Friday, February 28, 2014

In My Life: A Personal Reflection on The Beatles


My favorite group shot of the band, April 1969

I was recently contacted by the content director for the official Las Vegas website who happened to stumble upon my site and my reviews of numerous books on the Beatles. Since 2014 marks the 50th anniversary of the Beatles' 1964 arrival in America, there are numerous 50th anniversary celebrations going on throughout the year.  One of these happens to be of the Beatles one and only live appearance in Las Vegas, which, along with many other Beatles-related activities in the city, can be read about here. In contacting me, she invited to write an article detailing how the Beatles have impacted me personally, which made me stop and reflect on it for quite a while. I've previously written a piece about them here on my site that gave a snapshot of their musical career for the uninitiated, and I've spent countless hours throughout the course of my life discussing every little detail pertaining to them to anyone who will listen, whether they be fellow fans or not. However, when presented with this challenge to write this article, I realized that I've never really written a cohesive piece detailing what the band means to me and why. The piece you're reading now is the result of this reflection, and I hope in advance that you enjoy it.

A short while back, I wrote about my experiences growing up listening to the music from my parents' era and all of the great bands I was exposed to. The Beatles, of course, were among that group and while I would consider myself an obsessive and dedicated fan of the other bands from that era that I've been listening to my entire life, from the Rolling Stones, the Who, and the Kinks to Led Zeppelin, Jimi Hendrix, and Cream/Blind Faith/Derek and the Dominos (ie Clapton's great bands), the Beatles have always been the toppermost of the poppermost. As a kid, it was mainly the songs that grabbed me; almost all of them were instantly recognizable and hummable, and the words were fun to learn and sing along with. I also thought their general appearance on their album covers, in photographs, and on film was really interesting and unique. As I got older and began to understand more about music, I started to gain more of an appreciation for subtler things in the music, such as the songwriting, production, and sequencing and flow of the albums, and of course the great artwork and liner notes. However, I'd have to say that it was around the age of ten where the Beatles truly began to have a deep and profound impact on multiple areas of my life that lay beyond just the music and continues to this day.

I'd always been musically inclined, but when I turned ten years old I really wanted to start making music on my own.  I began playing trumpet in my school band, something I would continue for the next ten years, which led to my love of jazz and taught me how to read music and play with other musicians in an ensemble. I also began singing in the school chorus and learned a lot about singing and harmonizing with other voices.  At the same time, I decided I wanted to play bass guitar because it was an instrument I had always gravitated toward when I'd listen to records. However, no one in the house owned a bass and my parents were understandably hesitant to sink money into an instrument that I may lose interest in shortly thereafter. There was a solution, however: my mother had an old Yamaha classical guitar that was sitting in a closet, so I picked that up and began picking out basslines while listening to my favorite records (in particular, I have a distinct memory of trying to suss out the bassline to "Dear Prudence" on the White Album). Eventually I started picking out chords and riffs and my lifelong journey as a guitar player was begun. 

Without going into too much detail about my journey as a musician (that will be the subject of a future post), probably the biggest way in which the Beatles affected me musically is with their songwriting. I had, of course, read about the impact they'd had on the music world as the first self-contained band who wrote and played their own music, establishing a blueprint for musicians that has been followed to the present. When I started teaching myself how to play guitar, much of it was done by spending hours playing along to records and tapes and figuring out the chords and notes to every song (and not just Beatles albums). In doing this, however, I started to notice things about how the songs were constructed and how so many of the chord changes and modulations were so unique and not obvious on first listen. After several years of doing this, I plucked up the courage when I was around thirteen years old to start trying to write my own original songs. As with all beginning songwriters, these were clumsy and derivative attempts that have been consigned to the dustbin of history and I couldn't remember a single one if I tried.  However, it was invaluable practice and songwriting is something I've continued to do throughout my life. When I was in my first band at sixteen, I had eventually stockpiled enough original songs that were pretty good that we began playing them. I'm proud to say, in fact, that several of the songs I wrote in the years when I was 16-20 years old are songs that we played at gigs back then and that I've since recorded on my own, and which many people even now, upon first hearing them, tell me are really good. So you can see, amongst all of the bands who have and continue to influence me, the Beatles had just a little bit more influence than all of the rest.

