Saturday, October 31, 2009

Highlights from last year's Ukulele festival

Looks like a blast, especially the performance of "Your Mother Should Know."

(For whatever reason, I can't embed the video.)

Friday, October 30, 2009

Friday Beatles YouTube

"No No Song"


(If the video is removed, go here.)

"Nowhere Boy" reviewed

"Lennon's youth gets dull telling in 'Nowhere Boy'"

Excerpt:
A noted British artist, Taylor-Wood offers a surprisingly cozy look at Lennon's early life. Matt Greenhalgh's screenplay covers the ground but opts too easily for harmony where in real life clearly there must have been serious conflict.

Aaron Johnson ("Angus, Thongs and Perfect Snogging") makes a decent stab at the young Lennon, though he lacks the original's insolent sneer and remarkable bite, and Thomas Brodie Sangster ("Nanny McPhee") offers a very callow 15-year-old Paul McCartney. There's very little sense that they soon will emerge as the Beatles.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Ann Powers' fave Beatles songs (as well as mine)

Back in early September, right around the much anticipated date of 9/9/09, the LA Times' head pop critic Ann Powers wrote a series of posts for the paper's music blog about what songs she considered the best on each of the Beatles' canon albums. As is usual with Powers, her commentary was informed, perceptive, and sharply written. To my mind, she is the foremost American music critic. In light of this admiration, it's puzzling why I only drew attention to one of those posts. For reasons unknown, I guess. My task now is to rectify that negligence in one fell swoop. I've already touched on her choice for the highlight of Please Please Me; here are the rest....

Album: With the Beatles
Selection: The album's iconic cover photograph taken by Robert Freeman.
My thoughts: An early evasion on Ann's part, but it would be ill-considered to deny the rich artistry of that image. At the end of the post, Ann does relent on her rule-breaking and goes with "It Won't Be Long," which is undoubtedly my favorite off the album. The song is a controlled explosion, exhilarating but precisely targeted.

Album: A Hard Day's Night
Selection: "When I Get Home"
My thoughts: It's fun to encounter John being so mischievously vague about his feelings for a lover, as he is on "When I Get Home." For me, "If I Fell" is too disarmingly gorgeous to not stand as the highlight of the album.

Album: Beatles for Sale
Selection: "I'll Follow the Sun"
My thoughts: Once again, I'll politely disagree with Ann. No question, "No Reply." Fueled by the surges of John's jealous ire, the song plays out on dangerously unstable ground. It's charged, even if simplistic drama.

Album: Help
Selection: "Yesterday"
My thoughts: Right away Ann goes on the defensive about this pick: "I know that sophisticates scorn 'Yesterday' for its greeting card rhyme scheme and after-dinner mint melody." Too true. But in the process, she also fashions some very expressive and knowing words of praise for the song: "It outlines the vast gray area where wrecked or unrealized dreams go, and never quite die." She almost made a convert out of me. But as I've written before on the blog, I'm an utter fool for "I've Just Seen a Face," and achingly close to that Macca stunner is John's downbeat folk masterpiece, "You've Got to Hide Your Love Away." (P.S. Isn't it mesmerizing how the latter seems to sway as it unfolds?)

Album: Rubber Soul
Selection: "Norwegian Wood"
My thoughts: As Ann notes, this exercise can produce some really nagging frustration because, plainly, the Beatles' albums are often an embarrassment of riches. As the band's game-changer, Rubber Soul might be the prime example. Ann elevates "Norwegian Wood" to the top, and I couldn't possibly hazard a discouraging word about the choice. But that would also apply to "In My Life" and "Girl" had she been tempted in either of those directions. If pressed, I'd have to side with "In My Life." It's the Beatles' most powerfully emotive song, and George Martin's Baroque-style piano solo lays me low far more easily than it should.
Money quote: In my insistent opinion, "Rubber Soul" and its immediate successor, "Revolver," show the Beatles at their absolute peak. The songs on these midperiod works are experimental but never too somber or overworked. They take on major themes but don't buckle under the weight of heavy messages; they dip into dirty rock, sugar pop and schoolboy joking, but they add whole new levels of structure and meaning to those Beatle building blocks.

