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Beatlefest 2009 March 31, 2009

This weekend was the 35th annual New York/Metro area Fest for Beatles Fans (“Beatlefest”, or just “the Fest”, for short), held on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday on the first and second floors of the Crowne Plaza Meadowlands Hotel in Secaucus, NJ.  This was my fifth consecutive year at the Fest (though altogether my tenth or eleventh Fest; I also used to go about every year from the age of five to about ten or eleven).  Throughout my recent Fest-going years, my reasons for attending have varied, as have my company and the focus of my interests.  The first three years were spent with a whole gaggle of people, including my parents, my little brother, a handful of second-cousins and first-cousins-once-removed, and my Uncle “Otto” (real name: John.  I don’t get it either) and his band, which play in the Fest’s “Battle of the Beatle Bands” (a contest between amateur Beatles cover bands that takes place every year on the last night of Beatlefest) every few years.  Those years were spent primarily between the marketplace, buying exorbitant amounts of Beatles merchandise; the hotel room where the band was staying; and the second-floor lounge where Fest-goers can dance to a live Beatles cover band called The Bootlegs.  Then in the evening, we watched “The Battle of the Beatle Bands”.  Last year, I went with two of my friends, one who’d never been to the Fest before and another who goes every single year.  While the main focus of that Fest was showing my Fest-virgin friend as many of the regular Fest attractions that we possibly could, we also spent a great deal of time in the marketplace, as well as waiting on line in vain (I can’t remember if we got tired of waiting, if they never showed up, or if they left before we could get to them) to meet some cast members from “Across the Universe”.  This year, I went with my mother and Uncle Otto (who’s been taking a hiatus from the “Battle of the Beatle Bands”), and our main focus was the special guests.

 

We arrived at the Saturday Fest earlier than usual, so the only thing there really was to do (besides shop, which we’d have plenty of time for later) was watch the early-bird puppet show with Bob Abdou, a.k.a. “Mr. Puppet”.  Abdou puts on puppet shows at Beatlefest every year, but I had never seen one until this year, mostly because I rarely show up so early to the Fest.  Due to my lifelong fondness for puppets (blame it on my early exposure to “Fraggle Rock” and “The Muppet Show”), I decided to convince my elderly companions that we should see it, if for nothing else, for lack of anything better to do.  Though the audience was primarily made up of prepubescents and their parents, the show kept the childless adult minority happy with some surprisingly daring jokes (not offensive, but not kid-oriented either), though the puppeteer having his magic talking whiteboard (Ringo’s face, in cartoon form, was drawn on what initially looked like a regular draw-erase board, but the puppeteer somehow got the pupils and mouth to move.  I still can’t figure out how this thing worked, which is what made it so cool) sing Ringo’s “No No Song” — with its blatant references to marijuana, cocaine, and moonshine whisky — was just barely crossing the line.  But since it’s more of an anti-drug song than anything else, I let it slide.  Besides the whiteboard, the puppets included Muppet-like versions of modern-day Ringo (with the ring-adorned fingers on each hand fixed into permanent peace signs) and “Give Peace a Chance”-era John Lennon (long auburn hair, shaggy beard, all-white suit), a marionette Paul McCartney who sang “Yesterday” (who was creepy by default, being a marionette, but as far as marionettes go, he was more cute than creepy), and a simple hand puppet of George Harrison, who appeared very briefly to introduce “Yesterday” (I just wish there could have been more George in the show, as he is my favorite Beatle).  The Muppets themselves even appeared at the end singing their own version of “All Together Now” (Mr. Puppet called upon four or five pre-adolescent volunteers from the audience to help operate hand-puppet versions of Kermit, Miss Piggy, Fozzie Bear, Animal, and Cookie Monster).  I enjoyed the puppet show immensely (’cause I’m a big kid like that).  I’ll have to remember to come to Beatlefest early more often!

 

After the puppet show, there was still time to kill before the guests we wanted to see showed up, so we headed for the marketplace, naturally.  Since I’d already bought enough Beatles t-shirts in the previous years to last me several weeks, and had bought all The Beatles buttons I could ever wish to own (besides maybe the “I slept with George Harrison” button I spotted at the fest this year, which I decided against buying due to the awkward questions it would inevitably elicit), I was content with making the modest purchase of three magazine back issues (a special issue of “Mojo” with photos of The Beatles’ early to middle years, an issue of “Q” with a cover story on Dylan, and an issue of “Record Collector” with articles on The White Stripes, Bob Dylan, The Beatles, and The Rolling Stones.  The only thing keeping that issue of “Record Collector” from being 100% perfect for me was its lack of anything on Tom Petty), and my mom treated me to a “Help!” DVD so I’d have something for the guest I most looked forward to seeing — Welsh actor Victor Spinetti, who was in The Beatles’ first three films — to sign in case I got to meet him.

 

At around 2:00 we went to the Imperial Ballroom to hear Spinetti talk for an hour, which flew by as he fondly recounted his experiences with The Beatles and talked about the significant cult following he had amongst Beatles fans.  Afterwards, he went out into the lobby to sign autographs, and I had him sign my DVD case and take a picture with me.  When viewed from a distance, he looked unrecognizable from the young, slim, less balding version of himself that I was familiar with, but up close he had the same face I knew so well from “A Hard Day’s Night”, “Help!”, and “Magical Mystery Tour”: the oddly upturned nose, the cunning grin.  Next, I met Neil Innes of the Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band, “The Rutles”, and Monty Python (not an official member, but sometimes referred to as the “7th Python”, the Python equivalent of “5th Beatle”.  In “Monty Python and the Holy Grail”, he was Robin’s singing minstrel and the head-smacking monk whose hooded face is seen at the beginning of the “We’ve got a witch!” scene).  He was extremely nice, and when I asked him if he’d sign a Rutles CD for my roommate (who really wanted to meet Innes, but couldn’t make it to the Fest due to family obligations), he asked if I was in college and if I was enjoying my college days.  I later met guitarist Earl Slick, who played on John Lennon’s “Double Fantasy” and “Milk and Honey” albums, and who, despite being in his late 50s, looked like Sid Vicious, only healthier and friendlier.  He signed my Beatlefest program without much conversation (I guess meeting Innes beforehand spoiled me), and the only thing left to do after that was wait in line to meet Ronnie Spector of the Ronnettes, which took a very long time (during which I spotted Bob Abdou walking around with “Ringo” and got to take a picture with the puppet), but was totally worth it.  Spector, in spite of the diva-type image her massive beehive hairdo and outrageous eye makeup (think Amy Winehouse, only cuter and without the tattoos, missing teeth, or perpetual wastedness) may have conveyed in the early sixties, was very friendly, and her page-consuming signature would have made John Hancock envious.  After signing my program, she even complimented my hat (I was wearing the snazzy fedora that I’d bought over spring break).  I’d say this was yet another successful Beatlefest.

