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.