This article from the Philly Post, which suggests that the Beatles’s importance to the culture will fade if their music isn’t represented on streaming services like Spotify, fascinates me. Not only because I think it’s wrong—judging the depth of a generation’s knowledge of musical history based on some “who the hell is Paul McCartney” tweets is dumb, and it’s not as if the band’s lack of availability for download for four or five years crippled the heritage industry that has grown around them—but because I’m not sure it would be that bad an idea if they did disappear from the culture’s consciousness for a while.
No, I’m not going to go on some “the Beatles were actually crap” rant, or suggest that their continued popularity represents the crippling stranglehold that the baby boomers still hold over the culture. I love them, always have, and the boomers (and as a disclaimer I should mention that I’m on the cusp of that generation myself) deserve that stranglehold—like it or not, they remade the culture, mostly for the better; give ‘em a break.
But I also think that The Beatles’s near godlike omnipresence has long (say, since 1964) made it difficult to judge anything they did musically with any kind of clarity. Like Bob Dylan, the sheer cultural force they wielded has made unbiased critical appraisal almost impossible (not that there is such a thing as unbiased critical appraisal, but you know what I mean). This has been the problem with almost every biography, critical tome, essay, blurb, or photo caption that has ever appeared about the band. The closest anyone has come is probably the late Ian MacDonald, in Revolution In the Head, but even that had obvious biases that made parts of it difficult to trust.
I’ve felt for some time that we will never get a proper critical appraisal, or even a decent biography, of The Beatles until long after all the members of the band are dead. Possibly not until everyone who was alive when they were is dead. And then wait a hundred years. It probably still won’t happen, because I doubt The Beatles will ever completely disappear from the culture. But I also think their influence needs to fade, if not be totally forgotten, for their real value to be determined. Though I will say, speaking from my own bias, that I have no fear whatever that it will be diminished.
But what if they did disappear from the culture, or at least from the culture’s memory? Would it really change anything? Would it make the world any worse? Any better? Their influence, good and bad, has already been absorbed, and will never completely fade. A lot of people might not realize how much of pop culture springs from them, but then a lot of people today don’t realize how much of the culture springs from Shakespeare or the King James Bible, either. Does it really matter that much that they don’t? Besides, I have a vision in my head head of the amazing pop renaissance that would result if The Beatles did disappear for a while and then were suddenly rediscovered. But, of course, that’s my bias talking again.