Friday, May 30, 2008
Here's the best scene in one of the greatest films of all time, Casablanca. If we ever watch this movie together, please turn your head away from me when this scene starts, or you might catch me blubbering like a little bitch.
And here's a version that's as good as the original, and another fine reason why I can never get this damn song out of my head:
Thursday, May 29, 2008
The first time I had a cigarette was at my friend's urging. Since then he's told me how proud he was that he got me addicted to cigarettes, but I would like to give myself more credit than that. We were at the beach, sitting in his car in the parking lot. The first smoke I ever had was a Marlboro red, and it made me lightheaded. I told him I liked that feeling and he told me it wouldn't always be like that. When he told me this I wondered what the point of smoking was. It wasn't until later that I "got" it.
Because we were underage, my friend and I used to hit up bums to buy us smokes, with the promise that we'd let them bum one (note: I just checked this, and let me assure you...this pun was completely unintentional). When I mentioned this to a coworker recently he called me "horrible" and said he couldn't imagine anyone else doing this. I always figured that this was a commonplace thing, and that most young smokers do this. The little prick probably just wanted to give me a guilt trip for exploiting the homeless.
Even though I'm no longer 15 years old, I still flip over the first cigarette in a new pack and save it for last as my "lucky" smoke. At one point I did two, as my friend suggested that it was "double the luck." After doing that for a year and still being a virgin, I decided that it would be best to go back to one and at least not look like such an ass.
My brand of choice is Gauloises Blondes (Note: as of this writing I have discovered that the last Gauloises factory has shut down. This is indeed a sad day). The story behind this is that, while I was on my Paris trip, I kept bumming Marlboro lights off my roommate, and when we went out for a walk for the very first time I decided to hit up a tabac to buy my own pack of smokes. I wanted French cigarettes, but I didn't know what brands were available. When I reached the counter the man asked me what I wanted, and like a typical dipshit tourist I said "je voudrais..." and just pointed at random at the cigarettes. He didn't know which ones I was talking about and the first one he pulled out was Gauloises Blondes. I said "ouais" and that's been my brand ever since.
I don't do this anymore, but when my friend taught me how to blow smoke rings, this was his advice; "pretend you're sucking a dick and just pop out the smoke." This was an incredibly bizarre way of putting it, coming as it did from the biggest homophobe I knew. Years later another friend, a lady this time, taught me how to French Inhale. This stands as the only time that a smoking demonstration has ever come close to giving me an erection.
Sexy Debi: When I was a teen, I wanted to fuck her throat.
Club Par Avion was officially the first place that I became what is known as a "poly user," meaning someone who uses two or more stimulants at the same time. While in the past I would drink and also happen to smoke, it was there that I discovered that smoking greatly enhances your "buzz" when you've been drinking. Ever since I found that out I would down a drink or two and try to get to a smoking area as quickly as possible, to quicken the effects. I always tried to do this early, so that by the time I got back inside I no longer cared about looking like an ass.
I have noticed that while smoking is incredibly frowned upon, most of my friends smoke either regularly or occasionally. Whenever I find out that someone I know smokes, it's always a bit of a surprise to me, because it's not really something you see all that often anymore when walking down the street. It seems to be becoming a "dirty little secret," which is pretty funny considering that smoking is completely legal. It would appear that us cigarette smokers are a dying breed (pun intended this time). Speaking of which...another interesting thing that I've found is that a lot of nonsmokers that I talk to smoke pot, and then spout out this holier-than-thou shit about it. That seems to be pretty common, especially coming from some protest-kids that I know. I guess weed is supposed to be more "natural" and tobacco is some factory-produced capitalist monster hobby. Call it what you like, it doesn't change the fact that it's SMOKE being sucked into your lungs, and I place far more trust in The Man than I do in some twitching sore-ridden druggie handing over a bag of shit from god knows where.
I love California with all my heart, but every year seems like a step closer to a total ban on smoking. There are already commercials that have this message, showing babies and puppies and flowers and bubbles and all that. I defy anyone to tell me that this isn't propaganda, considering that it's ad space on TV being used up not to sell a product, but to deny the sale of one. What also doesn't get talked about is that the tobacco-ban bullshit is an attack on the bottom-middle class and poor, since they are the groups that smoke the most and are hit the hardest by increased taxes. Now people have a perfectly acceptable excuse to sneer at and insult these people without thinking that they're doing anything wrong. Florence King described the U.S. as a country of "friendly misanthropes," meaning that over here, we hate people but need to come up with excuses to justify our hatred, and the excuse of nonsmokers is the myth of "secondhand smoke." This makes every single nonsmoker susceptible to "passive smoke," meaning that once again, people in this country can claim to be a victim of something. Personal responsibility is out of the question, and if any kind of "wound" is inflicted, be it real or imaginary, they can collect. Take for example all the ex-smokers who are now suing the tobacco industry because they were too stupid to read the warning labels. This is why I can no-longer call myself a liberal. Getting older, you see just how quick both sides are to shut down something they don't like, and when I watch political debates or listen to friends talk politics, it becomes strikingly clear that I am not represented by either side, but this is a discussion for another time.
I'm going to end this by saying that I don't know how much longer I'm going to smoke. If I ever decide to quit my reasons are entirely my own, but the thought has crossed my mind. The reason for typing this up was that cigarettes have been with me since puberty and I wanted to write something of an "ode" to them. I have had a lot of good memories with cigarettes involved, so I could never hate them. It would be nice, though, if other people would respect that, even if they don't smoke.
Tuesday, May 27, 2008
I have always loved photos of buildings, towns, and especially amusement parks in various stages of decay, with rot eating away at the polished exteriors and old memories falling away like chips of paint. I always felt a kind of comfort seeing weeds split open sidewalks, vines curling away and devouring walls, and rooftops torn to shreds by rain and snow storms. A quick search on the internet tells me that I am not alone. There are books showcasing dead American towns and buildings, and the market doesn't seem to be all that small. Most tourists want to see ghost towns, and things like the dead resorts of the Salton Sea are just an extension of this desire to see nature fight back. I'm no environmentalist, but I know what I like. Much like junk art, outsider music, cult films, and other things of questionable taste, the enthusiasm of nature to reclaim it's turf has a very strong effect on me. A building that's falling to pieces is vastly more beautiful and interesting to me than Hearst Castle, and I am not exaggerating.
I can sit here and talk more about nature fighting back, the arrogance of man, and all that other politically-charged bullshit, but I won't. I just like certain kinds of ugliness. There are no political reasons for it. While I may not want to live in Bombay Beach, I would love to own land there and visit it, just to take a look around and see the surrounding areas being dragged down, piece by piece, into the artificial blob of polluted water that will eventually dry up and leave some very interesting treasures for that generation to examine.
Wednesday, May 21, 2008
I get midnight cravings, like my old baby-eating bitch of a boss. I'll be lying in bed, my body slicked with sweat, and the only thing on my mind is where the FUCK is my chocolate? I need it so badly...please, I'll do anything you want if I could just get some chocolate...I'll do the dishes, I'll polish the floor with my feet, I'll scrub down the tiles in the shower, just please give me a bar of chocolate. I feel cold, my arms are shaking, my eyes have sandbags under them...Dear God, what have I done to deserve this?
The stores are open, and of course I rush in with my hand eagerly holding several bucks to slap down on the counter. I find everything I need. I always do. I know what I want. I hand over my cash, collect my change, and get the hell out of the store and back onto the streets.
I'm back home. I open the door, close it, lock it, and go to my room. My shaking hands peel apart the delicate wrapper, and I stare at it's long, delicious form. My darling, pretty soon you're going to be in my mouth. I have to admire it for a little while before indulging myself, because it's a gift that God gave the world. A New World delight. I could drink it, of course, and I do, but at times like this, I need a nice, solid piece to enjoy.
My tongue gently laps the tip, and I quiver all over. Oh dear God, YES. This is what I've been craving for hours...my only reason for waking up. I enter it slowly into my mouth, my lips dragging across every end. I feel the hard candy move from the tip of my tongue further and further back. At this point, I thank God for not giving me a gag reflex. The deeper I can ram it in, the happier I'll be. I move my mouth back and forth on it, sucking and licking but NEVER biting. I want to savor the taste of it in my mouth. I stop, and let it sit gently on my tongue. I can feel it's delicious juices ooze into my throat, and I swallow every drop. Then I get back to work. My mouth starts hurting, I've been at it so long. I feel like my lips are going to turn purple, yet I continue. I have to keep going. This is the happiest moment of the day, when I hold this sweet candy in my mouth. I feel that the size has gone down. Unfortunately, all my pleasure, all my joy is coming to an end. It gets smaller, and smaller, and smaller, and then...nothing. All I'm left with are small pieces hiding in my teeth, and a dark streak on my tongue. It's over. All gone.
I lay back, exhausted but with a feeling of absolute bliss. My mouth is stiff and tired, but in another hour, I'll be back at it. I need it in me. I'm always dying for it. I love chocolate.
Tuesday, May 20, 2008
If you can plow through it all, post your comments.
