"I declare that the Beatles are mutants, prototypes of evolutionary agents sent by God, endowed with a mysterious power to create a new human species."--Dr. Timothy Leary
Rolling Stone recently announced its top 500 pop music albums of all time. Perched at the top of the heap is the Beatles' legendary Sgt. Pepper's LonelyHearts Club Band. Unleashed on the world 45 years ago on June 1, 1967, Sgt. Pepper's, as Rolling Stoneheralds, "is the most important rock & roll album ever made, an unsurpassed adventure in concept, sound, sanguinity, cover art and studio technology by the greatest rock & roll group of all time."
To the Beatles, weary of the endless mayhem of concerts and Beatlemania, Sgt. Pepper's was a declaration of change, both culturally and personally. "We were fed up with being Beatles," Paul McCartney would later say. "We were not boys, we were men ... artists rather than performers." Retreating into the Abbey Road studios, the Beatles focused their efforts on creating a concept album that would showcase their artistry and vision, while serving as a substitute for touring -- a way to embark on a virtual tour with the album as the medium. Seven hundred recording hours later, Sgt. Pepper's was born in all its psychedelic glory, the Beatles' most audacious and inspired leap into the avant-garde: their self-presentation as fictional characters. Sgt. Pepper transformed rock music from a musical diversion for young people into an art form -- one that remains revered to this day.
Although the album begins as a light farce, it moves to a sobering awakening. The songs are somewhat bizarre and sometimes ghoulish, but, at heart, Sgt. Pepper was a spiritual experience for an increasingly materialistic world. George Harrison's "Within You, Without You," the centerpiece of the album, is a warning not to get lost in materialism or we will lose our souls:
We were talking
About the love we all could share When we find it To try our best to hold it there With our love, with our love We could save the world If they only knew. We were talking About the love that's gone so cold And the people who gain the world And lose their soul They don't know, they can't see Are you one of them.
The album's final song, John Lennon's "A Day in the Life," points to the horrors of existence if humanity does not abstain from its destructive tendencies. In fact, "A Day in the Life" sets the other songs on the album and the Beatles' career in perspective. A collection of vignettes that are somewhat tragic, the song is punctuated with the phrase "I'd love to turn you on" -- either a reference to drugs or the need to tune in to the Beatles' message. No doubt drugs were an intended reference in "A Day in the Life." As author Mark Hertsgaard writes, "Indeed John and at least one other Beatle were tripping -- or flying, as John put it -- during the photo session for the Sgt. Pepperalbum cover."
The Beatles underscored the verses of that final song with a dark, tumultuous orchestra crescendo. McCartney had wanted to include an instrumental passage with the avant-garde feel of musician John Cage and others, a spiraling ascent of sound, beginning with all instruments, each climbing to the highest in their own time. Lennon wanted the song to end with "a sound like the end of the world." Thus, the Beatles simultaneously struck an E-major chord on three grand pianos, drawing the sound as long as possible with electronic enhancement. The effect of the crashing E-major chord, followed by some 53 seconds of gradually dwindling reverberation, brings to mind nothing so much as the eerily spreading hush of the mushroom cloud-visions of nuclear holocaust.
The cover art for Sgt. Pepper, now one of the best-known works of pop art, was as mind-blowing as the album's contents. Created by Peter Blake, the album cover represented the first fusion of pop art and pop music. Distorting the line between fantasy and reality, Blake placed the Beatles, who were dressed in Victorian band uniforms, among notable historical figures and artists past and present -- some of whom were handpicked by the Beatles -- including George Bernard Shaw, Edgar Allen Poe, Aldous Huxley, Lenny Bruce, Mae West and Bob Dylan. In this way, art romanticizes celebrity. The cover, an homage to the Beatles' late live stage career, with the figures arranged in a funereal pose as if attending a graveside memorial, was also a harbinger of the earthshaking changes to come, for both the Beatles, young people of their day, and the world at large.
