When I was a child (and many of my friends would argue that I still am) I was fascinated with my parents’ youth, enamored of the 1960s and 1970s. Weaned on stories of the Cold War, baptized in the counterculture with which they had grown up. I lived their revolution vicariously through two ex-rebels (and, many of their friends would argue, two rebels, still).
Hours of my preadolescent years were spent in my family’s damp basement, thumbing through my father’s dusty vinyl collection that took up and still takes up six precariously wobbling shelves. My favorites were old Frank Zappa EPs, titillating my highly developed 10-year-old sense of the perversely humorous. In retrospect, I think that this was the only thing highly developed about me at age 10. And I loved the cover to the original press of the Rolling Stones’ Sticky Fingers, with its working metal zipper on the front. I played with it for hours.
And of course, there were the Beatles, who, for their omnipresence both in music and spirit in my household, should be in Yolen family portraits. The soundtrack to my childhood was their repertoire. My fifth birthday party was Beatles-themed. We played “Revolver Musical Chairs.” and “Pin the Nose on Ringo.”
My favorite Beatle was John. His was the entrance I most looked forward to during my frequent viewings of “Yellow Submarine.” His playfulness in the song breaks of “Let It Be” tickled me. His picture hung next to my bed. It still does.
He was shot and killed by Mark David Chapman in Manhattan the winter before my birth.
What I found most fascinating about my parents, I think, was the fact that for them, the Beatles were a very real part of their own youth. For me, they were history.
The albums I excavated from my basement were treasures that I buffed and re-buffed with my sweaty little hands and stared at for hours, trying to make eye contact with John through the cover of Sgt. Pepper’s. They were like the relatives I’d never met, although I certainly felt closer to John than to Harold Lloyd, my long-gone grandfather. There were certainly more photographs of John in my home. And Harold, though a fine mailman all his life, had never released an album.
I tried to imagine a world where my parents, in their own youth, sat cross-legged on shag carpets, listening to the new Beatles on their turntable, doors locked. I loved the story my father told of cutting school to listen to Sgt. Pepper’s all day long. I wondered if there would ever be a band worthy of my cutting school. I wondered if there would ever be another Beatles.
That, in a nut-shell, is Generation X, folks. A bunch of kids, the children of baby-boomers, alternately waiting and searching for another Beatles. That’s our lot in life. That’s our mission. We haven’t found one yet. And time’s more or less run out.
By this time in my parents’ lives, George Harrison had dragged the group to India to hang with the Maharishi and the Beach Boys. The White Album was en route.
I’m 19, and there’s no White Album in sight. Anywhere I look.
This weekend, on a long and music-filled car trip I debated with a friend whether Radiohead is the “new/next Beatles.” He thought so. I didn’t. He was impressed by their novelty and unpredictability. I agreed.
But Radiohead has not invaded anywhere. They are not bigger than Jesus. Not yet, at least.
If there is a Beatles right now, it’s ‘NSync. A pop band with a worldwide following, leagues of screaming girls waiting at every airport. They’ve got the ear of the world, just as the Fab Four did. But will they take a three year hiatus and return with a Sergeant Pepper’s? I’ll buy you a beer if they do.
The Beatles were an analogue to the most written-about generation in American history. They were the chorus to the lyrics of the 1960’s. That much I could tell from their album covers: the clean cut, smiling boys from Liverpool became the frowning, shaggy men of Rubber Soul, became the mustached jesters of Pepper’s, became the bearded, unrecognizable hippies of Abbey Road. The albums of the Beatles were my first history lesson.
So who’s my analogue? Thom Yorke? Justin Timberlake? Madonna?
When my son John thumbs through my CDs in his formative years, from whom will he learn the awesome history of my generation? Will he be fascinated with my youth? What is there to be fascinated with?
I have no answer to the question. And I’ve run out of space to boot. I guess John himself put it best, upon abruptly leaving India for London, giving up on the Maharishi and heading back into the studio to record The White Album.
“Why are you leaving so suddenly,” asked the Maharishi.
John responded: “You’re so f—ing cosmic, you tell me.”
Greg Yolen is a sophomore in Pierson College. His roommate, Matt, is a fool. But not in the funny Shakespearean sense.