Sunday, February 08, 2015

The problem of the Beatles

B-E-A-T-L-E-S. Beatles are a hairy mess!
— What some golden-era kids thought of the whole thing
And that was back when they had neatly styled European-aristocrat long hair and wore matching stage suits.

Yesterday in '64: a beginning of the end as the Beatles set foot in America. They were an instrument of great evil, helping end the old America (which didn't happen overnight: I remember it fading away), whether they meant to or not. Yet they were very good at their music and their early stuff seems harmless, just a catchy part of the same period. Why did the girls scream so, more than for earlier pop-music stars? Something was spiritually very wrong.

It all started after President Kennedy's murder. Walter Cronkite tried to cheer up America by reporting on a pop-group craze in Britain. Before they even came, they were the No. 1 group on our charts.

We had Frank Sinatra, Elvis, and Little Richard. Better if the boys had stayed home.
The Beatles were made possible by the Day the Music Died.
That was this month in '59: Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, and the Big Bopper dying in that plane crash. Sad but it didn't damage society. That came several years later.
Right. But it created the gap in America's indigenous music scene that the British Invasion (not just the Beatles) exploited.
That, Elvis getting drafted (arguably his Dutch illegal-alien manager derailed his career, playing it safe so he, the manager, wouldn't get caught: why Elvis overpaid his taxes and never toured abroad) and maybe the backlash against Jerry Lee Lewis.
Bingo. The trifecta.
But our indigenous music wasn't dead: for example, the Phil Spector sound, the Four Seasons, Dion and the Belmonts and doo-wop, Motown, older r&b, of course the grown-up smoky, boozy, sexy jazz and vocals of Sinatra and others (other singers from the big-band era such as Doris Day and the sultry Julie London still made it onto the charts too), and experimental space-age lounge music.
Yeah, but the drive was British Invasion stuff.
Which again started out seemingly innocuously enough. Paul McCartney (whom I've stood 20 feet from as he was performing: charming fellow made for the stage): once upon a time there was an English kid who did a mean impression of Little Richard. It all seemed like that: they wanted to be like our '50s rockers (they loved Buddy Holly, Eddie Cochran, et al.) and copied them (before they were famous, the Beatles had slicked pompadours and leather jackets), doing covers and writing soundalike songs. What went wrong? Was it bad from the start?

At the risk of my sounding politically correct: many bought records of English kids copying Chuck Berry and Little Richard when we had Chuck Berry and Little Richard (and still do!) because some people were prejudiced.
Frank Sinatra was tied in with the Mafia and the FBI suspected him of Communism. Elvis was on drugs and Little Richard was gay. Let's not blame the Beatles too much...
Regarding Sinatra and the mob, well, duh. Read on. A Red? No way, Jack. He was a '40s-Cold War liberal, hard-drinking, hard-partying, personally libertine but socially conservative, not undermining society. When the Sixties hit, this Italian from Hoboken switched to the Republicans; that says it all. They say Elvis accidentally got hooked on painkillers because of an injury in the Army (soldiers got hooked on morphine that way). Ditto: he wasn't subversive; he was a sinner and knew it ("I'm not the King, honey; Jesus Christ is. I'm just a singer"). Ditto too for Little Richard: he just makes great music.
That's the difference between a conservative and a traditionalist. A conservative accepts the liberalism that was in style when he himself was still young and having fun.
I hear you but I'm not that harsh. There's being easygoing and there's being subversive. Big difference.

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