Across the Universe came out a couple weeks ago (to mixed but generally unimpressive reviews--which is to say I saw three reviews and two weren't good but the other one was more forgiving). I did not see it, nor do I have any intention of seeing it, despite being a fan of the Beatles' music. Perhaps I have no such intention because I am a fan of their music.
However, it did give me reason to ruminate on how I came to know the Fab Four.
[Yes, yes, Doug. That's what your readers are clamoring to know!]
I don't have much in the way of specific recollection regarding first hearing a Beatles' song, but being born the year after Sgt. Pepper's came out, and growing up in the '70s, I'm reasonably certain I must have heard something on the radio while Mom drove around (although I remember more hearing the likes of the Carpenters). Dad thought them dirty hippies, so there was no chance of hearing them in the house.
So we'll jump to 7th grade, where my earliest specific memory regarding them takes place.
At the time my mother had re-married a younger man and relocated us to southern Orange County (which at the time wasn't as upscale as recent reality TV would have one think, although it was not shabby). The middle school I attended devoted one period to four different areas; a quarter of the year was spent in home ec (it was acceptable at the time to call it that), a quarter of the year in wood shop, a quarter of the year in something else I don't remember, and a quarter of the year in music appreciation. I imagine we did some cooking in the first one. I made a pathetic little letter "D" in the second one. As noted, I do not recall any specifics about the third. But in the fourth class we were introduced to John, Paul, George, and Ringo.
It was 1980, and probably before John was killed (or else we would have focused on that, I'm sure). The teacher was a man, probably in his 30s, so it was likely he grew up with them. Now, remember that the time he had us was only a quarter of the school year, so probably around five or six weeks tops. And we spent at least half of that time on just the Beatles. I am not kidding.
We breezed through Mozart and Beethoven and the like. Okay, I figure we must have covered them, but I don't remember exactly what we did before the Beatles. That was what the teacher wanted to impart to us, and obviously in that endeavor he was successful, at least with me.
When I say we covered the Beatles, I don't mean we merely listened to their records. We did that, sure, but we also learned the mythology of the lads from Liverpool. We played the records backwards…
When I say we covered the Beatles, I don't mean we merely listened to their records. We did that, sure, but we also learned the mythology of the lads from Liverpool. We learned the clues that supposedly indicated that Paul had died and been replaced with a double. We played the records backwards to hear the hidden messages in support of that theory.
I am serious. The teacher put the stylus on a record and used his hand to rotate "Strawberry Fields Forever" in the direction counter to the way it would normally go. And this was 1980, so it's not like the turntable was built to do that.
(For the record, if one is so inclined, one can make a portion where when played backwards it sounds like John says "I buried Paul.")
Paul's out of step on the Abbey Road album cover. "I Am the Walrus" is supposedly about him, with the walrus representing death. I won't go on.
In retrospect, I am kind of amazed he was able to get away with this. We were only 12, after all. Impressionable. I can only imagine the PTA would have balked at it had they known.
I'm not suggesting I was transformed into a Beatles fan after that. That wouldn't really occur for years after that. After all, I was only 12, and didn't really know what I was going to like.
The thing about that: Of all I remember learning in middle school (and I assume I learned at least a few things), that is what made the biggest impression. I'm not saying it shaped me, per se, but 27 years later I still recall that without having to look it up. It's not like it really helps me in my daily life. No one calls upon me to know this.
(Granted, most of what I learned in school—at any level—is not what I am generally called upon to know on a daily basis.)
To a great extent, I must declare that to be some of the most effective teaching I ever got. One can only wonder how much of physics or trigonometry I might recall if those teachers played records backwards.