September is my birthday month! Starting Sept 13th I'm asking for donations for website expenses and if there's enough left over I'd like a cup of coffee :)
ome years ago in France, around 1850, a group of artists rebelled against the elitism that existed. The Salon in Paris was the only way an artist could gain professional acceptance and recognition in the arts world, and in that they had to reflect what was judged by The Salon as acceptable art. In affect, that which maintained the traditionally used modes of creative expression, with realism and homage to the Renaissance method of art. If it is a painting of a tree, it must look like a tree to the viewer. The Impressionistic movement challenged the accepted view of what art was supposed to look like. Artists such as Manet, Monet, and Renoir chose to paint the things they saw with less precise and technical methods than their predecessors. And they wanted it to be called Art, along with all the rest of the works that The Salon chose to let the public see.
The 18th century ushered in a new culture simply by allowing those who could afford a ticket, access to works of art only allowed to the aristocracy. In this, the first distinctions between high and low entertainment raises its ugly head. The difference between Classical and Jazz. Between Rock ‘n’ Roll and Hip Hop. All these arguments have been had before about something else, somewhere else, how ever many years ago. It breaks down to class and social distinction. To availability and affordability. Those who cannot afford the finer works of Shakespeare, surely cannot appreciate what the bard had to say. Music deemed too vulgar for Caucasian consumption (Negro Rhythm & Blues in the 1940’s and 1950’s), was softened and given approval by the separatist elite. The American version of the Paris Salon and it was even given a King. In the 1820’s, the news of a hip shaking white man interpreting a black man’s music would have been slow to travel. Its reach and effect not as wide. By the 1920’s, Mass Media was a term invented to encapsulate the sheer power radio, cinema, magazines, periodicals and later television, would have in promoting and spreading the word. The mainstream of popular culture had come into existence. The underground went further underground, only to be recognised should the mainstream find lucrative or capitalistic gain in its worth. A ‘sell out’ becomes the underground artistic movement or individual that the mainstream latches on to. It becomes commercial in intent, and therefore loses any of its aesthetic or artistic value.
The Dadaist uses popular images or low entertainments, and combines them into what is supposed to be Art. It takes a ticket stub or a toilet seat, and demands it is placed in a museum that holds Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa within its halls.
It takes Elvis Presley for what was seen as low and vulgar to be classed as high. It takes barely 60 years for a movement like Dada to reach into mainstream popular music. It takes a little over 10 years for Rock ‘n’ Roll to be taken seriously, and another 10 for its traditional values to be rejected and abhorred. Marcel Duchamp reincarnates and becomes a torn shirt and spike haired John Lydon, swearing on national television. Paul McCartney becomes Kitsch, and Rap and Hip Hop wait in the wings to bully and challenge the Salon elite. What comes around goes around while jumping through time, and everything burns beneath the sun. Back in the 19th century, Vincent Van Gogh believes a way towards God is through Art. He dedicates his life to the realisation of God through his art works. It takes nearly 100 hundred years for Van Gogh to be received by the mass mind and mainstream. In 1970, George Harrison blurs the line between Eastern and Western belief systems through the pop medium. He asks the question, can God be found in popular music? And is Hallelujah any different than Hare Krishna in the end?
Trixie Smith records ‘’My Daddy Rocks Me (With One Good Steady Roll)’’. A seed begins to grow. Fans debate whether the first rock and roll record is Elvis Presley’s ‘’That’s Alright Mama’’ or Bill Haley’s ‘’Rock Around The Clock’’. Rolling Stone magazine proclaims The King owns the first rock and roll recording. Both are recorded in 1954. 1949’s ‘’Good Rocking Tonight’’ as recorded by Wynonie Harris is not included in the debate circles.
What is mainstream is typified by what is available to the masses. This is dependent on those who can respond in a monetary way to that which is available through mainstream production and means. Popularity dependant on the financial means necessary to obtain such a position is not popularity by definition. It is a symptom of class and social distinction. The factory worker who makes £3.65 an hour, on a 37 hour weekly basis, with dependants to support, may not be able to make the latest single release of the DooWahDiddy Makers reach the coveted number one spot. If the Mass Media can aim there product at a buyer’s base that can afford to buy any number of products per week, or month, the dependency on those of lower income position to support successful venture is less needed. They become invisible. They do not have a voice in saying what is intrinsically popular or successful. This invisible member of society may have the monetary means to purchase other products of lesser value, which may inform this person about what is popular today. Or why it is popular and that you should have it. And by these rules, popular culture is defined.
It is a have, and have not ladder. It is a ladder that is given no rungs to climb upon, unless you are provided the means to get them. You are set firmly on the ground until the day comes you can buy your first rung. There is no clear indication that what is up above is any better than what is on the ground, where you begin.
The mainstream is not looking for insult or injury. It is solely designed to gain profit from its ventures. It does not seek to offend or defend, its business is to acquire capital. The Mass Media will create new markets, to obtain new capital, to increase its influence over that which it depends on for its bread and butter. If the market that is gaining the most profit turns out to be leather whips and chains, then all products will be designed to suit that market, without seeking to define or divine whether the use of whips and chains is a societal release or disease. It is without conscience or moral imperative. It is metamorphic. It remains solid in its physical outside state, while outside influences and pressures change its structure within.
That being said, the consumer is not encouraged by its market to search out the sources of what became popular culture, as deemed by the powers that be; Mass Media. A recent interview with Sir Cliff Richard had the British icon announcing Elvis Presley was ‘The Face of Rock and Roll’. There are millions in popular culture that would agree with Sir Cliff. There is a small contingent, which has researched the roots of rock and roll and its origins that would state otherwise. There is a part of human society that recognises the elitism brandished by a certain race preventing any other face to be recognised years before Elvis’s emergence and marketing as The Face of Rock and Roll. Popular culture is not always interested in the root of the tree; it is more interested in its branches and offshoots. It is more inclined to embrace opinions, rather than facts, because opinions can be used to further advertise its products and gain capital. Facts prove otherwise. The King of Rock and Roll works far better as an advertising tool than Caucasian performer who is simulating Music whose origins are in a race of people who are not allowed in restaurants or permitted to drink at water fountains.
2002. Rocking Vicar: Just one last question - "Carnival Of Light," does it actually exist?
Paul McCartney: It does exist, yeah. We recorded it in about fifteen minutes. It's very avant-garde - as George would say 'avant garde a clue' - and George did not like it 'cos he doesn't like avant-garde music.
Popular culture and The Beatle fan has been denied an existing recording previously unheard on product for mass consumption, because of the particular musical tastes of one of its participants. This is what Sir Paul McCartney is proposing by the statement made in 2002, almost a year after Harrison’s death from cancer. That Harrison cannot contest this, nor is able to give a clear reason anymore to support why Carnival of Light (aka Carnival of Light Rave) is not worth popular consumption is not mentioned, nor heeded. McCartney is also using his own definition of avant-garde music, relying on the hope that most in popular culture see avant-garde as easily defined. In the following examples and definitions, it will be shown that not only was Harrison more linked with the avant-garde than McCartney’s one example through Carnival of Light, but that he was also one of The Beatles two main purveyors of avant-garde by definition and practise. By all accounts, McCartney’s aversion to using avant-garde influence in his own compositions, is more indicative of dislike for avant-garde and popular cultures attitudes towards it as serious music.
Paul McCartney: It's officially me. I instigated it. No there's no lyrics, it's avant-garde music. You would class it as ... well you wouldn't class it actually, but it would come in the Stockhausen/John Cage bracket ... John Cage would be the nearest. It's very free form. Yeah man, it's the coolest piece of music since sliced bread!
