“We’re more popular than Jesus now.”
It was in a similarly vibratory realm of sound and story where the Beatles would resurrect with far more permanence and impact than their physical performances could ever inspire. Utilizing the recording studio as an instrument of musical language, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band was a concept album that revolutionized ideas about the potential of recorded music. The album’s “concept,” of course, was the Beatles’ imagining themselves as a mythical band, while marking the first time a group of their stature represented themselves solely in the form of vibration, i.e. recorded sound and not in live appearance. The motif of rebirth was under-scored by the Sgt. Pepper album cover, on which the “new” Beatles, costumed in fluorescent uniforms, stood alongside wax figures of their former personification dressed in the mono-chromatic black suits of their touring years. All at once, they were reborn into the realm of mythic allegory. The Beatles were no longer a band—they were the very concept of “Band.” They had become mythic creators, and their sound, image, and message increasingly expanded to define the youthful spirituality of their time.
The implications of resurrection for both Jesus and the Beatles heralded new eras in their respective cultures. If the early Christians and priests of the apostolic age saw in the resurrection of Christ an evolutionary leap in their conception of spirit, Sgt. Pepper, by redefining the future of music and further establishing the Beatles as a mythic phenomenon, performed the same function for the youth culture of the Western world. Accordingly, Time magazine greeted the album with a cover story titled: “The Beatles—Their New Incarnation.”
The album was a turning point in the history of popular music and a zeitgeist for the youth of the ’60s, immediately becoming the omnipresent sonic backdrop to the time we now refer to as the “Summer of Love.” Contemporary reviews of Sgt. Pepper were nearly unanimous in ecstatic praise. The Times’ theatre critic Kenneth Tynan described it as a “decisive moment in the history of Western civilization,” while their music critic William Mann proclaimed it a “historic departure in the progress of music—any music.” Newsweek’s Jack Kroll called it a “masterpiece,” famously comparing “A Day in the Life” to T.S. Eliot’s The Wasteland. In The New Yorker, editor William Shawn hailed Sgt. Pepper as a “musical event,” and further surmised that “the Beatles have done more to brighten the world in recent years than almost anything else in the arts.”
Sgt. Pepper was a watershed commercial success, spending twenty-seven and fifteen weeks at the top of the charts in the UK and US respectively, and winning four Grammy awards, including “Record of the Year” (the first rock album to win that category). When the dust settled, Sgt. Pepper was the top-selling album of the ’60s, and to date has sold well over thirty million copies globally, making it one of the world’s all-time best-selling records. Music historian Elijah Wald accurately summarizes that from Sgt. Pepper onward, Beatles’ albums were “treated as musical novels, designed for individual contemplation in their entirety.” Acknowledging the influence of the electronic media, he writes, “It was the age of Marshall McLuhan, and the medium was the message; musicians who had big ideas made big records.”
Then, on June 25, 1967, less than a month after Sgt. Pepper had entrained the youth of the West, the Beatles performed and recorded “All You Need is Love” as part of Our World, the first ever global satellite broadcast, seen by approximately 400 million people in twenty-six countries. With this performance, they played out the resolution and final act in the mythic resurrection drama, ascension––transcending the crude world to become one with all humanity. With this vibrational expansion, the Beatles’ image and sound literally rose above the earth as they explicitly aligned themselves with the message of love.
The books Mark, Luke, and Acts describe the Ascension of Jesus, where he is taken up to heaven in a cloud in full view of his now eleven (since Judas has exited the story) disciples; he then (according to Mark) took a seat at the right hand of God. Known in Christian theology as divinization, the process of realizing divine essence is, in many syncretistic resurrection/ascension myths, achieved by some form of love: Osiris was killed and dismembered, and then resurrected through the love of his wife, Isis; Orpheus traveled into the underworld to resurrect his mortal lover, Eurydice, through the power of music and love; Dionysus braved the underworld to resurrect his beloved mortal mother, Semele; Demeter’s daughter Persephone was abducted by Hades, the god of the underworld, and allowed to resurrect for half the year through her mother’s love; and Jesus died, spent three days in the underworld, and was resurrected through God’s love for humanity. In the New Testament, love is intrinsic in both the process of God-into-man: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son…” and man-into-God: “Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.”
Universal love is essentially transcendence of the illusion of individual separation and recognition of the sameness of the self and something else (and by extension, everything else) that exists. If we can recognize the sameness in what we perceive to be opposites, then we can see love as pervasive and omnipresent. In mythology, this universal love resolves duality—be it between heaven and earth, male and female, matter and spirit, or any number of polarized concepts—through harmony. As we shall see, the resolution of duality and the power of love are not just central tenets of the resurrection myths, they are also keys to understanding the elusive meaning and method of myth itself.
Duality is the manifestation of two opposing and interdependent forces, entities, or concepts. It is also how we know anything exists. The first thing an artist learns is that both shadow and light are needed to create form. This is as true of our own emotions and inner lives as it is of the physical world: creation/destruction, empathy/judgment, joy/sorrow, etc. We see this inherent principle in the logic of computer programming—binary code works because it is modeled from our experience of existence, which is reducible to ones and zeroes. Yes and no.
If duality is the basis of our experience of the manifest universe, it is logical that the un-manifest (the Godhead, Great Spirit, Brahman, et al.) would be imagined as something either singular and whole, or so fluid and multifaceted that it can contain two opposites—and really, all opposites—at once. The supreme deities in nearly all religious belief systems are non-dual in nature, remaining wholly conceptual in human consciousness in that they are beyond all forms. They encompass all.
The Beatles’ first single after they transcended with “All You Need Is Love” was a clever chart-topper, “Hello, Goodbye,” that played with the problems of opposites: “You say yes, I say no, you say stop, and I say go, go, go…” The flip side, “I Am the Walrus,” opened with a declaration of oneness: “I am he as you are he as you are me and we are all together.” But it was the band’s 1968 post-resurrection narrative that expressed the resolution of duality as the natural denouement to their hero’s journey.