Thursday, 3 March 2005

The Beatles

It was twenty years ago today,
Sgt. Pepper taught the band to play.
They've been going in and out of style
But they're guaranteed to raise a smile.
So may I introduce to you
The act you've known for all these years...
(Lennon/McCartney, "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band"

In this blog I have already mentioned The Beatles many, many times. I've reviewed three of their four movies (A Hard Day's Night, Help!, and Yellow Submarine) and referred to them in my articles on the British Invasion, the Age of Anglophilia, animated feature films, and Sunday morning cartoons. Part of the reason I have mentioned them more often than other musicians, or any other artist in any other medium for that matter, is the impact that they had on the late twentieth century world; however, I must admit that most of the reason I've mentioned them so often is that they probably had a greater impact on my life than any other artists in any other medium.

Given when I was born, this should not be surprising. I was born a week from today in 1963. When The Beatles arrived, I would have been just shy of being one year old. Indeed, given that my parents regularly watched The Ed Sullivan Show, my first exposure to The Beatles could well have been that fateful night in February 1963 that they appeared there. Even if I was fast asleep in the crib at the time, there would be almost no way I could avoid The Beatles in the next few years. My older sister bought their records and their music was constantly being played on the radio. In 1965 a Saturday morning cartoon based on the Fab Four debuted on ABC. I can remember watching it loyally, both on Saturday morning and later when it moved to Sunday morning. I remember listening to "Yesterday," "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds," "She Loves You," and many more songs. I can even remember the TV spots for the landmark animated film based on their music, Yellow Submarine. To a large degree, I suppose I was programmed to be a Beatles fan.

Of course, The Beatles had broken up several years before I was old enough to buy records. That did not deter me in my love for the band. The first album I ever bought with my own money was Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band. I bought their other albums too...Meet the Beatles, Revolver, Rubber Soul... I watched their movies as a child--CBS showed Yellow Submarine every July 4th for many years. I remember being outraged as a teenager at that travesty of a movie called Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band. I knew who Sgt. Pepper's Band was, and they weren't The Bee Gees and Peter Frampton.

It is difficult for me to say why The Beatles appealed to me as a child and why they still appeal to me as a nearly 42 year old adult. I can point to the brilliance of their lyrics, the sheer creativity of their harmonies and chord progressions, the diversity of styles to be found in their songs, and so on, but ultimately words fail me. For me at least, it might be sufficient to say that The Beatles made more listenable songs than any other band and did it better than anyone else. Cultural snobs might mock me, but I can find more artistry in "She Loves You" than Bach's Concerto in D Minor.

And it would seem that I am not alone. The Beatles were a veritable phenomenon. As I pointed out above, their music was to be heard everywhere. The Beatles were so popular that they paved the way to the United States for a horde of other British bands. American artists would not retake the charts until 1966. The Beatles made feature films. They were the first living people to have a Saturday morning animated cartoon based on their likenesses. Ever since 1964 there has been some form of Beatles merchandise available to the public, from the dolls Remco made in the early Sixties to lunchboxes to Todd McFarlane's series of toys based on Yellow Submarine. In fact, it may be a mark of The Beatles' impact on society that John Lennon's death was not merely referred to as a murder in the American media, but an assassination, as if he had been a head of state or government official.

Given The Beatles' impact on my life, it should be no surprise that the murder of John Lennon was a signifcant day in my life. I had the flu that day and so I was going to stay home from school. Lying in my bed, my brother burst into my room and uttered the words, "John Lennon is dead!" My initial reaction was to tell him that he was lying (well, actually my words were stronger than that, but they aren't family friendly...). When he persisted, I walked into the living room to see the Today Show and the awful truth. John Lennon had been shot and murdered. I remembered that for the rest of the day I listened to my Beatles albums. And I cried. I had never met John Lennon, but I cried as if I'd known him all my life. When George Harrison died four years ago, even though I was 21 years older and well out of school, I cried again.

It is difficult to say what the future holds, but I have a feeling that The Beatles will be remembered for a long time to come. They may be the only rock group to be so remembered, but I have no doubt that they will be. I am guessing that they will become a permanent part of Anglo-American culture, alongside William Shakespeare, Lord Byron, and Charles Dickens. Somewhere, some place, the music of The Beatles will be playing.

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