The Beatles: ‘Sending the joy out’ for more than 50 years

This entry is part 1 of 5 in the series The Beatles
The Beatles performing She Loves You 1963 (1)

John Lennon and George Harrison as the Beatles perform “She Loves You” in 1963.

NOTE from OurValues creator Dr. Wayne Baker: This week, please welcome journalist and educator Charles Honey for a thought-provoking series based on classes he has taught about the impact of the Beatles’ music. Here’s Charles’ first column …

Beatlemania in action at She Loves You 1963 performance (1)

Beatlemania in action.

When I first saw the Beatles perform on the Ed Sullivan Show on Feb. 9, 1964, they were singing a language I didn’t get, at that point. But even at age 11, I sensed it had something to do with excitement, sexuality (still latent in my case) and unrestrained joy.

More than 50 years later, the Beatles’ music still speaks to me, in ever-fresh ways. The songs’ sonic ecstasy endures, but their meaning has deepened with new bends in my life’s journey.

That’s one reason the Beatles remain so popular, with U.S. sales of more than 178 million albums. Their songs continue to speak to us across time, with spiritual resonance and personal messages.

Beatlemania grips a fan (1)I have seen this in a short course I teach on the spirituality of the Beatles. From 20-somethings to retirees, participants speak of how deeply Beatles songs have touched their lives. Besides the songs’ sheer musical appeal, people find sustenance in their values: the celebration of beauty; the authenticity of inner experience; and, especially, the power of love as an agent of change.

We hear this power full-force in their early hit, She Loves You. A legendary performance at the London Palladium in 1963 is marked by many as the birth of Beatlemania. The shrieking, weeping girls are old hat by now, but listen to what the boys are singing:

She said you hurt her so,
she almost lost her mind.
Now she says she knows
you’re not the hurting kind.
She says she loves you,
and you know that can’t be bad.

This is not the needy love of most boy-girl songs of the era. It’s love delivered as good news, unselfishly, to a friend. Whatever caused the rift, he says, get past it. Pride can hurt you, too. Apologize to her.

The advice anticipates Paul’s encouraging words in Hey Jude:

You have found her,
now go and get her.

Love is a gift not to be squandered. Be brave and go for it.

With a love like that, you know you should be glad.

What emotions do this song stir in you? Does it still excite you? Why? What might you see in its message now that you might not have seen then?

For me, the comment a breathless teen made to Newsweek at the time still says it well: “Oh dearie me, they just send the joy out to you!”

Care to see the 1963 London Palladium performance?

As always, you’re free to share these columns with friends to spark discussion.

Care to read more?

Charles Honey is a freelance writer specializing in faith, education, music and baseball. He wrote a religion column for The Grand Rapids Press/MLive for 20 years, is a staff writer for School News Network and writes a blog on everyday spiritual experience, Soulmailing.com. He teaches a short adult-learner course called “Love is All, Love is You: The Spirituality of the Beatles.” Recently, Charles was featured in ReadTheSpirit Cover Story about his new book Faith on First.

ALSO THIS WEEK, our section on Holidays, Festivals & Anniversaries looks at the many ways the Beatles reshaped popular culture in the second half of 1965—a golden anniversary in 2015. Plus, to help you sense what it was like 50 years ago, this column includes two short videos of the Beatles taking the stage at Shea Stadium and then performing A Hard Day’s Night on that historic occasion.

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The Beatles: Do you still long for Yesterday?

This entry is part 2 of 5 in the series The Beatles

Beatles_Yesterday_Live_at_Ed_Sullivan_Show_-_YouTube

NOTE from Dr. Wayne Baker: Please welcome journalist and educator Charles Honey for a thought-provoking series based on classes he has taught about the impact of the Beatles’ music. Here’s Charles’ second column …

Paul McCartney maintained that the melody of Yesterday came to him in a dream. He went around for days asking people if they’d heard it before, convinced he had unwittingly downloaded somebody else’s song. Finally, he realized it had come from his own subconscious.

Maybe that’s why the song entered into our cultural consciousness so readily. Besides being a No. 1 single in 1965, it’s been recorded by other artists more than 2,500 times. That’s partly due to the haunting melody and Paul’s plaintive vocal, bravely delivered here on The Ed Sullivan Show.

But it’s the regretful lyrics that stick in your soul:

Yesterday, love was such an easy game to play.
Now I need a place to hide away.
Oh, I believe in yesterday.

