The most com­mon mis­in­ter­pre­ta­tion of the cover — so pop­u­lar that Snopes refuted it—is that it was intended as a protest, by The Bea­t­les, against the “butcher­ing” of their albums by Capi­tol Records in the United States. (Capi­tol Records was known to short­change the U.S. ver­sions by a few tracks.)

Still another myth exists, which claims that the cover was intended as a com­men­tary on Viet­nam. The mis­in­ter­pre­ta­tion of an off­hand remark by John Lennon seems to lie behind this idea. Soon after Capi­tol Records recalled advance copies of the album, The Bea­t­les gave an inter­view (quoted here) for an arti­cle in the British weekly Melody Maker:

The Bea­t­les thought that the furor in Amer­ica over their LP cover was “a bit soft,” to quote Paul.

We were asked to do the pic­ture with some meat and a bro­ken doll,” said Paul. “It was just a pic­ture. It didn’t mean any­thing. All this means is that we’re being a bit more care­ful about the sort of pic­ture we do. I liked it myself.”

John Lennon gave a grin and roared: “Any­way, it’s as rel­e­vant as Vietnam!”

That last state­ment is actu­ally typ­i­cal John Lennon sar­casm: He meant that the con­tro­versy over the album cover was much ado about noth­ing, but phrased it in a way that simul­ta­ne­ously cri­tiqued people’s com­pla­cent atti­tude about the Viet­nam War. Lennon’s feel­ing was that it was hyp­o­crit­i­cal for peo­ple to assume a pitch of out­rage over an album cover fea­tur­ing dolls, but to remain blithe and accept­ing of actual dead babies in Vietnam.

In fact, the photo was never intended for use as an album cover. At the time it was taken, The Bea­t­les had only one-third of a fin­ished album on hand, and were not think­ing about cov­ers yet. What­ever the rea­son, Capi­tol Records (not the Bea­t­les them­selves) decided to use the “butcher photo” for the release of Yes­ter­day and Today. The album and its cover were hastily changed after neg­a­tive reac­tion to advance, pro­mo­tional copies in the United States. The fol­low­ing photo, also taken by Robert Whitaker, was used in its place:

The "Trunk Cover" of Yesterday and Today

The “Trunk Cover” of Yes­ter­day and Today


In a let­ter to review­ers, Ron Tep­pen of Capi­tol Records explained why the butcher cover was being recalled:

The orig­i­nal cover, cre­ated in Eng­land, was intended as “pop art” satire.  How­ever, a sam­pling of pub­lic opin­ion in the United States indi­cates that the cover design is sub­ject to mis­in­ter­pre­ta­tion.  For this rea­son, and to avoid any pos­si­ble con­tro­versy or unde­served harm to The Bea­t­les’ image and rep­u­ta­tion, Capi­tol has cho­sen to with­draw the LP. [Ital­ics mine]

The Bea­t­les “sub­ject to mis­in­ter­pre­ta­tion”? Not the Liv­er­pool Bea­t­les! Who could have pre­dicted that?


3. A story of covers

In his book The Unseen Bea­t­les, Robert Whitaker explains the pur­pose behind the “butcher” photo. (See this arti­cle for a sum­mary of the rel­e­vant con­tent of the book.) The idea (which was Whitaker’s, not The Bea­t­les’) was for a series of sur­real and con­cep­tual images that would par­ody the public’s “mass adu­la­tion” of The Beatles.

I had toured quite a lot of world with them by then,” says Whitaker, “and I was con­tin­u­ally amused by the pub­lic adu­la­tion of four peo­ple.” He planned a trip­tych of pho­tographs — meant to form a reli­gious icon — that would con­trast the public’s wor­ship­ful atti­tude toward The Bea­t­les with their human reality.

In one photo from the series, George Har­ri­son poses as though ham­mer­ing nails into John Lennon’s head:


The idea here, accord­ing to Whitaker, was to show that John Lennon — far from the invin­ci­ble, etherel god he seemed to be to many — was in fact a flesh-and-blood human being capa­ble of being hurt or pierced. (There isn’t so much the depic­tion of John Lennon as a Christ fig­ure going on here, as there is a spoof of it.) The expres­sion on Harrison’s face could be read: See, John Lennon, human being. If I nail him, does he not bleed?

