Fifty years ago, The Beatles downloaded into American culture via television, manufacturing hysteria, minting fandom and even silencing crime. Since that disruptive convergence, centuries have turned and yet the band, and the brand, continue to inspire and influence worldwide cultural and political power.
Geek The Beatles chronicles this revolutionary process across the timestream for loyalists and adopters.
THERE ARE PLACES I REMEMBER
In 2010, I began analyzing The Beatles’ technocultural evolution for myself and a variety of publications. It was a harmonic convergence, marking not just the 50th anniversary of the band settling upon the name that branded itself into history, but also the 40th anniversary of The Beatles’ bitter 1970 dissolution. That crushing kiss-off to the revolutionary 1960s was aptly capitalized in the recombined Let It Be, a multimedia experiment in reality programming gone wrong — as well the December 31 legal filing that powered down The Beatles’ band so the brand could take over.
And it did, influentially reaching deeply into the future’s changing styles, tropes, tastes and platforms as resilient fans, scholars, pushers and consumers grew to dominate culture in a much more immersive, panoptic century. As you read this, The Beatles’ expansive avatars continue to overwrite what reality the individual members — John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr — can still claim in an increasingly hyperreal age. The same goes for their talented heirs like Yoko Ono, Sean Lennon, Dhani Harrison and many (many) more, and the same goes for fandom.
These repeat mediations spread far and wide in our light-speed hyperreality, touchstones for recent hidden histories like The Fifth Beatle or all-ages reboots like The Beat Bugs. Those follow wish fantasies like The Beatles: Rock Band and Cirque Du Soleil’s Love, whose launch in doomed Vegas brought The Beatles diaspora together again, hopefully not for the last time.
These iterations are compounded by more recombined capitalizations like The Bee Gees’ nightmarish Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, Julie Taymor’s thin Across the Universe and even Fox’s World War II propaganda film remix All This and World War II. (That bizarre installment is perhaps for deep Beatles geeks only.) Even fake conspiracies like Paul McCartney Really is Dead: The Last Testament of George Harrison or the zombified Paul is Undead, as ridiculous as they are, still manage to disturbingly fuse with real-time fandom phantoms like the Manson Family and Mark David Chapman. It’s all too much.
The dizzying simulations further propagate, proliferate and profit. Perhaps the most popular of The Beatles’ musical replicants, Oasis is still working on its own Beatles film — starring Oasis’ music — even as award-winning film wizards like Robert Zemeckis fail to get CGI upgrade of Yellow Submarine, The Beatles’ estranged but surreal toon pioneer, off the ground. But the band and brand’s cultural resilience is inextricable from such fandom, because John, Paul, George and Ringo were themselves insatiable fans and consumers. Who do you think wanted to reboot J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings for the silver screen before anyone else? Like I wrote in Bilbo the Billionaire, “Picture yourself in a chair in a theater, watching John, Paul, George and Ringo play Gollum, Frodo, Sam and Gandalf,” because of course The Beatles were there before most.
Philosopher Jean Baudrillard called this spiraling, sprawling phenomenon the vertigo of information, so the goal of Geek The Beatles has become to chart that vertigo’s essential and emergent data.
Pop’s first experimental feedback on “I Feel Fine.” Backward vocals and proto-hop on “Rain.” World drone and culture jamming on “Tomorrow Never Knows,” whose revolutionary tape loops and machine music, as I scooped for Wired, is being reconstructed by Paul McCartney. Perhaps scoring $250,000 for play during one episode of Man Men, an advertising metaprogram, had something to do with that. The Beatles, of course, were masters of metaprogamming.
The first stadium concert at Shea, a lip-synching clinic in mass communication and hysteria. The first band with its own cartoon show, whose pop and racial stereotyping was eventually retconned and redeemed by its animators in the surreal toon experiment, Yellow Submarine.
The readout goes on. Since 2010, I’ve filed some hefty Geek The Beatles entries for Morphizm, Wired, HuffPo, CNN and more. I’ve compiled that material here, and will inevitably add more because there will always be more. Since I grew up on The Beatles — in fact, I was born on the last day all four members stopped fighting long enough to congregate for their last photo shoot — I have always been here to write about them.
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