“I stick to the classics myself. I’m afraid rock and roll has been all downhill since Lennon died.”
“Man, my whole life, people have been cramming this classic rock crap down my throat. Do you really think I give a shit about the Beatles?”
“No offense, but today’s music doesn’t have a whole lot to say.”
“Is that right? So you’re going to tell me ‘Purple Haze’ says something?”
– Back and forth convo between KPPX 103.6 FM “Rebel Radio” host Ian and frontman of The Lone Rangers/accidental terrorist Chester “Chazz” Darvey, Airheads, 1994.
I misremembered that Airheads quote. Until I rewatched that scene a moment ago, I thought Darvey, Brendan Fraser’s character in the cult comedy, says, “So you’re going to tell me ‘I Want To Hold Your Hand,’ says something?” I’m pretty sure I remembered the scene wrong, partly because “Purple Haze” does say something. Distilled, the lyrics translate to, “I, noted guitarist Jimi Hendrix, have experimented with LSD. Not sure if I recommend it, but there y’go.” More importantly, Darvey would’ve sounded more like an authentic upstart rock musician from 1994 if he had bashed the Beatles hit instead of the of the Hendrix standby. I understand totally why Chazz Darvey wouldn’t give a shit about the Beatles.
Over the weekend and spilling over into Monday, innumerable news outlets ran with the story of a handful of Twitter users — alleged Kanye West fans — who expressed a lack of a familiarity with recent Kanye collaborator Sir Paul McCartney. Then it turned out the tweets either weren’t meant to be taken seriously, or really, really shouldn’t have been, and the story was kinda bullshit.
Bullshit stories get passed off as real news all the time. This particular bullshit story is unique, in that the indignant reactions it inspired suppose that teenagers in 2015 should know who Paul McCartney is, that not knowing who Paul McCartney is makes you stupid, and therefore, knowing who Paul McCartney is makes you smart.
Going back to Airheads, if Darvey had responded to Ian’s observation about John Lennon by earnestly asking, “Lenin? You mean Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov?” it would’ve been funnier, but would’ve also undermined Darvey’s fictional feasibility. There was no possibility whatsoever that anyone even remotely aware of popular music could hear a radio DJ say “Lennon” and not immediately know who was referencing in 1994. At that time, our parents, the music press, and the gargantuan music marketing machine had been repeatedly telling us the Beatles were the most significant rock band of all time since we were old enough to know what songs are. Before we heard a note, the “legend” of the Beatles impacted everyone’s individual opinion of the Beatles, which means we’ll never know how we actually feel about their music. If you swap the word “legend” for “persona” the same can kinda sorta be said for loads of artists, but nowhere near to the same degree.
Much has changed since 1994.
Babies born that year would’ve recently turned 20 years old. That means the 1970 disbanding of the Beatles could have occurred before their parents were born. And that means these new 20-somethings couldn’t have become meaningfully aware of popular culture until a decade-plus after Airheads, and probably don’t even remember they once lived in a world where a multi-million dollar corporation reissued Sgt. Pepper’s once a year knowing that legions of grunge-weary nostalgic completist goofs like Ian would feel obligated to pay $40 for a triple disc special edition featuring outtakes that weren’t good enough to be on the original album or any of the 17 previous reissues up until that most recent deluxe edition. In fact, I believe current 20-year-olds were toddlers while that was still happening.
So @CurvedDaily @Desusnice and @OVOJosh were just fucking around. But for a while, some of us (full disclosure: me) didn’t assume they were. Because they seemed plausible. Honest versions of them may already exist. What if, somewhere out there, an ardent 15-year-old pop fanatic heard, “Only One” and thought, “Huh. This is a bit uncharacteristically sentimental for Kanye. I like it though! I wonder if the older guy who I guess cowrote it has anything else out…”
1. Wouldn’t it be kinda condescending and mean spirited to snarl “How DARE you be such a dumb dumb and not know rah rar rargh” at this young man or woman? Do you have fun when other people try to make you feel out of touch for not knowing all the same bands they know, or do you dismiss them as elitist snobs?
2. This person would go on to form the first totally independent thought about the Beatles anyone’s had since Ringo replaced Pete Best. For Beatlemaniacs, wouldn’t it be exciting to know such a phenomenon has once again become possible after these many years? If the Beatles can attract enthusiastic new listeners without necessarily being jammed down throats, doesn’t that make a mighty case against Chazz Darvey and those who share his perspective?
So hypothetically, what would motivate you, especially if you’re a Beatles fan, to call this person stupid?
Because deep down you know that someday, you’ll be visiting your middle-aged children, or maybe even your adult grandchildren. Someone will mention Kanye’s upcoming induction into the Rock And Roll Hall of Fame at the overdue age of 87. You’ll mention how silly that whole media fiasco surrounding West and McCartney’s collaboration and the goofy business on Twitter. Then, little Billy, just back home from getting his learner’s permit, will glance in your direction for the first time since he entered the room — he rarely looks directly at your face because your wrinkles make him uncomfortable — and then he will mumble through a mouthful of mashed potatoes, “Poppop…What the hell is Twitter?”
And you will be reminded, once again, that you are going to die.
Follow Barry Thompson on Twitter @BarelyTomson