#331: The Beatles, "Help!" (1965)

The drummer has the lights in his eyes and his clothes have been painted red. He’s standing on the beach and he’s wearing a suit and the suit has been painted red and his face has been painted red and he’s in the Bahamas for the first time in his life and it’s cold in a way that he never expected. The water is invisible, though, and the sky is a color he’s never seen before. He’s up to his shins in the cold Atlantic and he shivers with a memory of coldness, of the cold seeping in under his skin and filling the spaces between his bones, even the tiniest bones of the tips of his fingers. He was cold, always: cold before he was a drummer, cold before he had a name, cold when he crunched sugar in his teeth in a bomb cellar while the world shook dust into his hair, cold when he was nobody but a child who was dying.

The drummer is on a soundstage that looks like Buckingham Palace and he is flubbing his lines. The drummer has been smoking grass for hours and is trying to say his words and to put them all in the proper order but everything is a smear and no one is taking any of it seriously. The drummer doesn’t read so well because he spent most of his time as a child who was dying, his mind far away, on a hill covered in thick grass, floating like a spore, then coming to rest on the soft bed of a treetop, warmed like a blister in the weak English sun. Someone brings tea to the soundstage. Later, they’ll pretend to sing their song about wanting to be loved.

The drummer is tied to a bed on the deck of a sailboat bobbing in the frigid waters of the Bahamas. They’ve ruined another suit—they’ve ruined so many. Painted it red. He doesn’t think of the waste anymore, and he doesn’t think about how he doesn’t think about it. The child who was dying owned two shirts and two pairs of short pants and one pair of socks and one shitty pair of shoes, but tonight the drummer will eat shellfish and conch, pigeon peas and pork. He’ll drink rum and Coke. He’ll peel off his ruined suit and slide into a fresh one, he’ll break the paper on the shirt himself and he will not think about what it means, and tomorrow he’ll put the ruined suit back on and he’ll watch as it is ruined even more with red paint and salt water. Later, they’ll pretend to sing their other song about wanting to be loved.

The child who is dying has the lights in his eyes but he is far away and it doesn’t seem to bother him. His body is exploding like a supernova. It crackles and pops but there isn’t any music in it. He understands nothing about it and it doesn’t mean anything. It’s just the thing that happened. Later, he’ll eat Heinz beans. He’ll drink powdered milk from a clouded glass. His bedclothes will turn gray as he looks at the pictures in a comic book and he will be absolutely nobody, shivering under a blanket.

The drummer climbs into the boot of a car. The drummer waves an empty wine bottle at a tiger. The drummer plays the drums in a field in the freezing English countryside under an Earl Gray sky, surrounded by tanks and haystacks. This is what he’s doing. He shivers and he laughs at the shiver and they keep that bit in the film and when he watches it, much later, at the premier, he’ll remember the chill and he’ll see it on the faces of the others, his brothers, whom he loves. He will not remember the heat of the fever that nearly killed the dying child, because who would want to remember such a thing if they didn’t have to? He only watches as they pretend to play their song about hating yourself and feeling desperate and it is just like any other song except it isn’t.

The child who is dying does die and then is reborn. The child who is reborn starts all over from nothing and has nowhere to go but goes somewhere anyway. He has no name so he picks one.

The child who is reborn has the lights in his eyes, and it is the light of the Bahamian sun, and he is up to his shins in the frigid Bahamian waters and they are painting his suit red and they are painting his face red and his brothers are standing next to him and they’ve all been smoking grass for hours and laughing and it’s all the same as it always has been but it’s all becoming something else. The drummer has a belly full of shellfish and conch and he is thinking about the rums and Cokes he will drink when this is finished, and he nearly thinks about the child who was dying but he doesn’t, he thinks only of the water he is standing in now and how far it is from where he came from and how clear it looks—how mercifully free of filth and silt, how absolutely transparent in the most astounding way—but how cold it is, how surprisingly cold.

—Joe P. Squance