I remember very clearly the first time I really heard the music of the Beatles.
I was eight years old in 1995. The television, in between alternating bouts of Power Rangers for me and Sesame Street for my little sister, had implanted in my young mind the serendipitous idea of "The Beatles." The Anthology series was about to be first broadcast and was being promoted heavily, and I was, if somewhat baffled, equally intrigued. Here was a group of four, rather straggly appearing English men with funny accents and long hair promising to expose my curious young mind to the idea of "rock n' roll." I was eight -- I was due.
Conveniently, my father had a friend from work who was a Beatle-phile, and this friend generously spent an entire evening preparing several Beatles mix-tapes for my uninitiated ears. (This evening, I remember my father pointing out, happened to coincide with an important Toronto Maple Leafs hockey game, which my father's friend was forced to miss as a result of my strong appetite to acquire these new sounds. In the depths of Northern Ontario, missing a momentous event such as an important Leafs game is akin to the Pope skipping mass.)
I can vividly recall first listening to the tapes -- a clever mix of singles, album cuts, live tracks and b-sides spanning their entire career -- repeatedly until the cassettes virtually dissolved; truly a sublime experience (the mediocre state of mid-90's audio equipment notwithstanding). But that wasn't the first time I really heard the Beatles.
I remember very clearly my father informing me, one unfortunate afternoon shortly after acquiring these cassettes, that I could never see the Beatles play together, as John Lennon had been dead for some time. At the time I didn't understand the exact nature of John's demise -- in truth, I still don't -- but I did understand the implication: "The Beatles" didn't exist anymore, and thus, no more music. I gradually came to terms with this discovery, and zealously gobbled up the entirety of their recorded output. However, for the moment, I was despondent. Big Bird and even happy Elmo were no consolation. I recall the feeling that I had been truly robbed of something. This wasn't a loss for the world as I saw it; this was a personal affront (in what should have been one of the clearest indications of their young son's impending megalomania, my parents remained blissfully unaware.)
That someone I never met, had no chance of ever meeting, and who existed to me on record alone should have such a profound impact is to me today, startling. However, when I fully consider the scope of the impact of this band upon my young development as a human being, the matter quickly becomes less surprising. For it was through John Lennon and the Beatles that I was exposed, through music, to the ideas of love, passion, travel, freedom and sheer, unadulterated joy. Anyone exposed to the entirety of their discography should agree -- it's all there. Happiness, pain, loss, hope, love, anger, confusion, clarity, depression, exultation -- it's all in there. The Beatles gave eight-year old Zachary a peak at the glory that is the human experience, and the type of life that I knew I wanted to lead. Heavy for an eight-year old, but at the level of the subconscious, I am certain I was aware of the immense impact this band would have upon my life. It wasn't about the Beatles -- it was the idea of "The Beatles" that had me transfixed, and indeed, this remains so today. And so, after first learning of John's demise, I listened: alone in my room, indignant at the loss, but quite certain that the Beatles would follow me around for the rest of my life. This has, thankfully, remained true. Whatever I am experiencing, wherever I go, I am privy to the best soundtrack on the planet, and my life has been all the fuller for it.
I yearn for the day when I can expose my own children to the most exciting, and more critically, inspiring popular music ever recorded. Equally so, I fear the day they reject it for the Jonas Brothers. However, if they're anything like their father, on some level their young minds will recognize the incredible possibility the Beatles represent.