In a third photo, Ringo is pic­tured inside a card­board box labeled with the num­ber 2,000,000:



Accord­ing to Whitaker, the point of this photo was that Ringo was no more impor­tant than any of two mil­lion other human beings. (Whitaker under­es­ti­mated the pop­u­la­tion of the earth by a tad.) “The idol­iza­tion of fans,” he writes, “reminded me of the story of the wor­ship of the golden calf.”

The trip­tych was never com­pleted. The “butcher” pho­to­graph was intended to include a gold back­ground and halos over the Bea­t­les. As a con­trast with that depic­tion of the public’s per­cep­tion of a god­like group of four, Whitaker wanted to include the most shock­ing image he could think of; he thought of bro­ken dolls and pieces of butcher meat. He wanted to decon­struct the pop­u­lar per­cep­tion of The Bea­t­les by show­ing them in the most unflat­ter­ing scene he could imagine.

Indeed, one could view the series of pho­tos as a fairly ortho­dox — if styl­is­ti­cally exces­sive — cri­tique of the adu­la­tion of pop stars (a cri­tique with which I imag­ine Dr. Mar­shall would agree): We make them out to be gods, when they are like us. The tryp­tich was intended to be noth­ing other than a spoof of the over-the-top near-worship of The Bea­t­les. It is hard to know what the series of pho­tos would have looked like had Whitaker car­ried his con­cept through to com­ple­tion. No one can fairly judge, or inter­pret, work that is incom­plete; who knows what may, or may not, have become of The Mys­tery of Edwin Drood or The Orig­i­nal of Laura?

In this case, all we have to go on is three pho­tographs and what the pho­tog­ra­pher says he intended to do with them. No rea­son exists to dis­pute what he has said, or to posit a dif­fer­ent and more ugly interpretation.


4. Expert textpert or ele­men­tary penguin?

Dr. Marshall’s arti­cle is a per­fect exam­ple of how Catholics must not talk about artis­tic cre­ations. It is per­fectly valid to dis­cuss sec­u­lar art from a Catholic point of view; Catholics with train­ing in the arts (I have an M.A. in lit­er­a­ture) ought to do that. But some effort should be made to under­stand what the artist was try­ing to do in the first place, rather than to assume because it just seems that way and your agenda is to expose all that wicked filth out there. To make false assump­tions based on noth­ing other than ini­tial gut reac­tion that some­thing is “gross” or “kinda weird” (Dr. Marshall’s words), does noth­ing to pro­mote a Catholic under­stand­ing of or con­tri­bu­tion to the arts. In fact, it com­pro­mises it.

A case could be made that the shock­ing nature of the pho­tos out­pace any good or inno­cent inten­tion Whitaker may have had. You might say that that is a prob­lem of gal­lows humor in gen­eral, and that Kurt Von­negut should have minded what he was about when he wrote Slaughterhouse-Five. You might say that dark satire and par­ody are really too risky to pull off, and Flan­nery O’Connor should have just bus­ied her­self with the pea­cocks. I would not agree with you, but at least you would show an under­stand­ing of and sen­si­tiv­ity toward what the artist was try­ing to do.

If a stereo­type exists that reli­gious or con­ser­v­a­tive crit­ics of sec­u­lar art don’t under­stand it, the best way to com­bat it is to show that we do, in fact, under­stand it. Embar­rass­ing igno­rance of the kind dis­played by Dr. Mar­shall only rein­forces the stereotype.

What does it mean, for exam­ple, that Dr. Mar­shall gives a list of every­one who’s on the Sgt. Pep­per cover, together with liner notes like the fol­low­ing: “Lewis Car­roll (author, alleged pedaphile [sic])”? Does he really mean to sug­gest that Lewis Car­roll was included on the cover because The Bea­t­les pro­moted pedophilia? (By the way, the com­mon notion that Lewis Car­roll was a pedophile is and has always been an unsub­stan­ti­ated myth based on his pho­tos of young girls, which need to be under­stood in the con­text of the time and place in which Car­roll lived — not based on our own sensibilities.)

