20. The Beatles – Revolution (1968)

I’ve been avidly following this weekend’s protests in New York, London, Rome, Toronto, Lisbon, Madrid, and elsewhere around the globe. Clearly, this massive groundswell of anti-capitalist energy is going to form a key part of the backdrop for our Shakespeare class next semester, so keep alert and follow the news! (We’re going to be reading Coriolanus in conjunction with Occupy Wall Street for sure, and maybe we’ll have to add 2 Henry VI to the syllabus as well.)

One thing I’d like to say now: I’m not sure how much the US media is covering the movement around the world — from what I can see here, the US coverage seems to be almost entirely focused on the Wall Street protests — so you may need to read foreign news media to get a bigger picture. The Guardian is probably going to be your best bet for news about what’s going on in the UK and Europe. And you know what — why not just bookmark the site now? It’s a fantastic paper.

Yesterday’s protest in London was substantial, but not as big as I expected — about 2,500 people came out, with 500 people remaining outside St. Paul’s cathedral overnight. It’s a start, all the same.

And to be fair, I should admit that yesterday, in Lampeter, I didn’t really manage to occupy anything at all. There are very few multinational corporations represented in this little village for me to rail against. It’s mostly small family businesses — teashops and pubs, a second-hand bookstore, a fishmonger, the chippy, the butcher, the baker, and so on. (We’re still looking for the candlestick maker.) And yesterday we were all feeling a little down in the dumps around Lampeter, since the day began with the Welsh Rugby team suffering a devastating and undeserved loss to France in the semifinal that knocked them out of the World Cup. And so we did not make the trip in to London for the protest, though we considered it. I chose instead to occupy the pub.

But back to the point. One of the songs that I’ve seen used in videos about OWS on Facebook is The Beatles’ “Revolution.” I read somewhere that protesters were singing this song on Wall Street too. And this strikes me as odd, since — despite the title — the song is very much about NOT having a revolution. Lennon is more-or-less opting out in the song, complaining about the left-wing radicals who were mobilizing activist politics in 1968. His suggestion was that they should “free their minds instead,” and just accept that “everything is gonna be all right.” (Now there’s a recipe for change…)

Admittedly, in the slower, White Album version of the song (and also in the semi-live version below), Lennon backtracks a little on the original lyrics, and instead of singing “you can count me out” of the revolution, he sings, “you can count me out… in” — as if this ambiguous concession somehow undid the ostrichism of the rest of the song.

All of which goes to say: People! Please! Listen to the lyrics of a song and not just the title if you’re going to use it as an anthem! “Revolution” is a lousy theme song for a revolution.

Also, I should probably admit that although I am no fan of the lyrics, I have nothing but admiration for John’s guitar tone, and for the recording engineers who saturated the tape with it.

John and Yoko, being "political"

Yoko and John


2 thoughts on “20. The Beatles – Revolution (1968)

  1. EMLE says:

    Have you seen the version of this song from the movie Across The Universe performed by Jim Sturgess? I would recommend it. His acting really makes the words come alive in a way that there’s no mistaking his feelings towards revolution.

    • No — I only saw a few minutes of the movie on a plane once, and I keep meaning to come back to it. It looked great.

      (I also feel a little weird that I’ve now had TWO grumpy posts about the Beatles, when I’m really quite a big fan. I’ll have to make it up with something more positive…)

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