Today Nolan is in a whole new iteration as a politician. His career has been marked by a huge gap. I find him refreshing today. In the '70s he was part of that proverbial wave of liberals who could be paternalistic and irritating.
Today the liberals are much more the underdog. They needn't fool with things like Transcendental Meditation. Oh, it was just a fad, wasn't it? It's no revelation that simply relaxing your mind can be good for concentration.
TM got its big push to the forefront thanks to the Beatles. Anything the Beatles touched or endorsed would take on a magical popular quality. Did it help their music? We have the "White Album" to judge on this criteria. The fabled White Album was a two-record set and actually had the formal title "The Beatles." I found I have these records on cassette tape. On the cassette cover we see pictures of the four guys. Boomer-age people don't need reminding of the White Album's popularity. The Beatles were riding a wave that couldn't be stopped. "Sergeant Pepper" came out a year earlier. Rock music was finding its legs on a true artistic basis. It wasn't just rhythm and intensity anymore.
When I say "double album" I'm talking about those big black vinyl records, of course. Increasingly they're museum pieces, as are cassettes. The physical product was everything back then. It cost an appreciable amount of money to buy your music and equipment. Records would wear out. They'd develop a "scratchy" sound. Record player "needles" would succumb to wear. Today I have to pinch myself to see if I'm dreaming. I can sit down at a public library computer station, put on headphones, type the name of any Beatles song into the YouTube search box and presto! It's all free. The sound will be just as sharp centuries from now.
Young people as they grow up will take these "luxuries" for granted, as well they should. We must never forget the evolutionary process behind all this technology. Boomers when young would collect the records and spin them on a turntable. A really good system cost a lot of money. We heard about "woofers" and "tweeters." Today you just listen and enjoy.
No "A" grade for White Album
Did I enjoy the White Album? On the whole, no. There are undoubtedly gems in there. Many of the non-hits come across as silly novelties. It's as if the Fab 4 were just toying with us. I consider a lot of it slop. Because the lyrics could be cute, a lot of boomers liked those songs anyway. Gone was the feeling of class that exuded from the Beatles' previous efforts.
Think of the album "Help!" It's obvious the guys took each of those songs totally seriously. The guys started fooling around on the White Album. We might attribute this to the need of all professional musicians to come out with a "new" sound, something unpredictable. Had the Beatles gone to the well too often? This is my interpretation. Their breakup was underway when the White Album was recorded. It was so silly for acrimony to develop. The Beatles knew they'd have no financial worries for the rest of their lives. In fact, it would be even better than that.
If all four had lived, just think of what an attraction they'd be, beginning in the go-go '90s, at which time their old fans actually had money! Can you imagine them being billed at casinos? What a gravy train that would be. They would have riches beyond what they ever could have imagined. It's like the baseball players who never could have imagined the riches coming from memorabilia and card shows. There was no point bickering about your contact in those old days - just get famous and be on a World Series team, and someday all your bills will be paid. Denny McLain didn't have to turn to crime. The Minnesota Twins under penny-pinching Calvin Griffith didn't have to sweat it, they should have just gone out and won that 1967 American League pennant. It was a demoralized team. Just win, baby. Never mind Calvin.
The Beatles knew they were a godsend to a generation. If only they had tried to set more of an example. If only they had just stayed focused on producing great music. It's the biggest "might have been" for boomers to consider, or maybe the second biggest, as the first would be: What if we had never gotten into Viet Nam?
Most of the Beatles songs for the White Album were written during a Transcendental Meditation course with Maharishi Mahesh Yogi in the spring of 1968. The year 1968 brought to a head all the tumultuous things we associate with the 1960s. Maybe that was part of the problem with the White Album. It seemed at times the world was coming apart at the seams.
The Beatles did the study "on location" in India. The band wanted a spiritual respite. They did not stay for the full TM course. The Maharishi reportedly showed his human flaws. Enough on that. The Beatles wrote about 40 songs in India. The White Album was recorded between May and October in 1968. Some songs like George Harrison's "Not Guilty" were saved for later releases, even post-breakup. If I remember that Harrison song correctly, it was lousy. So was "Here Comes the Moon," Harrison's encore to "Here comes the Sun." Harrison could be flat as a pancake as a solo artist, sadly so, with some rare exceptions that were brilliant, totally up to the Beatles' earlier standards. It's a mystery.
Unraveling began with White Album
The four Beatles were not a harmonious group for the White Album. They worked increasingly as individuals. Engineer Geoff Emerick got fed up and walked out. Ringo Starr actually quit for a while. "Glass Onion" was a sad song because it mocked some of the Beatles' earlier work. "Back in the USSR" was actually a parody song, of Chuck Berry's "Back in the USA." Can you imagine parody being done on the "Help!" album? Parody reflects cynicism and a feeling of resignation. The White Album was indeed that kind of endeavor, but the guys were guaranteed a high level of commercial success.
Fans took much of the stuff way too seriously. Many of these songs wouldn't see the light of day if they were presented as "demos" today. Yet music historians take the whole album seriously, even if not totally fawning over it. "Rocky Raccoon" and "The Continuing Story of Bungalow Bill" are ridiculous. One of the White Album songs was inspired by the sight of two monkeys copulating on the street. Paul McCartney wondered "why can't humans do the same?" Well. . .
In terms of class, the Beatles had devolved to a depressing degree since "A Hard Day's Night." Look at Lennon's appearance from 1964 to 1968. He should have kept that healthy weight on his body, but he got ticked off when a critic described him as "the fat Beatle." I have argued before that this incident may have affected the Beatles more than we realize. Today we have no problem accepting people who carry what might be seen as excessive weight. It was not that way in the 1960s. "Fat" was stigmatizing. Remember, it was the days before unlimited soft drink refills at fast food restaurants, and all those snack temptations (e.g. frosted rice krispie bars) at convenience stores.
It's too bad "Hey Jude" wasn't on the White Album. This total Beatles classic was recorded in July of 1968 but came out as a single three months before the White Album's release. It only ended up on a compilation album.
An alternate history: The White Album should have been titled "A Doll's House." That was the idea. This was the working title during the project. However, another group had used that title earlier that year. It seems the Beatles groped for some album titles.
We wax nostalgic about the days of vinyl record "albums," those cumbersome, perishable and expensive things. We're so much better off today - 100 per cent better off.
I love my collection of several Beatles CDs from the mid-1960s. However, I would only listen to the White Album if I were forced to do some research, not for enjoyment.
George Martin was right: It should have been a single album.