Further Reflections on Jung in the 21st Century
It was just over fifty years ago, that the English musical group, the Beatles, released their masterwork, Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, as a long-playing record. This album was in the news again recently (and at the top of the sales charts), due to the 50-year anniversary of its release and a careful “remixing” of the original audiotapes done by Giles Martin, son of the original producer (George Martin). The original Sgt. Pepper's was released in England on the 26th of May 1967 and a week later in the United States and was a substantial commercial and critical success. The top selling record album in England for over six months and in the United States for close to four months, it also was a critical success. In addition to winning the Grammy award as best album of 1967, Sgt. Pepper's also won Grammys for best album cover and best engineered non-classical record. Rolling Stone magazine has twice compiled critical lists of the “best albums” in rock music and twice named Sergeant Pepper’s as the best recording of all time:
The album cover is a modern “pop art” masterpiece, portraying a number of famous personalities standing around the Beatles (John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, and Ringo Starr). On the top row of figures is none other than an image of C.G. Jung, where he appears, eyeglasses raised on his forehead, between the American comedian W.C. Fields and the American writer Edgar Allen Poe. This essay explores how Jung ended up on the cover of one of the most popular record albums of all time and also allows the opportunity for a bit of Jungian analysis of the album itself.
The Sergeant Pepper Album Cover: or How Did
C.G. Jung End Up On The Cover of The “Most
Important” Rock and Roll Album Ever Made?
This is the photograph of Jung that was used for the cover of the Sergeant Pepper's album cover.
In the waiting room of Jungian analyst Tess Castleman’s office in Dallas, Texas, a large portrait of the Sergeant Pepper’s album cover was (and still is) proudly displayed. I had the good fortune to work with Tess as one of my training analysts, and I came to know her as being a staunch advocate of Jung’s theories and ideas and how analytical psychology has important things to say at not just the individual, but also the cultural level. Although I never asked her about the Sgt. Pepper’s album, I’m sure that she displayed the photograph in part to highlight that C.G. Jung was on the cover of this quintessential cultural object. With Sergeant Pepper’s in the news again, I set out to try to track down exactly how Jung’s image ended up on that album cover.
Sergeant Pepper’s is a complex conceptual piece, both in terms of its music and the associated artwork. Musically, the Beatles were moving into a new period of their work, where they were determined to express themselves as “men” (not boys) and as “artists” (as opposed to performers). They had just finished their last set of live performances (tours in England and the United States) and had decided henceforth to concentrate on using the music studio to create recordings that would be the end point of their artistic process. Also, rather than recording themselves playing "live," they were determined to use the possibilities of multiple track recording to create new tapestries of sound, using other instruments and sound sources than their traditional guitars, bass and drums. This marked a major transition for the group, and for rock or pop musicians in general, and inevitably this required the four Beatles to reflect on their history as a popular performing phenomenon. One question that rose up in early 1967 was who their “audience” would now be, if they were never to perform in public again.
In a sense, the four men who had composed the Beatles (with the assistance in the studio of their producer, the classically trained George Martin, and recording engineer Geoff Emerick) were changing their persona (Carl Jung's word for the version of ourselves that we choose to present to the public). They were leaving behind the image of fresh-faced, androgynous youth performing their updated version of American rock and roll in front of large audiences of primarily pre-teen and teenage girls and boys, and moving to a stage of being four individuals using tapes in the recording studio to create works of art that could be listened to by anyone. In a sense, their 1968 album, the White Album, best expressed their transition to being individual recording artists (the accompanying album included four separate photographs of each “Beatle,” face shots unadorned by costume or posing of any sort and an album cover with no extant image at all – a white, blank canvas, emphasizing in a way that the “work” here was completely an aural construction).
The Beatles in 1968. These photographs were included with the White Album.
Before moving on to the White Album, though, the Beatles had to become conscious of the fact that they had effectively become a persona (the version of themselves they presented to the public had become all consuming of their time and personal lives) and that this was stifling their individual growth and maturity as artists. On the cover of Sgt. Pepper’s they symbolized directly that they were artists and that as such, they could take on or put on different costumes.
