Heresy: The Beatles, Milli Vanilli, and the Smell of Bullshit

I’ve never liked The Beatles. Even as a kid there was something condescending in their melodies and lyrics. I felt like a dog watching a ball bounce, my head forcibly nodding against the staccato handclapping and harmonized shouts of cheer. I didn’t have a fully formed world view, but I knew by instinct it was piffle to say “Nothing you can know that isn’t known/ Nothing you can see that isn’t shown.” There’s a folksy egotism in their cheerfulness; as if the universe exists simply because we’re here to witness it, and that fact should be sung out loud.

When I heard “Nobody Told Me” for the first time I started to get an inclination of what I felt was missing. I really like John Lennon’s solo records, but The Beatles make my teeth clinch. You’ve heard before about all the attendant dishonesty and hucksterism that built up The Beatles, in every bit the same way as have been New Kids on the Block, The Backstreet Boys, N’Sync, and the Jonas Brothers.

They began a bunch of woefully ambitious teenagers with Little Richard in their eyes. After playing local coffee shops and eeking out a meager tour in Germany, they hire Bruce Epstein, whom Paul McCartney would later call the real “fifth Beatle.” With Epstein’s help, the milky and red-lipped runts started wearing suits, won a record contract, and kept playing regular gigs with Epstein covering expenses. And then the kindling of dimples, eternal love, and an E Major caught fire and turned them into something like a sneeze, but even better.

In the first album review I ever wrote, I wondered what a fifteen year-old really has to share with the world. I asked it of Miley Cyrus, but I think the question deserves to be asked of The Beatles. They formed as miscreant teenagers, hung on long enough to find a similarly hungry manager, and won themselves a podium in front of the world before they’d even really had a chance to live. I don’t mind being sung to by teenagers, but I’d prefer they do it in a voice that’s their own. The Beatles sound chillingly impersonal to me. They sound like a bunch of sophomores with big lungs and an ear for form, unconvicted smiles and headbobs to accompany songs about loving someone forever.

Their music sounds cold and alien to me, the pious augmented chords from the hymnal conflated with the sing-along major chords of Gilbert and Sullivan. Even when there was nothing else like it, The Beatles still bore the stiff structures of their deathly boring antecedents in proper British culture.

It’s bizarre to see how many people still like The Beatles, and seem to do so without having much thought about why. In most company it goes almost without having to ask, it’s simply assumed that you’ll like them. We all do.

I’ve been called a bullshit artist by a lot of people. My friend S used to peer at me suspiciously when we talked because she was always trying to figure out if I was being serious or not. It’s an easy trick to look someone in the eye and tell them something of which you have no serious understanding.

It’s a pretty idea to imagine we’re rational creatures who communicate through intellect, experience, and exchange. But people are just as prone to believe something based on the way it sounds, or how pretty the box it comes in is. Go read a newspaper, watch a news show and listen to how much unfounded assertion there is in the daily life. And listen to your friends, co-workers, and family members parrot these assertions which they’ve internalized, not because they’re true, but because they arrived with some startling force and conviction.

I often wonder if I could get away with writing articles whose factuating hyperlinks point to nonsense. I could make a claim about the civil war in Sri Lanka and link to a clip of Looney Tunes just as easily as I could a news story from the AP. Alternately, I could write something filled with daggers and venom about some political conspiracy whose supporting texts were dense thickets, 10,000 word think tank reports which needed to be fished through to discover the one relevant passage which, I’d inevitably be mischaracterizing.

But if things sound true, based on some subliminal animal response to tone of voice, diction, body language, and insinuation, then they become true.  Perception is reality. I wish I could have created a compilation of the reactions I’ve gotten in telling people that I don’t really like The Beatles. The blank disbelieving eyes, the head turned to the side in mistrust. I told my friend C that The Beatles were church music with a backbeat and he’s made it into a refrain whenever I see him.

When I was twelve I was in love with Milli Vanilli. For a year or two, their first album became the candy coating on my pre-teen ennui. I doped myself with their music, feeding hopeless crushes that stretched towards infinity, and daydreams about another summer vacation. I didn’t know anything. My conscious life had unfolded in a quiet suburb measured in bicycle routes. The only scandals I knew were about neighbors divorcing or kids throwing parties when their parents were out of town. It was a simpler time, one that placated my sense for bullshit. It lasted for a while, but as soon as I started listening to another generation’s bullshit, I realized I was already covered in my own.

