Thursday, November 18, 2010

Introducing . . . the Beatles!

I thought I'd take advantage of the "life-changing" announcement that the Beatles are now on iTunes to reveal at least a little of the role they have played in my life. It turns out that Margaret and I experienced a Beatles related event today: we attended an academic lecture--a remarkably good and illuminating one--titled "American through the Beatles." It was given by Trent Hickman, one of my colleagues in the English Department at BYU, born (pretty much as I had guessed) in 1970, the year the Fab Four broke up. (I wonder if calling them "the Fab Four" is as hokey as calling Shakespeare "the Bard." I'll have to think about that one.)

I first heard "I Want to Hold Your Hand" about 47 years ago, and though I didn't know initially who was performing, I was very taken by this fresh and exciting new sound. But then during most of 1964 I resisted the Beatles, partly because they were so popular, partly (as a 13-14 year old) because I prided myself on my rationality. But then in September of 1965, I heard "Ticket to Ride" on a bowling-alley jukebox in Payson, Utah, and was captured by the song's marvelous fusion of lyricism and anguish. Then came the movie Help!, with its zany fun and appealing music. And then in short order came "Yesterday" (how could I resist!) and Rubber Soul (still possibly my favorite album). I became not only a Beatles fan but a Beatles "expert" (i.e., I was so obsessed I soaked in everything I could about them), and my life became intertwined with their music for the next four years. In February 1970 I started a mission* (arriving in Paris in April), and so I took a break from the Beatles just about the time they broke up. But I could swear I heard "Let It Be" before I left home. (Much later, in 1996, I heard it sung by a street singer in Paris, near St. Germain des Pres.)

After returning to the US in 1972, I followed Paul McCartney somewhat (solo and then as a member of Wings) for a few years. As I remember it, I started re-collecting some Beatles music on cassette tape during the 1980s. Then came CDs (and I gradually got a complete collection); then the Beatles Anthology CDs (and TV specials) in the 1990s. Somewhere along the way I also collected a complete set of remastered vinyl records. More recently I've kept up on some of the reissuing of the Beatles' oeuvre and have continued to follow Paul's career in particular, though with some attention to the others. Of course, I remember learning of John Lennon's death in 1980: I was in Cambridge, Massachusetts, at the time.

Now for (possibly) the most unusual event in my life related to the Beatles. Sometimes during the summer of 1997, our stake* held a picnic in a park near our home. I had recently been called as a counselor in the stake presidency and was going to introduce myself to the stake by taking part in a little presentation on the stage that was set up in the park. My son Rob was 10 at the time (and precocious, as he still is). He interviewed me, asking a series of predetermined questions, I answered entirely (or almost entirely) with lines from Beatles songs.

I'm going to reproduce the entire interview here. But first--just so everyone knows--I will acknowledge that, as with all (earthly) passions, my passion for the Beatles has the potential to be an unhealthy obsession. I try to keep enough detachment to remember the relative unimportance of all this and to remember that the Beatles' influence was a mix of good and bad.

But musically, they were marvels. Apart from a handful of their music that I don't like, they produced a large body of high-quality work, and the best of their work ranks with some of the best music the world has seen (and I'm including what is commonly called "classical music"). As people, as a cultural phenomenon, and as a source of music, the Beatles somehow conveyed an energy, vitality, freshness, and sense of passion and joy rarely seen.

By the way, for those who wonder what the heck a "mission" and "stake" are, I'll provide answers at the end.

THE INTERVIEW (R=Robert Young; B=Bruce Young):

R: Hello, my name is Robert Young. I'm about to do a live interview of the newest member of the Stake Presidency, Bruce Young.

I need to give you a little background first. He's a member of Pioneer 4th ward. But he's spent most of the past year out of town and just got back in May. For 6 months of that time he was helping direct a BYU program in England.

Some people think it is his interest in Shakespeare that qualified him for this work, but the truth seems to be that he was chosen because he is one of Utah Valley's foremost experts on the Beatles. For that reason we've asked him to answer all questions with quotations from their songs.

Is that true, President Young?

B: Yes it is, it's true.

R: Speaking of England, what did you think of the Queen?

B: Her majesty's a pretty nice girl, but she doesn't have a lot to say.

R: President Young, could you explain why you left Provo last year?

B: You know if you break my heart I'll go, but I'll be back again.

R: I understand you were in Massachusetts for the first part of this year. How did you feel when you got back?

B: It's been a long time, now I'm coming back home. I've been away now, oh how, I've been alone.

R: I understand there was a fire in your home last year. Did that affect where you lived for a while?

B: We all live(d) in a yellow submarine, yellow submarine, yellow submarine.

R: So it wasn't long after your return that President Billings called you up to talk to you. What was the first thing he said?

B: When I call you up, your line's engaged. I have had enough, so act your age.

R: So what was your response the night you found out about your call to the stake presidency?

B: Yesterday, all my troubles seemed so far away, now it looks as if there here to stay, oh I believe in yesterday.

R: What did you feel after you had some time to think about it?

