Although no longer an epidemic, Beatlemania, like TB, still exists; I should know, I’ve been struggling with a dose for a couple of weeks now. I’m not doing much screaming, but I am unable to listen to, read about, or even think on anything that isn’t somehow Beatle-related. (My missus has had it up to here with the goddamn Fab Four.)
The following seemingly homemade mini-documentary, on the development of “Strawberry Fields Forever,” is one of my favorite finds so far, nicely edited to give a real and rare sense of the genesis of a great work of art, from a tantalizing burst of John backstage fooling about on a melodium in 1964, through countless delicious demos and jams, to the orchestral version which, slowed down and cleverly sewn into the final mix, would help give the finished song its thrillingly queasy texture. It finishes with the famous Knole Park video. If you love the song, this is well worth twenty-six minutes of your life.
(And for the record, John, down here we’ve long since decided your tree was rather high.)
Pablo Fanque, today best known for being mentioned in The Beatles song “Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite!” on the Sgt. Pepper’s album was the first black circus proprietor in Britain. For over three decades, his circus, in which he himself was a featured performer, was the most popular n Victorian-era Britain. Circus historian George Speight wrote that Fanque’s big stunt was leaping on horseback over a coach “placed lengthways with a pair of horses in the shafts, and through a military drum at the same time.”
While true Beatlemaniacs will know that Mr. Kite and his companions were real performers in a real troupe, however, few will realize that they were associates of what was probably the most successful, and almost certainly the most beloved, “fair” to tour Britain in the mid-Victorian period. And almost none will know that Pablo Fanque–the man who owned the circus—was more than simply an exceptional showman and perhaps the finest horsemen of his day. He was also a black man making his way in an almost uniformly white society, and doing it so successfully that he played to mostly capacity houses for the best part of 30 years.
The song that lent Fanque his posthumous fame had its origins in a promotional film shot for “Strawberry Fields Forever”—another Lennon track—at Sevenoaks in Kent in January 1967. During a break in the filming, the Beatle wandered into a nearby antique shop, where his attention was caught by a gaudy Victorian playbill advertising a performance of Pablo Fanque’s Circus Royal in the northern factory town of Rochdale in February 1843. One by one, in the gorgeously prolix style of the time, the poster ran through the wonders that would be on display, among them “Mr. Henderson, the celebrated somerset thrower, wire dancer, vaulter, rider &c.” and Zanthus, “well known to be one of the best Broke Horses in the world!!!”—not to mention Mr. Kite himself, pictured balancing on his head atop a pole while playing the trumpet.
Something about the poster caught Lennon’s fancy; knowing his dry sense of humor, it was probably the bill’s breathless assertion that this show of shows would be “positively the last night but three!” of the circus’s engagement in the town. Anyway, he bought it, took it home and (the musicologist Ian MacDonald notes) hung it in his music room, where “playing his piano, [he] sang phrases from it until he had a song.” The upshot was a track unlike any other in the Beatles’ canon—though it’s fair to say that the finished article owes just as much to the group’s producer, George Martin, who responded heroically to Lennon’s demand for “a ‘fairground’ production wherein one could smell the sawdust.” (Adds MacDonald, wryly: “While not in the narrowest sense a musical specification, [this] was, by Lennon’s standards, a clear and reasonable request. He once asked Martin to make one of his songs sound like an orange.”) The Abbey Road production team used a harmonium and wobbly tapes of vintage Victorian calliopes to create the song’s famously kaleidoscopic wash of sound.
As a lifelong Beatles fan I found myself simply wanting to hang a copy of this poster on my wall. As a designer, however, I couldn’t accept the many poor imitations I found – all of which use jarringly incorrect fonts (like Futura and Helvetica) and low-quality copies-of-copies of the illustrations.
So I set about doing it properly. What I thought might be a few weeks of work became several months, where sometimes the prospect of one day owning this poster seemed far away. But we got there in the end and I’m truly delighted with the end result.
I can see why he’s so happy, this looks amazing.
It’s worth pointing out that “Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite!” was one of three songs on the Sgt. Pepper’s album to be banned by BBC radio. The lyrics referring to “Henry the horse” were thought to be slang for heroin. Clearly this was not the case. Imagine writing and creating such an amazing piece of childlike music only to find some small minds ready to ban it.
Filmmakers Nick Esdaile and Joe Fellows made a great short film about how it all came together. You can win a copy of the limited edition “Mr. Kite” print yourself by signing up for the Kite newsletter.