 

Top 5 “Fifth Beatles” March 28, 2009

Throughout The Beatles’ career, many of their associates have been referred to as “the fifth Beatle”.  Those worthy of this title have ranged from The Beatles’ wives, their roadies, musicians who’ve been featured on their albums, those who have helped formulate their image and/or sound and/or publicity, and sometimes just general hangers-on (see entry #5).  The following are just a few of many “fifth Beatles”, but are the most noteworthy of the bunch.

 

 

 

5.  Murray the K, disc jockey

The Beatles with Murray the K

The Beatles with Murray the K

Murray “Murray the K” Kaufman may not have had as close a relationship with The Beatles as most other “fifth Beatles” had, nor spent nearly as much time with them throughout their career, but he is noteworthy merely in that he was the first to be called “the fifth Beatle”, back in 1964.  The phrase is sometimes attributed to being coined by Murray himself, but, according to “The Rough Guide to The Beatles”, it was actually George Harrison who first referred to Murray as “The Fifth Beatle”.  The title soon stuck, and with good reason, since for all the time he spent hanging around The Beatles during their first trip to America, he may as well have been a member of the group.  Murray is a very commanding presence in the Maysles brothers’ Beatles documentary “The Beatles:  The First U.S. Visit”.

 

 

 

 

 

4.  Yoko Ono, John Lennon’s second wife

John and Yoko:  The artist with his muse.

John and Yoko: The artist with his muse.

Love her or hate her, there’s no denying that Yoko Ono was an important presence in The Beatles’ later years and a muse for John Lennon.  John met Yoko, a conceptual artist, at one of her exhibitions in 1966.  By 1968 the two were virtually inseperable, much to the annoyance of the other members of the band, who weren’t so crazy about Yoko and could almost certainly have done without having her in the studio all the time.  Yet, for all the tension Yoko may have caused between The Beatles, she was still a key figure in their later years, inspiring such songs as “The Ballad of John and Yoko”, as well as the album art (or lack thereof) for “The White Album”.  Yoko also inspired countless loves songs from John’s post-Beatles career.

 

 

 

 

 

 

3.  Billy Preston, keyboardist

Keyboarding virtuouso Billy Preston

Keyboarding virtuouso and former child prodigy Billy Preston

It was George Harrison’s idea to feature keyboarding prodigy Billy Preston (whose other notable credits include writing the Joe Cocker classic “You are So Beautiful”) on The Beatles’ “Let it Be” album, and what a wonderful idea it was.  George became acquainted with Billy in 1969, and soon afterwards invited him to the studios to play on some songs.  Not only did Billy provide the rocking keyboard solo in “Get Back” and the beautiful keyboard part on the song “Let it Be”, but he also helped alleviate the tension between the members of The Beatles, who were all practically at each other’s throats at the time.  George Harrison remained good friends with Billy Preston long after the breakup of The Beatles, and featured Billy in his now-legendary benefit concert, 1971’s “Concert for Bangladesh”.  And he appeared as the titular sergeant in the “so-bad-it’s-good” Beatles-inspired musical “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band”.

 

 

 

 

 

2.  George Martin, producer

The very dashing Sir George Martin

The very dashing Sir George Martin

George Martin (I beg your pardon- Sir George Martin) was The Beatles’ producer from “Please Please Me” to “Abbey Road”.  In other words, he was there from beginning to end.  Having produced mainly comedy and jazz records prior to The Beatles, he was hitherto inexperienced when it came to rock music.  However, The Beatles’ charming personalities convinced him to sign them on to the EMI label of which he was the head.  The result:  an artist-producer alliance that could not be beat.  Martin recognized The Beatles’ talent early on and did not intrude much on the ideas they had for songs but he occasionally made his own contributions to their songs.  That beautiful piano part in the middle of “In My Life” is played by George Martin.

 

 

 

 

 

1.  Brian Epstein, manager

Brian Epstein, The Beatles' friend and manager

Brian Epstein, The Beatles' friend and manager

Brian Epstein was The Beatles’ manager from 1961 until his untimely death in 1967.  Epstein was working in his family’s music store when a youth came in asking if they had any records by The Beatles.  Soon afterwards, he decided to check the band out at The Cavern Club, a place where The Beatles played frequently at the time.  Pretty soon he was their manager and had convinced them to switch from the leather outfits they had been wearing to the more appealing and gentlemanly suits that they became famous for in their early days of fame.  Not only did Epstein have a profound influence on The Beatles’ image, but he also may have been what kept the bond so strong between the band members for all those years.  Brian Epstein died at the age of 32 from a combination of alcohol and sleeping pills (it is uncertain whether his death was accidental or  intentional), and The Beatles were shocked by the sudden loss of not just a manager, but a good friend.  After his death, The Beatles tried in vain to find a manager who could adequately replace Epstein, and the band quickly started to fall apart due to disagreements over prospective managers.  I believe that it was Epstein’s death more than anything else that caused the breakup of The Beatles.

