I sang loud at first, I really thought the other kids would like it. By the end only the teacher was singing wholeheartedly, playing the piano and her back mostly to the class. A few other kids were still singing along in a purely obligatory fashion, the rest had abandoned it and a few were giving me dirty looks.
Afterward, by our lockers, one of the bigger girls in the class came over to scowl at me. She said she could easily write a better song than mine. I told her to prove it. I have been waiting thirty eight years now to hear her effort, although long ago I came to admit that my attempt was no feat to better.
A few years later I read about how The Beatles recorded, I first encountered the idea of multitrack recording. They weren’t playing these songs live at putting them on tape, they were recording a few bits at a time, overlapping all the pieces and putting it together as these grand musical paintings. I knew I had to try this.
My first attempts were probably made when I was 11 or 12. I had collected a few very crappy instruments, but it didn’t matter much because I didn’t know how to play at all. This didn’t seem important. I would record a track, usually at first it was a drum track or rhythm. I would rewind the cassette and put it in another deck where I could play it back loud, and record me playing along on the guitar and singing.
It was very rough at first. Between my inability to sing or play, tape his, and the high loss of quality that occurred when the back tracks were played over our family stereo; most attempts came quickly to the point of diminishing returns.
It was a few years later when I first got an open reel recorder, old fashioned even when I was a kid, half inch reel-to-reel at fifteen inches per second. This deck had separate record button for left and right, so I could easily listen to myself on one channel while recording the other. Soon enough I managed to find a way to bounce these tracks down to one, so I could then add on more parts, almost to infinity, in theory anyway. Again the devil that is tape hiss was always in the mix, although now he was more easily kept at bay. When I was sixteen or seventeen I got my first used cassette four-track. Finally, it felt like the skies were wide open and the training wheels were off.
I had so much fun for so many years just hiding away and making up songs, and attempting to put together little albums. I always enjoyed this so much more than playing live. The first few awkward attempts I made at performing had left a sour taste in my mouth. But I occupied and entertained myself for hours and years decades even, experimenting at home with what sort of weird sounds I could coax out of the darkness.
Years later, in my twenties, I would come to really love playing live. Ha. It helps when you know what you are doing, a little bit at least.
As I grew up I came to see The Beatles differently as well. I’ve admitted at a young age I really did want to grow up to be John Lennon, but as I got older I started to see in many respects he was not a man to emulate. I’m not perfect, no one is, Beatles included. There’s a few times if you know their history one could use words such as ‘asshole’ when speaking of them individually or as a group.
I’m not judging, I’m just saying, I learned pretty early these guys were just another set of goofy humans. There was nothing godlike or even saintly about them. Underneath it all, they were just these four guys, you know? Instead of trying to become anyone else or repeat anyone’s, I was free to do as I please, I was fully able to make my own mistakes.
I still have mad respect for their music, and there impact on me is something that can never be erased. I visited New York early in the century, and made a point of visiting Strawberry Fields and the Dakota, the last place where John Lennon lived. I got choked up as we walked passed the gated entrance, I don’t think I’m the only one, but I couldn’t say for sure as my eyes had become blurry.
And now, looking back, it has been fifty years since I first came to America, and swept us up in a tsunami of guitars and screaming teenagers. The question is often asked, as it has since probably the late 60s, can there ever be a band like this again, this big, this ubiquitous and global? I really don’t think so, but I don’t think it has much to do with music.
Not discounting their immense talents, there is also time and timing involved. Time wise, many things have changed since the Beatles split up forty-four years ago. I can’t see any musician today having the same global, universal impact. Music today feels so divided and compartmentalized. Timing wise, at least here in America, I think we have to remember when the Beatles first came to America, first played on the Ed Sullivan show, 50 years ago tomorrow, that the nation was still mourning.
Only three months prior our president John F. Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas. Besides the obvious grief and pain our nation was feeling, this act was also the point where many people lost their sense of innocence, started to look at the systems and constructs around themselves with a more suspicious and skeptical eye. I was born too late to know first hand, but from anyone I have ever read or heard or talked to on the matter describes it as a moment when we collectively felt the wind knocked out of us.
I imagine in many ways it felt much like September 11th, possibly more painful just because of the innocent time that it shattered.
The country mourned, some say the country fell into a depression all together. The months passed and then it seems the country needed something to break its lament, to lift off the melancholy blanket we hid underneath.
I think ultimately there will be more people on level with The Beatles, but they were so much more than mere stars. I believe they are up there with the names of the ages, with Shakespeare and Beethoven and Van Gogh. Those few names our species will remember as long as we go on remembering things.
Another question I have heard asked especially recently, what about fifty years from now, will people still be talking about them when they are one hundred years old? I think so, almost certainly. I will, at least, if I’m still around.