Into a Dream: Chasing The Beatles (1-4)

1.

“All their songs sound the same.”

– Stanley Michaels, my elementary school classmate, on why The Beatles “suck,” ca. 1989

“You have to understand that we had never heard anything like that before.”

– My Dad, on “what was so great about The Beatles,” asked by me, ca. 1993

“Honey, I love you, but I really can’t talk about The Beatles anymore.”

– My wife, ca. 2020


2.

It is early 2001 and I am a college student in New York City. One afternoon, I wake from a nap in the student union, surprised by the presence of a cute, bright-eyed girl I happen to have a crush on. She puts her headphones over my ears in a playful, wordless gesture. I hear unfamiliar piano strains. Understanding that I am meant, at all costs, to look cool here, I feign misremembering: “Oh this is–?” I snap my fingers pathetically. 

You know, right on the tip of my tongue. 

“It’s ‘Let It Be,’” she says, bright eyes dimming slightly. 

***

I was born in 1979 and thus am a “second-generation” Beatles fan. My early memories of them are vague and contradictory. The mop-top haircuts and suits were old and uncool; their early work–anything pre-Revolver, really–sounded dated, of another era. Yet, I was simultaneously aware of the other Beatles–Yellow Submarine, Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds, long hair and strange, colorful costumes. But there was no through-line, nothing connecting it all. The constellation was, as yet, unilluminated. I had no older siblings to guide me and was not nearly cool enough to seek out Beatledom on my own. With only a passing, fragmentary knowledge of their music and various creative epochs, I ended up on a well-worn path: I got to college and someone hipped me. 

Which leads us back to the girl with the bright eyes. 

This was the golden age of Napster, Limewire and Morpheus. I went home to my boxy, ten-pound laptop and began randomly, indiscriminately downloading Beatles tunes. There was no rhyme or reason–Every Little Thing here, Dig A Pony there, Let It Be, Michelle, Eight Days A Week, Happiness is a Warm Gun. 

It was messy, but it was a start. My eyes were opening. Hey, turns out this band–what is it again?–the?–the?–oh, right “The Beatles, thanks–turns out they’re pretty good! 

The next time I see bright eyes, I’ve got things to talk about. 

Within a few months, she is my steady girlfriend. We housesit a friend’s apartment in Brooklyn one weekend. The friend has a vinyl copy of Magical Mystery Tour. I put it on one night and am immediately bowled over, knocked directly into that cosmic dimension to which only the Beatles hold the key.

The opening track–that weird, sprightly-yet-sinister verse–“Rolllll uuuuup, roll up for the Mystery Tourrrr…” 

Those Northern ‘R’s, conjuring a whiff of Celtic paganry.

The dramatic shift to G Major for the ascending, Medieval fanfare-like chorus–“The mag-i-cal mys-te-ry tour…” 

Wow. 

I get into “I Am The Walrus” in a big way. I marvel at how current, how now it sounds: the hip-hop drums, Lennon’s acid-dipped vocals, the spooky-soaring chord progression, and of course, the bizarre, menacingly hallucinatory lyrics.

Again: Wow. 

“Uggh, I hate this song,” she says, rolling those bright eyes dismissively. I believe her to be joking and tell her so. 

She’s not. 

“I hate it and I always have. It’s so ridiculous. I just think it’s so corny. Have you heard the Jim Carrey version?”

Now she’s bringing Jim Carrey into it? Things are going sideways, fast. 

“It’s so great. He’s just like making fun of how ridiculous the song is.”

My gut twitches. 

There is something deeply wrong here. 

I have remade myself in her image, only to find out…

She doesn’t get it. 

Like the flower children turned suburban squares of my parents’ generation, John Lennon is showing me the way, and like them, I will choose to ignore it. 

The years-long toxic relationship to follow will underscore a hard-won truth. Allow me to paraphrase John Waters: if someone doesn’t like The Beatles…

Don’t fuck them. 


3.

On Not Knowing:

I went years–decades, if I’m honest–thinking “Come Together” was an Aerosmith tune.

Ditto “Something.” For years, the only version I knew was the one Fat Elvis did on his 1973 “Aloha From Hawaii” TV Special. 

1994: I am watching MTV, specifically Stone Temple Pilots Unplugged. My grandmother walks in, remarking, “that fellow sounds like a dying cow. The Beatles, they had good voices.” I roll my eyes and turn up the volume. 

