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Jewish World Review March 9, 2001 / 14 Adar, 5761

Bob Greene

Bob Greene
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She wouldn't dance with another ... well, yes, she would -- ORLANDO | The woman was, by appearances, in her middle- to late-30s; she was moving to the music like a teenager. Yet her hand was cupped to the side of her face, as if she was suffering from an earache. The hand was moving -- like a hand working at needlepoint.

This wasn't needlepoint, though -- it was something more mundane. And the music...

Well, let's not get ahead of ourselves. Every time I am in central Florida, I try my best to go see the fake Beatles. The fake Beatles -- they are called the British Invasion -- play in the Epcot area of Walt Disney World, the part that is supposed to replicate the Earth itself. Except you can walk from Japan to Italy to Germany to Canada. ...

Anyway, the fake Beatles play in a courtyard behind the England part of the fake world. They're real -- they may be fake Beatles, but they're real men, they're not animatrons, or whatever you call those things in the Pirates of the Caribbean ride -- and they play four or five times an evening, for only 20 minutes or so per set; some unseen boss is watching the clock.

The fake Beatles change from season to season; if you look closely you can see there's a turnover from year to year, or even month to month. But -- although it's blasphemy to say it -- they may sound better than the real Beatles sounded in concert in 1964. The equipment is superior, they don't have to compete with screams, they can hear each other -- the fake Beatles are an unremitting delight.

The real Beatles are very much back in the news these days, with their compilation of No. 1 singles having sold something in excess of 20 million CDs worldwide. Their photos-and-words book also went to No. 1 at Christmastime, but the book inadvertently demonstrated something curious about the Beatles -- actually a couple of things:

First, not much they ever said was particularly interesting. If you're seeking in their spoken words the secret of their lasting power, it's not there. Paul McCartney can tell the story of how the working title of "Yesterday" was "Scrambled Eggs" a million times (and he has), and it's still not illuminating; but play those first four seconds of "Yesterday" today -- the echo of the acoustic strings, the chilling timbre of his young voice -- and you know again that what those four men did required no linear explanation. Everything good -- everything thrilling, everything that can still make you cry or laugh out loud -- was in the songs themselves.

The other thing the book demonstrated is that these guys seemed to have spent at least half their time posing for pictures. Flailing their arms about, leaning their heads into each others', jumping, letting their mouths droop sadly at a photographer's command -- they must have been quite pliant lads. Not only did they write, in a big hurry, all that great music -- but they were constantly being interrupted and asked to stand near bus stops or atop buildings, beaming or leaping for that never-the-last One More Shot.

But back to Walt Disney World, and the fake Beatles. How good were the real ones? So good that this carbon copy of a carbon copy, which you would think might be bland beyond bland, silly, vanilla, hopelessly embarrassing, always manages to be none of those things. The fake Beatles are genuine singers and genuine guitar players, and their set lists -- "We Can Work It Out," "Eight Days a Week," "She Loves You," "Day Tripper," "Help!" -- literally stop traffic. Granted, it's unlikely traffic -- foot traffic en route from fake Norway to fake China -- but the sounds of those chords serve as invisible electrical shocks. The people halt in their tracks, and even those who weren't born at the time of the real singers become instantly younger and a little more alive. They move toward the guitars.

Which brings us back to the woman with the dancing feet and the hand to her ear. She glanced over toward her husband, standing near the bandstand where the fake Beatles were playing; she gave him a sheepish look. He was watching over their children. And her? She was checking her voice mail back home. That's what her hand was working at -- the cell phone pressed to her ear. A wife and mother, she was dancing like a kid, because the fake Beatles were well into "I Saw Her Standing There." Her feet bounced, her face grinned and glowed, she hit the prompts on the phone and listened to the real-world messages even as the music sounded. And the way she looked was way beyond compare...

JWR contributor Bob Greene is a novelist and columnist. Send your comments to him by clicking here.


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