Beatles: The White-Washed Album
In the recent satire "Thank You for Smoking," the crunchy anti-tobacco-crusading Senator played by William H. Macy suggests at one point that smoking be digitally removed from old movies. In the context of a somewhat surreal movie, this suggestion came off as somewhat wrong-headed; as going too far.
Well, the surreal became reality this week when EMI announced that the re-issued version of the Beatles' compilation, "Capitol Albums Volume 2" will have one major difference from the original: no cigarettes. In fact, the cover shot has been altered to remove any signs of smoking from John, Paul and Ringo. A sloppy edit has also reportedly left Ringo minus two fingers (those holding his cigarette). A cigarette was also reportedly removed from Paul McCartney's hand on the 1984 re-release of "I Want to Hold Your Hand."
This is somewhat wrong-headed. It is going too far.
I'm not defending cigarettes here -- I spent far too much money quitting the habit myself to ever be confused with a tobacco booster. I'm also well aware that George Harrison died of lung cancer, a condition probably partly attributable to years spent smoking.
But I can't get behind the sanitizing of history. We all know cigarettes are bad as are drinking to excess and use of illicit drugs. Why pretend the Beatles didn't smoke? Will it prevent a new generation of Beatle fans from taking up the habit? Or will education -- both in school and at home -- prevent kids from doing stupid things like smoking, drinking and drugging?
Where does the retroactive censorship stop? Do we remove the line "Found my way upstairs and had a smoke" from "A Day in the Life?" Do we expunge "Mother's Little Helper" from the Stones' "Aftermath?" And what of the art featured on Bob Marley's "Catch a Fire?" And "The Chronic?" We'd just have to pretend it never happened.
As a commenter on one British site put it, and I'm paraphrasing here: if you take the sex and drugs out of the rock and roll, you're not left with much.
| March 30, 2006; 10:43 AM ET
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