Wednesday, September 23, 2009

THE ENDURING LORE OF THE BEATLES, NOW TOLD IN A VIDEO GAME



I'm a big Beatles fan. I was born in 1968, not long before the band broke up. When I was maybe 10 years old, my Uncle Dan, a family friend, gave me my first LP -- the Beatles' "Red Album." Soon after came the "Blue Album," and in time every album by the Beatles as a band and as solo artists. As a teenager, I went to a Beatles fan convention in Boston, and while I fancied myself pretty knowledgeable about the Beatles, there were some serious Beatlemaniacs there. The gal in front of me in the ticket line knew each Beatle's shoe size! At the convention, I bought a huge John and Yoko poster, a 45 record of the Beatles' royal command performance, several books about the band's history and their recording sessions. I also regularly visited a record store in Allston, Massachusetts, the name of which I'm forgetting now, but which was owned by this guy Joe Pope, a local authority on (and, needless to say, a huge fan of) the Beatles. Let's just say I was pretty well steeped in the lore of the Beatles, and relished hearing new (to me) anecdotes about the band. George losing his virginity, to the applause of the other Beatles. Ringo leaving the band briefly, and being welcomed back in with a mound of flowers around his drum set. Their financial troubles towards the end.

As a result, I still remember the history behind many of the songs, or at least can conjure images of where those songs were played in concert, and what was happening with the band when they were recorded. And then of course, just about every Beatles song evokes not just "memories" of the band's history, but particular memories from my own life. My own memories and my "memories" about the band are intertwined. Take the song "Don't Let Me Down," from the "Let it Be" album. I recall hearing this on a radio Beatles-a-thon, while driving with my boyfriend at the time on the highway on our way out of San Francisco -- me exploding with pleasure at this song which I hadn't heard in some time, and him realizing the depth of my Beatles love! And of course I think of the Beatles playing this at their famous 1969 concert on the rooftop of Apple Records in London. Somehow these become fused, so my boyfriend and I are two of the young techies at the concert. I wish.

Well, consider my excitement at the new "The Beatles: Rock Band" video game, which allows you to sing and "play" Beatles songs -- actual recordings of the Beatles which you produce by hitting the right buttons on a toy guitar, bass, and drum set. Thanks to my friend Mike for hosting. I think my imagination suffices to produce the feeling of connection with the Beatles. The imagination must always suffice, really, it's the connective tissue among people. But the game allowed me to connect with the music and excite the imagination in a new way. It's also got this "story" mode, which has players go through the available songs in chronological order, and which plays animated clips of the Beatles with real audio clips from their studio recordings, giving you a history of the band. As one of the game's producers says in an interview (one of many features on the game's website), "So the idea here is that it's not just a list of songs. We want it to be a sort of narrative progression, a journey through the life that these four guys had together over this period of time they were making all of this music." In doing so, I think the producers manage to more intimately entwine the story of the Beatles with the stories of players' and listeners' lives. And of course, sell more games. 

1 comment:

  1. The name of Joe's record store was called Nervous Records (I believe because there was a fear of shoplifters.) He also published a phenomenal Beatles fanzine called Strawberry Fields Forever and operated a voicemail line called the Beatlephone, which in many ways was a precursor to social media; callers could leave messages and bits of Beatles news which Joe would then relate in his daily messages.

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