by Jude Southerland Kessler … https://www.johnlennonseries.
If you’re a fan of the television series, Outlander, then you know full well that we’re in the “holding pattern” known as “Drought-lander.” Millions of fans are tapping their toes and eagerly awaiting the new season’s opening night. Word has it, we’re to be treated to one of the most exciting new seasons ever in Autumn 2021.
If you haven’t watched Outlander, you should.
This time travel/historical romance TV series is addictive — perhaps because, unlike many programs, it is both uplifting and inspiring. This isn’t to say that there aren’t complications, hitches, and plot lines that make each episode’s cliff-hanger conclusion nail-biting … but overall, the story is one of a life’s devotion.
The series theme song, “The Skye Boat Song,” is a lovely and haunting adaptation of an old Scottish ballad about “bonnie Prince Charlie,” but the words have been altered to tell the tale of the show’s female protagonist, Claire Randall.1 And as I was listening to it last night (yes, yes, I started re-watching the series in anticipation of the next one), I was touched by one line that described this beautiful and bold woman as “merry of soul.” What an incredible tribute to be thought of as “merry of soul!” I know a few people who fit that bill.
One (perhaps) fictional figure who certainly matches that description is the quite seasonal Santa Claus. With his hearty “ho, ho, ho’s” and his year-in-year-out dedication to giving gifts to one and all, he is described as having “dimples [so] merry.” And ah, that magnificent smile of his! It makes me grin, just thinking about it.
The Beatles, too — well, The Beatles of 1958-1964 — were also “merry of soul.” With their mickey-taking and inside jokes, their silly walks and dances, their sly innuendos and double entendres, and their utter joy in making music, they drew us, unashamedly, to them. They were utterly jubilant.
I think of The Beatles insisting — over their manager Brian Epstein’s extreme reluctance — that they make a 1964 holiday record for their fans. I think of them singing their nonsensical “Good King Wenceslas” and then stepping up to the microphone to read wacky, personal Christmas greetings to one and all. Merry!
So many scenes from those early years were exactly that! You can’t watch The Beatles on the Feb. 1964 Washington, D.C. stage-in-the-round without absorbing their sheer delight! You can’t hear them on Live at the BBC, Vol. 1 without feeling their pleasure in being exactly who they were.
In just a few weeks, I’ll be releasing Vol. 5 in The John Lennon Series (Shades of Life, coming out on 9 October 2021). In this latest book, the lads journey through 1965…and in that year, harsh reality began to take its toll. By 1965, John, Paul, George, and Ringo had begun to feel the tug and pull of Beatlemania — the grind of making a yearly film for United Artists. They labored to create two annual LPs, and they had discovered that going on a second World Tour and another North American Tour was hard work. On the side, they were also giving interviews, doing television specials, starring on radio shows, and living complicated private lives. The Beatles’ unrelenting schedule was stripping these four young men of their vibrancy and color. The boys were becoming grey automatons — working incessantly, without a bit of bright.
I can empathize. Maybe you can, too. For all of us who endured quarantine for months and months … and for immunocompromised individuals who are still under quarantine because the vaccine did not work for them, 2020 and 2021 have been tough years. Instead of being “merry of soul,” many people are “weary of soul.” And our inflammatory politics has only added to the tension in the air. Everyone is busy blaming everyone else. It isn’t “the best of times.”
But this afternoon, as I ran in the just-before-autumn air and watched the first fall leaves drifting down in an unexpected amber shower, I heard the laughter of children home from their first full day at school. And I reminded myself that although Outlander’s heroine, Claire, had every reason to be “weary of soul,” she wasn’t. Like a person unjustly incarcerated (or quarantined), she was trapped for years in a time warp and locked into a long-ago era in which she didn’t belong. During her time far away from the 20th Century, Claire had missed out on so much in her “real life” … events that she would never be able to recapture. But instead of focusing on what she had lost, Claire focused on what she had found … on what she had been given instead.
The Beatles were like that. Certainly, in the post-1966 era, the lads experienced some tense and unhappy moments. But Beatles Guru Mark Lewisohn reminds us that those years from 1967-1969 weren’t entirely bleak; he tells us that the boys were still fond friends in those waning days of the band. Even the fractious moments (that we’ll glimpse in Peter Jackson’s new “Get Back” docu-series coming up in November) were only part of a larger puzzle — a puzzle crafted with intricate pieces of camaraderie, dissention, happiness, fun, and agitation snapping together congruously to form a whole. There were still plenty of times, Mr. Lewisohn says, when merriment found its home in the hands of The Beatles.
After all, when one stands back and summarizes the Fab Four’s career, what does one find? Love, love, love!
There was innocent love in “I’m Happy Just To Dance With You,” “Do You Want to Know A Secret,” and “Love Me Do.” Romantic love had its place in “Something,” “Here There and Everywhere,” “Please Please Me,” “Eight Days A Week,” and “This Boy.” Love denied was part of the mix, too. You discover it in “For No One,” “Girl,” “Not a Second Time,” “Yes, It Is,” and “I’ll Follow the Sun.” Sexual love played a role in “When I Get Home,” “I Wanna Be Your Man,” and “I Want You.” The love of friends shone forth in “In My Life,” “With A Little Help From My Friends,” and “Yellow Submarine.” The heartbreak of love was expressed in “If I Fell” and “Yesterday.” And yes, there’s even a tongue-in-cheek fondness for the Queen herself in “Her Majesty.” You can think of hundreds of other examples, I’m sure. Because for The Beatles, it all boils down to love … in the end.
Perhaps Outlander’s tremendous popularity can be explained by the fact that, in this angry and argumentative world of ours, we still yearn for a place where “love is all you need.” And perhaps The Beatles surpassed all other bands in history, in part, because no matter what, they lived out their greatest mantra: “And in the end, the love you take is equal to the love you make.”
In moments of wonder and moments of despair, one thing remained: they were merry of soul.
1 To hear “The Skye Boat Song,” go to: https://tinyurl.com/qo8vu5q