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    Thursday, August 25, 2005

    "Why This Band Plays On"



    Mikal Gilmore's article about The Beatles in The Times is fascinating. It's another one of those "What-is-it-about-these-guys?" essays that pop up perpetually about The Beatles and, as usual, the music, from a strictly aesthetic perspective, is not the conclusion. Instead, it is how these guys mirrored society.

    THAT August in 1965, we didn't fathom where the power in this sort of communion might lead. We didn't know where we were going with the Beatles, and they didn't know where they were headed. The music that followed their 1966 retirement from live performances turned often hopeful and generous (not to mention unbelievably creative), and more important, compassionate. "Sgt. Pepper" is often viewed as whimsical or naïve, and yet songs like "She's Leaving Home," "Getting Better" and "A Day in the Life" gave voice to the combined senses of hope, strangeness and anxiety that marked the lives of many in that period.

    By the end of the 1960's, though, the Beatles' songs had grown more mournful, frightened and angry. John Lennon grew suspicious of his audience's politics in "Revolution" and of the whole world in "The Ballad of John and Yoko," whereas Paul McCartney's "Let It Be" and "The Long and Winding Road" played like doleful prayers of solitude. By 1969, the two men - who had once exemplified collaboration - could barely sing to each other across a gulf of mutual recrimination.

    All this, sadly, reflected the tenor of the time. The spirit of Western youth - especially American - descended from bliss to disillusionment, as political assassinations, the madness of Vietnam, the strife over civil rights and political protests, the effects of unmonitored drug use and the violence of the Manson family and Altamont all bore down, taking a steady toll.


    I think part of the phenomenon of obsessive-Beatle-history is the need for baby boomers to own everything. Unfortunately, that generation has claim on The Beatles and can therefore reconstruct history in accord to their own lives. For example, this is the week that the French were liberated by the Allied Forces after being occupied by the Nazis for four years. The problem is that this event happened before the baby boom kids were born. So, it must disappear beneath excitement over something that happened in the sixties. Everything must.

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