Chris Calderon – J. K. Rowling, the Beatles and the Counterculture Revolution

Yesterday, long time friend of Hogwarts Professor, Chris Calderon shared his insights into the shared 1960’s heritage of both Dylan Thomas and the popularisation of The I Ching. For me the most remarkable part of this find is the existence of a documentary, filmed in 2000 as J. K. Rowling was approaching a similar level of fame, about the Beatles featuring Rowling herself. Today, Chris will take us through this film and her appearances – enjoy!

Chris Calderon – J. K. Rowling, the Beatles and the Counterculture Revolution

My final conclusion is that what unites both Dylan Thomas and the I Ching is the Counterculture 1960s.  It is an era that Thomas had a hand in creating, as well as being the decade in which the Chinese divination text became a breakout household item with Western readers and audiences.  Until then, it was just a scholar’s curio.  It took the birth of the Woodstock Nation to take it mainstream.

I’d argue that when you put both of these handed off clues together, what you get is the writer pointing her reader towards the real life historical context which is most likely to form the background of Strike’s next case.  Rowling has confirmed (to Prof. Kurt Schrayer, no less) that the Commune CBS was raised in will feature as part of the plot of the upcoming book.  So this makes it the most likely origin point for both the Changes tome, and the Dylan Thomas inspired decade in which it first came to modern prominence, to come into play within the plot.  I think she’s been hinting to look at the 60s itself as part of a background context preparation to Strike confronting his biggest demons.

Now, assuming this is the best working hypothesis for the moment, it begs one final question.  What does J.K. Rowling think about the Flower Power Decade in and of itself?  The good news is she has given us a very indirect, yet in-depth answer.  It comes in the form of commentary she gave as part of a documentary called The Beatles Revolution.  Galbraith shares the stage with Salman Rushdie and Ken Kesey, for the record.  So there are more connections to be found to her own work than you might expect for a look back at a rock band.

The Rowling centric segments of the Beatles documentary are time stamped as follows:

(1:40-54) Ms. Murray comes in at the intro to claim that the band “were of their time, but they were also apart from their time”. 

(12:26-13:05) Rowling joins a chorus on commentators in claiming that the band owed their success to women.  It’s a statement which is well within the author’s wheelhouse.

(44:13-27) She makes another interesting decision to comment on the religious kerfuffle that the Beatles tried to explicate themselves from.  It’s notable because she is one of the few willing to comment on how question of spiritual belief factor into both the band, and their time.  Even back then, it’s a telling reveal of her own “diagonal” outlook on things.  The placement of her words are also perhaps important in the sense that they are couched within the context of the Beatles experiencing the downside of worldwide fame (including death threats).  Once more, a pattern that links the writer and the rock group.

Let me also just not here that this segment is followed up by a look at the band’s psychedelic period.  Which could also be seen as their own Solve Et Coagula moment.  In their case, it paid off like gangbusters.

(1:25:01-32) “Mr Galbraith” returns once more at the end of things to tell us her favorite Beatles song.  Turns out it’s “Hey Jude”.  This makes thematic sense when you realize its a comfort after a break-up song, and that the singer is further encouraging the subject of the title to then go out an find actual love for himself, on love’s real life terms.  So again, she signals how her concerns keep cropping into the proceedings and how they match up with the music of the Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.

In essence, while she doesn’t have much in the way of screen time, I’d argue that this documentary, which is ostensibly about an entirely different group of artists, nonetheless should be treated as a Rowling resource for what the program as a whole can tell us about the writer’s basic outlook on life. 

