The Corner


CNN — Taking the Spice out of Pepper

If we needed yet another reminder of just how joyless and just how pious our establishment media has become, this CNN article suggesting who would be on a reworked Sgt. Pepper cover today is not a bad place to start. Beyond the inevitable attempt to remedy one of the original’s cardinal sins (“50 years ago its faces were overwhelmingly white and male”), the new selection is more than a touch staid, dull, and preachy — Person of the Year, rather than A Day in the Life.

Ruth Bader Ginsburg?

To be sure, CNN did ask Jann Haworth, one of the original people involved with the project to help out, but it’s important to remember that “most [of those included] were chosen by John Lennon and Paul McCartney . . . George Harrison added four Indian gurus. Ringo Starr said he didn’t care.”

Back to CNN:

Our criteria: Like the original cover, we focused heavily on artists, musicians and other creative types from the past 50 years. We emphasized people who are/were pioneers in their field (Steve Jobs) or catalysts for change (Rosa Parks), with a few nods to celebrity and the Beatles’ well-developed whimsy (hello, Lisa Simpson!). We also included some huge 20th century figures the Beatles omitted (Elvis, duh).

Lisa Simpson, “well-developed whimsy.” Blow my mind out in a car . . . 

And yes, the Beatles did omit Elvis, but there was a reason for that.

“I’m an Elvis fan,” Lennon once said in a television interview, “because it was Elvis that really got me out of Liverpool.” The Beatles placed Presley on such a high pedestal that they didn’t want him to be just another face in the crowd on the “Sgt. Pepper” cover. “Elvis was too important and too far above the rest even to mention,” said McCartney. “He was more than a pop singer. He was Elvis the King.”

Anyway, among those joining Ruth Bader Ginsburg on the CNN team is . . . Angela Merkel.

Angela Merkel.

Back in 1967, the Beatles had another German chancellor in mind, and it wasn’t, say, Adenauer (a respectable figure, like Merkel, but, unlike Merkel, competent, in fact, much, much more than competent), but a rather more disreputable individual, a fellow by the name of Hitler, whom Lennon wanted to include “just to be a naughty boy.” In the end, caution and good taste prevailed (Adolf is there, but standing behind the Beatles, and thus invisible), but something tells me that a band that pondered including the Führer would never, ever have made room for Merkel.

CNN’s list is, in no small part, a predictable collection of secular saints such as Nelson Mandela and Aung San Suu Kyi, and an official saint too, Mother Teresa, as well as some predictable clerics: Pope Francis and the Dalai Lama. By contrast, beyond Harrison’s gurus and Livingstone (a missionary as well as everything else), the only “religious” figure included in 1967 was Aleister Crowley, conman, Satanist, occultist, and the “wickedest man in the world.” It is true that Christ was considered, but after the “more popular than Jesus” row from just the year before, someone thought that would be . . . unwise.

Look at the Beatles’ selection and you see a group with a significant British contingent including heroes of empire (David Livingstone), a Victorian statesman (Sir Robert Peel), a Liverpool soccer player, and a hugely popular Liverpool-born comedian, best-known for a show that ran throughout the Second World War. The cast of characters has a healthy smattering of outsiders and eccentrics, and was also clearly picked with a keen eye both for kitsch (Diana Dors, Mae West, Johnny Weissmuller, Shirley Temple) and, in keeping with so much of the album’s tenor, nostalgic appeal (Laurel and Hardy).

To be sure, there are some fine names on the CNN list (Chuck Berry, James Joyce, Princess Diana, Alan Turing, Johnny Cash, Billie Holiday, to mention just a few) that are in keeping with the spirit of the original (even if Sonny Liston ‘67 might not have appreciated seeing Muhammad Ali up there now), but the spark, the wit, the strangeness, even the Britishness, of the original is simply not there: 2017 is not 1967, and it shows.

Angela Merkel . . .