I was about five years old when I first heard the infamous words that would change my life forever: “‘I Dig A Pygmy’ by Charles Hawtrey and the Deaf-Aids. Phase One, in which Doris gets her oats.” The folksy, acoustic sound of John Lennon and Paul McCartney’s “Two of Us” quickly trails.
My dad has just put on Let It Be by The Beatles – the first record I can remember ever listening to — and I am blown away. My music cherry: popped.
I can’t remember why this album in particular was played that day. My dad told me, later in life, that he was never really a die hard fan; he had only bought the few Beatles albums he owned because he thought “they’d be worth something some day.” So I can only guess it was my constant nagging to look through his dusty old record collection — more for the large funny pictures of men and women with long shaggy hair and beards, dressed in odd sixties and seventies fashion – that made my dad finally take out the worn black album with portraits of four long-haired men, thin white spider web cracks running along the edges of the faded cardboard covers, aging them that much more. The words “Let It Be” ran along the top of the album and I remember thinking that maybe it was a warning.
My dad slid the glossy black record out of its cover; a shiny green apple sticker on one side of it, the apple halved on the other. He slowly, almost intimately, slipped the record onto the record player, a task that appeared to be some kind of ritual to him, and I knew that I was in for – what I would call now, but didn’t have the words for at the time – a religious experience. A spiritual awakening.
“Two of Us” ends and the loud, bellowing guitars start “Dig A Pony”. It startles me and I think, for a moment, that this song scares me a bit and I lift the needle off of the record and skip to the next track, “Across The Universe.”
George Harrison’s guitar strums poignantly as John Lennon’s voice starts to sing “Words are flowing out like endless rain into a paper cup.” I have no idea what this means, but it doesn’t matter. The song speaks to me in ways that nothing else ever has. John continues to chant “Jai guru deva om/Nothing’s going to change my world” and I wish so hard for that to be true for me, too.
The song ends and I immediately pick up the needle and place it back at the beginning. I close my eyes, thinking to myself that this is what it must be like to talk to God.
I listen to “Across The Universe” several more times and, after the second or third time through, my dad throws me an enormous pair of headphones and tells me that, if I’m going to keep listening to the same song over and over, I’m going to have to wear these so I don’t drive everyone else crazy.
So that’s where I sit, Indian-style on the cold basement floor, next to my dad’s old record player, listening to God preach to me through giant headphones that keep slipping off my head.
After a few more listens, the record jumps to the next track – “I Me Mine” – and I am awakened by sleazy-sounding guitar riffs that they play on those TV shows and movies I’m not allowed to watch. I consider turning it off or going back to “Across The Universe” again, but my father has since left the basement – and I was wearing the headphones, so no one could hear me if I listened to it anyway – so I decide to live dangerously and listen on. The song cuts from George Harrison’s sorrowful, anguished lyrics to the guitar-infused chorus and back again.
And as soon as it ends, the phrase “like a rolling stone” is repeated, louder and louder – the start of the playful “Dig It” – and, less than a minute later, ends with a devilish Lennon announcing “That was ‘Can You Dig It?’ by Georgie Wood, and now we’d like to do ‘Hark, The Angels Come.’”
Almost church-like piano music fills my ear, followed directly by Paul McCartney’s angelic voice. “When I find myself in times of trouble, Mother Mary comes to me, speaking words of wisdom. Let it be.” The song is so beautiful that I start to cry and have no idea why. If “Across The Universe” is like talking to God, I think to myself, “Let It Be” must be what it’s like to talk to God’s mother or wife.
“Let It Be” fades out and is quickly replaced with Lennon and McCartney’s short but raucous “Maggie Mae”, a traditional Liverpoolian folk song. It’s harsh and rowdy compared to the comforting and reassuring “Let It Be”. I decide I don’t like this song. At least not right now, I don’t, I tell myself; maybe I’ll like it more in a few years, when I can drink beer to it.
From that day on, The Beatles and I were inseparable. I would constantly pester my parents to play “the apple record” and, when they got tired of it, I learned how to put it on myself and everyday after school, I would sneak downstairs to the basement, plug in my headphones, put on Side A of Let It Be, sit under the stairs – so no one would see me – reading my dad’s old Archie comics and Mad Magazines and listen to my friends.
Hell, it wasn’t until months later that I learned that A) there was a Side B to the album, complete with five more songs – I had only ever heard the first seven on Side A – and B) that my dad actually owned more records by these guys, including Beatles For Sale, Help!, Rubber Soul, and Magical Mystery Tour.
My love of The Beatles – and with music, in general – was born on those afternoons after school, hidden away in the basement. And, of course, The Beatles were merely a gateway band; they opened the doors that led me to, well, The Doors, The Rolling Stones, The Who, The Guess Who, Creedence Clearwater Revival, and Pink Floyd, all of them readily available and for my listening pleasure.
Music was my drug of choice. “I learned it from you, Dad. I learned it from watching you!”
My love affair with music was a long and winding road, filled with hundreds – thousands — of other bands and albums that I listened to and loved over the years, but, for me, it always leads back to The Beatles.
I was about eight or nine years old, when I found out that John Lennon – my favorite Beatle – had been assassinated outside his apartment building, ten years prior. Two years before I was even born. I cried for several days, but, ultimately, I think it just made him seem more God-like to me.
The Beatles were responsible for certain friendships in high school and even a relationship in college, as I had taken one of my father’s old record players – and all of my favorite albums – with me.
When the record player stopped working, I both reluctant and eagerly set off to buy back my albums on CD.
And I was completely lost when someone broke into my car, one horrible night, and stole my CD wallet – with half of my albums in it – out of my trunk. Eventually, I sold the other half of my CD music collection and switched to digital, but I never really got back any of the old stuff I used to have and my world remained Beatles-less for quite some time.
Until last night, when I finally finished downloading just about every Beatles album – complete with rare live recordings – over two gigs worth of music. I upload it all to my Tunes, hit play, and, all of a sudden, I’m five years old once more; listening to it all over again, for the first time, hoping that nothing’s gonna change my world.
Your friend (and part-time lover),
Boom Boom Storm Cloud