They were not quite ready to take all the costumes off, though.Sergeant Pepper shows the group in the process of moving from one persona into another – that of four mustachioed (they are clearly men now!) performers, trading in the traditional instruments of rock and roll, and assuming the persona of a brass band from another time and place. The idea of this new “persona” came from Paul McCartney, who, of all the Beatles, seems to have had the most difficulty letting go of the idea of being a performing band (now, in his 70s, McCartney still performs a carefully choreographed show in concerts throughout the world). At the time, McCartney the performer, with the group’s decision to no longer perform in public, seems unconsciously to have felt the need to repackage the group and to create a fantasy space where they could impersonate an imaginary band, complete with new name and outfits.
A photograph of the Jim Mac Jazz Band and their audience from the 1920s. The band was named after James McCartney, father of Paul McCartney. Jim McCartney is seated third to the right of the bass drum.
The basic structure for the Sgt. Pepper album cover came from an old photograph of McCartney’s father’s band (the Jim Mac Jazz Band), in which Jim McCartney and bandmates are posing around a bass drum with the band’s name on it, surrounded by an audience of men and women. For the album cover, the Beatles were to dress in uniforms, standing behind the bass drum, posing as “Sergeant Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band”, and holding brass instruments. Indeed, the album itself begins with a song in which this new “band” presents itself, now accompanied by brass instruments, and the song is reprised near the end, framing the album as an evening of entertainment with various musical scenes, performed for this imaginary audience.
If the Beatles were no longer going to perform in public, who would their audience be? The concept of the album cover was based in large part on answering this question. American artist Jann Haworth and English artist Peter Blake, both exponents of “pop art”, designed the cover. Pop art, an aesthetic movement developed primarily in the visual arts, can be seen as having some similarity to what the Beatles were doing with their music: i.e. creating serious artistic works, but using non-traditional elements such as images (or in the Beatles’ case, sounds) from popular culture, often with an element of irony and humor. Haworth and Blake decided that they would used cutout, life-size photographs of people, along with a few wax figures from a London museum, to form an audience standing around the Beatles and to whom they (or their new personae, The Sgt. Pepper’s Band) would be about to perform (or to have just performed). On the record album, we would hear this supposed audience clapping and talking in the background between songs.
Ultimately, just over 70 characters ended up on the cover as this “audience.” But who chose them? The Beatles were asked to come up with a list of “people they admire” – in essence, the idea would be that they would be creating and presenting their art work (the sonic recordings of the album) to a dream audience of people who had inspired them. The audience was not all contemporary persons, including a few from the previous century, but primarily was composed of English language writers, and performers (actors, athletes, musicians) from the present and the previous 100 years. The images were chosen first by the Beatles themselves (Ringo passed on this, so technically Lennon, McCartney and Harrison chose the initial 28 characters), but to fill out the audience Haworth, Blake and English art dealer Robert Fraser, chose the rest. Interestingly, Lennon chose at least one character he didn’t admire (Adolf Hitler), which would have added a note of darkness to the representative audience (others from the Beatles’ list who didn’t end up on the cover, for one reason or another, included the Marquis de Sade, Nietzsche and (another Lennon choice…) Jesus). The list that came from the Beatles themselves is impressive in that it lists quite innovative thinkers in literature (Dylan Thomas, James Joyce, Oscar Wilde, William Burroughs, Aldous Huxley, Alfred Jarry) and a number of revolutionary philosophers/scientists (Nietzsche, Einstein, Karl Marx, Jung). Persons who pushed the envelope of social mores and thinking, included in the Beatles’ list, included a few characters known for exploring the darker (or censored) regions of human experience, including Burroughs and Joyce (both subjects of pornography charges for their writings), de Sade, Alistair Crowley (a proponent of magic and Satanic ritual), and American comedian Lenny Bruce. In a nod to their recent history in show business, they also chose a number of vaudeville and film entertainers, including Izis Bon and Fred Astaire. To further confuse the levels of reality, persona and meaning, they even included wax figures of their earlier, clean-cut selves.
The cover, and the characters selected for it, might be best understood, in Jungian terms, as a symbolic representation of what Joseph Henderson called “the cultural unconscious.” Henderson felt that that there was an intermediate realm between the collective unconscious (which by its nature is not tied to any specific culture, but provides the structure and archetypes in which individuals and cultures develop) and the manifest content of cultures (cultural beliefs, practices, symbols). Henderson writes that the cultural unconscious may include both modalities of the collective unconscious and manifest culture, and that it blends
“the archetypes of the collective unconscious, which, on one hand, assists in the formation of myth and ritual, and on the other, promotes the process of development in individual human beings.”