In statement one, he has classed avant-garde music as something Harrison does not like. In statement two, he has stated that avant-garde can’t be classed, it can actually be placed in a certain bracket of avant-garde music. One statement does not support the other, and in effect he has mislead the public into believing they have been denied an object to own in The Beatles catalogue. It does not change the fact that George Harrison did veto its inclusion, and by all accounts George Martin was not a fan of the work either. This may not be a dislike for the piece itself, but a certain manipulation that McCartney often uses that Harrison or Martin felt need not be indulged. He is well aware of the public’s and popular culture’s regards for his work in the 20th century. There is clear indication, despite critical appraisal, that everything McCartney has produced has monetary, if not aesthetic value. By these same accounts, Harrison’s career has been maligned by popular culture by those same definitions. And the fact that he rarely pursued popular acceptance in the same terms and definitions that McCartney has. John Lennon in fact falls under that same light. Both Harrison and Lennon were practically non-touring, non-visible entities in a popular culture that demands the artist be visible. If you are invisible, it means you are no longer relevant. It means you no longer occupy the retail shelves. Though they promoted their albums, conducted interviews, appeared in the Mass Media, their gradual disinterest in ‘watching the wheels’ was in direct opposition to the way McCartney has conducted his career. From 1966 onward, Harrison and Lennon pursued other, sometimes totally separate interests than that which is defined by popular culture, including stopping the touring machine that was Beatlemania, and being its most vocal detractors during the time, and in hindsight.
By definition avant-garde is as follows:
Avant garde (sometimes avant-garde; literally, vanguard) is a French phrase, one of a number of French phrases used by English speakers. It is used to refer to persons or actions that are novel or experimental, particularly with respect to the arts.
1923. Hyperprism, causes riot in the audience. Half of the audience stormed out, the other stayed and asked him to play it again. Edgard Varese, in his search for new sounds incorporated new musical instruments. Hyperprism made the use of sleigh bells, cymbals, crash cymbals, rattles, triangle, anvil, Chinese blocks, tam-tam, Indian drums, snare drum, bass drum, tambourine, and a lion's roar (a tub with a hole in the bottom through which the player pulled a rope). The piece contained two percussion solos.
Varese’s influence on popular music still lingers. His biggest supporter and advocate was Frank Zappa, whose Return of the Son of Monster Magnet is similar in execution to Carnival of Light, and recorded during the same year. Edgard Varese was a serious composer, who broke the traditional uses of musical expression in Western Classical by incorporating ‘exotic’ or avant-garde elements into his serious compositions. Today, popular music can be defined as traditional in its use of the guitar / drums / bass / vocal arrangement. Any composer who incorporates different mediums into this traditional form is avant-garde, by loose definition. Rock and roll’s beginnings in rhythm and blues and jump music was confined to this arrangement, if only augmented by the horn instruments, such as saxophone, or the piano / keyboard. Exotic was strictly defined to the race that created the music itself, and rhythm & blues was the nice term for what was previously called ‘Race Music’ prior to the 1940’s. Simply race and performer can even define the distinctions between popular music and ‘serious’ music here. Elvis Presley is the acceptable version of rock and roll by a certain group of people, whose encounters with Race Music were considered too risqué or compromising in the climate of the times.
The Beatles, and other acts from Britain, redefined for America what rock and roll was, but on a scale that made the mainstream (that which is marketed by Mass Media) take notice of its influence more readily than the hundreds of composers and artists who had been influencing music throughout the centuries. Edgard Varese never had a top ten chart hit. Therefore, his influence is not readily acknowledged or seen by the popular culture. It virtually becomes non-existent in the eyes of those secluded to small towns and cities that do not have a wider spectrum of music available in its retail outlets and shops. It becomes non-apparent to the working class Joe that can only afford to buy one or two albums a month by his favourite recording artists. To those restricted in education due to economic conditions, that border on illiteracy, reading about music’s history and its ongoing influence in current times is not made an option. For the hundreds or thousands that have an Edgard Varese recording in their collections, there are millions who have a Beatles recording, and site them as pioneers of sound unequalled. It is why, in some serious music circles, the Beatles are no more than a marketed phenomenon. But in the case of George Harrison and John Lennon, their forays into the avant-garde field, introduced to a wider audience the works of Varese, Glass, Stockhausen, Cage, Russolo and many more. Or at least gave an indication as to where the roots of that tree could be found, and exposed.
Why is McCartney not included in that previous statement?
Merely because, his pioneering efforts went into incorporating Western classical music, and Tin Pan Alley, into the popular music of the time, rock and roll. He played with one traditional sense of music, and the newly acquired sense of what was traditional. That this traditional sense of rock and roll was in its infancy, and had ignored virtually 40 years of prior existence as rhythm and blues and jump music, simply because of skin colour, is simple irony. The avant-garde was originally concerned with social reform through the arts. That the artist has power equivalent to politician and class structure so prevalent throughout history, that bent and shaped social progress. The term then gets later associated with ‘Art For Art’s Sake’, an aesthetic observed to most historians as being born in 1790 with ‘’The Critique of Judgement’’ by Immanuel Kant. It has already changed in a very short time to suit one definition, and then another, for whatever purpose individuals set to its use. McCartney’s assessment that Harrison was not a fan of avant-garde music is then shown to be not much different than nearly 100 years before, and the early distinctions already surfacing as to what was avant-garde. In its original definition, both Harrison’s and Lennon’s concerns with social progress are clearly evident. The avant-garde in the arts and music incorporated disparaging or dissonant elements into the traditional structures of what was art and music for Western culture. Varese’s use of a lion’s roar is avant-garde simply by introducing a non-traditional ‘instrument’ into the traditional motif of strings, percussion, woodwind and brass.
In later parts of this piece, Paul McCartney, Aesthetic, Art For Art’s Sake, and Théophile Gautier will be addressed. But for now, George Harrison, John Lennon, and the original definition of avant-garde will be brought to light.
1913. Luigi Russolo’s manifesto, Art of Noises is produced. He wrote ''Ancient life was all silence. In the nineteenth century, with the invention of the machine, Noise was born. Today, Noise triumphs and reigns supreme over the sensibilities of men. We must break out of this narrow circle of pure musical sounds, and conquer the infinite variety of noise sounds...Let us wander through a great modern city with our ears more alert than our eyes, and enjoy distinguishing between the sounds of water, air, or gas in metal pipes, the purring of motors, which breathe and pulsate with indisputable animalism), the throbbing of valves, the pounding of pistons, the screeching of gears, the clatter of streetcars on their rails, the cracking of whips, the flapping of awnings and flags. We shall enjoy fabricating the mental orchestrations of the banging of store shutters, the slamming of doors, the hustle and bustle of crowds, the din of railroad stations, foundries, spinning mills, printing presses, electric power stations, and underground railways."’’
Much of the Sixties psychedelic movement incorporated this archetype into popular culture, or that which was mainstream. In certain circles, this was seen as an affront to the traditional sense of what was rock and roll, and for others a liberation of a restricted form. That Russolo’s manifesto is more than 50 years older than the psychedelic movement in pop is only noted by Russolo’s crowning as The Grandfather of Modern Sound in the serious art circles. A more apt term than Elvis Presley’s King of Rock and Roll. What is more important to note is that the mere incorporation of the doctrines of Art of Noise, does not define that which is avant-garde in its original context and definition. Avant-garde was seen as a power the artist could use to actually instigate social movement, which has held in history more in common with politics and economic upheavals that reform the social strata. Class struggles, socialism, Worker’s Rights, Civil Rights, Communism, are all products of these many major social movements. The original intent of the avant-garde was to put the artist as the vanguard of these social movements, and reforms, that inherently changed the system in a way that one could never look back. Luigi Russolo belonged to an artistic/political movement known as the Futurists. Led by Filippo Marinetti, a lawyer and poet, The Futurists role were as activists in early 20th century Italian culture. So much so, that Benito Mussolini became a follower of the Futurist movement, until he no longer needed them once acquiring power. He silenced them in doing so, and the Futurist movement withdrew from politics altogether.