Album: Revolver
Selection: "Tomorrow Never Knows"
My thoughts: "This song is mind expansion in its leanest, cleanest and most powerful form." Well put. It's not easy to craft a genuinely weird song without sacrificing a lot of pop appeal. The Beatles accomplished this feat with indelible results on "Tomorrow Never Knows." It's a trip. Even so, I've never been able to shake the woozy, narcotic spell of John's "I'm Only Sleeping." Few songs have ever matched story and sound so fittingly and brilliantly.

Album: Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band
Selection: "A Day in the Life"
My thoughts: Finally, an agreement. It's the Beatles at their most accomplished and enduring.
Money quote: At each turn in the band's career, its two main songwriters challenged and taught and snuck around each other, each taking pop into new corners in the process of arguing for his own approach. One-upsmanship has rarely paid off so astoundingly. Occasionally, John and Paul seem to address each other in a song -- "I've Got a Feeling," from "Let It Be," is one such case, in which John's mind games and Paul's heart palpitations form a powerful dialogue.

Album: Magical Mystery Tour
Selection: "I Am the Walrus"
My thoughts: Another agreement. I'll let Ann provide the explanation (below).
Money quote: What a sound this silliness created. Layer upon layer of Beatles, orchestra, background singers and sound effects, all adding up to something actually catchy. So much art rock tends toward bloat; this song pushes at its own seams, but stays catchy.

Album: The Beatles
Selection: "Helter Skelter"
My thoughts: As you can see, Ann arrived at this decision after much gnashing-of-teeth. And for good reason: she's considering the double-headed monster that is the White Album. To be honest, though, I was a bit disappointed by the conventional nature of her choice. Over the years, "Helter Skelter" has become perhaps the signature track of the four-sided LP (though that's a very debatable claim). It's a primal, fire-starting rush, and it has a lurid history to boot. But I expected Ann to pass on the orthodox pick and go with one of the many quaint sideshows and curios that the album boasts, something seemingly tucked away, something like John's comically desperate plea for sanity, "I'm So Tired." That would be my selection. John's vocal, which ranges from casual to contemplative to caustic, is one of his most memorable.

Album: Yellow Submarine
Selection: "It's All Too Much" and "All Together Now"
My thoughts: I don't have strong opinions about Yellow Submarine because, as Ann writes, it's "hardly a Beatles album at all." Because both the title track and "All You Need Is Love" were originally used on other albums, I consider them disqualified from the competition. "Hey Bulldog" makes for a rollicking time, and "It's All Too Much" is worth some revisits now and again. So... "All Together Now" it is.

Album: Abbey Road
Selection: "Something"
My thoughts: I'll bend the rules somewhat and submit the Side Two song cycle as the highlight of Abbey Road. I find that hard to dispute. Other thoughts of mine concerning this perhaps greatest of all albums can be found here.
Money quote: "It's possibly the vaguest love song ever written," wrote the English journalist Paul Du Noyer about the song, and that's exactly what's good about it. In this most insistent declaration of non-committal adoration, Harrison used the same qualities that sometimes prevented his songs from hitting hard -- his reticent artistic personality, his guitarist's non-way with words, the appreciation of ambiguity he'd developed through meditation -- to really capture the lived experience of love, its ebb and flow, the lover's desire to be unconditional despite a constant undercurrent of uncertainty: "I don't know, I don't know."

Album: Let It Be
Selection: "Get Back"
My thoughts: Without hesitation, "Two of Us." It's a dreamy and wistful slice of folk-pop perfection, full of simple beauty. Hearing John and Paul join their rarefied voices, even amidst such bitter feuding, to sing phrases like "Two of us" and "You and me" makes for an incredibly poignant experience. The song has both nothing and everything to do with their broken partnership, and for that reason it's unmissable. Lastly, the line, "Two of us wearing raincoats/Standing so low/In the sun," fills me with a warm, even welcome kind of heartache.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

"Nowhere Boy" trailer



(If the video is removed, go here.)

