I think Taylor Marshall May Actually Be the Walrus

I think Taylor Marshall May Actually Be the Walrus January 29, 2014

Look, I know Taylor Marshall is a good guy.  He is a courageous and clear spoken advocate for the faith (a little bit of “NFP is for when you’re schizophrenic or in a concentration camp” kookiness notwithstanding); and he has that wonderful, alt-universe-Johnny-Cash face:

But this aggression will not stand, man:  Marshall asks,  Did the Beatles Promote Abortion?

Marshall zeroes in the covers for the albums Sgt. Pepper and Yesterday and Today as evidence of the Beatles’ sinister influence.

Let’s look at Sgt. Pepper first.  Now, I will concede that the title song itself is neck deep in the hyper-self-aware, absurdist, non-specific smug condescension that dogged the second half of the Beatles’ career.  It’s technically a good song, but if I never heard it again, I would shed no tears.  Ditto for “She’s Leaving Home” (a “STFU, Paul” moment if ever there was one.)  “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds” — meh.  But the rest of the songs are all good, some of them great.

But Marshall (oddly, for someone commenting on musicians) doesn’t mention the music.  Instead, he dutifully lists the names of all the people who appeared on that wretched cover:


Ah, the cover.  I’ve read a bit about what it’s supposed to represent, but I think what it really comes down to is a bunch of young guys who started playing in sleazy bars when they were teenagers, and abruptly got pushed around so much by their own talent that they needed to show the world that they’re done being cute.    I remember doing edgy, baffling montages like this when I was about 17.  You want to be taken seriously, and you’re hanging out with a bunch of arty types, and you feel like Making a Statement, even though you don’t exactly have anything specific to say, beyond, “I’m smart! Not like everybody says… like dumb… I’m smart and I want respect!”

Only the Beatles had more money to spend, so this is what they came up with.  That’s the statement they’re making when they stick together Shirley Temple and Oliver Hardy and Aleister Crowley:  hey, lookit us!  It is not, as Marshall says (italics his),”a collage of intellectual poison” — although Marshall struggles manfully to describe everyone in the most sinister terms he can muster, including:

  • Mae West (occultist, actress, sex idol)
  • W. C. Fields (comedian/actor, alcoholic)
  • H. G. Wells (socialist, eugenist, [sic] author, advocate of the “World State”, open critic of Catholic Church)
  • Marlon Brando (homosexual, actor)
  • Lewis Carroll (author, alleged pedaphile) [sic]
  • Marlene Dietrich (bisexual, actress, singer)

“Marlon Brando, homosexual, actor?”   “Lewis Carroll, alleged pedophile?” I ‘m sorry, when you come up with descriptors like that, you gotta turn in your “I understand stuff” card.  I’m relieved, at least, that he didn’t come up with anything bad to say about Johnny Weissmuller.  I love Johnny Weissmuller.

 The fact that Weismuller is included here, along with Shirley Temple, Tom Mix, Dylan Thomas and Fred Astaire, says one thing to me:  “Things!  And the other things!  We’re awesome and edgy because look at all the things, oh man!”  But in Marshall’s analysis, this is “an assembly of occultists, political socialists, eugenists, homosexuals, and sexual provocateurs.”   

So here is your first clue that Marshall is not going to offer an especially perceptive analysis of the Beatles.  His list reminds me of someone who wants to prove that the American flag has its roots in Freemasonry because, as all scholars know, that odious color blue is so closely associated with Masonic ritual, duh. Never mind the red and white because holy cow, how can we overlook the obvious significance of blue?  Blue!!!

Moving along.  Marshall describes the cover for The Beatles: Yesterday and Today:

Marshall says,

The four Beatles are wearing white doctor’s coats covered with flesh and decapitated babies. John looks mildly pleased. And Paul looks happy, even delighted. Ringo looks depressed (“Am I really doing this?”). George Harrison looks straight up evil. I feel like George is giving me the bird with a dead infant’s head.

This is just gross.

