PICTURE YOURSELF IN A…
Fifty years ago this coming February, The Beatles invaded American culture via television, manufacturing hysteria, minting fandom and even silencing crime. Since that momentous social and creative confluence, the 20th-century band has ceded territory to the 21st-century brand.
Yet The Beatles’ multimedia afterlife has only gained strength, from pop and politics to technology and beyond. Few creative convergences have been as far-reaching, or sounded as revolutionary. Geek The Beatles charts that technocultural influence across the timestream, for geeks and noobs alike.
THERE ARE PLACES I REMEMBER
Starting in 2010, to mark The Beatles’ 50th anniversary, I set out to chronicle the digital evolution of the most influential musical band and brand in history. That was a most convergent year, marking not just the foursome’s 1960 founding, but also the 1970 release of its aptly recombined finale Let It Be and the December 31 legal filing that powered down both The Beatles’ and the decade empowered by their prodigious influence.
And yet, The Beatles’ real-time dissolution has done little to decrease its reach into the future’s evolving tastes, styles and formats, as resilient fandom, scholastics and geekery continues to confirm. Indeed, The Beatles’ expansive avatars continue to overwrite what reality the individual members — John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr, as well as their plugged-in heirs like Yoko Ono, Dhani Harrison, Sean Lennon and many more — can still claim, even as you read this.
Their continuing mediation in our light-speed digital age spawns far and wide, often in strangeways. A touchstone for strange fandom experiments like The Bee Gees’ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band and Julie Taymor’s Across the Universe, or even Fox’s bizarre WWII-remix All This and World War II,. Immersive virtual fantasies like The Beatles: Rock Band and Cirque Du Soleil’s Love, whose launch in doomed Vegas brought The Beatles diaspora together, perhaps for the last time. But even fake conspiracies like Paul McCartney Really is Dead: The Last Testament of George Harrison or the zombified Paul is Undead manage to fuse with real-time horrors from fanboys like the Manson Family and Mark David Chapman.
The simulations propagate, proliferate and profit. Even Oasis, perhaps the most popular of The Beatles’ musical replicants, is working on its own Beatles film — starring Oasis’ music. Hyperreality philosopher Jean Baudrillard called that the vertigo of information. The goal of Geek The Beatles is to compile that vertigo’s essential and emergent data, for longtime loyalists and new adopters.
Pop’s first experimental feedback on “I Feel Fine.” Backward vocals and proto-hop on “Rain.” Tape loops and culture jamming on “Tomorrow Never Knows.” The first staduim concert at Shea, which became a lip-synching experiment in mass communication. Even the first band with its own cartoon show, whose creators eventually mashed its Fab-Four archetyping with what would today be considered alarming cultural stereotyping into a surreal animated experiment, Yellow Submarine, that would redeem them.
The readout goes on. Since that convergent 2010, I’ve filed some hefty Geek The Beatles entries for Morphizm, Wired, HuffPo, CNN and more. Some are listed below, including features with Sir Paul McCartney himself, and some are on the way. We’ll get even further in my greater Geek the Beatles project. I’ll explore the band’s lasting techocultural impact in a continuing series of articles anchored to the band’s momentous anniversaries and looking beyond to those to come.
The goal is to memorialize The Beatles’ evolving technocultural influence with an arty hardcover and complementary ebook, as well as build an interactive multimedia site and app sourced from fandom across the universe. An interactive data resource for our tremendously connected generation in search of historical and cultural strands they can knit into knowledge.
Dearest Earthlings! My name is Scott Thill and I’ve been writing Geek The Beatles essays since the recombined Fab Four turned fifty in 2010. I’ve compiled that material here, and will add new essays and mashes throughout 2013, to create a crowdsourced multimedia bow-down in time for February 2014, the 50th anniversary of their American download. Are you interested in joining or funding Geek The Beatles? ::MAKE CONTACT::
Paul McCartney Talks Technoculture, Tape Loops, Digital Libraries, Wikileaks, Whatever
This is the first part of my two-part interview with The Beatles’ postmodern knight, the right honorable Sir Paul McCartney. The second is below. It was an illuminating technocultural process. Here are the pubs that syndicated our Geek The Beatles pleasure:
Image courtesy MPL Comunications Ltd./M.J. Kim
Paul McCartney Brings “Tomorrow Never Knows” Back to the Future
Paul McCartney is working on a new project utilizing vintage gear he once used to make tape loops for The Beatles’ landmark track “Tomorrow Never Knows.”