One from the DM archives: In 1964, future Crass drummer Penny Rimbaud, then known by his given name of Jeremy Rattner, appeared on the Ready Steady Go! music program to receive an award from Beatle John Lennon. He’d won a contest for producing artwork inspired by “I Wanna Hold Your Hand.”
The prizes were copies of the LPs Mingus by Charlie Mingus and Dmitri Shostakovich’s Cello Concerto. This anecdote appears in Rimbaud’s autobiography, Shibboleth: My Revolting Life.
Thank you to Brad Laner for calling this delightfully weird pop culture connection to our attention.
He blew his mind out in car, he didn’t notice that the lights had changed. These are the lyrics from The Beatles’ “A Day in the Life”, which immortalized the death of sixties socialite Tara Browne.
On the night of December 18th 1966, Browne, together with his girlfriend, Suki Potier, drove through the streets of South Kensington in his Lotus Elan. The couple had just left a friend’s apartment at Earls Court around 1am, and were now in search of food. Browne sped through a stop signal at the corner of Redcliffe Square and Redcliffe Gardens. As he swerved to avoid an oncoming vehicle, Browne crashed his car into a parked van. His last minute actions saved Potier from certain death, but left Browne fatally injured, and he died in hospital the following day.
Browne was 21-years-of-age, a member of the Irish aristocratic family Oranmore and Browne, and heir to the Gunness fortune. He looked like a cross between Paul McCartney and Peter Cook (more of which later), was said to be barely literate - having walked out of a dozen schools, lived with his mother, Oonagh Guinness and her boyfriend a “show designer” Miguel Ferreras, drank Bloody Marys for breakfast, smoked Menthol cigarettes, and according to his friend Hugo Williams lived the life of a “Little Lord Fauntleroy, Beau Brummell, Peter Pan, Terence Stamp in Billy Budd, David Hemmings in Blow-Up.”
‘Tara could hardly have failed to be a success in Swinging London. While I was wandering around the globe in ’63 and ‘64, he embarked on the second and last phase of his meteoric progress. He got married, met the Stones and the Beatles, opened a shop in the King’s Road and bought the fatal turquoise Lotus Elan in which he entered the Irish Grand Prix. He let me drive it once in some busy London street: ‘Come on, Hugo, put your foot down.’ I had just got my first job and our ways were dividing. His money and youth made him a natural prey to certain charismatic Chelsea types who turned him into what he amiably termed a ‘hustlee’.
He reputedly gave Paul McCartney his first acid trip. The pair went to Liverpool together, got stoned and cruised the city on mopeds until Paul went over the handlebars and broke a tooth and they had to call on Paul’s Aunt Bett for assistance. There is still a body of people — and a book called The Walrus is Paul — who believe that Paul is dead and is now actually Tara Browne with plastic surgery.’
A month after his death, January 17th 1967, John Lennon was working on a song when he read a newspaper article on the coroner’s report into Browe’s death:
‘I was writing “A Day In The Life” with the Daily Mail propped in front of me on the piano. I had it open at their News in Brief, or Far and Near, whatever they call it. I noticed two stories. One was about the Guinness heir who killed himself in a car. That was the main headline story. He died in London in a car crash.’
Lennon further explained his inspiration in Hunter Davies’ biography of The Beatles:
‘I didn’t copy the accident. Tara didn’t blow his mind out. But it was in my mind when I was writing that verse.’
However, more recently, in the authorized biography, Many Years From Now by Barry Miles, Paul McCartney added his tuppence worth:
‘The verse about the politician blowing his mind out in a car we wrote together. It has been attributed to Tara Browne, the Guinness heir, which I don’t believe is the case, certainly as we were writing it, I was not attributing it to Tara in my head. In John’s head it might have been. In my head I was imagining a politician bombed out on drugs who’d stopped at some traffic lights and didn’t notice that the lights had changed. The ‘blew his mind’ was purely a drugs reference, nothing to do with a car crash.’
Whichever version is true, Tara Browne is still the man best associated with lyrics. Here is Tara, and his Lotus Elan, in some incredibly rare footage from a short French TV feature, where the aristocrat drives around London and mumbles in French about his car, art, fashion, music and life. There are no English subtitles, but they’re not really necessary as the film is easily understandable. Appearances from Paul McCartney, Marianne Faithfull and famed gallery owner Robert Fraser.
