If you’re attending the Chicago Fest for Beatles Fans, Erika White will appear on a panel moderated by REBEAT editor-in-chief Allison Boron entitled “Beatles Fandom: The Next Generation,” discussing the second- and third-generation fan experience. Don’t miss it on Sunday, August 13, at 2:45 in the Paperback Writer Room!
It wasn’t always easy growing up as a rabid second-generation Beatles fan. Peers didn’t know or care who they were, live experiences were few and far between, and my social circle of like-minded friends was relegated to your parents and one or two others. But times have changed since I was a 10-year-old kid with a scrapbook, and now there are a million ways to connect with fellow fans.
Most of the ways we connect are online, and while they provide incredible opportunities for connection, there’s simply nothing like face-to-face community — still a tough thing to manage for younger classic rock fans. But The Fest for Beatles Fans is one of the places where we can. Like Comic Con for Beatlemaniacs, it’s an incredible three-day celebration featuring events, rare merchandise, and special guests. (If you haven’t been, don’t miss the Chicago Fest coming up this weekend.)
You’ll never see such a convergence of Beatle fans in a single place outside of Liverpool’s Beatles Week or a Paul McCartney concert, and it’s truly out of this world. The Fest gives fans of all ages the chance to connect over the music and share experiences in one of the most intense settings imaginable.
While the second- and third-generation fan experience is different from those who were there to begin with, technology and gatherings like the Fest help keep the community growing and changing. If you were born after the band broke up, however, it’s still a different beast. Here’s why:
1) We binged the Beatles
Being born after the breakup meant that once we discovered the Beatles, we had the entire catalog at our fingertips. So we binged (and binged and binged). Awesome, right? With a playlist ranging from “Love Me Do” to “Her Majesty,” we could listen to any song, at any time, and in any order.
But we missed that in-the-moment anticipation that came from waiting for a new album, from seeing how their sound and look progressed from year to year to the wonder — or, sometimes, confusion — that many first-gen fans experienced every time the band came out with a revolutionary new sound.
The ability to make mixtapes and, later, playlists, meant that many of us learned the Beatles out of order, so we don’t have the same association with their songs and a specific time and place. Sure, we got the freedom of organizing our music how we liked, but we no longer needed to experience the Beatles in the order they intended us to experience them — and we lost the communal feeling of sharing that experience together.
2) We’ll never know what it was really like
No matter how many times we watch A Hard Day’s Night, we’ll never have the visceral experience of seeing it live in the theater, not knowing if our first time will be the only time. And we’ll never be able to discuss the “Paul is Dead” hoax with friends and ask, “What if it’s true?” (Okay, some people may still believe it, but, come on…)
We’ll never know the frenzy of 1964, the feeling of awakening during the Summer of Love, and the heartbreak of the final years. So we research Beatles history and watch endless videos — resources unavailable to first-gen fans in real time — to get a better sense of what it was really like. (Mark Lewisohn is my personal hero.) But as close as we try to get, there’s no substitute for having been there.
3) We have special affinity for the solo years
I have a love for the Paul McCartney’s 1989 Flowers in the Dirt that I know is not equal to the quality of the album. Why? Because that’s where my Beatlemania converged with a real-time event. In 1989, I was 12 and Paul released this album in conjunction with launching a massive world tour — the first tour since I had become a fan.
So, naturally, I associate that time with being able to feel a little of what the first-gen experience must have been like — and wow, was it intoxicating! Many second- and third-gen fans have similar connections to seemingly random solo eras or projects, simply because they’re an extension of the Beatles that we could experience in real time.
And it’s still going on to this day. Next time you see Paul McCartney live or watch a concert video, take a look at who’s screaming for the new stuff… and who’s taking a bathroom break.
4) The Beatles’ legacy has been tinged with sadness from the beginning
If you became a fan after 1980, the Beatles’ story inevitably included John Lennon’s horrific murder. Kids learn about it as soon once they start asking adults about the Beatles (“Can we see them live?” “What are they doing now?”). It was heartbreaking to learn that the cheeky Beatle standing stage left at The Ed Sullivan Show is not only gone but met such a gruesome end.
For me, a new fan at eight years old, it was the first time I learned about such a tragic event happening anywhere to anyone. As the years have gone on, more events have compounded this sadness for fans of all ages. Perhaps we’re lucky to have never felt the innocence-shattering sorrow that so many first-geners describe on that tragic day. But we didn’t know that innocent time either.
5) Many of us were the only Beatle-fan kids on our block
I knew this kid in middle school, Brian. We didn’t hang out with the same crowd and weren’t involved in the same activities, but we both loved the Beatles. I remember talking to him about the McCartney World Tour and him coming up to me from time to time in the hallway spewing Beatles trivia at me at a breakneck pace to try and stump me. (He couldn’t, for the record.) After these brief conversations, our paths wouldn’t cross again for weeks. But that odd relationship was important; it was the only Beatle-fan peer either of us had.
So unlike the first-geners, the Beatles were not the glue that bonded friend groups, and our personal fandom did not define our collective childhoods. For many of us, our friends were indifferent or didn’t understand why we’d bother; some people have — and still do — get teased for it.
Luckily, times have changed since I was a kid with a scrapbook — Internet fandom communities, social media, and celebrations like the Fest for Beatles Fans and Abbey Road on the River help us develop global fan networks and connect with like-minded friends across the world. But even so, most of us will never know that intense, personal, face-to-face connection that was part and parcel of the original fan experience.
6) We envied (and even hung out with) our parents
I spent countless hours with my parents — much more time than my friends did — talking about the Beatles, shopping for tickets and Beatles memorabilia with my dad, and pillaging his original record collection. Of course, some aspects of the Beatles’ story were not safe territory for a discussion with adults (the Two Virgins cover and LSD come to mind), but the Beatles brought younger fans to a level of understanding with their parents that lots of our peers didn’t have.
7) Modern-day Beatlemania has become a fandom
The way fans express Beatlemania has changed with the time and the power of global communication, and many second- and third-gen fans now consider themselves part of a fandom, much like those who are devoted to Doctor Who or Harry Potter. Creative extensions of the Beatles, like cover bands, original music, visual art, and even fan fiction (go on, search “McLennon”… I dare you) aren’t relegated to someone’s garage or journal.
They’re shared with the world through social media, Tumblr, SoundCloud, and so many other outlets. Beatles-themed music and art are appearing more and more at Comic Cons alongside traditional “nerd” culture — check out Vivek Tiwary’s Fifth Beatle graphic novel about Brian Epstein for one — and with the Fest and similar gatherings, Beatles fans have their own dedicated cons.
Whether online, at San Diego Comic Con, or at the Fest, all generations of fans have adopted the artistic and communication media of pop culture fan bases to extend and expand the reach of the Beatles’ music.
8) We don’t hate Yoko
I was recently watching some late-’60s Beatles footage with a large group. Every time Yoko appeared on screen, a first-gen fan shot a finger gun at her. Every. Single. Time. (Gun references? Uh… not cool.) This attitude is common online too, as the average Beatles Facebook group wages a vicious battle for civility whenever someone mentions Yoko.
I’m fully aware that not all first-gen fans have such a negative reaction to her, and I can definitely see how it would be hard to separate her from the emotional trauma that accompanied the breakup. But many of us who weren’t there view it from a distance and don’t see her as the enemy — they were all going their separate ways, and she’s just one of the many pieces of the Beatles story that made it so extraordinary.
In fact, I think Yoko is pretty cool. On the other hand, I was there for Heather Mills…
9) We have a different perspective on time, age, and aging than our peers
Paul McCartney plays nonstop for almost three hours onstage. Ringo is actively touring and is just about to release his gazillionth album. And beyond the Beatles, many classic rock bands are or have been active long enough for second- and third-gen fans to see them live and buy their new stuff (which many of us love; see #3).
While 75 may have seemed ancient to those who declared they wanted to be dead by 30, many younger fans don’t see it that way. From early on, we believed that age is a mindset, and have always known that you’re never too old for experimentation, growth, and change. After all, how else could Paul have written a song about seeing the world with “a sense of childlike wonder” in 2008?
We also don’t feel that 50 years was that long ago. Maybe it’s because modern recording and photography have made the times real to us in a way that 1910 would never have seemed in 1965. And thanks to technology, this music still is in our lives, sounding more and more as if it was recorded yesterday with each new remix and remaster. (Thanks, Giles Martin!)
10) We’ll always be the kids of the Beatle fan community
We’re the kids, and the grandkids, of the original fans and will always be kids in their eyes. And we want to hear all the stories. We’re so grateful for those who have passed on this musical legacy and continue to do so. Second- and third-gen fans also have unique stories, or own creations and our own experience, to share around the Beatles and the fan community.
But many of us don’t tell those stories; we tend to discount our experiences because we weren’t there for the beginning. Our stories and experiences will never be the same as the first-geners’ but the continued growth of the fanbase depends on us being able to share new tales of this enduring music across generations. We don’t have the same nostalgia factor of our parents and grandparents, but we are able to keep the fandom alive, active, and growing.
But no matter how different our experiences have been, we’ll always have one thing in common: a love for the Beatles that transcends time, generation, or age. Their personalities, songwriting, experimentation, political awareness, and just plain humanness will always resonate. This fandom is here to stay.
A previous version of this article appeared on And We Love Them.