Take a sad song, make it better, invite some friends


Last updated 7/18/2018 at Noon

We should all be up to date on 1968 by now, I think. The half-century mark has inspired quite a few articles, news shows and podcasts on how our world and country have changed, what happened then and what it’s like now.

It was an eventful year, although I’m not the one to ask. I was in elementary school, and my memories are dusty. I vaguely knew there was a war in Vietnam, riots in cities, and political assassinations that hushed rooms of grown-ups, but a 10-year-old will focus on other things.

I do remember conflict, though, particularly in the culture, and “The Generation Gap” was discussed and debated and mocked on “Laugh-In.” The times they were a-changin’, and some folks didn’t care for it at all.

I witnessed this firsthand, in 1968, when I went with my brother to buy a Beatles record. He’s a couple of years older, so I tended to follow and watch, and he bought the album at a grocery store. It was a couple of years old by then, something a pre-teen with a reasonable allowance could afford, and the man checking us out sneered at it and us.

“I don’t know a single song on this!” he crowed to the other adults, holding the album up in the air as an object of disdain, a sign of the times, an example of the shallowness of pop culture.

So I understood, and I never forgot. This man was whistling past the graveyard, I knew, trying hard to pretend the world wasn’t changing when it so obviously was. Every song on that album is now a classic, obscuring whatever music this guy thought was appropriate.

I think about this a lot, particularly when I’m tempted to dismiss something I consider a fad, a blip on our cultural radar. And I thought about it last week, specifically.

I was serving as a de facto social director for a group of friends, and I’d planned an evening of music and ice cream. There was really no bad way for this to end up, even though I’m probably not anyone’s first choice as a DJ.

My playlist for the evening, carefully curated by letting YouTube pick the songs, featured Queen, the Andrew Sisters and the theme from “Ghostbusters.” The ice cream was really good.

I also tossed in a few popular videos, and that’s where I’m heading. I included the James Corden-Paul McCartney clip from one of Corden’s “Carpool Karaoke” episodes, in which the two of them drive around Liverpool on the wrong side of the road and sing Beatles songs.

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I assumed most of my audience had seen the video, although there were enough blank looks that I realized I was wrong. It’s fairly long, and I worried a little. The ages of our little group ranged over 70 years, from little kids to old people.

Now I will rephrase, since I am, in a technical sense only, an old person. There were children, who seemed mildly entertained, and there were white-haired people who, I eventually realized, could have been teenyboppers screaming at Shea Stadium in 1966.

There were fewer tattoos than titanium hips in that room, on that night, and the place was rocking. Everybody loves Sir Paul.

I think everybody does, too. “How are you, love?” McCartney murmurs in the video as he embraces somebody’s grandma, a woman quite possibly younger than him, in a barbershop on Penny Lane. A small pub explodes in the middle of the day at the end, as McCartney puts on an impromptu show for the astonished patrons, and young men pump their fists in the air and elderly women put some stress on those metal joints as “Hard Day’s Night” fills the tiny bar.

“You need to see this” are possibly the most annoying words ever strung together to form an imperative, coming in an era when we’re overwhelmed with entertainment. In 1968, there were 85 distinct TV shows on the air, from soap operas to game shows to prime-time dramas, and I’m talking about on the planet, not just the U.S.

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Today we have over 500, a staggering amount of material for me to ignore while I watch old episodes of “The Office.” I have mine, you have yours. Nobody needs to be told what to watch.

You really need to watch this.

It’s not about the Beatles. There’s no secret about the Beatles, and there never has been. The four lads from Liverpool hopped a speeding train driven by Buddy Holly and Bill Hailey, in exactly the right place and time, sprinkled with fairy dust from musical deities, and we were never the same.

You don’t need me to explain The Beatles.

I’ve also got nothing new to say about conflicts between generations, which is the way of the world. We have our stories, our cultures, our histories. We are walking Venn diagrams, looking for intersections and finding few.

We don’t watch the same TV shows, or movies, or listen to the same music, and it’s not just generational. You’ve got your phone and your headphones, and I’ve got mine.

And just when it seems we’ve evolved into a world of 8 billion with nothing in common, it turns out we’ve got Paul. We know the words to the same songs, it turns out, and it makes me smile to think that at least one grocery store checker never saw it coming.


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