In particular, attention should rightly be paid to what Rowling as a Beatles fan can tell about her basic political stance on life is like.  The irony is she comes off as something that her modern fans would view as outmoded.  She’s best described as a classic Boomer Liberal who in some ways is just as much of an unreconstructed Hippie as either Paul McCartney or Ringo Starr.  In terms of the Strike books, for instance, note how its implied she identifies more with the Beatles more traditionally diplomatic approach to differences in their song, Revolution, which was a response to the Rolling Stone’s more pro-anarchy Street Fighting Man

That tells me a lot about the nature of the Denmark Novel’s political outlook and satire.  Especially with the way she draws characters such as Jimmy Knight, Yasmin Weatherhead, Anomie, Nils De Jong and the North Grove Art Collective.  With the addition of The Beatles Revolution, the stance of the author towards these characters becomes much more clearer.  What we’re reading in all these cases, are basically the words of a 60s-Jesus Freak-Flower Girl casting pity, aspersion, and scorn on members of the Weather Underground, the Manson Family, or the Symbionese Liberation Army.

Now this all might sound like a stretch, yet I’m willing to defend the idea that a TV special about the Beatles can also tell us a great deal about J.K. Rowling, how she views the Peace and Love generation (of which she seems to consider herself an ostensible part), and how all of this has been on display in her work since the beginning, in addition to the Mythopoeia.  I realized this was something that needed addressing if both the documentary and Rowling’s place in it were ever to make sense.  I also repeat, the 60s remain the uniting element between Thomas and the I Ching.  This has all been about establishing what I regard as the background historical context for the next Strike Mystery.  And I hope it helps.

Comments

  1. For the record, even I can’t believe what I’m about to write next. I seem to have discovered (this is all totally by accident, bear in mind) a connection between the Beatles and C.S. Lewis. Would you believe me if I told you that Rev. Malcolm Guite and the author of “Planet Narnia” almost had a second-hand encounter with one of the Fab Four? All I can do is swear I am making none of this up. One of the Beatles helped with work on an album whose title should be familiar to close readers of the “Narnia” series. And I quote:

    “Music of the Spheres” was the musical foundation for (an online video game known as “Destiny”, of all things, sic) written by Martin O’Donnell, Michael Salvatori, and Paul McCartney, which started production in 2011 and was sent off to an orchestra in November 2012.

    “O’Donnell took inspiration from the ancient concept “Musica Universalis”, or the idea that the seven celestial spheres moved in relation to music. O’Donnell also used nocturnal geomantic figures as the namesake for the individual tracks. Each track in “Music of the Spheres” is based on a planet as laid out by ancient astrology. O’Donnell used C.S. Lewis’ book on the subject, “The Discarded Image”, as a basis and general inspiration for his interpretation of the ideas. O’Donnell also drew inspiration from Holst’s “The Planets”.

    “McCartney contributed melodies to the game’s soundtrack…McCartney directly worked on five of the tracks from “Music of the Spheres” and his work is reused throughout the in-game soundtrack. McCartney’s most well-known contribution is “Hope for the Future”, a song that appears at the end of “Music of the Spheres”. McCartney released the song as a standalone single, separate from “Music of the Spheres”, on December 8, 2014. The standalone song received mixed reviews.

    “During a trip to England, O’Donnell met a poet named Malcolm Guite at a festival on the Isle of Wight, where they had their first conversation about pre-Copernican astrophysics and C.S. Lewis. Quickly realizing they shared a passion for these ideas, O’Donnell asked Guite to write a collection of poems for Music of the Spheres. Guite wrote a collection of fourteen poems which he called “Seven Heavens, Seven Hells; A Sequence for the Spheres” and gave them to (the composer, sic) to read over. O’Donnell loved the poems and (helped) purchased the rights to them. Guite had his name in the first “Destiny” game’s credits for his poetry.