 

Honorable Mentions:  Stuart Sutcliffe (original bassist), Pete Best (original drummer), Neil Aspinall (roadie), Mal Evans (roadie), Derek Taylor (The Beatles’ press manager), Klaus Voorman (German artist and musician who met The Beatles in Hamburg, designed the cover of “Revolver”, and played the bass in George Harrison’s “Concert for Bangladesh”)

 

The Beatles’ Films March 26, 2009

During their career as a band, The Beatles made five films together — in fact, if I’m not mistaken, they were under a contract to make at least five films.  For a while, after filming their first two or three films, they were throwing some crazy ideas around which never came to fruition, including a “Lord of the Rings” adaptation (I kid you not), but what they ultimately wound up with were  two full-length comedies, one short “experimental” film, an animated feature, and a documentary.  Each film has its own particular style and plot (when there is a plot, that is.  Not all their films had one) that sets it apart from the other four, and each film shows a different side of the Fab Four, due in part to their ever-changing interests, musical style, appearance, and tolerance toward each other.

 

 

The Beatles attempt to flee from their screaming fans in "A Hard Day's Night"

The Beatles attempt to flee from their screaming fans in "A Hard Day's Night"

“A Hard Day’s Night” (1964)

 The Beatles made their first film, “A Hard Day’s Night”, right when Beatlemania was on the verge of becoming an international craze.  What better way, then, to represent The Beatles in film, than to show them running from flocks of screaming fangirls?  With the exception of “Let it Be”, “A Hard Day’s Night” is the most realistic portrayal of The Beatles as a rock band.  Not that “A Hard Day’s Night” is an extremely realistic movie, but it does feature the band having to deal with the usual strains that come with superstardom:  bossy managers, humorless newspaper reporters who don’t “get it”, humorless teen magazine publishers who think they “get it” but don’t, fussy TV producers with no fashion sense, and of course, the stampedes of hormone-charged teenagers.  And when they’re not dealing with those things, the boys have to struggle to keep Paul’s sinister grandfather from causing mayhem.  Songs featured:  “A Hard Day’s Night”; “I Should Have Known Better”; “Can’t Buy Me Love”; “And I Love Her”; “Tell Me Why”.  Recommended if:  You’re a fan of The Beatles.  Avoid if:  You simply cannot endure to watch anything in black-and-white (what’s wrong with you?!  Don’t you know how many great films you’re missing out on?!  Jeeeeeez).

 

The Beatles making music on a snowy slope in "Help!"

The Beatles making music on a snowy slope in "Help!"

“Help!” (1965)

After making a relatively realistic (if a little far-fetched) black-and-white film about a day in the life of a typical world-famous rock group, The Beatles took a totally different approach with “Help!”  While the majority of “A Hard Day’s Night” took place all in the same city, “Help!” has The Beatles traveling all over the world with the life of their very own Ringo at stake.  It all starts when a religious cult all the way out in the “East” (i.e. Asia) are about to make their daily sacrifice to their goddess, Kaili (at least I think that’s how it’s spelled), when they find that their sacrificial ring, without which they cannot continue the sacrifice, has gone missing.  But how did it wind up on the finger of The Beatles’ drummer?  And what will happen to Ringo now that the ring won’t come off?  And why are a couple of third-rate mad scientists suddenly after the ring as well? Whatever the case, pretty soon the boys will either have to find a way to get that ring off their drummer’s finger, or find themselves a new drummer.  “Help!”, unlike “A Hard Day’s Night”, is in color, which really enhances the aesthetic effect of certain scenes, like the ones inside the band’s groovy color-coded apartment.  Songs Featured:  “Help!”; “You’re Going to Lose That Girl”; “You’ve Got to Hide Your Love Away”; “Ticket to Ride”; “She’s a Woman”. Recommended if:  You like action/adventure films; Ringo Starr is your favorite Beatle; you enjoy Monty Python-type humor.  Avoid if:  You are extremely sensitive to outdated ethnic stereotypes, particularly those pertaining to Asians.  This movie isn’t racist or anything, and the stereotypes are pretty mild for a movie made at that time, but I know those things bother some people, so I’m just putting it out there.

 

John is the walrus!

John is the walrus!

“Magical Mystery Tour” (1967)

“Magical Mystery Tour”, having virtually no plot and playing out like an hour-long acid trip, is panned more harshly than any other Beatles movie.  However, there are many who still enjoy it nonetheless (Me, for one.  Steven Spielberg is apparently also a big fan, and it just so happens to be my roommate’s favorite Beatles movie).  It also features some memorable musical sequences, which are basically music videos inserted between scenes.  And keep in mind that this is almost two decades before MTV.  Also notable is a guest appearance by The Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band (I’m not quite sure who they are, either.  But my Uncle Mark loves them), who sing “Death Cab for Cutie” (way before the title became the name of a band) during a striptease (nothing explicit — a huge censor bar covers up all toplessness).  There’s not much more I can really say about “Magical Mystery Tour”, since the movie is just too weird for words.  But if your movie tastes are anything like mine, that’s not necessarily a bad thing, now is it?  Songs Featured:  “Magical Mystery Tour”; “Fool on the Hill”; “I am the Walrus”; “Blue Jay Way”; “Your Mother Should Know”  Recommended if:  You like weird movies; you’ve even heard of the Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band; you’ve always wanted to see John Lennon in a walrus suit.  Avoid if:  You prefer movies that have plots.  There’ll be none of that in this movie!

 

The Beatles in cartoon form.

The Beatles in cartoon form

“Yellow Submarine” (1968)

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen this one.  I’ve been watching “Yellow Submarine” since I was a little kid, even though the first time I saw it, it scared the crap out of me.  In this film, animated versions of the Fab Four travel the seven seas in the titular submarine in order to aid their new friend, Old Fred, in rescuing the undersea utopia of Pepperland from the tyrannical Blue Meanies.  How do The Beatles defeat the Meanies?  With music, of course!  Sadly, The Beatles do not provide their own voices for the cartoon versions of themselves, and in fact had very little to do with the film at all.  It wasn’t until after they saw the film that they decided that they liked it, and a brief live action scene of the four of them was filmed and tacked onto the end of the film.  Songs featured:  “Yellow Submarine”; “Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds”; “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band”; “All Together Now”; “When I’m Sixty-Four”.  Recommended if:  You’re looking for an animated movie that looks nothing like Disney; you like fantasy films.  Avoid if:  You hate the sight of 1960s psychedelic posters; you’re looking for a good animated movie to show your very young scaredy-cat child (just wait a few years, and then they’ll love it).

