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yesterday but it’s about the rutles

By 1976, Beatlemania was long over, but the impact of The Beatles wasn’t going anywhere. As a yet unsuccessful band struggling to put themselves on the map, this was detrimental for The Rutles. Each of the band’s four members—Dirk McQuickly, Ron Nasty, Barry Wom, and Stig O’Hara—was a huge Beatles fan. It wasn’t hard to tell; not only did they dress like The Beatles, but they had a similar sound. Too similar, in fact.

On the fateful day that changed it all, The Rutles were in a meeting with producer Brian Thigh. It felt like the hundredth meeting in their band’s short lifetime, and it was going just as poorly as all the previous ones.

“You know what the problem with your music is?” Brian asked. “It sounds too much like The Beatles. I mean, seriously, this is borderline plagiarism.”

“That’s ridiculous,” Nasty said just like he always did when he was told that.

“Come on. There’s no way it’s unintentional. ‘Get Up and Go’ sounds almost exactly like ‘Get Back’. Even the titles are almost the same!”

“No, no, you don’t understand. We’re heavily influenced by The Beatles, but we would never outright copy them,” insisted Barry.

“You’d do better as, I don’t know, a Beatles parody band or something.”

“A Beatles parody band?! What a stupid idea!” Nasty exclaimed.

“Sure, whatever you say, but you’re never going to get signed unless you get a more original sound.” Brian sounded almost angry. “In fact, not only will you never get signed, you’ll get sued.”

Dirk outright laughed.

“Laugh all you want, don’t come cryin’ to me when it happens. Now get outta here. Go on.”

The band stood up, and they were about to leave as told until Dirk stopped with a thoughtful look on his face. “You know,” he said to Brian, “has anyone ever told you you look like that bloke from that American show Saturday Night Live? What’s his name? Uh...Dan Aykroyd, is it?”

“Uh...no. I’ve never heard of him. But you know who you look like? Eric Idle. You know, from Monty Python.”

“You think so? I’ve been told that a lot but I don’t see it.”

Nasty tugged on Dirk’s arm and Dirk seemed to suddenly remember what was happening. He followed the others out without another word.

~~~

That night, the band was walking down the slightly busy city street beneath a pitch black sky. They had a bus to catch; they had a string of shows in a pub the next week and it wasn’t very close by. They were all still pretty beat up about what happened with Brian, but they were used to it and tried not to mope. Instead, they preferred joking around to lighten the mood.

That is, until the power went out as far as the eye could see.

They all looked around. “Wow. That’s pretty strange,” commented Dirk.

“Yeah,” said Nasty, “hopefully it won’t last too long.”

That wasn’t the worst of it, though. They were so busy observing the blackout that when they began to cross the street, they didn’t even notice a bus heading straight towards them.

It ended just as well as you’d expect.

~~~

Nasty opened his eyes slowly. Not only was he lying in a hospital bed—surrounded by plain colors, sparse furnishing, and that distinct hospital smell—but he was in a hospital room being shared by all his band mates, which he really didn’t understand at all. Even weirder than that, though, he didn’t feel physically hurt, just extremely disoriented.

“Where am I?” he muttered.

“A hospital room,” replied Dirk.

“I know that, you stupid git,” Nasty snapped, “I meant...I meant what happened?”

“We got hit by a bus,” said Barry.

“Right. Right. How is it possible I got hit by a bus and I feel totally fine, just a few scrapes and bruises?”

“I don’t know. Magic?” Dirk answered.

Nasty rolled his eyes. “Stig, you alright? You’re awfully quiet.”

Stig gave a thumbs up and Barry said, “Well, yeah, he never says anything, remember?”

“Oh, right, how could I forget. How long was I unconscious for?”

“You were just sleeping, mate,” said Dirk.

“Oh. Well, could we get out of here then?”