"The fact that so many books still name the Beatles "the greatest or most significant or most influential" rock band ever only tells you how far rock music still is from becoming a serious art. Jazz critics have long recognized that the greatest jazz musicians of all times are Duke Ellington and John Coltrane, who were not the most famous or richest or best sellers of their times, let alone of all times. Classical critics rank Beethoven, who died poor and ignored, over classical musicians who were highly popular in courts around Europe. Rock critics are still blinded by commercial success: the Beatles sold more than anyone else (not true, by the way), therefore they must have been the greatest. Jazz critics grow up listening to a lot of jazz music of the past, classical critics grow up listening to a lot of classical music of the past. Rock critics are often totally ignorant of the rock music of the past, they barely know the best sellers. No wonder they will think that the Beatles did anything worth of being saved.
In a sense the Beatles are emblematic of the status of rock criticism as a whole: too much attention to commercial phenomena (be it grunge or U2) and too little attention to the merits of real musicians. If somebody composes the most divine music but no major label picks him up and sells him around the world, a lot of rock critics will ignore him. If a major label picks up a musician who is as stereotyped as one can be but launches her or him worldwide, your average critic will waste rivers of ink on her or him. This is the sad status of rock criticism: rock critics are basically publicists working for free for major labels, distributors and record stores. They simply publicize what the music business wants to make money with.
Hopefully, one not-too-distant day, there will be a clear demarcation between a great musician like Tim Buckley, who never sold much, and commercial products like the Beatles. And rock critics will study more of rock history and realize who invented what and who simply exploited it commercially.
Beatles' "aryan" music removed any trace of black music from rock and roll: it replaced syncopated african rhythm with linear western melody, and lusty negro attitudes with cute white-kid smiles.
Contemporary musicians never spoke highly of the Beatles, and for a good reason. They could not figure out why the Beatles' songs should be regarded more highly than their own. They knew that the Beatles were simply lucky to become a folk phenomenon (thanks to "Beatlemania", which had nothing to do with their musical merits). That phenomenon kept alive interest in their (mediocre) musical endeavours to this day. Nothing else grants the Beatles more attention than, say, the Kinks or the Rolling Stones. There was nothing intrinsically better in the Beatles' music. Ray Davies of the Kinks was certainly a far better songwriter than Lennon & McCartney. The Stones were certainly much more skilled musicians than the 'Fab Fours'. And Pete Townshend was a far more accomplished composer, capable of "Tommy" and "Quadrophenia". Not to mention later and far greater British musicians. Not to mention the American musicians that created what the Beatles later sold to the masses.
The Beatles sold a lot of records not because they were the greatest musicians but simply because their music was easy to sell to the masses: it had no difficult content, it had no technical innovations, it had no creative depth. They wrote a bunch of catchy 3-minute ditties and they were photogenic. If somebody had not invented "beatlemania" in 1963, you would not have wasted five minutes of your time to read a page about such a trivial band.
The Beatles most certainly belong to the history of the 60s, but their musical merits are at best dubious.
The Beatles came to be at the height of the reaction against rock and roll, when the innocuous "teen idols", rigorously white, were replacing the wild black rockers who had shocked the radio stations and the conscience of half of America. Their arrival represented a lifesaver for a white middle class terrorized by the idea that within rock and roll lay a true revolution of customs. The Beatles tranquilized that vast section of people and conquered the hearts of all those (first and foremost the females) who wanted to rebel without violating the societal status quo. The contorted and lascivious faces of the black rock and rollers were substituted by the innocent smiles of the Beatles; the unleashed rhythms of the first were substituted by the catchy tunes of the latter. Rock and roll could finally be included in the pop charts. The Beatles represented the quintessential reaction to a musical revolution in the making, and for a few years they managed to run its enthusiasm into the ground.
Furthermore, the Beatles represented the reaction against a social and political revolution. They arrived at the time of the student protests, of Bob Dylan, of the Hippies, and they replaced the image of angry kids with their fists in the air, with their cordial faces and their amiable declarations. They came to replace the accusatory words of militant musicians with overindulgent nursery rhymes. In this fashion as well the Beatles served as middle-class tranquilizers, as if to prove the new generation was not made up exclusively of rebels, misfits and sexual maniacs.
For most of their career the Beatles were four mediocre musicians who sang melodic three-minute tunes at a time when rock music was trying to push itself beyond that format (a format originally confined by the technical limitations of 78 rpm record). They were the quintessence of "mainstream", assimilating the innovations proposed by rock music, within the format of the melodic song.
The Beatles belonged, like the Beach Boys (whom they emulated for most of their career), to the era of the vocal band. In such a band the technique of the instrument was not as important as the chorus. Undoubtedly skilled at composing choruses, they availed themselves of producer George Martin (head of the Parlophone since 1956), to embellish those choruses with arrangements more and more eccentric. Thanks to a careful publicity campaign they became the most celebrated entertainers of the era, and are still the darlings of magazines and tabloids, much like Princess Grace of Monaco and Lady Di.
The convergence between Western polyphony (melody, several parts of vocal harmony and instrumental arrangements) and African percussion - the leitmotif of American music from its inception - was legitimized in Europe by the huge success of the Merseybeat, in particular by its best sellers, Gerry and the Pacemakers and the Beatles, both produced by George Martin and managed by Brian Epstein. To the bands of the Merseybeat goes the credit of having validated rock music for a vast audience, a virtually endless audience. They were able to interpret the spirit and the technique of rock and roll, while separating it from its social circumstances, thus defusing potential explosions. In such fashion, they rendered it accessible not only to the young rebels, but to all. Mediocre musicians and even more mediocre intellectuals, bands like the Beatles had the intuition of the circus performer who knows how to amuse the peasants after a hard day's work, an intuition applied to the era of mass distribution of consumer goods.
Every one of their songs and every one of their albums followed much more striking songs and albums by others, but instead of simply imitating those songs, the Beatles adapted them to a bourgeois, conformist and orthodox dimension. The same process was applied to the philosophy of the time, from the protest on college campuses to Dylan's pacifism, from drugs to the Orient. Their vehicle was melody, a universal code of sorts, that declared their music innocuous. Naturally others performed the same operation, and many (from the Kinks to the Hollies, from the Beach Boys to the Mamas and Papas) produced melodies even more memorable, yet the Beatles arrived at the right moment and theirs would remain the trademark of the melodic song of the second half of the twentieth century.
Their ascent was branded as "Beatlemania", a phenomenon of mass hysteria launched in 1963 that marked the height of the "teen idol" mode, a extension of the myths of Frank Sinatra and Elvis Presley. From that moment on, no matter what they put together, the Beatles remained the center of the media's attention.
Musically, for what it's worth, the Beatles were the product of an era that had been prepared by vocal groups such as the Everly Brothers and by rockers such as Buddy Holly; an era that also expressed itself through the girl-groups, the Tamla bands and surf music. What the Beatles have in common with them, aside from almost identical melodies, is a general concept of song: an exuberant, optimistic and cadenced melody.
The Beatles were the quintessence of instrumental mediocrity. George Harrison was a pathetic guitarist, compared with the London guitarists of those days (Townshend of the Who, Richards of the Rolling Stones, Davies of the Kinks, Clapton and Beck and Page of the Yardbirds, and many others who were less famous but no less original). The Beatles had completely missed the revolution of rock music (founded on a prominent use of the guitar) and were still trapped in the stereotypes of the easy-listening orchestras. Paul McCartney was a singer from the 1950s, who could not have possibly sounded more conventional. As a bassist, he was not worth the last of the rhythm and blues bassists (even though within the world of Merseybeat his style was indeed revolutionary). Ringo Starr played drums the way any kid of that time played it in his garage (even though he may ultimately be the only one of the four who had a bit of technical competence). Overall, the technique of the "fab four" was the same of many other easy-listening groups: sub-standard.
Theirs were records of traditional songs crafted as they had been crafted for centuries, yet they served an immense audience, far greater than the audience of those who wanted to change the world, the hippies and protesters. Their fans ignored or abhorred the many rockers of the time who were experimenting with the suite format, who were composing long free-form tracks, who were using dissonance, who were radically changing the concept of the musical piece. The Beatles' fans thought, and some still think, that using trumpets in a rock song was a revolutionary event, that using background noises (although barely noticeable) was an even more revolutionary event, and that only great musical geniuses could vary so many styles in one album, precisely what many rock musicians were doing all over the world, employing much more sophisticated stylistic excursions.
While the Velvet Underground, Frank Zappa, the Doors, Pink Floyd and many others were composing long and daring suites worthy of avant garde music, thus elevating rock music to art, the Beatles continued to yield three minute songs built around a chorus. Beatlemania and its myth notwithstanding, Beatles fans went crazy for twenty seconds of trumpet, while the Velvet Underground were composing suites of chaos twenty minutes long. Actually, between noise and a trumpet, between twenty seconds and twenty minutes, there was an artistic difference of several degrees of magnitude. They were, musically, sociologically, politically, artistically, and ideologically, on different planets.
