We were all waiting for it but to hear it announced so suddenly and unexpectedly literally knocked the breath out of me. Oh, no. No.
I think sometimes we become inured to rock and roll death. Or think we are.
So between dragging all the albums out and realizing that I own nothing on CD beyond the Red and Blue albums … I have been doing a lot of thinking about the Beatles. Aside from my immediate family, not many people would probably associate me with them. Then again, aside from my immediate family, I don’t know anyone who knew me when I was 10. Or 13, when I bought my first rock and roll book, Nicholas Shaffner’s The Beatles Forever. Or even 15, when I had the yellow submarine on my birthday cake. Or saw the inside of my purple and pink bedroom, the walls of which were lined with as many Beatles photos as I could find. (This is the kind of thing I’d write an article telling people to not do now… don’t buy a book and take all the photos out and cut them up and put them on your walls. Buy an extra. But, hey. I was, like, 12.)
When it comes right down to it, the Beatles were nothing short of salvation and refuge and solace and enlightenment and illumination. They were the instrument of my deliverance from the hell known as high school, the hell known as the suburbs, the hell known as normalcy and mundanity. I’m not going to get dramatic and assert that they saved my life; I would still be here but I would likely be flat and grey and doing what someone else thought I should be doing with my life.
I remember my first trip to England, 1984. I lied to my parents to get access to my savings account to buy that plane ticket. I remember getting to Liverpool and standing there and realizing: without the Beatles, I would not be here now. I would not be who I was, I would not have fallen in love with rock and roll. My world would have been much, much smaller.
The Beatles opened a door to a world I could not have imagined existed. They gave a form and a name and a feeling to all those nameless yearnings I had late at night, sitting up in bed, hugging my knees to my chest, listening to the radio coming in across the lake from Chicago and having my mother yell at me to turn it off and go to sleep. The reason I went to the store every week and got the list of the top 100 records and had to know them all, the reason that all my birthday and Christmas money went on those little black slices of 7″ vinyl when other girls my age were buying Barbie dolls, why I would ride my bicycle four miles each way to the library during the summer so I could take out record albums. The reason I would bribe our babysitters with promises of making sure the other kids didn’t cause any trouble, just as long as they would let me stay up past my bedtime so I could watch Don Kirshner’s Rock Concert. I didn’t know why I cared so much or why I did these things or why that music coming out of the radio or the records I would buy or take out of the library made me feel the way they did, until I discovered the Beatles.
Standing in front of the Liverpool train station, listening to conversation swirling around me and thinking “oh, my god, this entire city is going to sound like A Hard Day’s Night, realizing that I was in England, I had been in London, I was in Liverpool – it gave me this undefinable sense of completion and full circle and achievement and sheer fucking triumph, none of which I had expected or anticipated. I thought of a conversation I’d had with my girlfriends who were living in London one night when we were in the Ship down on Wardour Street, a pub that Keith Moon used to get drunk in, just down the street from the Marquee Club. All of which was pretty fucking amazing all by itself.
One of the girls had run into a college friend of hers just by chance, crossing the street in front of Victoria Station. He recognized her and laughed, and said, “Why does not surprise me in the least to run into you here.” And he reminded her of how she’d driven everyone she knew crazy, talking endlessly how she was going to go to London after graduation. We all looked at each other and laughed, because we had done the same thing. All through high school. I would take out books on England and stare at maps in study hall. People honestly thought I was crazy and I never understood why until that moment in the Ship, or really, until that moment arriving in Liverpool, or later, when I stood facing the roundabout in Penny Lane, taking pictures. I am taking pictures of something that is in a Beatles song. Oh my god. The Beatles wrote a song about this. They lived here. And I am here now. Because I said I would be here someday.
And everyone thought I was nuts. They thought I was certifiable. In high school, when I turned this pink spiral notebook into my personal Beatles history calendar. With big purple marker I made each page into a calendar month and then I’d write in what happened that day in Beatles history. Which would have been fine, except that I’d arrive for lunch every day, sit down, open the notebook, and share this information with everyone at the table. And of course, no one cared except me.
Everyone seems to have had a favorite Beatle, except me. I loved them all in different ways and at different times and for different reasons. My favorite moment with George was A Hard Days’ Night, the scene where he stumbles into the advertising office. It was sarcastic and hysterical and just plain brilliant. I loved it because he finally got the spotlight. I watched that movie so much I could recite it by heart. But that scene, I loved the most.
John’s death was horrific because it was terrible and brutal and unexpected, and happened just when he was about to come back to us. It made me angry and intolerable and changed me on so many levels, internally and externally. George being gone is equally terrible, but at least we have the small blessing in that he was not ripped out of our lives by a random act of mindless violence. John’s death changed my life so suddenly and profoundly that it’s hard to remember what it was like before then. I cut my hair. I dyed it as red as I could without incurring parental wrath. I started wearing Ramones and Clash tshirts and black jeans to school every day. In 1980, this kind of thing meant you were taking your life into your own hands. But once John died, everyone seemed to kind of grant me a respectful distance. The day after John was shot was the first day I ever wore all black in real life. My mother glanced at me and was about to say something until she looked at my face. She must have seen something in my eyes because she didn’t say a word.
And now George is dead, half of them are gone, and we fight for some kind of comfort and reason and consolation and solace at a time when everything is already fucked up enough without having a corner of our house pulled out from under us. When John died, we stood vigil in front of the Dakota. When George died, I went to a bad loud punk bar with a friend and listened to a bunch of local bands and drank Guinness. It felt right. I think George would have told us to get on with it. (And I think John would have too… but those were different circumstances and different times.)
Everyone, no matter how old they are, seems to grow up with the Beatles. So when something happens to one of them, it goes back to the roots of our childhood, of youth, of innocence, of the early days of our love for music. A little piece of that part of us dies when our heroes leave this planet. I think that happens so we don’t ever forget what they meant to us.
Small words for
dark and quiet
with hands that roared.
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