Someday there will be people roaming the Earth and trolling Twitter who will not know the lyrics to every Beatles song ever recorded. They won’t have seen footage of the Fab Four landing at JFK Airport, memorized their birthdays, played “Strawberry Fields Forever” backwards on a turntable, or hated Yoko with an intensity usually reserved for psychotic dictators (until they realized Yoko’s kind of cool). These people won’t recognize the names of the individual Beatles — not even Paul McCartney!
That day has arrived.
I’m referring to the “news” last week that, after Kanye West released his single, “Only One,” featuring Sir Paul, the following sorts of tweets appeared: “I don’t know who Paul McCartney is, but Kanye is going to give this man a career w/ this new song!!” and “Who is this Paul McCartney??! He boutta blow up thanks to Kanye!!!”
Sure, most of these tweets were probably meant as a joke, much like the “Paul is Dead” hoax of yesteryear. Nonetheless, plenty of people took to social media with a vengeance, with tweets in response like, “If you don’t know who #PaulMcCartney is, you don’t deserve your ears” and “Losing hope in humanity by the minute.”
In a sense, it doesn’t really matter whether the first tweets were serious or not. What really matters is that we were all given a glimpse into a world where the Beatles might no longer be relevant. And, if the Beatles can’t remain forever relevant, what hope is there for the rest of us?
This fear, a fear so consuming to baby boomers in particular, was captured in the movie “Birdman,” which earned more 2015 Golden Globe nominations (seven) than any other film. It’s about an actor’s bid for artistic significance after having and losing pop culture glory playing the character Birdman in a superhero film franchise.
The actor, Riggan Thomson (Michael Keaton), who is staging a production of Raymond Carver’s “What We Talk About When We Talk About Love” on Broadway, tells his daughter Sam (Emma Stone), “This is my chance to do some work that actually means something.”
Well, Sam responds with a verbal thrashing that makes the gap in “generation gap” feel more like a chasm. With her eyes bugging out and spit nearly spraying from her mouth, she eviscerates her father with, “You’re doing this because you’re scared to death, like the rest of us, that you don’t matter. And, you know what? You’re right. You don’t. It’s not important, okay? You’re not important. Get used to it!”
Hold the popcorn and pass the defibrillator because that was a heart-stopper of a speech.
Maybe it’s also exactly what boomers need to hear.
It’s not just that we will never leave center stage unless we’re yanked off it the way “Sandman” would use the hook on bad acts at the Apollo Theater. We also desperately want younger generations to feel as passionately as we do about the cultural icons that we’ve loved and idolized since childhood, like the Beatles. Maybe, in part, it’s because we’re trying to achieve relevancy by proxy.
I’m certainly guilty of “imposing” the Beatles on younger people. I used to taunt a co-worker with, “Were you even alive when the Beatles were on ‘The Ed Sullivan Show’?” Boom!
And, I once took my son Daniel to a Paul McCartney concert at the old Boston Garden when the poor kid had a fever of 101. In my defense, how was I to know then that Paul would keep touring forever and there’d be ample opportunity for Daniel to see him another time, when his temperature was 98.6?
I’ve even managed to work the Beatles into a class I teach on the reasons why people create. But, much like the Twitterers who questioned who McCartney is, some of my students are apparently in the dark. At least two of them have referred to my first great love as “Paul McCarthy.”
So much for seeking eternal relevance.
Meta Wagner teaches creative writing at Emerson College and is working on a book on creativity. Follow her on Twitter @creative_maven.