From this perspective, the characters chosen by the Beatles (and their artist colleagues) might be seen as people representing their influences and their “ideal” audience, but also cultural figures that represented archetypes that were influencing the Beatles as individuals in their process of development.
So, who chose Jung to end up on the cover of Sgt. Pepper’s? Unfortunately, it is not possible to say exactly which Beatle chose Carl Jung for the cover, but we do know that Jung was on the original list that came from John, George and Paul. Although we can't rule Paul out, he is the least likely of the three, as he has never mentioned Jung in over fifty years of interviews (and he drops other names frequently). There are several Indian yogis (teachers) on the cover, that were chosen by George, who had been developing a deep interest in Indian religion and music, and it is possible that Jung was chosen by George, who seems to have been aware of Jungian concepts:
“Moustaches were part of the synchronicity and the collective consciousness…”
George Harrison on the Beatles growing mustaches at the
time of the Sgt. Peppers recordings
Exploration of the “world within” was an important new goal that both Harrison and Lennon were deeply involved in, through experimentation with LSD and meditation practices they learned from Indian gurus (primarily the Maharishi). It may be in the context of following these interests that Lennon or Harrison came across Jung’s writings on the unconscious and the richness of internal images, as well as concepts such as the collective unconscious and synchronicity. Jung also wrote extensively about Indian religion and concepts and I would guess was well represented in the books at the Indica gallery and bookstore where the Beatles often shopped. In favor of Lennon possibly having put Jung on the list is that of the Beatles, he is the one known to have also showed an interest in psychotherapy – later in his life, he would engage in therapy with Arthur Janov and utilize experiences from that work in creating some of his most autobiographic and wrenching music (see Plastic Ono Band, his first solo album, released in 1970). Lennon was known to have purchased and read a copy of Jung's Man And His Symbols, during the year of 1966. Also, Lennon, of all the Beatles, was the most vocal exponent of what Jung would call “individuation,” the development of one’s own path in life, apart from the constrictions and expectations of society. Arguing against Lennon is the fact that although he lived a life that could be seen as individuated, there are no known interviews or writings of his where he talks directly about Jung or uses Jungian terms. The closest I could find to Lennon talking about Jung is in one of his last interviews, in 1980, where the interviewer mentions Jung in the context of developing the less developed functions of our personality, with reference to how Lennon had spent the previous five years staying at home and taking on more traditionally feminine roles. Lennon responded enthusiastically to the comment, but framed it more as him being a feminist, and of overcoming the “macho” masculine image he had grown into as a young man.
In his essay “The Cover Story,” Kevin Howlett acknowledges that “nobody is really sure who chose who” but he writes that it is likely that George Harrison chose C.G. Jung for the cover (along with Bob Dylan, Lenny Bruce, Mahatma Gandhi, and several Indian Yogis). Harrison, unlike Lennon, at times used terms that came from Jung when giving interviews. He is also known to have studied the I Ching (his song "While My Guitar Gently Sleeps," on the White Album, was inspired by it), which, if he had Richard Wilhelm's translation, included an introduction by Jung. With Lennon and Harrison now deceased, this may be as close as we can get to uncovering how Jung ended up in the “audience” on the cover of Sgt. Pepper’s.
A Buddhist Mandala from the 15th Century. (Rubin Museum of Art)
The cover is also interesting symbolically. It can be seen as a mandala figure, organized around a center. Jung wrote often of mandalas, which can be seen in many cultures, as symbols of wholeness, integration of opposites, and of the self. The structural center is a circle, the bass drum, which can be considered both a symbol of wholeness and, musically, a symbol of the primary note and heartbeat underlying rock music. Although not well balanced between male and female characters, the cover does encompass people representing a number of opposites, in gender, age, and humour (melancholics like Edgar Allen Poe stand amidst vaudeville comedians and Aphrodite figures like Jayne Mansfield and Marlene Dietrich, the innocent child figure of Shirley Temple and the notorious black magician Alistair Crowley). (If Lennon’s suggestions of Hitler and Jesus had been included, opposites would have more obviously been constellated). The Beatles and their surrounding audience come up from a garden full of plants and flowers, perhaps signifying the primal nature in which all creation comes from. In true “pop art” fashion, various elements of popular culture are almost randomly displayed in the garden, including a television, dolls and a stone figure of Snow White (herself the heroine of a classic fairy tale of individuation). There are hints of the Garden of Eden in the imagery (or is this just synchronicity, or the collective unconscious at work?), including a Mexican candle representing the Tree of Life, and a velvet snake crawling through the grass.
