A few days ago, Ken Shepherd recounted how New York Times reporter Damien Cave expressed grave concern that “class consciousness” might be on the rise in Cuban housing. In Monday’s paper, Cave was more sanguine about the Castro dictatorship finally letting up on its censorship of the Beatles. Cave found it curious that these revolutionary lefties had failed for so long to find cultural kindred spirits in Lennon and McCartney.
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.
Cuba in the '60s and early '70s, says Mr. [Guille] Vilar, a trained musicologist, "was a very serious place."
That’s the official Times euphemism for communist crackdowns. It makes a country a “very serious place.” All this censorship of Western decadence in the Caribbean made rock and roll a “rare cultural gem.” Somehow, it didn’t make Cuba a disreputable prison
Indeed, many Cubans still recall having to sneak a listen to whatever Beatles album they could find in the wake of the Cuban missile crisis and the American trade embargo. Festivals like Woodstock and even smaller rock concerts hardly ever occurred - all of which helps explain the appeal of the Yellow Submarine.
Scarcity, as diamond dealers well know, is the genesis of value, and in Cuba, rock music is a rare cultural gem in its own right. But the Yellow Submarine, with its pealing guitars, porthole windows, blue and yellow interior, and Beatles' lyrics on the walls? The full experience amounts to a short, direct road out of the norm.
Cuba, after all, is still a country of limited media. Just a few channels can be found on television. The Internet runs on dial-up. And while music is seemingly everywhere, including clubs and bars, most of it falls within a narrow spectrum between trova ballads and rump-shaking reggaetón.
The Beatles club is still a state-run enterprise (Cave argued it's "still quite Cuban" for the Ministry of Culture to operate it). In the Times, Cuba isn’t riddled with censorship, it merely has “limited media.” That wouldn’t be the Times term for limiting American media.
Read more at TimesWatch.