John Higgs’ ‘Love and Let Die,’ on Beatles vs. Bond in UK historical past
Love and Let Die: James Bond, the Beatles, and the British Psyche
By John Higgs
Pegasus: 400 pages, $30
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On Oct. 4, 1962, the Soviet Union put in its first nuclear missile in Cuba and the world braced for a possible conflict between its two superpowers. One day later, in England, one other conflict between two rising hegemons was about to start in earnest.
On that day, the Beatles launched their first single, “Love Me Do,” and the primary James Bond movie, “Dr. No,” premiered in London. For John Higgs, writer of the brand new e-book “Love and Let Die,” this confluence of occasions is its personal neutron bomb, the second when England discovered itself confronted with two opposing views of itself: Bond a metaphor for a colonial energy clinging to the final vestiges of its brawn within the wake of the Second World War, and a youthful technology of Beatles followers poised to unshackle itself from all of the Empire stood for, significantly its notions of sophistication and privilege. The Beatles and Bond opened a chasm within the tradition, a “crisis of masculinity” that Higgs tries dutifully to unpack.
Today, as estranged royals battle over a wounded monarchy and the erstwhile Empire muddles via its self-estrangement from Europe, the query of how Britannia perceives itself feels well timed, even pressing.
“Love and Let Die,” alas, is an intermittently fascinating however lumpy cultural historical past. Higgs posits that Bond and the Beatles symbolize the Janus face of early ’60s England. Tracing the arc of those two cultural behemoths operating on parallel tracks, he wades via a number of acquainted territory for his flashes of perception. He is true, nevertheless, when he asserts that “imagination matters because ideas alter beliefs” and “beliefs shape attitudes.”
Sixty years on, it’s troublesome to think about the anodyne “Love Me Do” as a transgressive act, but it surely wasn’t a lot the track as the concept of the Beatles that unsettled Britain’s ruling class. The 4 band members have been low-born Northerners from a dingy port city with no formal training; their success was in opposition to the pure order of issues, an act of effrontery. Bond, in distinction, was an institution man in service to the queen, an Eton-educated, horny killing machine whose transient was to avoid wasting the world whereas indulging in the perfect the world has to supply. The planet’s most well-known band and probably the most enduring film spy thus symbolize for Higgs a lease within the social material of a rustic that for therefore lengthy had regarded class as future.
The soul of James Bond could be traced again to his creator, writer Ian Fleming. Born into one of many U.Ok.’s most outstanding banking households, Fleming was raised by a socialite who couldn’t be bothered with him. (His father was killed in World War I; Winston Churchill wrote his obituary.) Shunted off to numerous elite colleges together with Bond’s Eton, Fleming developed a style for Bond-like voluptuary pleasures.
His future was laid out earlier than him in shades of beige: marriage and a household, a high-ranking job within the civil service. Fleming grew to become engaged to a girl he didn’t love and located himself shifting towards glum respectability — till he created undercover agent 007. The James Bond novels have been an act of self-creation on the web page; Higgs writes that Bond would turn out to be Fleming’s “avatar … with the same tastes, background, opinions and prejudices, but with none of the troubles that weighed so heavily on him — an unashamedly unemotional masculine fantasy.”
Bond, in Higgs’ view, was Fleming’s response to the attenuation of England’s colonial would possibly, its weakening world pulse. As personified by Sean Connery, he was an excellent spy who would embody the nation’s exceptionalist virtues, which for Fleming included a callous disregard for girls and ethnic minorities. Racism and sexism are casually embedded in Fleming’s novels — a darkish mirror held as much as a retrograde worldview that the Beatles have been within the strategy of dismantling.
The comely feminine characters in Fleming’s Bond tales are extra props than individuals, a diversion till they’re a nuisance. “Fleming wanted to sleep with glamorous, exciting women,” writes Higgs. “Then he just wanted them to disappear afterwards.” The physique rely amongst Bond’s lovers is alarmingly excessive: “Bond is death and must always be so. The women he touches, therefore, must die.” Here was British machismo immune from mockery, the prewar imaginative and prescient of England that Fleming needed to undertaking onto a world turned upside-down — a world, in brief, the place the Beatles may turn out to be stars.
Within the context of Fleming’s England, Higgs’ Beatles have been bomb-throwers laying waste to all that was virtuous within the aristocratic British soul. “It didn’t worry me that the Empire was crumbling,” Paul McCartney mused in an interview with Barry Miles excerpted right here. “I thought it was a good thing. I was very pleased to see that old regime get out.”
Contemptuous of custom and lineage, massively profitable regardless of not having been educated within the ending colleges of Fleming’s youth, McCartney, John Lennon, George Harrison and Ringo Starr disregarded British propriety as a relic. Even a track like “Can’t Buy Me Love,” Higgs argues, is a shot throughout the bow, cash being “a secondary concern” as it may be used just for materials ends. How un-Bond-like of them.
The tradition bent to the Beatles, after all. Even Prime Minister Harold Wilson referred to as himself a fan. And but Bond’s regressive maleness thrived in movies that grossed billions worldwide, whereas the Beatles grew to become secular saints, beloved and immortal, light-years away from the insurrectionists of 1962. Eventually McCartney succumbed to Bond’s remunerative charms by writing the theme track for the 1973 Bond movie “Live and Let Die,” his first main hit as a solo artist.
So who gained the conflict for the British psyche? Higgs can’t actually say, choosing some muddy center floor between Bond’s self-confident swagger and the Beatles’ emotional intelligence. This prevaricating doesn’t do Higgs any favors. His intriguing thesis winds up shedding steam about midway via the e-book, when “Love and Let Die” alternates between a reasonably detailed historical past of the Bond franchise and the story of the Beatles — the latter being one of the vital acquainted narratives of the twentieth century. There are additionally niggling errors: Harrison wrote a track referred to as “Apple Scruffs,” not “Apple Scrubs.” Higgs is on to one thing right here, however with “Love and Let Die,” he doesn’t fairly ship on an alluring premise that prompts some basic questions concerning the soul of Britain.
Weingarten is the writer of “Thirsty: William Mulholland, California Water, and the Real Chinatown.”