In any essay on the Beatles and Carl Jung, it probably should be mentioned that, although Jung never visited Liverpool (the Beatles’ hometown in England), he did have a famous dream, which he shared in Memories, Dreams and Reflections, in which he visits Liverpool and finds, in the center of this city, a pool, and within that pool, an island with a beautiful tree on it. Jung interprets the dream as his finding the “pool of life” and realizing that this is in the “center” – i.e. within himself and not to be sought elsewhere. It is unlikely that this writing of Jung’s had anything to do with his being on the Sgt. Pepper’s cover, but it is a nice bit of additional synchronicity between the stories of Jung and the Beatles.
The Music of Sgt. Pepper’s: Resonances with C.G. Jung
In addition to the fact that the Beatles placed Jung in their ideal audience on the cover of the album, it is interesting to note some of the parallels between Jung’s ideas and the Beatle’s interests and musical art at the time they created the Sgt. Pepper’s album. Among these are the concepts of the persona and individuation, an interest in the culture and religion of India, in LSD and a love of African American music traditions. Jung, who died in 1961, was not alive at the time the Beatles became a popular phenomenon (the Beatles burst on the scene, with a recording contract, and international renown, in 1963 and 1964), but they certainly overlapped in time and were moved by similar influences.
Persona and Individuation
In terms of the persona, Jung had coined this term to explain the psychological mechanism used to present oneself to the world, modeled after the masks used in ancient Greek drama. As defined by Jung:
“(The persona) is a kind of mask, designed on the one hand to make a definite impression upon others, and on the other to conceal the true nature of the individual.”
Jung also notes that an individual gaining insight on their persona and separating from it is a key moment in the path towards individuation:
“the persona is a semblance... the dissolution of the persona is therefore absolutely necessary for individuation."
As mentioned above, Sgt. Pepper’s was an important turning point for the Beatles as they stepped outside of the personas they had developed for performance (four clean cut “boys” singing songs of love and desire to an audience of adoring girls) and moved to more personal artistic representations of their inner experiences, values and beliefs. Sgt. Pepper’s marked a transition towards that setting aside of persona, albeit through the use of a newly assumed persona (the Sergeant Pepper’s Band). As they further developed their work in the White Album, Lennon in particular moved towards writing more autobiographical songs, culminating in his solo album Plastic Ono Band, which eschews fantasy characters or traditional love songs, and instead writes about Lennon’s personal feelings and beliefs. In that later Lennon album, the closing song has a line “I don’t believe in Beatles,” which can be thought of as the closure to a process that began with Sgt. Pepper’s rejection of the early Beatles persona.
George Harrison of the Beatles learning sitar from Ravi Shankar
Sgt. Pepper’s came out in 1967. And one of the other record albums receiving a Grammy award for that year was the album “West Meets East” by Indian musician Ravi Shankar and western classical violinist Yehudi Menuhin. There was clearly, in the “collective consciousness” an increased interest in England towards merging with the cultural traditions of India, and this was seen in Sgt. Pepper’s musically in the song that opens the second side of the album, “Within You Without You.” In both this song by the Beatles and the “West Meets East” album of Shankar and Menuhin, Indian musical instruments, note structures, and drones are merged with classical western musicians (strings in particular). The song “Within You Without You”, written by Harrison, also includes a number of sung lines inspired by Indian spiritual traditions (including the Bhavagad Gita), ultimately reflecting on the transcendental consciousness and timelessness of the human soul. Similar to Harrison’s exploration of Indian wisdom and tradition, Jung had also walked the path of a modern European man drawn towards the insights and practices of Indian spirituality. Also like Harrison (and the other Beatles for that matter), Jung visited India, immersing himself for a brief time in this culture (Jung travelled to India in 1937 - thirty years later, the Beatles did). Jung practiced yoga himself, for decades, and no doubt included some meditation into this practice. In his writings and lectures on Indian philosophy and culture, it is clear that Jung (as was true of Harrison and the Beatles) became more aware of and open to transpersonal aspects of consciousness (see Jung's Lectures on The Psychology of Kundalini Yoga).