When it comes to fashion, the Beatles had a huge influence on me as a kid and continue to as an adult. This may seem strange since they were a 1960s band, I grew up in the 1980s/90s, and it's now 2014, but it's true. The first place it started, naturally, was with the hair. I wanted a Beatle haircut so badly as a teenager, but my major problem was the fact that I was cursed with thick Greek hair that got very curly the longer it got. I was able to approximate a pretty good Beatle haircut through a LOT of combing, hairspray, and straightening gel. Luckily, I was able to grow facial hair pretty young (I started shaving around thirteen or fourteen years old) so I've always had long sideburns (I still do!) and the John Lennon Sgt. Pepper-era mustache is a particular favorite I've grown occasionally over the years (most recently this past November). In addition to the countless Beatles t-shirts and hats I wore throughout high school, I also adapted other parts of their look into my own style as a teenager: collarless button down shirts, turtlenecks, drainpipe jeans, dress boots (sadly, no Beatle boots...I desperately want a pair of these and someday I will get them), waistcoats, ties and suits, and so on. It led to a bit of teasing and funny looks from my peers but by the end of high school, when all things 1960s were making a comeback with my generation, I was constantly complimented on my Beatles-derived fashion sense.  Even now as an adult, I adopt many of those aspects into my style, as well as my love for military-themed shirts and jackets (see: Sgt. Pepper). Also, the glasses I wear are Beatles influenced, being John Lennon style (and branded) glasses, as seen in the photo of me wearing them in this post from last year.

Lastly, on a more profound and personal level, all of the factors mentioned above have coalesced, along with something bigger that I can't quite put into words, into an imprint on my very being that takes into account their music and imagery, but also a whole lot more than that. As Ringo and Paul both stated in the Anthology documentary back in 1995 (which was my own bit of Beatlemania during the years of 1994-96 when the Anthology albums and documentary were released), they (and I) are really proud that the overwhelming message in their music is that of love. Whenever I'm in a bad mood, depressed, or just having an off day, listening to Beatles music never fails to cheer me right up. In addition, many of their lyrics, from their earliest songs all the way through to the end of their career, can speak to us on so many levels; not only does it often feel like they understand what you're going through, but their  music helps me to understand what I'm feeling at that particular moment. Their music has not only been the soundtrack for many of the good times in my life, but has also helped me immensely during some bad times (part of the reason "Hey Jude" is one of my favorite songs of all time is because of how comforting and reassuring it is). A shared love of the Beatles has led to some really great moments and memories with my wife, parents, family, and friends, and my kids are now becoming big Beatles fans which is really nice for me to see. All four of them love listening to the music, they know most of the words to their favorite songs, and can tell which Beatle sings each song. It's very rewarding for me to see my children develop a love for the Beatles music without them giving any thought to the fact that it was made five decades ago. To me, that's a true testament to the timelessness and magic of the Beatles' music.

I can honestly say that the Beatles have a daily impact on my life, from the glasses I wear and my Beatles iPhone case, to listening to their music, reading (and reviewing) books about them, and more. Their music is a part of my being, musically and spiritually...I'm not one typically given for this type of "New Age" talk, and if you know me personally you'll especially know this to be true, but with the Beatles I make this exception because they have truly touched me on a deeper level than any other band. I'm sure those of you who feel the same way as I do can understand what I mean, and if you don't, all I ask is that you humor me and believe me when I tell you that it's true. The Beatles had and continue to have an impact on the world beyond their fantastic music, and I can honestly say they've had the same impact on me and my life, and that it's been nothing but positive. I'm not surprised that they are still as relevant and beloved more than fifty years after they burst onto the world stage and I know without a doubt they will endure for the next fifty years and beyond.

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