Jul/Aug 2003 Salon

Who Killed the Beatles? Or, Leave it to Beaver

by C.E. Chaffin

CE is on vacation, so here's one from the archives. This article was previously published in Savoy (online), 1999.

On this, the twenty-sixth anniversary of John F. Kennedy's assassination, in typical bad taste, I wish to investigate who killed the Beatles. With luck you may be reading this on the 23rd and thus forgive my bad timing.

As to the deed, we have the lone gunman theory, which implicates either Yoko Ono or Linda Eastman. This hypothesis can of course be expanded into a corporate conspiracy theory of Fuji vs. Kodak. There is also Brian Epstein's ghost to consider, and the question of whether he enjoyed John's company more than we want to know, as one biographer asserts, and whether Epstein's jealousy reached beyond the grave in some Hamlet's-father-for-Banquo trade. Some think the Maharishi guilty, keeping a stranglehold on George after John mocked the guru-philanderer (now you know why he was always smiling) in "Sexy Sadie," first entitled "Maharishi". Others aver that when Ringo got pissed off and went to Spain near the collaboration's end, a drunken Spaniard told him he could sing, and Ringo's demand of more than one vocal per album was the final stab wound for group solidarity; but I won't believe that of him, certainly the most normal Beatle.

Myself, I blame Yoko.

Was it her psychic craving for autonomous fame that by Samurai Voodoo summoned the deranged Mark Chapman from Hawaii to do her dirty work? This is preposterous, of course, since she loved John so much she supplied him with heroin and infantilized him for five years of supposed "househusbandry;" when actually, by all reports, like most junkies, he lay around in bed and watched TV. John should share equal blame for this but he was much too trusting of her Svengali two-step, which her small Japanese feet made easy for her (no racism intended, in fact, let me throw a Christian hymn at it: "Blest be the ties that bind." And while I am being properly tolerant of cultural diversity, may I also say as a heretofore hetero male that I think I have developed a crush on Hugh Grant.)

In any event, in a séance with Dante Allighieri just the other day, cable-channeling, of course (which has lowered the cost of channeling considerably), we discussed the second circle of the Inferno, where "virtuous" pagans like John are yet imprisoned, and after Horace and Virgil and Lucian and Ovid finally shut up, I was able to consult Homer. What follows is a brief psychic transcript of that session.

"So Homer, did you know that Homer Simpson is better known than you today, and that he is a cartoon?"

"A what?"

"Yes, a fat, bald man with yellow skin and four fingers on each hand who works at a nuclear plant, or as Jimmy Carter used to say, 'nucular,' but then he had a degree in it."

"You mean you still believe that Heraclitus/Democritus stuff?"

"Never mind. Anyway, we were wondering about the poet John Lennon and how he's doing on the hierarchical barbie."

"Not bad. But what does 'The walrus was Paul' mean?"

"Never mind, Founding Bard of Western Culture. Some Greek or Roman symbol of death, I think. Anyway, did he have anything to say about his Penis-chopelope?"

"Oh, you must mean Yoko."


"He said she was a mistake. It's all about being abandoned by his mother and pawned off on Aunt Julia and then being abandoned by Epstein, and when he climbed up a ladder to look through a glass instrument at some mystic inscription while under the influence of LSD, at Yoko's avant-garde exhibit, he mistook his fugacious epiphany for the real thing."

"Wow, that's a relief. What can we do for him?"

"He humbly requests you perform a second exorcism to free his spirit from bondage so he may go to rest in the Strawberry Fields."

"You mean the Elysian?"

"No, I mean Strawberry. As in 'forever.'"

"So he heard about my first exorcism?"

"Yes, we all did. You're quite the lunatic, eh?"

Err… at this point I must inform the reader that in 1987, as a third-generation manic-depressive but only a second-generation native Californian (which proves it's not the water), I was incarcerated in the Constitution State for forty days and nights— after all my constitutional rights were violated. I should mention that before the Beastie Boys of Connecticut busted me, I did hang in Central Park for a spell. There, in a manic fit, I led a team of drunken bums to piss on the Dakota building where John and Yoko last lived together, attempting to exorcise the Wicked Witch of the East, but apparently (if virtuous pagans can be trusted), I only made a dent in her considerable powers. (Note: I have been taking my lithium as of late, for any concerned. Thankfully, my mother has passed and no longer nags me about it.)

