Abbey Road Still Going Strong at 45

ABBEY ROAD STILL FAMOUS AT 45

~ Posted by Rebecca Willis, August 8th 2014

BEATLES ABBEY ROAD album cover from October 1969 Courtesy EMI Apple

Forty-five years ago today, four young men walked across a zebra crossing in north-west London, the shutter of a camera clicked, and history was made. The cover of the Beatles’ 11th studio album immortalised the Abbey Road crossing—and everything else in the picture, too. (Apparently the number plate of the white VW Beetle parked half on the pavement in the background was repeatedly stolen.)

Paul McCartney, who still lives around the corner, had the idea for the image and sketched it out. The creative director decided not to put the name of the band or the album on the cover—even though EMI wanted it—because “they were the most famous band in the world”. And so, thanks to the contagion of celebrity, it’s now the most famous zebra crossing in the world.

Those of us who live nearby are accustomed to being asked for directions to Abbey Road by strangers outside the tube station. Legions of fans crowd the crossing—especially at this time of year, and no doubt even more today—eager for their chance to get “The Shot”. There is even a “crossing cam”, so you can watch it live online.

If you drive regularly over it, as I do, you soon learn that the rules of the Highway Code are virtually impossible to implement here. You can still “look out for pedestrians waiting to cross” and “be ready to slow down or stop to let them cross”, but however much you may want to “give way when a pedestrian has moved onto a crossing”, they just don’t want you to. They wave you impatiently on, scanning the road beyond for a break in the traffic. The last thing they want is your car in their photo—even my little electric car, which is white and could do a passable imitation of the Beetle behind George Harrison’s head.

What the fans possibly don’t know is that, at 11.35am on August 8th 1969 (also a Friday), a policeman stopped the traffic for the shoot, and the photographer, Iain Macmillan, stood on a stepladder in the middle of the road to get his vantage point. Today, at the same time exactly 45 years on, cast members of “Let It Be” (a Beatles musical) will lead a group of fans across the crossing. There will be a sing-a-long to mark the occasion too.

I knew a French woman who parodied the album cover for her change-of-address card when she moved back to Paris. She hired a photographer and turned her husband and two young children out of bed at 4.30am to get the shot with no vehicles on the road. It worked brilliantly. But on a normal day, once the 21st-century daytime traffic has built up, forget it. Fans will still try, but unless they start very early (jetlag could be a positive here) they will have cars, lorries and double-decker buses in their photos. And local drivers will still find that Abbey Road is the only place in Britain where pedestrians give way to vehicles on a zebra crossing.

Rebecca Willis is associate editor of Intelligent Life

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Abbey Road Still Going Strong at 45

BEATLES ABBEY ROAD album cover from October 1969 Courtesy EMI Apple

Abbey Road Still Going Strong at 45

Difference Engine

Difference Engine

War and Oil

Daily Comment
DAILY COMMENT
AUGUST 10, 2014
Oil and Erbil
BY STEVE COLL

CREDIT PHOTOGRAPH BY SEBASTIAN MEYER/CORBIS.
To the defense of Erbil: this was the main cause that drew President Obama back to combat in Iraq last week, two and a half years after he fulfilled a campaign pledge and pulled the last troops out.

Erbil-Oil-690

After Mazar-i-Sharif, Nasiriyah, Kandahar, Mosul, Benghazi, and a score of other sites of American military intervention—cities whose names would have stumped most American “Jeopardy!” contestants before 2001—we come now to Erbil. One can forgive the isolationist: Where?

Erbil has an ancient history, but, in political-economic terms, the city is best understood these days as a Kurdish sort of Deadwood, as depicted in David Milch’s HBO series about a gold-rush town whose antihero, Al Swearengen, conjures up a local government to create a veneer of legitimacy for statehood, all to advance his rackets. Erbil is an oil-rush town where the local powers that be similarly manipulate their ambiguous sovereignty for financial gain—their own, and that of any pioneer wild and wily enough to invest money without having it stolen.

Erbil is the capital of the oil-endowed Kurdish Regional Government, in northern Iraq. There the United States built political alliances and equipped Kurdish peshmerga militias long before the Bush Administration’s invasion of Iraq, in 2003. Since 2003, it has been the most stable place in an unstable country. But last week, well-armed guerrillas loyal to the Islamic State in Iraq and al-Sham, or ISIS, threatened Erbil’s outskirts, forcing Obama’s momentous choice. (The President also ordered air operations to deliver humanitarian aid to tens of thousands of Yazidis and other non-Muslim minorities stranded on remote Mount Sinjar. A secure Kurdistan could provide sanctuary for those survivors.)

“The Kurdish region is functional in the way we would like to see,” Obama explained during a fascinating interview with Thomas Friedman published on Friday. “It is tolerant of other sects and other religions in a way that we would like to see elsewhere. So we do think it is important to make sure that that space is protected.”

