Friday, January 17, 2014

Weekend reading

- A.V. Club: "With Band On The Run, Paul McCartney escaped The Beatles’ shadow"
Noah Cruickshank writes, "John did hold Paul back. But, contrary to what most critics argued, that was a bad thing. Lennon hindered McCartney’s formal experimentation, and the two-part structure of Abbey Road is the best proof of that: Lennon refused to let McCartney and George Martin turn the entire album into a suite of thematically related songs."
No. No, no, no. Band on the Run is the exception that proves the rule. How could you hold The Beatles' catalog and Paul's solo career side-by-side and then draw the conclusion that, "Man, if only John had let Paul run wild." It's absurd, absolutely absurd. To the left, a staggering run of classics; to the right, near-misses, mediocrity, and creative ebbs occasionally interrupted by greatness. The Abbey Road dimension of the argument is no more convincing. The Side Two song cycle works so gloriously well in part because it occupies just one side. Stretching that vision across the whole of Abbey Road would've resulted in a lesser album - something more frivolous and indulgent. Hmmm, that sounds like much of Paul's post-Beatles output, no? The larger point: a key element of the Lennon/McCartney dynamic was that they kept each other's excesses in check. Contra Cruickshank, this remains an unqualified good.
- "The Beatles' US Albums: How the classics were butchered"
- I'm reminded of Capitol Records' ham-fisted retooling of The Beatles' oeuvre every time I dip into Rubber Soul or Revolver on vinyl. From 14 tracks apiece to 12 and 11, respectively. Goodbye "Drive My Car", "Nowhere Man", "I'm Only Sleeping" (!!), "And Your Bird Can Sing", etc. The savagery! The philistinism! More than their early-period works, the Fabs consciously constructed these two LPs (and later ones, Pepper most notably) as unified collections of songs. It was this effect that blew away Brian Wilson when he first heard Rubber Soul. In other words, they were not meant to be altered.
- "The Beatles were the Mitt Romney of the 1960s, and other policy lessons from the Fab Four"
Excerpt: In 1968, when "The White Album" was released, revolutionary fervor was in the air. Vietnam protests were at a high ebb; there was violence in the streets, and there was a sense that the old order was fundamentally broken and needed to be brought down by any means necessary. The Beatles' song "Revolution" combines an almost bombastic revolutionary tone with a more subtle message. "We all want to change the world/But when you talk about destruction/Don't you know that you can count me out," John Lennon wrote. "You say you got a real solution/Well, you know/We'd all love to see the plan."
Lennon seems to have meant the song as a rebuke of would-be revolutionaries who, in their dislike of how things worked in the Western democracies, blinded themselves to the brutal realities of rule under Communist regimes ("You say you'll change the constitution/Well, you know/We all want to change your head" and "if you go carrying pictures of Chairman Mao/You ain't going to make it with anyone anyhow"). But there are some themes in the song that apply more broadly to policy.
It's easy to look around the world and see all the things that are going wrong, and to want to tear up the system in its entirety. What's a lot harder is the messy work of identifying concrete, practical action that might make peoples' lives better, all the while respecting existing institutions and interests enough to actually make positive change happen through democratic means.

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