Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Growing Up with The Beatles

Today both the remaster of The Beatles' catalogue and the video game The Beatles: Rock Band have been released. In the many months leading up to this event there have been several articles on The Beatles, some of which have been written by individuals who discussed how The Beatles changed their lives. In my case, as a member of Generation X, I cannot say The Beatles changed my life so much as they helped shape it.

I was born in 1963 (I know--the truth is out--I am no more 39 than Jack Benny was all those many years), only a little less than a year before The Beatles would arrive in the United States. Given my parents watched The Ed Sullivan Show loyally, chances are I saw, or at least heard, their historic first appearance on that show. Whether I did or not, the earliest songs I can remember hearing on both the radio and on the telly were by The Beatles. Among the earliest cartoons I remember, along with Underdog, Jonny Quest, and Space Ghost, was The Beatles cartoon. My brother and I watched it each and every week. In the Sixties, Beatles merchandise was everywhere. I have vague memories of owning a toy Beatles guitar as a very young child--I have to wonder what it would be worth now. I think it can easily be said that, in addition to being the first generation to know television from birth and to never know at time without Saturday morning cartoons, Generation X was the first generation to grow up with The Beatles.

It is impossible for me to gauge the complete extent to which The Beatles first shaped my life. Certainly, their music made me a life long Beatles fan. The Beatles were my favourite band when I was three years old and they remain my favourite band to this day. If I were to set down and make a top ten list of my all time favourite albums, most of them would be Beatles albums. If I had made a top ten list of my favourite songs, most of them would be by The Beatles. I have seen A Hard Day's Night, Help!, and Yellow Submarine numerous times. I even own all three films on DVD. A day does not go by that at least one Beatles song does not pop into my head, totally unexpectedly.

Of course, because they are my favourite band, alongside other British Invasion bands, The Beatles would have a huge impact on my tastes in music. While I have gone through such phases as New Wave, heavy metal, and Goth, it has been the subgenre of rock music which The Beatles invented that has remained my favourite: power pop. Many of my favourite bands to this day remain power pop bands: The Who (whose Pete Townshend gave the subgenre its name), The Kinks, Small Faces, Cheap Trick, Enuff Z'nuff, The Posies, and many, many others.

It is also seems to me that, beyond shaping my tastes in music, The Beatles and the other British Invasion bands are part of the reason I am a total Anglophile. Of course, there were other factors as well. British pop culture had been making inroads into the States even before The Beatles, through such films as The Bridge on the River Kwai, The Mouse That Roared, and Billy Liar and TV shows such as Danger Man and The Saint. Of course, once The Beatles arrived, British pop culture would become a dominant force in American pop culture for a time. The hour long version of Danger Man (called Secret Agent here), The Avengers, and other British shows all crossed the Pond. Mod fashions from Carnaby Street made their way here. Even more British films found success on American shores. Along with The Beatles, these various factors (especially television shows like The Avengers) would conspire to turn me into an Anglophile. Of course, here I must point out that almost from birth I have known I was English in descent, my mother's family having fled here from the Cromwellian tyranny in the 17th century (which begs the question, can you be an Anglophile if you are English in descent), so that Anglophilia may have come very naturally to me.

Of course, The Beatles would have a great impact on my life other than simply my tastes in music and my love for anything English. While there were many other more important factors which shaped my life (my family, my community), I do believe that The Beatles did have a profound impact on my personality and outlook on life. If there is a good deal of optimism in me to counteract my innate cynicism, it is probably due in a large part to The Beatles. It was John Lennon in the song "All You Need is Love" who sang, "There's nothing you can do that can't be done....All you need is love." As low as my society can be at times, and as disappointed as I can be in people, I still believe Lennon's words. As bad as the world can be, as trying as times can get, I still think that one can survive if he or she has love--love for himself or herself, love for his family and friends, love for life.

Indeed, I have to say that more than any other musical artist, perhaps more than any artist in any medium, The Beatles have saved my life on more than one occasion. If I have never considered suicide or violence against others, it is perhaps because all I have to do is listen to Beatles songs to realise that everything will be all right. To me if there is one lasting message to be found in The Beatles songs, it is that ultimately there is always hope. Although it may be a "long, cold, lonely winter," to quote George Harrison, the sun will return. The Beatles have seen me though various break-ups, stress at work, and even the deaths of my parents and other loved ones. They have always been there to reassure me that, in the end, everything will be okay.

