Heard today, gone tomorrow

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In a recent conversation with some youngsters, someone said she had never heard of The Beatles. It was unclear whether she was winding up her listeners or not, but she remained steadfast with her assertion.

At first, I thought it was a generational issue. Perhaps we have reached a point in time where the music and appearance of such a major act was no longer potent or relevant to young people. The other youngsters in the room were all aware of Ringo (in particular!) and could name several Beatles songs.

I tried explaining to the person who made the statement that The Beatles are probably as prominent in British culture as Shakespeare and Charles Dickens. She said she was aware of the Bard and Dickens, but not The Beatles. She had even heard of Elvis.

This conversation made me think about the ebbing and flowing of cultural products. Is there any way of knowing that a set of symbols is going to have a lasting impact on the world? Sometimes when I’m shopping, I hear popular music from the 1980s and some recordings stand out for their timelessness, whereas others are hopelessly dated and should be appreciated with knowledge of context.

When artists talk about creating work that is “built to last”, perhaps it is worth remembering that such work might not have its most powerful impact in the time it emerges.