Passing Opinion Off As Fact Since 2009

Passing Opinion Off As Fact Since 2009

Monday, September 28, 2009

Why doesn't anyone talk about how bad a name "The Beatles" is?

I have spent the last 3 weeks actively avoiding writing about The Beatles. This is decision coincided with the release of The Beatles reissues and Rock Band. This “historic” event gave everyone who writes about things an impetus to write about The Beatles. This was somewhat fun because now I know that Let it Be is just as good as the new Girls record by Pitchfork’s standards. Mostly, however, it was a lot rehashing of the same trivia, analysis, Baby Boomerisms. I am pretty sure the world decided at least 30 years ago that The Beatles were the greatest band ever – similarly, I am pretty sure greatest ever doesn’t have an expiration date.

So why am I about to write about The Beatles in 21 words from now? Because, apparently, The Beatles were the greatest band ever (who knew!*) and I have unequivocally determined why this is the case.

The Beatles were the greatest band ever, because they had to be. The Beatles came to be exactly when the world wanted/demanded/needed the greatest band ever to exist and to their credit they became that band. This was due to two reasons:

1. The market place

2. The generation that created said marketplace

There was probably fewer Rock N’ Roll bands in the 1960’s than there are now – definitely less that were commercially viable in one way or another. Fewer bands means = less dispersion of talent. Moreover, less bands means the bands that do exist have to do more to appeal to more people. Similarly, if progress was unavoidable**, then the less bands were responsible for the brunt of it.

Still it isn’t just a numbers game. There isn’t just a large pie of progress/greatness that fewer bands were allowed to split up. At the end of the day there was still that one band that carved out a Garfield sized slice of the pie. If The Beatles were Garfield***, then the Baby Boomers were Jon.

The Boomers were a collectivist bunch, especially for Americans. As a whole they looked to build a community bonded by a fundamental ethos. Kennedy was shot – racial tension was reaching its apex – the Vietnam War polarized the country – parents were being squares – students were being gun down – impending nuclear holocaust – (insert the lyrics to Billy Joel’s “We Didn’t Start the Fire” and The Police’s “Born in the 50’s”) – and the youth just wanted to be together, to love one another, to be at peace.

The result is a generation of long-haired team players. And the team’s mission was to promote the potential of a world bonded together. What came of this were communes and free love and the general hippy pastiche. The other result was a culture environment rife with universally decided upon greatness. Bob Dylan was the voice of a generation, Woodstock was the greatest cultural gathering, The Beatles were the greatest band ever.

So what has changed in the 40 years since? Well other than everything, those hippies who thrived on being so supportive of their community birthed babies. In turn, those same hippies thrived on being equally as supportive to those babies they birthed. The Millennials**** are those supported babies and they are out for blood. Blood in this case represents individuality.

Thus there are tens of millions of people using their culture not to bring them together but to set them apart. And just like the 60’s the culture itself has responded to the demands put upon it. However, now the response is a culture that is more fragmented, more dispersed, more niche. Millennials do not want the definitives but my definitives. Meaning they are not looking to define their generation but themselves as part of it.

A Beatles cannot be created in this environment because this environment is diametrically opposed to a band being the sole greatest entity. Instead greatness is dispersed to a lot of different bands for the individual to pick and choose from. Where once you were either a Beatles or Rolling Stones***** person, now the youth creates a patchwork of hundreds of known artists******.

The Beatles first record was released in the states in 1964. Not coincidently, that same year the first Boomers (born in 1946) were entering college. At a time when individuals are most expected to define themselves and their place in the greater culture, The Beatles immediately allowed for that definition to based around commonality. Furthermore, I believe that in 1964 you had a youth culture prepared to come together (pun 100% intended), thus creating a fertile environment for The Beatles to begin cementing their legacy. A classic self-perpetuating cycle – this culture needed a Beatles and The Beatles needed this culture.

Now if you look at the first year the first Millennials (born in 1982) entered college, 2000, comparable conclusions could be drawn. Artistically speaking, Radiohead’s Kid A along with Outkast’s Stankonia were both released the same month that Fall and mark the emergence of the divergence of culture. Outkast introduced a completely left-field approach to popular hip-hop and Radiohead asserted digital music importance to the future of music. Both records were polarizing and I believe began the fraction of what became popular music. Possibly more importantly, however, is that Kid A is credited as the first major record to be leaked months before it was officially released (available on Napster July 2000).

The Fall of 2000 when these Millennials entered college many were talking about not only the artistic merits of the revolutionary Kid A, but how it was available before it reached the general public. At this moment the mass creation of a generation “in-the-know” began. Accordingly, as the Internet slowly became a viable medium to both learn about and acquire music a generational identity began to coalesce. What was created was a generation of experts, with almost infinite access to both content and information, actively looking to distinguish themselves from their equally as voracious counterparts. The fact is it is fundamentally impossible for millions of people to distinguish themselves by everyone loving the same thing – it is fundamentally impossible to have another Beatles.

Hence the release of The Beatles reissues couldn’t have been timed better. As this decade (the first decade culturally dominated by the Millennials) comes to a close, The Beatles serve as a perfect antithesis of the popular culture that exists today. Simply, no one wants another Beatles or more broadly no one wants universally agreed upon cultural certainties. Instead, the Millennials have quite possibly brought about the second greatest period of contemporary music, one defined by universally disagreed upon cultural uncertainties.

• Barbara Mikulski

**Which I think it obviously was. The genre was being invented still so almost anything done to expand its definition was progress. Rock n’ Roll was not going to be gussied up 12-bar blues progressions forever.

***It was a known fact at the time that The Beatles loved lasagna and hated Mondays.

****They were even supportive enough as to give us a cooler name when we complain about being called the highly derivative “Gen Y.”

*****The fact that collective unconscious of the day basically forced The Rolling Stones to record psychedelic albums, really cements home the idea that bands needed to be everything to everyone.

******I can’t even imagine a comparable example for today. The Killers vs. Grizzly Bear? Kings of Leon vs. Dirty Projectors? Lil’ Wayne vs. LCD Soundsystem? Taylor Swift vs. Kanye West? John Mayer vs. Yeah Yeah Yeahs? There are none.

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