I don’t believe anyone who tells me they’ve been a huge fan of the Beatles since they were a child. I don’t think you can be a “huge fan” of anything when you’re that young because most of what you experience is filtered by your parents. To be able to call yourself a “huge fan” of The Beatles – or any band, for that matter- you need a certain level of independent maturity and sense of context in order to build your own personal relationship with the music, culture and history associated with the band. Unfortunately, our society’s somewhat unhealthy relationship with The Beatles can make this process difficult and undesirable at times.
I say “somewhat unhealthy” not to imply that The Beatles aren’t deserving of our obsession – they definitely are – but rather, because of how that obsession too often becomes less about the music and more about our opinion of it. The never-ending debate over whether The Beatles are the best band of all time can spark reactions on par with political “hot button” issues. Music fans have a lot invested in their opinions of The Beatles. Just as politicians have to have a stance on the big issues, serious music fans have to have to take a position on The Beatles. It’s not an issue you you can “sit out.” Even casual fans will often have strong convictions for or against the band, probably for the same reasons uninformed voters have strong opinions on popular issues: they feel the pressure to have have an opinion, lest they bee seen as uninvolved or uneducated. The product of this unbalanced focus is an atmosphere that often proves to be overwhelming, and as a result, unwelcoming to new fans.
The effects of our discussion can be felt at a very young age. It creates an awkward gap between the age you are told to appreciate The Beatles and the age when that’s actually possible. The ever-present pop culture of today makes it hard enough to get sincerely interested in a band that stopped making music forty years ago. If a young fan does manage to develop a genuine interest, I think it’s best to allow that curiosity to flourish independently and without pressure. The first step in that direction is to stop parents from raving about The Beatles to their children.
I believe parents do their young children a large disservice when they rave about The Beatles for two reasons:
1) Music can be essential to forming a personal identity, and more often that not, that requires a separation from the identities of of your parents. It would be shame for a teenager to refuse The Beatles a chance because a parental insisted upon them when they were young. Music indoctrination will often produce the same rebellion as religious or political indoctrination. This is not to say parents should hide their interest, but they should spare the sermons.
2) The Beatles work best as a destination, not a starting point. In order to truly “get” the masterpiece you have to be familiar with all it’s failed derivatives and mediocre peers. They aren’t required to enjoy it, but they are required to understand and appreciate it. This is particularly true for tweens. They haven’t watched MTV for the last 20 years and aren’t familiar with the last several decades of top 40 required to appreciate the band that, in many ways, is still the template for pop music bands.
I didn’t develop a relationship with The Beatles until college. At the time I found it sort of embarrassing, like not being able to name all 50 states. Now, I consider it somewhat of a blessing. All those years I spent listening to everything but The Beatles were extremely useful when I finally decided to give the band a real chance.
I think the two main reasons I took so long were:
1) the previously mentioned social pressure to sincerely appreciate the band before I was capable of doing so
2) I found it slightly depressing to consider the possibility that the unbelievably uncool baby boomers had in fact lived through the “golden era” of pop music and that I would only be able to experience it as an artifact. Even if I strived to recreate it for myself though unending research and immersion, it would still wouldn’t be the same. I missed it by being born too late. Anyone talking about their impact was a harsh reminder. The alternative was to marginalize the band and hope that The Beatles were a peak, but not the top of the mountain. Certainly there must be a better band, and if they haven’t arrived yet, they will soon enough. Feel kind of dumb for thinking that now. Now as a fan, I don’t think The Beatles are objectively the best pop band of all time, but I do understand why they have the monolithic reputation they have.
So I guess my initial rejection of The Beatles helped me appreciate them once I decided to give them a chance, but I would hardly say my experience is the ideal. Ideally, I would have been able to evaluate The Beatles independently and simultaneously with other past and current pop acts as I grew older; free from all the annoying influences and opinions currently circulating. I think once the baby boomers are gone, this will get a lot easier.
Not sure what to think about Beatles Rock Band and all the other recent Beatles marketing pushes. My gut says it’s a step in the right direction. Anything that makes the conversation about the Beatles a little less serious is fine by me. I think I would have been able to make a sincere connection with The Beatles a lot earlier if I had a game like Beatles Rock Band to play with my friends and / or parents. The Beatles’ legacy in the next decade and beyond will definitely be interesting. So much about music has changed recently, no institution is immune to it. If I could dictate the future, I would have us all forget about The Beatles for about ten years or so, then rediscover them as sort of a musical renaissance. I think that might be enough to remove all the clutter and annoying debate around the band and really focus on the music again. It’ll never happen, but I can dream, can’t I?