You were 7 when you first discovered the Beatles. The discovery was by accident, and it happened through a strange series of events involving pay cable, excess time to kill during summer vacation, and Peter Frampton. One afternoon you caught the last half of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts’ Club Band, starring Peter Frampton, on ON TV, the pay cable service to which your parents had subscribed. You had always wondered why we couldn’t get HBO or even The Movie Channel, but on that day you were glad they hadn’t chose those other channels, because you were taken by something about that movie. You liked this music: it was something you had not heard before. It was the first time you heard music that could give you that misty feeling, that grabbed at something deep inside of you that you didn’t understand, and it drew you in. You reveled in the sweet melancholy of “She’s Leaving Home,” and how the lyrics had been transformed into plot for that movie. You liked seeing the parents crying, made distraught by their daughter’s sudden disappearance. It was sad. But it was also beautiful, bittersweet. You had no way of knowing it, but this would become your life’s great aesthetic love.
You counted it among the great disappointments of your short life that ON TV would not show the movie again, despite the letter that you sent to them, begging that they reconsider, hoping that they would agree to air it one last time so that you could watch it in its entirety. This was before home video, before the illusion of independence a bike ride down to the video store on Main Street could lend. Back then, once something was sent out over the air, you could see it just once and then it was gone: there was no way of capturing it and making it your own, except through remembering it, where it became greater each time you thought about it. You lamented the loss of Frampton’s Sgt. Pepper. It was tragic, and it gave you something to brood about, until one of them, either your Mom or your Dad, took you to task for grieving over this, told you that Peter Frampton was “light,” and that a full collection of Beatles music had been within your reach the whole time. It was shortly after that that you started weeding through your parents’ vinyl collection, among it the Beatles’ original Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band album, which sounded different from the music in the movie, even if it was the same. But over time you grew to enjoy this new, original version better, whether it was the implicit suggestion that to prefer the Peter Frampton to the Beatles was absurd, or if it was because the music was truly better, you were not sure. It was likely a little bit of each.
You began to ask questions about them, these Beatles. Why did they dress up like animals on the cover of Magical Mystery Tour? What was Lucy in the Sky? What is a meter maid? Why are some songs so different from others? Why was that early song, “Anna,” that you liked simply because it was about you, such a different sound than the later ones on Magical Mystery Tour, or Sgt. Pepper? Your father told you that some songs were written by different guys in the band, and they had different ideas, and that when they started the style was one way, but that over time it changed as the band members grew and changed. That Paul wrote the happy songs, and John wrote the nasty, mean, and introverted songs. When George wrote songs, they were weird. And Ringo . . . Ringo was just Ringo.
One day you asked if you could get a new Beatles album. And that was how you found out that there weren’t Beatles anymore, as such. That they had broken up, that they did not make music together anymore, and that this had happened a long time ago. You wondered why they would give you this thing, these Beatles, only to take them away. Why bother liking a band, if only to find out that they don’t make music anymore, you wondered. What was the point? Was life going to always be like this? Was life always going to be about watching a movie, only to find out you could never see it again, or learning to love a band that decided they would never make music again? They told you that you still had all the music that had come before, that there was music that you had not even heard, that they did not have in their collection, and that this music would live on forever, even if the band did not play it together anymore. They had a point, but your spirit was broken, because there was something pointless to it, something sad, and beautiful at the same time.
As it happened, John Lennon had put out an album recently, and when they played the single, “Woman,” on the radio, your parents would point it out to you, that this was a solo album from one of the Beatles. That they were still making music, just not together. You were skeptical, but John was your favorite Beatle, and though you weren’t sure what nasty, mean, and introverted meant, you found you liked this single quite a bit. It was already on medium rotation on the Mighty690, the radio station that you would call over and over again, trying to get through, to make requests. One afternoon you called and called, getting busy signal after busy signal, until finally your call went through, and someone asked you what you wanted to request, and you said, “Woman,” but then you weren’t sure if that had been the right title, and you apologized and hung up. After that, you felt stupid, and stopped calling, but “Woman” stayed on rotation for a while, and you enjoyed it each of those times you got to hear it, as it was broadcast from the small clock radio in your bedroom, that had been decorated with little yellow flowers, and overlooked the backyard.
That Christmas, they got you a copy of Double Fantasy on cassette so that you could listen to “Woman” whenever you wanted. But by then, John Lennon was dead, and he would never make music again, with the Beatles or anyone else. You knew this, but you could not understand it. You had started to think that the world must be made up of little starts and abrupt stops like these, love affairs that were made only to end, and opportunities that, once missed, would never be presented the same way again. You tried to get into Paul McCartney’s band, Wings, but it never took, and years later, when he sang the song with Michael Jackson, it just confused you. Time went by, and you grew and changed, and though the Beatles always held a special place in your heart and in your memory, you began to think of yourself as a Rolling Stones person, anyway, even if it was only because they were the ones to came along and patch back together the heart that had been broken so long before.