Lysergic Acid And Experiencing the Collective Unconscious
Clearly one of the factors which led to the development of Sgt. Pepper’s music, was the Beatles’ experimentation with marijuana and, more specifically in 1966, with lysergic acid (LSD). LSD was first synthesized by a Swiss chemist, Albert Hoffman, in 1938 and was soon discovered to have strong psychotropic effects. The first psychiatrist who took LSD experimentally described “an unprecedented experience of unimaginable intensity” moving from visual hallucinations of “circles, vortices, sparks, showers, crosses and spirals in constant, racing flux.” In a darkened room, the psychiatrist, W.A. Stoll, describes visions of arches, deserts, Gothic vaults and then states:
“I felt myself one with all romanticists and dreamers, thought of E. T. A. Hoffmann, saw the maelstrom of Poe (even though, at the time I had read Poe, his description seemed exaggerated). Often I seemed to stand at the pinnacle of artistic experience; I luxuriated in the colors of the altar of Isenheim, and knew the euphoria and exultation of an artistic vision.”
From A. Hofmann, LSD – My Problem Child
It was introduced as a psychiatric medication in 1947 and it is interesting to note the “indications” for its use:
“a) Analytical psychotherapy, to elicit release of repressed material and provide mental relaxation, particularly in anxiety states and obsessional neuroses…
b) Experimental studies on the nature of psychosis: by taking (lysergic acid) himself, the psychiatrist is able to gain an insight into the world of ideas and sensations of mental patients.
Hoffman himself noted that the ingestion of LSD resulted in a breakdown of the “accustomed world view” and in the process there was a “loosening or even suspension of the I-you barrier.” An English therapist “of Jungian persuasion” developed a treatment called “psycholytic therapy” which utilized LSD in conjunction with group therapy and expressive drawing and painting. Carl Jung was quite taken with the recent discoveries regarding LSD and saw it as a potential tool to more directly access the images and archetypes of the unconscious. Michael Fordham describes meeting with Jung at Jung’s home in Kusnacht, Switzerland, near the end of his life and that Jung was most interested in talking “about LSD and the abaissement du niveau mental that it produced so that archetypes could come into the field of consciousness.”
It is open to debate how similar the experiences of the unconscious are when induced by psychedelics, compared to unmedicated inner work, dreamwork and active imagination (the latter being Jung’s way of working towards encountering the unconscious) or to the direct experiences of unconscious material seen due to medical illnesses (such as schizophrenia, which in Jung’s view, was an illness causing a lowering of mental functioning which allowed unconscious material to more easily manifest). Nevertheless, clearly what the Beatles were experiencing through their experimentation with LSD gave them access to unconscious feelings and imagery in a way that parallels Jungian analytic work (albeit without the careful and longitudinal work of analyzing the images and feelings that come up in the analytic process). Archetypes are presented and reflected in Sgt. Pepper’s - often shape shifting or moving in and out of each other, in the manner of enantiodromia which comes from the direct encountering of archteypes in the unconscious – among the archetypes characterized in the lyrics (and made to come to life through the music) are Trickster figures (the circus performers in “Being For the Benefit of Mr. Kite”), Anima figures (“Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds” “She’s Leaving Home”), warriors (Sgt. Pepper, “Lovely Rita” looks “a little like a military man,” the Beatles themselves dress in psychedelic, effeminate versions of military uniforms on the cover), grandparents (“When I’m Sixty Four”), the Self (“Within You Without You”), the savage masculine (“Getting Better”), the Lover (“With a Little Help From My Friends”), Death of the Hero (“A Day In The Life”). In addition to the flood of archetypal characters which populate Sgt. Pepper’s, we can also attribute at least in part the Beatles stepping outside of their own persona (as the pre-Sergeant Pepper Beatles) as likely to have been influenced by their drug experimentation.
