Friday, February 7, 2014
Lennon-McCartney and Harrison: In the Crow's Nest of the Sixties
(This article appears in abbreviated form in Eric Francis's Planet Waves newsletter: today's special issue, "Yesterday and Today," commemorates the 50th anniversary of the Beatles landing in America. Yeah, yeah, yeah!) “We were all on this ship in the sixties, our generation, a ship going to discover the New World. And the Beatles were in the crow’s nest of that ship.” --John Lennon So much has been written about the significance of the Uranus-Pluto conjunction of the mid-1960s that it has overshadowed the meaning of Neptune in Scorpio (1956–70). If Neptune rules music, drugs, mystery, and the collective imagination, and Scorpio immediately brings to mind sex, power, and the underworld, put the two together and what do you get? Sex, drugs, and rock ’n’ roll. And if the Beatles were situated in “the crow’s nest,” they did not all see, or report, identical findings to their youthful baby boomer generation. The songwriting team of Lennon-McCartney was a formidable force. John Lennon’s and Paul McCartney’s Suns were both in the communicative air element (John’s in Libra, Paul’s in Gemini). The trine between the two musicians’ Suns manifested in mutual inspiration and what Beatles producer George Martin deemed “a healthy competition.” John and Paul rarely wrote songs together—but often wrote in each other’s presence, sought out each other’s feedback, and helped each other with lyrics. Their mutual agreement was that whoever wrote most of a song sang the lead (with the exceptions of songs expressly written for their band mates). The finest Lennon-McCartney composition, “A Day in the Life,” was the result of two separate, unfinished songs grafted together into pure genius. This song also perfectly symbolizes the opposition between their Moons: John, the explosive “teddy boy” and drug-oriented, intellectual iconoclast, had an Aquarius Moon; Paul, the magnanimous, regal, pop-oriented showman, had a Leo Moon. This lunar opposition magnetized John and Paul to each other from the day they met and formed the duo’s backbone--first in a positive way (riding to what John called “the toppermost of the poppermost” together) and later in bitter, backbiting enmity. George Harrison was also in the crow’s nest--but he was in his own private corner, as one might expect from a Pisces Sun and Scorpio Moon. On Beatles albums George was a hapless victim of what John referred to as “the Lennon-McCartney carve-up.” In the early days of the Beatles success, when the rest of the band was able to tolerate Beatlemania, George hated it--and wrote the sulky “Don’t Bother Me” to underline his repulsion. In 1965, during the Uranus-Pluto conjunction, George first came across the sitar. Through his subsequent study of this difficult instrument and Eastern philosophy, was responsible for bringing the East to the attention of the “new world” of hip sixties Western culture—-and he continued to support the Maharishi even after his band mates became disenchanted with the yogi. Apropos of his Scorpio Moon, George was also the first Beatle to explicitly reference sex in a song: on Revolver’s “Love You To” (1966). He and John bonded over many LSD trips when Paul abstained, yet this bond did not translate into a Lennon-Harrison songwriting team. George’s water-sign vision, which ranged from cynical (“Taxman”; “Piggies”) to mystical to just plain beautiful (“Something”), continued to be overshadowed by the Lennon-McCartney duo. When the Beatles began to bicker during the White Album sessions, George brought in a fellow Moon in Scorpio, Eric Clapton, to play on his impressive "While My Guitar Gently Weeps." However, George and Ringo, the two sensitive water signs, both took turns walking out of an increasingly tense studio atmosphere dominated by Paul's perfectionism and John's growing heroin addiction and his insisting on keeping Yoko not just in the studio, but next to him at all times. To the rest of the world in 1968, the Beatles were still together, but the rot was setting in. As George's songwriting efforts grew more confident and prolific, he felt so stymied by the Lennon-McCartney fortress that his first solo effort, All Things Must Pass, was a triple album. It is no coincidence that the Beatles tenure in the crow’s nest ended in 1970, the same year Neptune left Scorpio. There was no longer a deep, unfathomable ocean to traverse; Neptune in Sagittarius was more akin to a spaceship.