Friday, November 30, 2012

Yet more pretention

Know Her is to Love Her, To

I’ve chewed up the title of this song to crowbar it under K. It’s likely we’ll want another song entered under T.

It’s important to remember it’s not generally possible to disentangle what was unintentional, what as casual and what was deliberate in The Beatles phenomenon. The Beatles sang girl group songs. Sometimes the lyrics were gender altered, as is here. Sometimes they were not, and you’d have Ringo hollering away about boys. The Beatles sang girl group songs, especially ones with three part harmonies, because they liked them, and you could leave it at if you want to.

The Beatles of course had a profound effect on Western Womanhood, but what about Manhood. In his mini-biography The Summer of Love, George Martin took a few paragraphs to describe the effect of Beatlemania as it hit the United States. He described seeing male office-workers dressed in Beatle Wigs. Grown men pretending to be one of the band: who are you today?

The Beatles were something different, both in appearance and personality. There was an incredible fuss made in the mass media over the length of their hair, bizarre though it may seem now. Hair and headwear continue to be a source of social anxiety, a very closely policed aspect of culture, even today. We just take the rules and norms we are given so much for granted.

This public face was crafted largely by a gay man, Brian Epstein. He took a group of leather and denim clad rockers and put them in matching suits, page boy haircuts and had them bow after every gig. This did not so much tame them as make them enticingly strange and ambiguous1. The legend of The Beatles as family entertainers only arose after other bands came through, specifically the Rolling Stones.

So they were less pioneers than harbingers of something new. Allen Ginsberg described them as evincing a new form of manhood, combining “complete masculinity” with “complete tenderness”. Perhaps that’s not quite right, but something like that.

1. And not just gender/sexual ambiguous. Older people complained they could not tell the different band members apart. Bemused exaggeration, perhaps, but The Beatles contemporaries often described them, especially early on, as being like a “four-headed monster”, a single personality split between four people.

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