“Sure. I’m sure we can just walk right out without a word to the staff and nothing will come of it.”

~~~

Dirk was right, and within minutes they were out of the hospital and on their way to the show. They were very nearly late (Barry sent them down the wrong street at one point, but luckily Stig noticed quickly), but they managed to arrive in a timely fashion and put on what they considered to be a great show.

There were other groups performing after them. They decided to sit at the bar, have a few drinks, and see what other music the pub had to offer. They’d only just gotten themselves settled when they were approached by a stranger, a short man with shaggy brown hair, dark eyes, and a thin nose. “Hey, you guys were great!” he exclaimed. “I especially liked ‘With a Girl Like You’.”

The whole band was surprised. They’d never been approached after a performance. In fact, they’d never even really been complimented. People always told them that “With a Girl Like You” sounded too much like “If I Fell”. “Thanks,” Nasty said sincerely with a smile on his face.

“You don’t think we sound too much like The Beatles, do you?” asked Dirk.

“Like who?”

“You don’t know The Beatles?! How?!” cried Barry.

Stig just stared with huge, shocked eyes.

“No, who are they?”

“Oh, you’re messing with us. Everybody knows The Beatles, come on,” said Dirk.

“No, I really don’t.” He looked past the band and towards the bartender. “Hey! Uh, bartender!”

The bartender turned. He and the man had oddly similar hair, but the bartender was incredibly tall. “Have you ever heard of some group called The Beatles?” the man asked.

The bartender shrugged and shook his head. “Nope.”

“See?” the man said. “Anyway, you guys put on a great show. I bet you could really make it big someday. I hope I’ll be seeing more of you.”

“Uh...thanks, again. But I’m still pretty confused,” Nasty mumbled.

“Well, dunno what to tell you. I just don’t know The Beatles.”

“But everyone knows The Beatles.”

“Mate, I keep telling you! Okay, you want some proof, hm? I’m going to go around asking everyone in this place if they’ve heard of The Beatles and I’ll show you how many people say no. It can’t just be me and the bartender.”

“Sure, whatever, have fun.”

The man disappeared into the crowd. None of the band expected him to return.

“I just don’t understand it. What, has he been isolated from society since the start of the 60s or something?” Nasty wondered.

“Must’ve been,” Dirk laughed.

Stig was looking very contemplative. The others took notice. “Hey, Stig, something wrong?” Barry asked. Stig didn’t say anything, as usual, nor did he even look up.

“Hey, I know what he’s thinking. He’s thinking about the blackout and the bus accident and all that. Like, you know, what if that has something to do with it, or what if we’re all dreaming right now, is that it, Stig?” Nasty asked.

Stig nodded.

“Wow, wouldn’t that be somethin’?” said Barry.

“Yeah. For all we know, maybe something crazy is going on and The Beatles don’t even exist,” said Dirk.

Just then, the strange man from before approached once again. “I’ve done it,” he said. “I’ve conducted my poll. See for yourselves.”

He held out a crumpled up piece of paper and Nasty took it. The others looked over his shoulders to see what it said. At the top was written, “Have you ever heard of the group The Beatles?” and beneath that were two columns, one for yes and one for no. The no column was filled up with tally marks without a single tally mark in the yes column. They couldn’t believe it.

“Well...I guess you’re right then,” said Nasty.

“I know it. Keep that paper, just as a reminder,” the man said before leaving once more.

The band all exchanged horrified looks. Finally, Dirk said, “I...I was just joking.”

~~~

The group spent the next week scouring every place they could think of to prove the existence of The Beatles. To be fair, that wasn’t very many places—but one thing was for sure, not a single music store in the area had a trace of Beatles music.

During this time, they would also ask strangers on the street about The Beatles. Still, no one had heard of them. Even singing some of their greatest hits wasn’t enough to jog anybody’s memory.

At first, the group was in a total state of panic. What would the world become without The Beatles? They’d had such a huge impact. Surely everything would be different. Music, of course, but not just that—everything, the entire culture of the world. Wouldn’t that be interesting to explore?

Yes, but this story is about The Rutles. Hey, it could be worse. At least this isn’t a romance story.

The group finally started to realize the benefits of this new world when they realized that their week out of town had earned them a following. By their last performance at that pub, half the faces in the crowd had come to watch them play three nights in a row. Their audience grew exponentially performance after performance, and they weren’t able to stick around on their last night because they were being swarmed by people asking for autographs or simple conversation.

