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The Beatles -- the 'Fab Four' group of John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, and Ringo Starr -- hit the shores of the United States in 1964 like a sorely-needed breath of fresh air. Over the next few years, their innovative musical sound and brilliant lyrics not only transformed the world of Rock and Roll but gave us much more than just a few memorable tunes. No group before or since has perhaps done more to transform our culture as we know it today. No one reflected the political turbulence, turmoil, anxieties, ambiguities, ambivalence, conflicts, and uncertainties of their era better. Or contributed more to redefine it.

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An article in the current issue of the New York Review of Books by Andrew O'Hagan caught my eye and, in particular, comments by a group of Baby Boomers prominent in our politics over the past decade or so.

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.

Originally posted to JekyllnHyde on Sat May 15, 2004 at 03:19 PM PDT.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Tip Jar (3.85)
    For Beatles and non-Beatles fans alike.

    A riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma

    by JekyllnHyde on Sat May 15, 2004 at 03:20:14 PM PDT

  •  Bush and the Beatles (none)
    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."

    This sounds familiar.

    In fact, it sounds remarkably like the popular-music digressions in American Psycho.

    "Do not offend the Chair Leg of Truth! It is wise and terrible."

    by section29 on Sat May 15, 2004 at 03:25:45 PM PDT

    •  American Psycho (none)
      Sorry, I didn't see American Psycho.

      I've read a bit about it. What was it about?

      A riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma

      by JekyllnHyde on Sat May 15, 2004 at 03:40:38 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  AP (none)
        (and by this I mean the book, not the film--although the latter was a better interpretation than I expected) is about spoiled, banal, interchangeable Wall Street twentysomethings--oh, except for the one who's a serial murderer in his spare time.  Representation of same, in VERY graphic detail, is sprinkled throughout, and frankly it's a bit of a turnoff--the book is better without it and actually quite funny, although it's hard to tell whether Ellis is satirically trying to write really badly or whether he's just writing really badly.

        At any rate, when the protagonist isn't reciting the brand-names of everything in his apartment or taking the better part of the evening trying to decide where to have dinner, whole chapters are devoted to discussions of the glories of vapid '80s pop music--Huey Lewis, Whitney Houston, Collins-era Genesis (as opposed to that whacked-out guy with the flower on his head).  There's also a segment in the front row of a U2 concert  at the Meadowlands (although they hate live music) where said protagonist gets pissed at Bono b/c the latter interrupts their attempts to score reservations &/or drugs mid-concert.

        "Do not offend the Chair Leg of Truth! It is wise and terrible."

        by section29 on Sat May 15, 2004 at 03:59:42 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

  •  Bush vs. the Beatles (none)
    Perhaps it is revealing the Bush didn't really get the Beatles.  

    But I'm fine with that.  I'd really hate to think that Bush and I both had a geniune fondness for and found inspiration from the same source.

    Bush can have Garth Brooks---him, I don't really need.

    •  On Garth Brooks and Country Music (none)
      I read an article recently (perhaps it was mentioned in a Daily Kos diary) that there is a group of people involved in country music in Nashville, TN -- performers, producers, promoters, supporters, and the like -- that is mobilizing to dispel the myth that all aficionados of country music are Republicans.

      I think the article also referred to entertainers like Johnny Cash, Loretta Lynn, and Merle Haggard as being more "populist" and "rebels" than as being promoters of Bush-inspired 'family values.'

      A riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma

      by JekyllnHyde on Sat May 15, 2004 at 03:55:09 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Haggard & Cash (none)
        Both Haggard and Cash could easily be called populists, but while Cash was firmly in the leftist populist tradition, Haggard was more right-leaning culturally (though he seems to have mellowed with age based on a recent interview).

        Cash's politics, as expressed through his lyrics in songs like "The Ballad of Ira Hayes", "Man in Black" and "What is Truth" were of the sort that would put him well left of the mainstream of the Democratic party. He was one of the first of his generation to try to communicate with and understand the '60s youth movement and was eventually an outspoken opponent of the Vietnam War.

        Haggard was, like Cash, an spokesman for the working class, but had no use for the counterculture and supported the war effort wholeheartedly.

        "Ambition makes them greedy, and mediocrity makes them cheat and lie." - AnonyMoses

        by pHunbalanced on Sat May 15, 2004 at 04:50:30 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  But Loretta Lynn (none)
          was also a big supporter of GHWBush; her songs may be populist in the white, working class tradition,  but her own politics aren't so much.

          "By focusing fear and hatred on the Tutsi, the organizers hoped to forge solidarity among Hutu." -- Human Rights Watch

          by a gilas girl on Sat May 15, 2004 at 05:09:59 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  George H.W. Bush (none)
            But Loretta Lynn was also a big supporter of GHWBush

            I wasn't aware of that. As is obvious, my knowledge of trends and developments in country music is rather limited.

            As far as George H.W. Bush is concerned -- even though nobody ever accused him of having any cerebral tendencies -- I bet the country (and the world) would trade his son for him -- in an instant.

