Saturday, December 08, 2007

Today marks the twenty seventh anniversary of the day Mark David Chapman shot John Lennon in New York City. For many people, this is a sad occasion. As a sign of what some take as his last gasp of cultural relevance, Howard Cosel interrupted the Monday Night Football telecast to tell the world that sad news. I was just over a year old at the time. And believe it or not, I care less about the life, the times and the tragic death of John Lennon now than I did then.

I have mentioned in this space that I hate the Beatles. So today, in honor of John Lennon's death, I am bringing back my personal favorite feature of this blog, the Random Thing I Hate. I hate the Beatles. I do not hate the Beatles more today than I do on any other day, but it's about time I blogged about it at length. I don't know that I can explain why I hate the Beatles. I just do.

I guess unlike a lot of people, I have no problem admitting that I react to music on a visceral, emotional level. There is very little rational or intellectual thought involved. I like what I like, and have little time for the rest. I can tell you some of the things I don't like about the Beatles, and maybe why I don't like those aspects but I don't think they will add up to a coherent explanation of my overall hatred of the Beatles.

The Beatles burst on the scene singing mushy, trite love songs about holding hands and loving till the end of time (a paraphrase and a Bowdlerization of a line from the film The Commitments). Then all of a sudden, they got into drugs and somehow became a force for positive change in the world. At least that's what I've been told. I don't necessarily buy it.

Then again, I'm the sort of guy that gets mad when I hear or see the History Channel ads for the new show they're running to explore the tumultuous year that was 1968to commemorate its 40th anniversary. According to the History Channel, 1968 was the most explosive year in American History. Somehow, I find that hard to believe when you think about things like the Declaration of Independence in 1776. Or the election of Abraham Lincoln and South Carolina forces shelling the Federal troops at Fort Sumter in 1860. But that's just me.

I suppose, in part, my hate for the Beatles is tied to my lack of respect for the historical import of the 1960s. Outside of the effects of the Civil Rights Movement and equal pay for equal work, there is very, very, very little evidence that the world is a better place now than it was in the 1950s and 1960s. Everything that the hippies, the counter culture and the optimists of that era thought was subverting the Establishment is now a wholly owned and marketed subsidiary of the Establishment.

For instance, there is no way that anything that is legitimately controversial can get air time the way a show like All in the Family did in the early 1970s. But if it's controversial for the sake of creating meaningless controversy over whether or not one can say dirty words like Howard Stern, or arguing the same fringe aspects of major issues without tackling the issues themselves like the ten thousand talk shows on the ten thousand cable news networks, then it's a big hit.

There are certain companies that market themselves as the sort of ironic Fortune 500 companies. On the inside, but still trendy and current and subversive. Like Starbucks. Or Apple. And I hate that. It makes me sick to my stomach that people think they can buy a prepackaged, mass produced product and have it lend them an air of individuality and rebellion.

I'm not saying that this is the Beatles fault. What I am saying is that people point to the counter culture movement of the late 1960s and early 1970s as though it accomplished something, and the fact is that it did not. And whether I am overstating this case or not, I still believe that the Beatles are the most visible and esteemed icon of the counter culture of the late 1960s.

The Beatles came out with a lot of songs with hollow rhetoric about lonely old women and drugged out tools in skies with diamonds and living in yellow submarines. Perhaps they had some tangible accomplishments in there that I somehow missed. Are hungry people all over the world less hungry because the Beatles recorded Abby Road? Are the lonely people less lonely than they were before Elanor Rigby?

Perhaps the Beatles had a role in making Western society a less repressive, patriarchal, hierarchical endeavor than it was. Was that a good thing? Are the streets safer? Are we really freer, or more free or whatever grammatical impossibility best describes the logical impossibility contained therein. If we are more free as a society, it is in the nightmare scenario which prompted Orwell to include the line Freedom is Slavery in the credo of Oceana in 1984. People work longer hours for less and are, in general, less happy than they were in the old days. Maybe we were better off before the counter culture freed us from our social chains.

