Sunday, February 08, 2004

In Tom Sinclair's Entertainment Weekly piece "Do The Beatles Still Matter?," he questions whether, 40 years after their appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show, if they do in fact, still matter. Gathering opinions from a variety of artists, it turns out they still indeed do. And they always will. They're just too damn good.

The Beatles formed the mold of pop artists and then consistently broke it after every album, constantly evolving their sound and lives in tune with their music. They began as floppy-haired Sunday callers and ended as rooftop poets, with marijuana hangover beards and visions of their own.

As Andre 3000 (perhaps one of the most verifiable contemporary mainstream artists) intelligently states in Sinclair's piece, "They didn't have one style. You can hear their growth from when they were covering American rock & roll songs to writing their own songs, and then going off on their own trippy creations. I can identify with that." The Beatles were mavericks, striking oil with boyish pop that made girls swoon, and then rejecting the sound and moving to a more abstract place, filled with echoes, sitars and mellotrons.

They basically found the formula for gold and decided they didn't need it.

The Beatles' career as The Beatles (and respecting the projects and efforts put out by the members after 1969 as separate and apart) is almost impossible to compare to anything, be it an amusement park ride (too consistently good to be a roller coaster; too dynamic to be a full-circle ferris wheel or parabolic swing) or means of transportation (perhaps a plane, but not all the tracks were soaringly epic; not far-reaching enough to be a catapult). Perhaps that is what makes The Beatles the closest example to an artist in that explaining them only clouds the truth.

In the long-running debate (and understood; every time needs its healthy rivals) between the Rolling Stones and The Beatles, one must give in and end the argument all together. The Stones were bluesmen, music to kick teeth in with, music to get drunk and laid to. The Beatles were musicians, explorers, alchemists and poets. The Stones have essentially been playing the same songs since "Exile on Main Street" (their finest), and should have quit and left their legacy as the greatest screw you band. The Beatles quit when their personal visions became too much to mesh. Blame it on Yoko if you must, but the truth is that it's better they broke up. I can only imagine the tacky stage antics they would employ if they did an arena-sized version of "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band," with special guest Mark McGrath.

Mr. Sinclair, I hope The Beatles do still matter. In the age of halftime nipple peeps, and May-December diva lesbian kisses, it's vital that artists remember them. There were bands who knew that their hearts and brains combined could intrigue the souls of people with honest efforts alone. Bands such as Wilco, Radiohead, Air, Outkast are some of today's examples. The Beatles were unafraid of offering something, and then offering something entirely different. Their artistic path was brilliant: begin simple, and then build on it, craft it, mold it, multiply it, reverse it and then kiss it all goodbye.

The Beatles changed the art world for the best and forever.

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