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7 thoughts on “Heresy: The Beatles, Milli Vanilli, and the Smell of Bullshit

  1. hm… Well, I’d not say you don’t have very good reasons for why you dislike the Beatles. They are very well put and reasoned.
    Who knows, perhaps that is all the truth there is to the Beatles, and close the book.

    And of course it is your own opinion, so whatever.

    However, disregarding the Beatles entirely for a moment, I think I’d have to disagree with a base assertion in those arguments.
    The assertion seems to boil down to this basic premise: Someone cannot say anything meaningful unless it comes from their direct experience.
    Now, I think it’s obvious that direct experience can strengthen someone’s perspective mightily. In some cases, perhaps it is the greatest argument for a viewpoint.
    But if experience were the only real gauge by which to judge the value of a statement, then there is no value in other perspectives. An Islamic extremist could say we have no valuable perspective on his actions because we have not lived his life. People who live in homes have only baseless opinions of homelessness. Why, homelessness might be fantastic, for all they know.

    Of course there is some truth to those statements. We really don’t know exactly what an Islamic Extremists’ life is like, nor do we have first hand knowledge to judge the quality of the lives of the homeless. But we can’t live lives ignoring people who have experienced those things, and we can formulate our own opinions and approaches despite them. I can genuinely say that it is wrong for an Islamic Extremist to kill another person without having lived his life. I can make a value judgment on someone’s basic living conditions without having experienced them. I do not have to be a medieval Christian to look at the crusades and say to myself, “That’s pretty fucked up.”

    Of course experience is invaluable, especially in things like love. In that regard, I certainly see your point concerning the Beatles (This is why I don’t go to the Beatles for love advice, though I do go to them for catchy tunes.) But i would suggest that experience isn’t everything, and that ideas, the imagination, and putting oneself into another person’s situation can lead to observations about life that are just as genuine and resonating as personal experiences.

    As a writer I know that sometimes the author can be too close to their own work, so that they do not see their own flaws. Only by going to an outsider can they gain a new perspective.

    Oh, and on a side note, Bullshitting can be whole lot of fun, as long as there’s a long shower to be had afterward. 😛

  2. “Someone cannot say anything meaningful unless it comes from their direct experience.”

    I think you’re jumping a bit to quickly on the open question of what a fifteen year-old can tell someone about love. It’s not that one needs experience to say something meaningful. One can be meaningful and not even know it. What’s dangerous is when people start speaking on behalf of other people (in the way that both Miley Cyrus and The Beatles do so easily). The surest way one has of being wrong is to talk about what someone else is experiencing.

    The better version is to talk as articulately and openly about one’s own experience, and parse out what is in that experience might actually be worth the sharing.

    Would be better put to say “Someone cannot say anything meaningful unless they are first honest about their own experiences.”

  3. “I don’t mind being sung to by teenagers, but I’d prefer they do it in a voice that’s their own.” I can understand that argument about Miley Cyrus, but about Lennon/McCartney? If anything they were being honest about what they wanted to sing about. Even if it was kind of cheesy, it was the cheesynes of those days. And also an original one.
    Then, when they grew up their music changed, when they got high the music changed again. If anything they were being honest the whole time, always according to what they were living at the moment.
    Im not trying to make you like the Beatles, but I think something you can’t criticize about them is that their lyrics aren’t their voice.

    I liked this line of your review of Miley Cyrus’s “Breakout”:
    “…direct expressions of ebullience and youth spilling all over itself with new emotion.” Great line that defines pretty much any teen out there wanting to be a writer/composer.

    But you can always have exceptions to a premise, and that would be a teen like Paul McCartney writing amazing lyrics (and music, but that’s me) like those in “Yesterday” and “When Im 64”. (when im 64 was written by Paul before even recording their first album if Im not mistaken).

    • | Almost everything on my ipod is metal/hardcore etc or wirshop. The artist I’d be most ashamed of is KJ-52 cuz normally cannot stand that type of music but I find myself liking a few of his songs, I hardly listen to him though. In all honesty I’m not ashamed about anything I listen to.I have no embarrassing in person purchases. It feels so good to be able to say that haha.

  4. | 1) like another has said borfee more, Ke$ha. wouldn’t want others to hear me play it, but that Tik Tok is so catchy! 2) thanks to the advent of online purchasing, i don’t think i’ve really ever had to experience this. i did buy Britney Spears debut when it came out, but i was in middle school and honestly thought she was hot enough to not be embarassed.

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