Playing with words

170601SgtPepper

How did The Beatles graduate from callow boy band to sophisticated bohemian artists capable of creating a cultural masterpiece in only four years?
This was the question explored by sociologist Colin Campbell in an illustrated talk called Sergeant Pepper: Playing With Words where he examined the lyrics of selected songs from that seminal album.
His Festival Of Ideas lecture attracted a capacity audience at York University’s Ron Cooke Hub last night (June 15th). This attendance alone suggests the great British public is far from being “peppered out” by the mass media fanfare that has greeted the 50th anniversary of Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.
The critic Kenneth Tynan has been mocked for describing the album, released on 1st June 1967, as “A decisive moment in the history of Western Civilisation.” However, Campbell put Tynan’s ambitious claim in context by stating The Beatles were more than pop stars; they were artists who influenced millions of people throughout the world. Along with fellow musician Bob Dylan, they were the beating heart of 1960s counter culture.
They achieved this status with their songs. As boys, they played with words before they played the guitar. Being Scousers, they were addicted to puns; the band’s name, after all, is a pun. They also adored alliteration and instinctively used rhetorical forms, such as anaphora, epiphora, symploce and oronym.
Campbell defined good lyrics as being effortless, succinct, pleasing to the ear and original. The lyrics of The Beatles demonstrate these four characteristics. They put music in their lyrics through creative word play. They wrote songs, not just melody; strip away the lyrics from the music and you are left with something that’s vaguely dissatisfying.
Campbell added Lennon was the master of ambiguity, while Paul was the master of word sounds. All the while, curious George was learning the art of song writing by observing his band mates; Harrison’s Here Comes The Sun was, somewhat appropriately, revealed as Campbell’s favourite Beatles song.

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The last philosopher king

170611Stalin

Stalin And The Scientists by Simon Ings describes how the Bolsheviks promoted science in their quest to create a socialist utopia.
Scientists and engineers were the heroes of the Soviet Union and enjoyed privileges not available to the common people. They were well paid and allocated good housing; they enjoyed holidays at the Black Sea resorts and their children went to special schools.
The author said the Bolsheviks believed science could be applied to solve the human predicament; however, they adopted a simplistic approach to science by stripping away its philosophy. They did not understand how difficult science was. This led to failures on a monstrous and heroic scale in which famine ravaged the land.
The Soviet Union’s elite were fans of science. However, as fans they secretly resented what they purported to love because they were not doing it.
Ings spoke about his book at the University of York, this afternoon (June 11) during the city’s Festival of Ideas. He told his audience in the Ron Cooke Hub that Stalin was the last of the philosopher kings. “He was painfully aware that he had to know everything in order for his rule to be legitimate. He felt he had to earn that.”
Purges spawned by paranoia added to the potent political brew, with Ings adding: “Stalin was sufficiently smart that he sent himself mad.”