Thursday, February 09, 2006
In Which the author commits an act of heresy, followed by some damning confessions.
I don’t know if Beatles nostalgia ever really goes away, but it does certainly flare up with a vengeance pretty regularly. A few months ago, it was over the 25th anniversary of the death of John Lennon. This morning my otherwise not generally annoying am DJ announced that today was the 40 some odd anniversary of the Beatles first appearance on Ed Sullivan, from which the conversation devolved into discussions of where they were when first they saw, and how they took pictures of the tv screen to preserve the memory forever. As if anyone would ever be allowed to forget. If you count the four members of the Beatles, their manager or ‘fifth’ Beatle, George Martin, 10 years worth of recording, touring and television appearances and five movies, I have no doubt that every single day of the year is the something-est anniversary of the first time the Beatles or a Beatle did something somewhere. Catholic saints are not as busy.
I don’t begrudge anyone their musical heroes, or even deny that the Beatles have had a lasting impact. It’s more of the cumulative effect that I find myself struggling against. I have sincere respect and admiration for The Beatles. But some mornings, like this morning, I just find myself thinking oh, for pity’s sake, give it a freaking rest, already. I just want to let all you Beatles fans out there know that We Get It. They made a lot of great music that was really important to you. Some of the music they made has inspired artists that we know and love today. Some of the music they made was inspired by artists who were an awful big deal to some people in their day. Music is a good thing!
The thing is, and I don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings or anything, but I confess that some of us…well, we’ve kind of moved on. In fact I would even go so far as to admit that for some of us, we were never really there to begin with. How you feel about the Beatles, we feel for other people. Other groups have made music since then that have totally blown some of our minds. Other singers have written songs that have made people want to change their lives, or fall in love, or overthrow an oppressive government or maybe just dance like crazy.
I will never forget, never ever, the first time I heard When Doves Cry on the radio. I was in my bedroom, listening to my tinny mono-radio that I’d had since I was 8. I was a thirteen year old living in rural North Carolina, and Prince just blew the back of my head right off. One can draw a direct line from hearing that song to the following events in my life: my first drink, my first smoke, my first sneaking into an R rated movie and my first kiss. If my parents had only known, I’m sure they would have taken that radio away.
Here’s an even MORE outrageous confession: I will never forget the first time I saw Madonna’s Open Your Heart To Me video. Madonna was obviously already on my radar, and I knew all the words to Like a Virgin and Material World. But that video. I was a teenage girl with less than the necessary social skills to keep boys attention. They made me feel tongue tied and stupid and weak. But that video with Madonna dancing to a peep show clientele, singing for them to open their hearts when she obviously could care less about their hearts, or frankly even impressing them. Yeah, you can argue that it’s not a ‘good’ message or a ‘healthy’ one, assuming you think it would lead to a direct rise in the number of peep show dancers. But what can I say? I saw this powerful woman, and it was like a salve to my wounded teenage girl ego. If I could have taken a photograph of the tv screen, I would have.
I guess I’ve kind of drifted from the Beatles, but I think I’ve made my point. You can argue that if it weren’t for the Beatles, we wouldn’t have the bands that blow our minds today. That is entirely possible. It’s also possible that music is bigger than that. Music is beyond one group, a single group, electrifying the world forever. Music has been blowing people’s minds since people have had ears. When we crawled out of the primordial ooze, music was standing there with a towel to greet us. I’m not an expert, but I’m pretty sure that since that day, music has evolved right along with us, and maybe a little ahead of us.
Music is wily and wild. She chooses her messengers and whispers in their ears. Sometimes the song is something radical and new. Sometimes the messengers get consumed in the process of delivering it to us. Every generation produces artists whose job it is to slay those who came before. A few are great enough that they rise above to inspire more than one generation: Mozart, B.B. King, Frank Sinatra. The Beatles certainly fall into that category, but are they really in a class by themselves? I guess you know my opinion. Sorry if I don’t mark this day down in my calendar.