Beatlemania created a comical temporal distortion. Many Beatles fans were convinced that rock and roll was born around the early 60s, that psychedelic rock and the hippies were a 1967 phenomenon, that student protests began in 1969, that peace marches erupted at the end of the 60s, and so on. Beatles fans believed that the Beatles were first in everything, while in reality they were last in almost everything. The case of the Beatles is a textbook example of how myths can distort history.
The Beatles had the historical function to delay the impact of the innovations of the 60's . Between 1966 and 1969, while suites, jams, and long free form tracks (which the Beatles also tried but only toward the end of their career) became the fashion, while the world was full of guitarists, bassist, singers and drummers who played solos and experimented with counterpoint, the Beatles limited themselves to keeping the tempo and following the melody. Their historic function was also to prepare the more conservative audience for those innovations. Their strength was perhaps being the epitome of mediocrity: never a flash of genius, never a revolutionary thought, never a step away from what was standard, accepting innovations only after they had been accepted by the establishment. And maybe it was that chronic mediocrity that made their fortune: whereas other bands tried to surpass their audiences, to keep two steps ahead of the myopia of their fans, traveling the hard and rocky road, the Beatles took their fans by the hand and walked them along a straight path devoid of curves and slopes.
Beatles fans can change the meaning of the word "artistic" to suit themselves, but the truth is that the artistic value of the Beatles work is very low. The Beatles made only songs, often unpretentious songs, with melodies no more catchy than those of many other pop singers. The artistic value of those songs is the artistic value of one song: however well done (and one can argue over the number of songs well done vs. the number of overly publicized songs by the band of the moment), it remains a song, precisely as toothpaste remains toothpaste. It doesn't become a work of art just because it has been overly publicized.
The Beatles are justly judged for the beautiful melodies they have written. But those melodies were "beautiful" only when compared to the melodies of those who were not trying to write melodies; in other words to the musicians who were trying to rewrite the concept of popular music by implementing suites, jams and noise. Many contemporaries of Beethoven wrote better minuets than Beethoven ever wrote, but only because Beethoven was writing something else. In fact, he was trying to write music that went beyond the banality of minuets.
The melodies of the Beatles were perhaps inferior to many composers of pop music who still compete with the Beatles with regard to quality, those who were less famous and thus less played.
The songs of the Beatles were equipped with fairly vapid lyrics at a time when hordes of singer songwriters and bands were trying to say something intelligent. The Beatles' lyrics were tied to the tradition of pop music, while rock music found space, rightly or wrongly, for psychological narration, anti-establishment satire, political denunciation, drugs, sex and death.
The most artistic and innovative aspect of the Beatles' music, in the end, proved to be George Martin's arrangements. Perhaps aware of Beatles' limitations, Martin used the studio and studio musicians in a creative fashion, at times venturing beyond the demands of tradition to embellish the songs. Moreover, Martin undoubtedly had a taste for unusual sounds. At the beginning of his career he had produced Rolf Harris' Tie Me Kangaroo with the didjeridoo. At the time nobody knew what it was. Between 1959 and 1962 Martin had produced several tracks of British humor with heavy experimentation, inspired by the Californian Stan Freiberg, the first to use the recording studio as an instrument.
As popular icons, as celebrities, the Beatles certainly influenced their times, although much less than their fans suppose. Even Richard Nixon, the American president of the Vietnam war and Watergate influenced his times and the generations that followed, but that doesn't make him a great musician.
Today Beatles songs are played mostly in supermarkets. But their myth, like that of Rudolph Valentino and Frank Sinatra, will live as long as the fans who believed in it will live. Through the years their fame has been artificially kept alive by marketing, a colossal advertising effort, a campaign without equal in the history of entertainment.
Their history begins at the end of the 50s. Buddy Holly's Crickets had invented the modern concept of the rock band. Indirectly they had also started the fashion of naming a band with a plural noun, like the doo-wop ensembles before them, but a noun that was funny instead of serious. Almost immediately bands like "the Crickets" began to pop up everywhere, most of them bearing plural nouns. Insects were fashionable. The Beatles were the most famous.
Assembled to bring to Europe the free spirit, the simple melodies and the vocal harmonies of the Beach Boys (the novelty of the moment) more than for any specific reason, the Beatles became, despite their limitations, the most successful recording artists of their time. While acknowledging that neither the Beatles nor the Beach Boys were music greats, it must be noted that both were influential in conferring commercial credibility to rock music, and both inspired thousands of youngsters around the world to form rock bands. The same had happened with Elvis Presley. Although far from being a great musician, he too had inspired thousands of white kids, among them both the Beatles and the Beach Boys, to become rockers.
The "swinging London" of the 60s was a mix of renewal, mediocrity, conformity, non-commitment, cultural rebirth, tourist attraction and excitement, a locus of rebellion drowned in shining billboards, of young men with long hair and girls in mini skirts, of wealth and hypocrisy about wealth, a city of indifference. La dolce vita, English style. The Beatles were the best selling product of that London, a city full of ambiguity and contradictions.
The Beatles' birthplace was Liverpool. John Lennon was a rhythm guitar player with a skiffle group called the Quarrymen, founded in 1955, before forming the Beatles in 1960 with Paul McCartney. George Harrison, hired when he was still a minor, played lead guitar, with a formidable style inspired by the rockabilly of James Burton and Carl Perkins. They rose through the ranks playing rock and roll covers in Hamburg, Germany, then made their debut at The Cavern, in Liverpool, on February 21, 1961. Shortly after, Ringo Starr was called to replace the drummer Pete Best, and McCartney switched to the bass.
In 1962 two phenomena exploded in America: the Beach Boys and the Four Seasons. Both truly sang, in vocal harmony derived from 50s doo-wop, which they introduced to white audiences, with arrangements imitating the Crickets.
That was the year the Beatles began the transition from covers to original, melodic, vocal harmonies. One of the first recordings of the Beach Boys had been a revision of one of Chuck Berry's songs, one of the first recordings of the Beatles had to be a revision of one of Chuck Berry's songs. Brian Wilson played the bass for the Beach Boys, Paul McCartney would play bass for the Beatles.
Brian Epstein was the man who scouted them and secured their contract with EMI in November 1961, and also the man who created their image, their clothes, their hairdos (similar to tv comedian Ish Kabibble's). George Martin was the man who created their sound.
1962 was the year of Bob Dylan, of peace demonstrations, of songs of protest. Precisely in 1962, far removed, diametrically opposed really, to the events that dominated American society, the Beatles debuted with a 45, Love Me Do, recorded in September 1962, a jovial rhythm and blues led by the harmonica in the style of Delbert McClinton. By the end of the year the song had made the charts. In February 1963, the band reached ..2 with Please Please Me. In the space of few months, a diligent marketing strategy, ingeniously managed by Brian Epstein, unleashed mass hysteria. Records sold out before the recording sessions actually began, mass-media detailed step by step chronicles of the four heroes, the world of fashion imposed a new hairdo. Epstein had created "Beatlemania".
The overflow of fanaticism around them demanded refinement of their style. They began to utilize new instruments. The more they dissociated themselves from their rhythm and blues roots, the faster their style became more melodious. Through From Me To You, the rowdy She Loves You (accessorized with the first "yeah-yeah-yeahs"), and I Want To Hold Your Hand (a heavier rhythm enhanced by clapping), all number one on the charts of 1963, they fused centuries of vocal styles - sacred hymn, Elizabethan song, music hall, folk ballad, gospel and voodoo - in a harmonious and crystal-clear format for happy chorus. A variant of the same process had been adopted in the United States by the Shirelles. For the most part it was Buddy Holly's jovial, childish, catchy style that was copied, speeding the tempo to accommodate the demands of the "twist". The twist was the dance craze of the moment: fast beat, suggestive moves and catchy tunes. The Beatles sensed that it was the right formula.
In the USA nobody had caught on yet, and only mangled versions of Please Please Me (March 1963) and With The Beatles (November 1963) had been released. In January 1964 EMI decided to invest significantly and I Want To Hold Your Hand reached the top of the charts together with the Beatles' first American album Meet The Beatles (Capitol, 1964). In the States, cleansed at last of the perverted and amoral rock and roll scum of the 50s, the charming and polite Merseybeat of the Beatles delighted the media. After their first tour in February 1964, and their appearance on the "Ed Sullivan Show", their 45s were solidly on top of the American charts. In April 1964 they occupied the first five positions. After all, their sound was drenched in American music: their vocal style was either that of the hard rockers like Little Richard, or the gentler call-and-response of the Drifters (echoing one another, stretching a word for several beats, screaming coarse "yeah-yeah", shrieking in falsetto), the choruses were Buddy Holly's, the harmonies were the Beach Boys' and the instrumental parts were remakes of twist combos.