 

The Beatles' rooftop concert at the end of "Let it Be"

The Beatles' rooftop concert at the end of "Let it Be"

“Let it Be” (1970)

“Let it Be” was a documentary filmed in 1969.  It was meant to document the recording of an album, but it wound up being most of all the portrait of a band falling apart.  The Beatles were practically at each other’s throats at this point, with Paul bossing everyone around and John’s girlfriend Yoko Ono encroaching on the band’s recording space.  At one point, Paul and George get into a huge argument over a guitar solo in a song.  Nevertheless, this film also shows that, when The Beatles put aside their differences long enough to make music together, the result still sounds incredible.  And in spite of all their quarrelling, they really all seem to have a lot of fun during the rooftop concert at the film’s end.  The movie also features lots of great keyboard work by Billy Preston, one of the people most frequently regarded as the “fifth Beatle”, due to his work on the “Let it Be” album.  Unfortunately, due to the fragile egos of the two remaining Beatles, “Let it Be” will not be released on DVD any time soon.  But if for some reason you ever get the opportunity to see “Let it Be”, I would not recommend that you pass it up.  Songs featured:  “Let it Be”; “The Long and Winding Road”; “Don’t Let Me Down”; “For You Blue”; “I’ve Got a Feeling”.  Recommended if:  You ever wondered what a band breakup looks like; you want to see an honest portrayal of The Beatles, warts and all.  Avoid if:  You want to continue thinking of The Beatles as a happy band that never had a quarrel in all the years they were together.

 

5 Beatles Albums Every Fan Should Hear March 24, 2009

Think you’re a Beatles fan after listening to “1” and/or the soundtrack to “Across the Universe”?  Think again, my friend.  If you really want to get acquainted with the Fab Four’s most significant material, I suggest that you check out at least a couple of the following albums as soon as possible.

 

Rubber Soul“Rubber Soul” (1965)

After several relatively homogenous albums of upbeat pop-rock love songs (which are the main reason why some of my peers dismiss The Beatles, claiming “all their songs sound the same”) , The Beatles came out with the folk-infused “Rubber Soul”.  While this album still features many songs about love, they tend to focus on less-than-perfect romantic situations.  In fact, many of the songs on the album were inspired by the real-life relationship issues Paul McCartney was going through with his then-girlfriend, actress Jane Asher.  The most positive love songs on “Rubber Soul” are about a different kind of love entirely:  “The Word” deals with universal love, a subject which The Beatles would later expand upon with “All You Need is Love”; “In My Life” is about love for every person who’s had an impact on one’s life.  This album also marks the first time a sitar was ever used in a pop song, on “Norwegian Wood” (the sitar would figure prominently in popular music for the rest of the 1960s).  And then there’s the album’s closer, “Run for Your Life”, which is so catchy that it might take several listens before you realize how horribly misogynistic it is.

 

Revolver“Revolver” (1966)

“Revolver” came out right after “Rubber Soul” and right before “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band”, and the transistion between the band’s folksy rock sound on the former and the psychedelic and orchestral sounds they adopted for the latter can be plainly heard on this album.  “Revolver” has The Beatles experimenting with instruments not typical to rock music (“Eleanor Rigby” features a string quartet; several Indian instruments are used in “Love You To”), backwards tracking (“I’m Only Sleeping” features a backwards guitar solo),  social commentary (“Taxman” is told from the point of view of a ruthless tax collector, who asserts “You’re working for no one but me.”), and just altogether weird sounds (i.e. “Tomorrow Never Knows”).  Love songs are even fewer on “Revolver” than on “Rubber Soul”, although it does feature the tender “Here, There, and Everywhere”, and the joyous “Got to Get You Into My Life” (which is for all intents and purposes a love song, even though I’ve heard that it’s actually written not for a woman, but for a certain mind-altering herb.  But you’d never know that just from listening to it).  And of course there’s everybody’s favorite (NOT!), “Yellow Submarine”, which I’m sure you’ve probably heard countless times before (I know I have.  And if you ever meet a hardcore Beatles fan, my best advice is to NOT sing “Yellow Submarine” to them.  I shudder to think of the possible consequences), as well as one of my own personal favorites, “And Your Bird Can Sing”, which the typical Beatles novice has never heard of.

 

Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band“Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” (1967)

What can I say about this album that hasn’t been said already?  Honestly, this isn’t one of my favorite Beatles albums, and I have serious doubts regarding the claim that it’s “the first concept album ever”, but the fact is that “Sgt. Pepper” is an important album and therefore is essential for anyone who claims to be a Beatles fan to hear.  Highlights on this album include the trippy “Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds”, the heartbreaking “She’s Leaving Home” (try not to cry the first couple of times you hear this one.  I dare you), the bawdy “Lovely Rita”, and the epic “A Day in the Life”, which I consider to be one of the greatest songs The Beatles ever did.  I’d advise you not to doze off around the end of this album, or you might be startled out of your skin by some weird noises that come up after “A Day in the Life” fades out.  Fear not:  it’s just the boys messing around in the studio.

 

The White Album“The Beatles”, a.k.a. “The White Album” (1968)

Remember those people I was talking about before, the ones who complain that “all The Beatles’ songs sound the same”?  They’ve obviously never heard “The White Album”, which is by far the most ecclectic album The Beatles ever recorded.  There’s thirty tracks on this double album, and not a single one sounds like any of the others.  On “The White Album”, The Beatles dabble in genres such as the blues (“Yer Blues” and “Why Don’t We Do it in the Road?”), country (“Rocky Raccoon” and “Don’t Pass Me By”), ragtime (“Honey Pie”), folk (“Mother Nature’s Son” and “Blackbird”), and doo-wop (“Revolution 1”).  The album also includes some harbingers of future rock genres, most notably with the shockingly proto-metal “Helter Skelter”.  And then there’s “Revolution 9”, a creepy, 8-minute montage of noise that defies explanation.  This album has something for everyone.

