Innovate or Die

What a one-two punch. Last Friday morning I caught Tom's talk at Quinnipiac U. in Connecticut (see Cathy's earlier post of 03.16.07), and over the weekend I attended a Beatles Fan Fest in New Jersey (to interview Beatles' colleagues for an upcoming book). I soon realized I was getting the same message at both events.

Tom: "Be different." "Hang out with freaks." "The Peters Principles include ... creativity, imagination, vitality, joy, surprise, independence, spirit."

Norman Smith (original Beatles recording engineer): "I'd seen a few long-haired groups, a few weirdos, but nothing like the Beatles. They were unique. Their hair. Their sense of humor."

Terry Sylvester (fellow musician at the Cavern Club): "We were all wearing gold lamé suits while the Beatles were wearing leather jackets."

Larry Kane (author of Ticket to Ride and Lennon Revealed): "The band's music was liberating, along with their dress and style. [It had an] ageless vitality."

When I pressed Norman—author of the soon-to-be-released John Lennon Called Me Normal—to tell me what the Beatles' secret sauce was, he shot back: "They were different! When they first auditioned for us I wasn't that impressed with their sound—they had cheap, noisy equipment—but they had such personality, such originality, such wit. They were really something special. I told [producer] George Martin they should be signed." As other musicians, writers, and photographers reminded me over the weekend (and as critics have been saying for decades) the Beatles became the most creative and boldly imaginative force in the history of pop culture.

If the choice is—as Tom likes to say—"Innovate or die!" The Beatles made that choice 45 years ago. The moment of truth came when George Martin asked them to record a sugarcoated formulaic pop song, "How Do You Do It" (later recorded by Gerry & the Pacemakers, do you remember them?) because he felt it was a sure hit. The Beatles' defiant response: "We can do better with one of our own." And they delivered. They recorded "Please Please Me"—a spirited, melodic rock & roll tune—which became their first #1 hit in England, and the rest is history. Judging by the thousands of people (of every demographic) who converged on the Fest last weekend, I'd say there's no sign their influence is waning. And this is 37 years after the band decided to break up—while still at its peak—to pursue new careers individually! That's "creative destruction" at its best, a subject for a later conversation.