I have been hearing the Beatles my entire life — first on the record player as a baby, and then on long trips to the shore on our cruddy Past Masters tape, and then on shiny new see-through cassettes of Abbey Road and The White Album. There are constants in my life; everyone has constants. Even the most unstable and unable people i know have things they can always turn to, or that they will always turn to.
The parking lot at Kiddie City Toy Store, and Ringo sings “Octopus’ Garden.” I am playing “Name That Beatle.” We are crossing the Walt Whitman Bridge to New Jersey and Paul and Mom and I are wailing “Oh Darling” so hard that our voice is cracking around the edges as one. We are zooming down the Atlantic City Expressway and Lennon croons out from carefully nested speakers “I’m So Tired” as i lazily stick my feet out of the window.
“I’m so tired.”
The wind dug between all of my toes as i laughed and sank my head back into the seat. The drive to WildWood was always longer on the way there than coming back. I was always so busy trying to decide if it was John and Lennon singing that half the time i missed George. George: the quiet one. My mom loves Paul with all of her teenaged heart, but on the way home she would confess to me conspiratorially that she’s always had a soft spot for Mr. Harrison. “The ugly one?,” i would ask? “With those cheekbones?” “Does he play the second guitar?”
My mother denies the existence of Middle Beatles and will glare at you icily if you mention Let It Be, so she first was eyes at George Harrison with his bowl cut and then sliding around in the midsts of his delicate guitars as his songs grew more and more central to the end records. My entire life it has been just the two of us, and just the three of them: Paul, George, and Ringo — because we didn’t have poor dead John around anymore.
At fifteen i got my guitar, and it never occurred to me to play anything by the Fab Four. The Beatles were more than the sum of their parts, and to this day i still can’t quite distill any of their songs to a single guitar and voice. But, my guitar was a door to things i had never heard before. Paul’s deft bass lines. Lennon’s funky solos. Ringo’s amazing drumming on the back half of Abbey Road. George’s stunningly simple “Something,” and Clapton adding to the throb of “While My Guitar Gently Weeps.” I listened to the Beatles for my entire life as a phenomenon … as if they would walk into a room and music would just happen. It wasn’t until i got to college that it occurred to me that they all brought their own distinct musical merits to the table, and that you could pick them out one by one if you listened closely. A McCartney song, but a Harrison Riff. A Lennon vocal with that twelve-string chiming in the background.
I never owned a Beatles record of my own before yesterday other than the sad red #1 that exists as a placeholder for albums i’ll eventually have to own as an adult, and for two albums i know as well as “Lucky Star” or “Still Rock and Roll to Me.” I know them: the songs, the lyrics. I never knew the music before, though. Yesterday i locked myself in an empty house, in an empty room, and i turned my headphones as high as they would go. And listened.
At twenty I heard the Beatles for the first time.
At twenty i have suddenly found myself with only two of them left. I will always remember sitting on Michella’s couch in July and seeing TWA 800 emblazoned across the screen of Good Morning America, and i will always remember sitting in admissions desperately trying to load up CNN’s website this September. And, i will always remember myself curled into a ball on that rubbery hospital bed, trailing IV tubes and sniffling back tears because i didn’t want anyone to think i was crying about me.