Thursday, December 2, 2021


Dear Harry,

I wonder what you thought of the Beatles. Their music was certainly a global phenomenon when you were, what, middle-aged? You must at least have known about them.

That's an odd question, I know, but it occurred to me as Ellie and I watched the three episodes of the new Peter Jackson  documentary based on footage from their last sessions as a band and their now legendary rooftop concert, the last time they were to play publicly together. 

Here's the thing that struck me as I thought about this: to my knowledge, you never took much of an interest in music of any kind--unless is was your various church choirs and the hymns and psalms we used to sing at Parish Mass and Evensong. Oh, we did have a big old upright Victrola at the Rectory--it was in the drawing room, as I recall--but did we have records? What kind were they? The only one I remember was a 78 rpm with on one side "The Laughing Cowboy" and on the other (shamefully) "The Laughing N[word]." Both sides were nothing but raucous laughter. But music? Classical? Dance music? I don't recall. Nor, given the time, do I remember listening to Glen Miller, who must have been a frequent presence on the radio in those days.

As a consequence, perhaps, I don't need music in my life as Ellie does. I have not followed popular music since the 1960s, when I was taken by bands like the Beatles and Surrealistic Pillow. I was teaching at that grammar school in Halifax, Nova Scotia, when the Beatles first came to America. The week before their Ed Sullivan show appearance, one of the boys brought me a picture of the lads from Liverpool and I was quite literally shocked by their mop tops and their Teddy Boy clothes. But then I did tune in to the Sullivan show and I was immediately enchanted--by their presence as well as by their music. Along with my "What is the world coming to?" reaction, I was captivated. 

And have remained so ever since. They were a grand team, the four of them, and the songs they produced sound as good today as they did back then. To watch "Get Back"--the title of Jackson's series--was to witness genius at work. Over the course of several days of bickering, joking, smoking, mutual insults and cheerful, often witty self-parody, of misdirections, false starts and overworking, of serious practice and sudden, silly riffs, they put together a masterful last collection of songs. All their efforts came together in that rooftop concert, when all the energy and work of the past couple of weeks seemed to coalesce into a fiercely coordinated, now confidently rocking series of songs that woke the neighborhood and enlivened it with music.

It was a magical performance, Harry. Would you have loved it, as I did? I hope so, even though you were never much one for music. I think you'd have responded to the sheer genius of it, the sheer abundance of life and the fun of acting out. 

With love from your otherwise unmusical son, Peter

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