When our fearless leader suggested doing a piece on the Summer of Love, I was of two minds on the subject. On one hand, there are few people who love the Beatles, Byrds, Beach Boys and Hollies more than I do, but on the other hand, the skeptic in me wondered what those bands mean, if they mean anything, to the tattooed, nipple-pierced, emo-loving whippersnappers making music today. After all, the last big song that bore any resemblance to the Beatles was what, “Black Hole Sun”?
So I put my little theory to the test: I contacted a handful of publicists – particularly the ones that represent newer talent – to see if their clients had anything they’d like to say about the Summer of Love and what it means to them. One rep was able to fetch a single quote (Richie James Follin, frontman of garage rockers the Willowz), while another conceded, “It is a lost cause on our end… no one got back to us on that or seemed interested. Sorry!” The response from the second rep was of particular interest, because past and present clients include My Chemical Romance, Plain White T’s, Red Jumpsuit Apparatus, +44, Velvet Revolver, Trapt, Hilary Duff, Drowning Pool, and Rooney.
Damn it. I was right. The current wave of bands couldn’t care less about the Summer of Love or anyone associated with it. And while that doesn’t surprise me at all, those bands would be wise to look into why we’re still talking about 40-year-old music in an age of instant obsolescence.
The thing about the Summer of Love is that, while it completely rewrote the rules for making music, it also permanently trapped several of its artists in time forevermore. It’s natural that Jefferson Airplane’s influence would only stretch so far, but I never thought there would be a day when people ran out of use for the Beatles. Yes, Paul McCartney’s new album just debuted at #3, but does anyone know a radio station that’s playing the album? Now you know why he had to hook up with iPod to get any real exposure. Meanwhile, anyone who made a career out of emulating the Beatles – Matthew Sweet, Tears for Fears, Neil Finn, and former Beatlemania cast member Marshall Crenshaw – is now playing in the minor leagues, if they have a contract at all.
The marginalization of the Beatles, however, is not the most intriguing part. Is the real reason the kids today don’t care about the music from the Summer of Love because it’s too old, or because it’s too…happy? Look at the bands at the top of Billboard’s rock charts. Linkin Park. Papa Roach. Korn. Nine Inch Nails. Finger Eleven (swear to God, they used to be called Rainbow Butt Monkeys). Breaking Benjamin. The Used. Are any of these bands synonymous with the word ‘happy’? Cynical, dark, mean, aggressive, self-loathing, nasty or sarcastic, maybe. Happy, not so much. Forget which big song was the last Beatlesque one; what was the last truly big happy single, “Hey Ya”?
“Hey Ya.” Curious.
As you can see by that list of bands above, music has never been as self-absorbed as it is now – I’m white, male, and middle class, but I’m so unhappy, no one understands me, blah blah freaking blah – and, in a coincidence that should surprise no one, record sales are in a freefall. Funny how no one in the industry has made a connection between the two by now. “We’re issuing all of these records by selfish white kids with issues, yet no one is buying them. Don’t people want to hear about the problems of selfish white kids with issues?”
Now think about “Hey Ya” for a second. Everyone loved that song. Why did everyone love that song? Because it was made for everyone to love. Andre Benjamin knew that the music you make should always be bigger than the person making it. That is why “Hey Ya,” much like the music from the Summer of Love, is going to live forever, while Papa Roach and Artists Formerly Known as the Rainbow Butt Monkeys will be little more than a footnote to a seldom-searched Wikipedia entry.
None of this is to say that the bands of today are required to like the music of 1967. They should, however, respect the fact that those bands are still discussed today because they wanted to do things that no one else had ever done, and without sounding spiritual, they gave themselves over to something bigger in order to do it. The end result just happened to be one of the most pivotal moments in music history. How about that, the Beatles were right after all: in the end, the love you take is indeed equal to the love you make. Food for thought, kids.
Note: It has come to my attention that renowned music geek Chuck Klosterman has written a piece about "Hey Ya" that shares many attributes to the opinions expressed above. While I have read his book "Sex, Drugs and Cocoa Puffs," which contains a great piece about the Billy Joel song "Laura," I have not read his "Hey Ya" essay, though I would venture to guess that whatever he said about the subject, like most of his work, is a hell of a read.