Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Why the Beatles Belong to Me

It started with a radio program in 1980 when I was thirteen years old. (Now you must realize that this is before Itunes, before MP3s, and before Gwen Stefani. The stone age.)


I tuned my radio to the station getting the best reception. "OOooh, I like this song," I said. The song that came next was also familiar. "I like this one, too." And the next. I didn't know a whole lot about music or which artists played what tunes. I figured this was just a great station. How had I missed it? I remember laying on the floor of my bedroom, listening intently. And then the announcer said, "We're doing a Beatles A to Z weekend."


I was fascinated. These were all Beatles songs. The same band performed them all. Each piece initially sounded so different, especially when played out of chronological order. Yet every one had the same powerful, connective energy. On that day, I took down my John Travolta poster and declared myself a Beatles fan.


I became a student of the Beatles and their music. I wanted to read more about the history of the band, the instrumentation used for each song, and what inspired the lyrics. I listened to George Harrison's Something and While My Guitar Gently Weeps countless times. And I adored Across the Universe, before it became the title of the recent musical and the average listener would have considered the song obscure. I bought books. I read articles. There was plenty of trivia to immerse myself in.


Here I was, a teenager, born a decade late and a Beatle short. Only months earlier I had witnessed the televised throngs of fans sobbing in the streets of New York after John Lennon was shot. I thought it was "utterly ridiculous." Now it all made sense. I played their music incessantly on my cassette tape player, eventually learning to differentiate their British voices. "That's Paul. That's John--no, that's George." I sang harmony to every song, and when there wasn't an obvious harmony I invented my own. The experience of falling in love with Beatles music felt so uniquely my own that I secretly believed I owned the Beatles, and somewhere in the psychedelic vibrations that float across the universe, the Beatles owned a part of me. Yet I never dove into the nuttiness of a hysterical fan. I had missed the phenomenon of Beatlemania, and could now only be a student of its history.


Sure, I tried playing Revolution 9 and Rain backwards. I knew all the "Paul is dead" clues even though they were preposterous. One of my favorite Saturday Night Live episodes has the now-late Chris Farley talking to Paul McCartney and asking him if the "Paul is Dead" clues were really a hoax.

"Yeah, I wasn't really dead," said Sir Paul.

Classic.

So fast-forward two-plus decades to last weekend, when on a long drive home my four sons and I sang Beatle songs in the dark in three-part harmony. It was spontaneous, groovy, and ridiculous. These are boys living in the era of Reliant K, Maroon 5, Weezer, and Five for Fighting. And Beatles music is still cool. You see, I had decided to share it with my kids, since without this knowledge they would surely be musically-illiterate. And isn't it my parental responsibility to educate my children? So (sigh) yes, I share the Beatles, but I will not give them up. They belong to me as they do millions of other souls who like to believe, as I do, that the music was written for them alone, as a personal gift.

No comments: