No high school student should ever be made to read “Native Son,” “A Separate Peace,” “The Catcher in the Rye” or “Slaughterhouse Five.”
And not because they aren’t good books. To the contrary, each of these novels is a seminal work of American fiction; the genius required to write so much as a chapter of any of them is staggering.
They were not, however, meant to be analyzed by anyone with a tenth of the maturity and life experience needed to understand the complex themes and ideas contained therein. Attempts to do so are a disservice to the reader, whose experience with the novel likely will be altered by being forced to examine it and the work itself.
It’s akin to asking a 16-year-old to dissect and relate to that memorable party scene in Mike Nichols’ “The Graduate” and Dustin Hoffman’s pitch-perfect performance.
No matter how many times that student watches that scene, he will be no closer to truly understanding it than when they sat down to watch it for the first time.
It’s not a knock on his intelligence. He’s not ready to see that movie. He’s not ready to read those books.
And I can relate because I struggled for years to understand and connect to something equally iconic and culturally significant — the music of The Beatles.
Unlike many people my age, I did not grow up on The Fab Four, but like everyone my age, I was born into a world where the music of The Beatles was a constant, a cultural assumption.
Try as I might, I failed to see what all the fuss was about. I listened to “Revolver,” “Abbey Road” and “Help!” and felt nothing.
This remained the case for years, much to the dismay of my disappointed — and occasionally outraged — friends until I revisited The Beatles at age 25.
Those same songs I had responded to so lackadaisically only a few years earlier had taken on new meaning and new life.
The songs I had once heard in black and white were now playing in Technicolor.
Part of this tectonic shift, I believe, was the epiphany that these songs, these perfect pop songs, did not descend from Mount Olympus or rise from the primordial ooze. They were written by people — people with wants, desires, shortcomings and regrets.
George. Paul. Ringo. John.
Four kids who got together because they liked rock ’n’ roll and ended up making something that changed the world forever.
And that’s pretty heady stuff for a 16-year-old.
This week, in honor of The Fab Four, here’s a playlist of some great Beatles covers.
I wonder what else I might have overlooked as an immature youngster. “Jake and the Fat Man” marathon this weekend! Who’s with me?
• Jimi Hendrix, “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” — We should be grateful Hendrix lived long enough to give us this cover. Short but spectacular.
• Echo and the Bunnymen, “Ticket to Ride” — A little janglier than the original but solid.
• The Black Keys, “She Said, She Said” — If there were ever a Beatles song meant to be covered by The Black Keys, it’s this song from “Revolver.”
• Arctic Monkeys, “Come Together” — The highlight of the opening ceremonies of the Summer Olympics in London was getting to hear this band cover this song. Naturally, Bob Costas and Matt Lauer blathered over most of it. Thanks, NBC.
• Tapes n’ Tapes, “I Want You (She’s So Heavy)” — Incredibly faithful, as most great Beatles covers are.
• The Pistol Whippin’ Party Penguins, “I’ve Just Seen a Face” — A little folksier than the original but still terrific.
• Phil Collins, “Tomorrow Never Knows” — My favorite Beatles song. Never has chaos sounded so beautiful.
• Wilson Pickett, “Hey Jude” — The single greatest Beatles cover ever.