June 1967 – two memories

Most of my memories of the 1960s are hazy; I was only 14 when the decade ended and the turbulence of teenage bliss and neurosis was still ahead of me. Nonetheless, there are a couple of events that have etched images on the storage cells in my brain. Not surprisingly, given the progression over the intervening 50 years, my memories combine fun and fear…

The Beatles released their magnum opus ”Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” in June 1967 and in the same month the Israeli army defeated the combined Arab forces in the six-day war. These two largely unrelated happenings had significant impacts on world music and on geo-politics. I was conscious of both, but too young to articulate an understanding of what was going on at the time.

Sergeant Pepper’s is often voted as the best popular music album ever. The reason is straightforward enough: the Fab Four wrote good songs with catchy melodies and the record was produced by George Martin who understood the possibilities of using classical music arrangements and instruments to underpin the psychedelic and social themes being explored by the lads from Liverpool. I remember being very disappointed that I hadn’t seen the band on stage in 1966 when they performed in Cambridge. But I was exhilarated by their music, which seemed to be pushing us all beyond rebellious youth towards a swirling drug-induced alternative. As a ten year old I had no hands-on experience of the scenes evoked by the music, but I was aware that some boundaries were being crossed.

The Israeli army crossed boundaries too and their rapid victories in Jerusalem, in Sinai and on the West Bank of the Jordan River created the traumatic stalemate that persists in the occupied territories fifty years later. I was watching TV news about the Beatles on tour, while other reporters were covering the expansion of US operations in Viet Nam. Suddenly the focus shifted to airplanes and tanks in the desert and to the one-eyed commander Moshe Dayan, directing the action. My parents reckoned that the end of the world was nigh. But with the hindsight of history we know that the Israelis wielding high-tech American weapons easily outgunned the Arab armies with their Russian equipment. The military industrial complex was on a roll in the sixties.

In some ways I think that much of the planet has been under the influence of June 1967 ever since. The Beatles showed the way to musical fun and games, while the culture of mass entertainment was born, aided by television and by global distribution of key artefacts like colourful costumes and memorable tunes. The Israeli soldiers demonstrated the power of purpose in the cause of destruction and domination (or survival…). Since 1948 the Palestinians have been unable to prevent the loss of their lands to heavily armed settlers, despite the resolutions passed by the United Nations. The joys of psychedelic musing and hippy happiness in the 1960s have been thoroughly undermined by injustice and the fear of military might.

Such contrasts! John, Paul, George and Ringo were transcendentalists and dreamers, floating off into the sky with diamonds.[1] On the other hand, haunted by anti-Semitism and the Holocaust in Europe, the Israelis have been obsessed with the primitive impulses of blood and land, building defensive walls as their best option.[2]

I don’t own a copy of Sergeant Pepper’s, but I have heard many of the songs hundreds of times. As my musical interests expanded over the years I tended to leave The Beatles behind, but for my generation they’ll always be “the greatest!” My caravan has never been to Israel or Palestine, but I am acutely conscious of the unresolved conflict and the hatred and mistrust in the region. Perhaps a peaceful solution can be negotiated, although superhuman reserves of tolerance and respect are required, both of which are in short supply. I’m not optimistic.

”And life flows on, within you and without you…”

[1] Although their roots were on Merseyside, as citizens of nowhere – to coin a phrase – the Beatles wandered backwards and forwards across the Atlantic and ventured to Asia in search of spiritual inspiration. George Harrison raised funds for famine relief at the 1971 concert for Bangladesh and ten years later John Lennon was shot outside his home in New York City. Despite the outlandish absurdity, the bed-in for peace protest in Amsterdam with Yoko Ono was another highlight of the sixties!

[2] As the historian Ilan Pappe noted in 2013: ”the idea of Israel symbolizes, for an ever-growing number of people, oppression, dispossession, colonisation and ethnic cleansing, while on the other hand an ever-diminishing number of people string the same ideas and events into a story of redemption, heroism and historical justice. Along the continuum between these two extremes lie innumerable graduations of strongly held opinion.”

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