Unlike the Baby Boomers, I cannot remember a time without The Beatles. Unlike younger Gen Xers and the successive generations, I can actually remember The Beatles themselves. I think in many respects this has placed me in a slightly different situation than older or younger Beatles fans. For me The Beatles are not simply a band I discovered when I was young, nor are they a classic rock act that my older siblings or parents listened to. For me they have always been part of the landscape, while at the same time being very real and at times very flawed human beings. I then look to The Beatles with a combination of hero worship and the genuine affection for any musician, actor, director, or writer whose work one enjoys. Indeed, there have been only two times I have literally cried for days following a celebrity's death--once when John Lennon was assassinated and again when George Harrison died. I have no doubt I will cry for days again when Ringo Starr and Sir Paul McCartney die as well. I do not think I cried when John and George died simply because I had lost two musicians I admired greatly or even two of my heroes. I think I cried because I felt as if I had lost something of myself. In some ways, maybe I did.

In the end I suspect that, more than any other artists in any medium, The Beatles helped shape me as a human being. No other artists whether musicians, writers, artists, or directors, have had near the influence on me that The Beatles have. Not only do I believe that they helped make me much of what I am, but I think that ultimately they helped make me a better person. It is an enormous debt that I owe all four of them, and one that I do not think I could ever repay.


Holte Ender said...

I was 15-years-old when I first heard the Beatles, their first Parlophone release was Love Me Do in late 1962. I was immediately drawn to them and in early 1963 their LP Please Please Me, was a sensation. My favorite Beatles song I Saw Her Standing There, was on that album. The whole album was recorded in one day, it was actually their live act. There were 5 or 6 covers on Please Please Me, The Beatles showing their love for American music by including Twist and Shout; Anna; Boys and a few others.

They were big fans of Buddy Holly and The Crickets, hence the name Beatles, musical insects, get it.

I stood in line for 4 hours at Wolverhampton Gaumont for tickets, didn't get one. Never saw them. Although since I have seen Paul McCartney in concert twice.

Lovely Post.

ConnectingTheDots said...

Interesting blog, Mercurie, but born in 1963, you're not an Xer, but rather a member of Generation Jones (born 1954-1965, between the Boomers and Generation X). It was Jonesers, not Xers, who were the children exposed to the Beatles' emergence.

Google Generation Jones, and you’ll see it’s gotten a ton of media attention, and many top commentators from many top publications and networks (Washington Post, Time magazine, NBC, Newsweek, ABC, etc.) now specifically use this term. In fact, the Associated Press' annual Trend Report forecast the Rise of Generation Jones as the #1 trend of 2009. Here's a page with a good overview of recent media interest in GenJones:

It is important to distinguish between the post-WWII demographic boom in births vs. the cultural generations born during that era. Generations are a function of the common formative experiences of its members, not the fertility rates of its parents. Many experts now believe it breaks down more or less this way:

DEMOGRAPHIC boom in babies: 1946-1964
Baby Boom GENERATION: 1942-1953
Generation Jones: 1954-1965
Generation X: 1966-1978

This op-ed in USA Today paints a good picture of GenJones kids, and the impact of Sixties culture, like the Beatles, had on them:

Terence Towles Canote said...

"Generations are a function of the common formative experiences of its members, not the fertility rates of its parents." This is precisely why I do not believe that the so-called Generation Jones does not exist. I have much more in common with individuals born in the later Sixties and early Seventies than I do the late Fifties. In fact, I did a series on Generation X, the first article of which covered why I do not believe Generation Jones exists at all. See my post on the subject at: There I offer a very strong argument as to why Generation Jones does not exist, why the Baby Boom Generation lasted from 1945 to 1960, and why Generation X lasted from 1961 to 1977.

Simply put, I AM A GENERATION XER. I won't accept any other label.

Terence Towles Canote said...

I must say in many ways I envy you, Holte. Not only were you of an age to remember the first days of Beatlemania, but you were in the country where it all started! It still amazes that their first album, Please Please Me, was recorded in one day, as it seems accomplished even at that early time. Sadly, I haven't even gotten to see Paul McCartney in concert, although I hope to one day.

Lucy said...

I am ten years older than you Mercurie and the Beatles had a huge impact on me growing up in New Zealand. You could not turn on the radio ( and later TV)without hearing a beatles song or some news item about the famous four. Due to their enduring and endearing quality I have never been so enamoured of any band or singer since. When a beatles song comes on the radio today and I sing along my 25 year old wonders how I could possibly know the words to the song. I rather love that.
Love the blog.