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A cartoon that made the rounds on social media around the time of the Fall time change a week ago showed two older men passing a music store. In the window were two posters. One announced a new album by The Rolling Stones and the other promoted a new hit song by The Beatles. This prompts one man to ask the other, “Just how far back did we turn our clocks anyway?”
Readers of this blog with a good memory know how much I enjoy The Beatles. A few years back for the first time I saw one in person at a Paul McCartney concert. Last month I saw the other remaining person of the Fab Four when Ringo Starr came to town. Of course, given that John Lennon has been gone from us since 1980 and George Harrison also died over two decades ago, releasing a new song seems unlikely. But this is actually the second time since John was killed that the remaining Beatles have done this using old cassette tape recordings of John singing songs he never finished. In the mid-1990s when putting together The Anthology documentary, Paul, George, and Ringo produced “Free as a Bird” and “Real Love.”
Now, in a recording far cleaner than those two songs nearly 30 years ago due to advances in technology, including the use of AI, Paul and Ringo have teamed up to release “Now and Then,” a song that has actually succeeded in returning The Beatles to the top of the music charts. Like the previous two Lennon songs that his bandmates finished for him, “Now and Then” is more of a ballad and its lyrics are the stuff of reflection and nostalgia.
Film director Peter Jackson, fresh off his having directed the documentary Get Back a couple years ago, was asked to direct the music video. Because the three remaining Beatles in the 1990s actually worked on “Now and Then” before deciding not to release it (I heard George did not have as high of regard for this one as the two they produced in the mid-1990s) they actually have footage of George practicing the song with Ringo and Paul as well as audio of George’s guitar work on the song.
But the whole video is a nostalgic montage of clips and images going initially back to the very earliest days of The Beatles in the 1960s but in the end there are also images of all four musicians as children in the 1940s. Jackson was definitely pulling at the heartstrings of fans by showing these images and all the more so when he tricks in George and John standing on either side of Ringo and Paul singing the new song in the studio this year, almost as a virtual attempt to let the four be together again. This is particularly poignant when John and Paul sing together the words “I want you to be there for me, always to return to me.”
But since The Beatles were also known for their wit and at times irreverent if not self-deprecating humor, Jackson’s video soon moves us from producing a lump in our collective throats to some good laughs (and you will have to watch the video to see how that goes). In a way the video captures what it is sometimes like as a family to sit around after a funeral. We remember and long for the departed one in ways that make us sad. But then someone tells a well-known but funny story involving the beloved deceased one and next thing you know, the whole family is wiping away tears from laughing so hard.
Ringo and Paul are 83 and 81 years old respectively. Both are healthy and energetic and both are currently engaged in concert tours that keep them hopping. At the Ringo Starr concert my wife and I attended last month, not only was Ringo (as friend Bob Keeley put it) a ball of energy all evening, he actually broke into jumping jacks during the standing ovation at the end! Paul in particular has been heard to say in recent times “I am not old” and lucky for him he is still able to follow that up by not acting old either.
But they are older now. In the “Now and Then” video there are shots of the octogenarian Paul and Ringo next to their twenty-something far younger selves. There is a difference! But the fact of this new song and what is conveyed by just the lyrics alone—not to mention how that comes through also visually on the music video—means that both men are feeling the passage of time. They miss their long-departed mates. They maybe wish they could go back in time (and not just through the wonder of video editing). And when they have made it clear that this is the last Beatles song ever, you know it’s true and also why it’s true.
All of us sense keenly that the arrow of time points and goes in one direction only. Soon I will turn 60. And although this has happened to my wife and me later than it has for many of our peers, we will this week become official empty nesters, too. It all makes one wonder a bit and take stock.
For this coming Sunday the Revised Common Lectionary used by many churches will have as its Psalm lection Psalm 90. That’s the psalm that is the chassis for a hymn like “O God, Our Help in Ages Past” and that also includes the imagery of our lives being like the fleetingness of the grass of the field. And in verse 12 there is the plea “Teach us to number our days that we may gain a heart of wisdom.” The thought seems to be that only the foolish try to deny the limitations of being finite mortals. The wise one embraces that fact of our human lives and lays it before God, the eternal and everlasting One.
Whether the psalmist could have fully anticipated this, we who believe the promised Messiah has come in the person of Jesus now learn to number our days before the one who is also able to say in Revelation 1, “I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End.” The heart of the wise knows that when we lay our finitude at that One’s feet, we will still be around by and by to hear him say, “Behold! I make all things new.”