 

Abbey Road“Abbey Road” (1969)

“Abbey Road” was the last album The Beatles ever recorded (“Let it Be” was released after “Abbey Road”, but was recorded before it), and one of their best.  The fact that the band’s members could hardly stand to be in the same room at that point clearly had no bearing on their ability to sound more amazing together than they ever had.  The first half of the album includes gems like “Something”, “Oh! Darling”, “Maxwell’s Silver Hammer” (a delightful little ditty about a homicidal maniac which, for some reason, even my most Beatles-resistant friends seem to love), “I Want You (She’s So Heavy)”, and “Here Comes the Sun”; the second half of the album is made up of a couple of medleys, plus “Her Majesty”, the brief and charming “extra track” tacked on a few seconds after “The End” ends.  I don’t think The Beatles could have ended any better.

 

It’s that time of year again! March 23, 2009

Filed under: The Beatles — yourbirdcansing88 @ 4:14 AM
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I’m getting pretty excited for next weekend.  Why?  Because next weekend just happens to be the weekend of Beatlefest (or “The Fest for Beatles Fans”, as it’s officially called.  Like anyone ever calls it that), an annual convention dedicated to my all-time favorite band, that’s why!  I started attending the Fest at the age of five, and have been to countless Fests since.  Beatlefest is probably the reason why I have this lifelong love for The Beatles, since my family started dragging me there before I quite had a grasp on what this “Beatles” thing was.  From an early age, The Beatles were not just a band that my parents liked; they were a significant part of my life.

 

This is my fifth consecutive year going to Beatlefest since tenth grade.  There was a period of time that spanned several years when my family stopped going to Beatlefest, but we started going again when I was in tenth grade because I was starting to get really into The Beatles again (I go through obsessive Beatles phases every few years.  The one that prompted my family to go back to Beatlefest was my most recent one, and probably the longest.  It lasted until the beginning of my senior year in high school).  The Fest has a huge marketplace where people can purchase any kind of Beatles-related merchandise imaginable (Beatles posters, Beatles shirts, Beatles buttons, Beatles ties, Beatles shoelaces, Beatles business card holders, Beatles cuff links, etc.), along with a handful of miscellaneous classic rock/oldies-related items (I got my first ever Bob Dylan shirt at a Beatlefest a few years ago, and a T. Rex shirt last year).  The Fest also features numerous art galleries, a video room where they show movies and other footage relating to The Beatles, and some awesome special guests.  Guests in recent years have included the 1960s pop-rock duo Peter & Gordon (at that Fest I found myself standing about five feet away from Gordon, but was too nervous to go up and talk to him), prolific rock star divorceé Pattie Boyd (married first to George Harrison, and then for a few years to Harrison’s best friend Eric Clapton), and some cast members from the movie “Across the Universe” (I don’t know who; we had to wait in line a really long time to meet them, and for some reason gave up and left before we got to them).  And apparently The Rolling Stones’ very own Ronnie Wood randomly showed up at the Fest last year (not even as a special guest or anything; he just happened to be in the area and I think he also happened to be friends with Pattie Boyd), although he wasn’t there at the same time I was there, so I didn’t get to see him.  This year’s guests include Ronnie Spector of The Ronnettes (who, like many other early 1960s girl groups, had a huge influence on The Beatles), British actor Victor Spinetti (who appeared in three of The Beatles’ movies:  “A Hard Day’s Night”, “Help!”, and “Magical Mystery Tour”), and auxiliary Monty Python member Neil Innes (who made a brief appearance in the film “Magical Mystery Tour” as a member of The Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band, and also played Ron Nasty, a parody of John Lennon in the classic Beatles-inspired mockumentary “The Rutles”).  I’m excited to see and possibly meet this year’s guests, especially Victor Spinetti, whose characters in The Beatles’ movies never cease to amuse me.

 

In anticipation of the upcoming Beatlefest, I’m planning on putting up a great deal of Beatles-related posts on my blog this week.

 

Worst. Biopic. Ever. March 21, 2009

On Sunday night, I unfortunately had nothing better to do than watch the 1994 Beatles biopic “Backbeat” on VH1 Classic.  And now I’ll never get those two hours of my life back.  The movie takes place during The Beatles’ pre-fame years, back when they were touring in Hamburg, Germany.  At the time, they had five members:  John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, drummer Pete Best (who would later be replaced by Ringo Starr), and bassist Stuart Sutcliffe.  The film is mostly Sutcliffe’s side of the story, focusing on his friendship with John Lennon (who was really the only reason he was in the band in the first place), his romance with German photographer Astrid Kirchherr, and finally his 1962 death of a brain hemorrhage at the age of 21.  “Backbeat” plays out like a movie adaptation of a mediocre fanfiction, complete with gratuitous love scenes and gay subtext.  And those were some of the less horrific aspects of the film.

 

As characters, all the Beatles besides John and Stu are pushed far into the background, having barely any part in the film whatsoever.  For no apparent reason, “Backbeat” decides to impose some “silent drummer” stereotype on Pete Best (which is expanded upon in the form of a weak joke much later in the film, long after the viewer has forgotten that Pete even exists as a character, much less as the “silent drummer”).  Ringo Starr is introduced halfway through the film and is never mentioned again.

 

Oh, and the music!  The music was the worst part of the film.  During the performance scenes, rather than having the actors merely lip-sync The Beatles’ own recordings or at least decent soundalikes of The Beatles, the film instead chose to have the actors lip-sync (and lip-sync poorly, I might add) re-recorded versions that sounded nothing like The Beatles.  After doing some research on this aspect of the movie, which I assumed to be the result of mere carelessness, I found it to be much worse:  it was fully intended.  According to the film’s trivia section on the Internet Movie Database, the film used 1990s punk artists to re-record the songs performed in the film, since, according to whatever pretentious twit was behind this decision, the savage rock that The Beatles performed in Hamburg was “the punk of its day”, so using punk-rock versions of “Long Tall Sally” and “Good Golly Miss Molly” was somehow an attempt “to better convey the way the music felt to the early Beatles audiences.”  Give me a break.

