Sunday, September 20, 2009

The Day the End of the Beginning Began

Forty years ago today, September 20, 1969, John Lennon announced to Paul, George, and Ringo that he was leaving the Beatles. They had completed their final song created in the studio all together--"I Want You (She's So Heavy)"--about a month previously. The album it would appear upon--Abbey Road--was released in the U.K. about a week later. Let It Be wouldn't be released until 1970, and there were various legal matters which kept the entity called "The Beatles" alive on paper well into the 1970s...but this was, for all intents and purposes, the date that the Beatles, the group, died.

The Beatles provided the soundtrack for the modern world--"modern," in this case, meaning Caucasian, North-American-Western European, middle-class-or-better, post-Christian, post-war, mostly urban, bourgeois. That's a horribly constricted definition of what makes up the "modern world," of course, but I don't know how anyone at all honest about the presumptions which undergird the modern economy or globalization or the mass media or anything else can contest this. Even those movers and shakers today who, for reasons of youth or religion or multiculturalism, disdain everything tainted by the baby boomers or the Beatles are shaped by them. Their lyrics and sounds shape our expectations for love, for aging, for success, for rebellion; their rhythms are the rhythms of advertising, politics, the pulpit. The King James Bible, Shakespeare, Goethe, Dickens, Irving Berlin, Cary Grant, John Wayne: the Beatles join these and other works of art and and effort production in having become immanent icons, touchstones of reference and meaning that cross practically all boundaries.

Eventually, they'll pass away, and become mere history. The influence of the Beatles on what it means to be modern will be strange and antiquarian, like my trying to explain to my students what Harriet Beecher Stowe's Uncle Tom's Cabin meant in America in the 1850s. But that hasn't happened yet. Forty years ago today, the Beatles, having mid-wifed the birth of the modern Boomer consciousness, having bridged the world of war to a world of meritocratic achievement and wealth and all its attendant doubts, decided to call it quits, and let the modern world make its way on its own. I wouldn't say we've done well, but we could have done much worse. So, in that spirit, I doff my hat to them that started us out.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Beatles RockBand for Christmas--because the world is round.