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beatlesarehere

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“The Beatles liberated young people from Victor Borge, Robert Goulet, Steve and Eydie, and the demented sing-along-with-the-bouncing-dots schlock immortalized by Mitch Miller. The Beatles liberated young people from bland show tunes, ethnic hooey like ‘Volare’ and ‘Danke Schoen,’ and stultifying novelty tunes like ‘Hello Muddah, Hello Fadduh’ and ‘Mr. Custer.’

The Beatles held out hope that life might actually be worth living, that popular culture need not be gray, predictable, sappy, lethal. To this day, what I feel toward the Beatles is not so much affection or reverence. It is gratitude.”

Joe Queenan, humor writer

1971: In Kindergarten, you participate in a “talent show” where you and Brian Clark lip-synch to Three Dog Night’s “Joy to the World” and the Beach Boy’s version of “Sloop John B.” You remember wondering at the time how much talent it takes to do such a thing, but somehow, you come in first. You also remember finding the words to “Joy to the World” ridiculous. Why would anyone have a bullfrog named Jeremiah who was “a very good friend of mine”? And how could that possibly relate to the world’s joy? Also, in thinking about “Sloop John B,” you, later that night, (after lip-synching to the line, “I threw up all of my grits”) ask your mother what grits are.

She tells you they’re something southern people eat.

“Yes,” you say, “but what are they?”

“They are a food,” she says. “A southern food.”

Few books in recent memory have caused as much of a stir as Reality Hunger, the 219-page “manifesto” by David Shields.

It’s a book that defies easy classification.

An argument.  A clarion call.  An affront.  A life story.

An unapologetic assault on the literary status quo.

An essay-memoir-pointillistic-literary-collage-and-exercise-in-appropriation-art, one which argues that a new artistic movement is forming, a movement which prizes as its virtues things like randomness, self-reflexivity, reader/viewer participation, and the total obliteration of the line between fiction and nonfiction.

The book has been greeted as a revelation.  A game-changer.  A thunderous ars poetica.

The book has been greeted as reprehensible.  Tired.  An irresponsible attempt to subvert existing copyright law, all while generating a massive wave of cheap publicity.

Writers in particular have reacted strongly to the book.  Some with venemous anger; others, a fit of nervousness; others still with unbridled enthusiasm.

“To call something a manifesto is a brave step,” writes Luc Sante in the New York Times.  “It signals that you are hoisting a flag and are prepared to go down with the ship.”

Shields—as far as I can tell—is still afloat, and he was kind enough to speak with me recently about his life, his work, and his assessment of the cultural moment.

Joe Daly opened his “Five Bands I Should Like, but I Don’t. At All” piece by noting there is no accounting for taste.

Steve Almond responded by recommending five uber-obscure bands for listening pleasure, which might have worked without the additional discussion of Daly and his piece, but I think there’s a more important corollary.

Notably: if there are, as Joe suggests, bands we should like a lot—by dint of reputation or acclaim—but don’t, there are probably, conversely, bands we shouldn’t like but do.

Taste seems to have a lot to do with it. The idea that taste and quality are subjective seems to be a popular argument.

I’m not saying that’s not true, but I will say this: like Joe, I don’t like the Beatles, but it has turned out I like their songs and music on the condition they be performed by other musicians. Between The Wonder Years and Across the Universe, I think Joe Cocker may be the best thing that ever happened to the Beatles.