Magic Circles: The Beatles in Dream and History

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Overview

In Magic Circles Devin McKinney uncovers the secret history of a generation and a pivotal moment in twentieth-century culture. He reveals how the Beatles enacted the dream life of their time and shows how they embodied a kaleidoscope of desire and anguish for all who listened - hippies or reactionaries, teenage fans or harried parents, Bob Dylan or Charles Manson. The reader who dares to re-enter the vortex that was the Sixties will appreciate, perhaps for the first time, much of what lay beneath the social trauma of the day.

Delving into concerts and interviews, films and music, outtakes and bootlegs, Devin McKinney brings to bear the insights of history, aesthetics, sociology, psychology, and mythology to account for the depth and resonance of the Beatles' impact. His book is also a multifaceted appreciation of the group's artistic achievement, exploring their music as both timeless expression and visceral response to their historical moment.

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Editorial Reviews

The Village Voice
With a white-hot prose style and a poet's instinct for metaphor, independent scholar McKinney exhumes, interrogates, and otherwise energizes the Fab Four in all their musical glory and mythic resonance. Born too late (1966) for phase one Beatlemania, he brings to the job a necessary detachment, a willingness to puncture pieties, and finally a script-flipping thesis: The Beatles were the '60s. If he gets surprising mileage out of the most lurid artifacts of that collective dream -- the butcher cover, the Paul-is-dead rumor -- he's also terrific at maximizing the excitement of a Reeperbahn stand or a mysterious bootleg, and always renders the music in three dimensions.
Village Voice

McKinney, born in 1966, never experienced the [Beatles] phenomenon firsthand. His perspective grants him freedom to see new combinations, to consider and even dismantle the existing critical apparatus; in doing so, he jolts his subject back to bristling life...If this is a history, it's a poetic one, driven by smart, breathless connections rather than a need to gather all the facts.
— Ed Park

Voice Literary Supplement
With a white-hot prose style and a poet's instinct for metaphor, independent scholar McKinney exhumes, interrogates, and otherwise energizes the Fab Four in all their musical glory and mythic resonance. Born too late (1966) for phase one Beatlemania, he brings to the job a necessary detachment, a willingness to puncture pieties, and finally a script-flipping thesis: The Beatles were the '60s. If he gets surprising mileage out of the most lurid artifacts of that collective dream--the butcher cover, the Paul-is-dead rumor--he's also terrific at maximizing the excitement of a Reeperbahn stand or a mysterious bootleg, and always renders the music in three dimensions.
January Magazine
From the very first lines of Magic Circles, you know you're in for a different sort of ride...Devin McKinney's Magic Circles is as much pop culture comment as it is biography. In either role it's a fascinating study of a time--and a band--worth remembering.
Newsday

Using literary techniques of montage and free association not unlike those found in the Beatles' more psychedelic songs, McKinney spins a fabulous, fabulist psychic and social history of the band...A detailed, exhaustive and creative look at the Beatles that challenges readers to hear them with new ears.
— Seth Rogovoy

New York Review of Books

[An] intelligent study of the Beatles...McKinney crunches the facts and pulps the possibilities before tossing everything into a great metaphysical soup, and his book carries sentences not unlike those Norman Mailer used to write forty years ago in the Village Voice.
— Andrew O'Hagan

Mojo

[McKinney] is very good indeed on tracking the Beatles' collective footprints through the sands of the collective unconscious. He's a pleasure to read on the Marcos debacle and the 'butcher' photograph (in a chapter entitled 'Meat'): his deconstruction of Help! is little short of masterly...This is the work of a critic bold enough to cite 'Happiness is a Warm Gun' as 'the defining song of the Beatles' greatest album.'
— Charles Shaar Murray

