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I once heard it said that the best hockey players are the ones who were playing when we were 12 years old. We make our heroes, any kind of heroes, at that age. Those who come after are deficient. And even though our heroes become merely human over time, something of that initial devotion continues to glow in our hearts.
Sometimes, the fallen heroes of our youth find new life in the devotion of our children. The young can raise and build on what we may have abandoned in disappointment, betrayal or the drudgery of simply getting on with our lives.
The heroes I speak of are the Beatles. Who else would it be – the Toronto Maple Leafs?
Unlike the bitter herbs served annually to their fans by the Leafs, the feast offered by the Beatles hasn’t spoiled over time for new teenaged fans. My daughter and many of her friends are among their number.
Of all the bands of the British Invasion, the Beatles are the ones who prevailed in the hearts of their original fans, and of those fans’ children. But this wasn’t inevitable.
If, like me, you were a kid in those guitar-jangling days of the 1960s, you may remember that band loyalty could engender conflicts as fierce as political partisanship or mother insults.
Everyone had their favourites – the Beatles, the Dave Clark Five, Gerry and the Pacemakers, the Rolling Stones, the Animals – and if that favourite didn’t match yours, there was no agreeing to disagree. The band was a religion, and unbelievers were not welcome.
Believing was easy, for I watched that Promethean event, the Beatles’ first performance on The Ed Sullivan Show in 1964. Something as elemental as fire had been given that night to millions of youngsters, and the wisdom attached to it was simple: Tell someone you want to hold their hand.
I adopted Beatles songs as my creed, and tried to catechize my friends by quoting the lyrics at length.
They tolerated this because the Beatles were the acknowledged kings of rock’n’roll, even if some would rather have Elvis, the King in exile, as their master.
Like many proselytizers, I made few converts, but I was certain of the righteousness of my cause.
My arrogance, however, was bound to be burst. Being on the side of the best is easy, like pulling for the team that’s already ahead in the game.
Corporate America conspired against me when it set about to create an answer to the Beatles. I say “create” because, unlike the Beatles, whose music developed organically among four friends, this new band was manufactured through a casting call to be America’s answer to the Fab Four. They were the Monkees, and their songs went immediately to No. 1 on the charts.
I was left scrambling. Friends and enemies alike, Beatles-lovers and Beatles-haters, turned to this new music. I protested that the Monkees didn’t write their own songs or play their own instruments. No matter. My peers started to follow a false god.
Abandoned to a teenybopper wilderness, I writhed in frustration. A showdown was inevitable. One Saturday, in someone’s backyard, an argument exploded about which band’s songs were better. Then it happened. One of the neighbourhood girls called out: “You know, the Beatles swear!”
Ignoring the ad hominem nature of her argument, I denied this. I could believe it of the Rolling Stones, the guys who rhapsodized concupiscence in Satisfaction, but not of the guys who pined sentimentally in Yesterday or courageously sang of their insecurity in Help!
But a friend reluctantly turned to me and said: “It’s true, Mark. They do swear.”
Where I came from, swearing was as forbidden as littering and excessive idling are today. Only true reprobates swore. Swearing wasn’t as it is now: a form of punctuation or the default vocabulary for the imperative mood. The debate was over. I couldn’t defend swearers.
Downcast, I imagined the taciturn George Harrison gleefully repeating the f-word while recording the soaring guitar solo on And Your Bird Can Sing.
I became an apostate. I bought some Monkees records and learned the words. But it had the inauthenticity of a forced conversion. I had to find a way to live as a sadder, wiser Beatles fan. And worse Beatle revelations were to come for this young naif – drugs, divorce, breakup.
But complete atonement has come by way of my daughter and millions of other latter-day Beatles fans.
The music obviously comes from the pure of heart if it can speak to the hearts of new generations of wonderful kids. And these kids don’t have to worry about defending their heroes from off-hand remarks about religion or seeing them arrested for drug possession.
The Beatles’ music, with its restorative powers, is now all that matters. As for their swearing, I have decided to let it be.
Mark Harding lives in Toronto.