I was playing Beatles Rock Band with my brother the other day, and again I was led to thinking about just how incredible the story of The Beatles is. If anyone has every played the game, or seen Rain (the Beatles cover band), The Beatles Anthology DVD set or even The Ruttles, you know that the story of The Beatles is so beautifully clear, so full of ideas, fundamentally human conflicts, so grand and eloquent, divided up into their Hamburg days, early Beatlemania and the Ed Sullivan show period, their psychedelic period and their bearded Abby Road/Let It Be final chapter, that it’s nearly Shakesperian or Biblical.
In fact, it’s too perfect. The characters are too beautifully drawn, the conflicts too fundamentally human, the accomplishments too incredible and in-diminishable. I’ve often said that when one poses the challenge of The Beatles vs. Logic, somehow The Beatles win nearly every time.
How is it possible that the band could contain not one, but three of the greatest songwriters of all time, who all both with the band and after it, would write some of the most indisputable classics of the 20th century?
How is it possible that when the band was considered merely a couple cute boys with some catchy tunes that the girls liked, they could quickly pump out the blockbuster A Hard Days Night
and have it be so great and classic a film as to be named by Time Magazine one of the top 100 movies of all time
? Imagine The Jonas Brothers releasing a movie next week that everyone agreed was a kick-ass movie with great music: that’s what odds we’re talking about here…kind of.
Can you imagine people getting organized today to burn Jonas Brothers albums because one of them said that they were “bigger than Jesus”?
How is it possible that after the band made Sgt. Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band – which even at the time of its release was widely considered the greatest album of all time – they could follow it up so perfectly with a double album with a literally blank slate as a cover and fill it with such great music as to not disappoint anyone?
How is it possible that, to fulfill a contractual obligation, The Beatles basically simply consented to have the animated Yellow Submarine made, had nothing to do with the film, which was supposedly marketed to children, who are rarely taken seriously as an audience in terms of the quality of movies (unless you happen to work at Pixar) – and then it turns out to be a totally kick-ass classic, so great that Disney is remaking it in 3D with Back To The Future-director Robert Zemeckis!
(Note: asides from the entire Star Wars saga, Yellow Submarine is my favorite all-time movie
And how could they make such great music that could be so popular for over 40 years across at least three generations!? No other band or artist can even compare, not Elvis, not Sinatra, not Dylan, nobody.
And people always talk about how the mainstream for some reason has to like the most gawdful stuff and only some kind of intellectual elite or some bullshit can like good music. As if there’s some kind of law that confirms William Blake’s belief that, “What is grand is necessarily obscure to weak men. That which can be made explicit to the idiot is not worth my care.” The Beatles proved that statement wrong, as the most schooled and brilliant musicians and critics, as well the most clueless and uncultured, had no problem appreciating The Beatles just the same. They proved that great art and commerce need not be mutually exclusive.
It’s too much to just accept as pure chance, as just random coincidence or something. In the story, the sheer greatness of it all, one has to see some kind of providence at work. There appears in their history a mark of Hegel’s weltgeist, the “world spirit” that guides history which acts through great men. Hegel used Napolean as a good example, and in the 20th century there were a number of great (and not so great) men who acted as vessels for that “world spirit”, but what’s amazing is that The Beatles, a pop band, should be counted among them, most of whom were politicians, rulers, activists, spiritual leaders, etc.
But it’s true: The Beatles were all of the above. Just think of how many people were changed by the music of The Bealtles, by the messages they expressed.
Imagine how many people began exploring Eastern spirituality – things like meditation, yoga; all of which are totally commonplace today – simply because they were reading about The Beatles hanging with the Maharisha and doing it. Simply because they heard George Harrison singing songs like “Within You, Without You” and “Love You Too” and thought, “Hey, that sounds interesting, I’m going to look into that.”
Imagine how many people started caring about bringing about world peace simply because John Lennon and Yoko Ono sat in a hotel bed for a couple days and called it a protest for peace. It probably accomplished far more than 99% of peace protests actually do!
Imagine how many people starting “opening up their mind” with hallucinogenics simply because they wanted to be able to understand what how The Beatles could arrive at such incredible sounds and visions as they did on albums like Revolver, Sgt. Peppers and Magical Mystery Tour.
Imagine how many people saw and heard The Beatles and thought, “That’s what I want to do. I want to be a musician or an artist.” I know I’m one of them.
It’s huge. The influence they had on the entire world in terms of all those things – politics, spirituality, life choices – made a huge difference, one couldn’t even legitimately study the 20th century without studying The Beatles and the role they played in shaping it.
Just think about how amazing and insane all of this is. Because it is. Seriously. Insane because a pop group that started off by writing songs about girls could have such an effect on human history. Amazing because it shows the power that art can have.