B: Help! I need somebody. Help! not just anybody. Help! you know I need someone. Help!

R: So how are things going now?

B: It's getting better all the time. (better better better)

R: What helped make the difference?

B: Oh, I get by with a little help from my friends.

R: I understand you sometimes come home fairly late on nights when you have stake meetings. How do you feel when you come home?

B: It's been a hard day's night, and I've been working like a dog.  It's been a hard day's night, I should be sleeping like a log.

R: Do you have any idea how long you will serve in this position or when you might be released?

B: When I get older, losing my hair, many years from now.

R: Well, sir, it looks like you've lost your hair already.

B: Look! what your doing!

R: Let me ask you a few questions about your life and your family.

How did you feel about yourself before you met Margaret?

B: I'm a loser, I'm a loser, and I'm not what I appear to be.

R: So how do you feel now?

B: I'm in love with her and I feel fine.

R: How many children do you have?

B: Your mother should know (whoo-oo), your mother should know.

R: Do you have anything to say to Margaret?

B: You know how much I love you, you know I always will.

R: I understand your oldest daughter is old enough to date now. And I understand you have a policy that she shouldn't date the same boy twice in a row. What do you say if she asks for an exception?

B: You know I told you before, no, you can't do that.

R: She hasn't go her license yet. When she does, do you have something to tell her?

B: Baby you can drive my car.

R: I understand you have a 10-year-old red headed son who is pretty smart. How do you feel about him?

B: A bad little kid moved into the neighborhood (doo-doo-doo-doo-doo, doo-oo-doo-doo) He don't do nothin' right just sit there, 'n' look so good. (doo-doo-doo-doo-doo, doo-oo-doo-doo)

R: What is your 8 year old daughter's name?

B: Julia, Julia.

R: She likes to jog with you, but has a hard time keeping up. Is there anything you say to encourage her?

B: You better run for your life if you can little girl.

R: Do you have anything to say about your 5-year-old son Michael?

B: Slow down, your movin' way too fast. You gotta give me little lovin', give me little lovin', whoooo, if you want our love to last.

R: Do you have any final things to say?

B: I don't want to spoil the party so I'll go. I would hate my disappointment to show. There nothing for me here, so I will disappear.

R: Do you think we could have another live interview with you next year?

B: Don't bother me, leave me alone, don't bother me.

R: Well, maybe we'll check with you later and see if we can get you to change your tune.

B: We can work it out, we can work it out.

[The end]

*mission: i.e., a two-year mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints; I served in the France Paris Mission, which included (at that time) most of western France.

*stake: an organization in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints encompassing several wards (congregations), corresponding more or less to a diocese in Catholic church government. The stake presidency consists of three men, a president and a first and second counselor. I ended up serving for three years as second counselor to Lewis Billings and then another seven years as first counselor to Brian Wolsey.


Margaret said...


Gideon Burton said...

I loved the interview! And I didn't know your passion for the Fab Four started so young in life. I've always liked this about you -- having an unabashed love for something so distinct from your academic speciality. What dabbling I've done with the Beatles has largely been do to your enthusiasm. Thanks!

Bruce Young said...

You're welcome, Gideon. I hope you know how much I admire you and your work.

You may know that Rolling Stone recently compiled a list of the (I think it was) top 100 Beatles songs. I disagreed with much in their rankings--I thought they were too inclined to the weird and pretentious. Not that the Beatles at their more weird and pretentious didn't produce some great songs: just not my very favorites.

So I've been working on my own list of favorites--a rather fluid list. But here it is in one of its current forms:

TOP SIX (in some order or other):


In My Life

We Can Work It Out

Here Comes the Sun

Penny Lane

If I Fell

THE NEXT FOURTEEN would maybe include: Help!; With a Little Help from My Friends; Eight Days a Week; Baby's in Black; Good Day Sunshine; While My Guitar Gently Weeps; She Loves You; Got to Get You into My Life; Thank You Girl; I'm Looking through You; I'll Get You; I'll Follow the Sun; Your Mother Should Know; The Fool on the Hill.

AND THERE'S MORE: Blackbird; Ticket to Ride; Drive My Car; (Please Mr. Postman); From Me to You; Golden Slumbers; Let It Be; Things We Said Today; Every Little Thing; Hey Jude; P.S. I Love You; What You're Doing; For No One; You've Got to Hide Your Love Away; You're Gonna Lose That Girl; You Won't See Me; No Reply; Girl; Wait; Dr. Robert; Lovely Rita; Getting Better; I'll Be Back; Cry Baby Cry; It Won't Be Long; Please Please Me; (Twist and Shout); Here, There, and Everywhere

(and many more)

(The ones in parentheses were covers--i.e., not composed by any of the Beatles.)

One thing I've realized working on this list is that my very favorites include poignant ballads--yet I wouldn't like the Beatles so much if that's all they did. One of the great things about them is their variety. I haven't listed lots that I really enjoy, including rockers like "Kansas City" and "I'm Down" and beautifully crafted songs like "Eleanor Rigby."