Of all the depressing, startling, and often eccentric soundbites that scrolled past during budget day afternoon, the one that really stood out for me was the chancellor boasting that he is spending £2 million to create a Beatles museum in Liverpool.
Boomers warping the national demographics is a helluva drug for the Conservative Party.
There are so many reasons why this was stupid and bad and ridiculous, ranging from why the hell is the Chancellor of the Exchequer micromanaging investment in the cultural offers of regional cities, through the fact that actually when you get into the detail you discover that the £2 million is in fact only to pay civil servants to investigate a business case for creating a museum and it doesn’t pay for a single tangible thing, to the fact that musicians making music today and venues bring music to people today are all desperately crying out for relief after a crippling pandemic. Today’s music is dying while yesterday’s gets another museum.
But there’s one much more fundamental reason why a new Beatles museum is a terrible idea, which nobody seems to want to talk about.
Liverpool can’t trade on the Beatles forever, and the decline in the Beatles industry might happen faster and sooner than anyone in it is willing to contemplate.
Growing up in the 1990s, references to the Beatles were fairly common in the background. But there was one even more ubiquitous cultural reference.
These days, Elvis’s place in our culture can be summed up by the fact that Elvis memorabilia is plummeting in value. What was once treated as an investment that would keep growing forever is fast becoming worthless. The bubble is bursting because the collectors are old and dying, the market is flooded with their collections, and younger generations just aren’t interested.
It doesn’t matter whether the Beatles were a truly exceptional act, rather than just one of many good bands making good music. It doesn’t matter that in their day they changed the world and left an indelible mark. Sure, there will always be people who still play their records on the radio from time to time; there will always be musicians noting their influence; they are not going to disappear.
But there won’t always be people who are so into them that they will, in their hundreds every day, travel to a distant city and walk through the doors of a museum dedicated entirely to them.
As a young man once wrote (before he became an old man and sold all the rights to his catalogue for $300 million, just as the market for it started literally dying):
As the present now will later be past
The order is rapidly fadin’
And the first one now will later be last
For the times they are a-changin’
One day, everybody will have forgotten the film Yesterday. Somebody from whatever generation comes after Gen Z will stumble upon it. They’ll try to describe it to their friends, and they’ll be met with blank looks. “Why would anybody make a film about the Beatles?”
More interesting will be what happens to a political party that has gone all out to buy the loyalty of an aging generation at the expense of those to come. Will the mighty look upon their works and despair?