The events leading up to 1967 laid the groundwork for a social revolution powered by young people. With the young ripe for rebellion, drugs invading the country and altering people's consciousness, and the drums of war providing a constant backbeat, it was only a matter of time before flower power and peace became the mantra of the Sixties' generation. In turn, the playfulness of those years led to the hippie movement and, ultimately, to an abdication of adulthood. There was a sense that there was no need to grow up anymore. But, as author Mary Gordon notes, "the flower child's sense of well being gradually disintegrated as Vietnam became more central to consciousness." University students and academics began believing that the Vietnam War was a direct result of the greed and lies of old men in suits and uniforms. The government -- the "Establishment" that John Lennon would later refer to as "the monster" -- had withheld the real story in order to do its dirty work.
All of these cultural streams converged in Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, which was hailed as a major cultural event upon its release, simultaneously mirroring the angst of its age while offering a solution to the social and political upheavals of the day. The solution offered by the Beatles was a return to spirituality and love for our fellow human beings.
"It was the soundtrack to summer, and winter for that matter," notes author Barry Miles. "You could not get away from it." Indeed, young and old alike approached Sgt. Pepper with a religious awe. The LSD evangelist Timothy Leary, after listening to the album, reputedly said in a mystical voice, "My work is finished. Now, it's out." Leary actually believed he could hear the voice of God in the music of the Beatles.
David Crosby of the popular rock band the Byrds brought a tape of the Sgt. Pepper album to the band's hotel room and "played it all night in the lobby with a hundred young fans listening quietly on the stairs, as if rapt by a spiritual experience." Paul Kantner of the acid rock band Jefferson Airplane said, "Something enveloped the whole world at that time and it just exploded into a renaissance." And as musicologist Tim Riley observed: "The closest Western Civilization has come to unity since the Congress of Vienna in 1815 was the week the Sgt. Pepper album was released. For a brief while the irreparable fragmented consciousness of the West was unified, at least in the minds of the young."
The Summer of Love followed in the wake of Sgt. Pepper's release. Optimism filled the air, the almost tangible hope that peace would eventually prevail and the destructiveness of humanity would end. Armed with "flower power," young people took to the streets and demonstrated en masse against the Vietnam War.
By 1968, however, the radiance of that golden age had already started to fade. Student rebels around the world adopted more militant tactics. Flower power was replaced by raised fists. Cultural heroes such as Martin Luther King Jr. and Bobby Kennedy were brutally assassinated. The Beatles too were disbanding. They were not gods, after all, and the love that once united them grew cold. By the end of 1968, it was clear that the Beatles were not going to save the world.
Nevertheless, the music of the Beatles remains with us still, a poignant reminder that we all have a part to play in bringing about a world dedicated to peace and love. Yet the lesson -- that evil does not have to triumph and that good can prevail if only we can step beyond our self-interest -- is one that we each must learn in our own time and in our own way. In the words of George Harrison:
When you've seen beyond yourself
Then you may find Peace of mind is waiting there And the time will come When you see we're all one And life flows on within you and without you.
CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. — A private space capsule called Dragon soared into the predawn sky Tuesday, riding a pillar of flame like its beastly namesake on a history-making tripto the International Space Station.
The unmanned capsule, built by billionaire entrepreneur Elon Musk's Space Exploration Technologies Corp. (SpaceX), is the first non-governmental spacecraft to launch to the space station, ushering in a new era of partnership between the public and private spaceflight programs.
"I think this is an example of American entrepreneurship at its best," said Alan Lindenmoyer, manager of NASA's commercial crew and cargo program, in a briefing before the launch. About 100 VIP guests were on hand to witness the launch, NASA officials said.
The Hawthorne, Calif.-based SpaceX launched its Dragon capsule at 3:44 a.m. EDT Tuesday from a pad here at the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. It blasted off atopSpaceX's Falcon 9 rocket, a 157-foot (48-meter) booster powered by nine Merlin rocket engines. The space station was flying 249 miles above the North Atlantic Ocean as the rocket lifted off, NASA officials said. [Launch Photos: SpaceX's Dragon Blasts Off for Space Station]
Private spaceship in orbitThe gumdrop-shaped capsule is 14.4 feet tall (4.4 meters) and 12 feet wide (3.7 m), and packed with 1,014 pounds (460 kilograms) of cargo for the space station, including 674 pounds (306 kg) of foodand supplies for the crew, as well as student-designed science experimentsand a laptopcomputer.
