10 - The Beatles and In-authenticity
10 - The Beatles and In-authenticity
We all have moments when we feel out of place in the world or experience a lack of direction.
Beatles researcher Erin Kealey believes The Beatles present imagery of the isolation involved in these moments. As they try to disrupt our comfortable existence, they force us to confront some disturbing questions, such as have we been deceived into believing in certain goals and accomplishments which are not our own? Are we all participating in a life that controls us because facing our own condition is just too frightening?
Kealey states that throughout their musical journey, The Beatles chronicle the struggle we all have with “das Man.”
Often translated as “the they,” this term literally means “the anyone” in the sense that it generally contains every individual yet fails to recognize any specific person. Everyday human existence is loud, vague, and lacks any firm ground of understanding. This seems rather bleak, but it’s the average worldview that we encounter in our ordinarily busy lives. The Beatles wrote about it in Good Morning, Good Morning.
Kealey points to a song such as Within You Without You which introduces the special place that The Beatles take in the struggle against in-authenticity in order to alert us to our self-absorbed existence. The song warns us of the consequences of accepting the shared world as our own without question. It confronts us with the possibility that we may not even know that we’re lost and alienated:
And the people/who gain the world and lose their soul/they don’t know they can’t see/are you one of them?”
For Kealey, the song is about those who lost their souls to the ease of conventions:
“The Beatles not only struggle to live authentically, they also engage us in this endeavor. They try to alert us of the possibility of an authentic existence. They find us falling, but they keep singing with the hope of reaching us. They compassionately attempt to guide us toward a better life, one in which we are not alienated and actually have some ownership in our true existence. However, this authentic mode of existing comes with a great burden of responsibility.”
In Only a Northern Song we hear them tell us that the chords and words of the song, not to mention the time of day or their clothes and hair, are all meaningless. If we come up with questions about their music, we can be assured that it doesn’t really matter because it’s only
a Northern Song. The Beatles also tell us: If you think the harmony/is a little dark and out of key/you’re correct, there’s nobody there.
“At this moment, they break through the assurance of tranquility to give us an insight into our struggle with the dominant interpretations of in-authenticity. From time to time, we may get the feeling that something is amiss in the practical concerns and commotion of our everyday lives. Our lives may appear to be empty, but this appearance comes from sensing dark themes or an unusual tone.”
The mood interaction of a Beatle song
Kealey points to the song Rain to show how The Beatles demonstrate a dour moody interaction with the world: Rain or shine, everything’s the same because it’s just a state of mind.
However, many people flee from their own reactions to the way moods disclose concerns: If the rain comes they run and hide their heads.
She says the tranquility of living in-authentically even affects responses to the times that are more comfortable: When the sun shines they slip into the shade, and sip their lemonade. Just as there is no escape from the weather, good or bad, there is no escape from our moody way of experiencing the world. Yet we continue to flee from confronting, and potentially understanding, our authentic existence.
In Strawberry Fields Forever they sing: it’s getting hard to be someone, because forging an authentic existence is so difficult.
Kealey points out that what awakens us from our restless slumber of in-authenticity is a call from within. In I’ve Got a Feeling we can’t hide from this experience, we can only deny its importance. We are confronted with “All these years I’ve been wandering around/wondering how come nobody told me.”
Yet we can immediately fall back into the generalizations and prepared answers dictated by in-authenticity in order to cover up that feeling deep inside.
We get wrapped up in the self-deception of I Me Mine when we flee from the responsibilities of authentic existence. We avoid the responsibility of carving out our own identities by falling in line with the impersonal selfhood of in-authenticity.
Kealy points to the “you and me” in Nowhere Man, as another example. We all find ourselves thrown into a world and, at times, alienated from that inner unity that would be possible if we weren’t so scattered in everyday concerns. Nowhere Man describes how we exist in “fallenness”, but we are told to awaken from this tranquil world:
“The Beatles rouse us with their call to authenticity by forcing us to recognize our absorption in the collective mentality of an impersonal world. They challenge us to see other people as individuals rather than part of some immense undefined mass.”
The challenge to be authentic
In the song I’ve Just Seen a Face the pull of in-authenticity keeps calling me back again. The struggle to maintain an authentic existence continues throughout life – a way of living every day in each decision we make. We must be ready to recognize our own potential for authenticity alongside the loud chatter of inauthentic concerns: Had it been another day/I might have looked the other way/And I’d have never been aware. If we aren’t ready to be called to our own possibilities, we might just turn away from them and go on with everyday practical concerns.
Like the call to live authentically, The Fool on the Hill is talking perfectly loud/but nobody ever hears him/or the sound he appears to make.
Kealey writes: “One of the most difficult things in recognizing a call to authentic existence is coming to terms with an appropriate participation in the inauthentic world. We can’t bask in some illuminating authenticity detached from the public world.”
As The Beatles inform us in Dear Prudence we cannot escape interactions with the conventional world. Instead of meditating for too long, Prudence needs to open her eyes and come out to play.
Kealy believes we have to participate in a shared world because we look around at the places we find ourselves thrown into and discover that we are part of everything.
“We exist in the world with others, and being thrown with a past introduces historical conventions that cannot be denied. If we answer the call to live authentically, we can begin to project our own possibilities. To take control of the shape of our own lives – not apart from the conventional world, but alongside it. We each can choose to direct ourselves toward actualizing our individual potential.”
The in-authenticity related to our past
Kealy says that in addition to projecting our own possibilities, we must also face and take responsibility for our own past. We can authentically bring the past into our present state of mind as The Beatles demonstrate in Penny Lane, where memories of bygone occasions seem to fill the senses. The setting of past memories comes alive in the present. They introduce us to characters who are then brought together in a notably peculiar situation, much like how we
need to integrate our past with our own present circumstances. We often escape the responsibility of appropriating our past by sinking into the ease of conventional viewpoints.
Longing for Yesterday demonstrates an inauthentic mode of viewing the past. In-authenticity gives us a place to hide away when we are suddenly confronted with our historical past.
Help! describes the insecurity we can feel when we take on the burden of authentically appropriating our past. At the prospect of losing the familiar grounding of our inauthentic youthful independence, The Beatles respond: Now these days are gone, I’m not so self-assured/
Now I find I’ve changed my mind and opened up the doors.
“Authentic existence allows us to open up our own possibilities, but it turns out to be quite a burden as we lose the conventions that provide such an easy grounding in life. The eruption of uncanniness brings us face-to-face with our participation in an empty world.”
Because in-authenticity can blind us to our own circumstances, Blackbird employs the image of sunken eyes learning to see, as a means of liberation.
In While My Guitar Gently Weeps they compassionately call us from our slumber. They see the love there that’s sleeping and wonder at the fact that nobody told you how to unfold your love.
Across the Universe tells us about the enticing world of conventions and how we can lose ourselves to the flow of the three elements of fallenness we saw earlier: idle talk, ambiguity, and curiosity. The shared conventions of an inauthentic existence may seem boundless and overpowering, like the inciting and inviting world in the song.
Kealey concludes that we should try to emulate The Beatles and be resilient in our struggle against getting lost in in-authenticity by striving to live our own lives in the face of easy answers and everyday routines:
“We can direct ourselves toward authenticity by making a home for ourselves alongside average everydayness.”