Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Meet the Beatles

A digression ...

I was working in TV news back when George Harrison died in November of 2001, and I remember the newsroom scurrying to find some sort of local connection to the Beatles (as you know, local TV news is about nothing if not tenuous links to national and international news). At any rate, I stopped dead in my tracks, astonished, when a twentysomething show producer piped up with: "Who's George Harrison?"

"Um, one of the Beatles. You really don't know who George Harrison is?" The expression on my face, I suspect, belied my disgust. You would have thought he had taken a crap on the floor.

"I'm not old," the kid barked defensively. And then with insolent pride he added, "I wouldn't be able to name any of the Beatles for you!"

At the time I wrote him off as an idiot, but in retrospect I was the foolish one for thinking he was an anomaly. Increasingly I find that a lot of people in their twenties -- and even early thirties -- cannot name all four Beatles. The enlightened ones can at least name Paul and John. But all four? If you are under 35 and can do so, you might just be in the minority.

Who are these people?
Your mother should know -- and so should you

Speaking as someone born in that demographic DMZ between Baby Boomer and Generation X, I can say it nearly boggles my mind that so many people do not know all four Beatles.

The dismay doesn't solely stem from the fact that I grew up nourished on the Fab Four, albeit secondhand. As the youngest (by far) of five children, I inherited -- or stole, depending on how much of a stickler you are about such things -- from my older siblings a stack of sacred Beatles albums that included Meet the Beatles, Sgt. Pepper's and Let It Be. I worked hard to memorize the words to "Penny Lane." The song "Eight Days a Week" severely hampered my comprehension of the number of days in a week. "Revolution" likely impacted my political awareness for years to come. I loved the animated flick Yellow Submarine long before I knew you were supposed to be stoned to appreciate it.

No, the dismay goes deeper than all that. Surely the Beatles' imprint on popular culture, an influence still very prevalent today, is profound enough to warrant everyone at least knowing the names of all four members. It is why schools teach kids about the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. It is why kids learn about friggin' George Washington. At the very least, it is about understanding what has shaped our world and respecting those precursors of change.

Consider it the fundamentals of rock 'n' roll literacy. Kids ought to know who Elvis was and where Graceland is. They ought to possess rudimentary knowledge of Bob Dylan and Jimi Hendrix. They should at least be able to name two Rolling Stones (guess which two) and they should understand the phrase "British invasion" in terms that have nothing to do with Paul Revere (or the Raiders, for that matter).

So, there. I got it off my chest. Thanks for indulging me.


At 10:16 AM, Blogger Dr. Pants said...

I think the one on the bottom left is Keith Moon and the guy to his right is Herman after he left the Hermits, correct?

Actually, it boggles my 20-something mind, too. You're right to lump them in as the "founders" of rock, the same way more people should know James Madison for more than being married to snack cake maven Dolly.

At 11:20 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Shame on you, Chase.

When the country's legal (and many would argue, cultural and life and we know it) future is at stake.

Who among us, for example, can name all of the Supreme Court justices.

Or how about this: Explain the difference in culture and philosophy between Iraq and Iran?

The Beatles, certainly left a deep and lasting mark on Western Culture, yet rank so low on "must-know" lists. It worries me far more than kids can't identify the U.S. on a globe or that they can't speak English. Maybe we could teach them by singing Yellow Submarine.

At 12:40 PM, Anonymous Richard Evans Lee said...

Well, I can't name whoevere was in N'Syn c or the Back Street Boys, much less anyone who is currently charting. I'm not mocking the stuff. I just don't have time for that species of cultural literacy.

While, for someone of my generation, it is hard to not imagine that The Beatles will be forever I sometimes wonder. If you hark back through the centuries reputations would survive for a century only to vanish forever. Or a poet would languish barely known only to be considered a major talent a couple of centuries later.

I was happy to see George Harrison have an MTV hit before his passing. Hoped it made him feel good.

At 2:14 PM, Blogger OKPartisan said...

Shame on you, Anonymous, for being a snob.

Why should our citizens not know the Supreme Court justices AND geography AND our cultural history?

Yes, it is appalling that Americans contact the state of New Mexico to see if a visit requires a passport. Yes, our population is really, really stupid in a lot of really embarrassing ways.

But why is it shameful that the bar should be set more than a smidge higher than idiocy? Why not expect more of our populace?

(And I happen to know that one of Chase's ways of showing off is to name all the Supreme Court Justices. And all the Cabinet members.)

You could even hope that if young people learned the history and, dare I say, evolution, of the culture they prize, perhaps they might have a greater appreciation for history in general. I know, it's a stretch, but there's got to be some way to expand people's horizons beyond their narrow little local, personal worlds.

At 2:55 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Please, someone start singing conjunction junction, what's that function...I think we have a Schoolhouse Rock true believer among us. I'm just a bill, yes, I'm only a bill....

It's a noble endeavor, to be sure. But if given the choice between a green salad and pie, most folks are going to take the pie every time. And it's hard to make salad pie taste good.

As an aside, this blog is the ultimate in Chase showing off...yet I feel moved to applaud, anyway. Applause. Applause.

At 4:20 PM, Blogger OKPartisan said...