    “As years passed and “Music of the Spheres” was seemingly not going to release, Guite considered putting “Seven Heavens, Seven Hells” into a number of his books, but an author whom Guite had admired, Michael Ward, said the poems didn’t fit thematically into any of the collections he proposed. “Seven Heavens, Seven Hells” remained unpublished”.

    https://www.destinypedia.com/Music_of_the_Spheres

    As final proof that all of this reporting is accurate, Reverend Guite talks about his adventures in poetry writing for video games here:

    https://malcolmguite.wordpress.com/2018/07/07/the-music-of-the-spheres-a-poetic-adventure/

    And here:

    https://malcolmguite.wordpress.com/2019/02/23/the-music-of-the-spheres-a-poetic-adventure-resumes/

    So, as long as we’re keeping score, what all of the above means is that not only are the Beatles part of the compost heap of Rowling’s Lake-Shed inspiration, they have also (in essence) been inspired by, and contributed to, The Discarded Image of the Universe, sometimes known as the Elizabethan World Picture. Put that all together and what do you get? Well, I once remember reading G.K. Chesterton saying how life is like a picture in a frame. If there’s any truth to the metaphor, then we’re living in one of those paintings where the Artist is fond of adding these little surreal Grace notes in the margins. At least that’s the best answer I’m able to come up with. Peace out, and remember, “Love is a harmony”.

    P.S.

    As a neat way of bringing things full circle, if you look at the header of Rev. Guite’s blog, you’ll see he’s also something of a Bob Dylan fan.

  2. David Llewellyn Dodds says

    ChrisC,

    Thank you for these fascinating latest two posts!

    Perhaps somewhat tangentially, and as a ‘largely non-Striker’, I wonder what ‘we’ know about the youth and parents and ‘later early life’ of Leda Strike and Jeff Whittaker – and, following your exchanges with Kelly Loomis, of Hermione Granger’s parents – and grandparents (and those of other ‘Muggle-born’ young Wizards and Witches of that Potter generation)?

    One of the things that nudges me in this direction is Lyle Dorsett’s characterization in chapter three of And God Came In (1983) of William Lindsay Gresham’s “growing away from Christianity”, where he quotes his addition to a January 1950 letter by Joy to Chad Walsh asking “Do you know anything about a weird and wonderful worldview called ‘Zen’? […] I want to write to Lewis about it.” He further notes Gresham’s interest in “Ron Hubbard and his philosophy of Dianetics” in 1949 and further notes that “Tarot cards and yoga also occupied Bill’s time, as did a new interest in the I Ching.” That was well into the period of Dylan Thomas’s success (Gresham was born a little more than 5 years before Thomas, though his own success – with Nightmare Alley – did not come until 1946). Gresham’s preface to the American edition of Williams’s The Greater Trumps also appeared in 1950. This would presumably be the generation of the Strike grandparents – and the Granger ones, more or less (CBS is nearly five years older than Hermione).

    For what it is worth, the teenage JKR/RG could well have read both James Brabazon’s biography of Dorothy L. Sayers (1981) and Lyle Dorsett’s of Joy Davidman, at or soon after their appearances (or mass-market paperback reprints).

    With respect to the probable complexities of the martial aspect of CBS, one may note not only Joseph Heller’s Catch-22 (1961) and Richard Hooker’s MASH (1968), but Margery Allingham’s The Tiger in the Smoke (1952). (Working on war in literature for a class taught by Joan D. Tooke (1921-2009), I ran into some pretty wild Vietnam War fiction, too – but sadly do not recall any author or titles!)

  3. D.L. Dodds,

    Thank you for the kind compliment. It is all just guess work, at best. However, the fact that Rowling takes what appears to be enough of an active interest in the 60s to the point of possibly incorporating it into her fiction means, if nothing else, that such speculation has to be considered “on the table”, for the time being, at least. What I am certain of is that the Counterculture will have some role to play in this next book, and here I admit that I’m also curious how Strike’s half-sister Prudence could play into this.

