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Most days we quarrel about her screen time. Dripping with condescension, she claims that her contractual two hours (de facto four hours) are way less than everyone else’s – and, just to be clear, that’s everyone else in the world.
Yet, in spite of these daily dustups, the mad disorder of her bedroom and her vertiginous descents into self-loathing that choke my heart and poison my sleep, my 15-year-old daughter is the most wonderful person in my life. Like any self-respecting neurotic mother, I spend most of my days thinking about her – her happiness and the smoking threat of her unhappiness. The female tinder of body image/complexion/friends can erupt into a conflagration at any time, consuming her fledgling self-esteem as I stand by helplessly.
I chant to myself: She just has to survive the slings and arrows of the teenage present; get through this and the future will reveal itself. I physically cringe when thinking about my own lonely passage through those years. I know there are no words, no advice to save her – I know that she has to save herself.
And yet, I think a familiar but unexpected rescue might be on its way.
Like many of us did at her age, she is living a lot of her life alongside and even inside music. In spite of my shrill accusations, she uses her screen time to develop her musical tastes and, as such, she is building (pace Caitlin Moran) herself.
Recently, she came to me, her eyes shining. I waited as her words tripped over themselves. She gushed: “Mom, I just watched A Hard Day’s Night. The Beatles, they are so great. I love them.” And, days later, “Mom, I love Revolver,” and she sings the opening bars of Eleanor Rigby.
In 1964, my girl would have been a lead Maenad for Beatlemania.
I have long known that, as a sentient being, I am made of equal parts dust and Beatles songs. It was 1976, I was at a “dance” at my girls’ camp, when someone put on the single Got to Get You Into My Life. I was 13, and I felt I was suddenly able to hear these songs in context. I was twisting and shouting with euphoria. I believe it was at that moment I shifted from mother’s child to separate teenage self. With the Beatles’ music, I would build a life raft for myself where no friend and no siblings joined me. For the next five years, I became the No. 1 most devoted Beatles fan – and yes, just to be clear, that is in the entire world.
The energy and frequent beauty of those many, many songs trained my ear and heart for a lifetime of intimacy with all kinds of music and experiences. It isn’t an original confession – many of us can look back at our adolescence and identify music as salvation. But what sweet magic to share with my quiet, sensitive daughter.
Marguerite, a child of her times, combs the Internet for documentary footage of the Beatles. She shares with me things I’ve never seen – John mugging for the camera and performing absurd theatre with Dudley Moore; George being funny; Paul’s Little Richard-like vocals on that amazing B-side I’m Down. This morning, she texted me from Tokyo: “Mom, I’ve Just Seen a Face, do you know it?” I gasped, how could I have forgotten that one? I would sing it over and over at the top of my lungs from any rooftop.
On a road trip together this summer, I played her some Beatle beauties: Norwegian Wood, A Day in the Life, Across the Universe. For me it was like those defining days of teaching her to ride a bike or swim. As we plunged through the monstrous Toronto rush hour, she played Yesterday 17 times in a row. There was a perfect connection between us. Yesterday is her first true experience of the melancholy arts.
She worries, like I did, about George and Ringo being left out. “Look at George on stage, he is so far away,” she says. “Do you think he feels unappreciated?” We listen to While My Guitar Gently Weeps, a George masterpiece. I try to impress her with the passionate cover by Prince and Tom Petty.
She gets mad when I tease her about finding Paul cute. “Mom, he’s 74!” We watch a recorded performance of Hey Jude (the close-up on that face, those large green eyes, that remarkable voice singing the greatest pop song of all time – according to John Lennon and me). She giggles again. “Someone plucked his eyebrows.”
Marguerite is a highly trained classical musician. She helps me analyze the harmonies, the richness of their voices and those astonishing arrangements. She tells me about the trip to Paris, for which John was given 200 quid by his uncle the dentist and took 19-year-old Paul with him. They wore black turtlenecks and tried to chat up older French girls, an experience that reportedly became Michelle. She showed me a video of Paul singing it to Michelle Obama at the White House. Ah.
It moves me deeply to relive the Beatles’ genius now, at my mid-century, and I’m grateful. There is something so implausible about the richness and intensity of their talent. I know I must back off and allow my daughter to chart her own path through these musical treasures that will enrich her inner life for years to come. But I feel such joy that she’s shared some of her journey with me.
Katharine Cukier lives in Montreal.