Pynchon's Lot 49

Pynchon's Lot 49

Chiming on all the chatter about use of the Beatles in the “Lady Lazarus” episode of Mad Men last week. Most of the speculation circles around the cost of using the track, the first on a major American TV show ($250k, big whoop). But few seem interested in tying it in to the show’s themes, or teasing out the implications. (Unlike SKL, I don’t think the show has yet jumped the shark.) For starters, I find the whole being-checked-out-about-the-Beatles riff a bit implausible, especially after Don gets backstage at a Stones concert earlier in the season. Mad Men keeps circlcing back to how these top 1-percenters of the cultural world, advertising execs, were sublimely checked out about the era they were living in. Why has this period piece captured our fascination? Because we’re navigating another era of tremendous cultural and technological upheaval, and we find ourselves clueless even though we’re dimly aware that the future has sped up considerably.

Less implausible is Don’s young wife handing him a copy of the current Beatles album, Revolver, and telling him to take a listen to help get him a clue. But she actually instructs him to “start with this one,” and we see him put the needle down on the first track, and hear “Tomorrow Never Knows.” For a show so fetishistic about detail, why screw up such a basic? “TMK” is the final track on side two, it takes the album out. She would have had to cue it up for him at the very least. Or explained why she was choosing the most experimental track. She could have simply started him out with “Taxman,” and he would have gotten that one. Did anybody ever turn on an old fuddy-duddy to the band with “TNK” when they could have chosen “Eleanor Rigby,” “Good Day Sunshine” or “Here, There and Everywhere” off the same album? Is such a notion at all believable to the character of Don’s trophy wife, who’s emerging as smarter, savvier, and more true to herself?

Tim Goodman notes how the title references a Sylvia Plath poem, and how Pete reads Pynchon’s “Crying of Lot 49″ on the train, but we strained to see the title of his book and couldn’t make it out even in hi-def. This kind of thing grates. There’s all kinds of interpretive cherries to nibble, between that yawping elevator shaft right after he kisses his wife goodbye from the firm to the suicide insurance coverage Pete’s friend teases him with. Ann Powers maintains that Draper would have certainly been a Beatle hound — perhaps the idea is that he’s so alienated from himself he drifts in a non-Beatle universe even as they conquer every known world, including advertising. The overriding idea I took, which I really liked, was how “TMK” sounds just as confoundingly enticingly today as it did nearly fifty years ago.

Will Roger dose Don’s coffee?

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