Quite sim­ply, John Lennon admired Lewis Car­roll, as he admired Dylan Thomas, because he was a fan of word­play. Read any of John Lennon’s lyrics and the word­play is hard to miss. Though it is cer­tainly true that The Bea­t­les did LSD, “Lucy in the Sky With Dia­monds” is bet­ter under­stood in the con­text of Lennon’s love of word­play and unusual imagery. The imagery in “Lucy” is derived largely from Alice in Won­der­land, not drugs.

Lewis Car­roll is on the cover of “Sgt. Pep­per” because Lennon admired his writ­ing, and for no other rea­son. Dr. Mar­shall has no basis for his irre­spon­si­ble insin­u­a­tion otherwise.

One does not have to pre­tend The Bea­t­les’ music is Chris­t­ian, or argue for its inclu­sion in the Mass. Nei­ther does one have to pre­tend that The Bea­t­les were won­der­ful human beings. No one has to like their music. No one should have to pre­tend that “Imag­ine” is any­thing more than juve­nile, athe­ist stu­pid­ity. But it is crit­i­cally irre­spon­si­ble, and coun­ter­pro­duc­tive, to insin­u­ate dark­ness or “intel­lec­tual poi­son” where none exists. That makes it harder to point out true poi­son with any cred­i­bil­ity. Catholics who love and dis­cuss the arts should do bet­ter — at the least, show an under­stand­ing of what the artist is really up to.


Also be sure to check out my follow-up post Seven Rea­sons to Reject Catholic Fun­da­men­tal­ism About the Arts.

The great Sim­cha Fisher at Patheos also takes on Dr. Mar­shall here.

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  1. 1
    Scott Eric Alt says:

    Daniel, under this the­ory the actual pho­tog­ra­pher knows less about what he was doing than some­one 50 years later on his blog. Dis­cern­ment, which you appeal to is, is not “imme­di­ately rec­og­nized.” Dis­cern­ment requires tak­ing time and sift­ing through evi­dence, rather than being “so ready to con­demn.” If this cover is part of a “spir­i­tual bat­tle” with the demonic, what’s the evi­dence? Just as Jesus warned us against say­ing, “Lo, Christ is here” or “Lo, Christ is there,” the same rule applies with point­ing out His enemy. If they shall say, “Lo Satan is here,” or “Lo, Satan is there, in that rock album, when you play the lyrics back­ward,” be cautious.

  2. 2
    Jo says:

    My chil­dren were in their teans when John Lennon said that the bea­t­les were more pop­u­lar than Jesus, when I heard this on the news I imme­di­ately took all of the albums we owned, through them out of the win­dow and stomped on them break­ing them into pieces and we never pur­chased another album. That was the end of the Bea­t­les for me.

  3. 3
    Scott Eric Alt says:

    The Vat­i­can, in L’Osservatore Romano, issued this state­ment in 2008: “The remark by John Lennon, which trig­gered deep indig­na­tion, mainly in the United States, after many years sounds only like a ‘boast’ by a young working-class Eng­lish­man faced with unex­pected suc­cess, after grow­ing up in the leg­end of Elvis and rock and roll.” Even a lot of Chris­t­ian spokes­men at the time said that Lennon had only said what the Church itself was say­ing about the decline of Chris­tian­ity and the exces­sive adu­la­tion of pop stars. The whole point of this series of pic­tures was to mock the view that the Bea­t­les were some­how godlike.

  4. 4
    Trimelda says:

    I have to agree with the author. Label­ing some­thing as Satanic when it isn’t does a dis-service to true dis­cern­ment. It is get­ting to the point where peo­ple are call­ing any thing that doesn’t suit their tastes or reflect their cul­tures as evil, evil, evil “Blaw haha­ha­ha­ha­haha!” It makes Chris­tians look like idiots and in a world where we are sup­posed to be salt and light.

    Keep up the good work, love.

  5. 5


    I do agree with your major premise about poten­tial errors that flow from rash judg­ment of an artis­tic work, unfin­ished or not.

