Martin Lewis - In His Own Write

Daytrippin' Magazine - Issue 6
by Martin Lewis
(First published Spring 1999)


Beatles fans are a 'broad church.' They come in literally all ages, races, nationalities and sizes. Some are first generation fans - hooked from the very first time they heard that crucial wail of John's harmonica on "Love Me Do" - or saw the angelic faces of the four youthful moptops spilling into their parents' living room in the black and white glory of 1964.

Others joined the train as it was hurtling through the '60's - boarding a locomotive that was changing its livery and carriages album by album. And that's just us old-timers.

Since then we have been joined by the fans who - first time round - were either slightly too young or considerably too unborn. But they've been making up for lost time. Everyone's welcome. All aboard! It's a train... It's a 'broad church'... It's a 'big tent'... You know what I mean...

But having joined this 'broad church' at different times - the fans like the Fabs for varying reasons. And consequently they hold widely differing views on everything. Which is as it should be. The Beatles fellowship isn't a monolithic political party. And yet... and yet...

You see I don't think of the Beatles as just a music group. They clearly stood for something. A set of values. A broad agenda of attitudes about the world and its citizens. And I just can't conceive of people liking the Beatles - who don't at least support the general thrust of those ideals. And yet I know that there are many Beatles fans who didn't come on board to be part of any philosophy - and certainly don't subscribe to what I think of as Beatle-ism.

Now it's not as though it started out as a set of defined values. The Fabs of 1962 were just a group of young guys in love with rock 'n' roll. Eager to make their mark on the music world. Such political views as they had were not apparent.

The Beatles were obviously different from Day One. But even though they broke new ground by being pop stars who spoke intelligently with humor and self-deprecating wit - they still never spoke about topical issues.

But something happened to the Fabs on their journey. As their success grew at warp speed - they were thrust into an adventure faster and more intense than any ever experienced by entertainers to that date. Or since.

As we have seen all too often, performers in music, acting and other popular art forms react adversely to massive success. They find that their creativity dies. Or worse still - they crack up.

Astonishingly - the Beatles neither stalled nor de-railed. They actually soared ever higher.. They took their insane situation in their stride and grew as people. And then they applied that growth to their art. And they became prominent leaders of the emerging counter-culture.

By 1966 - those in the 'arts' who had progressive ideas were becoming aware that they could not avoid the social issues of the day. To be committed to artistic progress meant to be involved in the political process.

The 60's was the first time in history that popular musicians became actively involved in controversial issues on a grand scale. Of course entertainers had lent general support to good causes before. And so-called 'serious' artists (novelists, playwrights, poets and folksingers) had always expressed themselves on the issues of the day. But popular musicians saw their function as being to entertain rather than to educate or stimulate thought.

The Beatles - along with a few other passionate artists such as Bob Dylan and The Who - did nothing less than change all the rules. In a world at a crucial crossroads, it wasn't enough just to make people dance or happy. It was the duty of thinking people who had the ability to express themselves - to inspire, exhort and lead.

And as the Beatles went down that track - they inspired, exhorted and led an entire generation.

It's not as though every song was a call to arms. But many songs did address the issues of the day. A few were very specific to their time - eg "Revolution." Most addressed important themes in broad terms - from "Nowhere Man" and "The Word" to "All You Need Is Love."

The Beatles never defined a philosophy as such - it gradually emerged. As the Vietnam and Biafra wars raged, the American civil rights movement fought its vital battles, and many other social issues cried for attention - the world divided into two camps. You were either progressive, in favor of peace, greater democracy (including equal rights for women, minorities, gay people, students etc.) - or you broadly supported the status quo.