    For instance, if she is used as a positive doppelganger to the detective’s mother, Leda (the first level-headed, well-adjusted counter-culturalist that both character and reader ever meet, in other words) then that in itself might be a pointer to the kind of avenues that Rowling’s imaginary sleuth might need to explore in order to gain what CW might have called a proper experience of Romantic Love. For in a way, it does seem as if a proper understanding of Love (as Williams and Dante speak of it) is the one experience that Strike seems to have been perpetually barred from. First by others, and then internalized by the main character as a result of a lack of proper first-hand acquaintance. Going further with this train of thought (and assuming, per the recent Tarot posts, that Williams plays a bigger determinative role in the narrative than at first thought), it could be that the figure of Prudence might act as a Beatrice surrogate for Strike. Someone who can help him learn how to experience the Theology of Romantic Love in its uncorrupted form. Another thought I have is that Prudence might also be the Luna Lovegood stand-in for the “Denmark St.” novels. Or at least there’s one possibility, anyway.

    This is also all that I can even begin to venture about Strike’s parentage, by the way. There’s been next to nothing about “Mr. Strike” in the books so far. And even what we do learn in the installments is kept deliberately vague, so as to preserve the sense of mystery proper to the genre. It doesn’t leave me, at any rate, with much to go on, and at this point, it’s useless to speculate into a blank space that has yet to be filled in. Something tells me we’ll need to wait for the next book to discover any of that.

    As for Hermione’s parents, I hate to say this, yet it’s almost like they are the equivalent of Shakespeare’s Rosaline, from “Romeo and Juliet”. In other words, they’re treated as a background plot device that’s discarded almost as soon as they are mentioned, leaving us with a story that doesn’t concern them all that much. Apologies if that sounds harsh, yet it’s just the way they are handled in the Potter novels. I think I can say this much, though. Contra Kelly Loomis (yet with all due respect) it wouldn’t surprise me to learn that Rowling’s three most famous creations are in part the result of her enthusiasm for the Beatnik, Countercultural art of the 60s. Especially is you see Ron and Harry as playing into the sort of classic, Angry Young Men archetypes that were prevalent in books like “Catch-22” and “MASH”.

    The “Potter” series is Mythopoeic at its core. However, critics like Theodore Roszak have maintained that the same Romanticism of Blake and Coleridge is the well spring from which the social changes of the Woodstock generation ultimately derive. It’s the mindset in which the 60s lives, moves, and has its being, in other words. So yes, I can see how the Wizarding World owes at least part of its existence to the Psychedelic Era. In fact, if I’m being honest, it’s always been easy for me to imagine John Lennon in the role of Harry’s father. Somewhat for obvious reasons (i.e., uncanny levels of physical resemblance) yet also in terms of characterization, development, and outcome. From street urchin “Rake”, to an experience of change through Romantic Love, followed by a devotion to the ideals behind it.

    As for Douglas Gresham, long story short, if you want my opinion on him, then I’d actually have to recommend a movie called “Inside Llewellyn Davis” (no pun or offense meant there at all, by the way, merely pure coincidence). In particular, you should pay attention to the ending, where the title character (a failed folk singer) is exiting the story just as Bob Dylan takes the stage. The film itself tells a Nigredo narrative, ending with a sense of complete dissolution. That’s also perhaps the politest terms I can ever have for Douglas Gresham, I’m afraid. Take what I’ve just said as an allegory, with the outgoing, troubled “Mr. Davis” as Gresham, and Bob Dylan as an effective stand in for C.S. Lewis. One is making the unfortunate final “Descent” just as another is beginning to follow a rising star. What I’m trying to say is that Gresham is, in my opinion, at least, a very poor model for what went on in the 60s.

    To gain a better idea of what that decade was all about, I’d recommend another documentary. It’s called “George Harrison: Living in the Material World”, and it’s directed by Martin Scorsese. It’s really about the life of the Quiet Beatle, yet it gives the audience perhaps the best context about the Counterculture Era. In particular, one of the subjects interviewed in the documentary states that the 60s, at its heart, was “a spiritual search”, and that seems about as right as anyone can ever get. If you apply this to the Strike series, then it’s a search that the main character’s mother has failed at, yet that doesn’t necessarily mean that the protagonist has to repeat her mistakes. That is a matter of choice.

    As for whether Rowling herself has ever read Brabazon or Dorsett, that’s fascinating. Who knows? Maybe it’s true. One can certainly hope.

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