The Oblivion of Obsession: a Love Letter to the Beatles
The two most intense musical obsessions I’ve experienced so far in my life have been The Beatles and Bright Eyes.
It took years of angsty fumbling to write my Sort-of love letter to Bright Eyes, an attempt to convey a slither of the adoration I’ve felt (and still feel) for that band.
But The Beatles came first. I’ve loved them for about 14 years now. Despite countless efforts, I’ve never come close to laying out my associated emotions like butterflies in a display case. The Beatles are hard to write about.
What’s left to say? Whenever I sketched out my thoughts they seemed so mundane compared to the whirlwind of glitter I’d tried to translate. The Beatles are not exactly niche and I lack the technical grasp of how music works to be precise.
As a child, I remember crying at the sight of butterflies in a natural history museum with pins through their bodies. They killed them, I sobbed. My brother said: without the pins, their wings close up and fade. It’s to preserve them. While I have no idea if that’s true (probably not), it has a lot in common with my feelings about The Beatles. I’ve always feared that trying to lay those feelings out in neat rows would obliterate them.
In pinning up a few of the reasons why I love The Beatles, I hope to preserve those feelings. At the very least, I hope they’ll look pretty.
The thing that struck me about The Beatles when I first discovered their music was the sense that they, unlike most adults, lived in a world where anything was possible.
I was nine years old and I couldn’t get enough of them. The more I explored their work, the more I became entranced by the way The Beatles seemed to rip chunks out of the walls around them, remodelling reality like plasticine, reshaping the world with a nonchalant, defiant curiosity.
And that’s one of the best words to describe The Beatles; curious. These four men seemed limitless, expansive, infinite. I viewed them as some kind of alien gods. The Beatles seemed more interested in the world than anyone I’d ever encountered before.
Every album, every song, even every word or note, seemed to pick away at the edges of reality in a bid to lift up the carpet and reveal something more real hidden beneath layers of convention.
I have never admired any quality in another person more than I admired The Beatles’ rabid curiosity and willingness to experiment. I wanted to climb inside their music and roll around. At my most obsessed, I experienced something akin to synesthesia; the music did weird things to my senses, jumbling them together, and sparking emotions I could only process through somatization.
No one will ever be that famous again
Mysterious, yet unabashedly themselves, I perceived The Beatles as alive in a way the people around me weren’t. When I couldn’t understand them, the confusion was fun. It wasn’t a sign I was too stupid to understand something.
The Beatles will mock you, smirk at you, and poke you in the ribs, but they’ll never talk down to you. You can’t join them on their collective adventures, but they give you permission to go on your own. Their music screams of possibility. The Beatles tried on and discarded identities at a pace that leaves you breathless if you skip around their discography too fast. I learned from them that performance could be a mode of being. Everything could be material.
A ubiquitous criticism of The Beatles is that they’re “children’s music”. I don’t actually think that’s much of a critique. At first glance, there is an indefinable, childlike quality to their music. For those who love them, that apparent naivety morphs into something far more profound. The Beatles hint at the possibility of never growing up without being infantile or unable to act on the world.
Now that I’m at about the same age The Beatles were when they first reached global stardom, I can appreciate how young they were when they did all that they did. But when I say that, to my nine-year-old self, they seemed like they’d never grown up, I mean that they treated the world like a feast of newness. They explored. They experimented. They asked, why? They had their own, constructive style of subversion. In a way, everything was new to The Beatles.
No one had ever been that famous, at least within the music industry. No one ever will.
My godfather recalls being in a taxi in the 1960s and every radio station the driver changed to was playing the same Beatles song. He recalls that when Abbey Road first came out, he and his roommates sat down to listen to the whole thing from start to finish, three times in a row.
The oblivion of obsession
The Beatles were my first experience with the oblivion that can accompany obsession.
Between the ages of nine and fifteen (when I weaned myself off onto Bright Eyes), there were many times when my near-compulsive need to consume their music as much of the time as possible obliterated the possibility of unrelated emotions. It was a necessary escape, one I imbued with the utmost gravity. Too many times to count, I got into high-school fights — physical as well as verbal and online — with classmates who dared to besmirch the good name of The Beatles. It was the one thing that never failed to provoke boiling rage, even when I otherwise prided myself on reacting to almost any attack with unblinking silence.
I didn’t actually care what other people thought about them. I just cared that they would dare to insult the one thing that reliably made me feel safe and calm and hopeful.
The Beatles showed me it was possible to fixate on something outside of myself until my very sense of self dissolved for a time.
They showed me I could integrate something external into my worldview until it became an overlay on everything I saw.
A warm cocoon, The Beatles made me feel impervious to mundane trivialities, capable of disassociating my way through the days, only sinking back into my body when I got home from school and lay on my bedroom floor as the music washed over me.
Perhaps the newness of being obsessed had something to do with how long that obsession lasted. Only when Bright Eyes crashlanded in my life and broke everything anew did it become apparent that much of what I experienced was inherent to infatuation itself, not just to The Beatles.
They were what I needed at that time. They made me laugh. They gave me permission to cry. They offered my mysteries and puzzles to solve. They introduced me to new worlds to explore. They provided unshakeable touchstones to return to again and again.
They provided, once I first started using the internet, a ready-made community of people to connect with. Part of the appeal of fandom is that it offers a kind of anonymous friendship, connections where who you are is only a small part of the equation, and an escape from loneliness without the horror of anyone really knowing you.
I could tell you so, so, so many stories about how deep my obsession for The Beatles ran. How I woke up at 5 am every Wednesday morning for many months to try dialling the phone number supposedly hidden in the cover of Magical Mystery Tour. How I read every book I could get my hands on about them and memorised the lyrics to hundreds of songs and wore a Beatles t-shirt secretly under my school blouse. You get the idea.
Looking back, The Beatles functioned as a raw material with which to shape and understand myself. When I couldn’t process events in my life and had little means to escape them, The Beatles were a precious outlet.
For that, I’ll always be grateful.
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