I woke up this morning staring at my “Abbey Road” album cover poster. I listened to “Good Day Sunshine” on my iPod, and I put on a Magical Mystery Tour shirt. Now, for fear of being ostracized by the Evergreen community for being too mainstream, I’ll assert my hipness: I do listen to bands you’ve never heard of, I own vinyl, and sometimes I even wear plaid. But my roots are with the Beatles, and most of the time I think I owe any of my good taste and creativity to them.
It started when I was 9. I looked over my parents’ shoulders as they read the paper and saw a picture of four very handsome young men. “Who are they?!” I asked. My poor parents must have thought they had failed as guardians and educators. “Well, they’re the Beatles!” they said. “Who are the Beatles?” I asked. Again, faces of dismay.
“They were a band when we were growing up, but they’re still very popular.”
“Were they bigger than Britney Spears?” (In retrospect, that moment may have been one of the lowest points of my life.) Their faces of dismay turned into faces of disgust. Britney Spears was pretty much the only contemporary pop star I knew about; I listened to music my parents listened to (motown, 90s adult contemporary like Randy Newman and Van Dyke Parks) but didn’t ask questions about who they were or to what era they belonged.
“Yes. They were much bigger than Britney Spears. They still are. They were bigger than Jesus.” My dad probably smirked as he said that, but I would have no idea what it meant ’til years later.
“Well, were they any good?”
My dad probably hesitated a bit. He would have wanted to remain loyal to the memory of the Beatles, but he knew in fact that some of their material was mediocre at best.
“The best,” my mom said.
Someone gave me a homemade CD copy of “1,” (still a bit obscure in 1999) and it was well-loved and scratched within a week. I didn’t know what the song titles were, so I made the track list up myself. When I checked them perhaps years later, some of them, like “Yesterday,” were spot on. Others were called things like, “Blue Suburban Skies,” “Christ, You Know It Ain’t Easy,” and “Back to Where You Once Belonged.” I pinned the original picture from the paper on my wall. And I started asking questions.
Suddenly all I wanted to know was about the music my parents listened to when they were growing up. Then all I wanted to know was each story that went with the songs. First they told me where they were when the Beatles arrived in the United States, where they were during that first Ed Sullivan TV show. That continued with every other “parent-era” icon I discovered: Hendrix, the Stones, Van Morrison, Heart, Supertramp…
But it’s with the Beatles that I’ve developed some of the best memories of my own. They’ve brought me closer to some of my best friends, and they’ve made me realize some of my worst friends. My best friend back home was Em, who was new to my school in 8th grade. Even then I think I knew that she would become a great person, but I never knew she was going to be my friend. By the end of week one, she had somehow proven her astounding knowledge of Beatles trivia, and I was not to be outdone. I swore she was my rival. That was the year my grades started to slip, and I focused on academics less. I’m not blaming the Beatles… but maybe it was the fact that I started making flash cards for their notable recording dates rather than my science class. Anyway, by the end of week two of knowing her we were best friends. I guess if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em.
Eventually my passion led me to disassociate myself with some so-called friends. In 10th grade, this kid came up to me and said that his pastor had told him not to listen to the Beatles, and that they were un-Christian. Then he handed me a packet of quotes and song lyrics and famous musicians that his pastor (or something) had deemed sacrilegious (or something). It included some admittedly incriminating quotes by Metallica and Kurt Cobain, but there were also some lines by artists like James Taylor and Joni Mitchell. James Taylor and Joni Mitchell! “The secret o’ life is enjoying the passage of time” and “bows and flows of angel hair and ice cream castles in the air”?!
At the time, I vowed never to listen to or intentionally befriend someone who didn’t like the Beatles, but later I realized it was bigger than that. I vowed never to listen to or intentionally befriend someone who was so literal and narrow-minded. I think I’ve done pretty well, with a few exceptions, but that’s not the point. Some people aren’t literal or narrow minded, and they just don’t like the Beatles like I do. And I’m friends with a few of those people, and I’m ok with that. They can snigger or shake their heads at the numerous Beatles posters to which I wake up every morning, and I’m ok with that.
They can say that “All You Need Is Love” is too contrived and unimaginative, but I can still love it and deeply appreciate the fact that it begins with the French national anthem.
They can say that “Good Day Sunshine” is too simple and too cheery, but I can still listen to it every Groundhog day, especially if there isn’t 6 more weeks of winter.
They can say that “the Beatles are bigger than Jesus” is irreparable and condemning damage to the reputation of what might have otherwise been a great band, but I can know better. The character in the movie “Pirate Radio” called The Count says, “there will always be poverty and pain and war and injustice in this world but there will, thank the lord, also always be the Beatles.” I can guarantee you that more people in this world have listened to the Beatles than have read even one passage of the New Testament. That’s not sacrilegious; that’s fact. And that gives me more hope that there may not always be poverty and pain and war and injustice in the world than to know that there are approximately 2.1 billion Christians in the world. Sai guru deva.