Wednesday, November 28, 2007

On a Beatles ban

Yesterday, in the guise of making excuses for a lack of recent updates, Jordan Timm at Taste Police, made the case for a five-year, global moratorium on music by The Beatles.

Can we have any perspective on this music when we're saturated with it? How can I really appreciate "A Day In The Life" or "Saw Her Standing There" when my brain switches off upon hearing them, because I've been beaten over the head with them so often? I know the words, I know every note by heart, and so I don't listen anymore. My brain absently sketches in the song for me. Greatest rock'n'roll band ever? I don't know! I don't even know how to hear them anymore. Blame a combination of the Boomer cultural hegemony and a society that abhors an aural vacuum.

Jordan follows with an anecdote about a recent viewing of the re-released Help!, where, after nodding off ten minutes into film, he awoke to the opening bars of “Ticket to Ride” and found himself enthralled by the melancholy Lennon classic.

I don't have the technical vocabulary to describe what's happening musically at the start of this song, with that chiming six-note guitar figure and the drumming and the harmonies, but I loved it. For once, it all sounded fresh and beguiling–when I was disoriented, on my way out of a nap. Which sucks. To appreciate this song properly for the first time in about 15 years, I had to sneak up on it.

Jordan’s observation reminded me of the essay on The Beatles’ “Rain” in Nick Hornby’s 31 Songs. In a culture oversaturated by The Beatles, Hornby writes that through this psychedelic B-side, he is able to hear The Beatles in a new and fresh way, giving him a fleeting sense of what it was like to hear them for the first time.

If you can hear Dylan and the Beatles being unmistakably themselves at their peak — but unmistakably themselves in a way we haven’t heard a thousand, a million times before — then suddenly you get a small but thrilling flash of their spirit.

I don’t have the book with me (I found that quote online), but I remember Hornby’s ending, where he expresses certainty that his excitement about “Rain” would soon pass. This struck me as being one of the truest things I'd ever read about the band, and pop music in general.

Whether a half-decade ban of The Beatles music would actually allow me to hear the Fab Four in a new way, I’m not sure. The Beatles were a huge part of my childhood, a big part of teenage years and a medium part of my early twenties. One of my sisters has a wall unit of collected Beatles memorabilia, from magazines to lunch boxes to buttons to terrible live bootlegs. The other sister painted the Yellow Submarine cartoon versions of John, Paul, George and Ringo on her wall. I’ve seen The Beatles Anthology a least a half dozen times and have read countless biographies on the band and its individual members. I’ve played Beatles covers. I’ve listened to the albums sober, drunk, and high, on headphones and on speakers, on the radio and on vinyl and on CD.

I’ve had similar experiences to the ones described by Jordan and Hornby, moments when, suddenly and strangely, a Lennon/McCartney composition fills my brain and my body with the kind of excitement that’s more likely to come from the discovery of a new artist I’ve been longing to listen to all my life than from a dead band I've heard a thousand times before. There’s nothing that’s going for me at the moment, but my ears are always open. And who knows? Maybe this time it will be a Ringo song.


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