As I was shopping at Kmart for those plastic bins you store sheets and sweaters in for under the bed, NYC apartment space convenience, I was slapped in the face by probably the thousandth hearing of the Beatles "She Loves You (Yeah Yeah Yeah)." And it sickened me. I had to get out.
Kmart, Kathy Ireland, Neo Print, Caffeine Free Diet Coke, Olestra, The Beatles! I put down my entire basket load and bolted. Why? Because I was born into a world that has told me what is the best. Elvis is king. The Beatles rule. Before I could ever discern that for myself. Now with VH1's Behind the Music, you can get a look into their past with blurred photos of how they were before when, and how bad they were before such and such drummer quit, or before who-and-who leaned how to smoke pot. And then you can maybe see what all the fuss was about: Elvis was the first white guy to shake his hips for TV and sing pop blues. And the Beatles, well, "She Loves You" was new to all those weirdoes screaming and pulling their hair out. They were bored and I don't blame them.
HOWEVER! Can we please move on?
I'll tell you what's natural. Death. Death is natural. My parents' dog -- and I say, parents because he is the model child they never had -- is dying. They have kept him alive for 16 years. He should have died four years ago. For a toy poodle that is old age. But, they've managed to keep him alive for all this extra time with herbs, special food, acupuncture, massage, you name it.
Many times I got the call that Reggie was on his last leg. And then he'd make this miraculous comeback, but he was just a little duller with each new chance at life. Walking slower, pain when he was picked up, going deaf in one ear, blind in one eye. But alive. Now, the latest is that he can't even go to the bathroom without their assistance and he pees in their bed at night. If you ask me, his time has come, and he needs their blessing to move onto the next realm where he can be ageless and free.
I can't help but think the same thing about our love for The Beatles. Is that what all greatness reduces to? A rounded corner to the toilet paper aisle and a squeaky cart to " I Wanna Hold Your Hand?" How about only listening to that song on the scratchy record your mom bought when she was the freaky-looking bespectacled rebel she was? Wait, am I defending their greatness? I guess I'll never know, because I didn't get to discover it for myself.
It used to be that the world nurtured artists to become their best by say their fifth album. Now, they want your one-hit-wonder for their Pepsi commercial and then they want you dead or at least on the World's Worst Dressed list. It's called corporate pop. And it's everywhere. And any kid can create a recording in their basement to surpass it.
But where, I ask you, is the divine intervention? Where are the songs that move you? I'm sure you know where they are, because only you can find them. I'm talking about the songs that save you. The ones that you have to have blaring in your ear, tears running down your face on the subway after the break-up (Indigo Girls -- "Love's Recovery"). The ones that you sing to under the hood of your down coat walking through the crowds, being warmed by the steam of your breath, after you found your feet again (Dar Williams -- "This is not the House that Pain Built," CSNY -- "Carry On"). The ones you put on a mix for your true love, the ones that define you (anything from Joni Mitchell's first six albums, Blondie's Plastic Letters, XTC's Skylarking, Beck ballads, Ricki Lee Jones' Pirates). You have to need them and they will find you (early and latest, not middle Shawn Colvin).
I fear growing old and not needing music like I fear that my hairstyle will be the same when I am 60 and I'll still think I'm cool (I, Tina). We were nostalgic at that coming of the millennium with our top 100 lists. Like the coming of cassettes in my early teens, I grew older with the coming of CDs. I fear dying with the music and heroes.
I'm driving across country with my family in our gay early 80s red-and-white-striped van with the bed in the back. I bought my first Walkman. Fourteen years old, I own maybe four cassettes and 50 records. My tapes are Madonna's first, The Violent Femmes' first, Duran Duran's first and, accidentally, Thomas Dolby's The Flat Earth. I really wanted the one with "She Blinded Me With Science," so I'm disappointed But I lay on my stomach and look out the window at all the passing fields and cars listening to that tape, for days. He sings in my ear, "The Earth can be any shape you want it, any shape at all...dark or cold or bright and warm...long or thin or short or small, but it's home and all I've ever had...and only a fool would blame the death of rock 'n' roll...and maybe that's why for me the Earth is flat."
I felt love in my stomach. With diggereedoos and low resonating sounds and acoustic bass and wacky synths I was one with the rumbling of our tires and the thump-thump of the highway and Thomas Dolby's digital and earthy madness. My Earth becomes hilly and round and lush and hidden and wet and intoxicating. In my world bellies are good, voices are best when soft, eyes mean more than words and The Beatles are just OK.
By Stephanie St. John