Imagine there's no Beatles

Caught between two generations of Beatles fans

Do you want to know a secret? I've had it up to about here with the Beatles.
It's been more than six months, and the foofaraw surrounding the 35th anniversary of the Fab Four shows no signs of abating. First, I get a chance to buy--for a paltry 160 bucks--the totally gear eight-cassette videotape series of the Beatles documentary, Anthology, and now a veritable siege engine of Beatlemania has appeared: KTCY-FM 104.9, "Fab 105," a commercial-free, all-Beatles, all-the-time radio station. All of this forces me to reexamine an age-old failing: I just never really cared that much about the Beatles. Born too late for them to have the mind-melting, vista-opening effect they had on many, I also was born too soon for the band to freshly reverberate as it does for those born after the demise of the Apple Corps. It's always sort of puzzled me, my flatline response to the madcap Liverpudlians; at various points in my life I would look over the shoulders of a pal obsessing about the cover of Sergeant Pepper, or listen to Revolver for the umpteenth time, earnestly desiring to have the secret revealed, and each time ending up thinking: "Wha? Whatever."

We're all familiar with the Michael Stipe quote about how the Beatles were always elevator music to him, because the first time he heard them was in an elevator. Hey, Mikey--the first time I encountered the Beatles, they were a combination of Saturday morning cartoon and lunch box. To my young mind, the Beatles, the Archies, and the Monkees were virtually interchangeable, and no band was the voice of my third-grade generation. No, the Beatles and their ilk were the province of older brothers and sisters, surly and bepimpled giants familiar with the mysteries of learner's permits and bras and not that far removed from their old roles as wedgie givers, noogie bestowers, and chest sitters who had mastered the art of lowering that string of drool until it almost touched your squirming face, then sucking it back. Seventy percent of the time. The music of the mop-tops wasn't exactly that of oppression, but you could make a case for it being the soundtrack to malevolent indifference.

Sixth months ago, I settled down to watch the gazillion-hour multi-installment Anthology, thinking, 'OK, let's watch this. This is important.' Instead, it was a return to old unanswered questions as I kept having to remind myself to watch the show, pull my nose out of a magazine or seed catalog, and, by God, feel the magic. Then someone would start nattering on about how it was in 1962, and I would find myself wondering if I could hold a quarter between each toe and still manage to walk around the room.

And now this. I'll give the lads their props, though: They certainly inspire devotion. "I'm glad to be making a purely artistic statement," says Tony Rodriguez, KTCY's owner. Rodriguez is a scion of the Spanish-language radio dynasty, best-known for its ownership of KESS-AM 1270; Tony himself owns two other radio stations (KRVA-FM 106.9 and KRVA-AM 1600) and is close to buying another. "I'm really more of a fan of the '60s, but the Beatles personify the '60s, and what better way to shake up the status quo and freak people out than to put this right in the middle of the '90s? You can't deny their influence on music, the music business, or pop culture; homage must be paid. There's no other band that you could do this with."

Deadheads might respectfully disagree, but there's no disagreeing with the purity of Rodriguez's approach: He runs no ads, and doesn't even have a sales staff, although he acknowledges that "sooner or later, the bills gotta get paid." Until then, he plans to "promote the things that I believe in. Right now it's the environmental group Friends of the Earth, but what I really want to address is the spirituality of creation and the Creator and our relationship to that; I think that most people will dig it. The world is so caught up in material things, I want to help balance that out, if only for a moment."

A few days of listening reveals the expected classics, covers, and solo efforts; although not yet sure of the legal issues, Rodriguez is hoping that his memberships with BMI and ASCAP will enable him to also play bootlegs and other "unofficial" versions of songs. The station does not come in well indoors, however, and he acknowledges that his station "isn't as strong as others, but that's all FCC controlled; I'm doing all I can do...It's really made for listening to in the car," where reception is clearer.

A few days of listening also reveals--as Frank Zappa would say--"the crux of the biscuit" in the form of a German-language version of "Get Back." I've never heard this particular variation before and have no trouble admitting that "Get Back" is a totally boss song. A totally boss song I have heard 3,455,622 times, and the German isn't enough to overcome that.

I mean, I know that the Beatles are the spring from which most, if not all of what we today consider pop flowed, and I acknowledge the extent to which I--when tapping my feet to, say, the Connells--am really tapping my feet to the Beatles. It's just that Albert Einstein also was a genius in his field whose work forever changed the world, and that didn't make physics class any easier to sit through.

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