Do baristas dream of electric Beatles?
A story about a barista who loves The Beatles, a "new" song from the Fab Four, and strong feelings about artificial intelligence
“Are you fucking with me?” the barista asks.
I am not fucking with her. I came here for coffee, WiFi, and maybe a breakfast burrito to nosh on while I write. But after a brief panic attack, I realize her question isn’t meant for me. Her question is meant for her coworker.
“No, why?” he asks.
“This song, this fucking song,” she says. “I can’t take this fucking song.”
I can’t quite place the song. The voices sound familiar, but the tune is new to me.
“Every time I hear this song, I wanna scream.”
The barista doesn’t scream, but her threat focuses my attention. I listen a little closer. The song warms my ears, but at the same time, it leaves me feeling a little off. It’s an uncanny vibe, kind of like déjà vu, or maybe déjà rêvé, or even déjà entendu. Honestly, I’m not sure because I don’t speak French, and I get my “déjàs” mixed up. But the song! It reminds me of The Beatles. I know their music really well, but I don’t recognize this tune.
“I kinda like it,” the other barista says.
“That’s because you have shitty taste, Tim.”
Tim doesn’t defend himself or his shitty taste. Instead, he comes out from behind the counter and heads over to the sugar station to tidy up.
“Who sings this song?” I ask.
“It’s The Beatles,” the barista says, putting air quotes around the name of the band. “This is their new song, the one they did with an old John Lennon demo and some AI bullshit.”
I heard about this song on a tech podcast I listen to. It’s called Now and Then, which is an interesting title for a song that blends an old recording with new technology to create something that is, well, shitty, at least as far as the barista is concerned.
“I’m a huge Beatles fan,” she says. “This song is ruining my life.”
I believe her. The outrage in her voice is as real as the pain in her eyes. Music taps into something deep inside us—a sacred place in our souls where emotions, identity, and community intersect. If Bill & Ted ever get their shit together and harness the power of music, Wyld Stallyns might just fulfill its fictional destiny and save humanity.
But here in the real world, we have The Beatles—a band that might’ve saved the world too, if only the world had opened its hearts and minds along with its ears. Sadly, The Beatles broke up, then any hopes of a reunion were crushed when John Lennon was murdered. But thanks to machines that learn, but will never learn to feel, The Beatles won’t die.
One might think that the barista would be happy about a new song from The Beatles, but anyone who’s ever had their fandom fucked over by the music industry knows that songs like Now and Then are complicated. The barista looks like she’s in her early twenties, which means she was born around the time George left us, which was decades after John left us. But the timeline doesn’t matter. Dollars to donuts, the first time the barista heard The Beatles she felt their music in her soul. Their music wasn’t old, it was eternal. By the time their music reached the barista’s young ears, it had survived countless cultural cross-currents and changing music formats. Sure, a business had been built around The Beatles, and an industry surrounds that business, but between their music and her ears, there is an uninterrupted chain of humans who grooved, who sang, who shared, who kept the music alive. But now, according to the barista, “it’s a lifeless, soulless machine.”
“Why would they do that?” she asks. “Why would they take something real and make it fake?”
I don’t know the answer to that one. Maybe Paul and Ringo thought it would be cool to give the world one last song from The Beatles. Maybe the record company wanted to squeeze out just a little more profit. Maybe both are true. And maybe, as is always the case with creative matters, some people are going to love it, while others are going to hate it.
“I think there’s going to be a lot more of this,” I say. “Mick Jagger might not be able to get any satisfaction, but I’m sure he’s got an AI solution.”
“Of course he does. The Rolling Stones are cynical fuck-wads. But The Beatles? I believe in the Beatles. Just not this AI bullshit. No thanks.”
I like The Rolling Stones, and while they are many things, I wouldn’t call them “cynical fuck-wads.” But there’s no point in arguing with the barista. Now and Then is a deep cut that cut her deep, and as the saying goes, hurt people hurt people. So I search for something sympathetic to say.
“I’m a paperback writer, and this AI stuff feels like a dagger pressed against my throat,” I tell her.
The reference to The Beatles song—an original, canonic song from The Beatles—makes her smile.
The barista rings me up. I tap my credit card on the reader, but nothing happens. I lift the card off the reader, then tap it again. Nothing.
“Should I insert the card?” I ask.
“No, this machine just sucks ass. Do you have cash?”
I hand her a twenty.
“They can make an AI that gives us a new Beatles song” I say, “but payment solutions are still a work in progress, I guess.”
The irony makes the barista laugh. We could continue our Luddite crusade, but she has work to do, and so do I, so we decide just to Let It Be.
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An important coda to this story
While the barista’s feelings were right on the money, she may have been wrong about the origins of Now and Then. Here’s a 12-minute documentary about the making of the song. I found it fascinating. You should check it out👇
There’s more to this story, so check out the podcast!
I’m going to talk about this story and some related tech stuff on the Situation Normal podcast with Todd, who came up as a musican before becoming a production Swiss Army Knife. That episode will come out November 29; we’re skipping a week because of Thanksgiving🦃
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I’ve got questions, you’ve got answers.
Are you a fan of The Beatles, or do you hate good music? Confess!
How do you feel about Now and Then? Is it a Beatles song, machine madness, a gift from the music gods? Go deep on this one!
Do you think Bill & Ted will ever get their shit together and actually save the world, or should we work on a Plan B? Dish!
Conversations with baristas are always a lot of fun. Why is that? Share your theories!
Can you keep your “déjàs” straight? Why are the French so good at describing the different kinds of uncanny feelings we get from time to time?
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