Now and Then
Desire for a Past Which Never Existed
Last week the Beatles released a new song. Well, sort of released a new song. “Now and Then” is a single which was originally recorded as a demo by John Lennon in the 1970’s. Yoko Ono shared demo tapes with Paul McCartney after John’s death in 1980. In 1995, Paul, George, and Ringo came together to record and use some of the material for a Beatles album.. You may have heard one song from that session, “Free as a Bird” which appears on the Beatles Anthology record. Ultimately, in 1995, the issues of sound on the original tape of “Now and Then” were just too much to overcome. So, they scrapped the song.
Fast forward to 2022 to the advances in machine learning and artificial intelligence (A.I.) achieved by Peter Jackson on his excellent documentary “The Beatles: Get Back.” Jackson’s company used machine learning and A.I. to clean sound from hours of audio and video recordings from the Beatles Get Back Sessions in 1969. I highly recommend that documentary if you are at least interested in the Beatles. Jackson shows an entirely different story than the edited version released as the Film “Let it Be.” The process of making a Beatles record and the friendship shown in the Jackson version shows the Beatles at their peak shortly before they split for good. The machine learning and A.I. is a way to resurrect the “Now and Then” tape for use as a song.
Paul and Ringo added new vocals, drums, and slide guitar (which sounds eerily like George’s playing) to John’s piano and vocals, as well as instrumentals from the 1995 sessions with George.. This created a Beatles song that spans the 1970' to the 2020’s. The result is excellent and is definitely a Beatles song if one were produced today. Music and lyrics create a hauntingly beautiful tune and tug at the nostalgia strings of the heart. The additional video which uses A.I. to insert footage of a playful John and George alongside Paul and Ringo (plus some great footage of the 1995 sessions) drives home the beautiful nostalgia and reminds us how good the Beatles could be. I love the song and video and am incredibly glad it has been released.
In the end, this is not a true Beatles song in the sense of how the Beatles worked. It is also a song from the 1970s with production from today. While I love the nostalgic feeling the song gives me, I temper that with the reality that it is not real in the ways that a recording of a band should be. Rick Beato on YouTube shares similar sentiments about loving and yet feeling the reality of the song. This got me thinking about nostalgia again because I believe part of the struggle for Christianity in America, and specifically within Wesleyan-Holiness folk, is an attempt to capture something which no longer, or may have never truly existed. “Now and Then” is a beautiful Beatles song, but it is a song by the Beatles who never existed in our reality.
The concern over misplaced nostalgia has appeared on this Substack before (see Rosy Retrospection), but it seems to be the prevailing emotion preventing conversations within churches like the Church of the Nazarene (COTN). Nostalgia can be used for good, but when it becomes the driver of our decisions, we risk becoming trapped within a past which never existed. In fact, we may become like Harry Potter in The Sorcerer’s Stone looking into the Mirror of Erised and become so enamored with nostalgia that we become tethered to a past which never existed. Nostalgia becomes both crippling and destructive when it becomes our focus.
Jesus dealt with the Pharisees, who were trying to restore a vision of Israel that was no longer needed. In fact, the stories Jesus told were of a new vision of how God works in the world without the earthly power of Empire. I feel that many in the COTN are attempting to restore a past which never existed. As Wesleyans, we have deep roots in tradition, but we also have roots in scripture, reason, and experience. While scripture is the primary means of revelation, we cannot discount the others as we encounter God in the scriptures and revealed through the Holy Spirit. We can trust foundations of the past while also telling stories which can be heard in the present.
Practically, nostalgia creates an idolatry of the past. This prevents us from discerning the ways we communicate the foundational past while avoiding unnecessary offense in the present. We have somehow done this until very recently. Maybe it is the influence of Social Media and maybe it is the co-opting of religion by political parties, but we continue to be bombarded by language of hating those who are not us, or remnant language of recovering something we think we lost. Oftentimes the lost things just exist with new language. The truths behind them don’t change, but our expressions of them do change.
Language changes, expressions of truth change, but the underlying truth is not changed. We should be careful when viewing the past through nostalgia because we can unintentionally use language from the past that is now offensive or even hateful. I will be very clear here. The truth does not become offensive, but the medium and language we use to communicate the truth can become offensive. We can also look so intently upon the past that we cannot see the present crumbling around us. Going back in time won’t solve our problems because the past is just that - past. When institutions invariably get stuck trying to recover a past vision, they typically put their future in jeopardy.
Like the truth that “Now and Then” is not a truly new Beatles song, the supposed idyllic past of the Holiness Movement is not real. We can enjoy the past and hold to its truth while blazing paths in the present that remind us of who we are and the God who is there, even when we do not respond. We can work with the Spirit in prevenient grace and allow our stories to tell truths in ways the present can hear.
Official Now and Then Video:
Rick Beato’s Remarks: