Celebrification, commodification!


Reintroducing the Beatles: We were never Beatle fans, although we’ll acknowledge we knew some.

When the mop tops arrived in the U.S., we were high school juniors in the San Francisco suburbs. For us, Bob Dylan had already hit.

One month before the now-famous Sullivan program, Dylan’s third album had been released. At the time, it was hard to get from The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll back to I Want to Hold Your Hand.

Even as the lads evolved, we never really found our way to their work.

Fifty years later, we watched the bulk of Sunday’s tribute program. As we did, we were struck by two things.

We were struck by something Jon Pareles mentions in his review of the program. The Beatles “crammed [their pop singles] with ideas,” Pareles writes in today’s New York Times.

As we watched on Sunday night, our reaction was a bit more specific. We were struck by the way they had crammed their singles with positive ideas.

Has anyone ever given young men better advice than Paul McCartney did in Hey Jude, to cite one example?

“Remember to let her into your heart?” The idea is explored in various ways in the song. We were struck, again and again, by how positive the lads had been.

As we watched, we were also struck by the overpowering celebrification of modern mainstream culture. On Sunday’s broadcast, those positive songs and ideas were tricked out and sold through the drug of celebrity validation.

By now, those positive songs and ideas couldn’t be allowed to stand on their own. They had to be sold through endless two-second cutaways to the gaggle of celebrity hacks who had been assembled to sanction their re-performance.

Predictably enough, some of the hacks were extremely attractive younger women. Some of the hacks were rather unsightly older men, survivors of the rock wars.

Rather plainly, the appeal of the latter group lies in the way they’ve been ravaged through decades of hard-drug living. These are the somewhat pitiful rules of this low-IQ cultural game.

(How many millions of dollars were spent, we wondered, on the cosmetic-and-clothing ministrations which animated the bulk of those cutaways—which made the people shown for two seconds suitable for TV?)

At one time, those songs and ideas had appealed to people on their own. In modern celebrified culture, no song or idea can exist on its own. All offerings must be commodified, then endorsed by a vapid royal court.

We had a somewhat similar reaction to last night’s scandal news on cable. If we tried to explain what we mean, you’d think we were being sour.

We’d say this was good sound advice: We’re not showing the full lyrics. But we’d say this was good sound advice, good advice all the way down:
Hey Jude, don’t make it bad.
Take a sad song and make it better.
Remember to let her into your heart,
Then you can start to make it better.

Hey Jude, don’t be afraid.
You were made to go out and get her.
The minute you let her under your skin,
Then you begin to make it better.

And anytime you feel the pain, hey Jude, refrain,
Don’t carry the world upon your shoulders.
For well you know that it’s a fool who plays it cool
By making his world a little colder.

Hey Jude, don’t let me down.
You have found her, now go and get her.
Remember to let her into your heart,
Then you can start to make it better...
Younger men rarely get such good advice. For the full lyrics, click here.


  1. We were in France when the Beatles hit the European scene.

    "Bye Bye Birdie", which was sort of a prequel to "G.I. Blues", had just arrived in the theaters, and the girls would sing "We love you Beatles, oh yes we do. We love you Beatles, and we will be true!"

    The guys would respond, "We hate you Beatles, oh yes we do, we don't hate anyone as much as you!"

    As a musician, I didn't perk up to the Beatles until Sgt. Pepper. (Although I loved their cover of Chuck Berry's "Roll over Beethoven".)

    When I heard "Don't think Twice, It's All Right" on the jukebox, I was instantly and permanently addicted to Dylan.

  2. My take on the Beatles is that they had several opposing influences in their songwriting. The positive from Paul and the negative from John, a spiritual influence from George, and good-natured pragmatism from Ringo. In their interactions, Paul and John fought, George withdrew and Ringo acted as peacemaker.

    The interesting part of the show for me was not the modern covers of the old songs, but the excellent musicians Ringo and Paul surrounded themselves with when they did their own performances at the end. With the cutaways to attractive audience members, I found myself wondering if these were the children of Beatles and their friends. If they were simply filling the seats with eye-candy to attract younger audiences unfamiliar with the Beatles, shame on them.

    The documentary Missrepresentation (now on Netflix) explains why this use of young women is bad for men and women both. It perhaps isn't about celebrification but about being unable to appreciate music without sexual images. Is that where we are now? Are they afraid to present music as an auditory experience in a visual medium and can they only provide visual interest via sex?

