Tuesday, November 16, 2010

And The First Shall Be Last

Apple and The Beatles have now confirmed that much of The Beatles catalog is now available for download via iTunes. This shouldn't be momentous. During their reign as the supreme rulers of transformative and powerful popular music, they were often among the very first to explore and introduce us to new ideas, different cultures new ways of thinking. Psychedlica, Meditation, the Sitar, musical mashups. But somehow they managed to get stuck in protracted legal, business and relational struggles and essentially go missing entirely from the largest, fastest growing legitimate channel for digital music distribution. And so, by virtue of their enormous influence and their very apparent absence, The Beatles took the stage once again, and have again captured our attention. Not that everyone was happy about this. Here's an excerpt from Chicago Reader:


The Beatles acquisition was probably the least exciting of the rumors going around, especially since Apple still hasn't done anything with Lala, the music-streaming service it acquired late last year, which could potentially revolutionize the iTunes experience. The response on music and tech blogs has largely been along the lines of "Who gives a shit?" The addition of an already ubiquitous band (whose albums any halfway educated BitTorrent user could find in downloadable form in seconds) isn't a big deal, the argument goes. And seriously, how much longer are boomers going to keep insisting that they're the center of the universe?

It's a perspective I completely understand, but it misses one major point. Being able to buy the Beatles through iTunes might not mean much—pretty much everybody who wants the band's music already has it on a hard drive somewhere, either thanks to BitTorrent or because, you know, you can import the songs from discs. But looked at from another angle, this could be a big deal. Steve Jobs may have just finally killed the CD.


Do you remember where you were when you first heard them? Were you alive when they began to utterly transform popular music, beginning with their initial rise to fame in the UK and their subsequent domination of America in what became known as first British invasion?

We saw them on Ed Sullivan, me and my sister. (My younger siblings were too young to remember any of this.)  Hysteria reigned. 

During much of the next decade, The Beatles ruled. They transitioned from one of the most talented popular musical performing acts in the western world to candidates for "most innovative and influential artists of the century" (and perhaps of "all time").

When we were younger, not yet in our teens, we kept them at a safe distance. The Monkees were parentally sanctioned. The Beatles were...well, dangerous.  

Eventually, I came as much under their spell as any kid growing up in the late sixties to early seventies. Their creative direction and output were astonishing. To go from "I Want To Hold Your Hand" to "Day In the Life" or "I Am the Walrus." Really?

Sitting on a cornflake, waiting for the van to come. 

* * *

Yellow matter custard, dripping from a dead dog's eye. 

* * *

Semolina pilchard, climbing up the Eiffel Tower.

She loves you yeah, yeah, yeah. 

I missed some of this transition. It seems to have begun in earnest with Rubber Soul. 


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