“I’ve dusted off the same two old machines that I used for ‘Tomorrow Never Knows,’” McCartney said during a wide-ranging phone interview.
“We’re having trouble finding spare parts. But my man Eddie Klein, who works in my studio and is an old Abbey Road guy, is a real boffin and has got the machines working again.”
Inspired by the musique concrète of German composer and early electronic music pioneer Karlheinz Stockhausen, McCartney’s recombined found sounds for “Tomorrow Never Knows” created an aural sensation utterly new to pop music when the song appeared on The Beatles’ epochal 1966 album Revolver.
Combined with The Beatles’ other technical and stylistic experiments — including John Lennon’s transcendental lyricism, engineer Geoff Emerick’s studio innovations, George Harrison’s Eastern drone and Ringo Starr’s proto-hop percussion — “Tomorrow Never Knows” helped plot the coordinates of future music. MORE @ WIRED
In 2010, John Lennon’s fanboy assassin Mark David Chapman (at right) was up for parole in August before the October that The Beatles’ rebel founder and critic (would have) turned 70. I wrote this Geek The Beatles feature for Wired in protest of Chapman’s parole. Although it was read and spread, I’m not sure if it had any effect on the board’s decision to keep Chapman’s dumpy mortal coil locked inside Attica. I hope it did.
Decades ago, Chapman fired four shots into Lennon’s frail mortal coil, erasing one of global culture’s most complicated saints. Overburdened, reality splintered into viral replications across media, slowly replacing reality along the way. Decades from now, our children will turn to these hyperreal mediations for elusive truths, only to be faced with competing fictions.
It is these assassination simulations my Wired essay analyzed, in the digital age’s shorter format. A proper Geek The Beatles book book would delve deeper, and still hopefully hold together after ventures into the darker realms of conspiracy theory and sci-fi. (Yes, Lennon’s assassination even has its cosmological consequences.)
Because Lennon’s epochal twin anniversaries now spiral forever through proliferating media reproductions. Its alternately sublime and horrific strands remind us that Lennon’s premeditated murder, like his profound life, has been monetized without exhaustion. And shadowed by annihilation… MORE @ WIRED
Decades Later, Let It Be’s Recombined Reality Programming Still Bites
Let It Be, released May 8, 1970, shortly after the band members called it quits and transformed The Beatles from a dysfunctional band into a fully functioning multimedia brand. The songs on what became the group’s last official full-length album were vault-raided and controversially remixed by mad producer Phil Spector from a heap of discarded and bitterly divided sessions, and featured little to no input from band members John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr.
A Beatles documentary, released a week after the album, was similarly retconned, conceived as a “bioscopic experience” that would help sequence the genes for the intrusive reality television we take for granted in the 21st century. In the last gasp of the optimistic but lethal ’60s, however, reality film killed the pop radio stars.
“By the time we got to Let It Be, we couldn’t play the game anymore,” Lennon said in the exhaustive biographical series The Beatles Anthology. “We’d come to a point where it was no longer creating magic, and the camera being in the room with us made us aware of that. It was a phony situation.”
The original concept for the Let It Be film would sell instantly today: Inconspicuous but ever-present cameras document the greatest pop band of all time as it composes, rehearses and then performs and records its next album in front of a live audience. “You can glide in with your cameras,” an earnest but frustrated McCartney said in the film. “Go places that TV cameras don’t go.”
But the film bowed to the Beatles’ momentous reality: The band, like the decade that it so thoroughly informed, was finished… MORE @ WIRED
John Lennon: Working Class Mythmaker
Even The Beatles’ individual members proved to be nearly as mythic and fragile as their hive mind. Their initially fearless leader John Lennon, born in Liverpool and assassinated in New York, remains an innovative and uncompromising artist, as well as an epicenter of controversy. His mysterious life and death swirls with iterations. The controversial comics compilation The Beatles even envisions Lennon as an interstellar spirit peeking in on his terrestrial life as it unfolds. That includes Richard Nixon’s paranoid power play to push Lennon out of New York, as documented in The U.S. vs. John Lennon, and the hail of bullets from an estranged Beatles fanboy and evangelical hypocrite. I wrote the mythmaker a birthday essay.