The secret of the Beatles' success, in the USA as in the UK, was the simplicity of their arrangements. Whereas the idols of the time were backed by complex, almost classic arrangements, at times even by studio effects, the Beatles employed the elementary technique of surf music, completely devoid of orchestral support and surreal effects. At a time when singers had become studios subordinates, the Beatles managed to reestablish the supremacy of the singer. American youths recognized themselves in a style that was much more direct than the manufactured one of their "teen idols", and by default recognized themselves in the Beatles, precisely as they had recognized themselves in Elvis Presley after having become accustomed to the artificiality of pop music in the 50's.
The Mersey sound was designed to tone down rock and roll. Under the direction of producer George Martin and manager Brian Epstein, the sound of the Beatles also became softer.The captivating style of the Beatles had already been pioneered by Gerry & The Pacemakers (formed in 1959, also managed by Epstein). They reached the charts with their first three 45s (How Do You Do It, March 1963, I Like It, May 1963, You`ll Never Walk Alone, October 1963): very melodic versions of rock and roll with sugar coated versions of rock's rebel text. Practically speaking, the Pacemaker formula brought rock and roll into pop music. They replaced the rough and crude beat of the blues with the light and tidy rhythms of European pop songs; they exchanged the slanted melodies of the blues with the catchy tunes of the British operetta; they substituted the provocative lyrics of Chuck Berry with the romantic rhymes of the "teen idols." Epstein and Martin simply continued that format with the Beatles. The only difference was in the authorship of practically their entire cache. All the Beatles songs were signed Lennon-McCartney. (This was only for contractual reasons. In reality they were not necessarily co-written.)
The first student protests took place in Berkeley, California in 1964. Young people were protesting against the establishment in general, and against the war in Vietnam in particular. The rebellion that had been seething through the 50s had finally found its intellectual vehicle. The Beatles knew nothing of this when they recorded Can't Buy Me Love, a swinging rockabilly a la Bill Haley, the first to reach ..1 simultaneously in the States and in Britain, A Hard Day's Night and I Feel Fine, using the feedback that had been pioneered in the 1950s by guitarists such as Johnny Watson and used in Britain by the Yardbirds. All three are ever so exuberant songs carrying ever so catchy refrains, that reached the top on both sides of the Atlantic. With these songs and with their public behavior the Beatles showed a whimsical and provoking way to be young. The Beatles were still a brand new phenomenon when A Hard Day's Night - the first surreal documentary about their daily lives was released, and their two first biographies were published. In the USA the marketing was intense: EMI was inundated by contracts to solicit the sales of Beatles wigs, Beatles attire, Beatles dolls, cartoons inspired by the Beatles. America was saturated with images of four smiling boys, the creation of a brand new myth that served to exorcise the demons of Vietnam, of the peace marches, of the civil disorders, of the student protests, of the racial disturbances, of the murder of JFK, of Bob Dylan, of rock and roll, of all the tragedies, real or presumed, that troubled the American Dream. In the end, it might have all been a form of shock therapy.
Sure enough, hidden behind those smiling faces were four mediocre musicians, and also four multimillionaire snobs in the proudest British tradition. Far from being symbols of rebellion, they were reactionism personified. The Beatles, optimistic and effervescent, represented an escape from reality. People, kids in particular, had a desperate need to believe in something that had nothing to do with bombs and upheaval. The Beatles put to music the enthusiasm of the masses and in return, in a cycle that bordered on perpetual motion, were enthusiastically acclaimed by the same masses.
The best of their cliches is summarized in a famous anecdote. Interviewed during their American tour, to the question, "How did you find America?", Lennon answered, "We turned left at Greenland!". Beneath this sense of humor, anarchic and surreal, lays the greatest merit of the band.
From 1965 the LP, in the preceding years not as important as the 45, became the new unit of measure of their work. The American releases had 12 cuts including the hits, the British versions had 14 cuts and generally none of the hits. A Hard Day's Night (1964) was the first release to contain material exclusively co-written by Lennon and McCartney. For Sale, released immediately after, contained six covers (but also Eight Days A Week, and the melancholy I Don't Want To Spoil The Party). Help (August 1965), with The Night Before and Ticket To Ride, marked the transition from the Merseybeat to a sound oriented more toward folk and country, though some of the songs bring Buddy Holly to mind. The Beatles of these days showed a formidable talent for the melancholy ballad, such as You've Got To Hide Your Love Away, and most of all Yesterday, the slow song par excellence written by Paul McCartney, to which Martin added a string quartet. However, their best work is to be found in more aggressive songs, such as Help, a gospel full of life adapted to their surreal style.
Rubber Soul (December 1965) completed the transition from the 45 to the 33, and also from Merseybeat to folk-rock. Following their U.S. tour, the influence of the Byrds is very strong. The rock and roll beat in Drive My Car and Run For Your Life, the exotic mood of Norwegian Wood (a David Crosby-ian litany accompanied with the sitar, already utilized by the Yardbirds, possibly based on what the Kinks had done a few months earlier with See My Friends), and the timid psychedelia of Nowhere Man and Rain (with backward vocals, but inspired by Eight Miles High, that had charted just weeks before) cover a vast repertoire of harmonies for their standards. In spite of the fact that the Beatles sought success within rock and roll, it was evident that their best work was expressed through melodic songs. The tender ballads Girl and Michelle (a classic for acoustic guitar, melodic bass and chorus, in the style of 1950s vocal groups) are truly excellent songs in their genre, but because they lack both rhythm and volume, they were considered "minor" at the time.
1965 was the year of the San Francisco hippies, of psychedelic music, of Indian gurus and experimental LSD. It all seemed to go unnoticed by the Beatles, who recorded another melodic masterpiece, We Can Work It Out, ground out on barrel organ and accordion, inspired by French folk music. They pursued the mirage of the "rave-up" with the hard riff of Day Tripper (stolen from Watch Your Step of blues man Bobby Parker), a pathetic response to Satisfaction by the Stones and You Really Got Me by the Kinks. Both songs, hard rockers, had shocked the charts that same year.
The Beatles finally freed themselves from the obsession of emulating others in 1966, with Revolver, an album entirely dedicated to sophisticated songs. The album, extremely polished, seems the lighter version of Rubber Soul. The psychedelic Tomorrow Never Knows (sitar, backward guitar, organ drones), the vaguely oriental Love You Too, the classic Eleanor Rigby, the Vaudevillian operetta Good Day Sunshine, the rhythm and blues of Got To Get You Into My Life and Dr. Robert, are all mitigated by an ever more languid and romantic attitude. The few jolts of rhythm are kept at bay by a tender effusion in I'm Only Sleeping (with a timid solo of backward guitar), There And Everywhere and For No One. With this album the Beatles left behind rock and roll to get closer to pop music, the pop music of the Brill Building, that is, a genre of pop that sees Revolver as its masterpiece. (At the time melodic songs all over the world were inspired by the Brill Building). Of course Revolver was a thousand years late. That same year Dylan had released Blonde On Blonde, a double album with compositions fifteen minutes long, and Frank Zappa had released Freak Out, also a double album, in collage format. Rock music was experimenting with free form jams as in Virgin Forest by the Fugs, Up In Her Room by the Seeds, Going Home by the Rolling Stones. The songs of the Beatles truly belonged to another century.
The formal perfection of their melodies reached the sublime in 1967 with two 45s: the baroque/electronic Penny Lane/Strawberry Fields Forever, released in February, an absolute masterpiece that never reached the top of the charts, and the psychedelic Paperback Writer, backed with the sophomoric Yellow Submarine, a mosaic full of sound gags and barroom choruses. Penny Lane represents the apex of the Manneristic style: Vaudevillian rhythm, hypnotic melody, Renaissance trumpets, folkloristic flutes and triangles. Strawberry Fields Forever is a densely-arranged psychedelic experiment (backward vocals, mellotron, harp, timpani, bongos, trumpet, cello).
1967 was the year that FM radio began to play long instrumentals. In Great Britain, it was the year of psychedelia, of the Technicolor Dream, of the UFO Club. The psychedelic singles of Pink Floyd were generating an uproar. Inevitably, the Beatles recorded Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band.
This concept album was released while the Monterey Festival was consecrating the sanctifiable, the big names of the times. Unlike most of the revolutionary records of those days, often recorded in haste and with a low budget, Sgt. Pepper cost a fortune and took four months to put together. The Beatles soar in the ethereal refrain of Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds, utilizing the sitar, distorted keyboard sounds and Indian inspired vocals; they indulge in Vaudevillian tunes such as Lovely Rita and When I'm Sixty Four (a vintage ragtime worthy of the Bonzo Band), and they showcase their odd melodic sense in With A Little Help From My Friends. They scatter studio effects here and there, pretending to be avant garde musicians, in Fixing A Hole and Being For The Benefit Of Mr Kite, but in reality these are tunes inspired by the music halls, the circuses and small town bands. A Day In The Life is the culmination of the relationship between technique and philosophy. It represents the happy marriage between Martin's sense of harmony, employing a 40 piece orchestra in which everybody plays every note, and Lennon's hippie existentialism, that dissects the alienation of the bourgeoisie.
Everything was running smoothly in the name of quality music, now entrusted to high fidelity arrangements and adventurous variations of style, from folk ballads to sidewalk Vaudeville, from soul to marching bands, from the Orient to swing, from chamber music to psychedelia, from tap dance to little bands in the park. Everything had been fused into a steady flow of variety show skits.