            A riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma

            by JekyllnHyde on Sat May 15, 2004 at 05:22:44 PM PDT

            [ Parent ]

          •  Loretta Lynn is a bigot (none)
            I'll never forget her comment in 1988- "I can't even pronounce Dukakis." Proved that politics is the last glass ceiling. Her music stinks, and I glad her husband died- who would want to spend time with HER!
      •  That would be (none)
        Music Row Democrats. Thing is, so much of country radio is controlled by Clear Channel, if an artist speaks out, it's bye-bye, career. The Dixie Chicks squeaked by because they're huge stars.

        Country radio playlists have been tighter than Jesse Helms' sphincter for at least 20 years. With all the consolidation, it's just become more dangerous for a country artist to speak out.

        Oh, and don't be dissin' Garth Brooks. His sister is a lesbian, and he had a semi-hit with "We Will Be Free" about ten years ago, which was all about peace and freedom for everybody, including gay people.

        But again, he was such a huge star, he could afford the risk.

  •  Correction? (none)
    Wesley Clark's favorite album of all time is Yellow Submarine

    I thought Clark was a big Journey fan?

    The horror.

    •  Journey (none)
      I love Journey. Though I'm a huge fan of the Blues including B.B. King, Son Seals, Muddy Waters, Etta James, Janis Joplin, and Eric Clapton -- to name a few.

      Though widely criticized and much-maligned as a San Francisco group in their career, Journey's hits -- such as Don't Stop Believin', Faithfully, Only the Young, Who's Crying Now, and Separate Ways -- convey a sense of perseverance and survival in a tough world.

      A riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma

      by JekyllnHyde on Sat May 15, 2004 at 04:27:21 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  Yeah, I'll always hold that against Wes (none)
      If I remember correctly, Clark even serenaded the campaign bus with one of their songs once. I worry anyone who likes Journey that much.

      My guy Howard had an odd choice when asked about his favorite song. He named Wyclef Jean's Jaspora. Uh, hello?

      "I'm here to represent the Democratic wing of the Democratic party." - Howard Dean

      by Flakcatcher on Sat May 15, 2004 at 06:52:02 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Wyclef Jean (none)
        I will say, though, that Dean was awfully consistent about naming Wyclef Jean as one of his favorite artists.  

        I never thought that was too strange, though.  After all, he does have kids that fall into the Wyclef Jean age bracket, so I'm not suprised he was exposed to or liked Jean.

        However, I will say that I had never heard of the song "Jaspora."  I work for a music company and looked to see if we even had it digitized in our database--we didn't.  I'm assuming this is a pretty obscure one.

  •  excellent diary jekyll (none)
    Its funny cuz I was just yesterday watching "a hard days nite" my step daughter rented , and I still think they were an incredible band, they just seemed to bring it all together and it resonated and still does with peoples souls.

    Bush's problem was that as the Beatles kept evolving, he got lost in the alcohol and whatever else and just stopped evolving.Hence they became strange to him.

    "You will determine whether rage or reason guides the United States in the struggle to come. You will choose whether we are known for revenge or compassion.

    by mickey on Sat May 15, 2004 at 03:51:54 PM PDT

    •  Thanks (none)
      As Maryscott O'Connor mentioned in her excellent diary earlier today, Bill Clinton -- using Fleetwood Mac's 'Don't Stop' (Thinking About Tomorrow) as his campaign song -- did convey the message of optimistic possibilities that the 1960's counterculture conveyed.

      The pure joy of the congregated politicians, delegates and onlookers washed over me as I watched on my television. I got up in the living room and danced. It was at that moment I knew Clinton would win the election. I never worried about it again. Of course, I wasn't as obsessed at 24 as I am at 36; polls meant nothing to me. I just... knew.

      Can John Kerry re-create it? It would be a powerful message for his campaign and an effective counter to this neo-Realist, Hobbesian message of worldwide conflict and confrontation offered by George W. Bush.

      A riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma

      by JekyllnHyde on Sat May 15, 2004 at 04:07:33 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Bush's Favorite Song: Lyrics (none)
    Wake up little Susie, Wake up
    Wake up little Susie, Wake up

    We've both been sound asleep
    Wake up little Suzie and weep
    The movie's over it's four o'clock
    and we're in trouble deep

    Wakeup a little Susie
    Wakeup a little Susie

    Well what are they going to tell your mama
    What are they going to tell your pop
    What are they going to tell our friends when they say
    Oh-la-la

    Wake up a little Susie
    Wake up a little Susie

    Well and told your mama that we'd be in by ten
    Well Susie baby looks like we goofed again

    Wake up a little Susie
    Wake up a little Susie
    We gotta go home

    Wake up little Susie, Wake up!
    Wake up little Susie, Wake up!

    The movie wasn't so hot
    it didn't have much of a plot
    We fell asleep our goose is cooked
    our reputation is shot

    Wake up a little Susie
    Wake up a little Susie

    Well what are they going to tell your mama
    What are they going to tell your pop
    What are they going to tell our friends when they say
    Oh-la-la

    Wake up a little Susie
    Wake up a little Susie
    Wake up a little Susie

    "Don't do or say things you would not like to see on the front page of The Washington Post." - Donald Rumsfeld, "Rumsfeld's Rules", WSJ 1/29/01

    by reef the dog on Sat May 15, 2004 at 04:47:55 PM PDT

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