Tess Yarbrough Celebrates 1960s Music on YouTube

One day in Texas, two star-crossed Beatles fans a generation apart forged an unlikely alliance. And it all started with a 50-year-old magazine.

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Music and pop culture vlogger Tess Yarbrough. This photo and the featured photo by Mercedes Guzman.

YouTube personality Tess Yarbrough, known on the web as “safetytess,” was given a stack of 1960s teen magazines by her dad, a collector and fellow music lover. What she found inside would lead to a journey and a friendship decades in the making.

From magazines to YouTube

Twenty- and 30-somethings today remember growing up with teen magazines that reeled us in with images of heartthrobs on the front cover and promises of celebrity gossip inside. Those have gone the way of the dodo because of the ready availability of pictures, video and gossip on the internet, more specifically on social media.

But in the 1960s those magazines were a huge part of teen culture. They featured images, quizzes and even fanfiction about popular boybands of the time, including the Beatles—which happens to be one of Yarbrough’s favorite bands. She said she doesn’t remember learning the lyrics to Beatles songs, she’s just known them as far back as she can remember.

“I basically collect teen magazines because I love that they’re so parallel to today,” she said.

A fan friendship that spans decades

Reading through the stack of vintage magazines with her friends, Yarbrough realized the original owner, a teen named Barbara, had taken every quiz and had filled out every mail-order card—but had never sent them. Yarbrough did some digging and found Barbara, now in her 60s, on Facebook, sending her a message that went unanswered for more than two years. But earlier this year, Yarbrough got a friend request from Barbara.

Excited, she traveled to Barbara’s home to meet her.

“It was like interviewing the future version of myself because she’s so bubbly,” Yarbrough said to Rewire. “She had this trunk of old Beatles stuff that she had from her childhood and she brought it so we could go through it together.”

Making that connection was a highlight of Yarbrough’s nine years building an online presence as a music researcher and blogger, but it’s also emblematic of why she does what she does. Barbara wasn’t an “an active Beatles fan” when they met, but their meeting “revitalized her love,” Yarbrough said. She believes building bridges through music history is key to bringing generations together.

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Tess Yarbrough’s vintage teen magazine collection. Photo courtesy of Tess Yarbrough.

“I think the fan and the youth inside of you gets covered by bills and grocery lists,” she said of former music fans. “You grow up and you feel like it’s not as acceptable to be excited about it, and that’s a bunch of bull.”

A ‘second-generation fan’

Yarbrough got home to Texas this week from an appearance at Chicago’s The Fest for Beatles Fans, where she spoke on a panel about growing a next generation of Beatles fans (she was asked to speak because her video about Barbara got some media attention). Her favorite way to teach people about music is her YouTube channel, where she talks about modern favorites as well as the oldies, but everything in her life, including her enviable vintage wardrobe, is steeped in the history of past decades.

“My goal with my YouTube, even just me as a person when I talk to people, is… I want to get the new generation to keep the old songs alive and I want to give the (older) generation new songs to listen to,” she said. “There’s so many artists right now that are inspired by the (musicians past generations) love.”

While she was at the Fest—attending was always a dream of hers and her dad’s, so she was on Cloud Nine (George Harrison pun intended) having been asked to appear as a speaker—she learned she’s considered a “second-generation fan,” which “blew my mind, because that makes me feel really close to them.”

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Tess Yarbrough (center) at The Fest for Beatles Fans earlier this month in Chicago. She spoke on a panel about the next generation of fans. Photo courtesy of Tess Yarbrough.

Today, third-generation fans are connecting on spaces like tumblr and Twitter, she said. Social media makes it so easy to find community around any passion—which she thinks is a way to diminish the effects of bullying.

“How unreal it is that there are people on tumblr who are writing sonnets about loving Paul McCartney?” she said. “There’s a 10 paragraph essay about why Paul McCartney is the best, and there’s a GIF of him from 1965.”

Teen mags are gone, but by using new technology, “they’re keeping it alive,” Yarbrough said.

Turning fandom into a career

For her day job, Yarbrough works in the music industry wearing a lot of hats, from concert promotion to helping bands backstage. But once the show starts, “I’ll always be in the audience—I could be the Duke of Wellington and I would be in the audience.”

Her dream is to start an online platform for people to find concert-going buddies and a safe, supportive space to talk about music (one of her missions is to end cyberbullying around differing music tastes). But she has a backup plan.

“I always say if I cannot succeed in the music industry I will open a record store and a soda pop shop and tell people about good music,” she said, laughing.

Do you love the swinging ’60s, too? Check out the new season of “Endeavour” coming to PBS—where murder mystery will collide with 1960s counterculture. Yeah, I’m pretty darn excited.

Katie Moritz

Katie Moritz is Rewire’s web editor and a Pisces who enjoys thrift stores, rock concerts and pho. She covered politics for a newspaper in Juneau, Alaska, before driving down to balmy Minnesota to help produce long-standing public affairs show “Almanac” at Twin Cities PBS. Now she works on this here website. Reach her via email at [email protected] Follow her on Twitter @katecmoritz and on Instagram @yepilikeit.