The Fab Two, John Lennon and Yoko Ono gave their first interview together on the David Frost show Frost on Saturday, August 24 1968. On it they discussed how they met, their personal and artistic philosophies, and explained some of the ideas behind their shared exhibition You Are Here:
Frost: Yes, you gave me one of these badges beforehand. Now, what, this is really the basis of what you’re talking about isn’t it, You Are Here.
Lennon: It’s that show, yeah.
Frost: Now what exactly does it mean, You Are Here?
Lennon: Well, er, You, are, here.
Ono: Usually people think in vicarious terms, they think ‘Somebody’s there,’ ‘John Lennon’s there,’ or somebody. But it’s not that. YOU are the one who’s here, and so in art, usually art gives something that’s an object and says ‘This is art,’ you know, but instead of that, art exists in people. It’s people’s art, and so we don’t believe in just making something and completing it and giving it to people, we like people to participate. All the pieces are unfinished and they have to be finished by people.
As part of the interview, two audience members tried out Yoko’s Hammer and Nail Piece, where they hammered nails into a block of wood. Both found the experience “satisfying” and “unbelievable”. When Lennon encouraged Frost to have a go, the “bubonic plagiarist” said he felt like “a man hammering in a nail”, to which Lennon countered, “I felt like one hammering it in on TV”.
The interview over-ran, and ends with Lennon conducting the audience to sing-a-long on “Hey Jude”, as the closing titles played out.
The recent News of the World ‘phone hacking scandal wasn’t the first time the red top used illicit means to obtain stories. Back in the swinging sixties, the paper regularly bartered with the police for information to use in its pages.
One of the News of the World’s tip-offs to the cops led to the most infamous drugs trial of the twentieth century, where Mick Jagger, Keith Richard of The Rolling Stones, and art dealer Robert Fraser were imprisoned in an apparent attempt to destroy the band’s corrupting influence over the nation’s youth.
For the first time, the true story behind the arrests and trial is revealed by Simon Wells in his excellent book Butterfly on a Wheel: The Great Rolling Stones Drugs Bust. Wells’ previous work includes books on The Beatles and The Stones, British Cinema and most recently, a powerful and disturbing biography of Charles Manson. In an exclusive interview with Dangerous Minds, Wells explained his interest in The Stones drugs bust:
‘As a student of the 1960s it was perhaps inevitable that I would collide with the whole Redlands’ issue at some point. Probably like anyone with a passing interest in the Stones, I first knew about it mainly from legend - the “Mars Bar”, the fur rug, the “Butterfly On A Wheel” quote etc. However, like most of the events connected to the 1960s I was aware that there had to be a back story, and not what had been passed down into myth. This story proved to be no exception, and hopefully the facts are as sensational (if not more) than what has passed into mythology. Additionally, as a Sussexboy - I was familiar with the physical landscape of the story- so that was also attractive to me as well.’
Just after eight o’clock, on the evening of February 12 1967, the West Sussex police arrived at Keith Richards’ home, Redlands. Inside, Keith and his guests - including Mick Jagger, Marianne Faithfull, the gallery owner Robert Fraser, and “Acid King” David Schneiderman - shared in the quiet warmth of a day taking LSD. Relaxed, they listened to music, oblivious to the police gathering outside. The first intimation something was about to happen came when a face appeared, pressed against the window.
It must be a fan. Who else could it be? But Keith noticed it was a “little old lady”. Strange kind of fan. If we ignore her. She’ll go away.
Then it came, a loud, urgent banging on the front door. Robert Fraser quipped, “Don’t answer. It must be tradesmen. Gentlemen ring up first.” Marianne Faithfull whispered, “If we don’t make any noise, if we’re all really quiet, they’ll go away.” But they didn’t.
When Richards opened the door, he was confronted by 18 police officers led by Police Chief Inspector Gordon Dinely, who presented Richards with a warrant to “search the premises and the persons in them, under the Dangerous Drugs Act 1965.”
This then was the start to the infamous trial of Mick Jagger, Keith Richards and Robert Fraser.
More on Simon Wells ‘The Great Rolling Stones Drugs Bust’, after the jump…
Dutch sociologist Abram De Swaan interviews John and Yoko for the TV program Rood Wit Blauw at the practice of Lennon’s Knightsbridge dentist. The interview took place on December 12, 1968, just after their Two Virgins album had come out.
In the first part, while John was in the dentist’s chair, Yoko discusses Fluxus, the underground vs. the establishment, her own approach to art, why she abores “professionalism” and more.
