It’s always 50 years after something, but in the present decade we’re working our way through 50th anniversaries of the 1960s. The ‘60s are the decade dearest to the hearts of Baby Boomers, born 1946-64, who, in the
and much of the West, form a huge bulge in the population pyramid; they felt
they owned the 1960s, and, as consumers of popular culture, they very nearly
did. (In the 21st century, the Millennials finally have edged out
the Boomers in absolute numbers, but they are a much smaller percentage of the
total population than the Boomers were at a similar period in their lives, and
consequently have less proportional clout.) In the ‘60s, most Boomers reached
their tweens, teens, and/or 20s (I was ages 7-17), which always are the years
that weigh heaviest in one’s life. Boomers’ own direct nostalgia is accompanied
by a second-hand nostalgia by younger people who see the ‘60s as a colorful era
– akin to the way I once thought of the 1920s.
The ‘60s indeed were a colorful decade, and one full of significant events and social changes. (Boomers like to act as though we were responsible for them, but, by and large, we really just experienced them, riding the wake of people older than ourselves – including The Beatles, none of whom was a Boomer.) The anniversary gaining much retrospective attention this past week is that of the first American tour by The Beatles. Some of the commentary on the anniversary has been a little over the top: “…and the world was never the same,” in the words of one newscaster. Well, it never was, true enough, but then it never is. Nevertheless, the ‘60s were pivotal years, and The Beatles to a very large degree were their soundtrack.
Stylistically, The Beatles were not, in fact, a particularly innovative band. What they did in 1964 wasn’t much different from what Bill Haley and His Comets had done a decade earlier; when they experimented with psychedelic rock a few years later, they were following the lead of numerous pioneering California bands. They usually did it better, though, and they did it at exactly the moment when the largest audience was ready for it. (Here the Boomers can take a little credit: we were a very willing audience.) Moreover, they did it with their own original music; there is no denying the skill and prodigious output of the Lennon-McCartney songwriting team. Tom Wolfe once said that it doesn’t pay to be more than five minutes ahead of your time. The Beatles always were spot on with the zeitgeist. You can hear the progression of the ‘60s in their music and see it in their very appearance; even their eventual break-up paralleled the way ‘60s idealism soured in the ‘70s.
Yes, I saw the famous Ed Sullivan Show broadcast: the family watched it on a black & white TV in a motel room in
At age 11 in February 1964, I listened
to the musical advice of my savvier worldly-wise 13-year-old sister and became
a Beatles fan. I still have the well-worn 1964 Introducing the Beatles album, bought that same month, on my shelf.
I followed her advice a year later, too, by shifting preference to other bands
of the era, though our tastes started to diverge at that point: she became a Rolling Stones fan while I tended more
to The Animals and edgier (for the
day) bands such as The Sonics. (Actually, I still like Eric Burdon, vocalist
for The Animals, and bought the
septuagenarian’s 2013 album a few months ago.) But that didn’t mean either of
us ignored The Beatles. They were much too embedded in the era to ignore. Whatever
else we played, Beatles records always were part of the mix. It simply is not
possible to have a proper ‘60s music collection without albums such as Sergeant Pepper and Islamorada FL. Abbey
Soundtracks, whether to movies or to life, are just that. 2001: A Space Odyssey would have been a good movie with a theme by someone other than Strauss. The ‘40s would have been just as world-changing a decade (far more so than the ‘60s) without Glenn Miller or the Andrews Sisters. But both would have been poorer without them. For the ‘60s, we could have done a lot worse for an iconic band. Many of the upcoming 50th anniversaries will be grim ones. This one isn’t, so if some of the nostalgia for the Fab Four is over the top, at least this anniversary is frownless and harmless.