The surprise break-up of the Beatles is a lesson in why some powers fail -The headline of our times is the decline of the West and the rise of the rest- The White Album is a musical mirror to our world’s geopolitical reality
The key to this strange new era is to understand the nature of the global order we now live in, and how stable that world is. The fancy international relations term for this is Waltzian systemic analysis. However, it is far better (and infinitely more fun) to look at the surprise break-up of the Beatles and the even more shocking longevity of the Rolling Stones for clues as to why some systems dramatically fall apart, while others evolve and remain.
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The Beatles Disintegrate, The Stones Re-Group
In the mid-1960s absolutely no one would have bet the Beatles would be outlived by the Stones. The Beatles worked on the basis of a stable bipolar order (Lennon-McCartney dominance) whereas the Stones were in the midst of a chaotic shift from a unipolar to a multipolar and eventually a bipolar-driven order.
The Beatles fell apart in the blink of an historical eye, straying from mid-60s stability all too quickly. A primary reason was that the (to that point) dominant John Lennon and Paul McCartney did not make room for the increasing talents of George Harrison.
But as the Beatles ties frayed, the Rolling Stones surprisingly regrouped. Originally the Stones were a unipolar world, dominated by the talented, troubled Brian Jones. As bassist Bill Wyman put it: Brian ‘formed the band, chose the members, named the band, chose the music’ and served as their first manager.
But Brian quickly declined, as singer Mick Jagger and guitarist Keith Richards inexorably rose. First, Brian’s position in the group eroded as the Stones hired Andrew Loog Oldham as their manager, who increasingly turned the spotlight on Mick as Rock’s best front man.
Second, Mick and Keith wrote the songs which made them the vital creative power in the group. Third, Brian’s worsening drug problems meant increasingly he couldn’t play, live or on albums. Fourth, Jones lost his then-girlfriend, the sexy, dangerous Anita Pallenburg to Richards, symbolically illustrating the changing the of the guard.
Through the Looking Glass with the Walrus
A frustrated Paul (after manager Brian Epstein’s drug overdose death in August 1967) is the US: running things, but with less and less help; resented by the others for taking charge, even as he resents their leaving him to shoulder more and more of the burden on his own.