Jay Meehan: My Beatlemania
Ryan Summerlin February 12, 2014
With all the recent hoopla surrounding the 50th anniversary of the British invasion and the arrival of the Beatles into America’s collective consciousness, my own history with the band from Liverpool has been occupying a bit more space in my temporal lobe than usual.
I came onboard relatively late to the Beatles. Their early covers of American R&B, although in retrospect quite fun, had trouble worming their way past their "Mod" attire and my deeply ingrained Jazz snobbery to gain my attention at the time.
Even their early original material like "Please Please Me," "From Me To You," She Loves You," " Love Me Do," and "I Want To Hold Your Hand" failed to make an impression. It would be years before I would revisit this part of their canon and learn to appreciate, in context, how they had been influencing rock and roll for the better.
In August of 1964, while their initial U.S. tour zeroed in on New York City for back-to-back shows at Forest Hills, not to mention their famous post-show first meeting with Bob Dylan back at their hotel, my own jazz-mania had me in the Big Apple for club dates by Thelonious Monk and Nina Simone.
It wouldn’t be until more than a year later, following their release of the "Rubber Soul" album, that I would sense a poetic sensibility to their songwriting and begin to come around. Although I could be wrong, it seemed that Rubber Soul also heralded a more harmonically sophisticated vocal approach.
They no longer just wanted to hold our hand. They were now interested in touching us in a more cerebral fashion. They would take the ghost-of-Beatles-future out for a stroll and, in the process, acquire a whole new set of Beatlemaniacs. The subtle philosophical layers of the haunting "In My Life" would open floodgates that would feed their collective-muse until they disbanded.
"Norwegian Wood," "Michelle," " I’m Looking Through You," "Run For Your Life," and the rest of the LP, including the vocally gorgeous "Girl," would forever influence the pop lexicon. And, with their follow-up album "Revolver," it was obvious to all that a new game was afoot!
Along with their ever-increasing love affair with the studio and with recording more highly-developed, or sophisticated, if you will, works, they, at the same time, grew weary of touring.
"We’re fed up with making soft music for soft people, and we’re fed up with playing for them too" was how John Lennon put it. Paul also recognized that much of Revolver hadn’t been constructed with performance in mind. Hence, their entry into "psychedelia" with "Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band" and "Magical Mystery Tour." They were now a studio band.
When I first visited Park City in February of 1968, Beatles albums were scattered about miner’s shack floor spaces all over town. "Magical Mystery Tour," with "Strawberry Fields Forever," "Penny Lane," and "The Fool on the Hill," garnered most of the airplay, although recent releases by Dylan, Simon and Garfunkel, The Doors, The Stones, The Dead, Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Buffalo Springfield, Moby Grape, and Cream were also much in evidence.
The Beatles, however, were everywhere! The previous month, I must have heard every cut of Magical Mystery Tour emerging from various open windows during a short trip along the west coast of Mexico. Mexican radio flat-out loved "Los Beeyatlays."
This one particular day, while drying a sink-washed shirt on the railing of the small balcony off my equally-small room at the Hotel Sylva in beautiful downtown Culiacan, Sinaloa, I must have heard "Hello, Goodbye" from a dozen passing cars, the pool hall across the street, the "panderia" next door, and a crackling transistor radio on a cleaning cart out in the hallway.
Every hearing thereafter has immediately taken me back to my long-ago stopover at the Sylva and the smell of diesel-generated bus exhaust from the street below and the shirt I would press with a borrowed iron and wear to a business appointment the following day across the bridge in Tierra Blanca. Music has a way of doing that!
By the time I actually moved to Park City, the Beatles final studio albums, "The Beatles" (The White Album), "Yellow Submarine," "Abbey Road," and "Let It Be" would have already assumed their appointed spots on the ski town’s collective miner’s shack floor space.
If pressed, I would have to say that "In My Life" remains my favorite Beatles song, but "Hey Jude" and "A Day in the Life" are right up there. Not to mention "Norwegian Wood," and "Eleanor Rigby," and "Let It Be" and "Something" and, once I got schooled on its back-story, "Julia." Whoda thunkit? I’m a Beatlemaniac!
Jay Meehan is a culture junkie and has been an observer, participant, and chronicler of the Park City and Wasatch County social scenes for more than 40 years.