Tuesday, March 26, 2013

As a fan of both the Beatles and Japan, I have to post my reactions to 'The day my mum looked after the Beatles' - The Japan Times

The Beatles came to Japan two years before I was born, and about forty years before I made it over here.  If you search Youtube, you can find one of their "lives" (to use the Japanese-English for music performances) in full color, in its entirety.  They run through a lot of very familiar hits in about thirty minutes, but it's slick, polished and charming.  Maybe a bit rote.  These guys had played thousands of shows by then and knew exactly what to do and when to get the maximum audience reaction.  It's quite the video document and a must-see for Beatles fans, as close as we'll ever come to seeing the Fabs in concert.

The Japan Times story, 'The day my mum looked after the Beatles' - The Japan Times, and the blog post that inspired it (linked at the end of the story) both make an equally strong impression of what it must have been like to meet them off-stage, through the eyes of a young JAL flight attendant.  The mental image of near-sighted John Lennon practically clinging to the cabin wall to find his way to the toilet sticks with me, as do Ringo Starr's curt food orders (he was apparently in a bad mood).  I also admire how our protagonist, one Satoko Kawasaki (now Condon) cheerfully admits she "lobbied" for the job.  Who can blame her?

While Mrs. Condon's recollections form an adorably personal and personable account of falling in love with Lennon and posting a love letter to Jane Asher for Paul McCartney, the article puts the Beatles' visit to Japan into historical context-- while the fans screamed and cried the way they tended to all across the globe, traditionalist elements in the government and the media were less than enthused about such antics or having the mop tops playing their decadent pop music in the hallowed Budokan.

We sometimes forget in the years since-- because the Beatles eventually won history, became part of the Establishment narrative and now draw youthful derision from rebellious contrarians who get sick of hearing how great the Beatles were and remain-- there was a time when rock music presented a real challenge to the people in charge.  When Ken Kesey saw them play the Cow Palace in San Francisco, he came away disappointed the Beatles could manipulate crowds but failed to grasp the revolutionary power they'd inadvertently generated.  Hunter S. Thompson would later wax philosophically about how you could almost see where the wave broke and washed back, the great societal sea-change unfulfilled.  He'd also sneer at Lennon's late-blooming political activism.  Now it's all ancient history, as old as the Declaration of Independence or the Magna Carta.

But at one point, the Beatles were dangerous.

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