    How­ever, you must agree that with the art of lyric writ­ing, the con­cep­tion process flows from one’s state of mind at the time of inspi­ra­tion. This is patently true for the Bea­t­les. Drugs are in the mix from the very begin­ning of their Hamburg/Cavern days. First it was alcohol/speed, then mar­i­juana, then LSD, then heroine.

    Nine years prior to my rever­sion, I read In Their Own Write as I trav­eled cross coun­try and lis­tened song-by-song to the entire Bea­t­les cat­a­log on CD. It describes their artis­tic intent and the cre­ative license that allowed them to pro­duce stu­dio work that out­paced their com­peti­tors espe­cially in 66 – 67.

    You must agree that there is a dark shadow to this fusion of sex, drugs and rock and roll. There is deep mys­tery too, for one look with Catholic sen­si­bil­i­ties reveals the hid­den truth that both Paul and George were bap­tized Catholics (Irish ances­try); that Paul wanted to grow up “to be a Catholic lorry (bus) dri­ver” and that George received all three sacra­ments of ini­ti­a­tion, adding Holy Com­mu­nion and Confirmation.

    What hap­pened?

    The machin­ery of the record busi­ness, the media hype and the over­all social exper­i­ment of the 60’s con­fuse this mat­ter even further.

    Were they tal­ented artists? Cer­tainly
    Were they oppor­tunis­tic? Of course
    Were they manip­u­lated? Yes, by many
    Were they know­ing or unknow­ing car­ri­ers of a mes­sage that was aimed at destroy­ing the moral bedrock of soci­ety, the Catholic Church? Well if sex, drugs, rock and roll rep­re­sent the anti-trinity then, I am afraid they were — they and all those who pro­ceeded and fol­lowed them (to include Sina­tra, Elvis, Stones…et al).

    Wine, women and song” mor­phed in to “sex, drugs and rock and roll” and the effects are still being felt today as we attempt to bring civ­i­lized soci­ety back from the edge of the abyss.

    The Bea­t­les music eas­ily moves from head to heart and that is where its dan­ger lies. I know this from first-hand experience.

    Now I choose the Beat­i­tudes, but I too was once a blind dis­ci­ple of the Fab Four.

    (( (
    (( (
    Michael Rizzio recently posted…The Hope of Vat­i­can II???My Profile

  6. 6
    Jennifer says:

    Mr. Alt — I want to point out that Tay­lor Marshall’s post was an invi­ta­tion to dis­cus­sion, he was sur­mis­ing and sim­ply writ­ing about why his opin­ion was such. Did you post a response on his site? Or was it eas­ier to unchar­i­ta­bly speak about him here? He is a brother in Christ who is doing much good for the Church. Per­haps I’ll write a piece titled, “How Not to Talk about Tay­lor Marshall”!

  7. 7
    Lisa says:

    I am not look­ing for excuses to jus­tify lis­ten­ing to the Bea­t­les music…never had much of an appre­ci­a­tion. But the “butcher” album cover being merely “pop-art satire”…really?! Can any abhor­rent images be jus­ti­fied under the guise of artis­tic expres­sion? Dr. Mar­shall was right to ask us to con­sider the under­ly­ing spirit influ­enc­ing the Bea­t­les. To ignore the pos­si­bil­ity of demonic activ­ity is extremely naive…no mat­ter how much you enjoy their music and don’t wish it to be so. And to refer to Dr. Mar­shall as an “ele­men­tary pen­guin” is extremely dis­re­spect­ful, how­ever intel­lec­tu­ally supe­rior you feel your­self to be.

  8. 8
    Scott Eric Alt says:

    @Jennifer & @Lisa:
    No dis­re­spect is intended for Dr. Mar­shall, for whom I have pro­found respect. I sim­ply referred to his dis­cus­sion of this sub­ject as “igno­rant” (which, believe it or not, is a value-neutral word; though it is often used as a syn­onym for “stu­pid,” that is not what the word means) and “ele­men­tary,” which is arguably true when you look at an album cover and imme­di­ately leap to a con­clu­sion with­out ask­ing the nec­es­sary ques­tions. Remem­ber that, by con­trast, Dr. Mar­shall referred — in absence of facts — to the Bea­t­les (he par­tic­u­lary sin­gles out George Har­ri­son, who is no longer here to defend him­self, and entirely based upon his sub­jec­tive impres­sion of the expres­sion on his face) as “evil” and “really dark.” Which is more unchar­i­ta­ble? As for the “invi­ta­tion to dis­cus­sion,” I am lost as to why that nec­es­sar­ily must take place within his com­ment box. If Dr. Mar­shall wishes to reply him­self, he can do so on his blog, or he can do so here; if I wish to go to Con­fes­sion, I can do so face-to-face, or behind the screen. I don’t read lack of courage into either choice. For the record, I tweeted my arti­cle to Dr. Mar­shall, so I’m not try­ing to hide from him some­how; and actu­ally, if I com­mented on his blog my response might more eas­ily get lost in a sea of other comments.