  3. If this is 'full service" I think I'll pump me own!

    1. Just do it -- no need to announce your intentions to everyone else.

    2. Has the Times expanded its series on the high cost of US health care to the penis pump pricing scam?
      Thought I'd ask cause Somerby hasn't mentioned that MSNBC has not covered it. Don't read or watch either.

  4. Has there ever been a musician more commodified than Bob Dylan? Did Bob Dylan ever believe in any of the music he ever wrote and performed?

    1. Those are two very excellent questions, hardindr, as we now read various comparisions and contrasts of the music of the Beatles and Chrysler's newest salesman.

    2. All you have to do is read his memoir, and then you'll know:


    3. Spanish boots + Real Corinthian Leather
      Wowee man, pretty scary
      I'll let your ride in my Italian car,
      If I can ride in yours.

    4. "Has there ever been a musician more commodified than Bob Dylan?" Um, yeah. Generally speaking, ripping on artists who have been successful for six decades leaves you on pretty shaky ground. Bob S is not a fan of the Beatles, but grants them their due. Taking pot-shots at Dylan is a loser's game.

  5. Dylan/Beatles. Apples/oranges Broccoli/Pie. You could like The Beatles at 9. To appreciate Dylan, you had to grow up a little, so I wasn't into him until after he was pretty much a relic (although I had absorbed his biggies from the top 40).

    The Beatles' message Sunday night was overwhelmingly positive because John Lennon was once again shafted. It was basically a night for Paul, the positive one, punctuated with ALL of George's substantial songs. If anything, Ringo performed better than Paul (his modest vocal talents being about as good as they ever were), but his Beatle numbers were all Paul-penned.

    For John there was "In My LIfe," which Paul claims to have melodized, and I believe him. There was "Don't Let Me Down," to give Yoko a chance to tear up in public one more time. There was a hootnanny version of "Revolution" which sounded like a compromise between the two Beatles' versions that dulled the edges of both.

    You want dark, brooding and negative? You needed more of Lennon's stuff. But I guess Grammy wanted to keep things bright and positive. So once again McCartney was the focus.

    The lyrics of Hey Jude were working lyrics waiting for a final draft. Lennon, a nonsense practitioner, said keep the first draft. I think it was subconscious sabotage. Now people see as holy writ.

    The Beatles were always laughing at people taking messages from their work (worst example ever, Charles Manson). The music came first. Usually the lyrics read like a necessary bother, evolving from the usual teenage love angst to stories about British eccentrics or John's internal states or George's spiritual progress. No oracles here.

    Ultimately, The Beatles were about having fun with great tunes. But then, didn't Dylan often follow the Beats' example in writing pure nonsense, too? Isn't most of "Rolling Stone" gibberish? He wasn't much into being an oracle either.

  6. Time for some symbolism in Ft. Howler.

    Got It.

    Bob is dead.

    He shared a bowl of yellow mattered custard with Rachel Maddow
    and put things right before he died.

    Now liberalworld is off his shoulder.

    Na, na, na, nahna, na na.

  7. I think TDH should have a daily music thread.

  8. "When the mop tops arrived in the U.S., we were high school juniors in the San Francisco suburbs. For us, Bob Dylan had already hit."

    Then there were those who could enjoy the music of both.

  9. Thank God. At the beginning of the post, I was terrified that Bob was going to trash the Beatles. Wisely, he didn't. As for all the cut-aways to the audience, it's pretty similiar to FOX showing a member of the crowd every ten seconds during the World Series. They don't think the audience has the attention span to just watch the game. My guess is that they have some research to back it up too.

    And Hey Jude is still my favorite song. "Take a sad song and make it better" is about as close to the Meaning of Life as we're going to get.

    1. And with Let it Be as close to any worthwhile advice on living life as we're going to get.

    2. "'Take a sad song and make it better' is about as close to the Meaning of Life as we're going to get."


  10. Did not enjoy the tribute for the same reason Bob didn't. "Oh, look at Celebrity XYZ approving!" Almost as bad as the Oscars. Blech.

  11. why would you be terrified somerby would attack the beatles. they aren't irish. they are'nt catholic. they aren't liberal leaders who failed to stand up against the war.

    1. Plenty of Irish in Liverpool.

    2. Sure. And bedbugs, too.


  12. What's Malala's favorite band?

    1. Malala transfuses from the Great Souls.

    2. Almost everyone is surfing The Dumb at this point.

    3. 344: including you.

  13. I actually liked the cover song better than the Paul and Ringo numbers at the tribute. Much like everything Dylan ever did...