Sunday, June 1, 2014
June 1, 2014
June 1, 2014
Oddly enough, I don’t own “Sargent Pepper’s Lonely Heart’s Club Band” album. Yet, without a doubt, it is one album that made a significant change in my life. Around March of 1967, my father received a large envelope that was addressed from London. He wasn’t home at the time, but I made telephone contact with Wallace letting him know that he got mail from the United Kingdom. Over the phone, he asked me to open the envelope to let him know what was inside the mail. What came out was a black and white photograph and a letter, addressed to Wallace. It was a very formal business letter and it came from Brian Epstein, who I knew at the time was the manager of The Beatles. There was no specific information in the letter, but just asking my father to sign it, and then mail it back. It also made a comment about receiving money as well, but it was in pounds, and being 11 or 12 years old at the time, it didn’t make sense to me. Neither did the photograph that came with the letter. My first impression was an image of a funeral, with all the people at the ceremony facing the camera. The image was in black and white, and the picture had a flatness to it, like nothing stands out, except the whole picture itself. Thinking back on it now, it reminds me of a Kabuki stage.
I have been to the Kabuki at least twice, and what impressed me was the lighting and staging of the narrative didn’t make any of the actors to stand out from the rest of the production or even sets. Everything fit perfectly, and was in unison with the narrative, the acting, the lighting and sets. All of it was equivalent to each other and none stood out. Rarely have I seen something like that on a stage or even in a picture. So thinking back and looking at this black and white image, I couldn’t focus on one thing. I had to take the whole picture in front of me, and it demanded my attention from the very first glance. Especially when my dad asked me what the picture was. I told him that I wasn't sure what it was. We then talked about something else, but my thoughts and eyes were on the image in front of me, and I was barely paying attention to the conversation. When all of sudden, I realized that at least four of the guys in the photograph, were The Beatles. Why I didn't recognize them right away was due to their outfits, which were turn-of-the-century marching costuming. That, plus they all had facial hair, and John Lennon was wearing spectacles. It is difficult to believe, due to the Internet and instant news we have now, but in 1967, the news and images came around slower. The last time I saw a picture of the fab four, was them dressed in "Revolver" era clothing. They still looked like The Beatles during that time, but here on this picture, they looked like different men to me. The photograph didn't yell out the fab four to me, and at that age, I was a huge fan of The Beatles.
The next big shocker for me was finally seeing the image of my dad in this photograph. Whatever our conversation was at that moment I interrupt him and told him that there is an image of him on this photo and it is with The Beatles. Wallace wasn’t surprised or even curious at that point, he just wanted to continue with our conversation. Eventually he told me to put the letter and photo on the table and he’ll look at it when he got home. When he did come home, he did look at it, and realize that Epstein was asking permission to use his image for the upcoming Beatles album. If memory serves me, there was no mention of the album being named “Sargent Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” in the letter, although clearly it is indicated in the photograph. Due to the black and white image, I had a hard time seeing the word “Beatles” in a floral arrangement on the ground.
Wallace put off signing the document and sending it, due not wanting to do it, but just had other concerns on his mind. Epstein sent him at least two additional letters and I believe a telegram as well, begging him to sign off on the photo. Wallace did, and sent it off, and that was it. He received the payment which was very minimal - something like $5, and we didn’t receive a copy of the album. Which was perfectly OK, because Wallace really didn’t think much about it at the time, and to be honest, he never brought it up afterwards it was released to the world.
Now, what is interesting to me, is how much of that cover is around, and on all sorts of objects, such as key chains, posters, t-shirts, and so forth. Of course, whenever I look at the picture, I think of my dad right away. Also as I look around to see the black and white image of the cover, I think of the connection with all the other individuals in that photograph. For instance, Wallace knew the artist Larry Bell, and was among the first people to publish William S. Burroughs’ excerpt of “Naked Lunch” in his journal “Semina.” His father who passed away when Wallace was very young, left him only two objects. They were books, one was a short story collection by Oscar Wilde and the other book was by T.E. Lawrence’s (Lawrence of Arabia) “Seven Pillars of Wisdom.” My grandmother Martha (my mom’s mother) used to work with cowboy actor and star Tom Mix at the 101 Ranch as a dancer, and Wallace met Terry Southern sometime in the early 1960s, and was a friend of Brian Jones of the Rolling Stones, who gets a mention on the Pepper cover as well. Wallace also had a brief meeting with Bob Dylan and Lenny Bruce.
Again, it is odd that I don’t actually own the album or the cover, except I do have the black and white image of the cover, with the additional face or two - but what’s even stranger to me is that I share a photograph with perhaps millions of people. They have all looked at my father’s face, but it probably didn’t mean anything to them. For me, it’s a bittersweet moment where my dad shared space with my favorite band at the time.