Panic attacks. I’ve been having a lot of them lately. It sucks.
When I find myself in times of trouble, I lend my ears to The Beatles. (Sorry. Couldn’t help myself.) Lyrical puns aside, it’s true. And not just in times of trouble, but in good times and all the times in between.
Their music has been a consistent presence in my life since The Beatles Anthology documentary broadcast in the mid-90s. I was twelve or thirteen at the time. My parents were watching it one evening, and I was drawn to the living room as I heard bits and pieces of The Beatles’ early material emanating from the TV. I’d heard some of those songs before, and I liked them. That was the beginning of a life-long love affair. The Beatles were my first true musical love, and they took up immediate and permanent residence in my heart. It’s hard to put into words, but essentially their music got under my skin and seemed to communicate with my very DNA.
I recently finished reading Kicking and Dreaming: A Story of Heart, Soul, and Rock and Roll. The book was a Christmas gift from my best friend. In the memoir, Ann and Nancy Wilson describe the impact The Beatles had on them as young, aspiring musicians. When the Wilson sisters played ‘make-believe’ they pretended to be The Beatles, instead of pretending to be Beatles girlfriends or wives (as many of their peers did). When I read that I thought you and me both, Wilson sisters. I had crushes on John, Paul, George and Ringo, sure. But deeper and more importantly than that, it was their chemistry as a band and the music they created together that I fell in love with. It was through listening to The Beatles that I began to recognize my own creative drive. And I spent many hours listening to them.
My parents liked to go for drives on weekends, and I spent many Sunday afternoons as a kid listening to music under headphones while we drove around Grey and Bruce counties in Ontario. (Now that I’m older, I understand the appeal of going for drives.) The Beatles were my most frequent band of choice for the soundtrack of those drives. I would drum on my knees while watching the countryside through the window, imagining what it would be like to play a real drum kit (which I would later be fortunate enough to do). I would study the vocal harmonies until I could sing each part. I would marvel at how two, three, four completely different and unique voices could blend together so well and create such an electric harmony. John’s raw vocal expression and rhythm guitar playing, Paul’s melodious bass technique, George’s poignant lyrics, Ringo’s signature style, the song arrangements and incorporation of orchestral instruments – all of it together was unlike anything I’d heard or felt before. Listening to The Beatles became a transcendent experience, and I couldn’t get enough.
I became familiar with their music in a dis-chronological way, first buying the Anthology 1 double-cassette (after the airing of the documentary series on TV) and then acquiring Abbey Road. (My childhood best friend gave me a taped copy of Abbey Road. She had seen the anthology documentary on TV and had fallen in love with the Beatles, too. We would listen to vinyls in her room on weekend sleepovers, and I would say, “You sing Paul’s part, and I’ll sing John’s part.”) After that, I had a voracious appetite for their music and built a collection of Beatles tapes, CDs and vinyls. Sometimes (on our weekend drives) my parents and I would stop in at flea markets, where I would immediately go on the hunt for Beatles records and memorabilia. My dad had a record player, and I would buy used Beatles vinyls and listen to them when we got home with the volume cranked. My parents like The Beatles, but I was asked to turn the music down on numerous occasions.
For a few summers, one of my chores was to cut the grass. It was my favourite chore because it meant being active outside and listening to The Beatles on my Walkman. My parents still live in the same house, about six or seven kilometers (close to four miles) ‘out of town’. The yard is a decent size, and it would take me well over an hour to cut the grass. I would use the riding mower for most of the lawn, and then use the push mower to trim under the trees and around the property line. I I listened to the Beatles during those grass cuttings, often the ‘White Album’. It was my routine. The first side accompanied me through the riding mower drive, and the second side lined up nicely with the push mower trimming. My dad would fire up the push mower and then hand it off to me. I would press play on Side 2, “Birthday” would commence, and it would be off to the races underneath the first of many evergreen trees. The timing worked out that “Cry Baby Cry” would usually play as I was finishing up, trimming around the solitary, stately willow tree.
My mom took offense to my enjoyment of cutting the grass. She wondered why I grumbled about my ‘inside’ chores but never complained about cutting the grass. (“Dusting is fun!” said no one, ever). What she didn’t know was that, for me, cutting the grass was an almost spiritual experience. Being outside, active, and absorbing the music of The Beatles was a delicious balance of work and pleasure. (Plus, I was convinced that my time on the riding mower was serving as preparation to drive a car. This was several years before I got my licence, and I felt pretty darn cool driving that mower around the yard.)
Fast forward to the present, and The Beatles still have a hold on me. They always will. They were my first true musical love, and I’ll never get over them. Why would I want to?
And so, in the midst of a persistent sonofabitch bout of panic attacks, I turn to music for relief and inspiration. And, as in many other times in my life (the good and challenging alike), The Beatles are in heavy rotation.
I could spend hours deciding which songs to include in this post, but instead I’ll just go with the first three that come to mind.
For the harmonies:
For the killer bass line and guitar riff, classic Lennon-McCartney vocals, and overall energy:
And this one for every single aspect of it, including the jazzy instrumental reprise beginning at 2:24. This song is a real treat for me because, in my mind, this is one of a few Beatles ‘anomalies’ (along with “Happiness is a Warm Gun” and “Yer Blues”). It’s just so unlike most other Beatles songs. It feels like catching a glimpse into an alternate universe, where The Beatles married jazz and early metal.