The Beatles’ story exists as the central narrative within the larger framework of the rock mythology.
Veteran San Francisco media personality Steve Wagner was co-host, writer, and executive producer of the Bay Area television programs Reel Life and Filmtrip.
Steve has ghostwritten several published books, contributed articles on music, film, and popular culture to numerous publications, and presented lectures and workshops on music, art, and mythology throughout the U.S.
His book All You Need is Myth: The Beatles and Gods of Rock (2019), a study of the classic rock era through the lens of classical mythology, is the product of ten years of research and composition.
Our twelve days countdown of mythic rock archetypes concludes with the Beatles, who represented the savior, the core mono-myth, the Hero’s Journey at the heart of the 1960’s experience. The Beatles’ story exists as the central narrative within the larger framework of the rock mythology, just as the saviors of antiquity were the primary protagonists in their traditions. These “Christ Characters” symbolize unity, transformation, transcendence, and, most importantly, the rebirth of the individual, the culture, and life itself, through the power of love.
To the end of his life, John Lennon freely discussed his unique societal role with candor. He clarified, “I’m not claiming divinity. I’ve never claimed purity of soul. I’ve never claimed to have the answers to life. I only put out songs and answer questions as honestly as I can. … But I still believe in peace, love and understanding.” On the day of his death and in his last interview, he explained, “My role in society, or any artist’s or poet’s role, is to try and express what we all feel. Not to tell people how to feel. Not as a preacher, not as a leader, but as a reflection of us all.” Below is an excerpt from All You Need is Myth: The Beatles and the Gods of Rock, that explores the savior mythology of the Beatles:
Songs emerging from the land of dreams is not uncommon, and for Paul, “Yellow Submarine” wasn’t even the first time this had occurred. Famously, his classic standard “Yesterday” came to him in a dream with the structure and melody fully formed. Two other notable Beatles songs, “Nowhere Man” and “Across the Universe,” came to John Lennon in just such a hypnagogic state, and Rolling Stone Keith Richards’s proto-rock riff for “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” manifested in similar fashion. What sets “Yellow Submarine” apart is the archetypal nature of the song itself, and the film based on the dream world it suggests.
This straightforward morality tale … reveals the essential construct of the Beatles’ over-arching mythos.
King Features, the animation company that had earlier produced the Beatle cartoons, also made Yellow Submarine. Their creative team of writers and animators distilled the Beatles’ archetypal mythology down to its most fundamental allegorical elements: the Beatles sail across dangerous seas, transform into Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, and rescue the good people of Pepperland from the Blue Meanies—the savior restoring the community to its pristine state and bringing redemption and peace to the innocent community victimized by dark forces.
The story climaxes with the elemental statement, “All You Need is Love,” and ends with an invitation for the people of the world to join in a song of camaraderie, “All Together Now.” This straightforward morality tale—Joseph Campbell’s monomyth in glorious psychedelic Technicolor—reveals the essential construct of the Beatles’ over-arching mythos: a hero’s journey through the deep sea of our collective unconscious, seen through the looking glass of music and art, and experienced by way of sights, sounds, and symbols.
Yellow Submarine is of the rarest class of artworks that both vividly reflect their time period and yet remain timeless, and even more so because it moves hearts of all ages. Its function is now like that of the illustrated children’s books read in Sunday school, imprinting the minds of the young with vibrant color, simple presentation, and, as with all monomyths, the “greatest story ever told.”
Excerpt on John’s passing from All You Need is Myth: The Beatles and the Gods of Rock
John Lennon’s death was an event of truly mythic import, a “where were you when” moment as indelible as the Beatles’ Ed Sullivan appearance had been nearly two decades prior.
Tragic though it was, it further aligned John (and, in turn, the Beatles) with the mythic savior archetype in a manner more visceral than even his potent personal story and revolutionary art could inspire. With this single shocking incident, the temporal, archetypal, and communal mythology of the Beatles became one and the same; the historical reality, existential implication, and mass shared experience forever united through the loss of a global spiritual martyr. John, in death, instantly became an even greater symbol of love, peace, and transcendence than during his extraordinary and inspirational life.
Representing the deeper feminine qualities of inner wisdom and intuitive process, concerns of ecology and equality, possession of hidden knowledge, and emphasis on truth and integrity, attributes of countless mythic goddesses of the ancient world.
Everything we experience in our material world is realized and created through a dance with its opposite.
Even more than her music, it was Janis’s seemingly possessed delivery that captivated and entranced her audience.