When I was 13, I saw The Beatles on television for the first time. It took them less than five minutes to win me over with their mop-top hair and carefully crafted personalities, and the next day I ran out and bought two of their albums. My story is the same as millions of other American girls’, except for a few minor details: the year was 1995, I was watching the movie Help! on AMC, and it was my mother, not me, who saw them on The Ed Sullivan Show when they first came to America. I was a little behind the times, but then again, I’ve never claimed to be a trendsetter.
Thanks to an impressive collection of albums, videos and useless memorabilia, my Beatles obsession thrived for many years. While the rest of my friends oohed and aahed over the Spice Girls, I shook my head and explained that a song about walruses and eggmen was a timeless classic that “Wannabe” could never surpass.
“But the song makes no sense,” my friends complained, “and you can’t even dance to it.”
“Yeah, but it contains the line ‘goo goo g’joob,’ ” I said, feeling triumphant in my ability to argue until someone pointed out that the Spice Girls had “zig-a-zig-ah.” And it was true, they did. One nonsensical phrase was no better or worse than the next, but deep down I knew I was right. The Beatles were better than the Spice Girls. They were better than Nirvana. They were better than Dave Matthews or Coldplay or U2. They were even better than Elvis because, thanks to inter-band bickering and Yoko, they broke up before they had a chance to get fat and sing songs about Hawaii. Although, based on Paul’s unfortunate duet with Michael Jackson and Ringo’s Shining Time Station character, I wouldn’t put it past them.
Teenagers tend to go overboard with their obsessions, and I was no exception. I had too many posters, too many T-shirts, too many useless facts about a defunct band stored in my brain. “Did you know that Paul McCartney came up with the melody for ‘Yesterday’ in a dream?” I’d tell my parents. “No,” my mom would reply, “but I do remember when he was under 40.”
The woman had a point. The Beatles were 10 years older than my parents. They broke up when my mother was in college, and my favorite, John Lennon, was killed before I was born. And let me tell you, it’s pretty hard to have a celebrity crush when the celebrity in question is dead. Notice I said difficult, not impossible. “I hope you know,” I once told my boyfriend, “that if John Lennon ever comes back from the dead, de-ages himself back into his 20s, moves to Nashville and asks me out, I’m totally going to say yes.” I thought my declaration of love for another man would alarm him, but apparently my boyfriend is not threatened by dead rock stars with devoted widows to whom they were once happily married. I’m glad he feels that secure in our relationship, but if he so much as looks at Marilyn Monroe, someone better hold me back because that bitch is going down.Despite Yoko’s singing, despite Paul’s misguided belief that the mullet
was once a viable fashion statement, despite the fact that George
Harrison made a music video in which he sat on a giant rubber duck,
something must be said for a band that can inspire a new generation of
fans 30 years after its dissolution. Once the Anthology
videos came out, I found myself surrounded by enthusiastic Beatles fans
my age. We hung their pictures on our bedroom walls and watched their
so-called “music videos” on TV. One day I got in my friend’s car to
find her listening to the Revolver album instead of her usual hip-hop.
“I still really like Eminem,” she said, “but right now my favorite song
is ‘Taxman.’ ”
I wasn’t the only teenage Beatle fan in the 1990s, and I’m probably not the only twenty-something who was heartbroken when Paul McCartney neglected to include Nashville on his recent U.S. tour. I haven’t read a book about The Beatles or bought a John Lennon T-shirt in almost 10 years, but I still listen to their music regularly. I don’t remember a time when Lennon was alive, when Yoko wasn’t the rock ’n’ roll scapegoat, or when the song “When I’m 64” was about Paul McCartney’s distant future. I’ve never been to a concert in which thousands of screaming audience members drown out the music. I’ve never lived in a country that actually tried to give peace a chance, but I think it’s sweet that people once believed it was possible.
This Thursday marks the 25th anniversary of John Lennon’s death, and newspaper articles tell me it represents the end of a cultural era. I have as much authority to write about that era as I do guessing at Thomas Jefferson’s favorite food, so I’ll just stick with what I know. I know that “A Hard Day’s Night” is a fun song to sing in the shower. I know that George Harrison was underrated. I know that no matter how hard I try, I will never like the song “Yellow Submarine.” I know that if I ever meet a Beatle, it will be at least a week before I can stop giggling and speak in complete sentences again. I still have one tacky tye-dyed Beatles T-shirt. I wear it to bed and when I wash my car. And I’ll probably wear it when I lay the smackdown on Marilyn Monroe, because she won’t stop prancing across the television screen in front of my boyfriend.