By Miriam Hammer
Like most Jewish girls who live in quiet suburbia, I had my Bat Mitzvah in the seventh grade. In addition to the corny theme, lame DJ and cupcake cocktail dress that I wore to the party, I fell in love with the Beatles. The DJ pulled up a chair for me to sit on, and all of my brace-faced friends huddled around my feet as the lights dimmed. I had no idea what was coming when the projector screen lit up and the first tender notes of the Beatles’ “In My Life” filled the room.
I suddenly became overwhelmed by the simple melody and very relevant lyrics: “There are places I remember all my life / Though some have changed / Some forever, not for better / Some have gone and some remain.” I distinctly remember feeling like I was going to cry and having to hold my tears back for fear of people noticing. There is just something about that song. The combination of the Beatles singing in unison, the lovely ringing of bells and the truth behind John Lennon’s lyrics take the listener to a place of nostalgia. To this day, “In My Life,” remains my favorite Beatles song.
Of course, I had known of the Beatles long before that moment. It wasn’t until after my Bat Mitzvah, however, that I really fell in love with their music. This was due, in part, to the fact that I received my first iPod as a Bat Mitzvah present — white and sleek, with all of the world’s audible possibilities in the palm of my hand. I remember gathering every one of the Beatles’ CDs in my parent’s collection, thick and double breasted with two discs in each, and uploading them onto my iTunes library. I can still recall the bright green and red apples that were plastered on the covers of their anthologies from 1962 to 1966 and 1967 to 1970.
It is remarkable how timeless their music is. My mom and I would listen to their CDs in the car, and I remember being amazed while watching her sing along to the lyrics without skipping a beat. To this day, aside from a Broadway musical here and there, I have never known my mother to know the lyrics to a song, and, despite her horribly tone-deaf voice, it was magical for me to see her sing songs that she had loved so much during her adolescence, and that I was just beginning to covet now.
In 2007, the movie Across the Universe came out, and so began the second phase of my Beatles obsession. Inevitably, I fell in love with the movie, the soundtrack and the actors in it. Jim Sturgess was adorable as Jude, the lone artist from Liverpool looking for a new life in America. Evan Rachel Wood was equally as charming as Lucy, the innocent schoolgirl turned hippy. Their love story became especially real to me with the Beatles music as their backdrop.
It is not hard to appreciate how easily Beatles’ songs can lend themselves to any kind of story, especially a love story. Even though Jude and Lucy’s relationship was the driving force behind the film, my favorite scene didn’t involve them at all; rather, Joe Anderson’s character, Max, when he gets drafted to the war. The personified Uncle Sam singing “I Want You / She’s So Heavy” and the conveyer-belt sequence of Max being packaged and shipped off to Vietnam perfectly exemplifies the circumstances and emotions regarding the Vietnam War draft. The scene is beautiful and haunting all at once.
In addition to providing me with endless entertainment, Across the Universe also introduced me to many Beatles songs. Even though I had over 100 of their songs in my iTunes library, I rarely listened to all of them. Thanks to the movie, I discovered the enthusiasm of “I’ve Just Seen A Face,” the sexuality of “Why Don’t We Do It In The Road,” the sadness of “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” and the chaos of “Helter Skelter.” I loved the way the songs seamlessly wove themselves into the emotional fabric of the film. As far as Beatles’ cover songs go, I thought Across the Universe did a wonderful job.
I love and appreciate all that the Beatles have done for my own emotional growth and for our culture as a whole. When I ask my mom about the Beatles phenomenon, she explains how, at first, she could not understand what all the screaming and yelling was about, why people would faint when they saw the band. Though she was never one of those fans, she was still completely in love with their music.
Over time the Beatles have come to represent her youth.
“When you hear one of their songs,” she says, “it’s like an old glove that still fits. They are just something that you will hold onto forever.”