(Hat Tip: Rolling Stone )

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Paul does Broadway celebration

"Paul McCartney at the Frank Loesser Celebration in New-York"

Excerpt:
Numerous Broadway actors ran through Loesser's more famous numbers. Such known songs as "Some Like it Hot", "Once in Love with Amy", "The Inch Worm " performed by Phyllis Newman-John McMartin, Abby Cadabby, Elmo, and Cookie Monster who claimed he had been hanging around the green room eating "C-O-O-K-I-E-S!! with Paul McCartney. He then screamed back stage for Paul to save him some C-O-O-K-I-E-S!!. Other notable songs "sit down you're rocking the boat", "What are you doing New Year's Eve?", "Baby, it's cold outside", "Luck be a lady", Adelaid's Lament" and finally "On a slow boat to China" performed by Sir Paul McCartney.

Paul told a story at being a child and having family get together at their house and his dad at the piano playing many of the songs that he later found out were Frank Loesser's songs. He thanked Frank Loesser for all of the great family memories of the family singing the songs in the front parlour. Song started with Paul walking up to the band conductor and asking him if he knew "On a slow boat to China" to which he shook his head. Paul shrugged his shoulders and walked away and then the band started. As soon as he started singing it, I instantly recognized the song. It was a really nice, sweet rendition of the song which was done impeccably.

Monday, October 26, 2009

"Priceless Beatles Record Found..."

"... In Widow's Collection."

Excerpt:
The widow of a former Capitol Records executive called record dealer John Tefteller to appraise her late husband's collection. After thumbing through some jazz and easy listening albums, Tefteller found a sealed copy of Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, which would bring a little interest on the secondary market. Upon further inspection, however, he noticed that the Beatles' faces were not on the cover. The album was one of three or four known to exist with the faces of Capitol Records executives superimposed over those of the band. As the pressing was so limited and only given to executives, Tefteller said that it would be impossible to put a price on the album.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Friday Beatles YouTube

Here's Weezer applying their peppy pop formula to "If I Fell":



(If the video is removed, go here.)

On a related note, does Rivers Cuomo place himself in the Beatles or the Stones camp? A hint: "John Lennon is my favorite singer of all time."

Remastered "Help"

I recently gave the remastered edition of Help some listens and then recorded a few observations about the overall improvement in sound quality and also about how specific moments have benefited from the digital upgrade. As you'll notice, a number of the thoughts just ended up being fanboy praise for the wonderful LP that Help is and has always been.

- Especially on the title track, the Beatles' backup vocals now come through much more cleanly and identifiably. No longer do they seem to bleed into their surroundings. Instead, they have a distinct presence. Additionally, all of the vocal parts sound more fully formed. And by that I mean, it's like you can now hear the Beatles enunciate words from the first syllable to the last. The use of headphones really helps to bear out this improvement.

- On "You've Got to Hide Your Love Away," John's vocal is perfectly centered. It goes to work right in the middle of your cranium, which helps to bring out its pained beauty even more vividly. Side-note: John's bracing delivery of "hey" just before the heart of the chorus has to be among the most memorable individual moments in the Beatles' entire catalogue. It's Dylanesque for sure, but it's also a classic Lennon display of eloquently fraught emotion.

- "Ticket to Ride" is a masterpiece. Both the conception and execution are inspired. Side-note: The song's rhythm is weirdly beguiling. Driven by Ringo's cascading drum part, it's so tangled and fractured, and it creates a peculiar effect: The song always seems to be stumbling forward while still being in control of its motions.

- "I've Just Seen a Face" is deserving of similar superlatives. The digital remastering accentuates one of its best features: the feel of a crisp autumn breeze blowing right through its core. And the thick tug-and-twang of the guitar solo easily makes for the most unexpectedly affecting moment on the album.

- And finally, "Yesterday" is still "Yesterday." What also hasn't changed, though, is my conviction that it's not the highlight of the album. It's probably the most significant entry, but I still connect more readily and deeply with "I've Just Seen a Face."

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Beatles Complete on Ukelele Festival

Too cool or a potential snooze-fest?

Excerpt:
Ukulele aficionados Roger Greenawalt and David Barratt couldn't be more serious about their ambitious marathon-like Beatles festival: two days, performing the entire Beatles catalog - 185 songs - with over 60 singers, 40 musicians and 16 Yoko Ono impersonators. Greenawalt - who is a music producer by day - will sit in with each artist providing the required ukulele accompaniment.

Paul's mini Euro-tour

The shows will wrap up 2009 for the youthfully active Macca. I dig the name of the tour: "Good Evening Europe."


