Monday, December 13, 2010

Thanks, Paul

If you happened to watch last week's Saturday Night Live (and really, who the hell does that any more?) then you would have caught Paul McCartney fulfilling the desire of the my previous post. Well, not quite. But it was as close to the real thing that we could ever expect in the modern world of two remaining Beatles. Paul sang "A Day In the Life" and and for the most part knocked it out of the park. He then combined it with the chorus of "Give Peace a Chance"* creating a fitting tribute to his friend that was murdered 30 years previous.

It was a great television moment. And I would like to embed a copy of it for your enjoyment. But the tone deaf a-holes at NBC have decided to not allow me to freely publicize their product. For some reason, they won't stream that performance. So no one gets to watch it ever again. Brilliant decision.

So you'll just have to imagine it. Instead, here is a clip from the episode that is actually pretty damn funny. Paul Rudd shaking his hips to a tiny harmonica solo makes me giggle every time. It's a comedy staple.

*As big of a Lennon fan as I am, I just can't bring myself to like "Give Peace a Chance." It's just too damn stupid of a solution. Good political songs should diagnose, not prescribe. For example, take every single protest song Dylan ever wrote. "Give Peace a Chance" is a catchy jingle and all, but trying to change the world with a song is as effective as putting a band-aid on a tumor. My cynicism aside, it was still a nice gesture by Paul.

Friday, December 3, 2010

The Way It Should Have Been

Alright. So I slack off for two months and then drop a long one on you. This little number will take some time getting through if you go in for the full audio visual experience. If you're a Beatles fan, please enjoy. And if you're not . . . what the hell's your problem?

Next week, December 8th, marks the 30th anniversary of John Lennon's murder. Between now and then, we will all be subjected to several news stories recapping the life and death of one John Winston Lennon. That news story will give a bland voiced over synopsis of his cultural significance, while we see a collage of familiar images. These will include the obligatory clip of Ed Sullivan in 64, a the Abbey Road album cover, the bed-in with Yoko and perhaps the photo of him in the New York shirt. It will then show news coverage of the crowd crying outside the Dakota and the doctor confirming his death at the hospital. The voice over will include phrases like, "Anti war activist" and "Spokesman for a generation" and will end with a clip of him sitting at the white piano as a few bars of Imagine play.

It'll be a nice story that will make you feel nostalgic, even if Lennon has been dead for your entire lifetime. But, since this annual pre-Christmas tradition will no doubt be laid on extra thick this year (the big 3-0!), this news story will lose its appeal after the fifth time you see it. By the 10:00 news Wednesday evening, you will have had your fill with Yoko Ono's face and will welcome the return of our regularly scheduled faux news minutia of Dancing With The Stars results, the Miami Heat and whatever the bullshit is that makes the Kardashians relevant.

I have no friggin clue what the hell that is, by the way.

Now, anyone who knows me even a little bit, will be happy to acknowledge that I'm a big fan of the Beatles. In fact, I can be borderline obnoxious when it comes to this subject. If you think about it, it's pretty easy to be a Beatles fan. I mean it's about the safest opinion you can possibly have when it comes to any aspect of pop culture appreciation. Who is really going to argue the importance of Sgt Pepper? You can not like it. You can say it's overrated. But no reasonably informed connoisseur of Rock and Roll can deny its bone shattering impact. It's like defiantly declaring that Michael Jordan was the greatest basketball player. Well, duh. We all know that. And this reality makes it kind of boring to be a Beatles fan. There's nothing really bold about it. But that's just fine. People don't love great music to prove to the world how sophisticated and original they are. (Well, you do if you're a smug, contrarian jaggoff.) No, we love great music because it resonates with our soul. Because it both reflects and defines who we are as a culture and as individuals. Because it floods us with memories both personal and collective. And damn it, great music just makes us feel good.

And make no mistake about it, the Beatles made great music.

