In the summer of 1996, at my bat mitzvah, my older cousin told me that he found the internet very useful for finding all kinds of information. “I like to use it to find pictures of the Beatles,” I replied. He encouraged me to use it to find other things, too, but I just shrugged. So when a tiny notice appeared in the entertainment tidbits section of the Cincinnati Enquirer one day announcing that a Beatles trivia chat would take place on CompuServe that Friday at 7, I demanded that my dad allow me to establish myself at his computer. CompuServe had only recently developed a graphical interface, and I had never showed any interest in it before, and he acceded, helping me sign in and create my desired screen name, MyBonnie (the name, of course, of the Beatles’ first recorded appearance, backing up Tony Sheridan on a 1961 German recording of the traditional song, which is terrible).
I had no etiquette. I just started firing off trivia questions, no niceties or “hi I’m new here” or anything, although I think while my dad was still hovering over my shoulder he made me say “I’m a kid” at some point to establish that. I quickly wowed the small number of other chatters (NATURALLY “Martha My Dear” is about Paul’s sheepdog Martha), and Beatles Trivia Chat became a weekly ritual. No one knew how or why the announcement had appeared in the paper.
Eventually, I became the host of the chat, and had to request the purchase of a book of Beatles trivia at Barnes & Noble once my knowledge exhausted itself. A small cadre of regulars would show up. There were JohnnyRhythm and FrankieCrisp, the chat’s romance; PolythenePam, the only other kid, a Mormon from Utah named Emily who exchanged letters with me once, introduced me to the concept of Jamba Juice, and stopped showing up when she joined a ska band; Kat, the admin, who died suddenly; and SuiteJudyBlueEyes (she was also in a CSNY chat), who sent me pictures of herself posing in her tie-dyed best with a grudging Stephen Stills. Sometimes we didn’t even bother with trivia and just shot the shit. At some point I “won” a CD of Paul’s 1997 album “Flaming Pie.”
I devoted myself to CompuServe Beatles chat for about two years, in the course of which time I moved across the country. In real life, I had two friends in the world and sensibly, neither of them cared about the Beatles. On CompuServe, Johnny and Frankie would tell me not to worry about people who didn’t care about the Beatles, that I would find my people some day or whatever. This encouragement did not help my popularity at school, where I proudly gave a presentation about my George Harrison research paper to my new classmates. Every other girl had done their research paper on the Titanic.
I finally met the chat IRL at the annual Beatles convention at a hotel in the Meadowlands, to which my mom’s cousin reluctantly chaperoned me. They seemed diminished in real life somehow; when I hugged the slender FrankieCrisp and then pounded her on the back for some reason, I felt as awkward physically as I felt emotionally. These were my friends! But in person, they were adults seeing me as the gawky child I was, and seemed eager for me to move on to the cover band show or the merchandise bazaar. For the first time, I wondered why they, too, spent their Friday nights on CompuServe Beatles trivia chat.
And so the magic vanished, and someone else showed up who had the same Beatles trivia book that I did, and before I fell into a total respect tailspin on Beatles trivia chat, I announced my departure on the chatroom message board, thanking everyone for their help and support during that difficult time in my life. I quietly checked for a couple days but no one replied.
Other people’s internet stories have always seemed more exciting and cool to me (they are). In mine, there’s 0 sex stuff, and the whole thing took place on CompuServe, not even on AOL. Online, I was only ever myself, which at the time was the last thing I wanted to be. In my adult life, I finally made friends and became absorbed in various kinds of DIY and experimental music. I began to pretend that I hadn’t cared so exclusively about the Beatles in my formative teen years–to the point where I spent every Friday night chatting online with weird middle aged people about them–and that became the false facade, and not the other way around.
Perhaps the generally warm reception to “Get Back” has slowly empowered me to speak my truth instead of continuing to live a lie: I was not a punk, I was not an indie rocker, I wasn’t even that weird. I was just a CompuServe Beatles Teen.