Monday, January 30, 2012

The Beatles

Read a bio of John Lennon by Tim Riley. Lively enough, and even with some stylistic verve in the writing. I also read (more like scanned) Keith Richard’s autobiography. I skipped a lot of his drugged hijinx stories but enjoyed how he looked at making rock music. These two books got me thinking about the era, and more specifically the dynamism of The Beatles’ effect.

I liked them from the start. “I Wanna Hold Your Hand” still gives me chills when I hear the first chords. Not because it’s such a great song—it is not on my list of particular favourites—but it nonetheless possesses the visceral thrill that I got seeing The Beatles on Ed Sullivan. Wowie zowie for that experience!

Early on, I liked the spare skiffle of “Love Me Do” (still do), with that simple harmonica bit. I dunno why, I like all of the Beatles songs with harmonica.

Of course I understood that Paul was the cute one, John the intellectual, George the shy one, and Ringo was Ringo. It’s like we must be taught patterns of comprehension, which just turns into an override of what you might have actually perceived, were you to listen.  Thus Dems vs Reps, as the US dwindles.

Beatlemania was ridiculous, no question. It gave The Beatles a frame of celebrity that few have had (that is, suffered). It’s just so hard to judge The Beatles (and its component members) thru the lens of that madness. I mean it’s like believing Newt Gingrich carries a sword for you.

I didn’t realize at the time just how good they were as musicians. Owe at least some of that aesthetic evaluation to listening to much of the music in monaural, or crappy stereos, the which I did much of the time. Plus such a thingness surrounded The Beatles and their songs that I seem rarely to have noted how the pieces fit. I mean, Ringo’s quite inventive with his drums, and always zesty. And Paul’s bass is always effective, and often amazingly perfect. And with Lennon and McCartney, you have two singers who could sing just about anything a rock singer might sing. And so on. Well wait,  let me enumerate some further so ons. Smarmy Paul could still vigourously press the lead guitar (as I understand) on “Good Morning Good Morning”. John makes the tasty leads on “Get Back”. They never seemed to strain with the instruments. That rather superficial Malcolm Gladwell asserts the 10,000 preparation hours that made Beatles out of Beatles. They should have been a live touring band rather than a scream at me one. I get why they stopped touring, such a mess of expectation and what.

Something that I’ve noticed: I know the lyrics of good lord most of their songs, and that without trying. Ezra Pound notes that when song lyrics are memorable, it means that synergy of tune and lyric is strong, which I believe. John’s a better lyricist (by far), but don’t give me “We’re all mates with Attica State”.

I backed away from their positioning as cultural icons pretty early in the experience. THAT stuff got overblown. But I certainly wanted to hear what they were up to, at least until the group broke up. I mean, they thinned out. And when they did break up, it felt like long time fait accompli.

I thought Sgt Pepper was fearsomely wonderful at the time. I have since tired of most of it. Production as enterprise. Also, that mode of production, layers and layers, tended to remove the human pulse. They were making aural collages with bits of tape spliced together with the 8 or whatever track recording. The primitive energy started getting lost in all that.

The White Album kinda wore me out, too. It is fascinating to witness the way the individual pieces of The Beatles’ puzzle began fighting each other but I wasn’t quite getting the excitement. They were obviously in non-together mode. Post-Beatles has been a mishmash. I give Riley props for not lavishing praise on “Imagine”. It has been subsumed into the mythology of the saintly John. To me, it verges on the smarmy sort of audience awareness that McCartney overdid.

I like some of George’s post-Beatles work, cannot fathom what anyone liked about Wings but McCartney’s 1st solo recording was pretty neat, and so on. They were talented individually, and both Ringo and George were able to do their best work outside of the genius nexus of the group. But the tangled nature of their collaboration proved the most interesting aspect of their efforts. As Beatles, they seemed Olympian, even Ringo. Outside of The Beatles, they were just good musicians.

And I don’t want any of this back. “I Feel Fine” begins with accidental feedback (supposedly the first time feedback appeared on a pop record), buoyed with jangly guitar arpeggios, and Ringo’s sparking re-entry: It’s not an oldie. The song speaks the immediate enterprise of being right here. It happens right now, just like music. The experience need not inflate beyond that.

So I don’t need to argue cultural hemoglobin or defend the Olde Countree of my youth. Something happened, for god’s sake. It was pretty good.