Part 4 — But What Does It All Mean?: The main point: The Beatles are still with us, the arc of their career and legacy is an ongoing process that WILL reach an end at some point. But whether it’s making America twist and shout to an Isley Brothers tune or laying it all out in an eight-hour documentary surrounding a moment of painful growth, they are constantly redefining what a rock band can do and represent.
Wait a second, aren’t John and George dead? Did Ringo have much to do with all this legacy output? Whaddya mean, “The Beatles”?
And this may be what it means in the 21st century: that The Beatles have evolved from a band to a concept, and “they” continue to do what no one has done. I mean, if you had been a Beatle and subject to so many others’ opinions of you, wouldn’t you want to set the standard for the framing of your legacy, hopefully with honesty, integrity and honor? Wouldn’t you want to continue doing something no one had done before, like an eight-hour documentary? Wouldn’t you want to reclaim the narrative and how history will treat you? Maybe it’s more than history, maybe The Beatles are destined for immortality, and what better way to represent it than to be spoken of in the present tense. In these ways, The Beatles (The Concept) once again, as they always have, are setting a high bar for other artists—and like Yoko and John say, we’re all artists.
I really believe that art is capable
of the total transformation of the world,
and of life itself,
and nothing less is really acceptable.
So I mean if art is going to have any excuse . . .
beyond being a leisure-class plaything—
it has to transform life itself.
If you believe poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti, as I do, if you believe there are artists whose magic and influence has changed the world, then in documenting that gift, who they were and what they did and how they did it, and continuing to share that with the world, one could hope, as so many did in 1963, that what we learn from the 21st century Beatles will energize and inspire the transformational potential of art. So the concept of “The Beatles” represents not only their art, but a standard in artistic control and honesty that can yield as authentic a picture as possible—a bottle of lightning representing what human, soulful effort went into that art, in hopes that others will grasp that, follow, and continue transforming the world. Buckle in, or unbuckle, however you fly.
Just a comment on the the post-Beatle solo ventures. For Lennon, making albums was no longer enough, though he helped to invent punk. That’s where he was heading, but never quite made it into that promised land…or should I say land of broken promises. But his music became rallying cries for his political activism. You could say the same for Harrison and his spiritual practice.
Alternatively, McCartney just wanted to keep making albums. And lyric content aside, his off-the-charts talent for melody; his singing; his mastery of the perfect segue; and perhaps most of all his ability to use the studio as an instrument and get previously unheard-of sounds and mixes and presence made his solo albums among the best albums of the years they came out, in particular Ram; Band on the Run; Venus and Mars; and Tug of War (1971-82). And then, after a 15 year fallow period, his next golden era, Flaming Pie; Run Devil Run; Driving Rain; Chaos and Creation in the Backyard; Memory Almost Full (1997-2007). And what is perhaps his final act kicks off with New (2013) and McCartney III (2020). That’s 11 stellar albums if you were counting.