This is Paul as a 23-year-old man, already reflecting on the careless cruelty of life. So unlike the buoyant persona he exuded on early carefree hits, here he confronts loss in painfully personal terms.

Suddenly, I’m not half the man I used to be.
There’s a shadow hanging over me. …
I said something wrong.
Now I long for yesterday.

This yearning for what was, to unwind time and unsay what’s been said, digs into the heart of human frailty. Paul speaks here of a love affair, but a 70-year-old man in one of my classes said it spoke to him of his younger life. For him, as for Paul, yesterday came suddenly.

Do you find sadness or comfort in this song? Does it help you accept the things you wish you hadn’t done or said?

The_Beatles__Help__Live_1965__Reelin__In_The_Years_Archives__-_YouTube 2

John jokes as he introduces Help! on Ed Sullivan.

That same year, John Lennon also revealed his vulnerability with the song Help! Cleverly masked as a bouncy rocker, it’s actually a dark admission of insecurity and need:

When I was younger, so much younger than today,
I never needed anybody’s help in any way.
But now these days are gone, I’m not so self-assured.
Now I find I’ve changed my mind, and opened up the doors.

Ever the witty jester, John joked as he introduced the song on Ed Sullivan. But laid bare on the page, the lyrics unmask a young man struggling with depression and drink: “my fat Elvis period,” he called it. In so doing, he gave his fans permission to look inward, name their hurts and reach out for help.

Does his confession give you a similar permission—or liberation?

Beatlemania still raged around them, but Lennon and McCartney were already tapping into their mortality.

Here’s Paul singing Yesterday on the Ed Sullivan Show …

And here is John introducing Help!

Care to read more?

Charles Honey is a freelance writer specializing in faith, education, music and baseball. He wrote a religion column for The Grand Rapids Press/MLive for 20 years, is a staff writer for School News Network and writes a blog on everyday spiritual experience, Soulmailing.com. He teaches a short adult-learner course called “Love is All, Love is You: The Spirituality of the Beatles.” Recently, Charles was featured in ReadTheSpirit Cover Story about his new book Faith on First.

ALSO THIS WEEK, our section on Holidays, Festivals & Anniversaries looks at the many ways the Beatles reshaped popular culture in the second half of 1965—a golden anniversary in 2015. Plus, to help you sense what it was like 50 years ago, this column includes two short videos of the Beatles taking the stage at Shea Stadium and then performing A Hard Day’s Night on that historic occasion.

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The Beatles: Do we still believe love can change the world?

This entry is part 3 of 5 in the series The Beatles
The_Beatles_All_You_Need_is_Love__HQ__mp4_-_YouTube

George Harrison singing “All You Need Is Love” in a live global television link in 1967 viewed by 400 million people in 26 countries.

NOTE from Dr. Wayne Baker: Please welcome journalist and educator Charles Honey for a thought-provoking series based on classes he has taught about the impact of the Beatles’ music. Here’s Charles’ third column …

George Harrison was the most overtly religious of the Beatles, with his sitar-inflected affinity for Eastern thought. But Paul McCartney and John Lennon, albeit agnostics, were secular evangelists for the revolutionary power of love.

They proclaimed it in The Word–Have you heard? The word is love–and the utopian All You Need is Love, which in a worldwide 1967 broadcast insisted “love is all you need” despite ample evidence to the contrary.

This was not love as romance but as action, an inner enlightenment that could change the world. Writes Steve Turner in The Gospel According to the Beatles, “The Apostle John declared ‘God is love.’ The Beatles effectively turned this around and said, ‘love is God.’”

They preached this gospel most powerfully in personal songs where lack of love leaves loneliness and disconnection. Listen to John lament the solitary soul of Nowhere Man, making all his nowhere plans for nobody:

Nowhere Man, please listen.
You don’t know what you’re missing.
The world is at your command.

How so? What is Lennon saying here? Maybe that Nowhere Man has more power than he thinks to enter what Martin Luther King Jr. called “the beloved community.”

He’s as blind as he can be,
just sees what he wants to see.
Nowhere Man can you see me at all?

How is he blind? Spiritually, I would say. He is so plugged into his own version of reality that he can’t see the beauty around him. He can’t even see the person standing in front of him as he really is, just a projection of his own separation.

