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The Beatles have been something huge in my life. Not their music so much as the massive and permanent impact they’ve had on the entire planet. I was born back in 1963, the year during which The Beatles, famously, took over the world.
Yes, even as a tiny child I got a gift from my grandmother back in England—a colouring book titled “Yellow Submarine” and I coloured away at it as I stared at their four fascinating faces. Later on when I was in the first grade and the band broke up, some other kids whisper-sang these lyrics, “Hey Jude, I saw you nude/Don’t try to fake it, I saw you naked.” John would have been thrilled to hear the new words! Of course the lyrics were a parody of “Hey Jude” but I found myself singing the new lyrics quietly to myself. Already, in my young mind, these strange people had been underwater in a cartoon and had sung dirty words. And so, in my own story, the Beatles began.
Throughout life the four faces went with me. I didn’t own any of their albums until I was fourteen or so but the songs, of course, were all around me on radios and in people’s voices. Old men sang them. Other children danced and sang. Cool young men did their own versions on the TV.
Later on, in the punk era, I was crazy for punk, worshiping The Clash among others. But I kept The Beatles going inside me, not telling my friends. Looking back I suspect carrying on with The Beatles through the punk era was more radical than following the Sex Pistols. Despite all this, I know The Clash understood The Beatles. Indeed, they and other bands were created by The Beatles. And so it carries on today. I still read books and theories about The Beatles at the age of 52.
The Beatles were, and remain, something entirely new in the world. They changed everything else upon their arrival on the world stage in 1963.
Until 1963, the rich and famous, each and every one of them, looked the same: nice suit, sleek hair. In a very real way, the power men were the ideal for all poorer men. It’s no exaggeration to say that a world of greed churned out these men by the tens of thousands. A world that was narrow and allowed only freedom for a few.
And then The Beatles came alive.
Poet Allan Ginsberg saw this. He himself was “different,” with long hair and open homosexuality. Not massive, but enough for the man to see the road forward, and he referred to The Beatles as “Gods.” In my mind, the image of one God with four heads emerged: The Beatles balancing one another: Ringo lightening John’s sharpness, Paul softening George’s sarcasm, and so on. Where the powerful were alone in their identical search for money, The Beatles became famous as friends above all, supporting and loving each other (in public!). At the same time the word “love” filled all of their songs and changes and helped bloom the world itself.
Compare The Beatles to any other person in the early 60s and onward. They were working class and unafraid to say whatever they wanted to say about war or sex or their love of black music that had so entirely inspired them. Rather than wanting the audience to copy them, The Beatles hoped people would live their own lives. And they did.
Let’s use my father as an image. He was the same age as The Beatles and had never been a fan. He was raised in a poor family and fought for middle class for himself and his family as I grew up. And still my father grew his sideburns long and thick, and he suddenly wore a leather coat at one point and a gold necklace. Everyone began to change as The Beatles represented something mysterious and new.
Now, I don’t want to overbuild all this. You might say “but The Beatles were rich” or “but their fans wanted to make money” and so on. And all of this is true. However, I would encourage you to consider that reactions to The Beatles also helped support and grow notions of freedom, philosophy, and new versions of spirituality. People impacted by The Beatles went in all sorts of directions, some even becoming radicals who actively fought capitalism in their lives. And on and on it went.
As Ginsberg said of the four Beatles, “They had, and conveyed, a realization that the world and human consciousness had to change.”
In a way, my love of these four is perfectly shown in one episode of the TV show Mad Men. In this show the main character Don Draper, a character of wealth and power, is forced by his much younger second wife Megan to sit down and listen to The Beatles’s song “Tomorrow Never Knows.” We watch the rich man completely unable to understand the Beatles. Wealth versus freedom. Despite everything Don has built, he cannot comprehend what The Beatles offer the world.
To Don, and for all of us, The Beatles were an image of the future of the world that either excited us or scared us to death. Somehow money can’t really do it. Offering stern opinions can’t do it either. So “what the hell is going to happen to us all?” is the question beneath all of this. The Beatles didn’t really know the answer to this one, but they were brave enough to ask.
And today, The Beatles are still out there in billions of visions of words, sounds, and visions. Five decades later they are still both dreamers and supporters of our own dreams. And they invite us all to join them in it all.
“All you need is love. Love is all you need.”
Such a beautiful thought. Until now men had to be tough and macho. And now? Anything is possible.
No wonder I’ve loved the Beatles all my life. I look around us and see the state of the world and can only hope the Beatles become listened to and listened to even more.
Adrian Barnes was born in Blackpool, England but moved to Canada in 1969. He teaches English at Selkirk College, British Columbia. He is married with two children. He received an MA in Creative Writing from Manchester Metropolitan University and Nod is his first published novel—available from Titan.