Dig Those Groovy Tunes!

the only sound that's left after the ambulances go

Video of the Week: “Blow Away” by George Harrison March 2, 2010

I know it’s kind of late for this (both for Video of the Week and the special occasion it’s commemorating), but I suppose it’s better late than never.  I chose this particular video since my favorite rock musician of all time, George Harrison, would have turned 67 on February 24th (or 25th, depending on whose book you read.  He was born right around midnight, hense the inconsistency in the dates).  And though the great Mr. Harrison has made a plethora of awesome videos, I picked this one in particular because, for one thing, “Blow Away” is one of his more obscure songs, as well as being an all-around feel-good song and video.  The visual effects of the video are fairly simple, but practically guaranteed to put a smile on your face.  The song’s message — which, now that I think of it, is pretty much the same as that of “Here Comes the Sun”, also written by Harrison — is something I can personally relate to, as about this time last year (around the same time I started this blog, now that I think of it), I was going through a deep emotional trough of my own, but have since been able to pull myself out of it and become a much happier person.  But whether you’ve been through emotional turmoil yourself or have gone through life with little more than everyday annoyances to trouble you, I’m sure George Harrison — with the help of his friends the giant plastic chick, the big ceramic duck, and the massive bobblehead bulldog — will make you smile with “Blow Away”.

On a related note, I was very pleased to find that one of the feminist blogs I subscribe to, The Curvature, put up a post commemorating George Harrison’s birthday.  You can read it here:  http://thecurvature.com/2010/02/27/top-5-george-harrison-vocals/.

 

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”)