After seeing Across the Universe

Guy gets girl. It doesn’t get much better than that.

I discover anew this gem of truth whenever I watch a great love story movie, and especially Julie Traymor’s masterpiece, Across the Universe. You say that’s an old movie? Yes, it’s two years old. Big deal. Pat and I just got around to viewing it on our daughter’s DVD, because we’re old fuddy-duddies. But we don’t care, because together we found long ago what the movie presents as life’s most important accomplishment.

She loves me, yeah, yeah, yeah, and I love her. You can take all the rest and shred it—all the psychedelics, the fashion, the crusading pacifism, the sleepin’ around, ,the druggy paraphernalia and countercultural struggle–They’re not worth a dime compared to true love.

Like many a child of the 60s, I could relate to this movie in a big way, and had a lot of fun watching it. I discovered a precious nugget of truth: All the angst-ridden longings that burdened my aching soul during those years of my teens and twenties–they have, since that time, been fulfilled!  And I thank God and my wife Pat for that.

Those youthful pangs, so powerfully expressed in the Beatles’ music, became the shared experience of the baby boomers. Most any American or Brit in their fifties could tell you that. The fab four from Liverpool truly captured the heart and soul of my g-g-generation’s search for love and purpose, and turned it into an amazing collection of music. This movie takes the Beatle’s unique platform of genius and expands its message to a new level of profundity. And what is that message?

All you need is love.

It’s a great message, and so poignantly depicted in the movie’s last scene. Traymor’s choice of that particular Beatles song, rendered by the cast in a rooftop concert, really says it all. Are we then to believe that the bottom line for the Fab Four all along was just Love?…from I Wanna Hold Your Hand to Hey Jude to pop-culture immortality and beyond–nothin’ but simple, silly Love? You tell me. I mean, guy gets girl—what else is there in life? She loves me, yeah, yeah, yeah. It’s a declaration that every man hopes to one day shout out to the world. Some people want to fill the world with silly love songs. And what’s wrong with that?

Well, admittedly this whole production was a McCartneyish take on the legendary John/Paul philosophical tension that produced such incredible creativity and musical art,  but that’s another blog.

So I, the McCartneyite, repose the question: What’s wrong with that? What’s wrong with love? Nothing that I can find.

Actually, I did find a few things.

I mean, the movie is dangerous for young people to watch. I wouldn’t trust anyone under thirty to really track with it without falling into some serious error. The characters Sadie and JoJo–who represent in the movie the Janis and Jimi phenoms of unbridled creativity—also ultimately manifested in real life self-destructive behavior. Traymor and her crew don’t tell you that in this piece of work, but then that wasn’t within the scope of their project. I can see that. But I gotta tell ya that in real life Joplin and Hendrix both  died at an appallingly young age, due to poor lifestyle choices–destructive choices. They may have been cool, but then they were dead . All that free love and consciousness-altering substances  takes a toll on a body.  I swore it off long ago when I turned to Jesus for deliverance.

And so while the Beatles and their innovative contemporaries certainly captured, in unique ways the essence of our 60’s kids’ deep longing for love, they also mislead us in some very perilous ways.

Rebelling against anything that didn’t seem to make sense was a major part of the whole 60’s countercultural movement. Later on, (although it actually started in the 50s with that Kerouac and James Dean thing) the mainstream media appropriated that youthful alienation as the basis for so many relativistic, hedonistic , not to mention  profitable, blockbusting media works of art and music.

But smashing the bounds of societal proprieties does not constitute art. Ultimately, we have discovered that this kind of libertinism can lead to addictions, unwanted pregnancies, abortive practices, predatory sexual abuses, laziness and a host of other social evils.

And here’s why I’m a McCartneyite, not a Lennonist. I can be mildly entertained by the riotously colorful psychedelic implications of Lucy in the Sky and goo goo goo goo job nonsense, but when you get right down to it, it’s not sustainable in real life.

When Lennon sang, and later sexy Sadie sang in Across the Universe “why don’t we do it in the road?” No. uhuh.  My buck stops here. John. I wouldn’t want my children to entertain themselves with that song. Just pushing the envelope, busting  societal taboos in ever-more-creative ways does not justify creative endeavor. The end of that road is pedophilia and snuff films.

Thanks to Paul McCartney, though, the Beatles’ legacy, so beautifully expressed and expanded in this movie, manages to present some admirable content: love, love, love.  And Traymor’s story, created in collaboration with screenwriters Dick Clement and Ian La Frenais, presents a sublimely moving saga that truly expresses the quest upon which my g-g-generation was so obsessed.

Part of the appeal of the 60s phenomenon is that we really were together as one sort of big litter of kids spoiled Dr. Spock kids. We had a uniquely common experience as that first-ever tv-raised generation, before the onslaught of this present fragmentation of media in which every consumer  seeks the voice that reinforces what he/she has already concluded to be valuable.

How different was our experience as baby boomers from what this generation must see and feel. Don McLean sang, “there we were all in one place–a generation lost in space.” We really were all in one place, with our newsly documentation faithfull presented every evening by everybody’s favorite uncle, Walter Kronkite, then followed by LIFE magazine’s glitzy oversimplified analysis, and our common nemesis being the fact that the world lacked the one thing it so obviously needs more than any other–authenticity.

There’s a scene in the movie when a timeless profundity of classic drama is portrayed. It’s a moment when the dilemma of whether ‘tis nobler to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune is pitted against the or by opposing end them choice of action. Jude, the artist protagonist , enters the office of the anti-war radicals with the intention of rescuing his true love, Lucy, from their (one male leader’s especially) dominating influence.  The love-starved Jude barges into  this hotbed-of-political activism office—something  like the SDS or Weather Underground– to challenge Lucy with a love ultimatum. The radical leader Paco instructs his loyalist aides to throw Jude out; he lands in the street outside. But before he gets ejected in the scene he starts singing– right there in the antiwar office Jude begins singing– in the richest, corniest tradition of all great musicals, these anthemic Lennon/McCartney lyrics, “you say you want a revolution, well you know, we all wanna change the world…”

But leave all this struggle behind; come with me and let’s make a love nest is what he’s really saying, and quite publicly, to Lucy there in the middle of the alienation and the protest of early 70s New York. And I’m here to tell ya that yes, Jude did, in the end– long story short–take a sad song and make it better and get the girl. I can tell you that, because the movie is after all more than two years old and you’ve probably already seen it, even though Pat and I are just now getting around to watching it.

And that love thing–where Jude rescues Lucy from the illusions of a confused epic age, and probably eventually enriches her skies(and her finger) with diamonds—that love thing really is what it was all about for the Beatles, and for my g-g-generation too. Still is.  Got love?

Carey Rowland, author of Glass Chimera

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