    I under­stand what you’re say­ing about the fusion of sex, drugs, and rock and roll, and my point is not to defend the Bea­t­les as indi­vid­u­als. But just because one aspect of the Bea­t­les (their drug use, and their asso­ci­a­tion with dan­ger­ous spir­i­tual ele­ments through their career, such as the Mahar­ishi) is wicked, in the first place you have to be very care­ful to aim the remarks at the right object. The envi­ron­ment the Bea­t­les were in was cer­tainly full of evil, but the Bea­t­les them­selves were young kids with the best of inten­tions who were naive and caught up in unex­pected fame and wealth. Char­ity would crit­i­cize what their envi­ron­ment did to the Bea­t­les, and be more com­pas­sion­ate toward the Bea­t­les themselves.

    As far as what you say about the cre­ative process and how the sense of lyrics are influ­enced by one’s state of mind at the time, I can cer­tainly appre­ci­ate that and con­cede there might be a degree of truth to it. But to show where that has occurred would require a line-by-line analy­sis of some­thing like “Lucy in the Sky With Dia­monds” or “I am the Wal­rus.” The point of this arti­cle, though, was not to con­sider that ques­tion but rather (1) whether the cover really was about abor­tion, or had a more benign mean­ing to it; (2) whether the inclu­sion of, say, Lewis Car­roll on the cover of Pep­per had any­thing at all to do with advo­cacy of his sup­posed pedophilia. When you look into the evi­dence, it turns out these things are not so.

    I can think Elton John is a musi­cal genius and just about all of his songs benign, while still admit­ting that his lifestyle is hor­ridly wicked.

    I hardly say that there is not fair crit­i­cism to be aimed at the Bea­t­les or their music. But it must be the right crit­i­cism, and it must be aimed at the right object. There are peo­ple out there who believe that the Chron­i­cles of Nar­nia and the Lord of the Rings are demonic. Now, I’m not try­ing to com­pare Lewis and Tolkien with the Bea­t­les by mak­ing that state­ment. What I am say­ing is that you can’t just throw the word “demonic” around when talk­ing about the arts as loosely and freely as Dr. Mar­shall does, with­out really going into specifics and evi­dence and line-by-line analy­sis. And you also have to show that that your crit­i­cism is not a blan­ket draped over any­thing that’s rock music or any­thing writ­ten by some­one who was doing drugs at the time. Oth­er­wise, the very peo­ple who might be most helped by that kind of crit­i­cism will write you off as another fun­da­men­tal­ist Bible beater. If the cause is to pro­mote a Catholic under­stand­ing of the arts, and a revi­tal­iza­tion of healthy Catholic expres­sion in the arts, then that kind of care *must* be taken.

    To that end, Michael you actu­ally did a far bet­ter job in your com­ment than Dr. Mar­shall did, because at least you artic­u­lated an intel­li­gent premise about the process of artis­tic cre­ation and its con­nec­tion with psy­chol­ogy and the activ­ity of the brain at the time. It is how that premise works out in prac­tice, when ana­lyz­ing spe­cific words and spe­cific lyrics, where it gets tricky.

  9. 9
    Nick says:

    Chris­tian­ity will go.. It will van­ish and shrink. I needn’t argue with that; I’m right and I will be proved right. We’re more pop­u­lar than Jesus now; I don’t know which will go first — rock and roll or Chris­tian­ity. Jesus was all right, but his dis­ci­ples were thick and ordi­nary. It’s them twist­ing it that ruins it for me.”