Excerpt:
Sir Paul McCartney has announced a European tour including a UK date later this year.

The Beatles legend will play seven shows across the continent this December finishing at London’s O2 Arena.

Macca kicks off the shows on Hamburg before playing Berlin, Arnhem, Paris, Cologne, Dublin and then the capital on December 22.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

"Abbey Road" trailer



(If the video is removed, go here.)

More details here.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Classic Tom Wolfe quote

It's trenchant and the last part of it is hilarious (how often he interweaves the two). From "The First Tycoon of Teen:"

Spector, while still in his teens, seemed to comprehend the prole vitality of rock and roll that has made it the kind of darling holy beast of intellectuals in the United States, England and France. Intellectuals, generally, no longer take jazz seriously. Monk, Mingus, Ferguson - it has all been left to little executive trainees with their first apartment and a mahogany African mask from the free-port shop in Haiti - let me tell you! - and a hi-fi.

"Abbey Road" available for "Rock Band"

Rolling Stone has the details.

Excerpt:
As promised, Abbey Road will be available in its entirety for The Beatles: Rock Band starting this week, Harmonix and MTV Games announced in a press release. Even though six of Abbey’s most famous tracks were included on the in-game track list — “Come Together,” “Something,” “Octopus’s Garden,” “I Want You (She’s So Heavy),” “Here Comes The Sun” and “The End” — the remaining songs will be made available on October 20th for Microsoft XBox 360 and Nintento Wii gamers and October 22nd for Playstation 3.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Tom Wolfe and The Beatles (sorta)

A short while back, I learned that the incomparable Tom Wolfe had written about famed radio disc jockey Murray the K, i.e., "The Fifth Beatle," in his debut collection of essays from 1965 entitled The Kandy-Kolored Tangerine-Flake Streamline Baby (but who else?). So I borrowed the book from the library and soon realized that it contained another profile piece that's relevant to the blog: "The First Tycoon of Teen," which is about that brilliant producer and current California prison inmate Phil Spector. Both essays are terrific reads, and both are Wolfe-ian to the core: The prose pops and shines, the topics come to life in a hurry, and, to the extent that the focus of his writing stays where it belongs, Wolfe's personal opinion of his subjects remains behind the scenes.

But it is interesting to note the differences - some of them subtle, others more apparent - in Wolfe's treatment of each personality. In "The Fifth Beatle," Murray the K is undoubtedly the central figure, and Wolfe doesn't give short shrift to the DJ's eminent status: "... he is the king of the Hysterical Disc Jockeys ...." With an admiring tone he describes the K's manic on-air technique and his enthusiasm for the craft. And it's clear too that Wolfe credits Kaufman (K=Kaufman) for his puckish savvy in corralling much of the Beatles' attention at their first American press conference and thus latching onto the band. It's difficult to argue with what followed: massive success for the K.

Yet, at the same time, I detected an undercurrent of something like benign skepticism in the way that Wolfe details Kaufman's rise. It's like he views the DJ, with his far from insubstantial talent and personality, as still being closer to ordinary than not (and certainly closer to ordinary than Kaufman himself believes). The K is very skilled and likable, sure, oddballish, perhaps, but he's not uniquely interesting - he's not the story in his own right. After all, his coming to prominence (that is, major prominence - the kind that would find him in this profile) did occur in the context of larger, more consequential events: Beatlemania and radio's changing role in America. These are the stories; Kaufman was more of a role player who used some schoolyard opportunism to insinuate himself into the Beatles' narrative and then skyrocket to fame. Kudos to him for that. But, again, the truly compelling action was elsewhere.

Sometimes Wolfe conveys his skepticism with an innocuous observation. Consider this line: "He (Kaufman) not only plays Beatles records all the time, the whole show sort of moves in the medium of the Beatles." It's both a statement of fact and a light jab. Elsewhere, he applies thick sarcasm: "Sure, Murray the K may have been boxed in, but a lot of times radio stations don't show much appreciation for the esoterica of disc jockey competition, just as nobody else out there does." In the same vein, the several mentions that Wolfe makes of Kaufman's attachment to his straw hat have a certain mocking feel to them. It's like he's saying, "So you style yourself an eccentric, and this hat is what you have to show for it?" I think Wolfe was just looking for more from his subject. He doesn't openly air this, of course; that's not his style. But especially after reading "The First Tycoon of Teen" and noting the different tone that Wolfe often uses, it appears that Kaufman didn't fully win over his profiler.

