I was introduced to The Beatles at a very young age — and reintroduced to The Beatles as a young adult, jumping back into their music after works like “Across the Universe” came out. The Beatles are everywhere, a part of the world psyche as much as anything can be — I even distinctly remember passing “Strawberry Fields 4 Ever” scrawled in red marker in a stairwell at my college, smiling to myself each time I climbed past it on my way to a poetry workshop. I should have taken a picture of it.
Obviously, I will never be the last to talk about the Beatles’ lasting influence on music — and I doubt I have anything insightful or new to contribute to this dialogue . . . but suffice it to say that, on a personal level and to millions of other people, some things truly are timeless.
In my suburban elementary school in the early 1990s, I had a truly outstanding music teacher — Mr. Louis Cate — who introduced us to all sorts of classic music. Going to music class was the highlight of my day. At the end of a long, winding hallway, we played bells, sang loudly and off-key, danced around to funny songs Mr. Cate wrote about Thanksgiving turkeys and learned Beatles tunes like “Hard Day’s Night,” “Ticket to Ride,” “Can’t Buy Me Love” and “Help!”
A few times a year (twice?) we put on recitals for our friends, parents and neighbors. I started taking piano lessons after Mr. Cate’s encouragement, and my parents would help me lug that giant keyboard to school so I could camp out on the floor with all the other fifth graders. We all looked forward to these shows with great anticipation — even when I was consistently rejected from the on-stage chorus (hey, it’s okay — the man had an ear. And I’ve never had any vocal talent.) I’d play along to “Ticket to Ride,” jubilant, and feel just as proud as he seemed after it was all over.
But the best part about my entire elementary experience came later — as I grew up, listening to the radio or TV or, now, my iPod as I journeyed through normal, everyday activities. The music finds me, settling onto my skin out of the clear blue sky. It’s this rediscovery of all the music Mr. Cate taught us that was his true gift to us — the ability for us to someday be sitting in a cafe, drinking a cup of coffee, when “Yesterday” pops up on the radio. And remembering.
Would I have come to love The Beatles on my own? Probably. My boyfriend is a huge fan, and often gets me listening to “lesser known” but still classic songs. His favorite is “Norwegian Wood.” (Yeah, I’d never heard of it, either.) And “Across the Universe” was, to me, incredible — inventive, powerful.
But learning these songs as a child — and hearing them now, singing them to myself at my desk at the paper, remembering my curls falling in my eyes as I learned to play the bells in that long, gray room — will stay with me forever. I’ll always remember those words.