    That’s the whole quote, and regard­less of how he tried to walk it back after­ward, the bold ‘for cer­tain’ atti­tude in the state­ment that Chris­tian­ity WILL van­ish and that he’s right and will be proven thus is clearly how he felt. I don’t care what the Vat­i­can said at the time in calm­ing the waters and turn­ing the other cheek; they took the high road as they should, but Lennon was not a reli­gious per­son and his most famous and last­ing hope for the future ‘Imag­ine’ is an hon­est tes­ta­ment to a world with­out Christ.

  10. 10
    Scott Eric Alt says:

    I believe I admit­ted that “Imag­ine” is “athe­ist stu­pid­ity,” and Lennon’s remarks about Chris­tian­ity were stu­pid as well, but I hope that I am not judged in the end by some of the stu­pid things I said about Chris­tian­ity when I was in my twen­ties. There is some cred­i­ble evi­dence that Lennon was later embar­rassed by the naivete of “Imag­ine” and wanted to dis­so­ci­ate him­self from it. But no one has to believe Lennon was a “reli­gious per­son” in order to view him, and the Bea­t­les, and their music, as a lot more com­plex and inter­est­ing than a blan­ket dis­missal of the lot as “evil” or “dark.”

  11. 11
    Nick says:

    @ Scott Alt: I agree with your last state­ment in your reply to me and I’m inter­ested in what­ever sources you can point me to for “cred­i­ble evi­dence that Lennon was later embar­rassed by the naivete of “Imag­ine” and wanted to dis­so­ci­ate him­self from it.” Thanks : )

  12. 12
    Scott Eric Alt says:

    Now, this is dis­puted but I still find it cred­i­ble because it comes from the word of his per­sonal assis­tant late in life, who would have been in a good posi­tion to know, and I’m not sure what moti­va­tion he would have to lie about this. Those dis­put­ing it are, typ­i­cally, left-wing sources who wouldn’t want it to be true in the first place because they idol­ize Lennon the lib­eral. This made quite a lot of news sources a cou­ple years ago, includ­ing the Drudge Report. Not set in stone true, but a lot of peo­ple do mature as they get closer to 40, com­pared to their think­ing in their twenties.

    Here’s the writer of the last arti­cle: “These sto­ries are a bit frus­trat­ing, in that they’re almost impos­si­ble to cor­rob­o­rate or refute. But the story is plau­si­ble. Lennon had a flex­i­ble, inquis­i­tive mind and was con­stantly expos­ing him­self to new ideas. Lennon was 31 when he wrote “Imag­ine” and had just cel­e­brated his 40th birth­day when he was gunned down. And the 1970s was not a good decade for West­ern lib­er­al­ism, which had become bloated in both Lennon’s native Eng­land and his adopted home­land. Mar­garet Thatcher had just come to power in the UK and Rea­gan had just got­ten elected – although not yet inau­gu­rated and hav­ing the chance to dis­ap­point the dream­ers – when Lennon was murdered.”

  13. 13


    I have gone in depth and reviewed the early days in their raw truth.

    Your quote, “but the Bea­t­les them­selves were young kids with the best of inten­tions who were naive and caught up in unex­pected fame and wealth.”

    Best of intentions…you have to be spe­cific here. Their time in Ham­burg 1962 would clearly have one believe oth­er­wise. It was raw, bawdy and morally bank­rupt. And as a inter­est­ing side­note, St. Joseph’s Church was right across the street. I won­der if Paul or George ever stepped into it.

    They were bro­ken kids in bro­ken rela­tion­ships for sure. They were tal­ented. That is a potent mix for being used by oth­ers and big egos.

    Going back to their intentions…we’ll if you sang Long Tall Sally and Twist and Shout back then you were singing about sex, impure and simple.

