Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Beatlemania hits Havana

This interesting story from the New York Times tells of how the Cuban government has finally learned to stop worrying and love The Beatles, in the form of a new bar called the Yellow Submarine.

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.

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