Undercover: Rock and Archaeology (11/17/77)

In which the question is raised, are the Beatles more popular than the Mother Goddess?

The Man Who Gave the Beatles Away by Allan Williams and William Marshall (Ballantine, 236 pp., illustrated, $1.95 paperback). The unexpurgated story of the Liverpool and Hamburg Beatles, their embittered first manager Williams and their seemingly endless search for a drummer. The book is filled with good tales of Liverpool whores, strip-joint shoot-outs, drooling perverts, and, of course, lovable John, Paul and George—fighting for their music, fighting for their lives, and at one point, pissing out of a hotel window on a group of passing nuns. No one I have read captures the sordidness and vitality of rock & roll beginnings as well as Williams and Marshall, who along with writing the least pretentious book about the Beatles, have also written the best.


The Silbury Treasure by Michael Dames (Thames and Hudson, 192 pp., illustrated, $12.95). From about 40,000 B.C. until the late neolithic period (lasting as late as 2000 B.C. in some parts of Europe), human society understood itself not through images of hierarchy but through the unifying image of a pregnant Mother Goddess, which was rendered all over the Old World in carvings, small statues, wall paintings, and temple architecture. Social organization was often profoundly matriarchal; religion (and probably art) was especially the province of women. Patriarchal society is a relatively recent innovation, primarily the result of the invasion of the Mediterranean and the Near East by Indo-Europeans from the East, who later diffused all across Europe. Because patriarchal precepts have governed our sense of the past, as well as human actions, for thousands of years, the matriarchal origins of human society have been diminished and often totally obscured. The Silbury Treasure is one of the most interesting contemporary attempts to reveal the true shape of prehistory, though hardly as scholarly as a work like Gods and Goddesses of Old Europe. Dames, a British painter and lecturer on prehistory, argues that Silbury hill—a huge, 4000-year-old mound in England—is not, as archaeologists have long tried, unsuccessfully, to prove, the tomb or monument of some ancient king (i.e., a monument to hierarchy and patriarchy), but the center—the pregnant belly—of a titanic earth-and-water sculpture of the neolithic Mother Goddess: a symbol that, rather than celebrating a single man, spoke to and for a whole culture. The most effective part of Dames’ case is made through comparative archaeology. Drawing on Goddess images from many countries, he shows how the Silbury mound and the moat around it form an image that is utterly consonant with the Mother symbol. One comes away with a strong sense of the remarkable continuity and unity of neolithic culture, and, perhaps more important, a deeper understanding that our own society is an invention, and not the natural destiny many writers have made it out to be.

The Last Best Hope, a novel by Peter Tauber (Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 628 pp., $10.95). “A stagnant heat that would stay well past the summer’s ebb was moving in then on the desert; so was Tyler Bowen, arriving at Gila Compound. And in San Francisco, too, that year, tidal pools of warmth would linger, an emotional tropicality reluctant to yield to fall. A world away from this there was a jungle where the unluckier moiety of a generation bore pall. There, American power struck at will…” In other words, if you’ve been looking for a book guaranteed to destroy any future interest in the late Sixties, this is it.

Notes on cold type

The prize for the worst article on the death of Elvis Presley goes to Lucian K. Truscott IV, as he likes his name to appear, for his piece in New Times. With the sort of contempt for both whites and blacks only a wellborn Southerner can bring to its true pitch of ugliness, LKT 4 dismissed Elvis as “an elegant hybrid of nigger and neck,” arguing along the way that Elvis’ Sun sessions “will remain legendary if only because they introduced names like Arthur ‘Big Boy’ Crudup to the language.” These are the words of a sniveling purist, but I would bet a fair sum that Mr. Truscott has never bought an Arthur Crudup record in his life.

There were, as well, some very fine pieces on Elvis’ death, notably those by Jay Cocks in Time and Kit Rachlis in the Boston Phoenix. The best was Lester Bangs’ essay in the August 29th issue of the Village Voice, which has been attacked regularly in the Voice letters column ever since it was printed. Writing with great bitterness, Lester talked about the fragmentation of the rock & roll audience, about the retreat from politics to solipsism and about the loss of nerve of both Elvis and the generation he once brought together. Lester ended with this paragraph, which is worth more than the 10 million copies of bad books on Elvis now abroad in the land: “If love is truly going out of fashion forever, which I do not believe, then along with our nurtured indifference to each other will be an even more contemptuous indifference to each others’ objects of reverence. I thought it was Iggy Stooge, you thought it was Joni Mitchell or whoever else seemed to speak for your own private, entirely circumscribed situation’s many pains and few ecstasies. We will continue to fragment in this manner, because solipsism holds all the cards at present; it is a king whose domain engulfs even Elvis’. But I can guarantee you one thing: we will never again agree on anything as we agreed on Elvis. So I won’t bother saying goodbye to his corpse. I will say goodbye to you.”

Rolling Stone, November 17, 1977

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