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Political Read: I Wanted to Be Paul

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WASHINGTON -- This is a good a time to thank The Beatles. They got me through high school by popularizing the idea of teen rock bands.

It was all part of growing up in the 60s.

We were the first generation to see ourselves in real time, on camera, in a mass medium. Television defined us, showed us to ourselves.

The debut of a British boy band on The Sullivan Show 50 years ago was the supernova of the baby boom and its infinite, annoying self-awareness.

The Beatles were viral decades before the concept got a name; a frenzy of school-day chatter, radio DJs, record companies and the telephone.

Almost no one had heard them in America before December 1963, and yet by February 1964 they dominated the national psyche.

They prefigured the digital social media of today in another sense. They were everywhere, but somehow spoke directly, discretely, to you.

For people of a certain age -- I am one -- the Beatles seven years atop the pop charts precisely tracked the passage from early adolescence to what society said was adulthood: from "Please Please Me" to "Let it Be."

As the Beatles grew and deepened musically, politically, even spiritually, they mirrored in media heaven our own lesser struggles on earth. They were the sound track of a coming-of-age reality show.

We were all living that show.

In that time, there were artists who seemed to speak directly about the deepest things, about life its own self. J.D. Salinger was one: Vedic in his profundity, his short stories a form of sacred text.

Some Beatles songs felt that way, too, with their open chords, allusive lyrics and quest for meaning, solace or peace. Love is all there is, but it's complicated, and the music of the Beatles said so.

For me it was always about the music, and what it permitted and made possible.

The Beatles made it cool for everyone to play music (or try to), and suddenly everyone wanted to be in a band, including me.

I cast aside the cello I had been sawing on dutifully since the third grade and picked up the 12-string acoustic guitar I had convinced my dad to buy me when the folk music wave had hit. I borrowed an electric bass, until I earned enough to buy one of my own.

We were a cover band -- all bands were cover bands at the time -- but, while we could do reasonable justice to most of the British Invasion, or even Motown and Blues, there was no way to hide our lack of real musicianship when it came to a Beatles song.

So we didn't play many. We had a pretty lame name, too: The Classics.

Even so, we had a grand time playing for $80 a night at local clubs, bar mitzvahs and the like. We tried to make it in the Catskills, to no avail, but the trip up there and back from our hometown of Pittsburgh was a comical saga worthy of The Commitments.

By the end of senior year we were, in our own minds, a road-hardened group of pros. We even kept a flask of Southern Comfort behind the amps. We weren't The Beatles, but then again no one was.

It was all so much fun. And there times when we really rocked, and connected with the kids at The Varsity House, and I don't think that it would have happened had The Beatles not made the scene.

Of course I always wanted a Hofner bass, the kind Paul played (left-handed, which was way cool). They were insanely expensive then and, I have to assume, today. Maybe I could afford one now.

But I probably should "Let it Be."