 

As for the plot itself, I would have much preferred a film that documented The Beatles’ Hamburg days from a more omniscient point of view.  Stu’s relationship with Astrid was a poor subject to focus on, since so little is known about it.  If you ask me, the attempts to flesh out their romance sabotage the only thing that made it marginally interesting, which was its mystique.  The lovemaking scenes, though thankfully brief and not at all graphic (though I did see a TV version, so some stuff may have been cut out), are overabundant, and worse still is the nausea-inducing scene in which Stu first romances Astrid, peering at her over his sunglasses as he croons “Love Me Tender”.  In addition, there were so many more interesting (or at least more amusing) things that happened to the other Beatles while in Hamburg, which the film either neglects to mention or makes only passing reference to.  The Beatles were all relatively sheltered boys from Liverpool; when they got to Hamburg, their eyes were opened to an alien world full of strippers, hookers, transvestites, and amphetamines.  A seventeen-year-old George Harrison, who had to lie about his age so the band could play in the seedy Hamburg nightclubs, lost his virginity to a practical stranger.  Paul McCartney and Pete Best had to spend the night in jail after a childish prank involving a condom, a concrete wall, and slightly pyromaniacal tendencies.  This period of The Beatles’ career could have made a great film about the loss of innocence that comes with breaking into the music business, but instead it chose to focus on a romance that no one really cared too much about and the largely unprovoked (and possibly homosexual) jealousy it may have sparked in one John Lennon.  The result was a movie so painful to watch that I would gladly exchange the two hours I spent watching it for two hours re-watching “The Doors”, which, until Sunday night, was by far my least favorite music-related movie.

 

Why Downloadable Music is Ruining My Life March 18, 2009

Filed under: Continuing Crusade Against Digital Music Takeover — yourbirdcansing88 @ 2:17 AM
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On Sunday I went to BJ’s with my parents, mostly to get out of the house.  As usual, I made a beeline for the section that sells entertainment (books, DVDs, CDs, etc.)  I scrutinized the book section without finding anything worth getting, briefly skimmed the DVD selection, and then- wait a minute!  Where the heck are the CDs?!  I ran around the general area looking for the CD section with no luck, until I ran into my parents.  My mom said that she thought she saw some music stuff near the entrance of the store.  So I went near the entrance, and sure enough, I found plenty of music-related equipment…BUT STILL NO CDS!  It’s not that I really expected the place to sell anything I was interested in getting; I just wanted to see what they had.  But I couldn’t find anything, and the apparent lack of CDs perplexed me until I noticed how many iPod-related items the store was selling.  And then I realized:  CDs are losing money now that iTunes has become the people’s musical overlords, and BJ’s must have stopped selling CDs because they’re no longer profitable to sell.  But that’s no excuse!  What about ornery little neophobes like me who still refuse to convert to iTunes?  Doesn’t anyone care about us anymore?

 

Let me tell you why I’m so resistant to the iTunes phenomenon.  First off, I have a large collection of CDs that I’ve spent years and lots of hard-earned allowance money compiling (okay, okay…so some of the CDs were gifts, and some aren’t technically mine, but my parents’.  But I’ve still spent a lot of money on CDs).  I’m not willing to abandon all the CDs that I’ve come to treasure just because there’s a new way to listen to music.  My CD player still works fine after all these years.  I’m not willing to spend $100+ on the latest music-playing device, especially when I know the one I buy now will soon be replaced by a newer and more spiffy model.  I’m not willing to spend all that extra time getting the songs I already have on CD onto my new iPod.  And besides all that, you don’t get album art with iTunes.  You might get a microscopic picture of the album cover next to the song title on the iPod screen, but that’s it.  And let’s not forget those booklets that come in CD cases!  Whenever I get a new CD, the first thing I do is look at the insert.  Sometimes, it’s just a single square sheet of paper with the album cover on the front and nothing more than the track listing on the back (BORING!), but many CD inserts include several pages of song lyrics, some pictures of the artist/band, and/or information on who plays what instrument, who wrote the songs, etc.  And every now and then, I come across an album with something very special placed within its plastic or cardboard casing.  For example, when I bought T. Rex’s “Electric Warrior” on CD, it came with a free poster tucked into its case (not that I expect many Americans and/or people my age to know who T. Rex were.  And until I get around to devoting an entire post to the glam rock movement of the 1970s which T. Rex were the founders of, just trust me that it was a joy to have the late and great Marc Bolan and his halo of corkscrew hair gracing my dorm room wall last year).  The insert that comes with The Raconteurs’ “Consolers of the Lonely” is chock full of goodies, such as a weird picture of each member of the band, as well as equally weird credits (Jack White is shown as a mad scientist in a skeleton suit; Patrick Keeler is credited to play “drums and repercussions”).  The CD for Bob Dylan’s “The Times They are A-Changin'” comes with a 10-page insert filled with 11 free-form poems written by Dylan.  You don’t get this stuff with iTunes.  Also, one of the joys of CD buying is not knowing every song that I’m getting.  I like getting albums that I know only a few songs on.  That way, I can discover new songs and at least have the certainty of liking the handful of songs that I already know.

 

I’m not saying iPods don’t have their advantages, but none of those advantages have yet convinced me to give up on CDs and other “archaic” forms of music media (i.e. vinyl.  Much as I’ve been championing the cause of CDs, they are but a trifle compared to sweet sweet vinyl).  But I think I’ve done enough ranting about downloadable music.  For now, anyway.

 

Jack White’s at it Again March 14, 2009

Recently (just over a month ago, in fact), my faith in modern rock music was restored by Jack White, the lead singer and guitarist of two fantastic

Modern rock god Jack White, having a weird hair day.
Modern rock god Jack White, having a weird hair day.

 bands, The Raconteurs and The White Stripes.  This all started when I decided to listen to The Raconteurs’ latest album, “Consolers of the Lonely”, so I could write a review for my reviewing and publishing class.  To make a long story short, I really, really liked the album.  So much, in fact, that in the weeks that followed I was compelled to delve (with the help of YouTube) into the back catalogues of both The Raconteurs and White’s other (and more famous) band, The White Stripes.  I’ve been hooked on both bands ever since.  So of course I had to wonder, what could possibly better than Jack White, this awesome musician, being in two awesome bands?  Two days ago, that question was answered.  Jack White is now in three awesome bands.