Let me present you with a glorious and impossible thought. What if Dr Sam Becket leaped back in time to the first week of December, 1980 into the body of the doorman at the Dakota apartments in Manhattan. (Don't pretend like you don't get the Quantum Leap reference. You loved that show every bit as much as me. Admit it.) Al would explain to Sam that his mission is to wait for Mark David Chapman to get John Lennon's autograph the morning of the 8th and then blow his crazy ass head off at point blank range. Done and done. It would be a short episode. Sam then would leap into the body of a circus performer having marital problems in 1958. (But Sam can't walk on a tight rope! What will he ever do?)

The point is, Lennon lives! What would have happened? Well, probably not much for the next couple of years. It's not like the Beatles were planning on touring the summer of 81 or anything. But John would have done the talk show circuit, plugging Double Fantasy (an uneven album but it has half dozen or so songs that are fantastic). He would have done a few tour dates and then taken another few years off to watch Sean grow up. In 1985 he would divorce Yoko's crazy ass and marry Connie Chung. (John likes them sideways.) Then in 1987 he would release a terrible record. It would be called something like "Electric Kettle Fish" and he would appear on the cover wearing a skinny tie and Ray-bans. Sadly, most of the musical greats from the 60's and 70's produced some awful music in the 80's. Touch Of Gray, ring a bell? Kokomo? Say, Say, Say?

Damn it, Paul. You should know better.

But here's where it gets interesting. In 1993, John bumps into George at a Tai Chi class in Malibu and for the first time in 20 years, they really hit it off. They've both been sober for a decade. They have each enjoyed the validation that comes from their solo success. They've raised their families. They're each happy. Balanced. But a little bored. The Whilbury's has run its course for George. And even though John just did a voice-over for a Disney movie, he's feeling the itch. Upon reminiscing about the good times (and they are both surprised at just how many good times they remember) they feel the ambition to remind the world just exactly who the greatest band of all time really is. So they decide to take the next step.

John calls Ringo. They never lost touch. George calls Paul. The four agree to meet together under top secret security at Paul's villa near Tucson, Arizona. And for the first time since 1969, they pick up their instruments and jam.

They start with a couple of standards. Some Carl Perkins. A Chuck Berry number. Maybelline. They run through Kansas City and Hound Dog. And it feels good. It feels right. Nothing at all like the Let It Be sessions. They are just four buddies playing the songs they were raised on. Then, as a gesture of respect and affection to his old pal, John plays the intro to Paul's song Helter Skelter.

Paul chimes in with the lyrics and nearly rips his throat out when he screams "AND I SEE YOU AGAIN!!!". Spontaneous brilliance is rediscovered as John and George take turns shredding the sounds of the Apocalypse and Ringo remembers the happiness that comes with having blisters on his fingers. After an eight minute musical orgasm, the four of them pause in silence for a few moments, reflecting on the magic they each just witnessed. George breaks the silence in a Liverpudlian drawl. "You know, I don't remember asking U2 to steal that song back."

At that moment, they decide to exorcise all past demons, bury any remaining hatchets and give the free world what it had lusting after for the last 25 plus years.* The Beatles decide to reunite and tour. They immediately sit down and start working on set lists. Dates, cities, venues? Those details will work themselves out later. Right now, they want to channel this energy into finding and perfecting the right songs to play for their long suffering fan base.

Six weeks later, at Madison Square Garden, the curtain raises on the first Beatles Concert since Candlestick Park in 1966. I now present what I'm pretty sure is my own invention. The hypothetical concert. Behold! The Beatles 1993 North American Tour.

The stage is dark. Sounds of an orchestra tuning up is heard. A few fans in the crowd recognize this sound and burst with anticipation. Then a flash of light ignites as the band launches into Sgt Pepper.

There's no jumbo-tron in the background displaying the album cover. They aren't wearing the brightly colored costumes. It's just a rock band wearing jeans and T shirts playing guitars. It seems as though they were influenced by Jimi's cover at Monterey. It's got more edge than the album version. The song morphs into A Little Help From My Friends as Ringo bobs his head back in forth behind his drum kit, singing the lyrics. John and Paul share a mic as they harmonize the counterpoint. "Does it worry you to be alone?" The song ends with the kind of endless applause that only decades of musical blue balls can produce. A few minutes pass until they realize the only way they can get the crowd to stop is to begin the next song.

