Book review: The Gospel According to the Beatles

gospel according to beatlesIn March 2015, the youth director of our church is putting on a musical review based on The Gospel According to the Beatles, which will feature The Daughter. This compelled me to buy and read the book. Author Steve Turner, as the book sleeve, informs me, has been writing about pop music for over three decades. This is, and I don’t want it to come off as a pejorative, a scholarly book, well-researched; I’ve read enough Beatles-related tomes to have read more than a few useless ramblings.

The general premise that they all grew up in the church, particularly John. Indeed, his description of the “flaming pie” man that gave the group its name – “From this day on, you are Beatles with an A” – was a mock Biblical story, possibly borrowing from Acts 10 or another story.

The group moved away from the “rather stuffy Christianity of their childhoods.” Initially, it was the attraction to nihilism, where the goal was not to have a job like their fathers had, and to attract female attention, that motivated them.

When they first made it big, they did not hide their agnostic sentiments. Soon, though, it was as though they asked themselves, with all the “wealth, fame, sex, and acclaim,” is that it? “George and John were the most disappointed by fame.” One can see this in the title, and on the dour cover picture of the Beatles for Sale album.

From Rubber Soul, a pot-driven album, I thought nearly 50 years ago that The Word [LISTEN] was at least reminiscent of New Testament scripture. Nowhere Man [LISTEN] had clear elements of a philosophy. But I hadn’t realized that Girl [LISTEN], at least the section about pain and pleasure, came from a book John read about Christianity, a notion he thought was rubbish.

Revolver was full of LSD references. I find it interesting that’s long been my favorite album, and Tomorrow Never Knows my favorite song. It was acid, and its ultimate lack of fulfillment, that led George to look to the East for enlightenment. The Catholicism he grew up with seemed too compartmentalized in most people’s lives.

It is unsurprising that John is in the foreground on the cover. The book goes into great detail about the 1966 Lennon quote about the popularity of the Beatles vis a vis Jesus, which was almost certainly true in Britain at that time, and even more so now, with the steep decline of the church in England.

(Yes, Paul and Ringo get plenty of coverage too.)

My takeaway is that the Beatles hadn’t set out to be gurus, but in their very public quest for a spiritual…something, they became just that, in a way that Elvis, for instance, was not. This is a function of being better educated, writing their own songs, and that protection that being one of four provides. While there were stories I knew, there as a lot more I did not.
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Yes, I DID know which Beatle visited the United States first, but did you? Here’s a nice story about that first trip.

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