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Thursday
Aug232012

The Unmentionable

Let us first stipulate that I consider myself on good terms with The Beatles.  I recognize their innovative approach to studio work, their marketing savvy, and their place both as musical revolutionaries and as a cultural touchstone.  I realize all these things despite the influence of a Beatles-obsessed ex who ordered pizzas in a faux British accent and forced the delivery man to ask for “Ringo.”  You don’t fill stadiums 40 years past your first hit if your former band didn't carry a certain amount of societal weight, and you don’t get three performances a day from a tribute band at EPCOT for trendsetting haircuts alone. 

Okay?  Fair enough?  

Because I’m about to hurl a Molotov cocktail into the garden party, here, and commit a major faux pas in polite society and quietly announce that Idon’tthinkTheBeatlescouldsingallthatwell.

I once said that I thought TheBeatlescouldn’tsingallthatwell in non-argumentative, casual tones in the midst of general water cooler conversation, and the entire room inhaled sharply as though I'd just announced, "Well that bin Laden fellow-- he wasn't all bad, was he?" 

Note that I didn’t say that I hated The Beatles, or that they across-the-board sucked, or even that I disliked their music—for in no way is this the case.   But question their ability to carry harmonies without a touch of the raggedy, apparently, or question them in any way, and the Secret Service rappels out of the ceiling to question your gut reaction to “I Am the Walrus.” 

I once wrote a tiny artilce on a tiny website which contained one sentence alluding to this opinion--the other 490 words were full of Beatle-y respect--and somebody spent a significant amount of time filing a furious 27-comment rebuttal, each of which separately exceeded the word count of the entire original offending article by a rate of approximately eight thousand percent.

Speaking as a person whose playlist boasts “Just a Friend”, I’m the first one to recognize that pop-and-rocksters can create a good song without good vocals, perhaps because, in my own life as a soloist, the choir director once pulled me aside and said, “I know that all the other seniors are in the Christmas show, but, you understand, we need our very best singers for it.”  This was one of the many reasons why I remained a political science major.

The Beatles were, perhaps, the first pop group who didn’t necessarily have to offer up stellar vocals to make a path in the music world.  Pre-Paul, there were crooners, underrated blues artists, standard bearers, and early hot wax rockers, all of whom were showcased by a smoking band or the glorious newness of the syncopated beat.  But for the most part:  No distinctive pipes, no career.   The Beatles helped to rewire the definition of musical success.  They made room for the expression of musicians who were talented outside of the usual ability to lightly hit a high C.  So.  Good on them. 

However, speaking of The Beatles in hushed, venerated-at-all-costs, Untouchable terms, as though they populate a eighth-grader's Grey's Anatomy fanfic, does a disservice to them as musicians—and, I would argue, as people.  It robs them of their humanity.  They are not gods.  They may be icons, but they are first three-dimensional men who deserve proper praise, proper respect, and, when warranted, an honest discussion which might actually include criticism. You wanna build John Lennon's face out of enormous pieces of Styrofoam on sticks in the middle of the Olympics Closing Ceremony?  Be my guest.  I remain silent and uncondeming from behind the rim of my pina colada.

And yet... one of the highest-rated recent shares from PostSecret--best known as a worldwide, anonymous unburdening station for suffering drug users, adulterers, rape victims, the closeted, and suicide attemptees-- announced the following, presumably from deep within a secure undisclosed location: "I Don't Get The Beatles."

There's hope.  Imagine an Internet in which we can say, without fear: Idon’tthinkTheBeatlescouldsingallthatwell.

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