Whenever I find myself back in the driver’s seat of a car — a rare position since moving to New York – I don’t fiddle with the radio station. My car is firmly loyal to WCBS-FM, the Tri-state area’s radio equivalent to your dad’s favorite hits. Driving alone along dreary highways, I belt Bob Dylan, Fleetwood Mac, and The Beatles for company. These are the tattered rags of my musical taste, worn out and made soft by overuse. They’re the sweatpants I change into after an evening pretending to be fashionable and like Sylvan Esso.
Like old friends, The Beatles forgive my straying toward newer musicians who build off their precedent, with synths and computers and trumpets. And like old friends, they’re always happy to see me back in the front seat of the car, where my brain completes lyrics I forgot I ever memorized.
Yet I’m always unsettled by one element of WCBS-FM that has nothing to do with the musical selections. Nestled between Springsteen and the Stones are ads for liver medicine, psoriasis, and nursing homes. I used to tune out the ads, simply because they didn’t apply to me. And therein lies the concern that my neurotic mind dwells upon on auspicious occasions like today’s, the 50th anniversary of the Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Heart’s Club Band album.
If the music’s target demographic is aging and moving to homes for the elderly, who will be left to listen to the oldies?
Perhaps my fear of The Beatles becoming cobwebbed and irrelevant is unfounded. After all, unlike my preference for pop music, which has been honed through years of mild peer pressure, my love for The Beatles was taught deliberately, by the older and wiser figures in my life. We all inherit things from our parents. In addition to nearsightedness and claustrophobia, I got a love for The Beatles.
For me, oldies and automobiles have been joined in happy union since the pre-iPod days, when my family took road trips to New England. Before pulling out of the driveway, my dad would take out the tell-tale crimson cover of the Beatles 1 album, a compilation of the 27 Beatles songs that reached the U.K. or U.S. top charts. In tandem with the distinct opening chord of “Hard Day’s Night,” we headed north into summer vacation.
The 1 album is like training wheels for a budding Beatles fan, where the band's transition from the sweet “Love Me Do” to the far more experimental “Come Together” can be completed within a single car ride. As I outgrew 1, I discovered the enormity of The Beatles' discography in perfect synchronization with my coming-of-age.
Middle school saw the days of Rubber Soul, an album that sonically straddles The Beatles' early coy love songs and the complicated, opaque anthems of the later years. Just as Rubber Soul bled into the psychedelic Revolver, so I, too, grew more complicated. When Revolver became Sgt. Pepper, I traded in logic for metaphor and learned to love “Strawberry Fields Forever.” In other words, I became a teenager.
In high school, my days as a full-fledged Beatles fan were cemented, and it wasn’t an identity that I adopted alone. My high school clique was essentially a roving Beatlemania, spewing obscure facts and lyric interpretations. We adopted personas akin to our favorite Beatles, and hung posters on our walls. We wore a Beatles-themed costume for our senior year Halloween celebration. We called ourselves, unsurprisingly, the Fab Four.
My friends and I aren’t the only ones who went through a Beatles phase. On occasions like this, I’m drawn together with other people for whom The Beatles played a crucial role in their life story. And that’s what gives me hope for the band's enduring relevance. A person doesn’t need to have been present for The Beatles' formation in the '60s for The Beatles to be present for their formation.
When I was in high school, The Beatles made me nostalgic for an era of free love and psychedelic drugs — one I never lived through. Now, though, The Beatles makes me nostalgic for youth, and for the juvenile, escapist fantasy of identifying with a time that isn’t yours. I’m just like a Baby Boomer who listens to 101.1 CBS FM for a sonic rush of the old days.
So, if I ever hit the road one day with kids in the backseat, I’ll play them The Beatles. So long as a love for their music is passed on from generation to generation, then, as John Lennon sang, we'll all shine on — John, Paul, George, and Ringo included.
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