Skip to comments.Curse of Beatlemania
Posted on 01/13/2002 9:55:09 AM PST by UnBlinkingEye
Curse of Beatlemania
by Joseph Sobran
A few weeks ago I wrote some mild criticisms of the Beatles and the sky fell. Angry readers called me "ignorant," "vicious," and various other things displaying blindness to my finer qualities. I hadnt realized there was a militant Beatle Taliban, and I was an infidel. I was lucky to escape a fatwa.
Some of the Beatles fans did make civil and reasonable arguments; they defended George Harrison as a guitarist and reminded me that such musical luminaries as Leonard Bernstein and Frank Sinatra had praised them.
But Bernstein was surely over the top when he called Lennon and McCartney the greatest composers of the twentieth century. What about sticking to pop music
Johnny Mercer, Harold Arlen, Harry Warren, Richard Rodgers, and Frank Loesser? And when Sinatra called Harrisons "Something" one of the greatest songs of its era, I think it did more credit to his generosity than to his judgment. (Sinatra went to unfortunate lengths to prove he wasnt an old fogey, as witness his excruciating recording of "Bad, Bad Leroy Brown.")
Its not that I hate the Beatles; Ive always liked them well enough. I used to play their tapes on long drives with my kids, and we all enjoyed them.
What I did hate from the beginning was Beatlemania. It made me uneasy for reasons I didnt quite understand at the time. The main reason was that the enthusiasm was so synthetic. My generation didnt discover the Beatles in the normal way; the Beatles were imposed on us by publicists and marketers.
Once upon a time, fame was slowly acquired. A mans reputation spread gradually, and his good name was so hard-won that he might fight a duel over an insult or a libel. Abraham Lincoln nearly had to cross swords (literally) with a man he had ridiculed in a newspaper.
Even in the world of pop music, a singer used to have to perform for years, making contact with small audiences from town to town, before he "hit the big time." He had to earn appreciation. It was hard work, but local fame necessarily preceded national fame.
With the Beatles something new was happening. National fame (at least on this side of the Atlantic) was created instantly. It wasnt due to their music; it was due to their promoters. Millions of kids allowed themselves to be manipulated into an enthusiasm few of them would have arrived at on their own. Pop music was no longer really "pop" the result of interaction between music and listener.
As soon as they got off the plane, the Beatles were mobbed. This was not a phenomenon of musical taste. Their screaming fans wouldnt even allow them to be heard, werent interested in listening.
It was weird. I felt a pang of sympathy for the boys, because they obviously wanted to perform; they wanted to be musicians, and their own fans were making it hard. Could they be enjoying that kind of attention, which ruled out any real connection with the audience?
To me it all smacked of the "two-minute hate" in Nineteen Eighty-Four far more benign, but equally mindless. It wasnt the Beatles fault. Their fans neither knew nor cared who was engineering the mass emotions that swamped the music. Even as a kid, I didnt want to be part of that, the submergence of the self in the mass.
Since then, what we call "pop" culture has become uncomfortably close to totalitarian politics. Even our aesthetic tastes are increasingly formed by forces of which we know little. It cant be good for the soul to be subject to so much calculating hype and promotion.
Democracy too has come to mean mass manipulation, with lots of focus groups, demographic studies, and advertising techniques replacing rational persuasion. The individual who prefers to make up his own mind knows he counts for nothing in todays "democratic process" (eerie phrase!). You have a choice of which mass to join, thats all. Either way, youll make no difference to the outcome.
On the other hand, some people find it thrilling to be part of a stampeding herd, without asking what started the commotion. They should feel right at home in these times.
We live in a world in which the passive and malleable mass has become prior to the individual and the community. Beatlemania didnt originate this condition, but in its own way it was an intimation.
January 12, 2002
Don't forget "cranky" Joe!
"What about sticking to pop music Johnny Mercer, Harold Arlen, Harry Warren, Richard Rodgers, and Frank Loesser? "
Heavens, Sobran is younger than me, but what an old fart!
23 Skidoo, Joe!
I thought the Beatles were the cat's pajamas!
I totally disagree with you.
I lived on the south side of Chicago and I was in grade school then, too. I and everyone I know HATED the Beatles.
And our thinking then was pretty clear and I still believe in it today: WHY even "import" the Beatles? We had the Beach Boys and we had Jefferson Airplane and we had The Doors -- any kind of music you wanted to hear, we had already! WHO THE HELL NEEDED THOSE WIMPY MOP TOPS WITH THEIR OH-SO-CUTE PRESS CONFERENCES? ("We turned left at Greenland...") Hell, for that kind of thing, the US biz kids made the Monkees...
And if you think the Beatles music was magic, just magic, I suggest you get (heck, I'd suggest EVERYONE get it anyway):
When Beatlemania reached the U.S. we had the Beach Boys, but not Jefferson Airplane or the Doors. I lived in Las Vegas when they hit and most of us guys didn't like them at first either, then we noticed all the girls loved them, saw Hard Days Night and wished we were one of them.
We lived in Brookfield when Kennedy was assassinated, used to ride my bike to the zoo.
The record company they were with really screwed them, can't remember the details.
I happen to be someone who does not think homos are going straight to Hell. I think it is a problem and not a good life style, by any means, but basically I don' t get torqued out by it, any more than I do schizophrenia or autism. I like to think that I arrived at that conclusion by reading about it and thinking about it.
I know some people who have about the same opinion as I do but they never read a book about it, and do not seem to be intellectually informed about the problem. I beleive they got their opinion from TV shows with sympathetic homo characters. In other words, they were slowly manipulated into feeling and believing a certain way without any real brain input. The methods are used by everybody everywhere. That is why I keep tin foil over my head. Down with Madison Avenue! parsy.
I think the biggest reason why the Beatles had such a huge impact was that in early 1964, there were very few American pop groups that were extremely popular (the Beach Boys being one of them). People forget what happened on that fateful day in 1959 when Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and J. P. Big Bopper Richardson were killed in that tragic airplane crash--it wasn't called The Day the Music Died for nothing. These three musicians--had they lived--would have become the second generation of major rock and roll successes.
Along with Elvis Presley being in the Army at that time and Chuck Berry's legal troubles in the same period, no wonder the first wave of rock and roll music was nearly gone by 1960. The Beatles and the subsequent British Invasion of 1964-1967 reinvigorated rock and roll, which set up the second generation of rock and roll music that alas was gone by the end of 1970 with the deaths of Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin and the fallout from the Rolling Stones' infamous concert at Altamont Raceway just east of Livermore, CA at the end of 1970.
I read the LOTR trilogy years ago, saw the movie last week, I liked both the books and the movie but both were a bit long.
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