In My Ears and In My Eyes (Part 2), by Elayne Riggs
So as I was saying last week, by the time I hit college I went full-force into my first round of Beatlemania. I must have frequented my share of Beatlefests (as noted in the comments to last week’s column, there’s one coming up in NJ this weekend), but really only remember going to one because that’s where I got Harry Nilsson’s autograph, on the cover of his album A Little Touch of Schmilsson in the Night (for a reason I no longer remember, I have Jimmy Webb’s autograph on the back). From what I hear, they’re still going on. But the Beatles started influencing pretty much everything else in my life.
I named my fictitious corporation Pen-Elayne (wordplay on "Penny Lane" and "the pen of Elayne") Enterprises, which pun I borrowed again for my weekly comics reviews Pen-Elayne for Your Thoughts and my current blog Pen-Elayne on the Web. Penny Lane really became my theme song; I’d always envisaged something I can only describe as God’s Hidden Camera following my every move, so the line "And though she feels as if she’s in a play, she is anyway" really resonated. Particularly now with Google’s Street View!
Having already gone through two years of Shakespeare in high school, I was primed to expand my Anglophilia, and the Beatles were a perfect outlet for my fascination of all things English. That interest has since culminated in marriage to an actual Englishman who, although four years my junior, is probably more knowledgeable about Beatles trivia than I’ll ever be, has hundreds of bootleg songs, keeps up on all the news items of what’s happening with their music, and generally makes my head spin. Oh, and even though Robin is a southern country boy, we like to goof around with pretty bad imitations of Liverpool accents (okay, his is better than mine, as you’d expect). Through Rob I also met artist Alan Davis and my lettering goddess Pat Prentice, who both share a birthday with Sir Paul. I seem to remember Alan introducing me to Pat by joking that she "sounds like Ringo," since she’s also from Mersey-way. (She doesn’t, although I find a female Liverpool accent as cute as a male one.)
After college I became a fan then friend of another "fab four," the comedy troupe calling itself The Firesign Theatre. While more obscure than their British equivalents either in music or in comedy (think Goon Show then Python), Firesign was tremendously influential to a lot of people whose subsequent fame may have eclipsed theirs. And they peppered (pun intended) their brilliant radio-play LPs with Beatles references. Firesign member David Ossman noted that Lennon had been photographed wearing a "Not Insane!" button (referencing their Martian Space Party movie) during April of 1973, including at his famous "Nutopia" press conference. Here’s a screen grab from The US Versus John Lennon:
(I’ve Photoshopped in the larger version of the button so you can read it.) Of course, Firesign had already put Lennon’s picture alongside Groucho Marx’s face on the cover of their second album How Can You Be In Two Places At Once (When You’re Not Anywhere At All), a juxtaposition recently repeated on a postage stamp set from Abkhazia (I own about three dozen of those if anyone wants to buy one, they were fundraisers for the Firesign newsletter I used to publish). I find that particular Venn intersection of my life incredibly cool.
But it’s not just me and the few famous people I know who cite the Beatles as a major influence. That their songs and soundalike tunes are ubiquitous in the world of advertising is not a surprise in the 21st century, this far removed from "Any Time At All" (Chase) and "Hello Goodbye" (Target). Yet somehow, the songs transcend base commercialism. The power behind them is too much to be contained by capitalist trends. The Beatles’ music has survived the movies Sergeant Pepper and Across the Universe. It’s thrived in Vegas, in the form of Cirque du Soleil’s "Love" production, in a town that turned even Elvis Presley into caricature. The soundtrack to the show, produced by George and Giles Martin, won two Grammy Awards last year. This year there’s plenty of chatter about remastering the entire Beatles catalog prior to Apple (Records) and Apple (Steve Jobs) coming to an agreement about releasing the songs on iTunes. Meanwhile, Ben & Jerry just introduced the Lennon-inspired ice cream flavor "Imagine Whirled Peace" (it’s okay, although a bit too cookie dough-ish in places for me), the Fox amateur hour show American Idol had its second "Beatles night" last week, Beatles snippets are still being sampled all over the place, even fandom filkers are having a grand time mashing up phenoms of the ’60s and the ’00s:
LOL together, indeed.
I imagine there’s a lot more Beatles-related stuff in my life that I haven’t thought to jot down for these two columns (I could probably do another couple paragraphs on how wide-ranging their music is that different songs can be enjoyed by different audiences, remembering back to my substitute teaching days leading the kids in sing-alongs to "All Together Now" and "Yellow Submarine"), but it’s probably time to move on. It’s hard to speculate on what will happen with the Beatles’ music and legacy after we’re all gone. Will it be enjoyed in some form 100, 200, a thousand years from now? I won’t be around to find out. I’m just glad to have lived during the time when it was created.