My friend Kent Cochran recently purchased The Beatles in Mono – a boxed set of 13 vinyl discs that goes for about $170. According to Amazon, this set is “a special interest package for the hard-core fan.” You think?
Nothing Kent enjoys more than sitting in a perfect position in front of his elaborate sound system and being surrounded by the fabulous mono sound that the Fab Four actually created. Me? Not so much.
I’ve already written about my lack of dancing aptitude and a close cousin to that would be my lack of musical aptitude. Simply stated – music does not move me like it does many other people. Ever since attended a Grand Funk Railroad concert as a kid, I realized that simply listening to a band play some music is not enough to occupy my senses or satisfy me. I get bored merely listening to music, and my mind drifts somewhere else to fill the void. Music best serves me when it provides a background for conversation or thoughtful reflection. It never works as the main course.
This past Sunday there was a special show on CBS celebrating the 50th anniversary of The Beatles playing on The Ed Sullivan Show, something I enjoyed watching back then and again this week. An article in the Express-News on Sunday by public editor Robert Seltzer provided an excellent analysis of what that show 50 years ago meant to America. Two of his paragraphs were especially meaningful to me:
- America appeared stuck in the ’50s, both musically and socially. It was the kind of world depicted in the popular AMC series “Mad Men,” rigid, boring, button-down — a world of crew cuts, skinny ties and instant coffee. A year earlier, “The Beverly Hillbillies” and “My Favorite Martian” drew top ratings on TV, while “The Nutty Professor” and “Fun in Acapulco” — the latest dreadful Elvis movie (were there any other kind of Elvis movies?) — attracted huge audiences to theaters. The wasteland seemed even starker on the radio, with hits that included “Blue Velvet,” “Hey, Paula” and “Puff the Magic Dragon.” It was a dreary, enervating landscape, and it begged for a change, a revolution.
- Then, on the night of Feb. 9, 1964, a quartet from Liverpool appeared on “The Ed Sullivan Show.” “Ladies and gentlemen, the Beatles!” With those five words, Ed Sullivan launched the rebirth of the music that had ignited the nation 10 years earlier. And nothing symbolized the revolution more dramatically than the contrast between the host and his guests. There was Sullivan, stiff and awkward, as stern as an undertaker. And there were the Beatles, vibrant and subversive, their music as daring as their haircuts.
When I read the first paragraph, I responded under my breath to Seltzer that I enjoyed “Blue Velvet,” “Hey, Paula,” and “Puff the Magic Dragon.” When I read the second paragraph, I wondered whether I hadn’t been as vibrant or as daring as I thought I was in the 60s.
Seltzer prompted some reflection with a couple of questions – “John, Paul, George and Ringo were part of the upheaval — musically, culturally, socially. But did they trigger it? Or were they caught in the same social current that was sweeping everyone else along, a current as irresistible as the music, leading us to a generation that seemed hooked on pot, protests and psychedelia?”
I think The Beatles were the most visible symbol of the upheaval, but they neither triggered it nor led it. Similarly, music might reflect what is going on, but I don’t consider it to be an important building block in advancing toward an actualized life. At least, it isn’t for me.