 

White’s latest project is The Dead Weather, a band that, like The Raconteurs, might be called a “supergroup” — all the members have musical careers existing outside of the band.  The line-up consists of Alison Mosshart from The Kills (who, like The White Stripes, are a male-female indie rock duo, but have a grittier, dirtier sound) on lead vocals, Jack Lawrence (a.k.a “Little Jack”, a.k.a. “LJ”) from The Greenhornes, Blanche, and The Raconteurs on bass, Dean Fertita from Queens of the Stone Age (who’s also been an auxiliary member of The Raconteurs, providing some extra instrumentation onstage and on some of their album tracks) on guitar, and Jack White on drums and vocals.  Yes, that’s right:  Jack White, an artist renowned for his guitar-playing (#17 in “Rolling Stone” magazine’s “100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time” list.  Which is pretty impressive, although I don’t know if I agree with the decision to rank White above George Harrison, but that might be due to my own personal bias), is playing the drums this time around.  Which is yet another reason for me to be excited about this band:  I’m curious to hear White taking on an instrument he doesn’t typically play (although I’ve read that he started playing the drums even before he learned how to play the guitar).  And don’t even get me started on how excited I was to hear that White’s fellow-Raconteur-named-Jack, Little Jack Lawrence, was going to be in this new band.  Lawrence is my other favorite

The Dead Weather:  (from left) Alison Mosshart, Jack White, Jack Lawrence, and Dean Fertita

The Dead Weather: (from left) Alison Mosshart, Jack White, Jack Lawrence, and Dean Fertita

member of The Raconteurs, mostly because he manages to make geekiness look just so darn cool.

 

Unfortunately, we have to wait until June for an album from these guys, but they have just released a single called “Hang You From the Heavens” which at the moment can only be purchased on i-tunes, along with a “B-side” (do people still call it that, now that most singles are released on media other than vinyl, therefore not having a second side, if any side at all?), a cover of Gary Numan’s “Are Friends Electric?”  But if you’re an i-pod-resistant neophobe like me, fear not.  Both of their songs can be heard on their website (http://thedeadweather.com/), which is where I went to listen.  The website also has a really fun black-and-white video that plays on a continuous loop and serves sort of as a “music video” for both songs (or just goes on silently when neither song is playing).

“Hang You From the Heavens” starts with a loud, pulsing drumbeat that demands the listener’s attention, soon joined by a guitar so loud, so low, so distorted that it makes The Kinks’ “You Really Got Me” sound like a bubblegum song.  Mosshart’s voice comes in sounding defiant, agressive, uncompromising, not willing to take anyone’s crap.  I’ve listened to the song now a couple of times, and I’m still not sure whether it’s her voice by itself or if she and White are singing in a very close harmony, because if I didn’t know that Mosshart sang the lead vocals, I would have assumed it was White singing.  The vocals on this song sound almost exactly like White’s own singing voice, only maybe a little higher.   So either Mosshart’s voice can sound an awful lot like White’s at times, or their voices are blended together so well that it sounds like one voice.  Either way, it’s a good vocal.  The lyrics convey a frustrating combination of intense love and intense hate, with lines like “I wanna grab you by the hair,/ And hang you up from the heavens.”  The song is altogether loud and agressive, but at a slow and lazy tempo atypical of the average angry hard rock song.  In my opinion, it’s a very promising first single.  As for “Are Friends Electric?”, I can’t really say how faithful it is to the original Gary Numan song, since I’ve never heard the original, but it is a very cool-sounding song with a retro-futuristic vibe to it.

 

A Few Words on Bob Dylan March 12, 2009

Filed under: Bob Dylan,lists,Rants and Raves — yourbirdcansing88 @ 4:05 PM
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The "unwashed phenomenon" himself, in 1966.

The "unwashed phenomenon" himself, in 1966.

I think before I post anything else, I should say something about Bob Dylan.  Bob Dylan’s name will probably come up more frequently in my posts than anyone else’s, and there’s a very good reason for this.  Bob Dylan is, quite simply, the greatest singer/songwriter that popular music has ever known.  Yes, I know his voice is anything but conventionally beautiful.  I know he was never an extraordinary instrumentalist (although his backing bands over the years have consisted of quite a few).  I know his lyrics can be indecipherable, or just plain weird.  And yes, I’m well aware that he did that  Victoria’s Secret commercial.  But none of those things matter to me.  If anything, Dylan’s imperfection and lack of convention are what make him the one-of-a-kind artist that he is.

 

Dylan is an acquired taste for some, mostly because of his voice.  For those who’ve never heard Dylan sing, I can best describe his voice using any combination of the following adjectives:  “raspy”, “gravelly”, “rough”, “nasal”, even “whiny”.  I know many people who think Dylan is a lyrical genius, but prefer to hear other people cover his music because they can’t stand his voice.  For me, his voice was never a problem, because I started listening to him when I was about ten or eleven years old, back before I even knew or cared what a “good voice” was.  Furthermore, I find that Dylan’s voice complements his songs like no other voice could.  Especially in Dylan’s earlier songs, such as “Blowin’ in the Wind” and “A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall”, in which he sang of suffering, his weathered-sounding voice could convince his listeners that he’d been through all that suffering, despite the reality that he was just a kid in his early twenties from a comfortable middle-class background.