John steps to the center of the stage, clicks a few pedals on the floor and blasts the opening power chords of Revolution accompanied by Paul's spine crushing scream. John's vocals are nearly drowned out by the crowds' singing. By the third verse, he just let's the audience sing on their own. 20,000 people scream in perfect unison, "But if you go carrying pictures of Chairman Mao, You ain't gonna make it with anyone anyhow!!"

Once the audience relaxes a bit, the band members begin some banter. They acknowledge that it's been a long time coming and how good it is to be back. They say something about playing in New York and mention their first flight into JFK back in 64. And before they can even mention the words "Ed Sullivan" Ringo hits the toms beginning a spirited yet brief rendition of "She Loves You".

George makes a joke about screaming girls. John suggests they mix it up a bit. He then straps on an accordion (you heard me) and begins the melotron intro to Strawberry Fields.

Standing there with his shoulder length hair, round glasses with an accordion strapped to his chest, John's thin metallic voice leads the congregation. "Let me take you down, cause I'm going to . . ." A pair of cellists and a horn section appear out of the darkness, capturing that George Martin brand of studio magic from all those years ago. George's 12 string Rickenbacker weaves a warm dream over Paul and Ringo relentless rhythm. After the refrain fades out and the applause loses momentum, John says while looking across the stage to his counterpart, "You know I could never bury you, Paul." The crowd laughs hysterically, even though it wasn't that funny.

The horn section then erupts into the intro of Got To Get You Into My Life as Paul steps to the mic and belts out three minutes of unapologetic happiness. At the end when Paul begins riffing on the chorus, John spontaneously joins him in a conversational ad lib.

John then sits down at a grand piano as George takes center stage. Ringo says, "I think it's time we hear from the quiet one." George hides his annoyance at that reference as John pounds out the minor chords of While My Guitar Gently Weeps.

Standing alone in the spotlight for an extended guitar solo, George's slide work puts Clapton shame.

Staying at the piano, John savagely bangs the opening rif of Hey Bulldog. As Paul slaps the funk right of his lefty bass, he joins John with feisty barking and growling. John plays along. "Quiet boy!"

Ringo then addresses the crowd. "You know the Beatles have been known for a lot of things over the years. But, really in the end we're a simple Rock and Roll band that just wants to kick your ass."

He then hits the bass pedal beginning an ear bleeding rendition of "Everybody's Got Something To Hide, Except For Me and My Monkey." They crowd loses it. They aren't just playing the obvious songs. They're giving us the B sides. This is a concert for the true blue fans.

The stage lights darken. A spotlight appears on the piano as Paul sits down. He then plays the immortal chord progression of Let It Be.

John compliments the piano with a Billy Preston style church organ floating above the ground. The cellists and horn section take turns adding their layers. After George's sublime solo, all instruments halt as Paul sings the final verse with just Ringo's drums backing him up. Then the chorus comes back and on the down beat everything returns, like a sonic wave washing you out to sea. The strings, the horn line, John's organ and George's guitar dancing with Paul's vocals. The crowd is stunned.

Let It Be begins the acoustic set. Once the applause begins to fade, George takes the spotlight alone with a ukulele and plays Something in its entirety by himself.

George heads backstage as the stage lights come back on to reveal John and Paul sitting on stools, side by side with acoustic guitars in hand. Ringo is front and center with a snare, a high hat and brushes. And they begin a stripped down unplugged version of Help. (You'll have to imagine this one.)

Remaining with the same setup, they follow up Help with a similar rendition of I'm Looking Through You.

George returns with a Sitar, to the joy of the crowd. Ringo steps to a pair of conga drums and the four of them play a simplified version of Love You To.

George then plays the opening riff of In My Life of the Sitar, accompanied by Paul on the double bass. Ringo returns to the snare and they play the Rubber Soul classic.

George replaces the harpsichord solo with his sitar and John's voice cracks with emotion on the last verse.