I am aware that it is not the responsibility of four tools from Liverpool with bad hairdos to solve all the world's problems. Nor is (or was since there are now 1/2 as many of them as there were in the beginning) it possible. But people seem to want to look back and perhaps tell themselves that the Beatles song Back in the USSR caused glasnost and detente and the Fall of the Berlin Wall. But at least people look at Elvis as a quasi-saintlike figure purely as a performer and not as some bellwether figure of a cultural sea change that maybe shouldn't have happened in the first place.

The best thing about the Beatles is that this band that revolutionized music and changed the world in the process was not taken down by drugs or repressive society or some cabal led by Richard Nixon and everybody's least favorite transvestite, J Edgar Hoover. No, the Beatles were taken down by a marginally talented Japanese American conceptual artist of no artistic distinction and an uggo to boot. It might be tragic if it weren't so damn funny.

As for their efforts as solo artists, I think the fact that the first hit any of them had was a dreadful song about pagan gods says a lot. However, George Harrison is only number two of the Beatles I hate. Primarily he's on the list for that song and for playing at his ex-wife's wedding to a dude who slept with her while she was still married to George. I have to tell you, even if my wife left me for Eric Clapton, it would take some sort of miracle for me to go to the wedding, let alone participate in it in any capacity.

Paul McCartney is third on the list, even though he's a giant tool and an outspoken advocate for vegetarian lifestyles. Of the post-Beatle music I think his work with Wings and as a solo artist is probably better than any of the others from an aesthetic standpoint. I like Band on the Run and Live and Let Die quite a bit. I am also inclined to sympathize with him as he is being taking to the cleaners by his estranged wife Heather Mills, who becomes more and more insane with each passing day. I'd hate him a lot less, however, had he not sold out and released his latest album on the Starbucks label.

Ring Starr isn't even on the list actually. I think between his looks and the fact that every one has shown him much less respect than any of the other Beatles for so long that he has reached critical mass in the tool category. So I don't hate him. I suppose it helps that I hate Octopus's Garden the least of all Beatles' songs (excluding covers). And his solo hit Photograph is far and away my favorite of any of their solo projects, even though Paul's body of work is better as a whole. I do realize that George Harrison helped write both songs mentioned above, but nobody's perfect.

There are very few people that I like less than John Lennon (obviously, monsters like Hitler, Stalin and Mao are in a whole other category). I have no time for songs like Imagine. Human nature has changed very little over the years. As the Billy Bob Thornton character in Bad Santa said before I censored it, wish in one hand then defecate in the other. Tell me which fills first.

I really want to know what John Lennon accomplished. Sure the Beatles songbook kept Michael Jackson in business in Neverland for a few years. But other than that, what? When John and Yoko famously took over the Mike Douglas show for a week and called random people to tell them they loved them, there was no tangible result. It was just a couple of oddballs, albeit famous oddballs acting oddly.

So John Lennon died twenty-seven years ago today. It's somewhat sad that a nut job shot him on the stairs of the Dakota apartment building. I just can't bring myself to consider it to have been any more tragic than the 34 or so other murders that surely happened on that day in New York City (God knows, it's like Detroit with a tourist industry there). The one thing that bothers me most about the Beatles is that their achievements outside the musical world are so massively overstated that it obscures the level to which their musical achievements are overrated.

It is a strange thing, for me, with my new found interest in Alice Cooper to rail at the Beatles this way. He's always talking about how big an influence they were on his early musical ventures. I just don't like the Beatles. I like them less with each passing day. And then again, Alice Cooper loves John Cougar Mellencamp, so there is clearly something wrong with him.

I also think the following bands are overrated: Aerosmith (massively, very nearly as big a blight on Boston as Red Sox Nation is), the Rolling Stones (although I do like their music a lot), Chicago (they suck), the Allman Brothers (whom I also like), Skynard (can't say too much about them, since I also fly a lot), Boston, KISS, Metallica and any number of others that I just don't have time to enumerate right now.

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