The Beatles

In a recent survey by OMM, The Observer’s music magazine, 56 per cent of the music-mad 16- to 24-year-olds polled could not put a name to a photograph of John Lennon. ”

I was genuinely startled when I read this. There’s a generation out there that cannot identify one of The Beatles. It seems so improbable. Do The Beatles now belong to an era so long forgotten that one of the UK’s most famous sons is now unrecognisable?

I mean, we’re talking The Beatles here.

When I think of them my mind immediately conjurs up news reel pictures of those smiling faces arriving on the tarmac in the USA to be confronted by crowds of screaming, jubilant teenagers.

Or the cover of Sergeant Pepper – an album cover I poured over as a kid, trying to figure out who the hell all these people were on the sleeve, these colourful jumbled cartoon people.

Or a rainy afternoon at home one Easter, bored sensless and stuck indoors, that was suddenly transformed by a strange cartoon filled with yellow submarines and silly antics.

I spent that afternoon transfixed and confused failing to understand a word of it, but enjoying it anyway.

Then there’s the silly story from my dad. Frozen in one winter in 1960s Coventry, with the heating system on the blink, his bedsit had begun to resemble a fridge freezer and nothing, it seemed, could alleviate the misery. So, in an attempt to fend off the cold, my uncle bought tickets to see a concert by Helen Shapiro (who was then a rising star would you believe).

Neither my father nor my uncle harboured any desire to sit through Miss Shapiro’s concert, but the prospect of a few hours inside the warmth of the theatre was simply too tempting. So for a few shillings they headed to the gig and settled into their seats.

Some unkown little band from Liverpool called The Beatles were in the supporting line up and my father and uncle groaned at the prospect of having to sit through a set by this “promising foursome” that could possibly be more tiring than the delightful Miss Shapiro.

Needless to say, the Fab Four came on and blew the audience away leaving Miss Shapiro to come on only to contend with boos and hisses and demands that The Beatles come back and perform an encore.

I remember hearing that story and wishing that I had been able to experience that. The Beatles right at the beginning of their career, rocking through a set to a delighted and unsuspecting audience.

I also remember thinking, from a very young age that of all The Beatles, John Lennon was the one I would want to meet.

That wail of Lennon’s voice. That throaty scream, not quite violent, but menacing for all that just didn’t appeal to my mum.

All of which made the song much much more appealing to me of course.

Because there really is something unnerving about that voice. There is a provocation there. A spit and a scratch. A threat.

Not of violence, but of being overwhelmed – by energy, ideas, rage, madness, fun. It’s out of control at times. It is scary.

It’s beautiful. It scares and intrigues me to this day.

Try singing like that yourself. I mean really try and let rip like that, try and get that raging, loathsome scream out of your throat – it’s impossible.

It can’t be copied, can’t be faked. That voice was unique and real.

Which is why it dumbfounds me that there are people out there today that can’t recognise Lennon when they see him.

I never thought of music, great music, being so confined to a specific generation. Is it really the case that 16 – 24 year olds should ignore The Beatles simply because it belongs to another generation? It just seems such a ridiculous shame. Imagine spending your days not having heard “Revolver”.

I can’t.

Does this mean that there are tiny tots running around today who will fail to recognise Kurt Cobain or Morrissey? Who are going to miss all that music?

Or is this the destiny of all “popular” musicians?

After all, who’d recognise Al Jolson, say? Or Jacques Brel? Not many folks I imagine – regardless of their age or inclinations.

Buddy Holly, Bobby Darin, Frank Sinatra, John Lennon, Kurt Cobain, Johnny Cash, Joe Strummer …. are they all set to fade away as if they’d never really mattered?

The thought alone makes me wail and spit and give as good as anything Lennon could produce…

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