Okay, I’m with him there.  It’s also naively executed.  They were trying a little too hard to be ever so shocky-wocky, leaving us feeling like Ringo looks.  Marshall continues:

Pause. What did this represent in 1966? John Lennon said it was a commentary on the Vietnam War. But I don’t see what physician smocks with dead babies has to do with the war. Yes people are dying in each, but still. Kinda weird.

For what it’s worth, the Parliament legalized abortion in the UK with the Abortion Act  of 1967 on 27 October 1967. Abortion was being hotly debated in the United Kingdom when this photo was taken.

Or, they are wearing butcher’s coats, and it is a commentary on the Vietnam War — something along the lines of “killing is bad; and yet we are rock stars.  Isn’t this edgy as crap?”  Oh, and Harrison looks “straight up evil” because that’s his face, circa 1966.  He had bad teeth and was not yet coked to the gills.

Marshall concludes:

My conclusion is that there is something really dark about the Beatles. It’s not just a happy “Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da Life Goes On” quartet. There is something sinister here. This album cover just screams it. It’s not normal.

I used to think that the great “evil minds” infecting the 20th century were men like Heidegger, Jean-Paul Sartre, and Michael Foucault. However, I think the biggest wrecking ball of Western culture might have been resting in every American’s record collection (or iPod) – John, Paul, Ringo, and George!

Okay. I actually agree with him, if not his analytical technique: as with 99% of musicians, playwrights, painters, poets, novelists, sculptors, and bloggers worth reading, there is something really dark about the Beatles, and some caution is a good idea. I encourage my kids to listen mostly to the earlier stuff, where their technical brilliance can be enjoyed unimpeded with the navel gazing muzziness that came later.  We have discussed how people in Hell are probably holding hands and singing “Imagine” right now; and I have taught them to identify the sitar, when played by a white man, as the sound of bullshit.

But . . . oh, I don’t even know what to say.  I’ve said it so many times, and I don’t know if there’s any way to persuade people who don’t already see it so clearly.  We’re Catholic. Our main job isn’t to apply “censor” bar across everything that doesn’t come straight from the Baltimore Catechism.  We take what is good. We’re supposed to be experts at identifying what is good.  We’re not supposed to be screaming meemies who bite our lips and blush every time someone dips into a minor key.  We’re supposed to use sifters, not dump trucks, when sorting through culture.

My daughter says that most of her friends only know two Beatles songs:  “Yellow Submarine,” and “Eleanor Rigby.”  Lord, what a shame.  No musical education is complete without:

  • And Your Bird Can sing
  • Blackbird
  • Back In The U.S.S.R.
  • Can’t Buy Me Love
  • Drive My Car
  • Got to get you into my life
  • I feel fine
  • I need you
  • I’ll follow the sun
  • Paperback Writer
  • Revolution
  • You  never give me your money
  • You’ve Got to Hide Your Love Away
  • Something
  • Ticket to Ride
  • Taxman

So much heartache, so much loveliness, so many moments of pure music, written by people who are in love with music.  Did the Beatles confuse its fans and popularize bad ideas?  Sure. But they used their God-given talents to produce music which elevated the world in a real, valuable, irreplaceable way.  Everything that is good sings the praises of God, and the Beatles were good.  Really good.  As long as they were together, they worked in the service of the muse, and they produced something great.  

I really do like Taylor Marshall, but I don’t like the world he seems to want to live in.

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  • SDG

    Simcha, you’re as brave as you are right.

  • MeanLizzie

    I always took that ugly cover to be about the war…and it seems to me they’re wearing Butcher coats, as you say.

    • So if the cover was about the war, that clearly means the Beatles were against it…but if the cover was about abortion, that must mean the Beatles were *for* it? How in the wide, wide world of sports does that work?

      Let’s say that those are butchers’ coats, and the subject was meant to be abortion. The message of the album cover is then “abortion is butchery…and just how does it make you feel, now, to see human butchers looking so pleased with themselves, while surrounded with their handiwork?…well, except for the one who may be depressed by what he’s done.”

