It’s a bit embarrassing to admit this, but I didn’t discover The Beatles until about ten years ago.
NEVERMIND came out when I was a junior in high school. That album’s release was supposed to have been the shot heard through the Gen X world, but I got into Pearl Jam a whole lot more than I ever did Nirvana. And as far as I was concerned, the kind of music I listened to sprang from seeds like Led Zeppelin and Pink Floyd and Black Sabbath. The Beatles, and the Beach Boys, and Chuck Berry were oldies radio. Background. My mom liked The Beatles. That’s who we were rebelling against.
So yeah, my youthful naivety deprived me of the greatest band I’d ever hear. I don’t have a problem with that, because I believe I found The Beatles exactly when I was supposed to. In my thirties and unsatisfied with the life I’ve been living. The music I loved becoming the background noise I resented so much in high school. My passion to pick up my guitar waned as I felt myself plateauing as a player. Strumming out riffs on my porch swing with a glass of bourbon was relaxation, not the passion it’d once been.
I can’t remember how I got into The Beatles. May have been LET IT BE…NAKED in 2003, or a random Yonder Mountain String Band Beatles’ cover. Must’ve been the LET IT BE, because DON’T LET ME DOWN stands out as the song that changed everything for me. It didn’t sound like The Beatles I knew about--sock hops and cruisin' (without the ‘g’) or whatever. It was like I stumbled upon an entirely new genre.
And when I watched video from the Rooftop Concert, it made me sad to learn the stuff I liked came so close to the end. And even though I went backwards and bought the whole catalog and downloaded concerts and studio outtakes with esoterica like multiple versions of STRAWBERRY FIELDS and THE ESHER DEMOS, I couldn’t help feeling like I was getting to the scene a little too late. Like, if I’d gotten PLEASE, PLEASE ME first I would’ve experienced a rise and fall with each successive album I bought. But as it was, starting at the bottom of the discography only reminded me that no matter what happened, it all comes to a sad, inevitable end. It was like I got to experience the break-up all by myself. I couldn’t ask anybody if they heard rumors, if the band would get back together, if Lennon had fired Allen Klein yet. Because I already knew the Rooftop Concert was the last.
And I knew exactly what was going to happen when I started buying Lennon’s solo albums. The bitter strength and sadness of WORKING CLASS HERO and IMAGINE would only, always, give way to The Lost Weekend, and the birth of Sean and John’s return to the studio in the late 70s. And no matter what happened, no matter in what order I bought his albums, December 8, 1980 would always come rushing up at me.
During the recording of NEVERMIND, Kurt Cobain refused to double-track his vocals. Butch Vig eventually got Kurt to agree by telling him that his hero, John Lennon double-tracked his vocals. I couldn’t hear John in Nirvana way back in 1992. But I hear John when I listen to Nirvana today. I hear John in The Clash, in Radiohead. I hear John almost every time I hear music.