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The Beatles, As They Were Meant to Be

Recently, my husband and I have been receiving a lot of "The Beatles Anthology" CDs, usually from friends much older or much younger than we are. These friends assume we pine for the music of our early youth, much the way tourists assume Hawaiians pine for ukuleles and palm trees.

These CDs have been remastered, digitally tweaked, and in all manner of ways improved so that listening to the Fab Four now has an aura of aural pomposity, entirely out of sync with the songs I used to lip-sync to. It's a little depressing. The tunes I found so riveting that I couldn't turn off the radio while one was playing now waft from our state-of-the-art sound system as so much amplified wifwaf.

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We scratch our heads and wonder what the fuss was all about. Then we switch to another CD, usually Coltrane, Brahms, or Dylan. These three stand the test of time because one was a jazz giant, one was a classical genius, and the last guy was, and is, and ever will be a poet of the soul. Forget the voice (if you must); read the lyrics. And we sigh because we used to think of John, Paul, George, and Ringo in the same terms (well, John anyway).

But then the other morning I heard the faint sounds of "Twist and Shout" coming from another part of the house. It gave me goose bumps, the way it did the first time I heard John Lennon croak out that song. And much to my surprise, I sang along, remembering every word, every note, every inflection. The song grew louder. I turned and found our six-year-old daughter grinning, holding her multi-colored, child-sized cassette player, the one with the sing-along microphone and carrying handle. From its red-plastic center emanated that glorious sound. I could tell she liked the tape. It was one I had bought on a whim years before.

And it sounded so good because it sounded the way it had when it first came squishing out of an old transistor radio or a Neanderthal monaural hi-fi. I know I'm sounding dangerously like a geezer, or perhaps a geezette, but I really think I'm on to something here. The Beatle sound is supposed to be raw, compressed, kind of scratchy. Listened to under optimum conditions, with the precision of a microscope, it's heard for what it really is - only rock-and-roll. But when played on a cheap cassette player, it comes alive again. It's got soul.

THE point here is that the guy was wrong who wrote, "The unexamined life is not worth living." Think of all the memoirs we'd have been spared if only he'd misplaced his pad and pencil. I mean, sure, if you're sitting around in a toga surrounded by a gaggle of adoring acolytes who hang on your every word, go ahead and examine your life till the cows come home. Examine the cows' lives while you're at it. But for the rest of us, the unexamined life is sometimes a lot easier to live than the examined one, especially if you have kids and car payments. The overly examined anything tends to take the fun out of life. And leaves you with, well, a lot of over-amplified wifwaf.

The music played on. My daughter and I did the Twist while we did the dishes. How could I dance with another when I saw her standing there?

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