    Michael Rizzio recently posted…The Hope of Vat­i­can II???My Profile

  14. 14
    Scott Eric Alt says:

    I fear we are los­ing the for­est for the trees here. No one is claim­ing that every­thing the Bea­t­les did, or every lyric they ever wrote or sang, is fit for the tongues of angels. There is a vast gap between that and attribut­ing the wrong motives or the wrong mean­ing to a pho­to­graph or a lyric. My prob­lem with Dr. Marshall’s arti­cle is that it is a blan­ket crit­i­cism of an entire group and their entire ouevre, and he needs to be spe­cific too, and pre­cise — not attribut­ing a par­tic­u­lar evil to a par­tic­u­lar object falsely. When the Bea­t­les were in Ham­burg, they were teenage kids. Evil is a very potent atmos­phere to be caught up in at that age, and Ham­burg was evil, and the Bea­t­les got caught up in it. Not because there was some­thing inher­ently wicked about them, but because they were young and naive and incred­i­bly tal­ented and sud­denly in a very intox­i­cat­ing atmos­phere where they were get­ting a lot of atten­tion — and then that only increased more after 1964. If I were in that sit­u­a­tion in Ham­burg, and I were their age, and I had their tal­ent, and their charisma, and sud­denly came across all that atten­tion and sex­ual inter­est from lots of women, and in an atmos­phere of drink and drugs, and tons of peo­ple around me all the time, and the real­ity of peer pres­sure for an ado­les­cent, and in another coun­try, God help me.

    I think we agree in most of our premises and obser­va­tions, we’re just apply­ing them dif­fer­ently. No one but the Bea­t­les them­selves could pos­si­bly under­stand all that it means to have been at the cen­ter of Beat­le­ma­nia. To dis­miss their musi­cal genius and every­thing they ever did, as Dr. Mar­shall does, as “wicked fruit” and “down­right evil,” is too sim­ple. The Bea­t­les as peo­ple, and their music, are far more com­plex than that.

  15. 15
    Nick says:

    @Scott Alt: Thank you for those links, it was very inter­est­ing to read that. I sup­pose I stand corrected.

  16. 16
    Scott Eric Alt says:

    @Deacon Jason,
    I’ll have to think that one through, because the song indi­cates “no reli­gion,” “no heaven,” and “no Hell.” Per­haps it might not be athe­ism per se, but sounds a lit­tle closer to me to Uni­tar­i­an­ism than Catholicism.

    At any rate, I had never seen this quo­ta­tion from Lennon before, so I’ll have to take a look into it.

  17. 17
    Scott Eric Alt says:

    The author of “The Lennon Prophecy” is a crack­pot. He argues, among other things, that Lennon knew the date of his death ahead of time because he was killed in 1980. 1+ 9 + 8 + 0 = 18 and 1 + 8 = 9. (Num­ber 9, num­ber 9, num­ber 9. Get it?) He even takes the Roman numer­als MDCXC (or 1,690) from a James Joyce novel pub­lished the year before John Lennon was born, finds the word “dead­man” in the same sen­tence, and claims that the MDC stands for Mark David Chap­man and that James Joyce also knew ahead of time about the Bea­t­les and Lennon’s death and coded the infor­ma­tion into Finnegans Wake. That’s the kind of stuff you read in the book. I sus­pect the author has done more LSD than the Beatles.

  18. 18
    Scott Eric Alt says:

    Dea­con Jason, thanks much for those arti­cles. And the book cer­tainly looks worth check­ing out. I wasn’t aware of any of that.

  19. 19
    alex says:

    i’m so tired of peo­ple try­ing to squeese phils­o­phy or the­ol­ogy out of bea­t­les songs. its like lis­ten­ing to oprah or obama try­ing to coun­sel us on life lessons. a waste of time and bet­ter put to the writ­ings of real saints and philoso­phers. they were young igno­rant and mostly unitel­li­gent boys and shows our shal­low­ness to give them any more time than school girl crushes. they had noth­ing to offer and con­tributed greated to the break­down of soci­ety. they were def­i­nitely tools of the demonic whether they real­ized it or not

  20. 20
    NorCalRunner says:

    I’m a lit­tle too young to care about the Bea­t­les one way or another, but I remem­ber this same sort of hys­te­ria over the Hotel Cal­i­for­nia album cover, and the lyrics of Hotel Cal­i­for­nia. You can still find some of this hys­te­ria at the Jesus Is Sav­ior site, and you can also find a good debunk­ing at Snopes. Cracked has a funny (but vul­gar) piece about this kind of stuff, includ­ing good debunk­ing of accu­sa­tions lev­eled at both The Bea­t­les and The Eagles, as well as a few other bands. And then there’s the backwards-lyrics stuff, and the Wiz­ard of Oz stuff, all that.