Rather than an album of psychedelic music (compared to which it actually sounds retro), Sgt. Pepper was the Beatles' answer to the sophistication of Pet Sounds, the masterpiece by their rivals, the Beach Boys, released a year and three months before. The Beatles had always been obsessed by the Beach Boys. They had copied their multi-part harmonies, their melodic style and their carefree attitude. Through their entire career, from 1963 to 1968, the Beatles actually followed the Beach Boys within a year or two, including the formation of Apple Records, which came almost exactly one year after the birth of Brother Records. Pet Sounds had caused an uproar because it delivered the simple melodies of surf music through the artistic sophistication of the studio. So, following the example of Pet Sounds, the Beatles recorded, from February to May 1967, Sgt. Pepper, disregarding two important factors: first that Pet Sounds had been arranged, mixed and produced by Brian Wilson and not by an external producer like George Martin, and second that, as always, they were late. They began assembling Sgt. Pepper a year after Pet Sounds had hit the charts, and after dozens of records had already been influenced by it.
Legend has it that it took 700 hours of studio recording to finish the album. One can only imagine what many other less fortunate bands could have accomplished in a recording studio with 700 hours at their disposal. Although Sgt. Pepper was assembled with the intent to create a revolutionary work of art, if one dares take away the hundreds of hours spent refining the product, not much remains that cannot be heard on Revolver: Oriental touches here and there, some psychedelic extravaganzas, a couple of arrangements in classical style. Were one to skim off a few layers of studio production, only pop melodies would remain, melodies not much different from those that had climbed the charts ten years before. Yet it was the first Beatles album to be released in long playing version all over the world. None of its songs were released as singles.
The truth is that although it was declared an "experimental" work, even Sgt. Pepper managed to remain a pop album. The Beatles of 1967 were still producing three-minute ditties, while Red Crayolas and Pink Floyd, to name two psychedelic bands of the era, were playing long free form suites - at times cacophonous, often strictly instrumental - that bordered on avant garde. In 1967, the band that had never recorded a song that hadn't been built around a refrain began to feel outdated. They tried to keep up, but they never pushed themselves beyond the jingles, most likely because they couldn't, just as Marilyn Monroe could not have recited Shakespeare.
Sgt. Pepper is the album of a band that sensed change in the making, and was adapting its style to the taste of the hippies. It came in last (in June), after Velvet Underground & Nico (January), The Doors (also January), the Byrds' Younger Than Yesterday (february), and the Jefferson Airplane's Surrealistic Pillow (February) to signal the end of an era, after others had forever changed the history of rock music. (Most technical "innovations" on Sgt Pepper were copied from Younger Than Yesterday, whose tapes the Beatles had heard from David Crosby at the end of 1966). The uproar generated by Sgt. Pepper transferred those innovations from the American underground to the living rooms and the supermarkets of half the world.
With Sgt. Pepper, the sociology course in melodic rock and roll that Lennon and McCartney had introduced in 1963 came to an end. The music of the Beatles was an antidote to the uneasiness of those times, to the troubling events that scared and perplexed people. The course had the virtue of deflecting the impact of those events, the causes of political upheaval and moral revolution. The Beatles reassured the middle class at a time when almost nothing could reassure the middle class.
Every arrangement of that period - the harpsichords and the flutes, the prerecorded tracks and the electronic effects - was the result of George Martin's careful production. Martin was a lay musician, a former member of a marching band that occasionally had played in St. James Park. He knew that avant garde musicians made music by manipulating tracks, that instruments with unusual timbre existed, that rock bands were dissecting classic harmonies. His background, not to mention his intellectual ability, was of the circus, the carnival, the operetta, the marching band, London's second-rate theaters. He took all he could from that folkloristic patrimony, every unortodox technique. The results might not have been particularly impressive - after all he was neither Beethoven nor Von Karajan - but they were most certainly interesting. He was the true genius behind the music of the Beatles. Martin transformed their snobbish disposition, their childish insolence, their fleeting enthusiasm into musical ideas. He converted their second hand melodies into monumental arrangements. He even played some of the instruments that helped those songs make history. From Rubber Soul on, Martin's involvement got progressively more evident. Especially with Sgt. Pepper, Martin demonstrated his knowledge and his intuition. The idea to connect all the songs in a continuous flow, however, is McCartney's. It's the operetta syndrome, the everlasting obsession of British musicians of the music halls. The Beatles filled newspapers and magazines with their declarations about drugs and Indian mysticism, and how they converted those elements into music, but it was Martin who was doing the conversion, who was transforming their fanciful artistic ambitions into music.
Around the time of Sgt. Pepper's release, Brian Epstein died. (His death was attributed to drugs and alcohol.) He was the man who had given fame to the Beatles, the fundamental presence in their development, the man who had invented their myth. The Beatles were four immature kids who for years had played the involuntary leading roles in an immensely successful soap opera, a part that paid them with imprisonment. For years they didn't dare step outside their hotel rooms or their limousines. As Epstein's control began to lessen they began to look around, to take notice of the drugs, the social disorder, the ideals of peace, the student protests, the Oriental philosophies. It was a world completely unknown to them, full of issues they had never mentioned in their songs. The revelation was traumatic. Epstein's absence generated chaos, exposing problems with revenue, representation and public relations that eventually caused the demise of the group, but it also gave them the chance to grow up.
Sgt Pepper represents a breaking point in their career on several levels. It's a very autobiographical conceptual take on self-awareness. It's a concept album about the discovery of being able to put together a concept album.
Two projects realized with unusual wit also belong to the same period, a period that bridged two eras: the television movie Magical Mystery Tour and the cartoon Yellow Submarine. In both works can be found some of the most ingenious ideas of the quartet. The grotesque schizoid nightmare I Am The Walrus and the kaleidoscopic trip It's All Too Much are exercises of surrealism and psychedelia applied to the Merseybeat. Magical Mystery Tour also includes the bucolic ballad The Fool On The Hill, the psychedelic Blue Jay Way, and the mantra Baby You`re A Rich Man.
Meanwhile the shower of hits influenced by the experimental climate continued: Magical Mystery Tour, the movie soundtrack, with trumpets, jazz piano, changes in tempo, and a circus huckster-style presentation, Your Mother Should Know another vaudeville classic, the anthem All You Need Is Love, Hello Goodbye, a catchy melody distorted by psychedelic effects, Lady Madonna, the boogie inspired by Fats Domino. But the Beatles still belonged to the era of pop music: unlike Cream they didn't pull off solos, unlike Hendrix they strummed their guitars without real know-how, unlike Pink Floyd they didn't dare dissect harmony. They were not just retro, they simply belonged elsewhere.
Hey Jude, a long (for the Beatles) jam of psychedelic blues-rock, in reality another historic slow song by McCartney, came out after Traffic's Dear Mr. Fantasy and also after Cream's lengthy live jams had reached peak popularity. Paradoxically, Hey Jude established a new sales record; it was ..1 on the charts for nine weeks and sold six million copies.
Having established the melodic standard of the decade, the quartet implemented it in every harmonic recipe that arose from time to time. By applying the industrial law of constant revision, they Beatles managed to keep themselves on top. So much variety of arrangements resulted in mere mannerism, meticulous attention to detail and ornament. The albums of the third period fluctuate in fact between collages of miniatures and melodic fantasies, but always skillfully keeping a harmonic cohesion between one song and the other, in the step with - consciously or unconsciously - the structure of the operetta.
By the time of their next LP release they were leading separate lives, each indifferent to the ideas of the others, and their album reflected the situation. It was clear that this new batch of recorded songs was not the effort of a band, but the work of four artists profoundly different from one another.
The double album The Beatles (November 1968), very similar in spirit to the Byrds' Notorious Byrd Brothers (June 1968), even though far less innovative, is a disorganized heap of incongruous ideas. No other Beatles album had ever been so varied and eclectic. Their new "progressive" libido found an outlet in blues-rock (Rocky Raccoon, Why Don't We Do It In The Road), and especially the giddy hyper-boogies (Birthday and Helter Skelter). As a consequence of this fragmented inspiration, the record includes a cornucopia of genres: classical (Piggies, a rare moment of genius from Harrison, a baroque sonata performed with the sarcastic humour of the Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band), acoustic folk (Blackbird), the campfire sing-a-long (Bungalow Bill), ballads (Cry Baby Cry - one of their best piano progressions), the usual vaudeville-style parade (Don't Pass Me By, Martha My Dear, Obladi Oblada), and melodic rock (While My Guitar Gently Weeps, the jewel of their tunefulness). The album wraps up with a long jam, more or less avant garde, (Revolution No. 9, co-written by John Lennon and Yoko Ono) two years after everybody else, and three years after the eleven minutes of Goin' Home, by the Stones.
The so called White Album sampled the mood change of rock music toward a simpler and more traditional way to make music. It was released three months after Sweetheart Of The Rodeo by the Byrds, which in turn had followed Dylan's John Wesley Harding. It's also an album that reflects the passing of Brian Epstein.
