Few artists are considered to be true to the age they belong to. And more often than not, they are the great ones. Here and there you will find artists living out of time, like a Yeats or a Monet, but by all general accounts, it could be concluded that the preoccupations of artists reflect the mood of the age they are a part of. The Beatles is a fine example of such a group of artists. On this day in 1963, The Beatles released their first album Please Please Me, and nobody could have guessed then the kind of influence they were going to exert in Western popular culture in the decades to follow.
The 1960s was a decade of rebellion, of counterculture, of subversion, of a disillusionment with Western ideals of materialism and what was increasingly evident at the time, of growing consumerism. Twenty years had passed since the end of the Second World War, and Europe had still not come to terms with the ravages it had withstood during the war. Germany had split up and age-old imperialist powers like Britain and France were losing their dominion in far-reaching territories. It was a century of failures, of missteps, of bungled inadequacies and thwarted hopes. It was the age of despair, and people did not find themselves reveling at the thought of a future which looked all too bleak to them.
What was needed to rejuvenate a society down in the dumps? Another war? Well, that would only disintegrate it further, and Vietnam War could be said to have played a major part in doing so, but then away from the politicians, the statesmen, the bureaucrats and the generals of war, there were people and artists whose sole purpose was to try and recover the lost meaning of life, to inject some new-found spirit into the uncouth monster that Western Civilization had become. This is the time when the Beatles rose to the task and became emblematic of the aspirations of the last great bastion of counterculture, the Hippie Movement.
One need not remind how essentially their music touches the soul. It is not the crass cacophony of screeching voices, or fundamentally dim-witted arguments thrown at you in the name of rebellion, but their music is full of a genuine endeavour to touch, to create, to make its listeners feel the power of words, the power of, what Joseph Conrad very elegantly once called, “the supreme art of all”. It would be a futile attempt to mention a few of their songs here, but who, even if they are from another continent and another time, have not been moved by the simple lyricism of Hey Jude or the sheer poignancy of Yesterday? Your favourites might differ from mine, but even if they do, the visage of the Beatles nonetheless pervades our sense of music, and in quite a remarkable way too.
It is a testament to their art that more than fifty years after they were formed, their music continues to set the benchmark for musicians from all over the world. For which young musician has not performed the cover of their songs at least once in his life? The Beatles did not just create music in its most divine form, but they gave a sense of hope back to the people, they were one of the founding creators of a culture of music that lives on and will continue to do so, an impression that not everything is wrong with this world, that even if the twentieth century might be a bundle of the most spectacular failures, there is still something that it gave to the world which will be celebrated long after it is over.
Now it is time for me to put on my earphones, lie back on my chair, and enjoy a Sunday evening with the Beatles. Are you going to do the same?