A couple of weeks ago Judith and I were watching television, and a commercial appeared for a new DVD video available, “Concert for George,” a performance in England held last year on the first anniversary of the death of George Harrison, a member of the famous Beatles rock group from the 1960s. On the commercial, fragments of several well-known Beatles songs brought back memories from those days, and on impulse, we phoned the number on the screen and ordered our copy. (It isn’t often that we succumb to such offers. The previous time we did, the operator insisted that we had to subscribe to a series to get the “special offer.” We declined.)
When the Beatles first came to the
Within a few years, however, I became aware that something was happening in the cultural milieu, something that resonated in me. First it was Simon and Garfunkle, and Peter, Paul and Mary, and then all the folk singers who protested the lack of feeling, the lack of caring for others that our society seemed to embody. The House Un-American Activities Committee, our entrance into the Vietnam War, and official resistance to civil rights demonstrations all served to arouse my awareness of a growing movement mostly among the young, and music was their voice. The Beatles’ music didn’t spearhead the counterculture, but their sentiments, for all their youth, echoed what was becoming to me a major conflict with mainstream values.
It was a romantic time, just as were the early forties, when young people were going off to fight, and the music became sentimental and poignant. This time the enemy was not so easily identified—it seemed, somehow, to be us.
In the thirty years since all that, the world has changed again. Retrospectives and reunion concerts have dotted the musical landscape. Even Simon and Garfunkle have appeared together several times. After another Beatle, John Lennon, was killed a few years ago, a flurry of concerts and reissued albums reminded us of the time when young people were pointing out to us how far we had drifted from the idealism of the War Years. They were the children of the people who had fought to save the world, and they were saying to their parents, “This isn‘t the way you said it would be!”
Nostalgia isn’t planned. It happens to us when our defenses are down, when we pick up an old book and a photograph falls out—that face we loved so much. It happens when we catch an old melody wafting out of a window, the song we sang together around a campfire. It happens when a scent triggers memories, and perhaps a foolish tear.
“Concert for George” sparked that kind of nostalgia. Manufactured? Yes, it probably was, deliberately and skillfully. I hadn’t even remembered that George Harrison had died (although the fall of 2001 was a distracting time). The songs in the commercial that caught my attention had little to do with the Beatles, in my mind. They simply reminded me of “the old days,” and I wanted to hear them again. So when the album arrived in the mail, I browsed through it, skipping to the familiar songs, and then going off to do other things.
That evening, Judith and I sat and listened and
watched the whole concert. The songs we remembered were there, of course, or
some of them anyway. But the thirty-year-old photographs of George, projected
onto a huge screen and dominating the Royal Albert Hall in
His son was there on the stage with all the
fifty-year-old musicians, playing and singing and looking startlingly like the
photograph of his father towering over his head. George’s widow was there,
too. It was not a memorial service but a celebration, and those of us who
remembered his music were caught up in the nostalgia, not just for a man but
for a time when it seemed that the world might get better.
Donald Skiff, December 28, 2003