Sunday, March 13, 2011

Timing is everything.

When I was a kid, my mom tried for awhile to expose me to religion. This took the form of reading me stories from an illustrated children's bible. It didn't take. I had no interest in these hippies in housecoats, grovelling before invisible space monsters. The only part of the book that held any interest for me was Genesis. Night after night, I asked for that creation-myth blockbuster until Mom got sick of it and forever gave up on my religious instruction.

Creation myths are compelling. We want to hear about where we come from, even if the story doesn't make any goddamn sense.

I recently watched Nowhere Boy, a biopic about the teenaged John Lennon. It was enjoyable enough, though I can't help feeling that I've seen this story, in one form or another, about a zillion times before. The rock and roll biopic is a genre that is so well established and formulaic, you could write 'em in your sleep.

(Come to think of it, Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story did just that, as a parody. The genre is so predictable, in fact, that even what should have been hilarious--it's got John C. Reilly fer chrissake!--actually was kind of boring. For something to be funny, it has to be surprising. Rock and roll biopics are too predictable even to be fertile ground for parody.)

But they keep coming. People love a good creation myth, and rock-and-roll biopics are the creation myths of a certain large demographic cohort. The Baby Boomers love to hear about how awesome the music of their youth was, and how It Changed Everything Forever. It's a safe bet that any competently executed film about a major musical act that emerged from 1955 to 1969 will put asses in seats.

I've never been a Beatles fan. I don't dislike them, but I honestly never saw what was so exciting about them. I listened to a lot of sixties rock when I was a teenager (what was the alternative? It was the eighties!) But I was never into the Beatles. What's the big deal?

The Beatles came along in 1963. They did their spot on the Ed Sullivan show in February 1964, which was (do the math) almost exactly eighteen years into the postwar baby boom. A spike in the teenager population had just been cranked up to eleven.

Combine overwhelming numbers with the raging hormones and shall-we-say forgiving taste of teenagers, and I would imagine that any moderately talented band that came on the scene in 1963 to 1965 would have stood a good chance of becoming absolutely fucking huge. And by playing such a central role in the formative consciousness of such a gigantic demographic bulge, they would forever be recognized (through the permanently-youth-tinted lens of their early fans) as the greatest thing ever.

The Beatles didn't make the greatest music ever, any more than Microsoft makes the best operating system ever. They just came along at the right time.

Pretty good timing for a band with Ringo Starr in it.


  1. Tim - I keep asking Mike Fox when you're going to come and speak to our planning class at MTA ans sadly, it seems that no matter how much I beg, you won't be able to make it this semester :(

    Hope all is well in Ottawa - would love to see you speak again!

    S. Tennant

  2. Well, thank you for the kind words! I'm sorry I wasn't able to do it this year. Unfortunately, my current job is a lot less flexible when it comes to letting me take off to give lectures. Hopefully next fall or winter I'll be able to jawbone my managers into letting me take a few days...

  3. The Civil Service has decided not to give its people vacation time? I will not be voting for Stephen Harper then!

  4. You've just put into words what I've intuitively but vaguely been feeling in a back-of-mind kinda way since the 80's, myself. The Beatles, so what. After I went through the discography on cassette for a month or two, as if to keep listening to make sure I wasn't missing anything, I soon went back to Triumph and Judas Priest. Now, if you want to make a "rock-n-roll biopic" about Triumph my ass is in that seat!!