I remember the first die-hard Beatles fan I ever met. Her name was Merisa. She was a really sweet girl who I met at a summer camp at BYU. We met again later when I attended BYU after high school. Merisa was a talented vocalist and she loved music. She would send me emails of song lyrics. I thought they were poems until she sent me a line I recognized from a song. “They paved paradise and put in a parking lot.” A lot of these songs were Beatles songs and she talked a lot about how much she loved them.
It was an odd thing for me; the Beatles were a band long before my time. I was into the current bands of the time. Smashing Pumpkins, The Cranberries, Nirvana, Pearl Jam and U2 were the bands I knew and loved. In fact everyone around me loved those bands too. To me Merisa was this strange anomaly, a woman out of time, like a person at a J.K. Rawlings book signing raving about how great Chaucer is.
I asked Merisa why she was such a fan of the Beatles. She told me that her parents played them all the time and they would sing along as a family. She had a very musical family. My Mother says she loved the Beatles when she was a young girl. Despite that I didn’t grow up listening to the Beatles as a child. It really didn’t bother me; I didn’t know that I was missing out on anything at the time.
There was only one time I can remember feeling like I was missing out on the Beatles experience growing up. It was in high school, me and my friends were driving off campus for lunch. We’d all piled into Natalie’s boat of a beater car, Doug, Natalie, Jodie, myself and others. The song Yellow Submarine came on the radio and instantly everyone in the car cheered. Everyone in the car sang along with the song at the top of their lungs and swayed back and forth in time to the music. They were all so happy, except for me. I didn’t know the words; in fact this was the first time I’d ever heard the song before. As a high school student I was amply skilled in fitting in, I swayed with the crowd in the back seat and mouthed words but I felt left out
With that experience forgotten I didn’t think of the Beatles again until I met Merisa. We became good friends. She had this playful innocence about her that I really liked. She wrote me on my mission but I lost touch with her towards the end of my time away. I didn’t think about Merisa or the Beatles until one profound experience.
When I got back from my mission I was busy trying to figure out what I wanted to do with my life. As I was exploring the opportunities available on campus I found a ‘Study Abroad’ offer. It was a program that sent college students to foreign countries for a certain period of time to study learning the culture and the language of the place. At least two of my siblings had done study abroad in Europe and enjoyed it so I was interested. BYU had just expanded their program to include a program that took place in Saint Petersburg, Russia. I applied to get into the program, I only had a semester of Russian language at the University but I told them that I had taken three years of Russian in high school. They accepted me despite the fact that I wasn’t qualified for the program, probably because the program was new and they had open seats available.
Academically I was pretty lost on that whole trip, but I loved what I saw of Russia. The language classes were far too advanced for me and I pretty much failed the academic part of the program. What I got out of the trip was mainly the museums and the cultural sights of Russia. The only thing that I remember from the class part of the program was when they had a history teacher from the local university come to teach us.
He gave us a one day crash course on Russia’s history, hitting all the highlights. The fact that he taught us in English isn’t the only reason that I remember his lesson so well. Russia’s history is fascinating and I would encourage anyone to look into it. The thing I remember most fondly about the lesson was his insight into modern Russian events. I’ll never forget when we asked him about the fall of communism. He told us the moment he personally realized that communism wouldn’t work was the day he first heard the Beatles.
Immediately I was in disbelief. How does someone who was indoctrinated since birth listen to a couple guys beat on instruments for a few minutes then suddenly realize that his entire system of government is flawed? Was this guy nuts? He went on to explain that according to Russian communism, Western capitalistic society was the enemy. They believed that capitalism was a dead, the western world still clinging to the past, and that communism was the inevitable destiny of the human race. When he heard the Beatles he couldn’t believe that something so creative and wonderful could have come out of a society that was supposedly so evil.
That was the highest and most intellectualized praise I had ever heard given to the Beatles. That very day I went out to the marketplace on the outskirts of St. Petersburg and bought my first collection of Beatles music. I got to the apartment of the family I was being boarded at and I sat and listened to the music. It was wonderful. This music was so playful, so innocent and so emotional. I was impressed. It reminded of Merisa, a person who was clearly shaped by the music she loved.
Since then I profess my love for the Beatles whenever they come up. Years later I still love to hear their songs and I play Beatles songs for my son and daughter whenever I get the chance. A little while ago I went to my friend Joe’s Beatles Rock Band party and I was reminded of my experience with the Beatles. As I sat with a crowd of friends, we laughed and cheered, singing “Yellow Submarine” together. We were all so happy. There is something about these songs that speak not just to the generation that first listened to them but to everyone. Plus, this time I knew the words.