I was four years old when Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Heart’s Club Band came out in 1967. I remember being intrigued and somewhat spooked by the wild, cacophonous cover with all the face cutouts hovering above the Beatles in their decked out, dayglo, marching band attire. The carpet of flowers in front brought to mind a funeral. And the creepy girlwith the bright red slippers in the corner. Who was she? To my 6 year old imagination, the cover scene was altogether alluring, repulsive (and, yes, trippy). I loved the A-side and played it over and over again… literally hundreds of times: “Sgt. Pepper’s,” “With a Little Help From My Friends,” “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds,” “Getting Better.”
When the needle veered off into the blank vinyl, I’d lift it (careful to avoid making a scratch) and play it again. But the end of side 1 gave me the creeps. “She’s Leaving Home” only made me sad (as an adult I would spend a lifetime warding off depression)— “She’s leaving home after living alone for so many years…Bye, Bye.” But it was the last number that really freaked me out. Do you remember “Being for the Benefit of Mr Kite!”? OMG, it gave me the willies. The sound was like that of a haunted circus, eerie and ghoulish.
The beginning of the 2nd side, “Within You Without You” was pure mystery. Harrison’s sitar and tabla made for an other-worldly soundscape. And how cryptic the opening line! “We were talking about the space between us all / And the people who hide themselves behind a wall of illusion.” How could such an innocent and impressionable mind grok the implication of this sagacious, Vedic inspired message? For me the line “When you’ve seen beyond yourself then you may find / Peace of mind is waiting there” foreshadowed a life-time of yogic contemplation and study.
Fifty-five years later, Sgt. Pepper’s lives on as a strange mix of playfulness and perplexity, ambiguity and revelation. No doubt, a source of inspiration for the ages.