The stories we tell about ourselves are some of the most important stories that exist. How we see ourselves – past, present, future – shapes the reality around us. Revisiting memories with tenderness & curiosity & humility is one way we become more human. That’s true on many levels – personal, of course, but also political/historical/national. Given the state of our politics, I feel like it’s time to tell more stories about ourselves. So here’s one.
The Beatles follow me everywhere. They have, and for a long time, too. Like many people my age, The Beatles were a band passed down to me from my parents. I had no choice in the matter when they were introduced to me. Sometimes having a choice is overrated.
My brothers shared a room with a bright red carpet and in it, a Beatles poster was fixed to the wall right opposite the doorway. One step in and there they were. Four Bristish musicians my parents loved, and therefore, their four kids loved. To be truthful, I don’t really recall my brothers being fanatics, so I’m not sure why they had the poster. To be even more truthful, I don’t really recall which poster it was. In my mind, it was black and white, like the With the Beatles cover art; but when I look at the cover of Rubber Soul, I am transported back to my brothers’ room. I’m on the red carpet, staring into the eyes of four young men from across an ocean. Rubber Soul and With The Beatles are miles apart aesthetically and musically, which exposes my memory for the fraud it often is.
That poster was my first experience being followed by the Beatles. John’s eyes would track me as I moved about the room. (Did he know I thought that Paul was the cute one?) This leads me to believe it must’ve been the Rubber Soul artwork, with John’s cat-like slits for eyes peering down at the camera – at me – while everyone else looked away. Those eyes followed me, almost taunting me: “I am always going to be here, following you.”
I loved Rubber Soul, and to this day, it remains one of my all-time favorite albums. The simple acoustic pop, inflected with sounds and symbols of its time, hinting at the future with poetic lyrics and foreign instruments. It was intoxicating; it still is. And John’s eyes on the cover, following me.
Though the Beatles would always follow me, I would not always follow them. The 2000s brought pop groups and boybands and Britney-freaking-Spears. By the end of the decade, rock and pop were nothing in the shadow of hip hop and rap, and I was enamored with the beats and rhythm that echoed around me. I made my way through various genres of music, ignoring the Beatles as a good, normal teenage girl in the 2000s ought to do, until I reached college.
People expect college to be a period of trying on personalities and identities; an institution that pushes you forward. But while so many I knew were abandoning their pasts to create the future of their visions, I was being pulled back to my roots. I met my (now) husband in my senior year and discovered he loved all the things I loved, and also, had an encyclopedic knowledge of the Beatles. And because we learn and love through osmosis, I once again learned and loved the Beatles.
Those four musicians (kids, really) have cemented their place in my life now; though I inherited them, I have gotten to rediscover them myself, going beyond what was given to me and into solo work, anthologies, and demos. Yet I hear Rubber Soul and am a child again, in my house, laughing at the 60s sounds of “Drive My Car.” Beep-beep, beep-beep, yeah! I think of that poster staring at me, seeing me everywhere in my house; now it’s I who is staring around at my world and seeing the Beatles everywhere. I hear new music through the ears of a fanatic: this album has a real Sgt. Pepper sound; that song is written with the sincere poppiness of Paul; this song has the same tender, cynical whimsy of John. I hear the lyrics and the melodies and the harmonies of music today and see the threads, tangled, making their way in my mind back to Beatles’ songs.
This year on vacation with my husband and his family, I traveled to Washington D.C. I was excited to re-explore American history and art as an adult. No more 8th grade viewings and discussions of the movie “Glory”. Toward the end of the trip, my husband and I visited the National Portrait Gallery. It is a surprising building, with more rooms than meet the eye, and an air of intimacy in each room. Portraits always amaze me, how large yet cozy they seem. Walking through a room, I heard John Lennon. “I’m going crazy,” I thought, and I kept walking. John’s voice still softly followed me. “In the middle of a bath…” Wow, I am really losing it – on vacation and hearing the Beatles in my own head! No one around me seemed to notice the song; clearly it was just my mind.
But I left one of the small side rooms and found myself in the hallway, being led by John’s voice until I found its source: a cartoon video of John and Yoko for the song “Oh Yoko!” as part of a modern portrait display. John’s eyes had always followed me; now it was his voice. I stood there, staring, amazed. Cartoon John stared back. Once again I was transported home, imagining myself with my husband this time, strumming along his guitar, and me, a child again.