SpaceX Dragon spacecraft
The Falcon 9 rocket's second stage is also reportedly carrying ashes from 308 people, including actor James Doohan, who played Scotty on the 1960s television series "Star Trek," and Mercury program astronaut Gordon Cooper. The ashes were flown under a deal with the "memorial spaceflight" company Celestis, according to ABC News and Reuters. The ashes were in a section of the rocket that was jettisoned during the climb into space, The Associated Press reported.
The SpaceX launch vehicle is named after the Millennium Falcon of "Star Wars," while the capsule got its moniker from the Peter, Paul and Mary song, "Puff, the Magic Dragon."
Today marked only the second-ever launch of a Dragon capsule, and the third flight for the Falcon 9 rocket. It was the second attempt to launch the space station-bound test flight after a launch try Saturday was thwarted by a faulty rocket engine valve. Repairs were made over the weekend, and the SpaceX team counted down smoothly to the liftoff this morning.
"One thing that they are very good at is being able to work through launch abort and treat those problems and be prepared to go again in a very short time," Mike Horkachuck, NASA project executive for SpaceX, said Monday.
Today's launch is the last planned test flight for SpaceX under NASA's Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS) program intended to develop a private-sector replacement for the cargo-delivery services of the retired space shuttles. SpaceX has a $1.6 billion contract to fly at least 12 unmanned missions to the space station through 2015.
Musk founded SpaceX in 2002 with the goal of boosting commercial access to space and, ultimately, aiming for deep-space exploration, including missions to Mars. The success of today's launch was never certain or assured, Musk had repeatedly said.
Today, the mission's uncertainty eased up a bit, he said.
"Falcon flew perfectly!!" Musk wrote in a Twitter post from Falcon 9's mission control room in Hawthorne. "Dragon in orbit, comm locked and solar arrays active!! Feels like a giant weight just came off my back."
Orbital catch upThe spacecraft is due to spend its first day on orbit catching up with the 240-mile high (390 km) space station, where it will rendezvous Thursday and perform a fly-by to within 1.5 miles (2.5 kilometers) to check its navigation systems. [Quiz: How Well Do You Know SpaceX's Dragon?]
On Friday, the capsule is slated to perform a series of maneuvers to approach the station, with crew members onboard the outpost issuing commands to Dragon. If the spacecraft passes a set of "go-no go" checks at Mission Control in Houston, NASA will approve the vehicle to approach the International Space Station. From inside, astronauts Don Pettit and Andre Kuipers will use the lab's robotic arm to grab Dragon and berth it to the station's Harmony node.
The hatches between the two spacecraft are due to be opened early Saturday, so the crew can enter Dragon and unpack its payload.
Dragon is due to spend about a week attached to the outpost. On May 31, the capsule will be packed with completed science experiments and other equipment, unberthed and sent back toward Earth. The vehicle is equipped with a heat shield to withstand the fires of re-entry, and is due to splash down and be recovered by ship in the Pacific Ocean.
Private spaceflight realityDragon is an unmanned version of a capsule ultimately intended to carry people as well.
Another company, Orbital Sciences Corp. of Dulles, Va., also has a NASA contract to deliver cargo to the space station, and plans to launch its first test flight later this year.
The program is part of a larger effort by NASA to outsource low-Earth orbit transportation to the private sector, allowing the space agency to begin work on a new spacecraft and heavy-lift rocket to visit asteroids, the moon and Mars.
Robert Pearlman / collectSPACE.com
SpaceX's first space station-bound Dragon spacecraft, flying atop a Falcon 9 rocket, launches behind a high fidelity mockup of the space shuttle, NASA's previous means of delivering cargo to International Space Station. Liftoff occurred on May 22 from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.
The plan has received criticism from some lawmakers and members of the public, who worry that commercial vehicles aren't as safe or reliable as NASA's in-house built spacecraft.
"It's really easyto criticize, and it's very difficult to solve a problem and actually do something," said SpaceX President Gwynne Shotwell. "So I tend to focus on the businessand getting our jobs done and not focus on those that want to criticize."
NASA officials and leaders of the commercial space sector say the time is right for space to transition from an exclusively government regime to an arena open to private companies.
"I kind of see that transition as being inevitable," said Phil McAlister, NASA's director of Commercial Spaceflight Development. "I believe it is going to happen at some point. If it's not today and this mission falls short of expectations, it is going to happen eventually."
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