Do you need another reason to flip off cool kids wearing Che Guevara t-shirts?
Blogger extraordinaire Alan Vanneman points to this article from The New York Times about how the tyrannical government of Cuba is finally allowing its prisoner-citizens to see Beatles cover bands only about 45 years after Beatlemania has bitten the dust:
The hair and accents were wrong, but the audience cared about just one thing: the house band was singing the Beatles, here, in a new bar called the Yellow Submarine, in Cuba, where such an act might have led to arrests in the mid-1960s.
Better yet, perhaps because of that history, the band played like rebels. Fast and raw, they zipped up and down the bass lines of "Dear Prudence" as if the song were new. They raced through "Rocky Raccoon," and when they reached the opening words of "Let It Be" — "When I find myself in times of trouble" — the entire crowd began singing along, swaying, staring at the band or belting out the chorus with their eyes closed in rapture.
"If there's no Beatles, there's no rock 'n' roll," said Guille Vilar, a co-creator of the bar. "This is music created with authenticity."
Maybe so, but Cuba's revolutionaries were not sure what to make of it when it first came out. Though today the bonds between counterculture rock and leftist politics are well established, back then, Cuban authorities — at least some of them — saw anything in English as American and practically treasonous. The Beatles, along with long hair, bell-bottom jeans and homosexuality, were all seen as cause for alarm or arrest at a time when green fatigues were a statement of great importance.
Cuba in the '60s and early '70s, says Mr. Vilar, a trained musicologist, "was a very serious place."
Not that it's a laff riot these days. No word yet on whether Havana will be hosting Beatlefest any time soon. Or whether the cultural thaw will allow for late-night viewing of the Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band movie featuring the Bee Gees, Peter Frampton, Aerosmith, George Burns, Steve Martin, and dozens of others who went career-missing for years afterwards.
Just last year, Cuban authorities re-arrested the members of the rock band Porno para Ricardo for carrying "instruments of dubious origins," which sounds like a terrible Genesis album from right before Peter Gabriel flew the coop. Reason.tv spoke with the leader of the band, Gorki Aguila, between arrests back in 2009. If you care about music, freedom of expression, and a thousand other basic human rights, check it out:
And then listen to jazz great Paquito D'Rivera shred the killer chic that surrounds Che Guevara and Fidel Castro by describing those golden years when simply owning a freaking Beatles record could earn you a trip to the slammer:
In The Declaration of Independents: How Libertarian Politics Can Fix What's Wrong with America, Matt Welch and I trace the weird, strange trip by which rock music helped topple the Soviet Union and why there are revolutions named after the Velvet Underground but none after Van Cliburn.