 

Now before I get out of control singing the praises of Mr. Dylan, I should probably take the time now to post some recommendations to those who might want to get more acquainted with the man’s work.  Here are some Dylan songs (and a couple of albums) that I think are essential:

  • “Blowin’ in the Wind” (from “The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan”) – a good song to begin with.  Not really one of his stronger songs, in my opinion, but it is his original “signature song”, it’s the song that first got young revolutionaries in America to notice him, it was probably the first song I ever heard by him, and its message is still somewhat relevant today, even though it was written in 1962.
  • “A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall” (from “The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan”) – probably the first song to have that ambiguity that Dylan later became famous for.  This song, rife with ominous imagery and warnings about an impending “hard rain”, was thought to be about nuclear war, but Dylan has always denied this assumption.  It could be about any huge and catastrophic event that’s just beyond the horizon, but just what it could be is unknown.
  • “Talkin’ World War III Blues” (from “The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan”) – very few artists could pull off a song that’s this hilarious and this tragic all at the same time.  Dylan did a lot of “Talking Blues” songs during the first few years of his career, but this is probably the best.
  • “The Times They Are A-Changin'” (from “The Times They Are A-Changin'”) – perpetually relevant, as long as the world continues to change.
  • “Chimes of Freedom” (from “Another Side of Bob Dylan”) – a powerful song from Dylan’s “protest” period that calls for the freedom of “every hung-up person in the whole wide universe”.
  • “Mr. Tambourine Man” (from “Bringing it All Back Home”) – one of my three all-time favorite songs (tied with two other Dylan songs: “Visions of Johanna” and “Shelter from the Storm”).  The Byrds did a very melodic cover of it which I quite like, but lyrically there’s so much more going on in Dylan’s version.  Many think the song is about drugs (I blame The Byrds for this.  They had to omit every verse except the one about the “magic swirling ship”, didn’t they?), but I think it actually is literally about easing one’s emotional pain through music, and not drugs.  Maybe I’m wrong; maybe I’m naive.  I don’t care.
  • “Subterranean Homesick Blues” (from “Bringing it All Back Home”) – one of Dylan’s contemporaries, folksinger Arlo Guthrie (whose father, Woody Guthrie, had a profound influence on Dylan) called this “the first rap song”.  I’ll let you be the judge.  Rap song or not, I doubt that R.E.M.’s “It’s the End of the World as We Know It” would have even existed without this song’s influence.
  • “Love Minus Zero/No Limit” (from “Bringing it All Back Home”) – it’s a shame Dylan isn’t more well-known for his plethora of beautiful love songs.  This is one of the best.
  • “Like a Rolling Stone” (from “Highway 61 Revisited”) – one of Dylan’s other “signature songs”, this song is not just one of Bob Dylan’s best, but also one of the greatest rock songs from the 1960s, or possibly ever.  “Rolling Stone” magazine (I wonder where they got their name from?) even called this the #1 rock song ever.  It’s also allegedly the song that made Bruce Springsteen realize he wanted to be a musician.  I don’t know If I’d consider “Like a Rolling Stone” to be THE greatest rock song ever, but it’s a darn great song, and I think every music fan should hear it at least once in his or her life.
  • “Blonde on Blonde” (whole album) – one of Dylan’s finest albums.  It includes “Visions of Johanna”, which I consider to be, quite possibly, the greatest song ever.  This was my favorite Dylan album until I got “Blood on the Tracks”.  By the way, “Rainy Day Women #12 and 35” (better known as “Everybody Must Get Stoned”) is not about drugs.  “Stoned” means “ostracized” in this song.  Although I’ve read that everyone in the studio was stoned when the song was recorded, so one could argue that “Everybody must get stoned” is a double-entendre.
  • “I Want You” (from “Bob Dylan’s Greatest Hits”) – unbearable longing never sounded so good.
  • “Lay Lady Lay” (from “Nashville Skyline”) – A beautiful seduction song, and a good song to start with if you’re not crazy about Dylan’s voice.  He was apparently getting voice lessons or something when “Nashville Skyline” was being recorded, so his voice sounds a lot smoother on this album than on any other (he started singing again in his regular voice by the next album).
  • “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door” (from the soundtrack to “Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid”) – and you thought it was a Guns ‘n’ Roses song, didn’t you?
  • “Blood on the Tracks” (whole album) – truly Dylan’s masterpiece.  Many of the songs are wrought with sorrow, anger, and regret, since Dylan’s marriage was starting to unravel when he recorded this.  Yet, there’s “You’re Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go”, which, in spite of its title, is a relatively upbeat song.  And “Lily, Rosemary, and the Jack of Hearts” tells a story that’s just begging for a movie adaptation.
  • “One More Cup of Coffee” (from “Desire”) – just a cool sounding song.  I recently discovered a pretty awesome cover of this song performed by The White Stripes, which just goes to show you how much Dylan has stood the test of time.
  • “Love Sick” (from “Time Out of Mind”) – Dylan’s a different kind of love sick here:  he’s sick of love.  This song was used in the Victoria’s Secret commercial that marked about the 50th time that Dylan could have conceivably “sold out”.  But who cares?  This song has a hypnotic organ part, that’s good enough for me.
  • “Thunder on the Mountain” (from “Modern Times”) – from Dylan’s latest studio album (at the time this was written.  I hear he’s coming out with a new one soon).  One needs no further evidence than this song to know Dylan’s still got it.  So this song makes a reference to Alica Keys.  Dylan’s “I Shall Be Free” from the early 1960s made reference to Elizabeth Taylor, Brigitte Bardot, Sofia Loren, and Anita Eckberg.
 

Greetings.

Filed under: Uncategorized — yourbirdcansing88 @ 3:11 AM

Hey, everyone!  I just started this pop/rock blog for my reviewing and publishing class.  I’ve never had a blog or anything like it before, so all this is new and overwhelming for me, but I hope to soon master the art of blogging well enough to post some interesting stuff on here.  With this blog, I hope to further develop my music reviewing/commenting voice, and have a whole lot of fun doing it.  I also think this is a great opportunity to share my interest in music with others, and I hope to continue this blog long after I’m finished with my reviewing and publishing class.  My blog will include musings/commentaries on various artists, albums, and songs that I think are noteworthy, and other miscellaneous music-related things.  I can see a great deal of my posts taking the form of “top ten” lists, because I have an inclination towards those sorts of things.  I’m not sure yet what albums I might be reviewing for this blog, if any, because I’m not very up-to-date right now on new and upcoming releases (I hear Bob Dylan’s coming out with an album soon, though.  If this is true, then I’ll almost certainly review that one).  But I’ll start keeping my eyes (and ears) open for new stuff, so we’ll see how that goes.  But now, in the words of the immortal mock-rockumentary director Marti DiBergi (who looks suspiciously like Rob Reiner…hmm…), “enough of my yakkin’.  Let’s boogie!”

 

D. DeGennaro