The Beatles have been in the news a bit recently, what with their new box set and special edition of Rock Band. It seems that the powers that be at EMI have decided to cash in on the Fab Four again for the first time in a decade or so. Maybe soon they’ll finally be on iTunes…
But that’s not really what I want to talk about. I want to use the Beatles’ momentary spot in the limelight to talk about one of their songs that I think is not only wrong, but damagingly awful. A song that is horrible not just because it’s incorrect, but awful because it promotes self-deception and a twisted view of human relationships. That song: All You Need Is Love.
Catchy and friendly as it is, I really hate this song. I hate its title, and I hate what it expresses. I hate how people quote it, and I utterly revile how it promotes a simplistic and childish view of human emotions and relationships. I also hate how it is sort of emblematic of the Beatles’ psychedelic phase. Strawberry Fields Forever is much better.
Love is not all you need. Love is not something that will solve all of your problems or make you into a perfectly, existentially satisfied human being. There is so much more to our mental and emotional makeup than a simple desire for love, just as there is more to our physical makeup than a simple desire for protein.
Mind you, I am not opposed to love. That would be ridiculous, sociopathic, and misanthropic. I’m none of those things. I am ardently pro-love. I’m all for losing oneself in a flurry of dopamine and romance. What I do think, though, is that love is a necessary, but not sufficient, ingredient for human happiness and satisfaction.
In so much of fiction and pop culture love is portrayed as the ultimate. “You complete me.” “Happily ever after.” All of that. What a horribly limited experience to pursue. That’s all you want? Someone else? That’s all it takes- the company and affection of others? What about intellectual and artistic pursuits? What about adventures and experiences? These are definitely things that are nice when shared with loved ones, but I would contend that solitary enjoyment of such things can also garner some satisfaction.
Likewise, what a horrible burden to put on your partner. If someone were to tell you, “you’re my happy ending,” “you complete me,” or “all I need is your love,” that should really freak you out. No one person is capable of being those things, of being the fount of existential satisfaction for another. People need each other, yes, but they also need other sources of meaning and affirmation.
For example: While her life is overshadowed by mental illness and suicide, Virginia Woolf and her husband Leonard had a fantastic marriage. They were intellectual partners and professional collaborators, and each of them wrote enthusiastically about their marriage. (And yes, I know that Virginia slept with ladies. I don’t think that’s a strike against their relationship, though. If anything I imagine that Leonard was totally into it.)
Despite their wonderful partnership, though, Woolf was the one who wrote A Room of One’s Own, which basically says that artists need a certain sense of personal autonomy in order to flourish. Love, according to Ms. Woolf, is not all you need.
So… there. Take that, Beatles! Me and Virginia Woolf say you’re wrong! Suck on it! And while you’re at it, most of the rest of pop music can suck on it, too! So much of it seems naive and non-lucid. Grand promises and proclamations that aren’t really tenable or applicable to real human experience. You have to do a fair amount of digging to find something that actually seems like it was written by an adult, something that portrays human emotions and needs in a realistic or poignant way.
Also, Imagine sucks. I still love Sgt. Peppers, though.