That was when it hit them—The Beatles had held them back from success for too long. Now, with The Beatles out of the way, nobody could call them plagiarists anymore. Nobody would think they were just some stupid Beatles parody band. No, now they could get the spotlight they craved and finally claw their way to the top.

It was finally their time to shine.

~~~

Once they were back in their hometown, the group set up another meeting, this time with producer Archie Macaw. And things were finally looking up.

“I’ve gotta say, this is music like I’ve never heard before. I mean, we could really have something here. There’s serious potential,” said Archie.

“Really?!” Barry asked excitedly.

“Oh, yes. ‘Cheese and Onions’? We could have a hit with that. Kids all over the world could be singing that catchy ‘C-H-E-E-S-E A-N-D O-N-I-O-N-S’.”

“You think so? That’s great,” said Nasty, trying to keep his cool. He wanted their first hit to be “Eine Kleine Middle Klasse Musik”, but he wasn’t going to say it just yet.

~~~

Well, sure enough, it wasn’t long before—under Archie’s guidance—“Cheese and Onions” became the biggest song in the world (and “Eine Kleine Middle Klasse Musik” was, unfortunately, the song that people used to gate-keep and try to dictate who was a “real” Rutles fan). The band got a great manager, too—Leggy Mountbatten, who promised he would never retire to take a teaching job in Australia. In fact, things were pretty perfect. Like The Beatles, The Rutles were quickly becoming the best-known band around, and finally nobody was able to tell them that ”Ouch!” sounded exactly like “Help!”. Practically overnight, The Rutles went from being shunned for “plagiarism” to seeing everybody on the street wearing t-shirts that say “I <3 STIG” and “YOU’VE GOT LONELY-PHOBIA”.

Okay, so maybe it could get a little intense.

With the release of their first record, the band was going to hold a press conference to answer the pressing questions the public was dying to have answered. The group was actually quite excited about it, particularly Nasty. Sitting there before all these chattering people scribbling in their notebooks was thrilling. He wanted everyone to know the facts. He just couldn’t wait for everyone at the conference to really start asking the real questions; he wanted to really use his voice, and he-

“You there, in the blue button down.”

“Nasty, who is the real Knicker Elastic King?”

“What? Uh...well...I...it’s not...it-“

“I am,” Dirk interrupted jokingly.

This caused an uproar in the crowd. Everyone was shouting, “The Knicker Elastic King! The Knicker Elastic King!” and Dirk was more puzzled by it than anybody.

Somebody in the crowd shouted out, “So, Dirk, does that mean you’re looking for a way to stop inflation, because of what happened to you?”

“What?!” Dirk cried. “It’s just a song! Which I didn’t even write!”

Leggy, always their strongest supporter, had the crowd quieted and relaxed so the band could take more questions. A woman with small rectangular glasses and thin, chapped lips stood up. “Why did you choose to make ‘Shangri-La’ nearly eight minutes in length?”

“Oh, well, that one’s easy,” Nasty began. “That’s becau-“

The woman cackled far too loudly. “Oh, you fell for it! No, I don’t care about that. I was just wondering where you buy your socks.”