In 1968 Great Britain became infected by the concept album/rock opera bug, mostly realized by Beatles contemporaries: Tommy by the Who, The Village Green Preservation Society by the Kinks, Ogden's Nut Gone Flake by the Small Faces, Odyssey and Oracle by the Zombies, etc. So, with the usual delay, a year later the Beatles gave it a try. Abbey Road (1969), is a vaudeville-style operetta that combines every genre in a steady stream of melodies and structurally perfect arrangements. It's the summa encyclopaedica of their career. It's a series of self-mocking vignettes, mimicking now the circus worker (Maxwell's Silver Hammer), now the crooner (Oh Darling, a parody a la Bonzo Band), now the baby-sitter (Octopus's Garden, in the silly vein of Yellow Submarine), culminating in the overwhelming suite of side B. Starting with the primitive exuberance of You Never Give Me Your Money (a mini rock opera worthy of early Zappa) and Mean Mr Mustard, the suite comes in thick and fast with Polytheme Pam and She Came In Thru The Bathroom Window, and dies melancholically with yet another goliardic chorus, Carry That Weight (that reprises the motifs of Money and I Want You). It's the apotheosis of the belated music hall entertainer in Paul McCartney. And it is, above all, a masterpiece of production, of sound, of sonic puzzles.
As was the case with their contemporaries - Who, Kinks, Small Faces and Zombies - this late album/thesis runs the risks going down in history as the Beatles' masterpiece. Obviously it doesn't even come close to the creative standards of the time (1969), but it scores well. The result is formally impeccable melodic songwriting, although it must be noted that the best songs, both written by George Harrison, are also the most modest. Abbey Road is their last studio album, again produced by George Martin.
All efforts at cohesion notwithstanding, their personalities truly became too divergent. The modest hippie George Harrison became attracted to Oriental spiritualism. (Something and Here Comes The Sun are his melancholy ballads). Paul McCartney, the smiling bourgeois, became progressively more involved with pop music (every nursery-rhyme, Get Back and Let It Be included, are his). John Lennon, the thoughtful intellectual became absorbed in self-examination and political involvement. His was a much harder and/or psychedelic sound (Revolution, Come Together, the dreamy and Indian-like Across The Universe). They were songs ever more meaningless and anonymous. After all, the break-up had begun with Revolver (Lennon wrote Tomorrow Never Knows, Harrison Love You Too, McCartney Eleanor Rigby), and had been camouflaged in successive records by Martin's painstakingly arrangements.
The Beatles adapted their music to suit the styles in fashion: doo-wop, garage-rock, psychedelia, country-rock. Very few bands changed style so drastically from year to year. Perhaps they began to feel obsolete listening to Cream. Cream concerts were the first musical phenomenon in Great Britain to rival Beatlemania. Cream did all they could to make the Merseybeat sound terribly old, precisely what the Beatles had done to the sound of Elvis Presley. In 1969, Led Zeppelin changed completely the importance of radio and charts. [Led Zeppelin is the first enormously successful band whose album didn't get any air play on AM radio (only FM) and whose songs didn't make the singles charts. The change they brought about was significant because it shifted the importance of the charts from singles to albums. -Translator's Note] Since they used melody as a lever, the Beatles had a relatively easy time in following every shift in fashion (psychedelia included), until hard-rock - the antithesis of Beatlemania - came about. Suddenly the idol was no longer the singer but the instrument, the excitement was generated by the riff and not by the refrain, concerts were attended by multitudes of long-haired men on drugs who gathered on the street, not by hysterical teenage girls who assembled in theaters. Hard-rock negated their simple melodies. It is not by coincidence that the arrival of hard-rock marked the end of the Beatles.
In 1970 the Beatles broke up and every member began a solo career. John Lennon (murdered in December 1980 by a deranged fan) didn't do much worthy of the great singer songwriters of the time. Had it not been for his personal and political involvement, and his past as a Beatle, he would not have made it by his music alone. His solo career fluctuated ambiguously between hard-rock and ballads, the utopia of peace and love and domestic romanticism. His solo career actually began with Two Virgins (Apple, 1968), an album he made when he was still a Beatle, in collaboration with his famous second wife. Yoko Ono was the heiress to a dynasty of Japanese bankers, she held a degree in philosophy, had been a United States resident since 1953, was a member of the avant garde movement Fluxus, and a world renowned performance artist throughout the 60s. The album was followed by the more experimental Life With The Lions (Apple, 1969) and Wedding Album (Apple, 1969), and also a live album with Give Peace A Chance (a street chorus a la David Peel). Perhaps the best of Lennon can be found in the autobiographical album John Lennon/ Plastic Ono Band (Capitol, 1970), with a vibrant production by Phil Spector. The imprint of Spector's sound can also be heard in the single Instant Karma. Lennon found much more commercial success with the album that followed, Imagine (1971), which contains Imagine, his most famous song, besides Power to The People and Happy Christmas. Peace activism and involvement in humanitarian causes gave the couple more prominence than music ever did. Lennon scored a ..1 hit with the duet with Elton John, Whatever Gets You Thru The Night (1974). An embarrassing string of mediocre albums ended with Double Fantasy (Geffen, 1980), released a couple of months before his death. It contains the hits Starting Over and Woman.
McCartney managed a few albums worthy of the Beatles (as chance would have it produced by George Martin), except they were not called "The Beatles". As a testament to rock consumerism and all the worst the genre embodies, McCartney's songs (solo or in the company of Wings ) regularly bounced to the top of the charts. Between boring lullabies (Maybe I'm Amazed, 1970, Another Day, 1971, Uncle Albert, 1971, My Love, 1973, Band On The Run, 1973, Listen To What The Man Said, 1975, Silly Love Songs, 1976, With A Little Luck, 1978; Coming Up, 1980, No More Lonely Nights, 1984, Spies Like Us, 1985), and duets with other singers (Say Say Say, 1983, with Michael Jackson, Ebony And Ivory, 1982, with Stevie Wonder), McCartney holds the record for ..1 songs on the Billboard charts. Band On The Run (Capitol, 1973) is perhaps least mediocre of his albums. Mull of Kintyre, (1977) is the first British single that sold more that two million copies. Very few pop singers have been able to release songs so predictable.
While a trivial guitarist and vocalist, George Harrison (who died of cancer in November 2001) was perhaps the only one who made songs worthy of notice. First the experimental Wonderwall (Zapple, 1968) and Electronic Sounds (Zapple, 1969), with help from Bernie Krause, then the three-record box set All Things Must Pass (Apple, 1970), produced by Phil Spector, a reprise of the raga-psychedelic theme. Set in a bucolic-folk context, the album continues the discourse that Donovan had began in 1967 (What Is Life, Isn't It A Pity, Let It Down, Apple Scruffs, Art Of Dying, My Sweet Lord). This record has nothing in common with the music of the Beatles. A dedicated follower of Hare Krishna, among other platitudes of the 60s, Harrison organized the first grand concert to benefit a nation, Bangladesh, in 1972. In 1973 he recorded Living In The Material World with Give Me Love. Dark Horse (1974) and You (1975) also had a couple of hits. After a series of unfortunate albums, Harrison hit the charts in 1987, with I've Got My Mind Set On You, an old soul song by Rudy Clark. The following year he joined Dylan, Petty and Orbison to become one of the Traveling Wilburys.
Throughout the 90s McCartney and a few discographers desperately tried to keep the Beatles myth alive by launching new commercial enterprises geared toward nostalgia. These ventures were followed with interest by the same tabloids that followed Lady Di and Princess Grace of Monaco.
After the breakup, the role of George Martin became evident. We'll never know what the Beatles would have been had they not encountered Martin, but we do know who Martin was before he met the Beatles. Even without the Beatles, George Martin would have been himself, a successful producer who reached the top of the charts with a collection of catchy tunes. And we also know what the Beatles were without Martin:four mediocre singer songwriters. Their solo records tell us how good they were without Martin.
The Beatles made history for their melodies and their arrangements. Beatlemania was created, justifiably, in response to the exuberant rock and roll they played in 1963 with electrical instruments and drums, that managed to revitalize a genre drowned in sugar coated orchestrations supporting teen idols. Revolver must definitely be credited with having created a new sophisticated living room pop art. However, Sgt. Pepper, their most famous album, is nothing more than a hypocritically commercial album, a collection of traditional pop songs masked as psychedelic avant garde music. It nevertheless served as a prelude to the baroque suite Abbey Road, the apex of their formality. Similar parallels can be found in almost every band of those times, but few listeners know the records of those bands.
Even at their best the Beatles didn't represent the spirit of their generation. When they tried they were late, or even against the mainstream. At best they expressed the values of the generation that preceded theirs, the 40s. Those values were moral, musical, and social order, and respect, the very values attacked in the 50s by rock and roll. Thus the fact that the songs of the Beatles were similar in lyrics, music and arrangements to those of Tin Pan Alley shouldn't surprise anyone. Some of those songs will forever be listed in the annals of melodic music: Love Me Do, Hard Day's Night, I Feel Fine, We Can Work It Out, Penny Lane, Hello Goodbye, A Little Help From My Friends, Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds. For what it's worth, the everlasting refrains of those songs took rock and roll all the way down to a level of silliness and childish humor, separating it from its violent rebellious roots.
