Friday, September 18, 2009

a very beatles childhood

The other day, someone asked me, "what were you like as a child?"

I was really stumped for an answer. It's hard to think "What was I like as a kid?" because, when you're a child, you're not self-aware. It's easier to think "what was I like when I was 20?" (answer: impulsive, irrational, moody, brooding, and self-consciously-artistic... a.k.a. a annoying). All I could attribute to my childhood was vague adjectives: happy, stubborn, willful. Most of my time was spent: watching tv, reading books, laying on my pink shag carpet listening to music. I didn't play outside much. I didn't have that many friends.

So, I asked my older sister, "what was I like when I was a child?" and she said, "Beside being obsessed with the Beatles? You were hilarious, a lot of fun, and told crazy fantastic stories. Not much has changed. Only you watched a lot more tv."

This is all true. As a kid, I told a lot of fantastical lies and lived in a bit of a fantasy world. In fact, as a kid I was obsessed with two things:

- The Beatles
- Classical Mythology

I would spend entire afternoons laying on the shag, reading and re-reading myths, or the backs of LP jackets, often pouring over the lyrics printed on the inside sleeve, or looking at the pictures of "other great EMI artists!"... and listening to the Beatles over and over again on the record player.

And this is probably how, in many way, the Beatles became gods. They were iconic. They possessed amazing harmonization. They were archetypal. I could have endless conversations with my sister over which Beatle was the best while I braided her hair and she did homework. (answer: John. Always John. My sister liked Paul. That pretty much explains our relationship right there). Whether I really grasped who they were as actual human beings was irrelevant. I knew that they weren't a band anymore, John Lennon only recently had been killed, but none of that registered with me. The Beatles were "always already" the Beatles. Infinite.

My father bought a VCR pretty early into the home-entertainment technology craze. There was only one video store in town and we'd go every Friday night to get movies for the weekend. I rented "HELP!" every other weekend.


HELP! was produced in 1965 and the plot is so ridiculous it's not even worth summarizing. But the style of the movie is very typically British-- eventually influencing Monty Python and "Are you Being Served?" It was ahead of it's time-- attempting to parody James Bond films. Later, the Monkees would use it as inspiration for their own weekly show.

In the movie, the Beatles completely relinquish themselves as individuals. Unlike "Hard Days Night" which was somewhat based upon their actual experience as a band, "HELP!" was complete Beatle-eye-candy. A string of exotic music videos with a loose plot to hold it all together.

I just purchased the remaster DVD of the film. And I watched it recently with SUCH JOY... laughing more at the MEMORIES of the movie than the movie itself... because in some way they were memories of my own childhood: I remembering pausing over again so I could see what book John pulls out of his secret library to read-- only to discover that it was his own book, "A Spaniard in the Works"-- which I scoured England for at the age of 20, and eventually found and bought an original copy. I told myself that, one day, I would have an apartment just like John's with the sunken bed surrounded by bookshelves-- I still want that.

The plot of the film hasn't improved since I was a kid. But I never watched the movie for the plot... I watched it for this:


The intensity in which John "Heys!" on that last refrain, to this day, THRILLS me. An image of John Lennon, or the sound of his voice (like on "It's Only Love") and I swoon into a haze of childhood bliss. Back then, I didn't know what love was, or what men and women were, or what sex was. I just knew that John Lennon-- in the same way that Hades of the Underworld-- had it all right: witty, artistic, brooding, sensitive, irrelevant, quick, dashing... and John played the mouth organ.


  1. Always glad to meet a fellow Beatles Fever sufferer.

    I blogged about my case here:

    As someone else who's spent a lot of time in Worcester, were you ever inspired by the Orpheus song "Congress Alley" to actually go downtown and look for the eponymous street? My friend Joe ( and I actually managed to locate it. It's somebody's driveway now.

    -David Twiddy (the guy from Brett's link on FB)

  2. Hi David-- I've never knew about the band Orpheus until I left Worcester. Back then I was sporting the black eyeliner and listening to Bauhaus exclusively and denying my psychedelic pop roots. I've reformed (although I still love Bauhaus). Anyway! Thanks for commenting and visiting... I need to get back to this blog (I've already get an entry on Jethro Tull written up, just have to finesse it)... but I've been super busy trying to finish my dissertation this semester. Egads!