The Emancipation of the Serfs in March 1861 by Tsar Alexander the II in Russia affected 40 years of Russian government, class and society. The avant-garde artist was to have this same power and affect on society as seen by those who saw the artist as this social reform power. And in the tomes of history, those at this vanguard in The Beatles were Harrison and Lennon. It is in the effects on society, not merely by music, but by power and influence, Harrison and Lennon have fit the definition of avant-garde. Though in execution, all things may not be as effective, the end result has influenced modern Western society and popular culture to an extreme that is hard to hide or dissuade.
th Century Dissonance were Edgard Varese, Claude Debussy, Charles Ives, and Bela Bart ók, to name a short few. Their atonal experimentations with harmonic rules set the tone for 100 years of avant-garde music. The Father of Electronic Music, Varese, influenced countless American composers in the avant-garde, merely by leaving France and becoming an American citizen in 1926. In April of 1934, Varese’s Equatorial debuted, composed for two fingerboard Theremins. The Theremin would become a part of popular music culture in 1966 with The Beach Boys Good Vibrations, but it had been a part of cinematic media with movies such as The Bride of Frankenstein, and The Day The Earth Stood Still. It’s invention in 1917 by Lev Sergeivitch Termen, marks it as nearly a century old instrument outside of the accepted traditional classical instruments. Its importance to the mainstream took nearly 50 years to finally be recognised, but its roots were long established.
With the help of composers Herbert Deutsch, and Walter Carlos, Robert Moog developed the first synthesiser in 1964. It merely took 3 years for the mainstream pop culture to hear its sounds, on 1967’s Pisces, Aquarius, Capricorn & Jones Ltd. by The Monkees. Michael Nesmith’s Daily Nightly used the synthesiser (played by Mickey Dolenz) to display sounds indescribable in the traditional rock and roll context, whereas Goffin & King’s Star Collector used the synthesiser harmonically within consonance of the song (played by Paul Beaver). It may have debuted as an instrument for pop rock on The Zodiacs one and only album Cosmic Sounds from the same year. The instrument would also later be used on The Beatles Abbey Road in 1969, brought in by George Harrison, who was one of the first British composers to own one, at the tail end of 1968. The first all synthesiser album to reach the mainstream was 1968’s Switched on Bach by Walter Carlos, and is also the first classical album to go platinum. The Mellotron, developed by Harry Chamberlin with Frank, Norman and Leslie Bradley in 1963, is similar in tale to the moog synthesiser. It debuts on a pop album with the full assistance of Leslie Bradley in 1966, on The Moody Blues Love and Beauty. Bradley had helped Mike Pinder, the Moody Blues keyboardist, to buy a MK II version of the Mellotron specifically for its use on this single. It later surfaces on The Beatles Strawberry Fields Forever in 1967. The roots of experimental music sometimes take a long time to grow into a popular, mainstream tree, and other times bursts up quickly to decorate the scene.
The appearance of new musical inventions did not begin in the 20th century alone. Throughout Western classical music, composers have utilised instruments that were new on the scene, to be absorbed into the music of the times. Whether or not they would become accepted musical members of the symphony not only depended on the composer’s use of the instrument, but also its relevance to what was changing in the serious music quarters. The backwards guitar solos that appear in certain Beatles songs are impossible to play in the performance aspect, therefore become regulated to the studio, and sometimes to a particular time period. Below are some of the many instruments that made their debut centuries ago, but their presence in the modern classical symphony is invisible.
The baryton is one of the rarest and most complex stringed instruments in the world. Its delicate and exotic sounds have fascinated audiences for almost four hundred years. It is formidably difficult to master, since it requires the performer to play not only on the 6 or 7 bowed strings, but also to accompany himself at the same time on an extra set of thumb-plucked wire strings hidden from view behind the fingerboard. The rarity of the instruments and tremendous technical demands on the performer have meant that much of its music has rarely if every been performed since the time of its composition. Baryton Society
Franz Joseph Haydn (1732-1809) spent the years 1761 to 1790 working under Prince Nikolaus Esterházy, who loved to play the baryton, a kind of viol tuned to A-D-G-C-E-A-D, with plucked sympathetic strings tuned to A-D-E-F#-G-A-B-C#-D (-E) (this last string was not used at the Esterházys). Thus Haydn had to supply music for baryton for the prince to play. Haydn wrote 126 trios for baryton, viola and cello from 1765 to 1775, edited as five books, the first four with 24 each, the last with Nos.97-126 (1771-75). The only available complete printed edition of these trios is the very costly hardcover edition of G.Henle Verlag of Munich, printed from handmade plates, included in a series of the complete works of Haydn. Due to MIDI restrictions, the baryton is here substituted by a violin. No.18 is lost, as are the second and third movements of No.22 and the first movement of No.23. No.13 and the surviving movements of Nos.22 and 23 exist only in arrangements for two violins and cello by Joseph Eder. The baryton trios make up category XI of Hoboken's catalogue of Haydn's works. http://personal.nbnet.nb.ca/m2esectr/cmhdn.htm
The Glass Harmonica (Armonica)
Inspired by musical wine glasses he heard played in Europe, Benjamin Franklin invented a mechanical glass harmonica in 1761. The instrument fell out of favour in the next century and was not heard again until 1982, when German-born glassblower Gerhard Finkenbeiner brought it back to life. Finkenbeiner heard about the instrument while living and working in Paris in the 1950s. Using original plans and drawings, he reinvented the modern glass harmonica. http://www.pbs.org/safarchive/4_class/45_pguides/pguide_804/4484_franklin.html
Composers who wrote pieces specifically for Glass Harmonica include Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Johann Friedrich Reichardt, Karl Leopold Rollig, Johann Abraham Peter Schulz, and Johann Gottlieb Naumann.
Developed in 1823 by the Viennese guitar luthier Johann Georg Staufer (1778-1853), the arpeggione itself, though not well received generally, did breed a small group of players and enthusiasts. He introduced several critical innovations to the shape and structure of the guitar, many of which are still in use today. The "Persian slipper" shape of the headstocks—a defining design element instigated by Staufer—is currently brandished on all Fender Stratocaster electric guitars. According to the preface of the sonata's first edition, it was for one of these enthusiasts—Vincenz Schuster—that Schubert wrote an arpeggione piece. In addition to being the first person to perform the sonata, Schuster also published the only method book for the instrument in 1825 (Anleitung zur Erlernung des von Herrn Georg Staufer neu erfundenen Guitarre-Violoncells—Diablelli). But despite his and others' better efforts, the arpeggione only remained in use for just over 10 years.
Maurice Martenot a Cellist and radio Telegraphist, met the Russian designer of the Theremin, Lev Termen in 1923. This meeting lead him to design an instrument based on Termens ideas. The first model, the "Ondes-Martenot" was patented on the 2nd of April 1928 under the name "Perfectionnements aux instruments de musique électriques" (improvements to electronic music instruments). His aim was to produce a versatile electronic instrument that was immediately familiar to orchestral musicians. The first versions bore little resemblance to the later production models: consisting of two table mounted units controlled by a performer who manipulated a string attached to a finger ring (using the bodies capacitance to control the sound characteristics in a manner very similar to the Theremin) this device was later incorporated as a fingerboard strip above the keyboard. Later versions used a standard keyboard.
The Ondes-Martenot became the first successful electronic instrument and the only one of its generation that is still used by orchestras today. http://www.obsolete.com/120_years/machines/martenot/
As can be seen. The Moog Synthesiser in the 1960’s was one of many, in a long tradition of alternative ‘non-traditional’ Western instruments spanning 400 years, to make its presence known in what can be considered popular culture. Whether it has a long life span, or is regulated to a particular time period, is often based on who has used it to its best possibilities, or created compositions that often encapsulated the instrument itself, or the times. Regardless, each of these instruments, amongst the many that have made their debuts throughout history, has had influence on composers and instruments alike, which is undeniable. The Beatles, and other artists of their generation were just like Benjamin Franklin, or Mozart, Schubert or Martenot. And at one time, almost 300 years ago, Bartolommeo Cristofori’s new invention, the Piano, was about to shape Western music forever.
Avant-garde has as part of its many definitions the requirements of being novel or experimental, and as evidenced over a 400-year history of Western music, there have been avant-garde artists well before Stockhausen and Cage. Though it should be noted that avant-garde has had multiple meanings throughout this entire piece. Avant-garde in its original definition is where George Harrison and John Lennon share common ground with the Futurists, the Dadaists, the Surrealists, and those at the vanguard of reform, not only in the arts, but also on a political or societal level that is long lasting. Avant-garde in its definition as a musical form that incorporates dissonance, non-traditional instruments, or atonal qualities into Western music, once again Harrison and Lennon follow the likes of Debussy, Varese, Russolo, and like-minded artists who preceded them by almost 100 years. Being novel and experimental can also be applied to Paul McCartney. And by default, Ringo Starr for simply performing on nearly all of the Beatles recorded work as their drummer. Starr is not being mentioned as much only because his composer credits start stockpiling after The Beatles disbandment, but as drummer for multiple compositions, Starr’s influence on the world of percussion is long lasting.
