The first time I remember noticing the Beatles in a substantial way was in 1990. I was sixteen, in the car with my step-dad Paul. My mother was fast-approaching the losing side of a battle against breast cancer, and on one of many two-hour drives from the Oregon coast mountains to a hospital in Portland, Paul slid a cassette tape into the deck. It turned out to be Abbey Road, and my imagination blasted off on a musical trip as the music and lyrics filled the car, evergreen forests rolling by on both sides, the foothills of the coast range eventually falling behind as we descended into the Willamette Valley.
I was aware of the Beatles at that point, and I suppose technically I must have heard them prior to this memory, but oddly enough – considering my hippie upbringing – I hadn’t actually experienced them yet. My mom’s record collection had consisted mostly of folk, jazz, and softer rock such as Fleetwood Mac.
Later, I would discover the song “Imagine” by John Lennon, and recall hearing those phenomenal lyrics as a child. And after high school I’d attend a gathering of the Rainbow Family in Mt. Shasta, California, where “Give Peace A Chance” was sung in unison by hundreds of people, the voices floating upward into the summer sky in a harmonic spiral.
With the passing of my mother, my late teens were an intensely emotional time. I went to live with my paternal father in Portland, and suddenly the Beatles were everywhere. Hipsters wore Beatles t-shirts, department stores played dorky instrumental versions of Beatles songs.
I began to learn guitar from my dad, who had a Beatles songbook and showed me some chords. It wasn’t long before I was playing “Let It Be” and “The Fool on the Hill”, my hand moving awkwardly over the steel strings of his old beater acoustic. My dad played their albums while he shaved for work. And when they came on the radio, his hand reached out and turned the volume dial. I began watching Saturday Night Live, and there was Paul McCartney in a skit with Chris Farley.
And, while walking an hour home from a girlfriend’s house in the middle of an August night, I took my first unforgettable journey into The White Album on my headphones, the timelessness of the Beatles’ prolific creative streak propelling me onward through a warm and empty world, among moon-shadows and the perfume of sleeping summer flowers.