Cincinnati Branch Course Highlights The Beatles' Enduring Impact on Popular Culture
Trailblazing Group Burst upon the American Scene 50 Years Ago
February 2, 2014
John Keene spoke of Bob Dylan's influence on John Lennon's songwriting in the Beatles' classic album, "Rubber Soul."
Who would have guessed a half century ago in February 1964, when the Beatles first arrived in the United States, that the four lads from Liverpool singing “She Loves You (Yeh, Yeh, Yeh)” and “I Want to Hold Your Hand” would change the world?
And that, 50 years later, college students would study the impact that John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr would have on contemporary society?
Wilmington College students at the institution’s Cincinnati Branch in Blue Ash are delving into “50 Years of the Beatles” in a Saturday morning class this semester instructed by John Keene, a recognized authority on socio-musicology.
Keene’s course is no love fest for all things Beatles; rather it takes a scholarly approach to many of those entities that got caught in The Beatles’ vortex: musical boundaries, anti-authoritarianism, Western romanticism, radical utopianism, fashion, teen rebellion, fan worship, religion and philosophy, war and peace, drug use, Eastern mysticism, culture/counterculture, universal love, figures in 1960s popular culture, crossing into numerous musical genres, et al.
Keene believes that, once his students are armed with facts, insight and critical thought, the Beatles’ greatest contributions to popular culture and their lasting legacy will become readily evident.
“My students are encouraged to find that out for themselves,” he said, noting that those cadres have ranged in age from Generation X to Baby Boomers. “I lived through that era (the Beatles and the 1960s), so my view wouldn’t be the same as someone who came of age in the 80s.”
Keene also instructed the course last fall as part of WC’s academic program at Cincinnati State Technical and Community College.
He has been impressed with the response from students of all ages. They are required throughout the term to select Beatles-related, essay topics and drill down through the veneer to the roots, substance and ramifications of their subject matter.
(LEFT) John Keene points out some of the pop art intricacies associated with the Beatles' "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band" album to Wilmington College Cincinnati Blue Ash students Scott Parsley and Frances Allen.
“The biggest surprise was the tremendous improvement in critical writing skills between the first week and final week of class,” Keene said. “It confirmed my belief that many students have profound and important things to say, but their writing technique can get in the way of their ability to communicate. I try to help solve that problem.”
Several students shared their thoughts after completing Keene’s Cincinnati State class.
Michael A. Leber, 48, was born in 1966, a transitional year for the Beatles. The frenzy that was Beatlemania began to change when the group stopped touring and, with the releases of the Rubber Soul and Revolver albums, their music took on more serious tones and gained critical acclaim as breakthroughs on the precipice of their seminal accomplishment of 1967, the album Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.
Leber wrote a critical essay on film director Richard Lester, who directed the Beatles in their movies A Hard Day’s Night and Help!
“Lester would go on to influence modern music videos with the style and innovative techniques he used in these films,” Leber said, noting MTV deemed the director the “Father of the Music Video” in 1984. Indeed, many of the early videos of the MTV era resemble the Beatles’ musical sequences in those 1964 and ’65 films.
Leber noted that the murder of John Lennon in 1980 ignited the then 15-year-old’s interest in the band.
“That’s when I really began exploring their music in depth,” he said.
Keith Green, 45, was born the year the Beatles recorded the classic, seven-minute, “Hey Jude,” which, like so many Beatles innovations, challenged the norm — in this case, what was played on singles-oriented, Top 40 radio.
He spoke of how enthusiastic class participation, along with “breaking down” the meanings of the music and Keene’s passion for the subject matter, made for a “very intense yet laid back” academic experience.
“I left each class with the desire to research deeper material on the Beatles,” he said.
At 58, Deborah Day is old enough to have seen the Beatles’ American TV debut on The Ed Sullivan Show Feb. 9, 1964, however, her strict father saw that she was not among the 73 million Americans that tuned in that Sunday evening 50 years ago.
“My father would not allow me to listen to them or any other rock-and-roll music, so I didn’t have the exposure to the Beatles that other kids my age did at the time,” she said. “My mother did sneak and buy me their first album, which I listened to occasionally when I came home from school, so I was a bit familiar with the early Beatles music.”
Day appreciates the greater understanding she gained for the life and times of the Beatles all these years later.
“Learning about their individual struggles and how they transitioned their music throughout the years was interesting,” she said. “I feel that John Lennon’s utopian viewpoint of how the world should be and George’s religious inspirations definitely influenced the culture of the United States, particularly college-age, young adults.”
Keene admits that the Beatles’ continuing popularity is fueled, in part, by the fact they are “frozen in time” and forever young in our collective imagination much like John F. Kennedy, James Dean and other giants whose meteoric popularity and sudden demise left their fans wanting more.
That’s the stuff of legend for future generations to glom onto.
Lora D. Hamilton, 33, was born a decade after the band’s break-up in early 1970 and shortly after Lennon’s shocking death.
“I bought my first Beatles album when I was 16 (the 1967-70 greatest hits package),” she said. “I remember one of my friends making fun of me for buying the album, but I do recall really enjoying it.”
Since her course of study at WC requires a music appreciation course, Hamilton gravitated to Keene’s fall offering since, “I thought it would be more interesting than something on classical music.”
She found Keene both “knowledgeable and engaging” and enjoyed his connecting the Beatles to the history of the time, the social climate and other important musical figures of the 1960s.
“I find it pretty impressive that the Beatles can still touch the lives of people who were born decades after they disbanded,” Hamilton said, noting that she hears their influence in musical acts as diverse as Tori Amos, Pink Floyd and David Bowie.
“I even heard one of their songs sampled in a hip-hop song recently.”
In the weeks leading up to the 50th anniversary of the Beatles’ Feb. 7, 1964, arrival in the United States, she recalled “seeing and hearing them everywhere” — from commemorative issues on grocery store, magazine racks to television specials and the heralded reunion of McCartney and Starr at the 2014 Grammy Awards.
“It’s great to see that their legacy has persevered and I’m glad I have the knowledge to recognize and enjoy it — thanks to John’s class!”