Thursday, April 17, 2008

Early Beatles

The Beatles are joyous, pure, agents of good. Even when they were free and young, they were wise. Early Beatles period will always be my favorite because they were new and the world got to fall in love with them for the first time. Oh, I'd kill to have been 12 then!

“I declare that the Beatles are mutants. Prototypes of evolutionary agents sent by God, endowed with a mysterious power to create a new human species, a young race of laughing freemen.”
-Timothy Leary

The whole film, A Hard Day's Night is really funny, but this scene, the most beloved moment of all, is especially heartening. Roger Ebert once commented that "it is possible that scene (during "Can't Buy Me Love'') snowballed into all the love-ins, be-ins and happenings in the park of the later '60s." It seems outlandish to suggest such a thing, but loosing yourself in this moment really is a powerful thing. The film itself is as graceful a transition for the Beatles onto the big screen as anyone could've hoped for. It is an absurdest romp, a day in the life of the Beatles.

Premier of A Hard Day's Night: Fuck the PO-LICE:

When the Beatles first arrived in America they won us over not just because of their music, but their personality and wit. They had an absurdest off-the-cuff humor about them, that always turn the press conferences around on the reporters. It was and is still thrilling to see authority subverted so winningly.

In fact, Beatles humor was so central to their early personae, that they were called "England's answer to the Marx Brothers" by cultural critics who still believed they had no future in music.

Press (to George): Hi, you're not married.
George: No, I'm George.

Press: Beethoven figures in one of your songs. What do you think of Beethoven?
Ringo: I love him. Especially his poems.

Press: What will you do when Beatlemania subsides?
John: Count the money.

John: No more unscheduled public appearances. We've had enough. We're going to stay in our hotel except for concerts.
Press: Won't this make you feel like caged animals?
John: No. We feed ourselves.

Press: Does all the adulation from teenage girls affect you?
John: When I feel my head start to swell, I look at Ringo and know perfectly well we're not supermen.

Press: There`s a "stamp out the Beatles movement" underway in Detroit. What are you going to do about it?
Paul: We`re going to start a campaign to stamp out Detroit.

Press: Does your hair require any special attention?
John: Inattention is the main thing.

"Will the people in the cheaper seats clap your hands? And the rest of you, if you'll just rattle your jewelry."
- John Lennon, 1963, at the high point of the group's set during the Royal Variety Performance before members of the British Royal Family.

Fan letter from 1964:
Dear Beatles,

You are probably not awair of the mess you are making in every teenage heart. It is a total disaster.

We have just formed a Beatles Anonymous to help all those poor mixed-up girls who cant break the Beatle habit.

We hope it's not too late. On your last visit you really shook up the United States!

Portland, Oregon

The Genesis of George Harrison

The Lennon/McCartney team is, of course, a juggernaut in the art world. Like any cosmic happening, it is wonderful accident that transcends explanation. Lennon and McCartney were perfectly matched, and through their partnership the unfaltering repertoire of The Beatles is possible, without a single failing track-- well, that is, except when they had to indulge George.

Poor George. The guy was the best teenage guitarist in Liverpool perhaps, but on the world stage he was revealed to be ugly, unpersonable and talentless. Being in The Beatles was agonizing for him, because he didn't have Paul's looks, Lennon's charisma, Ringo's likability...what was he even doing there? Harrison, only 14 when he joined the group, was younger than the others, and never overcame a profound inferiority complex.

Despite all of this, Harrison bravely attempted to learn how to write music after they already were the #1 band in the world-- quite a standard to live up to for the novice. He had to publicly stumble through the writer's process, with Lennon and McCartney diplomatically (if reluctantly) giving a nod his impoverished attempts by including usually one or two Harrison tracks on each Beatles LP.

Finally, his discovery of the sitar and Indian music in general was heartening, and Lennon especially coaxed him into the avant-garde armed with this unique aesthetic. Harrison, meanwhile, learned to manage the sheer profundity of being a Beatle by turning to God.

Then, on the final Beatles album, Abbey Road, something extraordinary happened: Harrison's submission's surpassed Lennon/McCartney tracks. Today, Abbey Road is considered by many to be the greatest Beatles record, and Harrison's songs are almost uniformly named the finest of all.

How extraordinary! The cosmic happening of Lennon/McCartney was enough to make the Beatles, THE BEATLES. That Harrison rose triumphantly to the occasion, is nothing less than astonishing.

Of his two tracks on Abbey Road, "Here Comes the Sun" and "Something", Something is the greater of the two.

Harrison's often childlike, strained voice finds a comfortable range in this composition, and is laden with a dewy affection. The resonant lead guitar takes the emotional weight, however, and it's yearning moans are heartbreaking. "Something" sounds like what love feels like.

You've no doubt heard this track before, but I suggest you listen to it twice more. Once, just for its sweeping beauty in and of itself, and second, with a sharp ear for the bass line.

Not to take anything away from Harrison, every time I listen to this song, the more convinced I am that its genius in part dwells in McCartney's bass.