In many cases, The Beatles were credited with being the first to do this, and the first to do that. But one must bare in mind that a good portion of popular rock music’s history was in denial of 40 years of its past by the early 1960’s, simply by segregation. It has been put that rhythm and blues music enjoyed more success on European shores because less restrictions on race separation were apparent. It is certainly true for the case of jazz music, which enjoyed much more popularity in places like France, Russia and England. It also allowed the performers of jazz and its offshoots such as Bebop, opportunities to actually play in the establishments that hosted such musical forms. Dizzy Gillespie was not often allowed in the American nightclubs supposedly exclusive to jazz, whereas the doors of France and England were wide open to him. The same can be said for those who give credit to The Beatles, simply because their popularity and success demanded they be credited something, particularly by people who did not have all the resources or information available to them for research. Or for those who even had segregation in their record collections.
Such is the case with The Beatles I Feel Fine, and the Five Royales ‘The Slum the Slummer’, recorded in 1964 and 1958 respectively. John Lennon dared and challenged anyone to find a recording that incorporated guitar feedback earlier than The Beatles. His challengers, in his sphere of thinking, were Jimi Hendrix, The Yardbirds, The Who, and all of his contemporaries from that time. Unfortunately for Lennon, and rock’s history, is the name Lowman Pauling. Pauling belonged to the singing group The Five Royales, and was their main composer with such 50’s classics as ‘Dedicated to the One I Love’. Not only was Pauling a member of one of the seminal acts of the 50’s, he’s also credited with rock and roll’s first recordings of fuzz bass, guitar distortion and feedback. For those born post-1958 in America and Europe, Lennon’s feedback opening for I Feel Fine is the first recording heard, but for those who have absorbed a wider spectrum of popular music’s history, Lowman Pauling is a pioneer in 20th century dissonance on an instrument that was almost 30 years old by 1958. Compared to Lennon’s contemporaries, yes, The Beatles were first. Compared to 36 years of the electric guitar, amplification, and what was called ‘Race Music’?
1952. First I recorded six sounds of variously prepared low piano strings struck with an iron beater, using a tape speed of 76.2 centimetres per second. After that, I copied each sound many times and, with scissors, cut off the attack of each sound. A few centimetres of the continuation [steady state], which was - briefly - quite steady dynamically, were used. Several of these pieces were spliced together to form a tape loop, which was then trans-posed to certain pitches using a transposition machine. A few minutes of each transposition were then recorded on separate tapes.’’
The use of the tape loop in Americanrock and roll was unheard of, whereas in serious music circles, tape loops formed an integral part of the musique concrete movement. Musique Concrete was invented by Pierre Schaeffer (1910 – 1995), and his experiments with recorded sound and tape loops were the basis for the Mellotron years later. In 1948 he envisioned that there would be an instrument that would provide the sounds of an orchestral instrument by means of a bank of pre-recorded events. And he made the first steps toward the Mellotron by building the Phonogene This form of ‘serious’ music precedes the Beatles by more than a decade, yet shows itself in their own experiments with tape loops they are heralded as being the first to put on record. In the popular culture’s and Mass Media’s interest? Yes. In history? No.
In 1951, RTF Radiodiffusion Television Francaises) provided Schaeffer with a new studio. It included a tape recorder. This was an important event as the phonograph had been his tool for composition up to that point. One of the recorders had 5 track capability. One , known as the Morphophone, had 12 playback heads, which allowed for tape echo and a pseudo reverb effect. Two other decks known as Phonogenes were designed to play pre-recorded loops at different speeds (one came with a 12 note keyboard!). At this time, while stereo was still in development, Schaeffer had the means of playing up to 5 separate tracks with 5 separate speakers. (MPEG-2 technology allows for 5 distinct outputs as used in DVD production, here we see the idea in affect more than 50 years ago). This allowed for spatial experimentation of sounds. Four speakers were used for playback. Two speakers were located in front of the stage on the left and right, one was placed directly in the back in the middle, and one was suspended from the ceiling. The ceiling speaker allowed for experimenting with vertical sound placement as well as the usual horizontal placement. The fifth track contained an additional channel spread between the four speakers that represented a performer using a handheld coil which could be positioned near one of four wire receiving loops that sent the info to each speaker.
Basically, this is what The Beatles and their contemporaries did to popular culture. Since we have already defined that popular culture is often dictated by those who can afford it, or that which Mass media markets it to, hopefully the term popular culture is understood. 30 years of rock and roll history is ignored or paid less attention to for the sake of its Mass Media endorsed artists. One need not be reminded of the conditions Black America endured during this time to gain hint as to why Race Music was seen as it was. The same cultural restrictions on the people were applied to their music. Jazz has the same history and story. When Elvis Presley and his contemporaries emerged with what was dubbed Rock and Roll, a whole new market culture was created called The Teenager. The Teenager’s buying power was within music or other products that are in rejection of their parent’s or previous generations. Rock and Roll is a new cultural voice for a new cultural market. Reference to classical or more serious music is regarded ‘square’. When Rock and Roll is seen as a dangerous element to status quo or the pre-existing structure of society, it is ‘tamed’ down in its execution and given safer elements. In this you have increasingly ‘non–threatening’ versions of what was once Black Music, and in effect creates Pop Music, designed for entertainment only and for the acquiring of capital by the Mass Media.
The Beatles and other British acts then take this to another stage by re-incorporating those same elements to which teenagers were supposed to reject, that of their parent’s or previous generation’s tastes. In echoing the experiments of Luigi Russolo, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Edgard Varese and others throughout various stages of their career, The Beatles give ‘serious’ connotations to what was once a ‘vulgar’ or ‘low entertainment’ form of creativity. That these associations of low or vulgar were born out of racism, class and elitist ideologies in practice throughout human history should be noted. For the teenager it was a liberation of sound in rock and roll or Pop, and yet it was still in total contrast to Rock and Roll’s original intent as capitalised on by the powers that be. This then gives rise to the Progressive rock movement, which fully used classical music as its inspiration and structure, which is then seemingly rejected by the Punk movement in the mid 1970’s. On the same principles that Rock and Roll seemed founded on. All this in a mere 20 year history, but not much different to the period between 1850 and 1915. There is always suppression, retaliation, birth, renewal, absorption and at its heart, creativity, in these and any other social or artistic movement.
Whether or not The Beatles were the blessing or the damnation of Rock and Roll is an entire other article. But in this article we must look at how and why George Harrison and John Lennon are the Vanguards of The Beatles, and then take a dip into
The Diving Pool
Like Russolo’s six categories for his noise Intoners to simulate, the following section will illustrate the different songs in The Beatles catalogue (while they were a collective unit until 1970) that fit the definitions of avant-garde that have shown up throughout this article. It’s been established that avant-garde has not only meant incorporating dissonance into harmonic consonance, but also being at the forefront of social reform and cultural improvement. It has also meant being innovative and pioneering in a chosen medium, such as Art, Music, Sculpture, Film, and others. One must keep in mind, that with that last definition, there is more than a few centuries worth of musical history to compete with in the innovative category. A lot has been accomplished in that time, suffice to say, and there is not much new under the sun. Varese’s use in 1923 of Indian drums and Chinese blocks is no different in principle to Harrison’s use of the sitar in 1965. Just more people heard it. And it also must be stressed why Harrison used it, which will show up in his later works with the instrument and the musicians synonymous with Indian classical and folk music. If a composition by McCartney does one of the above-mentioned definitions of avant-garde, it will be listed. If a composition of McCartney’s does not show up below that you may expect, the reasons why will be explained. McCartney’s spear-heading the project Magical Mystery Tour as a filmed product, and whether this is avant-garde in film circles, would be another article. It bares mention as not to alienate any possible leanings towards avant-garde McCartney has had, but whether Magical Mystery Tour has had long lasting influence on film techniques, or if its regulated to a specific time period, is a different question and subject.