Spector, on the other hand, seems to deeply fascinate Wolfe. And for good reason. Here's a guy barely into his twenties who has become a-mover-and-a-shaker in an industry run by stuffy, cigar-sucking suits. As Wolfe writes, "This kid is practically a baby, twenty-three years old, f'r chrissake, and he has made two million dollars, clear." In other words, he's the story. His skills are prodigious and vigorously applied: "Spector does the whole thing. He writes the words and the music, scouts and signs up the talent. He takes them out to a recording studio in Los Angeles and runs the recording session himself. He puts them through hours and days of recording to get the two or three minutes he wants. Two or three minutes out of the whole struggle." And his style, demeanor, mode of thinking, and ticks (like sensing doom on a flight and having it cancelled) all point to a bona fide eccentric (if only Wolfe had known). Thus the story springs from Spector and Spector alone.

All this and yet, as Wolfe notes with much affection, the kid really seems to be genuine. Cynicism wasn't his starting point; he cared about his trade for the right reasons: "It was never a simple question of him taking a look at the rock and roll universe from the outside and exploiting it. He stayed within it himself. He liked the music." And he liked the music because he was still a kid himself. It's this dynamic - that of a very young man operating with dominance in an adult world - that so captivates Wolfe. He returns to it again and again (Murray the K, by contrast, is in his early 40s* - how bourgeois). The wunderkind Spector followed his own playbook, defied the industry overlords, and unapologetically defended his art. In fact, he was smitten with it. He's a singular talent, a soaring, extravagant success, and a steadfastly weird dude. Of course Wolfe couldn't help himself.

*Wolfe erroneously put Kaufman's age at 38. Thanks to the commenter Peter for pointing out that mistake.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

More on the Beatles M.A. program

"Much to learn in world's first Beatle's master's program"

Excerpt:
Launched by Liverpool Hope University in September, the one-year MA in The Beatles, Popular Music and Society makes sure its graduates are well-versed in all things John, Paul, George and Ringo. Courses offered touch upon everything from the history of postwar Liverpool to musicology, from textual analysis and a cultural understanding of popular music.

The program has garnered international attention — and students. Zahalan says her classmates hail from the U.S., Scotland, the U.K. and Venezuela, in addition to one fellow Canadian, Vancouverite Sean O'Connor.

"There have been over 8,000 books about The Beatles but there has never been serious academic study and that is what we are going to address," said senior lecturer Mike Brocken in March 2008, when enrolment for the inaugural program began. "Forty years on from their breakup, now is the right time and Liverpool is the right place to study The Beatles."

Friday, October 16, 2009

Friday Beatles YouTube

U2's cover of "Helter Skelter"



(If the video is removed, go here.)

Thursday, October 15, 2009

"My Friend, George Harrison"

Here is the last of PopMatters' Beatles tributes; the other ones I linked to and assessed over the past week or so. This time I'll abstain from highlighting any petty criticisms I may have and just excerpt some solid passages.

Excerpt:
George had a broad impact on musical culture as well, perhaps more than any other Beatle. The Concert for Bangladesh was one of the first attempts (if not the first attempt) that used rock music in order to raise significant funds for charitable causes, decades in advance of “We Are the World,” Live Aid, and the institution known as Bono.

George’s using of the sitar as early as the Rubber Soul album and forging a lasting friendship with the great Ravi Shankar, undoubtedly helped raise awareness of World Music, and was one of the seminal events leading to the globalization of culture.


...

George Harrison believed in the right things: the simplicity and power of great music, flowers, human connection, charity toward others, love, and spiritual seeking. Not a bad combination.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Lady Gaga's "Imagine"

In no way does she besmirch the Lennon classic. It's a gripping performance.



(If the video is removed, go here.)