      Or let’s concede that they were meant to be doctors’ coats. (Though if they were, you’d have expected them to add a stethoscope or other visual cue…how many doctors have you ever seen wearing a white coat with no name or insignia on it whatsoever, and nothing in any of the pockets?) The message of the album cover then becomes “abortion doctors produce dismembered babies…and again, just look at their faces!”

      If this is “promoting abortion”, I’m Johnny Weissmuller.

      (P.S. And of *course*, if the cover meant to refer to current events at all, it was about the war. Does nobody remember “Hey, hey LBJ, how many kids did you kill today?”)

      • Guest

        The butcher cover art was to protest the way American record companies cut up their albums.

        • I’m pretty sure that’s a myth.

          (See http://www.snopes.com/music/hidden/butcher.asp, for instance.)

          Even so, at least the theory has some coherence and plausibility to it. Unlike certain others.

        • neveraname

          Yes, it was about how Capitol Records “butchered” their albums/songs for U.S. release to increase profits. All of them said this in interviews at the time and yes I know this because 1) I’m old enough to remember hearing them say it on the radio and 2) my adult mother having worked for Capitol Records at that time. Is that truly true enough? My gosh–the hysteria is awful. Move along, nothing to see here. Grow up. Discern.

        • LSpinelli

          Actually, both stories are true. Reference: The Anthology.

          Bob Whitaker took the photos – the Butcher cover was one of a set of three. John (who’s surprised?) wanted the cover to “break the image”, and because they wanted control over their covers/what was on those albums. It drove them “crackers” when they went to the US and found what was on those Capitol releases.

          Imagine if Whitaker used John’s original idea for that photo session: “me decapitating Paul.”

  • Evan

    You’re absolutely right. We take what is good from the culture, and appreciation of a talented artist in no way means we condone every decision of that artist.

    And this probably makes me a bad person, but in general, I prefer The Beatles later works, because that was when they took the classical influence from George Martin and elevated their song writing from really good pop music to much more harmonically and formally complex songs. (Then again, as part of my undergrad at a music conservatory, I was required to attend a two and a half hour John Cage concert. I enjoyed roughly half of it, so maybe my opinions should be taken with a grain of salt.)

  • Rachel

    I just started listening to Marshall’s podcasts, was thinking about joining his New St. Thomas Aquinas institute…reconsidering…

  • $90505560

    He’ll be playing the records backwards next.

    People are always looking for Satanic symbolism on the old rock album covers, and listening for secret Satanic messaging in the lyrics. Makes you wonder whose mind Satan is really residing in. And reminds me a) of my age and b) how much I miss albums, or, better yet, double albums, with covers and liner notes.

    I think this Taylor Marshall has too much time on his hands…

  • lizadowney

    Thank you, Simcha! We read Dr. Marshall with some regularity, but chafe at posts like these and his shameless self-promotion (you know, the “let me know which book to write next and I’ll give it to you FREE if you enroll in my online school!” type ones). He is a gift to the Church for sure, and a joy to read in small doses, but more than any other blogger I read (and I waste a stupid amount of time reading blogs) he just needs to calm. down. The New Evangelization doesn’t have to go to 11.

  • Brian Sullivan

    When I read Taylor Mashall’s post yesterday, I felt the cover art issues had less to do with the Beatles that with whoever they hired to do the cover art. I am sure they had to approve it though.

    Simcha, I am not sure what you are thinking of when you say “there *is* something really dark about The Beatles.” Some bad songs, OK. But really dark?

  • Excellent post. And forgive the self-linking, but this reminds me of the time Glenn Beck tried his hand at art history and criticism.


  • Gail Finke

    Not “I Wanna Hold Your Hand”? I love that song. As far as the album cover goes… UGH! But who, now, even knows about that album cover?The good stuff stays and the garbage disappears… except “Imagine.” That seems to be immortal for some weird reason.

  • Ellen Johnson

    Awwww, George Harrison’s face… He couldn’t help it!

