Believing in yesterday, ex-Beatles coming together


Can it be? Are the Beatles really getting back together again?

It's understandable if some longtime fans are a little skeptical. After 24 years of speculation, gossip, prayers and pipe-dreams, the news that a Beatles reunion is in the works is bound to seem too good to be true.

But true it seems to be. A story in the New Yorker reported this week that the three surviving Beatles -- Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr -- will enter the studio next month to record new material for release in 1995. No official announcement was made -- the New Yorker's got its story from unnamed sources at the Beatles' record company, EMI -- but executives speaking on the record declined to deny the story.

In fact, Paul McCartney -- making a surprise appearance at the annual Rock and Roll Hall of Fame dinner Wednesday to induct the late John Lennon for his solo work -- reportedly confirmed the reunion rumors. Meanwhile Sid Bernstein, who has been trying to book a Beatles reunion concert for two decades now, has offered the three $25 million to play at the Woodstock 25th Anniversary show in August.

Is it Beatlemania yet?

No doubt we'll be hearing more about the reformed Fab Four (or do we call them the Terrific Trio now?) as the year progresses. But at the risk of raining on this parade before it even gets under way, I'd like to suggest that no matter what happens with McCartney, Harrison and Starr in the studio, there's no way these three will ever be the Beatles again -- and not just because Lennon won't be there.

A musical group, after all, is more than a collection of singers and instrumentalists; it's a thing unto itself, an organic entity with its own identity, chemistry and personality. What made the Beatles special wasn't just the way their voices harmonized, or their instruments blended; it had to do with the way the four of them created, interacted, thought and felt at that particular moment and in that specific environment.

No one disputes that what makes the Beatles' canon endure is the songwriting. From the exuberant simplicity of "I Saw Her Standing There" to the symphonic ambition of "A Day in the Life," the band's best material has long since taken on the burnished familiarity of pop standards, melodies known to everybody, everywhere.

But what made the Beatles themselves matter went beyond the music. A good song may be enough to grab an audience, but it takes more than that to galvanize an entire generation; it takes a certain timeliness, the ability to make your music resonate with a larger cultural consciousness. So "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band" -- which many critics now consider inferior to "Rubber Soul" and "Abbey Road" -- grabbed the world by its lapels back in '67 not because the songs were killer, but because the album's sense of spectacle and ambition magically captured the world-remaking optimism of the time. It may not have been the best music made that year, but it was certainly the most appropriate.

That was then, and this is now. When the Beatles appeared on the Ed Sullivan show in '64, they sounded like the future to all those screaming kids. Thirty years later, those kids have children of their own, and for them the Beatles are at most part of the past.

More to the point, the people McCartney, Harrison and Starr have become over the last quarter century are far removed from the Paul, George and Ringo we remember. Sure, they sound pretty much the same, and anyone who has heard their solo renditions of Beatle tunes in recent years no doubt felt at least a little of the old magic in those familiar refrains.

But, as the New Yorker reports, when the Fabs enter the studio ZTC next month, "they will be recording new compositions, not remakes of old Beatles songs." Obviously, trying to re-create the old magic is part of the appeal. Still, anyone who has paid much attention to McCartney and Harrison's writing over the years will have a hard time feeling the kind of enthusiasm for this new material that Beatles fans felt in the '60s.

Face it: What made the Beatles the Beatles had as much to do with the era they arrived in as with who was actually in the band. And while it's possible to put the people back together again, it's ridiculous to assume that doing so will somehow turn back the clock and make it Beatle Time again.

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