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

"A Love Letter from Lisa: To Paul McCartney, My Confession"

I hesitate to post another uncomplimentary appraisal of one of PopMatters' Beatles tributes, but I feel justified in doing so after reading this love note to Paul. Written by a Chicago-based journalist named Lisa Torem, it's basically a compilation of memories and longings involving Paul that yields oh-so few original, compelling, or even semi-interesting insights. The upshot of the piece is little more than this: Lisa Torem loves Paul McCartney a lot. And she certainly does. What she fails to do, though, is offer a unique perspective on the pop music icon. In other words, I finished her ode without really gaining any new or valuable knowledge about why it is that Paul possesses such a magnetic appeal.

Here are a few paragraphs that represent the whole pretty accurately:

Later in life, at one of your Chicago concerts, the footage of “Good Day Sunshine” and “English Tea” for NASA astronaut Bill McArthur and Russian Cosmonaut Valery Tokarev was shown. McArthur and Tokarev were orbiting some 220 miles above earth in their space shuttle Discovery. I was (and still am) so fascinated by what you’ve accomplished, Paul.

. . .

“Fun is the one thing that money can’t buy,” your sultry voice sings before trailing off. Watching Hard Days Night and Help and learning the tablature parts for “Norwegian Wood” is what bound my days together, you should know.

. . .

In 2003, years after that barbed-wire wall of inhumanity came down, you shared your talents with the Russians. You played the Back in USSR tour in Moscow’s Red Square, where you personally met Putin. Later you played the Tsar’s Winter Palace in St. Petersburg, the site of their revolution.

Unfortunately, paragraph after paragraph composed in a vein similar to these excerpts doesn't amount to much of substance. For instance, what is meant by this thought: "Maybe those 'cold wars' only exist in our imaginations, Paul." Intended to be penetrating, it's really just vacuous. And the line, "Watching Hard Days Night and Help and learning the tablature parts for 'Norwegian Wood' is what bound my days together, you should know," seems like a tedious side note. Too much of the piece is scattered in this way and doesn't contribute to a unifying theme or insight of interest. And, at times, the tone of Torem's writing takes some unfortunate and even bizarre turns. It goes from self-aggrandizing ("Music and writing about music immortalizes us, documenting the triumphs and tragedies for posterity") to slightly, even if unintentionally, condescending ("Giving back— how easy to get caught up in the trivialities of life— but giving back is important, Paul, and I think you can honestly look back and feel you’ve done that") to weirdly death-obsessed ("This may be the last letter you read as you await the end"). Vis a vis this final point, Torem consistently writes as though Paul is knocking on death's door, and because that's not the case, it creates a hollow sense of urgency.

Having voiced these criticisms, how about a note of admiration? This passage is quite touching: "I think it’s the father in you (Paul) that brought out the mother in me. For me, you were the first superstar who wore the role of nurturer so well and so proudly." To be honest, I'd have a difficult time imagining such a sweet and generous man as anything but a loving father. I hope that Ms. Torem and I aren't too off-base in our views.

Overall, though, "A Love Letter from Lisa" doesn't impart much beyond an impassioned veneration of Paul, and it seems to confuse this sentiment with genuinely engaging insights.

P.S. "With your prickly beard and button down pullovers, you made parenting look sexy. You were a 'believer, you couldn’t leave her if you tried' as that rival gang song expressed." The writer who resists the temptation to shoehorn lyrics into some part of a piece of music journalism is typically doing himself or herself a favor. Such attempts, like the one above, rarely avoid being clumsy and superfluous.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

"How The Beatles played Pittsburgh"

The entertaining history behind the Beatles' 9/14/64 concert in Steel Town, via the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Not your typical Beatles-related story

"Who's hotter? Beatles, Dr. Dre debate leads to police call?"

Excerpt:
Police responded to a call that several people were arguing outside an apartment complex at 5:20 a.m. about who sold the most albums: The Beatles or Dr. Dre.

Police told them it was The Beatles, which ended the argument, according to police documents about the Saturday incident in the 17100 block of Oak Lane.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Happy Birthday John!

Facts about "John Lennon's Birth"

Friday YouTube

Doug Martsch (of Built to Spill) doing a cover of "Something"


(If the video is removed, go here.)