As this categorical list only deals with The Beatles song catalogue, and does not include Lennon’s later political activism, and Harrison’s cultural activism, the present case to say those in The Beatles who were vanguard is almost moot. The starting points for Harrison and Lennon in fitting the original definition and purpose of the avant-garde movement 50 years before their fame, starts in The Beatles framework. Though Harrison achieved quite a head start on Lennon in this, it may be that Lennon, as Iconic representative for ‘success’, gets more credit and notoriety. No matter who was their first or last, Harrison and Lennon’s public power got used to some way benefit or instigate social progress, using the mediums in which pop culture is identified, bought and sold. This is not to ignore McCartney’s stance on Ireland in 1972, or his solo catalogue that did dip into the waters of avant-garde music. Nor is it to ignore his work with organisations such as PETA and No Landmines. It merely is saying that at that Vanguard, on all 3 levels of definition, that Harrison and Lennon, even while within The Beatles, began fulfilling the requirements to be labelled avant-garde. And that being avant-garde is not solely defined by using tape loops and non – musical instrumentation.
"I remember once saying to John that I was going to do an album called 'Paul McCartney Goes Too Far'. He was really tickled with that idea. 'That's great, man! You should do it!' But I would calculate and think no; I'd better do 'Hey Jude'.
When venturing into any type of creative expression, artists are just like any child that is about to go into water for the first time. Some will test those waters with their feet, and enjoy a pleasant wade. Others will recklessly dive in head first, only to come up gasping for air. Others will take their time, and watch everyone else test those waters, and decide which is the best way to go. There is no one correct way to do it, nor any wrong way. ‘’To each their own’’ as is said in cliché. The artist must break personal barriers within themselves as well as those that exist outside their personal sphere, and for some the breaking of their own barriers is far more important than the outside world’s. If it were easy to say that each composer in The Beatles nicely fits on to the entry steps of a large creative pool, as illustrated by graphic, it would be in denial of the entire creative process shared by a group of individuals working together. Like the workshops of the Renaissance artist whose name appears on the statue, yet many worked on its construction, The Beatles cannot be solely defined by Lennon & McCartney as a writing team, nor Harrison as a solo writer. It was a group of four individuals, who all played some part, if that is 50% or 1%, in the creative process of song composition. The inclusion of George Martin, Norman Smith, Geoff Emerick, Phil McDonald, Chris Thomas, Mal Evans, Neil Aspinall, Derek Taylor, Peter Shotton, and a long list of names associated with The Beatles, can all be considered part of a Workshop for creativity. Add to that the names that influenced the 3 composers years before they began writing their own songs. The creative diving pool is full of swimmers. Those getting out, those with life preservers, and those still submerged underneath the surface.
The Beatles catalogue is filled with songs that suit the purposes of those writing about them. Much like this article itself. For the musicologist, the chord structure of Beatles songs is revolutionary. To the laymen, this sounds as if The Beatles did things no one else had ever done. To the historian of jazz, classical, or any other form of music other than pop / rock and roll, the revolution never happened. It had appeared elsewhere, at some other time, in some other guise. And it was only lack of public knowledge or elitism that destined it to be unheard or unsung by the masses. Music history is a tricky business, much like War history, or Religious history. No one seems to be right, and no one seems to be wrong. They all have facts and figures presented with authority and presence, and then someone will come around who knows a different perspective, or has hold of other information, that throws the whole proposition away. That is the nature of recorded history. It is the nature of humankind. The Beatles are no more exempt from this than your neighbourhood dustbin collector, or your local Rabbi. History is kind to those who write it, and an enemy to those who don’t. This is not a flaw in history’s design or purpose, it is a flaw in those that record it, and use it for whatever purpose it fits.
With this stated, the aim of establishing the vanguard in The Beatles is only to put them hopefully in their proper place alongside many who have come before. No more important, no greater. Just a long line of people who used their minds, hearts, and souls to express themselves with whatever was around at the time to use. Whether it was a Glass Harmonica, or an Indian Sitar. A Mellotron or the first Piano. It is all part of the human need to create, in some way to emulate what they see all around them. Whether this be in nature, or human emotions. The heavens or the hells. The experience of Life is what these people are trying to communicate in some way other than using their mouths to speak. Part of this is to share the life experience with others. To pass on traditions and stories from one generation to the next, to keep the line and the history alive. To place a stamp of your arrival on this Earth for all to see, and for those to speak and note about later on. And yet, the single fundamental thing that drives the artist to create is mainly to understand themselves.
In that Diving Pool, there are those who swim at the surface, and are more than happy to demonstrate multiple swimming moves for all to see. It may be their mastery of each stroke that impresses onlookers or other swimmers. And then there are those who dive beneath the depths to see what exactly is causing or contributing to the diver’s pleasure, or pain. What is beneath the surface that provides all with the experiences that bring the diver to swim in the first place. Neither method is better than the other, nor is one more valuable than the other.
If The Beatles could be considered a Workshop of creative people, all designing or contributing to the pieces they produced, different designations could be given to each person, if need be. As a child, the only two people I knew by face in The Beatles were Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr, completely unaware of The Beatles story or music. This is not to say they represented The Beatles as a whole, but more so that their faces were the most instantly recognisable to a 5 year old child in 1972, without knowledge of their past. And in the bigger picture, Lennon and Harrison’s reluctance to often be public figures or play to the rules of popular culture and Mass Media, by appearing on tour, or in the public ‘mind’, sits in stark contrast to Starr and McCartney’s public relations. Whether in movies, on the singles charts, or on tour, Starr and McCartney have cemented and supported being in the public’s eye far more than Harrison and Lennon (post 1980/2001 of course). And if they were all part of a Workshop, McCartney and Starr’s presence duly supported Harrison’s and Lennon’s work that may not have had as public a viewing if not for the approachability of the other two. There is a sense of comfort McCartney and Starr that the consumer or listener is welcomed to participate in this creative endeavour, whereas Harrison and Lennon might challenge or even frighten the listener by the nature of their work. For the expert swimmer, or the novice, The Beatles as a whole, like any other creative persons, offered multiple experiences of being in that Diving Pool.
In the quote from Paul McCartney that opens this section, The Diving Pool, McCartney’s unwillingness to alienate the fans or listeners to The Beatles is fairly evident. As far as the statement goes, McCartney is in full knowledge that the ‘masses’ are a source of income and have provided him with his career, just by listening to what he produces. In this, he seeks not to push them away, but to bring them back time and time again, to what he creatively produces. Later in his solo career, there may have been songs he produced that might challenge that, but his past work had already brought millions to his ‘Art’. McCartney the avant-garde artist is denied voice, because McCartney the successful composer has overruled experimentation in music that will shock or drive consumers away. He therefore makes it a mission to make people happy, and not flirt with the more dangerous subjects that cause rancour or disagreement. It is all within his choice whether or not the side of his personality that listens to Stockhausen, or attends this exhibition, or challenges the status quo, appears anywhere in his creations. Whereas Harrison and Lennon could not hide their influences any better than what they could hide their emotions or experiences. And as said before, neither is better than the other, it is all how you choose to swim. There is nothing wrong with providing people with joy, and lifting their spirits during troubled times with a piece of music or art. And then there is the artist who questions and explores the reasons for the unhappiness in the first place, as an attempt to solve the ancient puzzle of human existence. As a person, the moments of joy I have experienced listening to music are uncountable. After a bad day, after encountering other people who may bring unhappiness, whatever it may be, Music has lifted my spirits. And then there is the part of me that wants to understand why Life has so many up and down moments, what causes people to bring about their conditions, or states of emotion. What causes my unhappiness in the first place, in an effort to bring less pain, and more joy. So that the song is not an escape element from bad situations, but a guide as to how bad situations come about, and how they can be resolved.
