Steven Heller | Essays

I Still Wish I Were a Beatle

How many times have you vividly—I mean reality-bendingly—day-dreamed about being someone or somewhere else? I wanted to be in John F. Kennedy’s family when, on Inauguration Day in 1961, they were shown on television entering The White House for the first time. I wanted to be Alan Shepard when he made the first manned Mercury space flight that same year. The list goes on, usually lasting for no more than a minute, a day or month.

However, to this day, I confess that I still want to be a Beatle.

If only!

There is a spate of Beatlemania reemerging. The new film by Ron Howard, Eight Days A Week: The Touring Years (set to premiere in the United States, on Hulu, September 17) tops my to-do list. But this is just one of many documentaries I’ve poured over, like the 1984 The Complete Beatles and the multi-disk The Beatles Anthology from 1995 (which I re-watch every few years). I can’t get enough of the Beatles Live at the BBC (1994) and the Beatles Live At the Hollywood Bowl (1977) a remastered release that’s recently come out to somewhat mixed reviews.

Good or bad, I am involuntarily drawn to any and all Beatle documentation, memorabilia, and nostalgia. Almost sixty years after their break-up, I’m embarrassed to say, I simply can’t help but still long to be one of them, as I did after leaving the Cinema Village in New York, where I watched Hard Day’s Night and Help twenty times in succession. (I watched Magical Mystery Tour only once). Some people fantasize themselves as wrapping themselves in the lives of others. Some become imitators, impressionists, even stalkers (clearly, not all are mentally balanced). My own obsession is triggered only when I watch them, particularly in their suits and those Beatle boots, with their distinctive hair like helmets, the four of them holding their instruments like knights wielding swords. As a teenager, I followed the Beatles’ fashions though publicity photos in magazines like Tiger Beat and 16; I bought the gear, wore the mop top (mine became unruly in high humidity) and tried to replicate their facial tics and verbal utterances that would become, over the course of time, so iconic in the films. I imagined myself as one of them totally and completely in every public role they played on film, TV and record covers.

Nostalgia for a life lost? Obviously, I am who I am, and I’m not a Beatle. But last week I listened to an NPR radio show about Rubber Soul—one of the best Beatle albums—that delved behind the meaning of all the lyrics. I was in such a heavenly cloud nothing else mattered. I played the album for hours and hours. This week I plan on doing it again, this time with Revolver. I actually have an album that was signed by Klaus Voorman, Revolver’s cover artist and an occasional studio bass player. Meeting him a few years ago in Berlin was as close to becoming a Beatle as I’ve ever come, but was no less wish-fulfilling.

There are places I remember, all my life, though some have changed. The Beatles have, over the course of my lifetime, become attached to my nerve endings. (I was never a Stones person). It's a curious sensation, but one I’m glad I still have.

Posted in: Arts + Culture, Music

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