By JOHN DeMERS
If you’re heading to Austin between now and the new year, you might check in with arguably history’s most impactful Texan to learn more about history’s most impactful rock band. The usual fascinations of the LBJ Presidential Library form an intriguing backdrop to a traveling exhibit called Ladies and Gentlemen… The Beatles! After all, the most critical developments of Beatlemania took place while the gruff, profane, manipulative and unexpectedly idealistic Lyndon Baines Johnson was remaking parts of America as its president.
Put together by no less than the GRAMMY Museum, and therefore reverential to the band’s then-unprecedented success selling records, the exhibit pulls together some 400 artifacts large and small, from iconic films and photographs down to silly products coughed up to bank on the Beatles’ surely-shortlived day in the sun. The fact that the sun stayed out for years (and, for many, still shines) is a testament not only to the charisma that John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr brought to their stardom but to the revolutionary nature of their music itself. The exhibit stops short of being geeky about that; there’s no mention of new chord progressions, new instruments, new harmonies or, in more than an occasional gloss, new recording techniques that defined later albums like Rubber Soul and especially Sgt. Pepper. Still, the accompanying text makes clear that The Beatles were something more than four P.T. Barnums with Liverpool accents.
Ultimately, the music lives on because of itself. From the simplest moon-June love rhymes of teenagers to angst-ridden and mature meditations on politics, war, protest and peace, the Beatles were the ’60s before the ’60s even knew what they were. As such they both chronicled and created one of American history’s most debated yet also most fascinating eras.