When Lennon joins them, in reel four, he talks about revolution, reincarnation, taxes and money.
This is the single best vintage Yoko Ono interview I’ve ever seen, a real treat for Yoko fans.
After the jump, Yoko discusses living her life with Lennon in public and how their first meeting was a “miracle.”
In the video below shot a few days before the 1968 Democratic National Convention, radical prankster Abbie Hoffman discusses guerrilla theater, drugs, sex and the role of humor as a tool for shaking up the status quo. Dissidence with a touch of Dada.
While the shit is hitting the fan it’s always good to have a sense of the absurd to keep things in perspective.
“Sacred cows make the tastiest hamburger.”
Much of the tone of the current Occupy Wall Street movement, with it’s colorful signs, face paint, freak flags, costumes and optimism in the face of so much opposition, can be traced to the Sixties provocations and theater of Hoffman, Jerry Ruben, The MC5, Ed Sanders, Paul Krassner, Allen Ginsberg, Dana Beal and the Youth International Party.
While Abbie showed us that political activism could have a playful side and that yippie tactics could be an effective means to grab headlines, releasing word viruses that could fuck with the status quo, he was also wise in his grasp of political realities:
Revolution is not something fixed in ideology, nor is it something fashioned to a particular decade. It is a perpetual process embedded in the human spirit. When all today’s isms have become yesterday’s ancient philosophy, there will still be reactionaries and there will still be revolutionaries. No amount of rationalization can avoid the moment of choice each of us brings to our situation here on the planet. I still believe in the fundamental injustice of the profit system and do not accept the proposition there will be rich and poor for all eternity.
Become an internationalist and learn to respect all life. Make war on machines. And in particular the sterile machines of corporate death and the robots that guard them.
Being a revolutionary isn’t just about talking a good game, it’s also about showing the world what freedom loving human beings are capable of: a robust passion for life and a deep respect for humanity and the earth we stand on.
There are two basic motivating forces: fear and love. When we are afraid, we pull back from life. When we are in love, we open to all that life has to offer with passion, excitement, and acceptance. We need to learn to love ourselves first, in all our glory and our imperfections. If we cannot love ourselves, we cannot fully open to our ability to love others or our potential to create. Evolution and all hopes for a better world rest in the fearlessness and open-hearted vision of people who embrace life.”
― John Lennon
When people discount the role the Sixties play in contemporary attitudes about politics, sex, the environment and human rights, I say open your gawdammed eyes and take a look around. The press, pundits and people in general are comparing the OWS movement to the radical uprisings of the Sixties for good reason - they arise out of the same basic impulse toward justice and freedom….and something innate in all humans: the desire to fuck with authority.
With their limited frames of reference, I keep hearing people referring to the OWS protesters as hippies. Well, I guess we’re all hippies now. Pass the patchouli. Yippee!
He couldn’t play the bass, but he certainly could paint. The trouble is, Stuart Sutcliffe never lived long enough to fulfill the destiny his talents promised, tragically dying at the age of twenty-one from a brain haemorrhage.
As The Beatles original bass player, and John Lennon’s best mate, Sutcliffe’s legend has grown over these past fifty years, and this documentary Stuart Sutcliffe: The Lost Beatle examines the short life and long myth of the man who quit the Fab Four to follow his own star.
Told via interviews with an impressive array of Sutcliffe’s family and friends—and through uniquely descriptive quotes from his letters—this hour-long documentary reveals a lot of intimate detail about Sutcliffe’s transition from promising art-school student in Liverpool (and best friend of John Lennon) to reluctant musician (pressed into service by Lennon) to determined painter within the German avant-garde scene. A lot of Stu’s story, as Beatles fans know, is set in Hamburg, during and after the days the group was a house band in the city’s red-light district. Familiar tales of friction between Sutcliffe and Paul McCartney abound. But these are offset by a tremendous amount of fresh insight and detail offered by such important Beatles-saga figures as rocker Tony Sheridan, Klaus Voormann and—most crucially—Astrid Kirchherr, the photographer who influenced the Beatles’ look and who became Sutcliffe’s lover until his death.
John Lennon made three appearances on Not Only… But Also, the mid-1960s BBC sketch comedy show starring Peter Cook and Dudley Moore.
Also seen here is British actor Norman Rossington, who was in A Hard Day’s Night and the first British “New Wave” film Saturday Night and Sunday Morning with Albert Finney. You’ll also catch a glimpse of a young Diahann Carroll at the end.