Part 3 – Carry That Weight

Undergirding both New X-Men and Abbey Road is the theme of dissolution, specifically the breakdown of a long standing relationship. In the case of New X- Men it is the failure of Scott and Jean’s marriage. In Abbey Road it is the failure of The Beatles themselves.

ringoFollowing the death of Brian Epstein in 1967 tensions began to grow within The Beatles, their relationships with one another becoming increasingly strained over the course of 1967-68. While Paul McCartney did his best in this period to give the group direction, personal and professional tensions kept in check by Epstein seethed. There were disputes over management with McCartney and Lennon taking separate camps. George Harrison increasingly resented the way in which his musical contributions were downplayed or ignored, especially by John. Most famously (and perhaps the most overblown tension in retrospect), John Lennon’s relationship with Yoko Ono took its toll. John’s insistence that Yoko sit in on all of the recording sessions at which he was present did not go over well with the other Beatles. All of this is on display in the film Let it Be, which chronicled a month’s worth of recording sessions at Twickingham Field and Abbey Road Studios in early 1969. Throughout the film, The Beatles snipe at one another. John often rudely ignores George’s efforts. And Yoko Ono is, of course, ever present, altering the chemistry the band-mates have with one another. These sessions are legendarily tense, and the film is generally seen as a documenting of The Beatles breakup. Such an embarrassment is the film that the remaining Beatles keep it out of print to this day.

By July of 1969 The Beatles were a barely functioning unit. Though the Abbey Road sessions went more smoothly than the Let It Be sessions earlier in the year, they were still fraught with tension. John Lennon made his level of commitment to the project clear by missing many sessions. Further, he had said prior to the recording of Abbey Road that he “wanted a divorce” from the band, making plain the intensity of the feelings involved.

But even if the recording of the album went earlier than what would become Let It Be, the disintegration of the band, and in particular the songwriting relationship between Lennon and McCartney, can be seen in the songs themselves. Side 1 paints a clear picture. John’s first contribution, “Come Together,” paints an obtuse portrait of a rock star, and the lyrics “He’s got Ono sideboards” make it clear just which rock star. This is a song of aggrandizement, of ego, of, the self. John, it seems, likes to talk about John and John’s relationship with Yoko Ono. Even though John bristled at the attention the public paid him, he could not help but seek it (see the bed in protests) and talk about it (as he did in “The Ballad of John and Yoko” and as he does here in “Come Together”). And if “Come Together” is John talking about John, then side 1 close “I Want You/She’s So Heavy” is John talking about the object of his affection and, some would say, his codependency: Yoko Ono. Like all of his work during this period it was recorded in her presence and one can easily imagine John longingly looking at Yoko as he sang about how his desire for her was “driving [him] mad.” One can also easily imagine the other members of the band unkindly agreeing with the sentiment, McCartney in particular.

Reading between the lines of Paul’s songs on side 1, it’s hard not to see a sense of despair and despondence. “Maxwell’s Silver Hammer,” though sung sweetly, is shot through with darkness and cynicism. Happy go-lucky Paul is showing a bit of an attitude and with all the infighting in the band, it takes little to guess where it stems from. And while “Oh! Darling” is on the surface about one lover begging another not to leave, one doesn’t have to look too deep beneath the surface to see McCartney calling out to Lennon, his collaborative partner, and pleading that he return his attention to their creative partnership. Though neither song is overtly about the Lennon/McCartney relationship, the tone they strike is telling, even if they reflect only subconsciously what Paul wishes he could say to John.

Meanwhile, Ringo and George’s songs can be read as how they’re dealing with the collapse of the Lennon/McCartney partnership. In Octopus’s Garden we can see Ringo’s classic smiling equanimity in the face of negativity. As for George, the change in his outlook explained above takes on added poignancy in this context. The long-time longer and critic is forced to become love’s poet amongst the clamor. With John off writing about the madness of love and Paul chronicling love’s failure, it’s fallen to George to write about love’s simple beauty.

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While New X-Men has a few overarching plot threads, the emotional center and through-line of the entire run is the collapse of Scott Summers and Jean Grey’s marriage. After being exposed to his own dark side during his possession by Apocalypse, Scott is left feeling adrift and unsure of himself. As for Jean, she finds the Phoenix force reawakening in her and her attention increasingly turned towards the cosmic. The result is the growing emotional void gnawing at the center of their marriage that Logan points out in issue 114.

Into this vulnerable situation walks Emma Frost. Emma, a former enemy turned somewhat ally, is knowingly brash and arrogant with a sharp mind, razor wit and psychic power enough to back it all up. She begins to give Scott the attention that Jean is increasingly unable to give. Further, and perhaps more importantly, she gives Scott a safe space free from the expectations that he feels strangles his relationship with Jean. Before long an affair between the two ensues, albeit one of a psychic nature that drapes the infidelity in a cloak of ambiguity and deniability. While one could split hairs and say that psychic infidelity isn’t the same thing as physical infidelity, when Jean discovers the affair it is clear that she does not make such differentiations. As far as Jean is concerned her husband has gone astray with an opportunistic home-wrecker.

Wracked with guilt, Scott has a crisis of confidence and ruins away from the mansion and by extension his role as leader of the X-Men. Though Logan is able to get Scott to come to terms with what he’s done, get back in the saddle as an X-Man and make a decision on the ultimate fate of his marriage. However this decision is rendered moot when Jean dies at Magneto’s hands at the end of the “Planet X” arc. This puts an end not only to Jean’s life and any chance of reconciliation but, as we discover in “Here Comes Tomorrow” arc, spells doom for the X-men and Xavier’s dream of mutant-human coexistence. The tragedy of the destruction Scott and Jean’s love is reflected upward and enlarged to the destruction of the world itself.

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