Last Thoughts on the Beatles

IMG_0013-2Yawn. Everybody loves the Beatles. The marginalized and the well-adjusted, the fringe and the center, the left and the right, they all have a favorite Beatles song. The social worker who eats Snickers bars for lunch, he listens to “I Dig a Pony” every night before bed. The drive-thru cashier, who’s been stealing cash from the register to pay for a new clutch for her Volkswagen, hears “P.S. I Love You” on the radio and tells everyone to shut up. “Hey Bulldog” plays on repeat through the librarian’s hi-fi. While making their rounds, a group of prison guards begins clapping their hands and singing “All You Need Is Love” acapella. Everybody loves the Beatles and everybody else loves the Beatles.

For this band I am willing to throw in my support with the masses. If the Beatles collectively ran for public office, I’d volunteer for their campaign. If the Beatles worked for a shady insurance agency, I’d buy one of their policies. If the Beatles were slumlords, I’d live in their apartment building. Yes, people have had their heroes through time–the Scots had William Wallace, the Bolsheviks had Karl Marx, the hippies had Wavy Gravy and Henry David Thoreau. For me, especially the young impressionable me who (in vain) wished to be cool more than anything else, the Beatles represented everything a hero should be. They were intelligent, they were talented, they didn’t care what anyone else thought and they were very, very cool. And they were literally four times the man William Wallace was.

I remember the first time I had any inkling of what the Beatles were up to as musicians. My dad was driving me home from the comic book store (see the above part when I said I really wanted to be cool) and a song, a very long, almost frightening song came on the radio. I couldn’t tell Bob Dylan from Engelbert Humperdinck back then, and cared more about the marriage of Peter Parker to Mary Jane Watson than I did about music. During that ride, I thought I was just listening to noise or three or four different songs when, at the end, everything I’d been hearing was brought together in one single, sustained note that rang for a long, long time. “A Day in the Life.” I remember I said, “That was weird” to which my dad replied, “That was the Beatles.”

My next exposure was was when my brother borrowed a cassette of the British Revolver from one of his friends, and I stole it so I could listen to it in my WalkMan and mime the words to the songs in the mirror (I did this quite often with the radio, too, imagining a host of fans cheering me on as I sang “Brandy, You’re a Fine Girl” by the Looking Glass). My first impression is being a bit scared of the album, and it surprises me that a lot of people don’t address how spooky and negative the album actually is, with all its talk about doctors distributing illegal drugs, knowing what it’s like to be dead, and the taxman, who is portrayed as a Jack the Ripper or Big Bad Wolf-type villian. “I’m Only Sleeping” seems almost like the plea of someone with a death wish. Then there are the sounds themselves, beyond the words–listening to “Tomorrow Never Knows” in the dark can frighten a kid into turning the lights back on, while “Love You To,” in some ways the darkest and most cynical song on the album, sounds like a parade of demons. All of this, naturally, sat very well with a kid in the 8th grade. I didn’t just like the Beatles, I wanted to be the Beatles.

To this day I can remember where I bought every Beatles tape I’ve owned, what I was doing when I bought it, and how it made me feel. My first album was Let It Be–I bought it for myself with a gift certificate to the Wherehouse, which I’m not sure even exists anymore. Then it was Sgt. PepperAbbey Road, the “White Album,” Rubber Soul, With the Beatles, Revolver (when the other copy broke) and on and on and on. I liked everything on those albums. Every single one of those songs resonated with me more than I thought was possible for a kid who hadn’t even had a girlfriend yet. Even their lesser works I worshipped: I thought “I Me Mine” was one of the greatest f–you’s ever. “Think for Yourself” struck me as genius. I remember walking up a hill in San Francisco playing the second side of Abbey Road for the first time, hearing “Sun King” and thinking, “no matter how much I haven’t lived yet, life can’t get any better.” That’s how much the songs meant to me. They taught me how love should feel.

Of course I went from being a mere fan of their music to being a comprehensive Beatles Freak, reading anything I could about their lives and their careers. How they met, how popular they got, how they came up with their music, where they lived, how they broke up, and what they did after. I was always impressed that, through the better part of their careers, each Beatle had achieved this great success, put these magical sounds to tape, and had become immortal with his three best friends. And I think a lot of people forget that the Beatles, despite how much they may have hated each other at the end, and how much they try to downplay things now, were really best friends. Heck, they even wanted to all live together on their own private island.

These days I don’t have the same heart and soul enthusiasm for them as I did when I was younger. I’ve learned to be discerning about what Bealtes songs I like and what songs I think are worthless. “Little Child” is annoying, “She’s Leaving Home” seems to me crap, and “Maxwell’s Silver Hammer” is, as they would say in Spinal Tap, a shit sandwich. I’ve also become less possessive about them–before, I’d think that anyone who said “In My Life” was their favorite song could never be a true Beatles fan. And the “untrue” Beatles fan I held in more contempt than someone who didn’t know who the Beatles were.

Now, I don’t care. There’s enough Beatles to go around, enough Beatles for everyone.

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