With out a shadow of a doubt, the Beatles were great melodists, but at a time when melody was considered a reductive factor. As a matter of fact their melodies marked a regression to the 50s, to the type of singer the recording industry was desperately trying to push on the audience and against whom rock sought to rebel.
The Beatles tried every fashion exported by the US: Chuck Berry's rock and roll, the vocal harmonies of the Beach Boys, the romantic melody of Tin Pan Alley, the baroque sound of Pet Sounds (Beach Boys), the rock opera Absolutely Free (Frank Zappa), the psychedelic arrangements of the Electric Prunes and the like, the hard riffs of the blues-rock jams (Cream), the synthesis of folk-rock (launched by Dylan and the Dead), and so forth. Yet the audience credited these innovations - brought about by others - to the Beatles. All things considered, their success is one of greatest paradoxes of the century. They Beatles understood absolutely nothing of what was happening around them, but the success of anything they copied was guaranteed. By buying their records, one bought a shortcut to the music of those times.
The influence of the Beatles cannot be considered musical. Music, especially in those days, was something else: experimental, instrumental, improvised, political. The Beatles played pop ditties. Rock musicians of the time played everything but pop ditties, because rock was conceived as an alternative to ditties. FM radio was created to play rock music, not pop ditties. Music magazines were born to review rock music, not pop songs. Evidently, to the kids (mostly girls) who listened to the Beatles, rock music had nothing to say that they were willing to listen to.
They were influential, yes, but on the customs - in the strictest sense of the word. Their influence, for better or for worse, on the great phenomena of the 60s doesn't amount to much. Unlike Bob Dylan, they didn't stir social revolts; unlike the Jefferson Airplane and the Grateful Dead they didn't foster the hippie movement; unlike Jim Morrison and Jimi Hendrix they didn't further the myth of LSD; unlike Jagger and Zappa they had no impact on the sexual revolution. Indeed the Beatles were icons of the customs that embodied the opposite: the desire to contain all that was happening. In their songs there is no Vietnam, there is no politics, there are no kids rioting in the streets, there is no sexual promiscuity, there are no drugs, there is no violence. In the world of the Beatles the social order of the 40s and the 50s still reigns. At best they were influential on the secret dreams of young girls, and on the haircuts of young nerdy boys.
The Beatles had the historical function to serve as champions of the reaction. Their smiles and their choruses hid the revolution: they concealed the restlessness of an underground movement ready to explode, for a bourgeoisie who wanted to hear nothing about it.
They had nothing to say and that's why they didn't say it."
Thursday, May 15, 2008
It's true: I am a storyteller. I sit in front of large groups of children, numbering around 70, and try to instill values enfolded in entertainment. We sing, dance, and thrill to the adventures over crashing waves where the wild things are. Having done this for a few months now, I find myself sadly running low on material. I think possibly the following stories may teach some life lessons which are as important as anything you'll find in your typical library.
Wednesday, May 14, 2008
McDonalds has finally done something which is beyond despicable for me. I know that they have no shame, and that every single person who works for this company is a prick son-of-a-bitch asshole, but this time they have gone too far. They completely ripped off my favorite fast food place, Chick-fil-A, and have started serving what they call their "Southern Style Chicken Sandwich." Not only did they rip off Chick-fil-A's two signature sandwiches, but they're even going so far as ripping off the same fucking ad campaign for the breakfast biscuit sandwich. I eat at Chick-fil-A regularly, as one can tell by my ever-expanding ass, and I am quite familiar with how they advertise their food. The "HOLY SHIT! Chicken for breakfast??? Who'd have thunk it???" ad campaign is one that they've been doing ever since I started eating there, and I was horrified to see these McDouchebags doing THE SAME EXACT SHIT. Absolutely fucking shameless.
By the way, I've tried this new sandwich, and it's OK, if you like the taste of a fat man's asshole after he's spent half an hour on a treadmill eating a bag of Ruffles. Also, this piece of shit sandwich failed The Gristle Test, and I had to spit out parts of it before I could finish. This has never been a problem with Chick-fil-A, since their sandwiches seem to be made out of real chickens, and not mutated retard chickens which are torn to shreds and mashed together into some bullshit lump of "meat," probably containing beaks, claws, and rodents. The difference between the Chick-fil-A sandwich and the McFil-A "sandwich" is similar to the difference between Marilyn Monroe and Lindsay Lohan. One of them's the real thing, the other is a disease-infested whore trying to get a few extra bucks by imitating the real thing.
McDonald's Southern Style Chicken Sandwich
All this anger over a sandwich? You're goddamn right. I have fond memories attached to this place, from the free Christmas photo taken with the "Santa Cow," to the delightful weekends passed eating these tasty treats while talking about my dreams and ambitions with the love of my life. This place is special to me, in a way that McDonalds will never be. Fuck you, Ronald McDonald. I hope the Chick-Fil-A cows take turns smashing your skull open with their hooves, and end with a bukkake scene that would make even the most depraved tramp turn their head in disgust.
Tuesday, May 13, 2008
What films are they? Here's the list.
The Glass Menagerie (1950)
This watered-down effort marks Hollywood's first adaptation of a Williams' play. Compare this to "A Streetcar Named Desire," which came out just one year later, and the difference couldn't be more striking. This is Hollywood desperately trying to shape Williams into something that a classic Hollywood audience could enjoy, without any of the unsettling aspects of his work. Be that as it may, it is still a very good film, and deserves to be seen. I enjoyed Gertrude Lawrence's portrayal of Amanda Wingfield much more than Katherine Hepburn's, even though Hepburn got all the praise. Lawrence gives this character a grating, shrewish personality which is perfect for the part. I also think that Jane Wyman and Kirk Douglas weren't all that bad in their parts either. Yes, it's pretty light and very "Hollywood" in it's presentation, but I liked it. It was much better than "The Rose Tattoo," probably the worst adaptation I've yet seen of one of his films. Plus, Warner Bros, who released the Tennessee Williams DVD box set, owns the rights to this film, and the reason why it's out of print is still a mystery to me, since The Glass Menagerie is probably one of the most famous American plays to be committed to film.
Summer and Smoke (1961)
Saw this one years ago, and I remember thinking that Geraldine Page did a very good job of playing the shy, innocent spinster. Sure, she overacts sometimes, but it's a Tennessee Williams play, for Christ's sake, and you're going to get some of that no matter how straight you try to play it, no pun intended. The plot involves a woman named Alma (Page) who falls in love with a wild local rebel. She tries to hold back, but this man is just so damn wild she can't hide her attraction to him. Sexual frustration and wonderfully flowery dialog ensue. I honestly have no idea why this one's out of print, since it has great production values, an un-beatable plot, a mentally disturbed mother, and a surprising ending. This would have fit perfectly with that Tennessee Williams DVD box set that came out awhile back, if only Warner owned the rights to it instead of Paramount, or whoever the hell it is who owns this film.
Period of Adjustment (1962)
Warner Bros. allegedly own the rights to this film too, so why the fuck is it out of print? You can't just pump out a Tennessee Williams box set and leave out a couple films for arbitrary, non-existent reasons! But enough of that. I haven't seen this one yet, but it's supposed to be Williams' first stab at a comedy. While this doesn't appeal to me all that much personally, I would still like to see it, in hopes that there'll be a nutty woman and repressed homosexual leanings hiding somewhere behind the laughs. Its supposed to be about a newlywed's honeymoon being ruined by a friend's marital problems. That's all I read of the plot synopsis, because like Frank Costanza, I like going into a movie "fresh." It stars Jane Fonda, if that does anything for you. I don't know if it's good or not, but fuck, let me see the damn thing so I can come to some kind of conclusion!
A legendary film, one that any fan of cult cinema needs to know about. It's John Waters' favorite film, with parts of it inspiring Pink Flamingos and other films of his. It stars Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton, with both doing such a fantastically scene-chewing acting job that you can't take your eyes off the screen. Unbelievable that the man who wrote "A Streetcar Named Desire" and "Cat On A Hot Tin Roof" also wrote this. There's a sea-serpent dinner scene, Taylor in the ugliest fucking "hat" I've ever seen, and "The Witch Of Capri," which I can't even begin to describe. As for the plot, it involves Burton as the Angel of Death, who visits ladies right before their deaths. To be honest, I thought the plot was pretty good and if this film were done with the right cast, it might work. But since that will probably never happen, take any chance you can to see this. Williams said that this was the best adaptation of his work, and I have no idea if he was being serious or not. Then again, he also allegedly laughed at the end of one performance of "Streetcar" and said "she's going to the nuthouse now!" so maybe I can believe anything about this man.