On these two levels, McCartney and Starr are they that bring joy in bad moments. For the consumer, they lift the spirits on a bad day, they open the curtains to let the sunshine in. This positive side to their nature is a benefit to the human experience, just like any other. It does not seek to question, nor provide answers; it merely takes what was once in shadow, and illuminates it by its glowing, positive nature. Lennon and Harrison, by diving a bit deeper, question and possibly answer some of the riddles that confound, those moments that confuse and get cast in shadow. Both are essential in understanding Life, or at least appreciating it while it’s around, and the artist is no more educated in living than the farmhand, or the doctor. The Artist at times can only be a mirror that reflects the human condition, and at other times be the catalyst that causes the Mirror to be made and crafted. Either way, the artist provides us with a look into ourselves. As easily as we all can dive into that pool, we can also see our reflections on the surface, and those that swim like us, and those that do what we would also like to do.
McCartney’s experimentation with The Beatles sound lay in mixing traditional classical elements into the rock and roll context. It had been done before when rock and roll was ‘tamed’ by an Elitist / Segregated constituent known as Mass Media. Orchestral augmentation to what was essentially rhythm & blues existed before McCartney and George Martin, though it was new to The Beatles framework. With the power of influence The Beatles had between 1964 and 1966, the classical European influence grew stronger on American shores in popular music than possibly before, but classical influence on popular music has always existed. With the import of Africans onto American shores, this popular music changed drastically, and is still changing today through their influence, but the European rules of harmony and melodic structure are 50% of that equation. It is not difficult to notice, that many of the most successful artists in pop music have imitated and been influenced by the classical composers, and the harmonic structures they followed. Paul McCartney, Abba, Queen, Elton John, to name but a few, have all embraced rock and roll, but their songs bear the hallmark of being written 2 or 3 centuries before in the works of Ludwig Van Beethoven (1770 – 1827), Sergei Rachmaninoff (1873 – 1943), Johann Sebastian Bach (1685 – 1750), Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756 – 1791), and Johannes Brahms (1833 – 1897). To name but a few.
And then there are artists who share affinity with Claude Debussy, Edgard Varese, Luigi Russolo, Bela Bart, Erik Satie, and Charles Ives. Working in unconventional or sometimes unaccepted forms of creative expression, only to be brought back again in relevance when the world has caught up to their ideas, or is finally able to envision them with newer tools and greater technological capabilities. Varese foresaw the world of the electronic instrument, yet was born in a time without the technology to develop it. Had he been born 50 years later, he would have been at the forefront of electronic music, quite possibly one of its greatest composers. Though McCartney enjoyed the works of Karlheinz Stockhausen, was influenced by him, and included his picture on the cover of 1967’s Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, Stockhausen later said ''In my eyes, John Lennon was the most important mediator between popular and serious music of this century.''
For McCartney, I am not sure how this settles. To be a fan, to be influenced by someone heavily, to include his or her picture on one of the most famous album covers of its time, and then have your name not mentioned, must have been part of the reason McCartney still wrestles with Lennon’s ghost. Had I been Stockhausen’s publicist, I would have advised him to say ''one of the most'' rather than singular, as there have been many mediators bridging that gap with as much influence. Frank Zappa, the progressive rock movement, and the 'other' Beatle, George Harrison. Harrison's gap closing between popular music and serious music began with India, and incorporated Vedic philosophy and social comment into The Beatles framework. Harrison’s Within You Without You is an introduction to the Advaita – Vedanta philosophy as Swami Vivekananda (1863 - 1902) told it. Vanguard in its original definition, and a cultural barrier broken. Mahatma Gandhi said of Vivekananda, "My homage and respect to the very revered memory of Swami Vivekananda . . . . after having gone through [his works], the love that I had for my country became a thousand fold." Gandhi’s love of India changed 200 years of Imperialism, and helped bring about the end of the Victorian / Edwardian Empire, and Swami Vivekananda helped bring that out. Someone with Harrison’s influence on popular culture, introducing Vivekananda to the Western world once again, must do something to the culture buying it.
To know who is on the Sgt. Pepper cover, follow this link http://beatlesnumber9.com/sgtpepper.html and then begin to wonder why Sri Yukteswar Giri (guru, 1855-1936) is placed next to Aleister Crowley (dabbler in sex, drugs, and magick, 1875-1947), just for the wonder of it all. But it is also important to know who asked for whom to be pictured with the imaginary band The Beatles were portraying, and it is known that Harrison picked the Indian guru’s. Starr did not care either way, McCartney chose Stockhausen, and Lennon’s choices of Jesus, Gandhi and Hitler were not included. What is more important is what is happening on the album itself, on the creative work, and if the people that appear on the front cover are part of those reasons why a Beatle chose them. Though McCartney chose Stockhausen, it was Lennon’s and Harrison’s work (this includes Only A Northern Song as it was not included on the final album), which more closely resembled the sonic experimentations that were undertaken years before by Stockhausen. And though Lovely Rita’s conclusion sounds as if it is some orgasmic free for all, bearing a possible relation to Crowley, McCartney’s most famous contributions to Sgt. Pepper harkens back to an era associated with such people as Fred Astaire (1899-1987), Stan Laurel (1890 – 1965), W.C. Fields (1880 – 1946), Oliver Hardy (1892 – 1957), Issy Bonn (1893 – 1977) and Max Miller (1894 – 1963). The very people that the new ‘Youth Culture’ would be against, being those that were of their parent’s generation. McCartney may have chosen William Burroughs (writer, 1914-1997), George Bernard Shaw (writer, 1856-1950), Aldous Huxley (writer, 1894-1963), or Carl Gustav Jung (psychologist, 1875-1961) for all we may know, but it is the works of Harrison and Lennon that come closer to addressing anything that these people would have discussed in their own work.
In Lennon's I Am The Walrus later that year, the work resembled Lewis Carroll, and James Joyce, along with the Burroughs of the writing world, whereas McCartney further travelled along the road as the Tin Pan Alley writers with Your Mother Should Know and The Fool On The Hill. Though McCartney did write such songs as Helter Skelter, Wild Honey Pie, Why Don’t We Do It In The Road?, included an Indian tambura on Getting Better, and the now infamous Carnival of Light (Rave), McCartney as a writer who challenges his audience to reach deeper into their thoughts, or contemplate the Life experience, is sacrificed to instead bring them joy and lift their spirits. Would they have been ‘lifted’ by a lyrical interpretation of Jung’s thoughts of synchronicity? No one knows. McCartney chose to write the Hey Jude’s on album, but privately read the works of those at the vanguard of Western writing, those who created music at the vanguard of new musical frontiers, and saw the art pieces by those at the vanguard of the modern art world. This side of McCartney has remained hidden to the masses, only rising on certain occasions, or told after the fact, or even after the decade has gone. It is hard to find Burroughs in She’s Leaving Home, but easy to find Sri Paramahansa Yogananda in Within You Without You. Both appear on the cover, and we know that Harrison chose Paramahansa, but who chose Burroughs? Burroughs who first coined the term Heavy Metal (though not in connection with music), and gave Steely Dan their group name. It can be assumed that Lennon chose Stuart Sutcliffe (artist / former Beatle, 1940-1962), but did he choose Karl Marx or Lenny Bruce? And can one find the edicts of Communism, or social satire in Lennon’s work easier than they can in McCartney’s?
The table near the beginning of this section illustrated the three definitions associated with avant-garde most used, and where Beatles songs fit in to those definitions. But at the heart of avant-garde was its original definition, and that was of social reform and movement through the Arts. And it is on this level that Harrison and Lennon jumped into that Diving Pool. As an observer, I have never truly agreed with Lennon’s political activism, not in its principle, but in its execution. But I would be in delusion to think that Lennon’s political activism did not bend and shape the tide of political thought in culture, such was his influence on the popular culture. Harrison’s cultural reform as a mediator between East & West, Christian and Hindu belief systems, and as the Father of the Benefit Concert / Charity Single, has changed Western thought since his arrival in the public eye. Both Lennon and Harrison avoided the trappings of Mass Media for the sake of their private lives or personal health (in some cases). They rarely toured, television appearances were sporadic, if at all, and in certain portions of popular culture Harrison and Lennon were no longer relevant as times and culture changed. Those times and culture changed for reasons Lennon and Harrison had helped bring about, but that is sometimes how popular culture forgets about its roots, and focuses on what is ‘happening’ in the current market place.