All true and convincing, as far as it goes. Kurdistan is indeed one of a handful of reliable allies of the United States in the Middle East these days. Its economy has boomed in recent years, attracting investors from all over and yielding a shiny new international airport and other glistening facilities. Of course, in comparison to, say, Jordan or the United Arab Emirates, Kurdistan has one notable deficit as a staunch American ally: it is not a state. Nor is it a contented partner in the construction of Iraqi national unity, which remains the principal project of the Obama Administration in Iraq. In that light, Obama’s explanation of his casus belli seemed a little incomplete.

Obama’s advisers explained to reporters that Erbil holds an American consulate, and that “thousands” of Americans live there. The city has to be defended, they continued, lest ISIS overrun it and threaten American lives. Fair enough, but why are thousands of Americans in Erbil these days? It is not to take in clean mountain air.

ExxonMobil and Chevron are among the many oil and gas firms large and small drilling in Kurdistan under contracts that compensate the companies for their political risk-taking with unusually favorable terms. (Chevron said last week that it is pulling some expatriates out of Kurdistan; ExxonMobil declined to comment.) With those oil giants have come the usual contractors, the oilfield service companies, the accountants, the construction firms, the trucking firms, and, at the bottom of the economic chain, diverse entrepreneurs digging for a score.

Scroll the online roster of Erbil’s Chamber of Commerce for the askew poetry of a boom town’s small businesses: Dream Kitchen, Live Dream, Pure Gold, Events Gala, Emotion, and where I, personally, might consider a last meal if trapped in an ISIS onslaught, “Famous Cheeses Teak.”

It’s not about oil. After you’ve written that on the blackboard five hundred times, watch Rachel Maddow’s documentary “Why We Did It” for a highly sophisticated yet pointed journalistic take on how the world oil economy has figured from the start as a silent partner in the Iraq fiasco.

Of course, it is President Obama’s duty to defend American lives and interests, in Erbil and elsewhere, oil or no. Rather than an evacuation of citizens, however, he has ordered a months-long aerial campaign to defend Kurdistan’s status quo, on the grounds, presumably, that it is essential to a unified Iraq capable of isolating ISIS. Yet the status quo in Kurdistan also includes oil production by international firms, as it might be candid to mention. In any event, the defense of Kurdistan that Obama has ordered should work, if the Kurdish peshmerga can be rallied and strengthened on the ground after an alarming retreat last week.

Yet there is a fault line in Obama’s logic about Erbil. The President made clear last week that he still believes that a durable government of national unity—comprising responsible leaders of Iraq’s Shiite majority, Kurds, and Sunnis who are opposed to ISIS—can be formed in Baghdad, even if it takes many more weeks beyond the three months of squabbling that have already passed since the country’s most recent parliamentary vote.

The project of a unified Baghdad government strong enough to defeat ISIS with a nationalist Army and then peel off Sunni loyalists looks increasingly like a pipe dream; it was hard to tell from the Friedman interview what odds Obama truly gives the undertaking.

Why has political unity in Baghdad proven so elusive for so long? There are many important reasons—the disastrous American decision to disband the Iraqi Army, in 2003, and to endorse harsh de-Baathification, which created alienation among Sunnis that has never been rectified; growing sectarian hatred between Shiites and Sunnis; the infection of disaffected Sunnis with Al Qaeda’s philosophy and with cash and soft power from the Persian Gulf; interference by Iran; the awkwardness of Iraq’s post-colonial borders, and poor leadership in Baghdad, particularly under Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. But another reason of the first rank is Kurdish oil greed.

During the Bush Administration, adventurers like Dallas-headquartered Hunt Oil paved the way for ExxonMobil, which cut a deal in Erbil in 2011. Bush and his advisers could not bring themselves to force American oil companies such as Hunt to divest from Kurdistan or to sanction non-American investors. They allowed the wildcatters to do as they pleased while insisting that Erbil’s politicians negotiate oil-revenue sharing and political unity with Baghdad. Erbil’s rulers never quite saw the point of a final compromise with Baghdad’s Shiite politicians—as each year passed, the Kurds got richer on their own terms, they attracted more credible and deep-pocketed oil companies as partners, and they looked more and more like they led a de-facto state. The Obama Administration has done nothing to reverse that trend.

And so, in Erbil, in the weeks to come, American pilots will defend from the air a capital whose growing independence and wealth has loosened Iraq’s seams, even while, in Baghdad, American diplomats will persist quixotically in an effort to stitch that same country together to confront ISIS.

Obama’s defense of Erbil is effectively the defense of an undeclared Kurdish oil state whose sources of geopolitical appeal—as a long-term, non-Russian supplier of oil and gas to Europe, for example—are best not spoken of in polite or naïve company, as Al Swearengen would well understand. Life, Swearengen once pointed out, is often made up of “one vile task after another.” So is American policy in Iraq.

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