Kevin Dettmar
I believe Magic Circles quickly will be recognized as one of a handful of classic rock texts. This is simply a wonderful book, and I mean that quite literally - a book full of wonder. It filled me with the joy of intellectual discovery, challenged hard-set conventional notions I'd long harbored, and perhaps most surprising for a book of this kind, filled me with joy to read: it is a joyous book.
Ben Saunders
The Beatles occupy a unique moment in the history of popular entertainment, one in which the relationship between artist and audience undergoes a profound transformation. The Beatles mattered to people in ways that no previous (and few subsequent) popular entertainers have mattered. Sinatra may have inspired devotion, and Elvis mass hysteria, but only the Beatles inspired metaphysical debate.
Howard Hampton
At its core, Magic Circles traces how the Beatles, as working-class musicians who came "out of the sticks" to transform the world by sheer force of will as well as talent, were able to enter the lives of millions of people and get under their skins as well as into their dreams. Thus McKinney argues their music both colonized and liberated their audience's imagination, laying the psychological foundation for the ecstasies and upheavals of the 1960s: the Beatles are presented as agents of desire combined with rebellion (a heady brew indeed), but who at the height of the '60s carnival-cum-revolution appeared at least in part as double agents, cover-up artists, traitors to the zeitgeist. These and other contradictions are rendered vividly here. The most original and valuable contribution that Magic Circles makes is as a map of collective sensibility: depicting the Beatles as a white hole in the fabric of official culture, disgorging meanings, fantasies, and mutations for all to share.
Luc Sante
This is the book to read on the Beatles, whether or not you've read all the others. It is the critical look the Four have always deserved--clear-eyed, funny, daring, continually surprising, extraordinary in its reach and breadth. Devin McKinney, a generation younger than the Beatles and their core fans, is unburdened by received ideas, and he writes like a dream.
New York Observer - Brett Sokol
You'll find it hard to resist the urge to leap up and play whatever song [McKinney's] dissecting; though you may think you're sick of 'Happiness Is a Warm Gun,' Mr. McKinney will convince you otherwise. Any fan under 40 may be a phony Beatlemaniac, but new generations continue to wrap their heads around The White Album, and Magic Circles is a welcome reminder of why that record remains continually fresh.
Village Voice - Ed Park
McKinney, born in 1966, never experienced the [Beatles] phenomenon firsthand. His perspective grants him freedom to see new combinations, to consider and even dismantle the existing critical apparatus; in doing so, he jolts his subject back to bristling life...If this is a history, it's a poetic one, driven by smart, breathless connections rather than a need to gather all the facts.
Newsday - Seth Rogovoy
Using literary techniques of montage and free association not unlike those found in the Beatles' more psychedelic songs, McKinney spins a fabulous, fabulist psychic and social history of the band...A detailed, exhaustive and creative look at the Beatles that challenges readers to hear them with new ears.
New York Review of Books - Andrew O'Hagan
[An] intelligent study of the Beatles...McKinney crunches the facts and pulps the possibilities before tossing everything into a great metaphysical soup, and his book carries sentences not unlike those Norman Mailer used to write forty years ago in the Village Voice.
Mojo - Charles Shaar Murray
[McKinney] is very good indeed on tracking the Beatles' collective footprints through the sands of the collective unconscious. He's a pleasure to read on the Marcos debacle and the 'butcher' photograph (in a chapter entitled 'Meat'): his deconstruction of Help! is little short of masterly...This is the work of a critic bold enough to cite 'Happiness is a Warm Gun' as 'the defining song of the Beatles' greatest album.'
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780674012028
  • Publisher: Harvard University Press
  • Publication date: 9/15/2003
  • Pages: 432
  • Product dimensions: 6.25 (w) x 9.50 (h) x 1.30 (d)

Meet the Author

Devin McKinney is an independent scholar.
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Table of Contents

1 Rude Noises from the Bog: The Beatles in Liverpool and Hamburg 3
2 Ascension/Sacrifice: A Hard Day's Night and Help! 51
3 Meat: The Beatles in 1966 86
4 The Unintelligible Truth: The Beatles and the Counterculture 178
5 O.P.D./Deus est Vivus: The Beatles and the Death Cults 254
6 Fantasy into Flesh: A Life and an Afterlife 339
Notes 373
Discography 392
Credits 408
Index 411
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Customer Reviews

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Sort by: Showing all of 3 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted December 14, 2004

    If The Beatles have never ceased to astonish you, read this book ASAP

    McKinney tells us he used to consider Hey Jude 'overrated' and now 'trembles' when he hears the song. I'm of McKinney's generation and I've found time and again the way a Beatles' song or album I thought I knew so well it could delight but not surprise me, will, upon a sudden hearing, bring me to my knees. McKinney writes a fine and true story about these Beatles, that does justice to the peculiar position of our generation: passionate response to art that ostensibly drew its life from the moment of its making. You must read the book to discover for yourself that only a passionate mind can articulate the difference between nostalgia and actual history. McKinney's book also demonstrates so much that is absent from nearly all contemporary nonfiction: it is passionate without being sentimental; it is personal without being confessional; its intelligence is alive and transparent and neither the fill-in-the-blanks obscurantism of fashionable cultural analysis nor middlebrow accessibility. And the photos are so well-chosen--really rich images that complement the text. I only wish McKinney had included a good annotated bibliography in addition to his discography. Really, read this book now and Revolver will never sound the same again.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 8, 2003

    True Magic

    I read an advance copy of this book and was truly amazed by the author's original look at the Beatles. There have been hundreds of books written about this greatest of music groups, but this is the first one to delve into the subconsoius relationships the Beatles had with their fans. For anyone who loves the Beatles or for that matter is fascinated by the 1960's, I urge you to purchase this book.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 20, 2003

    Read This Book!

    The author's confident, fresh style; meticulous academic research, and obvious love for the subject matter synthesize into a brilliant must-read. In this thorough and intimate account, Devin McKinney lucidly and gracefully guides his reader through the complex and oft-dark layers of Beatles history and cultural myth. I literally could not put this book down--read it in one sitting!

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