To go into every example as listed in the table above, is an entire other article unto itself. Hopefully, the innovations that composers from earlier in the century that were given as example, should illustrate where George Harrison and John Lennon are clearly the Vanguard of The Beatles.
In a recent episode of HBO’s Six Feet Under, Claire Fisher, the youngest daughter of the Funeral Home family, is given the opportunity to have an exhibit of her photographs. What got her this exhibit was down to a number of contributions from others. The photographs were taken by Claire, but the original idea that created the photograph’s composition was a combined effort by Claire and her ex-boyfriend, Russell Corwin. It was actually accidental, but Claire went with the idea. When the work was first shown in the classroom, Claire received all the credit for the photographs and their effect on the viewer, much to Russell’s annoyance. The exhibit was gotten for Claire by her other friend Jimmy. A case of someone who knows someone did someone a favour etc. At the exhibition, Jimmy is totally ignored by Claire, to the point that Jimmy storms out in anger, because if it wasn’t for him, Claire never would have had a show to begin with. Claire is totally wrapped up in the moment, and is often asked to explain the work as if it had a great meaning, where to her, it really had none. Her ex-teacher, Olivier Stahl, greets her, and announces that this is where the corruption begins. Claire, whose feelings toward him are ambivalent if not derogatory, does not realise what he is saying is essentially true. She has totally forgotten the people who helped her success, the people who helped inspire her creation, and basked in the glory of the Artisan. And in the end, she blames no one but them. She accepts no responsibility for their behaviour or their reactions.
For McCartney, this story might be altogether familiar. As stated, McCartney’s circles were wider and encompassed the avant-garde art and music movements to a greater degree than Harrison and Lennon. Particularly Lennon. But on the Beatles albums, it is Lennon and Harrison who ran with that idea, while McCartney kept his influences close to his chest, and let others run with the baton. To wrestle with one’s past is folly where there is only one winner, and it is the past. McCartney can and may name-drop all the galleries and exhibitions he attended, or the avant-garde music he made, or the people in those circles he may have shared friendship and common interests with. And on Rubber Soul, Revolver, Sgt. Pepper, Magical Mystery Tour and subsequent solo recordings by Harrison and Lennon during that time, it was Harrison and Lennon wearing those influences like a banner. Harrison’s Wonderwall Music (began recording in 1967, released in 1968) was a blending of musique concrete, Indian and Western classical music, Lennon’s Revolution #9 (1968) essentially musique concrete, but highly structured to simulate classical movements in composition. Harrison’s Electronic Sound (recorded late 1968/ early 1969, released in 1969) was one of the first all original composition for Moog synthesiser that was not based on classical works. In collaboration with Bernie Krause, Harrison’s Electronic Sound was one of the many visions Edgard Varese had of the future, only too soon technologically to be implemented.
Did Lennon bask in the glory of it all like Claire Fisher, forgetting where it all came from? Only he will ever know, and Yoko Ono was certainly more avant-garde in an artistic / public figure sense than McCartney ever hoped to be by listening to John Cage. Is McCartney like Claire’s boyfriend Russell, who helped her create the work in the first place, or at least was there when it was just an idea? And when did the corruption begin, as Olivier stated to Claire so glaringly. The corruption begins as soon as the Mass Media, or the public gets a hold of it, and interprets what it wants without understanding the process. Is unwilling to go through the infinite details that go towards creating anything, let alone Art. On an EMI/Capitol release back in the 60’s, I highly doubt they pointed to other artists in serious musical circles whose loops and backwards music influenced the pop generation. With the Magical Mystery Tour EP, no one got an instructional guide as to where these songs took root from, what influenced them. Strawberry Fields Forever did not come with a sticker that said, ''find something like this on The Beach Boys Pet Sounds album, particularly Caroline, No''. Mass Media is not designed like that. It is designed to sell that one particular product. If it is wise, it will advertise other products with better selling products, but only those that the company owns. It was often common practice in the 1960’s to advertise on the inner sleeve other artists on the same label. If you like Pop Tarts, try Kellogg’s Corn Flakes as well. That’s how advertising works, and Mass Media is dependant on that. It is self-interested in promoting itself and only itself, unless it has some other motivation than gaining capital.
Paul McCartney. Immanuel Kant. Théophile Gautier. John Lennon. Wassily Kandinsky. Salvador Dali. George Harrison. Vincent Van Gogh. The people pictured to the left all have something to do with the Art For Art’s Sake argument.
The Impressionists in 1850 did not agree with the way The Paris Salon chose particular artworks to be displayed for the public. And for the Parisian artist, success of any kind was found through The Salon, as long as you painted traditionally. This did not stop the Impressionists from remaining bourgeois in their art, or their values. It took an entirely separate movement, which bore fruit to Dadaism, Futurism, Surrealism, Cubism, and Modernism for the bourgeois rules to be upturned.
When Immanuel Kant wrote the Three Critiques: Pure Reason, Practical Reason and Judgement, between 1781 and 1790, his plan was not to create a whole artistic movement that would give the world Pablo Picasso. It took Théophile Gautier and Mademoiselle de Maupin in 1835, to actually bring Art For Art’s Sake as an ideal by which to live by. And Benjamin Constant’s first use of the term l’art pur l’art in his Journal in Time on the 11th February 1804, which references Kant and Friedrich Schelling. Those who would embrace this credo in the time since Kant’s original critiques would be Baudelaire, Gautier, Hugo, Flaubert, Mallarme, Whistler. Pater and Wilde. And an entire artistic movement that would change the intent of Art seen by the masses.
The main argument for Art For Art’s Sake was much like the Impressionists retaliation against The Salon, but on a much broader scale. It questioned whether Art had to have any meaning or intent at all, and that it was unto itself. It spoke out against control of artistic expression as dictated by Church, State, and Class, which controlled much of the subjects approached by the Artist in those times. They virtually controlled everything seen by those who could afford to see it. Art For Art’s Sake said Art is its own being, and it must be allowed to be, as close to its natural state, where there are no moral motivations or religious iconography to be found. Art was like a floating essence, that the Artist must remove reality or society from in all their creations, to actually capture what Art was. Everything was Art. And there have been many movements like Art For Art’s Sake comparable to today’s present arguments about Industry and Integrity. The Music ‘Business’ and the ‘Artist’. Things for sale that have no value, and the underground movements which question these things for sale and try and install value into its work. There has always been, and will always be a movement to counter-balance complete control over any aspect of life by one dogma, or edict.
How does this fit in with the three main composers of The Beatles?
According to Paul McCartney’s statement about writing Hey Jude, and Oscar Wilde’s statement concerning works of art, Paul McCartney is not an Artist. Wilde’s quote is presented to show an attitude that was born out of the Art For Art’s sake movement, which could be as elitist as any Church, State or Class System could ever be. This is one of the main problems with any movement; that it sets standards and principles that others must conform to, to be anything, or gain success with contemporaries and peers. Is Wilde’s statement about the Artist true? To a reasonable extent, yes it is. In fact, its very true, considering the value the Artist has had on civilisation, and how their work has been misinterpreted and used by those who seek to control the masses. How the Artist has sometimes had to suffer throughout the centuries because of what political, secular or aristocratic power had a hold on the direction of society. Art For Art’s Sake enabled the Artist some power, it embraced a credo that had not been questioned until that time. The 1800’s marked the rise of the Artist as a powerful indicator of societal change, it gave the Artist almost a commandment to live by.
The problem with Art For Art’s Sake is that Art has always had meaning and intent, when done by the human being. The image to the left is estimated to be from 15,000 to 10,000 B.C. Cave painters didn’t seem desperate to impress a panel of judges whether their work would be accepted in other caves. This of course is an assumption, but it seems the intent of Wounded Bison Attacking A Man is not there to impress the masses. It is there to tell a story. To relate the human experience on a wall, that only an image can capture. The tale of the hunt we can assume was told to the tribe, or the gathered clan, by the hunters. But what about those who could not go on the hunt? They had seen the animal killed and brought back, but how big was it when it was alive and was the hunter’s enemy? How did the hunters get hurt? The cave painting tells a story that cannot be told with words. If there is something in control of what this art is produced for, it is the Church of the Human Experience. The Politic of the Life Lived. And what would this image serve if it had no meaning at all? If it was just a creative expression this ancient artist had, and their use of brushstroke, colour, and theme? This is what Art For Art’s Sake reduced art to be. If it had no meaning or purpose, the viewer could only attach their own meaning to it, or comment on its execution or niceness for the eye. There are problems in both expressions of art, the realist and the surrealist, the traditionalist and the futurist. One person’s honey is another person’s poison.
