What do Jesus Christ, San Francisco, and a Russian spacecraft have in common? The answer is: The Beatles, who released their last album, Let It Be, in the United States on this day in 1970.
The story of this odd Fab-Four related threesome begins with Jesus Christ’s Sermon on the Mount where he issued his Beatitudes (from Latin beatitudo for ‘happiness’). These statements are found in the books of Matthew and Luke, and each begins with the word Blessed (or Happy), as in “Blessed are the peacemakers for they will be called the children of God.”
Flash forward to the West Coast in the 1950s. A group of young writers and artists attempt to rattle the conventional cages of their elders. Through self-expression and social protest, they make a name for themselves, and one of them, American writer Jack Kerouac, coins the term beat generation in 1952. As cited in Twentieth Century Words, Kerouac associated the word beat with beatitude: “Beat means beatitude, not beat up.”
Five years later, the Russians shock the world with the launch of the first artificial earth satellite. They call their satellite Sputnik, meaning ‘traveling companion.’ When news of the satellite’s launch on October 4, 1957 hits the newspapers, this Russian word is instantly absorbed into the English lexicon.
In 1958, San Francisco columnist Herb Caen blends the ‘beat generation’ with ‘Sputnik’ to create beatnik, a catchy term to describe young bohemians like Jack Kerouac.
Two years later across the Atlantic, a fledgling group of musicians from Liverpool, England settle on the name The Beatles. Despite John Lennon’s claim that the name came to him in a vision of a man riding on a flaming pie, it appears more likely that the name was influenced by one of John’s favorite bands, Buddy Holly and the Crickets. Looking for something catchy, they originally used Beetles, but no doubt the pun value of ‘beat’ got the better of them, influencing them to become The Beatles with an A.
Unlike Sputnik, the British band’s name did not become an instant household word. Their launch had to wait until 1963 when Beatlemania became first a British epidemic and later, in 1964, an American and worldwide pandemic (1).
In 1970, however, the world mourned as The Beatles came crashing to earth. John, Paul, George, and Ringo dissolved what was without a doubt the most popular, successful, and influential band of all time.
Even though decades have passed since the breakup of the Beatles, there is no waning of the passion for their music; for example, in the year 2000, 30 years after their breakup, The Beatles’ greatest hits CD The Beatles 1 hit number one on the Billboard Album Charts. For Beatles fans, the term Beatles trivia is a contradiction in terms. For them, reading about and listening to The Beatles is anything but a trivial pursuit. For a fan of The Beatles, knowledge about the Beatles is just as important as any other category of E.D. Hirsh’s Dictionary of Cultural Literacy. (See March 1: Cultural Literacy Day)
The word trivia has an interesting history in its own right that relates to its roots. Originating from the Latin trivialis, it is made up of tri meaning three and via meaning roads. What do three roads have to do with the modern sense of ‘unimportant tidbits of information’? Where else than at the crossroads would common people meet to exchange weather reports, small talk, and gossip?
Today’s Challenge: Pursuit for the Trivial and Not So Trivial
What are some examples of important organizations, groups, or clubs? Brainstorm a list of groups of people that come together for a specific purpose. It could be a musical group, a political (special interest) or religious group, a community group, or a business organization. Select a single group, and research the group’s background, history, and purpose. Write a brief report for an audience who knows little about the organization. Try to give them the vital details about the organization as well as some trivial details that might be interesting. (Common Core Writing 2 – Expository)
Quote of the Day: Why tell me why did you not treat me right? Love has a nasty habit of disappearing overnight! — from The Beatles’ song “I’m Looking Through You”
1- Ayto, John. Twentieth Century Words. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999.