“What?”

~~~

After the conference was over, sitting in their limo, the group were disheartened. Obviously, it wasn’t what they expected.

“That was horrible,” said Barry. Stig nodded in agreement.

“Yeah. I mean, with that fake ‘Shangri-La’ question, I really thought they were gonna get serious. But it was just a slap in the face,” Nasty sighed.

“Oh, and what a shame! I love ‘Shangri-La’!” Barry cried and then began to sing, “‘You can be whoever you are in Shangri-La-a-a-‘“

Nasty cut him off with a gentle nudge to the arm.

“I was most baffled when they started asking about ‘Questionnaire’. I mean, when they asked us to answer all the questions from the lyrics...” Dirk said.

“That was a real nightmare, Knicker Elastic King,” Nasty shot back.

“Shut up! I didn’t know that was a serious question!”

“Well, now everyone’s gonna call you that and ask you about raw materials and inflation for the rest of your life.”

Dirk groaned.

“Hey, don’t let it get ya down,” said Leggy. “Every group goes through this, trust me.”

“Do you guys, uh...feel a little bad?” asked Barry quietly.

“Bad? Why?” Dirk questioned.

“Well, you know, plagiarism and all?”

“No. We’re not plagiarizing anything.”

“Not intentionally, but...you’ve gotta admit, ‘Piggy in the Middle’ sounds just like ‘I Am the Walrus’.”

“Uh...no it doesn’t! Uh...it...uh...it has a hint of ‘Piggies’ too.”

“I mean, we never would’ve blown up like this if The Beatles still existed.”

“Well, that’s The Beatles’s problem for...uh, not existing.”

“What are you all on about?” Leggy asked confusedly.

“Nothing, Leggy, don’t worry about it,” Dirk assured him.

It was quiet for a moment, but Barry eventually broke the silence. “The Beatles themselves must still exist, right? I mean, Ringo is still out there somewhere working a nine-to-five job, right?”

“I guess so,” Nasty replied.

“I don’t know. I just feel a little guilty is all.”

Stig nodded in agreement again.

“No need to. We haven’t done anything wrong,” insisted Dirk.

“I’m serious, Dirk. I really want to confess. I want to tell everyone about The Beatles.”

“What?!” Nasty cried. “You don’t wanna enjoy success a little first? We’ve only got one record out. We could earn millions of pounds. ‘Major Happy’s Up and Coming Once Upon a Good Time Band’ could be the new Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. Imagine how many other hits we could have after ‘Cheese and Onions’. ‘Now She’s Left You’ is a great contender, unless you ruin it and everyone starts telling us it sounds too much like ‘I Don’t Want to Spoil the Party’ and ‘You’re Going to Lose That Girl’ again.”

“Please don’t fight,” Dirk said, exasperated.

“No, I don’t want that, Nasty. I don’t know if we’ll be able to handle the fame ahead of us. Don’t you think a group of struggling musicians suddenly rocketing to fame and dealing with everything like that press conference can be damaging, don’t you think we’ll eventually fight and fall apart and embark on solo careers in which you and Dirk start writing mean songs about each other until you finally reconcile years later when it’s already too late?”

Nasty paused in thought. “Huh. Why does that sound familiar?”

~~~

The Rutles had a huge world tour booked. It was the first time any of them had ever left England, and it was simultaneously the most exciting and terrifying thought ever.

Their first show, though, was at home. It was going well, playing to a sold out crowd of thousands. “I Must Be in Love” and “Blue Suede Schubert” drove the crowd so wild the band could hardly hear themselves. Just before they were set to play “Rendezvous”, Nasty took a deep breath and went for it.

“I know you came here tonight for the music,” he began, “but I have something to say now. Have any of you out there ever heard of The Beatles?”

The crowd just screamed.

“Okay, well, that told me nothing, but I know none of you have. Well, I have something to say. Something very strange happened to the four of us. We used to know of a legendary band called The Beatles. They were the biggest thing in the world. They changed life as we knew it in the 60s. Then, one day, there was a blackout and we got hit by a bus and next thing we knew, The Beatles didn’t exist. Nobody was ever interested in our music before because we sounded too much like The Beatles, they all said. And we want you all to know that. We’ve really only gotten successful because we’re copies of a band that doesn’t exist anymore.”

The audience’s constant cheering turned to laughter.

“Hey, I mean it.”

They laughed louder. All four Rutles quickly started to realize nobody would believe this; why would they? They all shrugged their shoulders and started playing “Rendezvous”. It was an unspoken agreement to discuss it later.

Only that discussion never came.

No, nobody ever found out that The Rutles were, at heart, Beatles plagiarists. The Beatles never came back. It wasn’t just a dream. The Rutles went on to have a successful career and they became known as the most influential musicians in the world, just like The Beatles. Everything Barry predicted for them came true. The Rutles ended their career as a group with a rooftop concert (which Stig didn’t want) and after that it seemed like they couldn’t stand each other anymore. They each had their own solo careers that were all successful, but not quite as successful as The Rutles.

Unsatisfying ending? What did you want to happen? Did you want it to all be a dream?

Now that would’ve been an unsatisfying ending...