As George later lamented on While My Guitar Gently Weeps, I look at you all, see the love there that’s sleeping …

What love is sleeping inside Eleanor Rigby as she picks up the rice from a church wedding? McCartney’s masterpiece stands as perhaps pop’s most poignant portrait of human loneliness. In so vividly describing her waiting by the window, wearing makeup for no one, Paul etches a painful picture of life without love and connection.

All the lonely people,
where do they all come from?
All the lonely people,
where do they all belong?

In not answering, Paul prompts us to wonder: What do I do about loneliness? How am I blind? Is the world really at my command, if only I can truly love?

The questions echo down the decades, and in my heart, to this day.

Here’s a video clip from the 1967 worldwide broadcast …

From a later remastering, this is Nowhere Man …

And here’s Eleanor Rigby …

Care to read more?

Charles Honey is a freelance writer specializing in faith, education, music and baseball. He wrote a religion column for The Grand Rapids Press/MLive for 20 years, is a staff writer for School News Network and writes a blog on everyday spiritual experience, Soulmailing.com. He teaches a short adult-learner course called “Love is All, Love is You: The Spirituality of the Beatles.” Recently, Charles was featured in a ReadTheSpirit Cover Story about his new book Faith on First.

ALSO THIS WEEK, our section on Holidays, Festivals & Anniversaries looks at the many ways the Beatles reshaped popular culture in the second half of 1965—a golden anniversary in 2015. Plus, to help you sense what it was like 50 years ago, this column includes two short videos of the Beatles taking the stage at Shea Stadium and then performing A Hard Day’s Night on that historic occasion.

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The Beatles: There are places I remember all my life

This entry is part 4 of 5 in the series The Beatles
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Just one of the Penny Lane street views from Google Maps today.

NOTE from Dr. Wayne Baker: Please welcome journalist and educator Charles Honey for a thought-provoking series based on classes he has taught about the impact of the Beatles’ music. Here’s Charles’ fourth column …

I have never visited Penny Lane, although I fully plan on it. Yet even if fate says no, I can vividly see its blue suburban skies and the fireman with an hourglass.

That’s due to Paul McCartney’s brilliantly colored portrait of the Liverpool street where he used to catch a bus on the way to John Lennon’s house. If you Google street views of Penny Lane, it looks like a nice but unremarkable commercial district. Listen to Paul’s song, though, and it takes on the magical hues of a Maxfield Parrish painting:

In Penny Lane there is a barber showing photographs
of every head he’s had the pleasure to know.
And all the people that come and go stop and say hello.

There really was a barber shop with photos of haircuts in the window, Paul told author Barry Miles years later. And there really was a “shelter in the middle of a roundabout,” and a banker on the corner—though Paul invented the bit about the children laughing behind his back. Indeed, it was all a pretty ordinary little district where he and John hung out. But filtered through Paul’s lively imagination years later, Penny Lane becomes a childhood wonderland.

The pretty nurse is selling poppies from a tray.
And though she feels as if she’s in a play, she is anyway.

That childlike sense of wonder permeates the Beatles’ world view. Life sometimes feels like we’re all in a play. Come to think of it–or imagine it, anyway–maybe we are.

Both Penny Lane and Strawberry Fields, co-released as a double-A side single in early 1967–two works of genius expended on one 45!–stunningly illustrate Lennon and McCartney’s belief in the power of perception to shape reality.

Remember In My Life—and the way that song describes love as bound up in our memories of people, things and places?

There are places I remember all my life
Though some have changed …

Comparing Penny Lane and Strawberry Fields, Paul characteristically paints reality in joyful Technicolor, while John applies a phantasmagoric brush to Strawberry Field, a former Salvation Army children’s home where he used to play. It was reportedly a lush, beautiful grounds that fed young John’s sense of the mystical. And how:

Let me take you down ‘cause I’m going to Strawberry Fields.
Nothing is real, and nothing to get hung about.

Taking it as given that John drew from equal parts LSD and Lewis Carroll, is nothing in fact real here, or in Penny Lane? Or does the reality lie in how we recall the places of our childhood, and inform those experiences with wonder through our imaginations?

I am indebted to the Beatles for helping me see my world—and theirs—through the wide eyes of a child.

Here’s Penny Lane …

And, here’s Strawberry Fields …

Care to read more?