The Beatles as a group, and as individuals, placed themselves firmly on the progressive side. Each Beatle had a different level and genre of commitment. John was the most visible. He flung himself headlong into the political fray. Paul's involvement was to be a great supporter of the cultural renaissance - and the emerging avant garde. George was determined to open western eyes to the importance of spiritual growth. And Ringo was... well he was Ringo! That's not a put-down. Far from it - Ringo was always the down-to-earth Beatle. While he supported the general objectives - he didn't get heavily involved in specific projects and campaigns. And that was a grounding influence on his fellow Beatles. He kept his feet on the ground - which was a gentle reminder to his mates that all of their causes must always be accessible to the person-next-door.

The individual Beatles weren't particularly good at articulating an overall group vision. It took their publicist Derek Taylor to encapsulate their opinions and present them as a coherent philosophy.

Derek's job description in 1968 was not solely Beatles publicity. He was also responsible for promoting all the many activities of the Beatles' new company - Apple. His great inspiration was to take the launch and development of Apple and project it as a manifestation of everything that the Beatles stood for. He encouraged journalists - and the public - to look back at the spirit of the early Beatles and connect it to the evolving, progressive Beatles.

In his skillful retroactive positioning, he postulated that their earlier songs about romance were actually cut from the same cloth as their later political songs. That though the content was personal and reflected matters of the heart - it came from the same minds, souls and positive spirit that would later be applied to global issues. That what the Beatles had ALWAYS been about was engaging with the best part of the human spirit. The part that yearned for happiness and the quest to make the world a better place.

And THAT was the lasting impression that we were left with. We knew that the Beatles always wrote what they meant - and meant what they sang. Which is certainly not always the case with musical artists.

After the break-up, each of the Beatles carried some of their political, social and cultural concerns into their solo careers - and embraced new causes - usually in equal partnership with their wives. Many of these campaigns have continued to the present day. By a process of association - those causes then became assimilated into the overall tapestry of Beatle-ish beliefs.

And none of the occasionally disappointing behavior of the all-too human Beatles in subsequent years has ever demolished the public faith in the honesty of those core, innate Beatle beliefs that Derek Taylor so effectively gave voice to in 1968-1970.

And in the first couple of years of the 70's they certainly did enough to wreck it. The nasty break-up and legal battles with the members suing each other - and the ugly public battle between John and Paul - all seemed, and were, contrary to their message of love and peace. And yet none of these essentially 'family squabbles' could destroy the lasting sense that the Beatles had stood for something. That the songs were sincere and that the band itself had an underlying philosophy.

Paul summarized it proudly in "Anthology" "I'm really glad that most of our songs were about peace and love."

I reflect on all this because I'm very aware that a lot of Beatles fans just don't care about this aspect of the Beatles. To them it just was/is about the music in its purest sense. They like it. They like the tunes. But they don't dwell on the lyrics - or the underlying philosophies.

Now me - I can't conceive of being a Beatles fan and not being in sympathy with their broad philosophy. How can you possibly sing along to "All You Need Is Love" - and support the death penalty?

How can you hear "Happiness Is A Warm Gun" and (thinking of the tragic shooting of John) not support gun control?

How can you hear "The End" and not be compassionate about helping the underprivileged?

And yet the reality is that a lot of Beatles fans just don't agree with those positions.

I'm not saying that all Beatles fans should think the same way... vote the same way... An important Beatles song after all is "Think For Yourself."

But surely true Beatles fans should at least share the basic ideals? Otherwise what's the point?

Me? I'd like to see every Beatles fan do his or her best to apply what I regard as the creed of Beatle-ism in our daily life.

Let's also support those politicians and organizations who express support for gun control, for equal rights for all - including women, minorities and gays; for compassion to those less fortunate than ourselves; for equal access to the essentials in life - quality health, education and basic existence - to ALL in our society; for making the arts accessible to everyone.... I think you know the rest.

I'll be very interested to hear your thoughts. I leave the last words to John: "In the beginning I misunderstood - but now I've got it the word is good. Say the word and be like me. Say the word and you'll be free. Say the word I'm thinking of. Have you heard? The word is LOVE."

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