YOU SAY YOU WANT A REVOLUTION?
YOU SAY YOU WANT A REVOLUTION?
So…the Beatles are in the news again, for the first time in ages, it seems. And yes, we mean those Beatles. Peter Jackson, the film director best known for his ambitious and critically acclaimed adaptations of J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings trilogy, has just released a three-part docu-series on the band, using footage famously captured during the recording of the Let it Be album. The series is airing exclusively on Disney+ (because of course it is) and has itself been highly praised by critics. Writing at New York magazine, for example, Craig Jenkins begins his encomium thusly:
The story of the Beatles stretches out across a vast range of human experiences, touching on spirituality, politics, friendship, drugs, arrests, marriages, breakups, and even murder. The songs revolutionized pop music, taking inspiration from titans like Chuck Berry and Bob Dylan, and influenced future generations of songwriters and instrumentalists, all the while enduring through musicals, films, television commercials, and archival rereleases. The talent and adventurousness of Paul McCartney, John Lennon, Ringo Starr, and George Harrison are well documented, the subject of a nearly 60-year cottage industry of official and unofficial Beatle ephemera. Every inch of the legacy has been thoroughly considered, every strength and weakness detailed. It is strange, then, that New Zealand–based director Peter Jackson’s The Beatles: Get Back, a three-part, eight-hour Disney+ docuseries culled from the dozens of hours of footage and audio recorded as the band worked on the songs released in the 1970 film and album Let It Be, feels positively chock-full of fresh insights into the inner workings of one of the greatest rock-and-roll bands of all time. We think we know the story of the period in which the lads drafted their final recordings, staged their final live show, and ultimately broke up. We’ve heard that Yoko Ono’s presence in the sessions created static, that McCartney could be a taskmaster when he wanted, that Lennon and McCartney’s egos marginalized Harrison’s contributions. Some of this is true, but the footage tells a slightly different story: one of simple drift setting in between friends and of this last-ditch effort to fight back against the currents pushing the foursome in different directions.
As with everything these days, this new hagiography of the Fab Four has sparked considerable online controversy, with various social media platforms playing host to arguments about the Beatles’ place in history, the merit of their music, the over-the-top obsession with them (as demonstrated above), and various other related topics. Because we follow him on Twitter (which we started doing after he used his podcast to plug The Dictatorship of Woke Capital), we happened to see a tweet by the conservative writer, editor, podcaster, and provocateur Jack Posobiec that (briefly) addressed the controversy: “Don’t know when it became fashionable to hate on the Beatles,” Posobiec started, “Seems like mostly Gen Xers. Figures. Oh well.”
Now, we’ll admit that we have a tough time figuring Posobiec out. He’s a (very) smart guy who is intentionally (very) controversial. He is a senior editor at Human Events, which was Reagan’s favorite conservative publication, yet his conservatism is very confrontational. In any case, this tweet is either brilliant and brilliantly subtle or it’s accidentally spot on. We don’t know which it is, largely because we can’t figure Posobiec out. Either way, though, there’s an important cultural story to be told here.
Telling that story in its entirety is far beyond the scope of this little “news”letter. And so, for our purposes today, we’ll start somewhere in the middle of the tale, in the early-to-mid 1970s, with a young British teenager named William Broad. Like many young men of the era, Broad saw his prospects in life as pretty dim. The post-War progression of British politics toward the economic Left and the still rigid British class system combined to make him a dead-ender. He was working-class in a world where the working-class was being abandoned. He was poorly educated in a world where education was becoming more and more important. Factories were closing and economic and social desperation were taking hold among the post-60s generation, Broad and his contemporaries included.
And then came the punks.
Musically, punk rock was a rejection of the indulgence of the 1960s, the flowery, melodic, experimental, hallucinogen-induced frivolity of the hippies and their ilk. Most especially, punk was a rejection of the Beatles, of the hippie-dippie, peacenik superficiality of Sgt. Pepper, The Magical Mystery Tour, the White Album, and the rest. Punk was a return to “roots” rock-n’-roll, to “rockabilly,” to guitars and drums rather than sitars and tambourines.