John then sits back at the piano. Ringo returns to his drum kit and George picks up an acoustic guitar and begins strumming a G chord. The piano joins him playing A Day In the Life.

Ringo's fills and Paul's bass line punctuate John's unsettling lyrics perfectly. The horn line and strings again appear out of the darkness as the crowd falls down the rabbit hole. Paul wakes us all up by dragging a comb across his head. Upon having a smoke we all go into a dream as John's voice swims around the arena. We return to his surreal newspaper article and fall right back into the same rabbit hole until it the door is slammed shut with the final E chord.

The crowd is stunned. They intuitively wait for a few reverent moments before erupting in applause. The Pepper magic was just created right in front of their eyes. It's like seeing a unicorn in the wild. It is beyond belief.

Paul then steps to the mic and asks, "Does anyone remember this one? One, two, three FOUR!"

John and George lay on the distortion and really blow the doors off this song. George puts a little wa pedal into his solo. This isn't a teeny boppers diddy. It's the anthem of a sexual predator. At the end John jokes, "Paul, I think it's about time you stop looking at those 17 year old girls. If you know what I mean."

Paul laughs it off and sits down at the piano.

Smelling the finale, the crowd soaks in every note. 20,000 people swaying in unison, singing with their eyes closed savoring every second. After the false start, the chorus swells and the round begins. NA NA NA NA NE NA NA! The horn line joins in the fourth repeat. Paul begins riffing. "Well you know you can make it, Ju Jude you're not gonna break it!". On the tenth cycle the whole band cuts out except Ringo beat, the house lights turn on and each individual in the audience communes with the music. People hold their hands in the air and shake their head as if they caught the spirit at a Pentacostal service. Paul directs the crowd. "Just the ladies! Now the fellas! Okay, are we ready to bring it home?" The band joins back in with the full horn line and string section as Paul does a spot on Little Richard. "Wow woo! Na Na Na!"

Finally they fade out. The four of them stand together on stage and give a bow. John says, "We're gonna take a quick break and be back for an encore in just bit."

The crowd chants "We want more!" in the dark for the next ten minutes.

The band triumphantly returns to the stage. Without a word jump right into Twist and Shout.

Paul says something about John sounding a lot like that Ferris Bueller kid. He then dons an acoustic guitar and stands in front of the string section and makes every 45 year old woman in the crowd swoon.

Once the applause fades, Ringo quips, "For some reason I really want to eat some scrambled eggs." John then addresses the crowd and tells them what a pleasure it has been to play the old songs all over again. He thanks the audience and Paul begins Golden Slumbers from behind the piano.

Upon Carry That Weight, Paul joins the rest of the band with an electric guitar at the front of the stage. All four sing together, "Are you gonna be in my dreams, tonight?". John, Paul and George then give way as Ringo begins The End with his drum solo. He owns the spotlight as his unsung talent shines undeniably. The guitarists then launch into a three way duel, outdoing each other's licks for several minutes. Paul sneaks back to the piano with his guitar slung around his back as it all stops, leaving his happy bouncing keys.

The four Beatles and entire audience then sing together, "And in the end, the love you make is equal to the love you make." The string section then carries the band, their instruments and their harmonies off into the air as the greatest concert in the history of time comes to a triumphant end.

Yup. That the way it should have been. But some dip shit shot John Lennon in the back. I blame JD Salinger. So instead of this cultural achievement for the ages, we get a bunch of lazy, rehashed news stories every December 8th.

What a crock.

*In my years, I have seen Paul McCartney live. And I have seen Ringo Starr and his All Star Band. Let me just say, the opposite of synergy was in full effect. Paul and eight guys I don't know are not the Beatles. Even though Paul was a driving creative force behind the band and they were playing the songs I love, it was a McCartney show. Not a Beatles show. And we'll just leave poor Ringo alone. But let me say this. I paid more than a 150 bucks for McCartney tickets. For Ringo? 15 bones. He couldn't even demand a twenty. But I probably enjoyed Ringo just as much. He played almost as many Beatles songs and Jack Bruce played bass for him. So they mixed in some Cream. Good show.