Certainly to the Ancient Egyptians, Greeks, Romans, Sumerians and Minoans, the creative arts were as important to the society as any other facet of their life. The intricate architecture, pottery,sculptures, paintings and other artefacts of these civilisations shows how important the artist was in telling the story of their experiences. Of their civilisation. The same can be said for any Catholic looking up at the Sistine Chapel, or wandering through the Venetian Basilica. Art that has portrayed the meaning and purpose of that sect of society, or that portion of the populace, gives meaning and purpose to those same people. It helps Life seem to make sense, by giving it beautiful images and sounds that encourage the person to reach their best potential as a human being. The Art For Art’s Sake movement sought to wrest control away from the hands of the Political system, the Religious Iconography, and the Aristocratic Endorsement. It tried to make Art its own creature, and on many levels it succeeded in reinforcing the importance of creativity, and individual expression that tried to free itself from the chains of the body politic. Like art controlled by a governing factor, Art for Art’s Sake has as many drawbacks as what it fights against. The 1960’s were much like the artistic movements of the 1800’s and the early 20th century, and owes much to those years of change and artistic evolution. The Music Industry tried to enforce a version of elitist ‘rock and roll’ on the masses, and the retaliation was the embracing of the British pop phenomenon. In the same aspect, The Beatles were industry controlled as much as any other pop group of their day and today’s market. It is still something issued by Mass Media, and designed to increase capital. The Beatles had no responsibility to instruct or moralise for the masses. They only needed to provide hit singles and increase their fan base.
Where this changes is in the song-writing of George Harrison and John Lennon. In Lennon writing ‘Help!’, ‘You’ve Got To Hide Your Love Away’, ’Norwegian Wood’, he has brought personal experience into the lyrical design of Beatles songs. It is not used to promote the image of the teenager falling in love, or the high school dance. It strays away from the traditional romantic ideals set by hundreds of other artists in preceding generations. He is not the first to do so, but in The Beatles he takes his first steps in becoming a realist, in telling the tale the hunter in 15,000 B.C. tried to tell artistically. The altogether Human Experience. In Harrison writing ‘Think For Yourself’, ‘Taxman’, ‘Within You Without You’, ‘Only A Northern Song’, he becomes Anti-Pop. His integration of Metaphysics into the popular song is not designed to earn capital, but written to instruct and pass on knowledge. Both Lennon and Harrison grow to become Artists in its most rooted form of the word, with all its original intent and benefit. A simple telling of the inner tale of being human. It is the most valuable gift anyone can possess, the ability to share the human experience with one person, let alone millions. Market shares and capital indicate you are far safer being Paul McCartney, who not always, but at its heart, embraces much of Art For Art’s Sake’s ideology. That Music need not have meaning or intent behind its creation. It simply is.
But as noted, Music without meaning or intent often gets attached meanings to it by the consumer or the manufacturer. Is a song that has no meaning within its structure, issued by a capitalistic enterprise for the sole use of gaining money, exempt from having those same factors attributed to it? Those who enjoy McCartney’s songs without meaning would argue that they have great meaning to them, regardless of how they acquired it, or who manufactured it for whatever reason. And then one must go back to 1891 and Oscar Wilde’s statement about the Artist who is no more than a craftsman bending to the will of the bourgeois or buying public. That they are no longer an Artist in any sense of the term, because they have sacrificed any individual portion of their creative expression to please someone else. One can argue this may be selfless, and carries a universal message that transcends ‘purpose’. Another can argue that this is pandering, and is no better than mass marketed products like it. It is all up to those who see, hear, taste, touch or smell whatever is before them calling itself ‘Creativity’. The likes of Van Gogh, Dali, Lennon, Gautier, McCartney, Kandinsky, or Harrison could answer these questions no better than you can.
From my own perspective, Art must have purpose and meaning. It is wasted if not. I agree with Art For Art’s Sake as much as I agree with the Realists and Traditionalists. But first and foremost I agree with the reason human beings were given the ability to create Art. And that was to share in whatever way possible, what it was like, or what it is like to be human. Kandinsky removing all recognisable objects from his paintings to gain access to a spiritual dimension he thought was being lost to the materialistic world, in which his contemporaries and fellow human beings lived in, is a former echo of Harrison’s Living in the Material World. Kandinsky’s circles and lines that appear nowhere in our world sought to remove us from our day to day existence, and recognise a world that lay beyond this restrictive ‘being’. It sought the essence of Art, and in seeing that, getting a glimpse of that primal state in which Art resides, was closer to God than a Church could offer. Harrison, in putting Hare Krishna and Hallelujah as interchangeable words in a pop song (My Sweet Lord), sought to remove the stigmas attached to both, and make them the same. That these words were separated by culture and continent, but meant the same, and were of the same calling and design. They served the same purpose for whatever person may use them, regardless of all the things that separated them and insisted they were individualistic. John Lennon’s paean to Arthur Janov’s Primal Therapy (Plastic Ono Band), is another instruction to a record buying public seeking to remove an obstruction in the human condition. The problems of human existence and those that are caused by pain and suffering.
And then there are those who feel that any creative person who seeks to instruct or moralise to the masses, is just as guilty of trying to control human beings as much as any political, theological or bureaucratic institution does. The same principles apply, and that any artistic endeavour that has a purpose other than entertainment is just as damaging to individualism, and what a person is supposed to do with their lives while they are here.
This article isn’t here to question who is right. It was written to illustrate, using brief moments in 17,000 years of human history, who were the avant-garde in a pop group that dominated the 1960’s. In its three main composers you have different factors contributing to their creative expression, and why they are being creative at all. For some, McCartney is the definition of success. For others, he is one of the many problems in mass produced music that does not challenge the masses to change the problems of society. It is said that music can help lift the spirits on a bad day. That it can help the person escape from the problems that encounter them on a 24 hour basis, and change existing negative attitudes temporarily until they are better dealt with. There is nothing intrinsically wrong with this, other than that the problem never truly goes away. It still exists to make an appearance in the next 24 hour day, or the next 7 day week, or later in the 365 day (approximate) year. This is where the creative person who questions and seeks solutions to the root problem enters into the argument. Both are invaluable.
As for myself, I have always been more interested in the solutions.
Copyright © 2004 by St.Thomas - Beatlesnumber9
Acknowledgements and Sources:
These were a few of the many sites researched for this article. In all, there were probably 180 to 200 pages worth of documents read in writing this piece, and much of this has been used in reference for certain illustrations. Nothing has been quoted without reference to where it originally came from, or where it was sourced from
The Thanks Department:
To Dave for asking me to write this article in the first place. I’m not sure if this is what he wanted or expected, but hopefully it will be something he can look at and say, ''Damn! I didn't know you could link The Beatles to the Cave Drawings of Altamira!''
To Ian Hammond, whose Beathoven site was invaluable in writing this piece, and for stating that if not for Revolution #9, George Harrison would have been the Avant-garde Beatle! I have yet to see that said anywhere else. I have not had much luck in contacting Mr. Hammond since seeing his highly informative website, but I send him my regards.
To my Wife for being more of an Art Historian than I ever was, and many talks with her helped make clear what exactly I was trying to say in this piece.
To George Harrison for being far more influential as a human being than I ever truly realised before. In the weeks since this article was first being written, I’ve realised how much has changed in the world with this man’s entry into celebrity life. I bought my first album when I was 9 years old, and it was a George Harrison album. And since that time, the world has looked altogether different.
To John Lennon. I may not agree with everything you did, or had to say, but it still didn’t get in the way of me proving you were avant-garde! So I guess just thank you for helping me prove a point.