Remember that episode of Seinfeld where Kramer would have a sort of weird physical reaction and fall down whenever he heard Mary Hart’s voice? I have a similar (though I don’t actually fall down) reaction to a person often heard on TV these days – I’m not going to say who, but it rhymes with Bonald Bump… But that’s not what this is about…
See, a friend of mine had that same kind of “this is killing me” reaction when he heard about the movie Yesterday. Surely you know the premise of the movie – I’ve procrastinated in writing about this so long that you’ve probably already seen it… or at least the trailer?
Just in case you haven’t seen it, stop reading RIGHT NOW, go see the movie and come back… because there will be MASSIVE SPOILERS, my friend… So, if you’re thinking, “I haven’t seen the movie and I’m not going to,” here’s your synopsis: A massive supernatural blackout occurs and when the world comes to, the Beatles never existed. And THAT’S what causes such a visceral reaction in my friend—he doesn’t want to even think about a world, even a fictional one, where that particular configuration of musicians making that particular brew of music never existed.
|How's this for a massive spoiler?|
It IS a disturbing thought, but I went to see it anyway. I love the Beatles, I’m always thinking about “what ifs,” and then there’s the star of the movie: Himesh Patel, the guy who used play the haplessly nervous market inspector, Tamwar Masood, on Eastenders! And I’m obsessed with that show!
Anyway, in Yesterday, Patel plays Jack, a discouraged, failing musician who miraculously retains his memory of the Beatle’s music despite the blackout… When he realizes that no one in the world has heard of the Beatles (only of beetles) or their songs, he begins performing them, passing them off as his own, and becomes 1. friends with Ed Sheeran, and 2. crazy famous.
So that’s the set-up. I don’t know if I can weave my reflections into a well-ordered essay, so I’m just going to say a couple of things I’ve been thinking…
1. In the beginning of the film, we see Jack struggling to become a successful musician. He nearly quits, saying that he might as well go back to teaching. There’s also a romantic component with his manager, who is played by Rose from Downton Abbey… She loves him, but he’s put her in the friend zone.
|Himesh Patel as Tamwar Masood on Eastenders|
Then this miracle happens and WHAM! Jack’s got everything he ever wanted! A successful music career! Famous friends! Worldwide adulation! It’s probably a cliché, but I’ll say it anyway: so often, when we want something so bad, and finally get it …. it’s just not that great. And we find out that what we already had was pretty darn amazing. When I was young, all I ever wanted was to be thin. Then I finally got it, and … well, it actually was kind of great … but it also almost killed me.
That said, sometimes we need to get what we want to find out what we need… which might be something that we already have, or we might realize that there is something we should otherwise be pursuing. In my case, I thought I had to be thin to be loved, but I learned through all my troubles that I already HAD love! From my family, my friends, but most of all from GOD HIMSELF. Now He's a worthy life pursuit!
In Jack’s case, he already had 1. Rose from Downton Abbey, 2. great friends, 3. a close family, 4. fun making music. He had also already had a meaningful career. Don’t get me wrong I KNOW how hard teaching is… I’ve seen the toll it takes on people. But it can also be very helpful and worthwhile… sharing yourself with kids, coming alongside them in their formative years. But of course, our society would have us believe that unless you are a rock star, a millionaire, an incredible athlete, or a CEO or something… you’re not a success. In Yesterday, Jack gives in to this falsehood... for a while.
2. Make no mistake – I LOVE the Beatles. I will never grow tired of listening to their songs–except maybe Across the Universe or The Long and Winding Road—but this film operates under the assumption that the songs themselves are the totality of what made the Beatles a phenomenon. YES, the songs are just… so good… but it was more than that! It was that four good-looking boys with great chops, amazing stage presence and saucy personalities showed up right when we needed them! It was those dapper suits and charming mop-tops! It was having George Martin to help them put their ideas on record... It was all things converging to create a great sonic boom in our culture. So… if a regular joe just came in and sang the songs…? Would it be the same? I don’t know. That’s what I’m asking.
3. In his journey, Jack manages to meet an actual Beatle… and since I warned you about the spoilers, I can tell you that it is John… who is, without the burden of having been a Beatle, just a guy… An artist. A hermit. ALIVE. Bill and I discussed why they decided to portray John… Personally, I think they chose John because he’s the one we most want to see! His life was beautiful and painful, his death was tragic… and even if this alternate world lacks certain key elements – ie. a huge catalog of fantastic songs – it has John Lennon in it… living a life that’s subtle and peaceful. Isn’t that what John wanted? Peace?
|A world without the Beatles? No thanks.|
4. Since we’re spoiling things, I’ll tell you that Jack eventually decides not to profit from the songs that everyone is digging… and thinks he wrote… because… well, because John told him he knew he would do the right thing. And because Jack knew that the songs didn’t belong to him. Of course they didn’t belong to John, Paul, George and Ringo either in that reality, but a world without them was unthinkable… so I guess they kind of belonged to the world.
In our reality, I'm not actually sure who they belong to, but… no matter who holds the piece of paper, they kind of also belong to our world. They’re part of our LORE… They are in us and all around us all the time. I guess that’s why my friend doesn’t want to think about a world without them. It would be like losing a part of himself.
("Scrambled eggs, oh, my baby, how I love your legs…" were the original place-holding lyrics for Yesterday.)