"You'll never get ahead if you don't take care of what you have." - Doris Waddell, RIP

A historic building on our U of M-Morris campus - morris mn

A historic building on our U of M-Morris campus - morris mn
The multi-ethnic building was the original home of the music department at UMM. (B.W. photo)

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Aging like fine wine: Beatles' artistry

I bought this album at "Johnson Drug"
(Part 1 of 2)
 
I remember a friend wondering if the schools of the future would teach the Beatles, the way schools of our generation taught Mozart and Beethoven. I'm pretty out of touch with what schools are doing now. I know that when I was young, the "classical" composers were the ones that belonged in the classroom. The intelligentsia would have scoffed at studying the likes of the Beatles.
The old NBC anchor Chet Huntley dissed the Beatles during an objective news broadcast, so certain he was that his "sensible" generation would accept his view without controversy. Of course, that was totally knee-jerk. It was borne of the cultural clashes of the mid-20th Century. Young people seemed tuned in to a world completely alien to their parents.
The "generation gap" was real and troubling. It was troubling just on the face of it, this seeming schism that was like a 180-degree contrast. Us kids might as well have been space aliens. And we loved the Beatles. Oh, there was a whole treasure trove of new music coming our way. Our parents described it as "noise."
I have read the theory that our parents - that "greatest generation" - knew full well what we were all about, and didn't mind it. They were so thankful being past adversity like the Depression and World War II. So thankful, they let their own kids "run wild." They may have acted chagrined but really they just shrugged.
Our fathers had a background of respecting strict discipline in the military service. They learned you had to respect (or defer to) some SOB sergeant. They often talked like they thought such discipline was a good thing. They would absolutely love to have been spared the military stuff. They may have seen buddies blown to pieces around them. They acted like such experiences made them stronger. Instead, I could cite what "the great and powerful Oz" said to the cowardly lion at the movie's denouement: "Where I come from, there are men who march with (the accoutrements of military service), and they are no more brave than you." Ah, but they had "testimonials."
The Beatles were not themselves baby boomers. Generationally speaking they probably didn't fit into any neat category. They were young and talented guys who developed a passion for music. Why not the kind of music taught in schools? How could they seize on such a totally new direction? It was rebellious by its very nature. But there was no stopping this stuff, the Chet Huntleys of the world notwithstanding.
Making money was no slam dunk for many of these new young musicians. Their fans were kids! Ironically their ability to make money would be much greater after they became "oldie" attractions like at casinos. Those former "kid" fans were now well-heeled adults!
Back when the Beatles were current, kids defined themselves by the pop art they consumed. Well, that's elementary, isn't it? Not so fast, because remember, that was the pre-digital and pre-Internet age, before we could all define ourselves by material of our own creation. It is so incredibly uplifting to live in this new empowered age. We can take it for granted.
In the '60s and '70s your identity might be impressed by whether you were a Beatles or Rolling Stones fan. Rock groups of all shapes and colors came along. I decided to associate myself with the group "Yes."
It was rather unfulfilling, of course, because we were just consuming the work of others. Those "others" got a springboard to fame that could become destructive for them. They were in too much of a fishbowl.
Today we have such a fragmented media world, the sense of "celebrity" with these people has been greatly diminished. I'd have a hard time recognizing many so-called celebrities on the street, as we all would. The world of celebrity icons like Bob Hope and Johnny Carson has faded into antiquity.
The Beatles? They rocketed to fame on a level that surprised everyone. John Lennon may have slowly started to go mad toward the end of that. Some of the disgusting stuff he did may have been a gesture of resentment toward all that fame. Perhaps this even explains the friction between him and Paul McCartney. Paul seemed to hold together much better, keeping a realistic sense of himself.
George Harrison was an able musical hand but couldn't pull his own weight as a full-fledged solo artist. Oh, Harrison definitely gave us glimpses or snippets of greatness. His solo albums started out well ("All Things Must Pass"). He later took a tumble as the overall musical quality became mostly stagnant.
Ringo Starr loved being along for the ride.
It was John's group. He had the power to break it up at the end.
 
Imagining there was no breakup
I'm sure there's a huge "hobby" out there of putting together "imagined" Beatles albums using songs the four put out post-Beatles. Such faux Beatles albums would come across as wholly legitimate and believable. The creative empowerment of the new media is harnessed for doing this - even carefully crafted album covers with themes.
So it's easy to imagine the Beatles never really broke up. Just cull out the tepid stuff, of which there was much. Paul McCartney could have greatly condensed his material in the 1970s. He had so much power, he could put out anything. He'd "run it up a flagpole" and in many cases, people would salute it. After all, he was a (former) Beatle.
My generation clung to this as if the Fab 4 spoke for us. Really, these were just four talented guys, non-boomers, who crafted a musical style that happened to captivate the new young crowd. Their music was surely sophisticated. The education establishment should have at least accepted that. Change causes disruptive waves.
There is very little awareness of how the Beatles benefited from the advanced recording industry in Great Britain. I heard a lecture about this once. In the U.S., young men who might be interested in this industry were distracted by the military draft. Today's young people should be reminded what a nightmarish distraction that was. Young people had to rise up in a nearly all-out revolution to eradicate the draft and get the U.S. military out of the tragic Indochina enterprise.
Lennon decided to write about "love." He felt sheer love could help the world get past the regressive and destructive stuff. Simply writing about love shouldn't have been recognized as a stroke of genius. But it was.
In my next post I'll explore the album often seen as a low point in the "Fab 4's" career, but one which I like: "Magical Mystery Tour." Kids my age were really taken by "I Am the Walrus." We might be surprised to be reminded that this song was the 'B' side to the single "Hello Goodbye."
Such wonderful artistry. It ages like fine wine.
Addendum: George Harrison's "This is Love" should have been a major hit. That was on the same album as "I Got My Mind Set On You."
- Brian Williams - morris mn Minnesota - bwilly73@yahoo.com

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