    It’s all just so silly. Sure, Chris­tian­ity and pop­u­lar cul­ture are at log­ger­heads more often than not, but spend­ing this kind of time over silly urban leg­ends seems to make Chris­tians look fool­ish and pro­vide ammu­ni­tion for Christianity’s detrac­tors. Seems like this could all be time bet­ter spent in a more pos­i­tive way.

  21. 21
    Scott Eric Alt says:

    Yeah, Jesus is Sav­ior is good for a laugh. There are some Catholic sites that have this kind of para­noia too, includ­ing one linked to above in com­ment #20.

  22. 22
    fRED says:

    I fol­lowed a link from New Advent to this post because being a for­mer Fab fan I was curi­ous. You were TOO kind to Dr. Mar­shall (never heard of him before). Thanks for includ­ing the link to his orig­i­nal post. I went there and can see how this guy could be appeal­ing to RCs who are look­ing for a guru to fol­low (ala Scott Hahn, etc.).

    It appears that most com­men­ta­tors –includ­ing some pro­claimed fans– have almost no knowl­edge of John Lennon (he might be pleased but not sur­prised about this). With­out going into a long dis­ser­ta­tion (plus its been many years since I paid much atten­tion to the Fabs), Lennon advised/urged his fol­low­ers to let go (of Bea­t­les, John&Yoko, God, etc) and live their own lives and not be fol­low­ers. He spoke out to pro­mote peace (War is Over — if you want it) and jus­tice. He was no saint but then who is? He made mis­takes and acknowl­edged them.

    I find it very frus­trat­ing that Lennon’s “more pop­u­lar than Jesus” quote is still mis­un­der­stood. [at least read the Wikipedia arti­cle on “More Pop­u­lar than Jesus.”] This lack of under­stand­ing is per­haps more sig­nif­i­cant than Lennon’s actual words because it shows that even after nearly 50 years we the peo­ple are pretty lazy when it comes to dis­cern­ing what the press/media tells us. Instead, we take what­ever we’re given with­out hardly any eval­u­a­tion. Hook, line, and sinker. It’s no won­der that our soci­ety is in such sad shape today.

    As far as peo­ple like Tay­lor Mar­shall, as Lennon said: “It’s them twist­ing it that ruins it for me.”

  23. 23
    Dolly says:

    If you want good infor­ma­tion on the pop ‘cul­ture’ in gen­eral, go to dave mcgowan’s web­site where Lau­rel Canyon is dis­cussed at length.
    The ‘cul­ture’ has never come from the ‘grass roots’ or from the ‘ground up’. In all eras it’s been advanced and pro­moted by big money. Read The Cul­tural Cold War by Frances Stonor Saun­ders.
    As for the Bea­t­les — at this point, I doubt they wrote the songs that were attrib­uted to them. As for the album cover; to any­one with nor­mal dis­cern­ment, it is grotesque and shouldn’t have hap­pened. It wasn’t just an acci­dent. Big money isn’t spent on any­thing that is an acci­dent or a long shot.
    And I think Dea­con Jason doesn’t under­stand the ‘uni­ver­sal­ity’ of Catholi­cism…
    Regard­ing Trimelda’s com­ments; I think she misses the point that cer­tain music appeals to our baser instincts and other types of music ele­vates us and speaks to our souls in order to bring us closer to God.

  24. 24
    Dolly says:

    And by the way Mr. Alt; since you are a rel­a­tive new­comer to Catholi­cism, it might be a good idea to rethink your atti­tude on com­ment #20. Call­ing Catholics para­noid makes you look like you don’t under­stand Catholi­cism, have an ax to grind, or have an agenda. [Yeah. If the idea that James Joyce fore­told the assas­si­na­tion of John Lennon in Finnegans Wake is not irra­tional para­noia, then the word has no mean­ing.]

  25. 25
    Scott Eric Alt says:

    Go for it, dear reader. Check out that Web site. Have fun.