Socially and politically, punk rock was also a rejection of the indulgence of the 1960s. Although punk was, by and large, politically leftist, its leftism was a populist, working-class-oriented economic leftism, the type of leftism specifically and indubitably rejected by the 1960s cultural leftists. The punks rejected the hippie-dippie, peacenik superficiality of the anti-war movement, of the university-based artistic pacifistic radicalism, and of the “All You Need is Love” attitude of the early Baby Boomers.
Punk was reactionary, despite its economic leftism. It was nihilistic, not by choice, but explicitly as a reaction to the 1960s’ cultural revolution and its embrace of sex, drugs, and effete aestheticism. The Left’s intentional shift in focus to sexual liberation, general hedonism, and other non-teleological pursuits was a de facto abandonment of the working-class, a rejection, at least in the short-term, of the concerns and needs of “the workers of the world.” Punk was the nearly inevitable response to this purposeful nihilism, the enraged and raging exhaustion with a future (or lack thereof) predetermined by the 60’s generation’s arrogance and indulgence.
With all of that as background, we return to young William Broad, who embraced punk wholeheartedly, becoming one of the most recognizable young fans of the Sex Pistols. Broad became a part of a group that was dubbed “The Bromley Contingent,” fans of the Pistols from Bromley (natch), who followed the band to every show and, because of their bizarre dress and hair, helped define the punk style.
In time, young Mr. Broad – with his aggressive leather-clad style and bleach-blonde rooster hairdo – took the stage name Billy Idol and formed his own band, a band that was highly influential but is now largely forgotten, a band named…Generation-X.
Traditionally, the naming of the demographic cohort known as Generation-X (whom Posobiec noted above) is attributed to Douglas Copeland, whose 1991 novel Generation-X: Tales for an Accelerated Culture popularized the term. Copeland, for his part, said initially that his use of the term was “taken from the name of Billy Idol’s long-defunct punk band of the late 1970s,” but later walked back this admission.
Either way, Copeland’s thoughts on the matter are likely irrelevant. Some of you may have a difficult time accepting what we are about to write, not just because it sounds absurd but also because we’re the ones typing it. Still, the simple fact is this: Billy Idol was either exceptionally insightful and prescient or he is single-handedly responsible for identifying and defining the characteristics of an entire generational cohort and for naming it as well.
Although punk was a Boomer-driven phenomenon (Idol himself was born in 1955, six years BEFORE Barack Obama), its character, characteristics, and music resonated with Gen-X. Indeed, Gen-X’s own great musical genre – grunge – was very punk-esque: a roots-rock-revival focusing on heavy guitar and heavy distortion, and vocals driven by angst and rage, rather than the glitz and glam of the 80s. Gen-Xers embraced punk, embraced grunge, and, of course, raged against the machine.
More to the point, culturally, Generation-X embraced the punk ethic, the reactionary anger and frustration at the excess and frivolity of the 60s Baby Boomers. Gen-Xers raged against the anti-teleological, indulgence of the hippie generation and the messes it left for them to clean. While the Boomers embraced sex, drugs, and the Beatles’ version of rock-‘n-roll, Gen-Xers felt the consequences of no-fault divorce, AIDS, crack cocaine and its gang wars, and social and cultural collapse. Whereas the 60s Boomers promoted nihilism, the ‘80s and ‘90s Gen-Xers lived with the consequences.
Politically and socially, Gen-X’s reaction to the Boomers has played out mostly as disengagement. The “who cares” generation is notorious for its rejection of the New Left’s “values” and of its insistence that “the personal is political.”
Musically, Gen-X’s reaction has often manifested as an intense dislike of the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, and the other giants of the 60s cultural revolution. “Imagine there’s no John Lennon…It’s not easy, but just try…”
So, yeah. Gen-Xers made it “fashionable” to hate on the Beatles. Personally, we don’t mind them. But we know that this is about much more than music.