Speaking of mothers, I once saw a guy in my high school get publicly humiliated because of his mother’s Beatles fandom. It was in a creative writing class, and the teacher, in a last-ditch attempt to connect with students who didn’t give a shit about creative writing or school in general, asked us to share our favorite pop songs with compelling narratives. Everything we mentioned was on heavy rotation on MTV at the time. The Police’s “Every Breath You Take,” Michael Jackson’s “Billie Jean,” Men Without Hats’ “Safety Dance” (but just for the video with the midget). And then this guy — I forget this name, let’s call him Curt — shouts out, “The Beatles’ ‘Eleanor Rigby’.” And the entire class erupted in laughter. It was like he just walked into the room wearing nothing but tighty-whiteys. “The Beatles?” one of the popular girls with enormous hair exclaimed. “They’re so old!” Curt tried to backtrack, claiming that he only knew about the band because of his mother, who forced him to listen to their stupid hippie records. But it was too late, the damage had been done.
A few months later, he killed his mom.
No, seriously. He shot her during an argument at their home, and then dragged her body into the trunk of his car, intending to bury it in a nearby forest preserve. He almost made it, but a cop pulled him over for having a busted tail light and noticed the stench of death. It was a huge scandal at my high school, something that friends and I from back in the day still talk about whenever we get together. “Remember that guy who killed his mom?” one of us will say. And then we’ll all solemnly nod our heads, like we grew up in the ghetto and matricide was just a normal part of our day-to-day lives.
I’m pretty sure I’m the only one who thinks Curt killed his mom because of Paul McCartney. Now granted, I have no evidence whatsoever to back this theory up. I never knew the guy, and my only memory of him, besides hearing that he was in jail for involuntary manslaughter, is that classroom full of teenage girls mocking him for knowing a Beatles song, and his desperate attempts to shift the blame to his mother. I’m no criminal lawyer, but that seems like a reasonable enough motive to me.
“Just let the kids enjoy their Lil B and you go play ‘Dig a Pony’ for the zillionth time and nobody needs to get hurt.”
It’s been almost 25 years, but I suddenly feel like I need answers about my non-pal Curt. Is he still in prison? Or, because he was a minor when he mowed down his mom like Dillinger, maybe he’s a free man, trying to forge an adult life and forget his shitty high school experience like the rest of us. How great would it be to talk to him, and finally get some answers about why he did what he did. I make some calls to high school friends (actual friends) who might’ve known Curt personally, or at least have some idea of his whereabouts. Nobody seems to know anything, and most of them can’t even recall his name. “Are you sure it’s Curt?” one of them asks. “I’m pretty sure it was Craig. He always wore that ratty Member’s Only jacket, remember? Yeah, weird guy. Not ‘clearly going to murder his mom’ weird, but, you know, ‘whippets in the parking lot behind the gym’ weird. I don’t know, is that the same thing?”
It’s probably for the best that I didn’t find him. Because Curt, or whatever his name is, obviously wouldn’t tell me what I wanted to hear. If I actually had the balls to ask him the big question — “Why’d you kill your mom, dude?” — which seems unlikely, given that I never exchanged more than two words with him back when we actually had something in common, I’m almost positive he’d tell me that his relationship with his late mom was complicated and sad and involved years of emotional and physical abuse that had nothing to do with forcing him to listen to Beatles albums. But in my imagination, our conversation would go something like this:
ME: You killed your mom because she made you listen to the Beatles, right?
ME: Was it a specific album, or just the Beatles in general?
CURT: I hated all of it, but Abbey Road pushed me over the edge. There’s maybe two or three good songs on that record. The rest of it’s shit like “Oh! Darling” and “Octopus’s Garden.” Oh god, it’s just terrible. Try listening to “Maxwell’s Silver Hammer” twice a day during your early teens and tell me you wouldn’t shoot somebody in the face.
ME: You couldn’t just tell her you weren’t a fan?
CURT: Not a fan of the Beatles? You ever try telling somebody in our parents’ generation that the Beatles aren’t the greatest band in the history of the world? It’s like telling ‘em Dylan can’t carry a tune.
ME: They can be thin-skinned about their icons.
CURT: I never hated the band. But the constant reverence is exhausting. And for a 16 year-old boy, to be surrounded with nothing but Beatles songs, forced to repeat the lyrics to “Norwegian Wood” every night as a bedtime prayer, “Now I lay me down to sleep, I once had a girl or should I say she once had me,” it doesn’t prepare a guy for the outside world. You don’t feel comfortable having any kind of musical discovery of your own. And it ostracizes you from your peer group.
ME: I guess that’s true.
CURT: I don’t feel good about murdering my mom. But what choice did I have? Some days, I wish I didn’t have any idea who the fuck Paul McCartney is.
I don’t know if there’s a moral in all this. It’s hard to impose meaning on a tragedy that happened decades ago, and didn’t involve me in any direct way. But history, as they say, is written by the winners, and as I seem to be the sole graduate from my suburban Chicago high school who remembers Curt and his murderous rampage, when he cast off the shackles of musical oppression and cried to the heavens “I don’t need to hear ‘Hey Jude’ ever again for the rest of my life, thank you very much,” I’m the only one in any position to say what lessons are to be learned from his sad tale.
The next time you hear or read about a teenybopper dissing a Beatle, maybe you just shut up about it. Because one of these days you’re going to push too far and end up in a shallow grave, or worse, the trunk of a teenager’s car with busted tail lights. Paul McCartney is and always will be a legend. We all get that. Even those of us who’ve never heard of him are well aware that the old fart was a big deal to you. But we don’t all need to like what you like. Just let the kids enjoy their Lil B and you go play “Dig a Pony” for the zillionth time and nobody needs to get hurt.