Saturday, 3 June 2017

Lonely Hearts

The theme this week is lonely hearts. How fitting, then, that it coincides with all the hoopla surrounding the 50th anniversary of the release of Sgt. Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band. Many hailed that LP as The Beatles' finest, maybe even the greatest album of all time. It was certainly ground-breaking and yet, for me, such an accolade belongs rather to its predecessor, Revolver.

However, it did blow our minds (as we used to say) back in June 1967 and I can still recall the excitement of listening to the first public pre-release airing on Radio Luxembourg late one night. This was followed shortly afterwards by a long, gloriously sunny Sunday afternoon playing Sgt. Pepper very loudly and repeatedly on a record-player dragged out into Nick Firman's back garden (his parents were conveniently away) accompanied by my mates Ian Brightie and Trevor Butler. After the third or fourth time through, we grabbed a couple of guitars and sang and played along, much to the annoyance of Nick's neighbours. It helped that the words were printed on the back of the LP sleeve - the first time that had ever been done, I believe. Happy times!

That drum (later sold at auction)
Stepping away from The Beatles for a moment, it's interesting to delve into the concept of lonely hearts columns. There is quite a history to the practice of publicising one's search for a perfect match.

The first known lonely hearts advertisements appeared in England towards the end of the 17th century when an enterprising pamphlet editor spotted an opportunity. Most such advertisements were quite genuine: "man of good estate seeks young gentlewoman to share fortune and favour". Some were distressing: "young lady desirous of freeing herself from the control of a cruel and capricious guardian."  In fact, many were from women widowed young at a time when life expectancy for men was around 40. Very few were from philanderers, though some were quite risqué for the age: "soft lips and shapely ankles a recommendation."

The practice grew through the 18th century and into the 19th, by which time photography was beginning to gain ground and so the searchers after solace began to request pictures as well as letters in response to their offers or appeals. During the latter part of Victoria's reign there were no fewer than twenty regular weekly or monthly publications made up entirely of lonely hearts ads, as single souls across the land sought to find companionship, security, lasting love, happiness. These advertisements were still quite wordy in expression: "Has no objection to marry any widow or single lady provided the party be of genteel birth and polite manners;"  or "Lady, fiancé killed, will gladly marry officer incapacitated by war". It is interesting to note that as many ads were placed by women as men, particularly so in the aftermath of World War One when an obvious shortage of eligible males coincided with greater emancipation of the fairer sex.

It was only in the lonely hearts columns of 20th century newspapers and magazines that TLAs (two or three letter acronyms) and FLAs (four or five letter acronyms) became commonplace, and the search for a mate became couched in the same terse terms as the search for a flat (at a shilling a word); for instance ALA - all letters answered, GSOH - good sense of humour, ISO - in search of, LTR - long term relationship, NS - non-smoker, not to be confused with no strings, OHAC - own house and car, WDAFC - will do anything for chocolate (okay, I made that last one up).

With the advent of the internet plus online dating sites, phone apps and so forth, the tools of the match-making process may have evolved but the basic drive appears to be the same - lonely hearts remain hopeful of finding the one who will complement them and banish their sense of aloneness, an optimistic undertaking and one not to be scorned.

Okay then, back to The Beatles. McCartney always claimed that they adopted the group persona of Sgt. Peppers Band as a means of unshackling themselves from the constraints of being Beatles (it gave them artistic licence to play at being something else) and I'm sure that's true. However, although it never really struck me at the time, it seems patently obvious with hindsight that The Beatles - in particular John and Paul - were lonely hearts in a quite literal sense in 1967. The conceptual device of Sgt. Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band only thinly disguised their very real sense of lonely-heartedness.

John Lennon and Paul McCartney in June 1967
They were rich, they were famous, they were the most successful partnership in contemporary music, they were in long-term relationships (John married to Cynthia, Paul with Jane Asher) and yet neither was truly happy on an emotional level. The clues are there in the lyrics of several songs on Sgt. Pepper. They hadn't found the women who would be their soul mates.

Although they didn't know it, that was all about to change. Yoko Ono and Linda Eastman walked into their respective lives even as their most famous and iconic album was being launched into the waiting world in June 1967. Within a year or so, John and Paul had both found partners for life in their respective strong, artistic women and were lonesome no more.

Perversely and somewhat ironically, this week's poem travels in the opposite direction...

Phoenix Like
Shockingly stark my heart
the moment love's light went dark,
switched off - no...
more burned out like a blown fuse,
acrid with smoky recriminations
and scorch-marks of abuse.

I left it smoulder for a while
in cooling drafts of reflection,
no sudden shafts of insight,
just a gradual settling
into the ash of acceptance,
a bottoming out to cold.

Time now to hotwire a restart,
to shake remorse out,
reprise and reconnect,
set a new course
and rise up phoenix like.
The beat goes on.


TFR - thanks for reading. We'll get by with a little help from our friends, S ;-)
Reactions:

6 comments:

Anonymous said...

Nice blog. Interesting perspective on Lennon & McCartney. It hadn't occurred to me either but obvious when you point it up.

Anonymous said...

Pepper the best album for me. Groundbreaking what they acheived.

Anonymous said...

I like the poem, specially "scorch marks of abuse".

Anonymous said...

ISO LTR WDAFC! (LOL)

Anonymous said...

I enjoyed this blog and actually thought the poem sounds quite positive.

Anonymous said...

What a great read. This was informative and life-affirming. Thank you.