PopMatters is moving to WordPress. We will publish a few essays daily while we develop the new site. We hope the beta will be up sometime late next week.
Books

The Beatles and Philosophy by Michael Baur and Steven Baur [Editors]

Perhaps Lennon's pop-song gibberish happens to have a fluke connection with Hindu philosophy, but it seems irresponsible to make intentional bedfellows of the two.


The Beatles and Philosophy

Publisher: Open Court
ISBN: 0812696069
Author: Steven Baur
Price: $17.95
Display Artist: Michael Baur and Steven Baur [Editors]
Length: 301
Formats: Paperback
UK publication date: 2006-12
US publication date: 2006-10
Amazon

There are so many books written about the Beatles -- too many, probably -- that if we were to make an inventory of every single title, the bad would far outweigh the good. For every indispensable Beatles book (Mark Lewisohn's The Complete Beatles Recording Sessions or Bob Spitz's The Beatles) there's a stack of purposeless volumes: the tabloid gossip pieces, the fakebooks, the perplexing digressions into sub-topics of straw-grasping relevance. The Beatles and Philosophy, a collection of essays by philosophy experts (many of them university professors, all of them Beatles fanatics), is a new and sometimes tedious example of the latter. An entry in the "Popular Culture and Philosophy" series of books, which is now 25 volumes deep, The Beatles and Philosophy exploits the Fab Four's weakness for populist consciousness-raising by aligning their work to that of Kant, Heidegger, Aristotle, and a host of other great minds that don't necessarily have much to do with the band's music.

A major problem with the collection is that it addresses the Beatles' lyrics only -- understandably, seeing as there's no way to discuss Nietzsche and overdubbing with a straight face -- an approach that inevitably treats the band as a one-dimensional unit. There's no discussion of composition or instrumentation, no examination of arrangements or invention -- this is solely a trace of so-called philosophical themes within the lyrical content. (Regrettably, straight lyrical analysis in pop music is a somewhat shallow trade, for there are so many other parts to a song beyond its words alone.) This leaves the writers groping for faint and coincidental similarities between the Beatles' lyrics and core concepts within existentialism, virtue ethics, Marxism, and Eastern philosophy (the latter is an excusable avenue, given the band's fascination -- George Harrison's, especially -- with Indian music and Hinduism). Sure, Harrison's music and ideology frequently embraced those of Eastern cultures, and John Lennon famously snuck Timothy Leary's Tibetan Book of the Dead-isms into "Tomorrow Never Knows", but the kind of intellectual matchmaking on display in The Beatles and Philosophy is, more often than not, a venture in absurdity.

Take Ronald Lee Zigler's essay, "Realizing It's All Within Yourself", for example. Zigler offers "I Am the Walrus" as an example of a song "in which we can trace the influence of Eastern Philosophy." (What about the influence of nonsense, of childlike expression and the simple sound of certain words in a particular order?) He goes on to claim that the song's opening line -- "I am he as you are he as you are me and we are all together" -- is "the Beatles' most succinct affirmation of the metaphysics of Vedanta which underscores our basic spiritual unity." Well, perhaps Lennon's pop-song gibberish happens to have a fluke connection with Hindu philosophy, but it seems irresponsible to make intentional bedfellows of the two, to saddle such illogical phrasing with greater importance than it may have originally intended to possess.

Many of the book's writers attempt to reason logically with the Beatles' lyrical exploits, but logic doesn't exactly apply to the band's psychedelic-era songwriting. In his essay "Fixing Metaphysical Holes", Rick Mayock soberly examines "Fixing a Hole":

Every time I hear this puzzling lyric I wonder what the riddle could possibly mean. What kind of hole needs fixing, what is the 'rain' that gets in, and how does it prevent the mind from wandering where it will go? ... The lyric seems to suggest that the wandering mind (thinking or consciousness) is possible because we set up the conditions for thinking. We fix the holes, fill the cracks, and paint the rooms of our consciousness. This allows the mind to wander, to be free.

Say what you will about the validity of certain kinds of music criticism, but this philosophy sub-set is a painful breed of interpretation. Scott Calef, in his essay "You Say That You've Got Everything You Want: The Beatles and the Critique of Consumer Culture", discusses the finer points of Rousseau and then plots said points on a classic-rock staple: "... for Rousseau, humans have suffered a loss of pity. In 'While My Guitar Gently Weeps', George makes a very similar point, and laments that love is sleeping. We haven't yet awakened to love, or perhaps, we've lost the consciousness of how to love ... This is such a sadness that even his guitar can't keep from crying." What's so striking about the majority of the book's 18 essays -- and, therefore, what makes them all so insufferable -- is that they try so hard to be astoundingly intelligent, to delve into the intricate meanings of every last lyric, and yet there's a sustained ignorance towards the inherent silliness of it all. Is there really a debate about "what exactly [did Paul] mean by the word love?" in "All My Loving"? Does an assessment of Nietzsche really help us to better understand the Beatles' transcendent aspirations?