Little did I know that when I ventured east again twelve years later and perfectly sane, I would have a second opportunity to free John. Here's how it happened.

The well-heeled sister of a very good friend of mine purchased the refurbished country manor that John and Yoko made their upstate NY hideout. Though modest, it features a wine cellar, beer cellar, jacuzzi, sauna, tennis court, three ponds and two waterfalls. When she had us over for breakfast there, I brought my guitar just to be able to say I played a venue John did. After a magnificent fritatta, which is like an omelet but has a fancier name, we went around the grounds, though not completely around, as two of us are smokers. My very good friend's dog, Kenyon, was good enough to accompany us. Though I am trying mightily to replace said pet in my friend's affections I still receive only dry food, but she did label my bowl with washable ink.

Anyhow, we came to stand of small conifers, each protected by chicken wire, which the owner explained was to protect them from beavers. Yes, there are beavers in New York, and Kenyon unearthed a skull with two central incisors intact, ivory yellow, wickedly curving backwards (though the rear dentition was not as well preserved). Being the man I am, and not some imposter of myself, I was delighted by this curio and kept it at the owner's insistence. It contained no money.

After this salubrious jaunt I sat down in the sitting room, which is what sitting rooms are for, and began to strum "Imagine" with the lyrics slightly altered:

"Imagine there's no Yoko.
It isn't hard to do.
No one to make John loco
and geld him in situ.

"Imagine all the Beatles

playing on as one— ah ha ah-ha-ha (I am not a tenor so this part was really hard)

"You can say I'm a dreamer
but I'm not the only one.
Someday they'll be a reunion
and no more bubble gum." *

*This refers to the precipitous decline in Beatles music after the break-up, including such tunes as "Hands Across the Water" by Paul and "Woman" by John.

I was about to stow the beaver skull inside my guitar case when it occurred to me that I had some unfinished business. With the owner's permission I decided to free John's spirit and cleanse the house of Yoko's evil influence, as Homer (not Simpson) advised. The teeth rattled nicely (that is, the back ones) while the incisors neither shook nor rolled.

I started in the wine cellar where it was dark as a beaver (mound), and as I crept up the steps I heard a tooth fall to the floor. I was enveloped by Yoko's evil aura at the first turning of the stair, and felt her clutches pull at my totem. As she tried to rob me of the mystic seventh molar, I got down on my knees and with the help of St. Kafka, savior of the downtrodden, sacrifice to the boot, I was able to locate the tooth. Replacing it was not as easy, as the spiritual conflict was intense and the beaver's jaw quite confusing, more than even Freud knew. Bloodied but unbowed, I ascended the steps and assayed the downstairs bathroom, which is remarkable for its spaciousness. It is not just a throne but a throne room. I think it may be a decorating nod to John's song, fittingly from the white album, "Yer Blues" ("I'm so lonely / Want to die"). Then again, considering the side effects of a narcotic habit, I expect it was rarely used.

The upstairs proved easier, although the owner noted the jacuzzi was only large enough to fit a small Japanese body, throwing a pall on the patina of John and Yoko's idealized love. I thought this petty, personally, but appreciated this detail in the interest of a thorough cleansing. After shaking my beaver skull throughout the house, humming my favorite Lennon tunes like "Yoko in the Sky with Money" and "Happiness Is a Clean Needle," I returned to the sitting room and sat, of course, placing the precious beaver skull in my guitar case, all seven teeth intact. I plan to gift it to my middle daughter, Keturah, presently a biology major at UCLA.

The role of the beaver in American history is much underestimated, I think. Without man's voracious appetite for its pelt, the West might never have been settled, not to mention populated. Yet when I think of the biggest beaver I've ever seen, it has to be on the cover of John and Yoko's first album. Apparently some oriental women don't shave, and I am glad for it, as I lived in Germany and there developed a liking for hirsutism in women, excluding the face.

One last note: I don't know Yoko, in fact, don't care to, as her artistic achievements are beyond my capacity to fathom, much like Barney's. Yet my anger toward her no doubt more reflects my love for the Beatles than any personal dislike; sometimes you have to scratch for a column in such normative experiences as this.

Did I say, "scratch?" Sorry. I meant to say, "snatch a column from the jaws of everyday boredom."

By the way, did I mention the beaver is the state animal of New York? Wonder what they got in Tokyo.


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