In the track “Strawberry Fields,” recorded as one of the first songs in the Sgt. Pepper’s sessions (but released as a single and not part of the album), Lennon and his colleagues create a powerful musical expression of both the insights and experiences of an inner psychedelic experience. Lyrically the focus is more on the emotional experience of ego and self being experiences, while musically the “hallucinatory” aspect of the psychedlic experience is portrayed. It is interesting to note that the first two songs recorded as part of the Pepper sessions (“Stawberry Fields Forever” and “Penny Lane”) were Lennon and McCartney’s respective revisiting of childhood experiences – symbolically working through what Jung would call the “personal unconscious” of lived childhood memories, prior to their embarking on their encounter with the “collective unconscious,” and the more archetypal panoply of characters found in the proper Sgt. Pepper’s album.
In the United States, America psychologists (including Timothy Leary, who's work Lennon read in 1965) working with LSD developed somewhat of a different approach to the analytic work done by the London groups. American psychologists, in contrast to “psycholytic therapy”, developed what they called “psychedelic therapy,” aimed at inducing a “mystical-religious experience,” similar to how mescaline is used in indigenous American ceremonies. This latter type of "religious" experience seems to have been how Harrison responded to LSD. In later interviews, Harrison would state that his LSD experiences were the cause of his spiritual seeking and led him to his exploration of and adoption of Indian religion.
“Up until LSD, I never realized that there was anything beyond this state of consciousness…The first time I took it, it just blew everything away. I had such an incredible feeling of well-being, that there was a God and I could see Him in every blade of grass. It was like gaining hundreds of years of experience within twelve hours. It changed me and there was no way back to what I was before. It wasn’t all good, because it left a lot of questions as well…it wasn’t easy.”
George Harrison, 1987 interview
Sgt. Pepper’s is indeed filled with psychedelic imagery in the lyrics (particularly in Lennon’s “Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds” and “Being For the Benefit of Mr. Kite”) but the dissolving of the “I-you” barrier is most evident in Harrison’s “Within You Without You:”
“And the time will come when you see we’re all one, and life flows on within you and without you.”
G. Harrison, “Within You Without You” 1967
African American Music
Lastly, in looking at parallels between Jung and the Beatles, it is interesting to note that both the Beatles and Jung derived much inspiration from the African American musical tradition. This music seems to have fed their soul in a deep way. In Sergeant Pepper’s, the connection to this music is mostly obscured, as the Beatles rely on musical progressions and instrumentation that deviates from rhythm and blues, but their entire career was built from their appreciation of, performance of, and transmutation of American rock and roll and rhythm and blues which had largely been developed by African American musicians. It is more difficult to see this thread in Jung’s life. In contrast to the Beatles, who were primarily living and breathing within the musical world, Jung writes or speaks little about music. We don’t know, for instance, if he ever heard any of the 1950s rock and roll music which so inspired the Beatles. Nevertheless, we do know that Jung was moved by the source music from which Rock and Roll developed. A colleague of mine, touring Jung’s house in Kusnacht (still lived in by his family), asked one of his relatives if Jung ever listened to music. The answer was that he did, and that he owned a phonograph and records. Interestingly, the relative mentioned that on one of Jung’s visits to the United States, he had stopped in a record store and bought a number of records of “negro spirituals,” and that these records were among his favorites.
It is interesting to note that many of the American popular music traditions, particularly those involving vocal music, evolved from spirituals. These mostly a cappella renditions eventually transformed into more modern gospel music, and from there, to rhythm and blues and rock and roll. Richard Penniman, who's early recordings as Little Richard, directly inspired Lennon, McCartney and the other Beatles (they toured with him in their earliest years as a group and performed many of his songs) was one of the handful of persons who transformed gospel singing to the secular world of rock and roll. In Sgt. Pepper's, in a very roundabout manner, we can find the Beatles transforming that musical source, now in the form of "rock and roll" back to some of it's spiritual origins, albeit now cloaked in Indian costume. The innate spirituality which infused the "spiritual" music that Jung listened to, after taking a cultural journey into secular rock and roll and a trip across the Atlantic Ocean, once again found itself expressed as the Beatles brought the transpersonal back into rock and roll music. Later works of theirs would carry on this tradition, not just in Harrison's writings (most fully expressed in his solo career, in songs such as "All Things Must Pass" and "That Is All"), but even in Lennon ("Across the Universe") and McCartney ("Let It Be").
