Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Fine. So they make me hyperventilate. Still.

On Wednesdays I'm writing about other people's work. So far I've touched on poetry and painting, today it's music. One band in particular.

I grew up listening to classical, jazz and folk music. When Elvis died I didn't know who he was, but I could tell you if a symphony was by Mahler and which one it was within a few bars. I was a nerd. When I was ten I met Esther, who thought all this classical stuff was great, but couldn't believe I'd never heard of The Beatles. She played some of their records for me, showed me who was who (Paul was the cute one, John was the one with glasses, Ringo was the one with the big nose (sorry Ringo, we were 10) and George was the one with the eyes. I've never gotten over those eyes) and my world has never been the same. Just like it's never been the same for millions of other people.

Their music got me through every turbulent moment of my adolescence, even though they broke up years before. They sang to me, talked to me, comforted me. I can still quote most of their movies line-for-line. Sure, there were other musicians who helped me along (a CD of my stories to the first person who can name the singer of this line: I'm not a prophet or a stone age man, just a mortal with potential of a superman.) but I always came back to the boys.

I'm sure most of you know all about this and have your own Beatles love stories, your own little smiles as you think of what they meant to you. Or some other musician who played the same kind of role in your life. I'd love to hear those stories.

Let me tell you about one recent Beatles moment that still makes me grin.

I've known that Paul McCartney toured, but never wanted to pay the exorbitant prices he was asking for tickets. This year I finally broke down. Maybe it had something to do with George dying a few years ago, knowing half the Beatles are gone. Maybe it had to do with issues of my own mortality. Maybe it had to do with knowing that Paul and Ringo are much closer to my parents in age than they are to me and thinking will I have another chance to see a Beatle?

35,000 other people made the same decision. It was the best sign-along I've ever been to and one of the very best concerts. We all knew all the words to every Beatles song (at least 75% was Beatles material), many of us were playing air guitar, everyone - from the five year olds to the 85+ year olds - was dancing. No one cared if they looked foolish, everyone was happy. It was as though we each were having our own, personal relationship with Sir Paul (as we were) at the same time that we were with 34,999 of our best friends.

And I realized that's what the Beatles did and are still doing, almost 40 years after they broke up. They bring us together. They remind us of the potential of a shared dream and that we all have at least this music in common, even if our personal experiences of the music are different.

Music is powerful, it shapes us and inspires us. Neuroscience has established the music effects our brains on a grand scale (classical music especially so) and, in this case, the music of the Beatles kept me from going crazy when I was a kid. And now? The Beatles remind me of who I was and that I am the product of all my years. My current favorite Beatles song is In My Life with its love and nostalgia and sense of we have all felt this. We have all been here.

I'm still a proud nerd; I still love classical, jazz and folk. I also love a wide range of modern music in all different kinds of genres. And I will always turn up the volume on the radio when I hear the Beatles and start singing along. Care to join me?

(c) 2009 Laura S. Packer
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  1. The first CD I ever bought was the Sgt Pepper album. I know the love.

    Have you ever gone to NEFFA in Natick MA in the spring? One of the events is a Beatles Sing-along. It is so popular that the only way to get at seat is to go to the event that is held in the same room the time-slot beforehand (don't know what it is, don't care). When that event ends, almost no one leaves (because they're all really there to get a seat for the Beatles Sing-along just like I was), and then more people crowd in until the room is packed with even more crowding around the open doors to the hallway.

    They pass around sheets with the words to the songs they're going to play that year but few people need actually need them. It's a fantastic hour long event. ... and I'm sure it's at best a pale shadow compared to what you experienced at your concert... But for anyone who's looking for that magical moment, check it out next spring.

  2. ... I should have mentioned that the Sgt. Pepper CD is still always in the top three of my CD rack in easy reach even now almost 20 years later...

  3. I think it was about a year later,in your room on harvey street that you and Esther asked me, "Do you like the Beatles?" I answered with a proud - almost shocked "No!" What 11 year old black girl from Philly liked the Beatles?!!!!? I remember when you said, "you probably already know some of their songs" And you were right (thanks to my Dad's easy listening music he used as a sleep aid).

    That moment when I realized I knew "Yesterday", "Michelle", and "Something" was extraordinarily profound. I LOVED those - even though they were pitiful renditions. I fell in love with the Fab Four immediately. I already considered myself a singer - but the introduction to the Beatles put me on the course of being a musician. Paul McCartney became the biggest musical influence of my life. He and I still sing in the same key.

    I went to Paul's concert too (Thanks for letting me know Laura) A friend actually scored some free tickets! She called me up and said very tentatively, "Do you like...Paul McCartney!" I was about to purchase tickets for myself! So my husband, two female friends and I went to see my man Paul. We were in the nosebleed section and were among the 15 African Americans in the stadium! (I exgaggerate...) I knew every word of almost every song and when he played "Black Bird" it almost reduced me to tears. Tears of joy because those songs took me back to a time when I was my pure authentic organic self without apology and regret. And for the last few years, I have been on the journey back to that place. At 41, 30 years later, the Beatles have again become the soundtrack of my growth.

    Love ya.


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