Monday, May 17, 2010

Come Together

The question came up again recently: who is your favorite Beatle?

I don't think I've ever liked that question, really, because it tends to inspire a blank stare in response, and then I just look foolish (or stoned, but, I repeat myself).

The short answer to the question is this: I can't decide who my favorite Beatle is, any more than I can decide which of my vital organs is my favorite. I need them all, and I need them to be together (my vital organs and Beatles).

The longer answer, I suppose, is something like this ...

Aristotle said it best (and although I cannot prove it yet, I'm sure he was referring to The Beatles when he said it): "In the case of all things which have several parts and in which the totality is not, as it were, a mere heap, but the whole is something beside the parts, there is a cause." (Metaphysics, Book VIII, part 6) Or, as the more popular re-wording goes, "the whole is greater than the sum of its parts."

Each individual Beatle brought something unique to the table, a particular "part" that formed the "whole." And those individual "parts" formed something entirely unrepeatable in the context of the other three Beatles; Paul McCartney's knack for melody, for example, took concrete shape within the framework of The Beatles in a way that was different from how it took shape within the framework of Wings.

In other words, I can't say, "Paul was my favorite, because he wrote the prettiest melodies." Paul wrote great songs, but his ability to write was not a static talent; it took on a very different dynamic when it was assimilated into the larger world of Beatledom.

And this is why I love The Beatles more than any other band; this is why my appreciation for The Beatles goes far, far beyond merely liking their melodies or their lyrics. In a time when the rock-band formula was to emphasize a leader and lump his "backup band" together, The Beatles remained a collective unity. Bill Haley and the Comets; Buddy Holly and the Crickets; Gerry and the Pacemakers; Paul Revere and the Raiders; Tommy James and the Shondells; Rory Storm and the Hurricanes; John Lennon and the Beatles?

It doesn't work, because that's not who The Beatles were. George Martin recognized this almost immediately; he writes in his memoir, All You Need is Ears, "When I first met them, there was no obvious leader ... I put them to the test individually ... I was thinking, on balance, that I should make Paul the leader. Then, after some thought, I realised that if I did so I would be changing the nature of the group. Why do that? Why not keep them as they were?" (All You Need is Ears, p. 124)

After going to see The Beatles play at The Cavern Club, and seeing the marked difference between their group-based performance and the performance of the other leader-plus-backup-group bands that night, George Martin concluded, "A group they were, and a group they had to stay." (All You Need is Ears, p. 125)

The Beatles, as a unified group, represent a life philosophy that I believe in, and something I try to put into practice: we human beings were intended for community, not for isolation. Life is meant to be shared with others. Look outward, not inward. Diversity within a community can be the catalyst for attaining what could not otherwise be imagined by acting as a "Lone Ranger." As Tim Riley so nicely summed it up, "[The Beatles] embodied the notion that an individual can realize his own identity in a community, even when it consists of four utterly different - even contradictory - parts." (Tell Me Why, pp. 18-19)

So who is my favorite Beatle? This one:

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