When the Beatles' Abbey Road album was released in 1969, a giant billboard with the iconic album cover of the Fab Four crossing the street was put up on Sunset Boulevard. Paul McCartney's head was cut off and never found.
Wondering why that might have happened is a starting point, but not the only point, to Rejoice the Head of Paul McCartney. The novel by Adam Braver has an ensemble cast, all touched in some form by the missing billboard head, to bring to vivid life what an intense time the late 1960s were.
There is a young couple who drive by the billboard and wonder, like Leonard Cohen, about the cracks that let the light in a chaotic world. There is a college student confronted by the FBI because a neighbor overheard her and her university friends talking about the billboard head but he thought they meant Gov. Ronald Reagan. There is a photographer in East Germany whose sister is working to get him and his work out. There is a young man whose girlfriend talks him into the performance art of dancing down Sunset Boulevard with only his head showing. There is another young couple who hide in a friend's bedroom after they are assaulted in a drug deal. There is a young woman who insists she is in the background of one of the six photographs taken the day the album cover was shot. And there is a young boy who carries the dream of someday finding Paul McCartney's head.
Some of the characters interact with each other. Some of them bump into each other years later, even if they don't know that they share a moment in cultural history. Some of them find closure, some find a way to carry on, some remain mourned for decades. Mistakes also are carried by souls for years.
Whatever bad things happened to each one of us, as they did, we accepted them as penance for that time in our lives when we might have been so much more courageous.
Braver's construction of writing the novel in suites keeps each story on track and the characters individually memorable. Most seek connection with the greater beauty of life, whether they seek a purpose to their days or not.
Those were the years when all I craved was connection, when you have the sense that any person that you might meet could be the one to change your life.
The author also brings back into focus just how intense that time was.
This was a tough time in our country and the world. We had seen a president shot in the street in broad daylight. We watched soldiers and the Vietnamese die on the nightly news. Police officers in Chicago had beat a young man holding an American flag. Black man targeted by cops and then jailed for defending themselves. For us, grasping at rationales had become a way of life.
It's easy to see parallels to today, when put in those terms.
And because of those parallels, Rejoice the Head of Paul McCartney brings to mind how individuals, whether they drift through life or are determined to follow a certain path, are affected by what is going on around them.
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