  • FMHJ

    Here comes the sun (do, do, do, do); Here comes the sun, and I say, it’s all right…

    I don’t know, kinda catchy and seems innocent to me.

    I was a kid (7 – 10) when the Beatles “emerged.” It seems to me their music in itself was less destructive than their celebrity, and the power they exercised over the culture in general. Their popularity drowned out the voices that were trying to teach teenagers and young people morals, much like many modern musicians do today (Katy Perry, anyone?). Attractive, but then what they represent is really not good.

    It does bother me to know many rock groups that were popular in the ’60s and ’70s, groups whose lyrics I could sing by heart today, were into satanic practices and drugs. I didn’t know it at the time, and I was attracted to their music. As I was growing up, I wondered how so many kids I knew who were brought up so well with Catholic educations and good moms and dads went so awry. I am sure the music had very much to do with it. That’s why I do everything I can to avoid listening to any music from that era, because it’s deeply ingrained in me, and I fear it like a tar pit.

    • $90505560

      But were they really? I know many rock groups were accused of such things, and nutters read all kinds of Satanic stuff into their lyrics, but it seems like it was some kind of mass hysteria at the time. Maybe some used Satanic-ish symbolism for the shock value, though. But I didn’t really like British Invasion or metal or punk. I was more a bird band gal myself, and those bands tended towards a lot of faux Native American symbolism or Americana-type stuff than some of the other bands. I just remember the laughable hysteria over the Hotel California cover and then the backwards-lyrics hysteria and pretty much roll my eyes at all of it.

      Drugs…well, that’s something else. Unfortunate, and still an issue for people who all of a sudden find themselves in a place where drugs are everywhere and their hangers-on are encouraging them to use. Tragic.

      • FMHJ

        Well, I just heard recently Jim Morrison of the Doors was doing some satanic stuff, and I guess his main squeeze/wife was a self professed witch and they “got married” in a Wiccan ceremony, that he may or may not have taken seriously. I donno. I guess the groups don’t say it themselves outright, but people who knew them say they were involved with the occult or satanism. But, I mean, for the Rolling Stones it does seem blatant. And Stevie Nicks of the Jefferson “Starship” (formerly Airplane) also was a self professed witch.

        • Peggy Bowes

          Stevie Nicks was in Fleetwood Mac. Maybe you’re tihnking of Grace Slick, who was in Jefferson Airplane.

  • Thanks, Simcha, for this post. For those interested, I also responded to Dr. Marshall on my blog: http://www.logosandmuse.com/on-how-not-to-talk-about-the-beatles. I also was amused at the guilt-by-association bit with the Sgt. Pepper cover, though I’m not as convinced the earlier cover was a protest against Vietnam. The photographer who took the picture explained it quite differently in a book he wrote, along the lines of a spoof of mass-adulation of the Beatles. It was supposed to be part of a group of three photos that the photographer never completed his work on.

  • tteague

    I like the Beatles’ music. A lot. I also like a lot of Dr. Marshall’s writing. But, as your analysis of his article shows, sometimes Christians do a great job of convincing the world that many Christian’s minds are all too often like a bad stew – best left un-stirred. And it’s harder to dance to Marshall’s writing.

  • Sara McD

    I have no idea who the man you’re criticizing is but this is brilliant: “I have taught them to identify the sitar, when played by a white man, as the sound of bullshit.”

  • MMP3

    Simcha- the world Taylor lives in is awesome. I tend to think that people who like to throw dirt at it are usually just jealous. He and his gorgeous family are joyful, fun, contagious. They are not “kooky.” They add to the greater glory of God all the time. They are doing good things for the Church. And they aren’t publishing critiques of their colleagues.

    As a friend who knows Taylor to be the kind of Christian who gets up at the crack of dawn on vacation to watch his kids while they crawl all over him and watch cartoons so his wife can sleep in, and as one who knows that people with actual credentials take his elegant and groundbreaking scholarship seriously, I have to say…with all due respect for your own work… you have better things to do.

    (And yes, I’m sort of rethinking the Beatles…)

    • simchafisher

      *sigh* okay, I’ll bite. What do you mean by, “you have better things to do?”

