In 1961, Senator John Kerry played bass guitar in a band called the Electras. The band rehearsed in the halls of St. Paul's School in Concord, New Hampshire; they cut a record and described their music as "early surf." Tony Blair's band was called Ugly Rumours; he played guitar and sang. Only the other day, on a tour of China, a group of students asked the British Prime Minister to sing a Beatles song. He blushed and looked at his wife, Cherie, who picked up the microphone and gave a rather croaky rendition of "When I'm Sixty-Four." John Edwards plays the saxophone and "admires" the Beatles. Former Governor Howard Dean plays the harmonica and the guitar and his favorite Beatle is George Harrison. Wesley Clark's favorite album of all time is Yellow Submarine (Kerry's is Abbey Road; Dennis Kucinich's is The White Album). Who can forget Bill Clinton's saxophone solo on Arsenio Hall? "There was not only a new sound," said Al Gore, speaking about the Beatles to the editor of Rolling Stone. "There was something else that was new with the Beatles. A new sensibility...that incredible gestalt they had." The great exception to all this is George W. Bush. He was at Yale from 1964 to 1968, and liked some of the Beatles first records. "Then they got a bit weird," he has said. "I didn't like all that later stuff when they got strange." Bush also told Oprah Winfrey his favorite song is the Everly Brothers' "Wake Up Little Susie" (1957), but overall he says he prefers country music.
O'Hagan brilliantly captures the essence of the Beatles and their importance to the defining decade of the 1960's
Elvis came first, then came the Beatles, but the Liverpudlians failed to lose themselves in Hollywood as Elvis did, and instead they began, after that first innocent bout in America, to travel into the nature of their own psyches and the character of their own time and place, journeys that still offer the most articulate definition of the decade. Looked at properly, the Beatles really were the 1960s: they started out as one thing and ended as another, and that is the core of their story, how they changed from ultra-melodic laughing boys to revolutionary art-heroes, making an entire generation imagine itself differently. Another story emerges too when you look at the Beatles' music and its reception, a story about the cultural relationship between Britain and the United States, an odd friendship in which loyalties, enmities, and anxieties of influence have been animated in a climate of increasing American power.
The optimism of the American spirit in the post-World War II era had a profound effect on the British as they "listened to America and lived on fantasies of everything their culture lacked." As O'Hagan describes it
In a bombed-out Liverpool, a dozen years later, new shining buildings were being erected and English normality was erupting into something of a classless, American-accented meritocracy: four cheeky lads with scuffed shoes, the Beatles, came bursting with new harmonies and even newer energies, and they appeared to be telling young people they had choices.
O'Hagan goes on to quote John Lennon
America used to be a big youth place in everybody's imagination... We all knew America, all of us. All those movies: every movie we ever saw as children, whether it was Disneyland or Doris Day, Rock Hudson, James Dean or Marilyn. Everything was American: Coca-Cola, Heinz ketchup.... The big artists were American. It was the Americans coming to the London Palladium. They wouldn't even make an English movie without an American in it, even a B movie.... They'd have a Canadian if they couldn't get an American.... Liverpool is cosmopolitan. It's where the sailors would come home on the ships with the blues records from America.
Go read the full article. It describes the world America helped create following World War II. A world of optimism, vitality, change, and, yes, possibilities. The Beatles grew to love and appreciate it. Even though George W. Bush completely misinterprets the critical role America can still play in this world of ours.
This was clearly not the Sixties that everyone experienced -- not the Sixties of J. Edgar Hoover, for instance, or George W. Bush -- but the modern personality the Beatles promulgated is the one that broke the old culture's back. As much as John F. Kennedy, the Beatles brought a new attitude front and center, creating at once a ferocity of love and hatred, the kind of appeal, we now understand, that sometimes finds its resolution at the tip of an assassin's bullet. The Beatles' songs got so complicated they couldn't be played by the band live, and the lyrics, from one album to another, grew very keen to recognize the delirium that lives somewhere inside democracy.
It is the American-inspired Beatles' message of hope and optimism that John Kerry needs to recreate, communicate, and convey to the American electorate in this campaign. Otherwise, to paraphrase John Lennon, the next four years of George W. Bush will be unimaginable and intolerable.