1996: I am driving with a friend, Joe. Having watched the Anthology the night before, Joe shares–with more than a little reverence in his voice–some new knowledge: 

“Paul McCartney? He wrote ‘Hey Jude’ for John Lennon’s son, Julian. After John and his wife divorced.” 

“Oh, yeah, cool,” I mutter, noncommittally.

I have never heard the song “Hey Jude.” 

I am nearly old enough to vote.

1998: Wyclef’s “Gone Til November” is everywhere. I like that “Michelle, my belle” part. What a fun little turn of phrase he came up with. 


4.

“In the sixties, there was this feeling of being modern, so much so that I feel like the sixties is about to happen. It feels like a period in the future to me, rather than a period in the past.”

-Paul McCartney

“It’s so far out the way out is in.”

-George Harrison, “Any Road”


Next Time: Into a Dream: Chasing The Beatles (5)

13 thoughts on “Into a Dream: Chasing The Beatles (1-4)

  1. I only wish that I had been exposed to the Beatles, or any music, early on. Losing my virginity to music would have been even better, but alas neither happened until way later than most… ALAS, discovering the Beatles at any age is a GOOD IDEA. The interdimensional magic that they brought to our mundane earth is layered and eternal. I will wholly agree with John Waters 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. LOL James Frost discovering The Beatles is like losing your musical virginity–or maybe like reacquiring it. Becoming pure again. That’s The Beatles, man. The dirtiest, raunchiest most carnal shit and also the most pure, heavenly miraculous shit there is. All at once! Thank you for your wonderful thoughts!

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  2. I remember my first real Beatles exposure was during my first year of middle school. I had heard a few of the “Mop Top” era tunes on the radio in passing, but none of the post-Rubber Soul material when they started to mature.

    My friend saved up his allowance and we peddled our bikes to this this little shop next door to the duplex movie theatre. Then we spent an entire Saturday afternoon listening to “The Beatles” (The White Album) over and over again.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I became a fan of The Beatles because I took my father to a tribute band concert and I left loving it more than him, I started with the red and blue albums and then I bought each album one by one, I even discovered that I liked them because I liked The Traveling Wilburys without knowing Harrison was a Beatle and some Lennon songs I heard in movies. From that point on they have been my favorite band

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  4. Disliked them as a child. Was a Stones over Beatles tween. Then I heard ‘I’ve Just Seen a Face’ which was a come to Jesus moment. Then I heard ‘Martha My Dear’ which seemed the happiest purest declaration of love I could imagine. When I found out later that Paul McCartney had written it for his sheepdog, I liked it even better.

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    1. Thanks for reading
      Don’t know what era you were tweening in, but it was pretty common I think for several post Beatles generations to favor Stones, Who, Zep etc over Beatles
      All great in their own ways of course
      I think kids nowadays come to the Beatles sooner and with less preconception
      May be wrong about this

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      1. The early 70s. When I was a tween, Exile was a recent memory–they’d put out 2 very disappointing albums and a couple of bogus best ofs ‘Through the Past, Darkly’ and ‘Made in the Shade’, but the possibility that this was merely a blip and not the beginning of a 50-year limbo still seemed like a good bet. At this point, I still listen to Exile as often as any album under the sun, but my hopes for their musical resurgence have faded. Just a tad.

        Liked by 1 person

    1. The drummer is the reason I come back to their music, but their songwriting became so nonexistent—-Robert Palmer very generously called the mid 70s style ‘extended riffing’. Not a complete waste of time, but still, kind of insulting that they wouldn’t put in some effort to write some songs with staying power.

      I remember this great lyric Neil Young wrote on Tonights the Night: ‘I’m singing this borrowed tune, I took from the Rolling Stones. Alone in this empty room, to wasted to write my own.’

      I’m sure Young would have been happy to let them borrow some of his.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Thanks for your insights. I honestly don’t know that much about the Stones’ catalogue. I guess I have only really sought out the albums known to be worth listening to (60’s stuff, singles, Exile, Sticky, Some Girls, Tattoo You). Growing up in the 80’s and 90’s, the Stones were kinda cool but still kind of had a foot in the Beatles’ era (which was our parents era and therefore not so cool). I’ll dig into the Stones’ bad albums and report back my findings.

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