Charles Honey is a freelance writer specializing in faith, education, music and baseball. He wrote a religion column for The Grand Rapids Press/MLive for 20 years, is a staff writer for School News Network and writes a blog on everyday spiritual experience, Soulmailing.com. He teaches a short adult-learner course called “Love is All, Love is You: The Spirituality of the Beatles.” Recently, Charles was featured in ReadTheSpirit Cover Story about his new book Faith on First.

ALSO THIS WEEK, our section on Holidays, Festivals & Anniversaries looks at the many ways the Beatles reshaped popular culture in the second half of 1965—a golden anniversary in 2015. Plus, to help you sense what it was like 50 years ago, this column includes two short videos of the Beatles taking the stage at Shea Stadium and then performing A Hard Day’s Night on that historic occasion.

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The Beatles: And, in the end … Let It Be.

This entry is part 5 of 5 in the series The Beatles
The_Beatles-Let_It_Be_Music_Video__1970__with_lyrics_-_YouTube

Paul McCartney performing “Let It Be.”

NOTE from Dr. Wayne Baker: Please welcome journalist and educator Charles Honey for a thought-provoking series based on classes he has taught about the impact of the Beatles’ music. Here’s Charles’ fourth column …

One of the deep bonds between Paul McCartney and John Lennon was that they both lost their mothers at an early age. Paul’s mother, Mary, died of cancer when he was 14, and John’s Julia was killed by a car when he was 17.

Their shared grief of loss was powerfully captured in the excellent 2009 movie Nowhere Boy, in a scene showing John’s anger after Julia’s funeral. (The British film was released in October 2010 in the US to coincide with what would have been John’s 70th birthday—and there’s a video clip below.)

While John worked out his feelings explicitly through songs such as Julia and Mother, Paul’s were more indirectly expressed and, characteristically, to uplifting effect. Let It Be finds Paul taking solace from his mum speaking from beyond the grave–and passes it along to us as a comfort for our own hardships.

When I find myself in times of trouble,
mother Mary comes to me
speaking words of wisdom: let it be.
And in my hour of darkness s
he is standing right in front of me
speaking words of wisdom: let it be.

Like Yesterday, Paul said the seed of this song came to him in a dream. It was while recording of the White Album, when the band was bickering and the Beatles had begun to disintegrate. In the midst of his distress, Paul dreamed his mother told him not to worry, that things would turn out OK.

The gist of her advice, he told biographer Barry Miles, was “let it be.”

The song’s hymn-like quality and reference to “mother Mary” led many to think he meant the Virgin Mary. That was OK with Paul. “I’m quite happy if people want to use it to shore up their faith,” he told Miles.

Without a doubt, many people have–this writer included. When released in the spring of 1970, it spoke to my inner teen turmoil as graduation approached. Now it makes me think of my late mother, Betty, her love of music and her words of wisdom that still strengthen me. She, too, comes to me in dreams.

Never religious but always spiritual, Paul speaks his own wisdom to all “the broken-hearted people … There will be an answer, let it be.”

How is letting it be an answer? Where’s the comfort in that? Does it sound like passivity?

To me, it’s acceptance. Yes, there is grief in loss, but fighting reality won’t help. Accepting what is, and faith in what can be, brings a measure of inner peace amid the grief.

A month after Let It Be was released, Paul announced the band had broken up. The screams of the girls were just echoes, and suddenly the Beatles were no more.

But though they had parted, they sang to us like angels: Let it be.

Care for more? Here’s the funeral scene from the 19 film Nowhere Boy …

And, here is Let It Be …

Care to read more?

Charles Honey is a freelance writer specializing in faith, education, music and baseball. He wrote a religion column for The Grand Rapids Press/MLive for 20 years, is a staff writer for School News Network and writes a blog on everyday spiritual experience, Soulmailing.com. He teaches a short adult-learner course called “Love is All, Love is You: The Spirituality of the Beatles.” Recently, Charles was featured in ReadTheSpirit Cover Story about his new book Faith on First.

ALSO THIS WEEK, our section on Holidays, Festivals & Anniversaries looks at the many ways the Beatles reshaped popular culture in the second half of 1965—a golden anniversary in 2015. Plus, to help you sense what it was like 50 years ago, this column includes two short videos of the Beatles taking the stage at Shea Stadium and then performing A Hard Day’s Night on that historic occasion.

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