The bass line, remarkably, nearly 100% counterpoint. This is an astounding feat. The bass line could be extracted, put on its own track and not only would it be completely unrecognizable as "Something", it would stand as a great song in its own right.

Really listen to the bass. "Something" is, in fact, two songs at once.

Lennon has always said McCartney is the greatest living bass player, which, from Lennon who gives little more than a shrug of approval to McCartney's finest compositions-- is the highest of praise, and not without merit. McCartney's bass lines in every Beatles track is usually one of the highlights of their songs. He has a deep understanding of the function the bass can play and how to add an entirely new dimension to any song that far exceeds the typical simplistic role of the bass in popular music, pushing the boundaries of how many levels one song can potentially have. There are, in fact, entire books written on his stunning contributions to the role of the bass.

So, again, listen to this song 2x if you can. "Something" is as much a celebration of Harrison's genesis as it is of McCartney's virtuosity. Finally, "Something" is most importantly, a soaring testament to the love-- the consistent theme of Beatles music.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

McCartney's sense of "the beautiful"

It's complete and utter bullshit to think of the Lennon/McCartney team working like a yin and yang. Sadly most (ignorant) people do. Lennon is considered to be the surrealist, dark, artist and McCartney is trivialized as some kind of pop-appeal bubblegum-mcgee. This couldn't be further from reality, for their aesthetics and sensibilities while complimentary, were never uniform. They were colossal enough artists to be able to transition into each other's so-called spheres, and beyond.

Nevertheless, my sense of their individuated talents certainly allows for a singularity on McCartney's part. His artistry, unlike the more obviously agonized Lennon, has an easy, God-given quality. McCartney is famous for having written many of his songs full-formed, without revision (very Bach-like). He hears the whole song in his mind, complete and perfect, and just like that it's done. Yesterday, the single most recorded song in popular music history (fact!), was actually written in Paul's sleep! He dreamed it, woke up, shuffled over to his piano with the tune still in his head and ta-da! Music history.

I made a playlist here of a selection of McCartney's music that I'd say fall into the "Yesterday" category. That is, his unique sense of simple beauty gets at an archetype few other artists can access. His songs sound timeless, like you've always had them inscribed in your DNA, and his compositions merely shine a light on what somehow always was. Perhaps this is why he's often artistically diminished. We have this sense that "the artist" should be brooding and in pain in order to create great art. McCartney appears to subvert this notion by tossing off great art with the same ease by which it is received; its effortless genius threatens a coherent notion of what the "great artist" is. This, however, is far from reason enough to cast his works aside.

Like Oscar Wilde writes, "beauty is of the great facts of the world, like sunlight, or spring-time, or the reflection in dark waters of that silver shell we call the moon. It cannot be questioned. It has its divine right of sovereignty."

In his "Yesterday" songs, we see that McCartney has a so profound a sense of "the beautiful" that he needs little more than a simple melody to spin out something eternal.

I have to misspell the songs so imeem will upload them. The track list is
1. Blackbird
2. Mother Nature's Son
3. Junk
4. Yesterday

A Day In The Life

A Day In the Life is considered by many to be the greatest Beatles track. It ends Sgt. Pepper which was the first album to be called "art" in rock history (weather or not that's true is debatable). I have my problems with Pepper, but A Day in the Life is an enduring work of art and will always be a chief justification for the lavish praise of Lennon/McCartney, hereafter names uttered in the same breath as Beethoven, Bach, Armstrong, and Johnson.

"A Day in the Life" is a reflection on modernity.

Lennon's voice, at once sad and disaffected, reads the newspaper- real headlines from the London Telegraph. He is ambivalent, even desensitized to the tragedies and absurdities of the news-- alienated by the self-referential medias: the newspaper, the photograph, the film, the book, all conspire to numb Lennon with their mindless saturation of suicide and war.

He sings "I'd love to turn you on"-- at first a musing just as blase as the news, it is carried away by the culminating sounds of symphonic chaos. The symphony, a symbol of sonic order, "high art", and refined beauty is violently dissonant. The trajectory of their sounds rise only toward some ominous end-point, the tension of the crashing sounds is hideous, leading somewhere mysterious and frightening.

McCartney wakes up. Thank god! It was all just a horrible dream! Impish and whimsical, McCartney rushes through his morning routine, forgetting his modernist nightmare.

"And somebody spoke and I went into a dream..."

Lennon's voice descends from above. No, McCartney hadn't awaken at all. McCartney's nonchalant consumer capitalist routine was the dream, the falsity-- Lennon's nightmare is reality.

Lennon is reading the news again, though this time it is even more nonsensical than before. The war and death of the first stanza is now replaced with aimless counting of holes- just numbering absences, quantifying nothingness.

"I'd love to turn you on..."
The dooming symphony returns, more emphatic and wild than before, crashing like waves, storming toward the future, what does it hold? Lennon's counting is lost behind the tense, mindless noise. Rising, rising, rising, rising, rising--

---It reaches the peak---

---and there is harmony on the other side: Lennon's elegant hope.

or, after the long silence, the unexpected ugly loops of nonsense cause one to wonder, is his hope an insanity?