I’m 14 again. I may not look it, but that’s how I feel.
I was having kind of a sluggish day at work, where nothing seems to go right. Actually, the whole year has sort of been like that. To take a break, I walked across the street from the Chronicle office to Walmart. While strolling the aisles, I noticed a Beatles display near the entertainment section.
In a bin, I came across a CD of “Hey Jude,” which brought a smile to my face. I got it years ago when it came out as an album, back when I was a freshman in high school. Come to think of it, things weren’t going too great for me then, either. Thrown into a strange, new world where everyone seemed to know something I didn’t, puberty and I weren’t exactly best friends.
For 45 minutes every day after school, that album transported me into a safe world that made more sense than algebra or teenage girls. When you’re 14, fantasies can be more comforting than anything in real life. More than any other art form, music has this way of making you feel better when you need it the most. Eventually, I wore that record out. Until now, it hasn’t been available on CD.
As you’ve probably heard, this month is the 50th anniversary of the Beatles appearing on the old “Ed Sullivan Show.” I may have been one of the five people on the planet who didn’t watch, opting instead for “Branded,” the old Chuck Connors Western. I didn’t really get into the Beatles until a few years later, when I heard “Strawberry Fields Forever” on the radio. It was so mesmerizing, I actually couldn’t move until it was over. It was the first time I remember a pop song being about something serious and not teen romance. I didn’t even know they could do that.
Sadly, my own little Beatlemania began about the same time the Fab Four broke up; naturally, I blamed myself.
I’m not the only one who thinks life is just a little sweeter when you listen to the Beatles. Nathan Dettman, a musician who plays in local bars, told me he had to learn Beatles songs because that’s what people like to hear. Another young musician, Jade Cook, said she loves to play their songs because they were so original.
“They still have a lot to offer,” local guitarist and singer Daerielle Amber-Culver told me.
Nothing against any of them, but I really don’t think young people can grasp what the Beatles meant to my generation, any more than they can understand Vietnam or Watergate unless they lived through it. More than music, the Beatles were fresh and fun in a way our parents didn’t get, speaking a secret language only teenagers understood. They influenced how we thought and dressed and made us want to sing. As we grew older with them, their songs became more insightful, addressing serious issues that concerned us in ways we couldn’t express.
Over the years, as my tastes have gravitated more towards Sinatra than the Stones, I really don’t listen to much music anymore. Although I’m aware of Katy Perry and Beyonce and even LL Cool J, I can’t name any of their songs, which seem more like dancing than singing anyway. Today’s singers may sell more records or draw bigger crowds or even make more money, but the Beatles are the ones everyone else is measured by.
One other thing in the Beatles’ favor is that you can understand every word they sing, except when Paul McCartney sings in French or John Lennon sings backwards. Unlike some of today’s singers, their voices aren’t mumbling or lost beneath synthesizers.
Since I’m not really 14 anymore, I may appreciate that more than anything. In true Beatle lingo, that makes them the toppermost of the poppermost.