The Last of the Mobile Hotshots (1970)
I know dick about this movie, and only recently found out that it existed. Why should it be released on DVD? Well, it's the only Williams film adaptation to be rated X, which certainly makes me want to see it. Also, it stars James Coburn, was directed by Sidney Lumet, has a screenplay by Gore Vidal, and music by Quincy Jones. "Baby Doll" was some racy shit, and I really want to find out why this baby got an X rating, since it more than likely didn't have on-screen penetration scenes. Maybe it had to do with topless dancers and the blatant desire of some of it's characters to screw each other? Who knows? We'll never find out, unless we either get this movie released, or read some online description of the film, which I refuse to do on principle.
So there you go. Five films that I think should be released on DVD. Look, there's already enough bullshit out on DVD. Do we really need a fucking special edition of "Tommy Boy"? How many different DVD versions of "There's Something About Mary" are necessary? Come on now. If studios can pump out the complete series of some bullshit like The Brady Bunch, they sure as fuck can release FIVE MOVIES by a famous playwright. Do your part and help get these movies out. This may be the most important thing you vote for this year, and that includes the presidential election.
Friday, May 9, 2008
How did we acquire this? This has been a great mystery for both anthropologists and linguists, and neither have come up with a satisfactory answer. The emergence of language is always described as some "happy accident" which occurred shortly after we learned to walk upright, and all of the organs we use for speech have other purposes. Language comes about as some deus ex machina which explains away how suddenly all this culture came about, seemingly out of nowhere. But even if spoken language can be explained, how about sign language? Our brains are capable of making language happen even if the basics required for it, such as proper hearing and possessing complete vocal organs, are absent. How is this so? What is it in our character which forces us to use a complex communication system even when the circumstances make it difficult to do so?
Interestingly enough, it may be the one thing which connects religion and science. Without speech, in spoken, written, or signed form, we have no culture, no religion, no science. All of the things which enrich our lives spring solely from language and nothing else. Would God exist if we were unable to talk about Him, or give Him a name? How would his laws be understood if not explicitly explained to us in language? Without speaking to one another, how do we deliver advice, or order, or pass down information to the ages which guarantees a longer and happier life? And think of the power of the word. Entire relationships are built, maintained, and often destroyed purely by language. Language can create love and hatred, can get two people to fuck or kill each other. All of the great religions have great texts, which must be read and understood by followers. Language, therefore, is not something to be taken lightly.
Human nature has always been the same, ever since we broke off from whatever our ancestors may be. The reason why we do not see any intermediaries between humans and other apes living today more than likely has to do with our competitiveness and the fact that we are excellent at killing other creatures. Exterminations of other species are easy to pull off with proper organization, and I doubt it took much convincing for our earliest ancestors to decide that they would rather not have weaker versions of themselves as competition for food and shelter. Language is an excellent tool for such organization. Non-human animals cannot convince or persuade others to act in the same way that we can.
Whatever our purpose is, I do not think that we will see much change on a grand scale in our lives. We run in circles, repeating patterns set down centuries ago. The Greek and Roman stories remain relevant because human nature does not change. What we see is a refinement, and though we do not watch gladiators being torn to shreds in a coliseum, we do see other acts of degradation in our popular culture. This is how we as humans are, and through language we have refined ourselves and our morality to be less obviously cruel. A continuing refinement may eventually lead to what our purpose is, but as I stated earlier, we will not personally see it, nor will our children or their children see it.
My belief is that language is the only thing that matters in our lives. Eating, sleeping, fucking and shitting are all important, but without language we are only an offshoot of the Great Apes, and nothing more. With language we have our culture, which is something legitimately important. God may be all powerful, but without language, He is nothing. His great gift, free will, to an extent does not exist without language to exercise it with. We are the only creatures with a God, or Gods, and this is due to language. One does not see "religious caterpillars." Of course, as a linguist-in-training, I tend to put a certain importance on what I've decided to spend the rest of my life studying.
Thursday, May 8, 2008
Francophiles and history buffs, rejoice!
• We’re a million years over due for a mass extinction.
• The sun at radiation minimum is acting much worse than at solar maximum, and one misdirected spewing of plasma could fry us in an instant.
• The magnetic field—which shields us from harmful radiation—is developing a mysterious crack.
• Our solar system is entering an energetically hostile part of the galaxy.
• The Yellowstone supervolcano is getting ready to blow, and if it does, we can look forward to nuclear winter and 90 percent annihilation.
• The Maya, the world’s greatest timekeepers ever, say it’s all going to stop on December 21, 2012.
Those are direct quotes from the back of the book, and I see no reason for this man to lie. So deal with it folks...we're all gonna die soon. Here are my suggestions for making the most out of the next few years:
1: Delete your Myspace account and go make real friends.
I respect using Myspace as a way to score some tail or annoy your 5,000 friends with bulletins about why you're happy today, but isn't about time you got off the fucking computer and went outside? Or how about going to a party, a club, a diner, an amusement park, and NOT talking about Myspace or hooking up your laptop because you may have new picture comments? I was at a party once, and a group of people were huddled around a computer, looking at shit on Myspace. I'm not a violent man, but I thought they all deserved to have the shit kicked out of them.
2: Fuck as many people as you want, but still use protection.
I know that we're gonna die soon, but look at the facts. If you fuck a bunch of people and catch an STD, your stamina will go down, your health will prevent you from doing all kinds of other things, and those puss-filled gooey gaps on your privates will repel anyone who has sight. If you're fine with strictly fucking blind folks, then do whatever you want. Personally, if a girl were to pass the Belly Button Test and I'd go downtown and see oozing sores down there, I'd call it a night and go home to beat off.
3: Don't waste your time praying.
God knows a bullshitter. If you're not already a person of God and have lived a good life, don't start now. You're already going to hell. Enjoy sinning.
4: People of God...don't stop now.
You've spent your lives being good, avoiding temptation, and praying. You have only a few years left to collect your prize. Resist the temptations of the flesh!
Aren't you fucking tired of looking at the same people in the same goddamn town every day? Isn't about time you found out how nice the French really are, or see if you can take a tour through Nigeria without getting AIDS? I'm sure flying's gonna be a bitch because everyone's gonna be doing it now, but that shouldn't stop you from seeing some of the world before it explodes.
6: Get over your petty bullshit.
Being committed to staying mad at your best friend because they fucked a girl or guy that you KINDA liked is beyond retarded. Get over your anger and let it go already. When everyone's dead you're gonna feel really stupid that you wasted so much time holding a grudge over something that didn't matter. Oh wait...you won't feel stupid, because you'll be dead. Nevermind. If it makes you happy, stay angry.
7. Stop being so goddamn scared of things.
Many people, myself include, absolutely refuse to do something because the results might possibly disrupt the nice comfortable bubble that they live in. Hey jerk-off, that bubble's gonna pop real nice and pretty, and soon. What the hell are you holding on to? Besides, one of the greatest feelings in the world is actually doing something that used to make you shit in your pants. Go jump out of a plane or something if that's what you've been wanting to do. And hey, if you splatter on the ground, don't worry about it...everyone else is gonna be joining you in a few years.
8. Eat more meat, smoke more cigarettes, drink more booze.
If you like the taste of meat, cigarettes, and booze, that is. If there's one thing I hate, it's a half-assed vegetarian. "Oh, I don't eat cow, but I eat fish." Yeah, the cow's happy, but you obviously don't give two shits about the fish, which isn't doing too well with your empty gesture. I also hate people who self-righteously won't smoke or drink anymore, even though before they made this new "lifestyle decision" they were lapping up liquor and sucking down smokes like it was on the cusp of going out of style, WHICH IT DID. And speaking of going out of fashion:
9. Stop putting so much importance on your clothes.
Believe me, except for you and your shallow asshole friends, nobody cares "who" you're wearing. If a loud "God Bless America" T-shirt is something that you actually like, then why the hell don't you wear the damn thing? Enjoy wearing a ratty pair of shoes, but won't wear them out because your toes stick out the sides? Slip those puppies on and start paintin' the town! You know that deep down you're tacky. Stop trying to hide it.
10. Accomplish nothing.
There you sit, alone in your bedroom, clacking away on your keyboard, trying to write the script for a film which will surely be a cinematic milestone. Or maybe you're studying some incredibly difficult business problem, something that you don't really enjoy doing but your parents convinced you that you needed to do years ago, when they were still alive. Every work of art, every masterpiece of literature, every euphoric piece of music ever committed to paper is going to crinkle, blacken, and crumble into dust along with the rest of us in 2012. So, as with everything else, if you enjoy doing it, continue on. But if you're only working on something because of some vague obligation, you really need to let that shit go.
People have been predicting the end of the world ever since they realized that there was a world and that we were living on it. Life is short, getting shorter every second, and now is not the time to sit back and put everything off. Don't you people get it? The world is going to end very, very soon. Start doing things! Make some moves! In fact, what the hell are you doing reading blogs at a time like this? GET OFF THE COMPUTER. Go ride a shopping cart down a steep hill or whatever it is you do for kicks. You'll thank me later.
If you do thank me please do so before 2012 since, you know, we'll all be dead then.