Magic Circles: The Beatles in Dream and History

Article excerpt

Magic Circles: The Beatles in Dream and History Devin McKinney. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2003.

On the surface, this book is a biography of the Beatles' career. But underneath this surface, this is almost a novel, with author Devin McKinney taking the Beatles' chronology and constructing an intense, analytical, nearly stream-of-consciousness look at the Beatles, their music, and their personas to plumb the depths of their appeal.

Time and again, McKinney attempts to answer why about the Beatles, then quickly pulls back and explains a deeper why and how as he continues this stream-of-consciousness flow.

Fact and factoids collide; the toilet comes up time and again. The Biblical dust that creates man becomes dirt that creates the Beatles, a dirt that is a metaphor for their lower-class beginnings, their roots in dingy clubs, and the fact that the Beatles are roots too - to contemporary rock 'n' roll, or whatever the music calls itself these days.

This is literary criticism of a career. The songs are mentioned but the analysis does not come lyric by lyric-probably because to quote lyrics extensively would have cost a fortune if permissions were gained.

The high points of the Beatles career, which have become myth, are relived: the time spent in Hamburg, the movies A Hard Day's Night and Help!, the touring, the "Paul is dead" hoax, the Manson gang and their connection to the Beatles' song "Helter Skelter." The Beatles' song "Yellow Submarine" drifts through the book like a shark looking for prey.

Standing in the twenty-first century, it is hard to believe that a four-piece rock 'n' roll band could become a cultural landmark, that a band could be the pivotal point around discussions of the 1960s. …