Collective Consciousness and Collective Unconscious
Sgt. Pepper’s as a work of art can really only be appreciated by listening to it. The music was created in the studio, using a four-track tape machine (meaning each song could use four separate tapes which, when mixed together, could create the sonic spectrum of the song). Underlying the music, on most of the songs, is the basic structure of bass, drums, guitars and pianos, but most tracks also have superimposed sounds ranging from string orchestration, to the use of brass instruments, harps, Indian instruments, harpsichords, found sounds, and electronically modified sounds. Classical instruments are used in both traditional harmonic arrangements, but also in novel techniques (such as the blurred orchestral microtonal development in “Day In the Life”). The stereo mixes in particular use the sense of space created by the stereo field to present aural paintings of exquisite detail and tonal color. All the music is also vocal, and the lyrics, apart from two songs by McCartney (“When I’m Sixty Four” and “Lovely Rita”) are notable for not being love songs (which their earlier career, up until 1966, was built on). Instead, we have songs of friendship (“With a Little Help From My Friends”), a psychedelic inner journey (“picture yourself on a boat on a river…” in “Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds”), a young woman leaving her parents home to find a more exciting life (She’s Leaving Home”), self development (“Getting Better”), spiritual insight (“Within You Without You”), grating suburban boredom (“Good Morning”), undirected inner reverie (“Fixing a Hole”), and in the final masterful piece (“A Day In the Life”) a melancholic, surrealist view of English life using images culled from the daily newspaper and a daily bus ride taken by the protagonist. The entire album feels a bit like a magical stage act (no doubt due to the “framing” of the songs by the “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” introduction and reprise), which has revealed moments in the lives of various people, capturing moments mundane, dramatic, tragic and comic, which could have all occurred within one day (much like James Joyce’s Ulysses). Even McCartney’s “love” songs (“When I’m Sixty-Four” and “Lovely Rita”) are primarily humorous in nature, almost mocking collective notions of nuclear families and planned retirement (sometimes due in part to Lennon’s added sardonic vocal lines).
Songs such as “She’s Leaving Home,” “Getting Better,” “Fixing a Hole” and “Within You Without You” speak to what Jung would call the individuation process, in particular the aspect of moving outside of the collective process of civilization and into inner experiences and realizations, which in turn drive the future development and life choices of a person. As such, they also reflect the cultural “consciousness” of their time (1967), in which, at a mass level, youth and young adults were questioning the meaning and values of their collective societies and developing a “counter-culture” fed by many of the ideas of romanticism, beat writers (such as William Burroughs), and philosopher/thinkers like Jung and Nietzsche. Part of this counter-culture, in which Sgt. Pepper’s sits as a major artistic work, is clearly interested in more direct experiences of the spiritual and of the imagery in our unconscious. In this sense, Sgt. Pepper’s represents to some extent the work of the artist who experiences directly the material of the psyche and transforms it into art.
The collective unconscious, as formalized by Jung, is a transpersonal set of archetypes and psychological processes which underlie all of mankind, but which influence each person differently, as the individual develops between the inner forces of the unconscious and the outer forces of the culture. Sgt. Pepper’s stands as a testament to a moment when a popular artist (or here group of artists) begins an individuation process and, through the transmission of their psychological experience into art (in this case musical art), provides an aesthetic expression of what an entire culture is experiencing. The Beatles themselves never claimed to be the initiators of cultural change, but as artists they helped to express and capture a moment of growth and transformation in a manner treasured by many.
By the way, the remixed version of the album, by Giles Martin, is highly recommended. It doesn’t really change the overall sounds or sonic ideas of the original album, so carefully put together by the Beatles, George Martin and Geoff Emerick, but the new “remix” uses the original tapes and modern technology to more clearly capture the detail of the musical instruments and sounds of what is an extraordinary work of sonic art, songwriting, and musicianship. And there are several interesting tracks which highlight the “work in progress,” including Harrison instructing the Indian musicians and the Beatles working on playing several pianos simultaneously for the final chord of the album.
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