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

"John Lennon, In My Life"

While recently going through some Beatles-related content on the Internet, I came across this earnest tribute to John Lennon. It was penned by a young-adult fiction writer named Julia Karr for PopMatters (a website, incidentally, that I once wrote for). Here's an excerpt:

As much as I loved George, I began identifying more and more with the songs John was writing. His wit, his grittiness and his candor were reflections, not just of my own life, but of life in the world. As I was going through changes, so was John, and he was much more eloquent in his expression.

And Ms. Karr concludes:

If only I could, I would tell him, “Even though you didn’t know it, John, you shared so much of yourself with me. You took me from adolescent schoolgirl crushes to the recognition of the importance of being true to yourself, your creative expression, and your life at large. Your lyrics and life journey were the concrete demonstration that peace and love really are all one needs. Your music and your vision live on today. Thank you, John Lennon ... in my life I love you more.”

Now before I make a few critical comments about the piece, I should state that I don't at all doubt the sincerity of Ms. Karr's connection to John. On both an artistic and human level, he's powerfully compelling. Nearly 30 years after his death, the force of his personality and the brilliance of his songwriting still affect fans in ways that foster very deep attachments. Ms. Karr is just one of many who share these feelings. The issue I have with her piece is that it presents such an incomplete and sanitized picture of John. It's hagiographic to the core and makes no attempt to come to terms with or even address John's many failings as a father, a husband, and a Beatle. The same guy who became a spokesman for world peace and unity was also someone who, at various times in his life, was cruel and abusive to women, heartbreakingly callous to his first son Julian (the "whiskey bottle on a Saturday night" comment comes to mind), and destructively vain when dealing with his fellow Beatles. To put it crudely, for a considerable part of his adult life, John Lennon was all too capable of being a mammoth asshole. And because this is indisputable, I tend to feel that remembrances of John which neglect to mention his deep flaws are blinkered to the point of naivete. It's just too easy to drape his memory in the idealism that marked some of his life's activities and paint a convenient, comforting portrait. He was so much more complex, and that's what Karr's swooning paean doesn't remark on even in passing. John Lennon wasn't a saint; he was all too human.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Sean and Yoko on "The View" (9/30)



(If the video is removed, go here.)



(If the video is removed, go here.)

"The Concert for Bangladesh"

Just a brief note on The Concert for Bangladesh, which I recently watched. One of the central pleasures of the concert (as shown on the 2005 DVD) is that, notwithstanding the handful of rock 'n' roll powerhouses and living legends that participated, it was the well-regarded but still second-fiddle keyboardist Billy Preston who completely stole the show. In my view, his soulful rendering of "That's the Way God Planned It" and the animated, loose-limbed boogieing that he punctuates the song with outshine the two ex-Beatles' handiwork, Eric Clapton's unrehearsed guitar-playing, and Bob Dylan's mini-set. Preston's stage presence is truly radiant and even has an unmissable spiritual flair. There's also a lot of simple charm in the spontaneous feel of his performance. In sum, it's the most memorable moment of a concert not lacking in talent-heavy highlights.

"That's the Way God Planned It"


(If the video is removed, go here.)

Monday, October 5, 2009

The Fabs can't save all

Album sales are suffering once again, via Rolling Stone. Hardly surprising.

Excerpt:
Album sales are down 11.1 percent in the third quarter of 2009 compared to the same period last year, Reuters reports based on figures provided by Nielsen SoundScan. That decline comes even with the influx of sales after Michael Jackson’s death and the release of the Beatles remasters, as both artists’ respective catalogs have combined for about 6.3 million in sales this quarter. Even with the unexpected push from the catalog albums, total sales are still down 13.9 percent from 2008, a year which itself saw its sales drop 14 percent compared to 2007. If the trend continues, this will mark the eighth time in nine years that the record industry has seen a decline.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Sunday YouTube

Last day of vacation blogging.

Elliott Smith's cover of "Because":


(If the video is removed, go here.)

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Saturday YouTube

John's send-up of Dylan:


(If the video is removed, go here.)

Friday, October 2, 2009

Friday YouTube

Bob Dylan's cover of "Yesterday"

I much prefer Paul's cleaner, more melodic version. But Dylan's interpretation isn't without some points of recommendation.



(If the video is removed, go here.)

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Thursday YouTube

Adam Levine's cover of "If I Fell." Meh...


(If the video is removed, go here.)