    • SDG

      MMP3: Let’s be clear who started throwing dirt here. I’m not saying throwing dirt is never warranted. But the dirt throwing didn’t start with Simcha.

    • “…with all due respect for your own work…”

      I’m not sure those words mean what you think they mean.

      And by all means, let’s live in a world where no Catholic writer ever critiques another Catholic writer. Surely error, stupidity, and crappy writing would never dare flourish in such a tidy little universe!

  • fRED

    Uhmmm. “The walrus was Paul…” (not Taylor Marshall).

    There seem to be a bunch of Blue Meanies around. Start singing! He who sings prays twice.

  • OldWorldSwine

    This reminds me just a little of the Backward Masking phenom. Yes, I’m old enough to remember that.

  • Bill Burns

    I agree. I have to say that if I were to recommend only one song from the Beatles, it would be Eleanor Rigby. That’s not say they didn’t have many good songs, but there’s something singular about that one in particular.

    • For my money it’s “Across the Universe”: “Limitless undying love that shines around me like a million suns.” What a desire for the Beatific Vision in that, though Lennon probably did not know that—at least in those terms.

      • $1028912

        My kids, all on their own, discovered “Let It Be.”

  • anna lisa

    Simcha, Taylor Marshall is a good guy. But you’re doing a good job with the tough love. You are right on to try to pry him from a universe where the devil gets to claim most of everything in modern culture.
    Ever since Taylor named his baby Blaise, I’ve been convinced he has good taste, So what I’m thinking is that I’ll blame it all on geography. Texas is a difficult state to live in. First of all it’s flat. Second of all it’s the bible belt. Mega church pastors are on the radio telling you that God wants YOU to be rich, and everybody else is going to hell in a hand basket. That’s got to have some effect after a while..

  • anna lisa

    I do love the sound of a sitar. I’m actually not that discriminating. My bullshit sensor is highly calibrated, but I simply love Stan Getz playing Brazilian music.
    “I have taught them to identify the sitar, when played by a white man, as the sound of bullshit.”

    I laughed from the bottom of my heart when I first read that in vintage Simcha. You’re right of course for the most part. I get what you mean, but one must not be a purist either, What’s the alternative, Americana? …

  • Jordan

    Simcha, I noticed that the cover of your book is red. Traditionally, red is associated with passion, anger, and of course Hell. Just what are you trying to push on us here, lady?

  • Josh

    Mr. Goliard makes a great point above the absurdity that if it’s about war then, obviously, it’s against it, but if it’s about abortion then, obviously, they’re for it. This kind of thinking that allows one to completely ignore irony when it’s convenient to one’s previously decided conclusion is endemic to cultural conspiracy theorists. I say this as a man who holds to a few–probably more than I should but not enough to have a realistic understanding of the way the world truly works.

    My take is that you can appreciate the Beatles sober, but you can’t understand them. I’m guessing Dr. Marshall is/was/always has been sober. That being said, understanding the Beatles does not in anyway make you a better person and Dr. Marshall is not missing out on much. I love the Beatles–the White Album makes my desert island top-five list–but as far as art that changes you, making you a broader person in a bigger world, they’re not contenders.

  • donttouchme

    They just got lucky at coinciding with the hippie era when teen girls were first freed to go apeshit in public and they rode that Bieber wave all the way to India and back

  • Tina

    This post pretty much sums up how I feel when someone has a rant every time Canticle of the Sun is played at mass.

  • Kristin Bird

    This: “We’re Catholic. Our main job isn’t to apply “censor” bar across everything that doesn’t come straight from the Baltimore Catechism. We take what is good. We’re supposed to be experts at identifying what is good. We’re not supposed to be screaming meemies who bite our lips and blush every time someone dips into a minor key. We’re supposed to use sifters, not dump trucks, when sorting through culture.

    I’m sending it to the idiot who got all up in arms about a less than 1 second long shot in the movie Frozen that may or may not show a gay family. {face palm}