Harrison's Death Reveals That Beatlemania Still Lives 40 Years On
They screamed hysterically. They wept and swooned. They hurled their underwear at the four bemused young men in an unprecedented cultural liberation of an entire generation.
And nearly 40 years since the Beatlemania hit America, George Harrison's death has proved that the world is still mesmerized by the Fab Four, their irreverent manner and their magical talent.
US network and local news bulletins led with Harrison's death from cancer in the Los Angeles home of a friend, while radio stations devoted hours of airtime to musical tributes to him.
The death of the guitarist, composer, singer and spiritualist was the first event to displace the US-led campaign against terrorism as the top story of the hour here since the deadly September 11 attacks on New York and Washington.
Spontaneous outpourings of grief erupted across the world from London to Los Angeles, with shrines to Harrison and the pop quartet springing up in London's Abbey Road, New York and Hollywood's walk of fame.
"The fact that his death commands such popular and media interest so long after the Beatles' heyday reflects the tremendous impact they had on youth culture and society," said pop culture expert David Sefton.
"The Beatles are still around as a musical force; they're still selling records 30 years after they split up," said Sefton, director and artistic Director of arts at the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA).
When the Beatles toured America for the first time in 1964, they sparked one of the biggest spontaneous popular eruptions of emotions ever, causing them to be loved and loathed in almost equal measures by different generations.
Screaming teenagers fainted and tearfully scooped up swatches of earth trod upon by the immortal foursome at airports and concert venues across the country, as their parents warned of the evil the long-haired icons were importing.
"They were an instant and genuine global phenomenon," Sefton said. "Now artists try to pay millions to create the same popular effect, but no one has really succeeded like the Beatles did."
The Fab Four's secret: They were "damn good musicians", says Sefton, and groups like Oasis are still imitating them a generation after they left the stage.
They also burst onto the scene at the cusp of a major social shift from the wartime generation, offering pop music that with a brand new sound that was tailored to young people, and not their parents, experts said.
"They seemed slightly dangerous, slightly wild, and they opened the door to a culture that was different that everyone else followed up on," Sefton said.
They appeared so subversive -- particularly for their avowed pacifism during the Vietnam war era -- that the Federal Bureau of Investigation opened a file on singer John Lennon when he immigrated to the United States, while some US radio stations refused to play Beatles records.
The Beatles also managed to tap underground currents such as the hippy and anti-war movements and a fascination with oriental religion, and drew them to the surface in works such as "Sergeant Pepper's Lonely Heart's Club Band."
They showed that rock music could be bigger, broader, more complicated and more diverse than anyone had imagined, historian Jon Wiener said.
"Every Beatles album was a cultural event, every Beatles album broke new creative ground," he said.
"The Beatles surprised and challenged their audiences and George was a crucial part of that, mostly for his experimentation with eastern music, eastern musical instruments and themes from Eastern religion." -- AFP
© 2001 Al Bawaba (www.albawaba.com)
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