The Beatles are not merely awful. They are so unbelievably horrible, so appallingly unmusical, so dogmatically insensitive to the magic of the art, that they qualify as crowned heads of antimusic
Why William F. Buckley, Jr. Was Wrong About The Beatles
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Paul McCartney will be playing two shows at Boston’s Fenway Park during the first week of August. I will be in attendance at one of those shows along with my roommate.
This brings to mind what the late William F. Buckley, Jr. wrote about The Beatles back in 1964 at the onset of Beatlemania. In a column titled, “Yeah, Yeah, Yeah…They Stink!!!” Buckley wrote:
The Beatles are not merely awful. They are so unbelievably horrible, so appallingly unmusical, so dogmatically insensitive to the magic of the art, that they qualify as crowned heads of antimusic.
The father of modern American conservatism was right about so many things. The Beatles, however, was not one of them.
This will be my second time seeing McCartney play in person. When I first saw McCartney play in Boston back in September 2005 I witnessed a remarkable spectacle. It was a night I saw concert goers aged six to sixty singing Beatles songs along with Paul. How could something that brings generations together be described as “appallingly unmusical”?
The Beatles are hardly the first rock n’ roll act to have multi-generational appeal.
But the Beatles officially broke up almost forty years ago. It is fair to state that a good segment of those fans who attend McCartney’s shows had not yet been born when Fab Four could no longer let it be – myself included. Or put another way I am old enough to remember when John Lennon was alive. Not only is there is a good segment of Beatles fans who were born after Lennon’s assassination in December 1980 there is a growing segment of Beatles fans who were born after George Harrison’s death in November 2001. Check out this clip on YouTube of young schoolchildren in Florida singing and dancing to Beatles tunes. Could this be what your kids will be doing when they are four?
Newer technologies are helping to feed into this Fab Four fandom. Harmonix Music Systems (which brought the world Guitar Hero) along with MTV Games is launching the highly anticipated video game The Beatles: Rock Band next month. Sales of the game might provide an impetus for Beatles songs to be made available on iTunes. However, a long standing dispute between Apple Inc. (the manufacturer of iTunes) and Apple Corps (the multimedia corporation founded by The Beatles in 1968) has prevented their release. But when the two Apples do come to an agreement on making Beatles songs available on iTunes there will be a feeding frenzy.
To be fair to Buckley, not even The Beatles could have imagined their popularity would endure for more than four decades much less for four months. Rock n’ roll was still looked down upon in some quarters. This isn’t to say that those who didn’t appreciate rock n’ roll weren’t appreciative of music and this was certainly not applicable in Buckley’s case. In a 2004 interview with Jamie Glazov of Front Page Magazine, Buckley discussed his musical education:
In respect of music, he sensed the pleasures it brought to those who gave time to familiarizing themselves with it. His own curiosity stopped at popular music, but he knew there was an extensive world beyond that, which he wanted his children at least to know about.
We were taught piano above all, but also guitar, mandolin, ukulele, and banjo (so that we could make up our own orchestra). Father also hired a teacher to give us classes in music appreciation. She required us every afternoon to shut out other activity for one hour and listen to fine music on the great big Capehart phonograph kept in the schoolroom. The Capehart could take 78 rpm disks and turn them over, giving you 20 records without interruption.
It might have been The Beatles were also simply beyond Buckley’s experience. The four lads from Liverpool with long hair undoubtedly offended his aristocratic sensibilities. But it is not every parent who can afford to hire a teacher to give their children a class in music appreciation. It is fair to say though that most children do try their hand with at least one musical instrument in their lifetimes with varying degrees of success. It is also fair to say that most children do listen to their parents’ music whether or not they admit it. There is a good chance that a Beatles album or CD will be amongst the collection and chances are if a child listens to a song like “Yesterday”, “Blackbird”, “Norwegian Wood” or for that matter “Taxman” (even Buckley had to have liked George Harrison’s anti-taxation message) there’s a good chance he or she will listen to more Beatles songs.
Some children take it a step further. My younger brother, Micah, took up guitar more than twenty years ago and quickly learned much of the Beatles catalogue. Eventually, he and some high school mates would form a band that was decidedly Beatlesque. Years later, one of his mates, Dave Azzolini, invited him to join the Canadian indie rock band The Golden Dogs as their bass player and would appear on their debut CD Big Eye Little Eye. After my brother moved on to pursue other ventures, the Golden Dogs would record a cover of the song “Nineteen Hundred and Eighty Five.” (herohill.com) OK, I know its McCartney & Wings from the Band on the Run era. But McCartney is first and foremost a Beatle. It is Paul’s time with the Beatles (as well as that of John, George & Ringo) that is the root of his influence which has been source of inspiration for thousands of bands that have come and gone down the pike for the past four and a half decades. Whether or not my brother plays music professionally he’ll still be playing Beatles songs on his guitar when he turns sixty-four.
Aaron Goldstein was a card carrying member of the socialist New Democratic Party of Canada (NDP). Since 09/11, Aaron has reconsidered his ideological inclinations and has become a Republican. Aaron lives and works in Boston.