Actually I prefer "Fifty Nifty United States." :-)

At 4:47 PM, Blogger Conrad Spencer said...

Even speaking as a twenty-something Beatles fan, why should anyone born after, say, 1980 care when the Beatles have so little relevance to their lives?

Understanding their influence doesn't make a differnce in what tops the charts today. Many of those who can name all four Beatles can't name a single hit song today, because it has no relevence to their lives. (I know Chase keeps up with what the young'ens are listening too, but he's the exception to nearly every rule).

A few posts ago, Chase made reference to Jon Stewart, who said magazines were irrelevent. But magazines are relevent to my life, and to a few others.

Today's communities are formed around common interests rather than common geography. Relevence is, well, relevent.

There is too much information, too much media, and too much static. We each choose what is relevent to our lives and tune out the rest. With hundreds of TV stations, satellite radio, and the limitless Internet, our information and entertainment is completely customized.

We should not be surprised that these chasms grow--not just between generations, but between those of differing interests as well. What we've gained in choice we've lost in a sense of community. History and context may still be important, but the history and context you find important is entirely dependant on the community to which you choose to belong.

At 10:15 AM, Blogger Daniel Gale-Grogen said...

Restricting your knowledge to things that are relevant to your personal experience does not just betray a lack of intellectual curiosity, it's dangerous, and its an abhorrent trait in journalism, TV or not. If you do not know who the individual Beatles are/were -- or pick any other important cultural signifier, take your pick -- I see it as a full-page ad proudly declaring how much you probably do not know, and how blithely content you are with that condition.

At 10:20 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

This blog, in its last two postings, is fascinating. Chase, could you repost this, framing the argument. Otherwise, many others may overlook...

At 12:42 PM, Blogger Conrad Spencer said...

Daniel, I agree that everyone should seek knowledge beyond their personal experience. My post attempted to offer more of a cause than an excuse for cultural ignorance.

With more and more information and media to consume, we each must be more selective in what we consume. This necessitates that much be left out. The question is, who gets to decide what constitutes an "important cultural signifier"?

At 3:11 PM, Blogger CGHill said...

"You mean Paul McCartney had a band before Wings?"

(Actually, I decide what constitutes an important cultural signifier - at least, for me. Feel free to do similarly for yourself; it's the American way.)

At 9:45 PM, Blogger Larry Mondello said...

After seeing Paul's latest sellout, TV commercials for Fidelity Investments,I'm not sure I remember the Beatles either.

At 1:19 PM, Anonymous Turtleboy said...

All I want to know is why the documentary Let It Be still isn't out on DVD, damnit!

At 11:39 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I was born in 1990 and The Beatles are my favorite band. Even though The Beatles as a band aren't performing, most non-Beatles fans would probably be amazed at how many people attend American-English concerts (the biggest tribute band in America). My brother tells me The Beatles are dead, but for anyone who thinks so, I have to tell you that The Beatles are very much alive, and if not as popular as during the British Invasion, there are still fans in the younger generations who know that The Beatles will live forever through their fame and especially their music.

At 3:16 PM, Blogger Robert Rouse said...

You'll have to excuse me for posting at such a late date, but I'm new to reading Chase's blog. As a 50 year old man who grew up on the Beatles as well as being a new father (I have a two toddlers) I am not that shocked when younger people don't know who the Beatles are - dismayed yes, shocked no. When I was growing up, there was always a lot of music in our home. Through the influence of my parents and others, I quickly discovered Elvis, Johnny Cash, Little Richard, Buck Owens and others in the early rock and country fields. I turned nine the day before the Beatles first landed at Kennedy, but thanks to my mom, I had been listening to British imports of the Beatles since early 1963. I followed my parents example. I always have music playing for my kids. They hear early rock'n'roll, classical, classic rock, classic country, punk, big bands, jazz, blues and of course, the Beatles. My wife is 15 years younger, so they also get a dose of newer material as well. By the time my kids are ready to go out on their own, I want them to have a good knowledge of all music (I'll let them discover Rap and Thrash Metal on their own). But no matter how they turn out, they already know the names of the Beatles and an early working knowledge of government.

By the way, my son is named Harrison. My daughter is McCartney.

At 12:32 AM, Blogger Dave said...

I wholeheartedly agree with your POV. I too, being born in '68, am one that could be defined as between Gen X and Boomers. My Beatles lessons were also second hand, listening to them on the radio and my father's LP's - mainly Revolver and Help. I used to stare in wonder at the Revolver album cover for the entire time I was listening to the album. The music enveloped me - and the artwork kept my visual attention so my brain could absorb all the sounds I was hearing.

Kids today need to know the founding fathers of rock. They need to understand not just who they are, or were, but more importantly what they did - what they changed. I think music appreciation should be an elective in all high schools. You would take it sometime between your sophmore and senior year, for one semester. Each student would learn the beginning of music (gregorian chant, for instance), move to classical music (through it's periods - baroque, classical, etc) to world music, rock n' roll, country, folk, jazz (bebop, etc) and so on. In this day and age, with pop culture so accessible, so "cheap," it is important for today's youth to get a handle on how deeply the Beatles were infused into the culture of their age.


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