Steven Baur, one of the book's editors, is the author of one of the better essays in the collection. "You Say You Want a Revolution: Marx and the Beatles" compares and contrasts the band with the German philosopher (who is, as Baur notes, "the only Western philosopher to make the cover of a Beatles album"), and makes a number of insightful points about how social establishments are affected by pop stars and theorists alike. "Marx, dedicated materialist that he was," Baur writes, "would insist that any discussion of the Beatles must necessarily start with a consideration of their real material circumstances." Baur, too, insists on having like parameters set in place, and saves his own essay, at least, from floating off into clouds of intangible analysis.

Please Donate to Help Save PopMatters

PopMatters have been informed by our current technology and hosting provider that we have less than a month, until November 6, to move PopMatters off their service or we will be shut down. We are moving to WordPress and a new host, but we really need your help to save the site.


Music

Books

Film

Recent
Television

How 'Watchmen' and 'The Boys' Deconstruct American Fascism

Superhero media has a history of critiquing the dark side of power, hero worship, and vigilantism, but none have done so as radically as Watchmen and The Boys.

Music

Floodlights' 'From a View' Is Classicist Antipodal Indie Guitar Pop

Aussie indie rockers, Floodlights' debut From a View is a very cleanly, crisply-produced and mixed collection of shambolic, do-it-yourself indie guitar music.

Music

CF Watkins Embraces a Cool, Sophisticated Twang on 'Babygirl'

CF Watkins has pulled off the unique trick of creating an album that is imbued with the warmth of the American South as well as the urban sophistication of New York.

Music

Helena Deland Suggests Imagination Is More Rewarding Than Reality on 'Something New'

Canadian singer-songwriter Helena Deland's first full-length release Someone New reveals her considerable creative talents.

Music

While the Sun Shines: An Interview with Composer Joe Wong

Joe Wong, the composer behind Netflix's Russian Doll and Master of None, articulates personal grief and grappling with artistic fulfillment into a sweeping debut album.

Music

Peter Frampton Asks "Do You Feel Like I Do?" in Rock-Solid Book on Storied Career

British rocker Peter Frampton grew up fast before reaching meteoric heights with Frampton Comes Alive! Now the 70-year-old Grammy-winning artist facing a degenerative muscle condition looks back on his life in his new memoir and this revealing interview.

Books

Bishakh Som's 'Spellbound' Is an Innovative Take on the Graphic Memoir

Bishakh's Som's graphic memoir, Spellbound, serves as a reminder that trans memoirs need not hinge on transition narratives, or at least not on the ones we are used to seeing.

Music

Gamblers' Michael McManus Discusses Religion, Addiction, and the Importance of Writing Open-Ended Songs

Seductively approachable, Gamblers' sunny sound masks the tragedy and despair that populate the band's debut album.

Books

Peter Guralnick's 'Looking to Get Lost' Is an Ode to the Pleasures of Writing About Music

Peter Guralnick's homage to writing about music, 'Looking to Get Lost', shows how good music writing gets the music into the readers' head.

Film

In Praise of the Artifice in George Cukor's 'Sylvia Scarlett'

George Cukor's gender-bending Sylvia Scarlett proposes a heroine who learns nothing from her cross-gendered ordeal.

Music

The Cure: Ranking the Albums From 13 to 1

Just about every Cure album is worth picking up, and even those ranked lowest boast worthwhile moments. Here are their albums, spanning 29 years, presented from worst to best.

Television

The 20 Best Episodes of 'Star Trek: The Original Series'

This is a timeless list of 20 thrilling Star Trek episodes that delight, excite, and entertain, all the while exploring the deepest aspects of the human condition and questioning our place in the universe.

Music

The 20 Best Tom Petty Songs

With today's release of Tom Petty's Wildflowers & All the Rest (Deluxe Edition), we're revisiting Petty's 20 best songs.

Joshua M. Miller
Music

The 11 Greatest Hits From "Greatest Hits" Compilations

It's one of the strangest pop microcosms in history: singles released exclusively from Greatest Hits compilations. We rounded 'em up and ranked 'em to find out what is truly the greatest Greatest Hit of all.

Music

When Punk Got the Funk

As punks were looking for some potential pathways out of the cul-de-sacs of their limited soundscapes, they saw in funk a way to expand the punk palette without sacrificing either their ethos or idea(l)s.

Music

20 Hits of the '80s You Might Not Have Known Are Covers

There were many hit cover versions in the '80s, some of well-known originals, and some that fans may be surprised are covers.

Music

The Reign of Kindo Discuss Why We're Truly "Better Off Together"

The Reign of Kindo's Joseph Secchiaroli delves deep into their latest single and future plans, as well as how COVID-19 has affected not only the band but America as a whole.

Books

Tommy Siegel's Comic 'I Hope This Helps' Pokes at Social Media Addiction

Jukebox the Ghost's Tommy Siegel discusses his "500 Comics in 500 Days" project, which is now a new book, I Hope This Helps.


Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews



Features
Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.