The day after John Lennon’s death, Nick reflects on his own musical upbringing and the moment he found The Beatles.
Growing up, I was impressionable. My dad was responsible for a lot of the impressions, particularly tastes in music.
Back in the day, I remember being the only grade schooler with a firm opinion on music; as a matter of fact, I can’t remember other kids ever talking about anything outside Britney Spears, N’ Sync, and the Backstreet Boys. How could they when those faces were adorned on every book bag, t-shirt, and “Got Milk?” poster in the cafeteria? Maybe that explains why sweet Miss Mills looked at me sideways when I managed to casually work Queen into a conversation.
I don’t frown on being that oddball, but smile. To this day, I still love Queen and I still enjoy Black Sabbath, Janice Joplin, and Jimi Hendrix. My dad was responsible for showing me all of them. Care to venture what my first musical obsession was?
The Who. Again, thanks dad.
In fact, if I were to put pen to paper and record my top ten bands/artists, they would still be up there.
Anyway, grade school flew by and middle school came and went (thank god). Sometime during my freshmen year of high school, I started tapping table tops to the sounds of Led Zeppelin. I only knew the songs that were staples on 95.9 The River and 97.9 The Loop: Black Dog, Rock and Roll, and Stairway to Heaven. The band’s popularity was reaffirmed by the wrestling team when they worked out to Led Zeppelin IV in the weight room after school. The music carried throughout the hallway and I liked it. Naturally, I figured my dad would have access to the goods (remember, this was before the Internet was used for anything other than schoolwork). How couldn’t he? He liked the good stuff!
Now, I can’t remember how or where it happened—I want to say we were driving somewhere in his car—but I asked him about Zeppelin, or as I heard them say on the radio “getting the Led out,” and he told me—more or less—that he didn’t like them. He never had and didn’t care to change his mind. He didn’t even like Stairway…
How dare he?!
You’ve got to understand, music and movies was a big topic of conversation and really our way of bonding. We usually agreed on everything; so the Zeppelin disagreement sticks in my mind. The conversation went nowhere fast. It went something like this:
“How can you love The Who and The Stones and not like Zeppelin?!”
“I think they’re overrated.”
“Because they’re on the radio all the time?!”
“How is that different than Aerosmith?!!”
“Because! Think about.”
Flemings have a way with words.
Sometime later, my dad got on a Beatles kick. The family’s stereo set started playing Rubber Soul and later our shared iTunes account was loaded with Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band and Help!. But The Beatles were never something my dad exposed me to when I was at my most impressionable; the band’s music something my sister and I danced around the living room to while mom was away at grandma’s on Sundays. That was what Black Sabbath’s We Sold Our Soul for Rock ‘n’ Roll was for.
Because he didn’t like Zeppelin and certainly because I was a hormonal teenager who didn’t want to be under either of my parent’s shadows, I didn’t jump onto The Beatles bandwagon. I didn’t even bother to listen. I once felt as if I were in a special club liking the music my dad liked; this was a feeling underlined by teachers of his generation giving me high-fives and patting me on the back when most kids my age were listening to Now 15. But things had changed. Now I was going out of my way to be different than him.
The musical bond my dad and I had once shared became fragmented. The Beatles and Led Zeppelin were the casualties of war.
But its funny how time and taking a chance can change things.
Flash-forward to summer ‘12. High school is behind me and graduate school is now on my mind. I’m on my own trying to make it without mom and dad as a crutch. I’m sitting inside The Bullmoose enjoying a burger, cold beer, and waxing poetic with my good friend. To my left is one of those fancy jukebox-like things on the wall and the album artwork for Abbey Road flashes across the screen. It catches my attention. I had seen it before, but I really saw it for the first time that day. I think of my dad playing The Beatles at home.
Dear Prudence. Something. Drive My Car.
I think to myself, “It wasn’t that bad…”
I tell my friend, “You know, we should start listening to them.”
Two years later, I haven’t stopped listening.
There isn’t anything I can say about The Beatles that hasn’t already been said more elegantly by better people than me, but I suppose I’m attracted to the idea that the music was the sum of a lot of hard work from four imperfect guys. Down throughout the years, fans and critics have equated Lennon, McCartney, Harrison, and Starr to god-like figures who came down from the skies and changed popular culture forever; in my opinion, those people are only half right.
Today, the day after the thirty-fourth anniversary of John Lennon’s death, The Beatles have been on both my iPod and mind. They’re often described as “the twentieth century’s greatest romance,” but according to Lennon, they were “just a band that made it very big.” I tend to agree with the latter. It’s not that I don’t believe The Beatles were game-changers in more ways than one, but I don’t necessarily see them as infallible god-like figures; in my mind, that’s what makes them so damn incredible. They were flawed, but no less capable of turning us on.
Looking back on what’s been said about Lennon, he certainly had his hang-ups; often these were confirmed from the horse’s mouth. He refused to believe in the almighty and sanguine power the band wielded at the height of Beatlemania. On the other hand, sometimes he did. Case in point, the infamous 1966 interview where Lennon said:
“Christianity will go. It will vanish and shrink. I needn’t argue about that; I’m right and I’ll be proved right. We’re more popular than Jesus now; I don’t know which will go first—rock ‘n’ roll or Christianity. Jesus was all right but his disciples were thick and ordinary. It’s them twisting it that ruins it for me.”
Whether or not Lennon was comparing himself to Christ is, I think, beside the point; what’s interesting is even the great John Lennon was prone to foot-in-mouth syndrome and just as hypocritical as you or I. But despite—or maybe in spite—of his demons and shortcomings, he found a calling and reaffirmed it over and over again in the form of song.
And so, on the day after the anniversary of Lennon’s death, I’m thinking of a number of things.
I think about my dad. I think about finding The Beatles and seeing them through the rosy-colored fog, and finally I think on how I appreciate Lennon’s musical output that much more because of the fallibilities inherent in us all.
I don’t know if the world would be a better place if everybody could make a guitar sing like Lennon could, but maybe we’d have a shot at something grand if we owned up to our shortcomings and did something about them.
I don’t believe in magic
I don’t believe in I-ching
I don’t believe in Bible
I don’t believe in Tarot
I don’t believe in Hitler
I don’t believe in Jesus
I don’t believe in Kennedy
I don’t believe in Buddha
I don’t believe in Mantra
I don’t believe in Gita
I don’t believe in Yoga
I don’t believe in Kings
I don’t believe in Elvis
I don’t believe in Zimmerman
I don’t believe in Beatles
I just believe in me…