Beatles #2

Labrador Dali- Abbey Road medley part 1-Halloween 2010So much of my childhood was instructed by The Beatles. I was in second or third grade when I made a crude parody of Yellow Submarine called ‘Purple Trans Am.’ I showed it to my music teacher, this one was more encouraging than the previous one. She printed out copies and had the whole class sing it.

I sang loud at first, I really thought the other kids would like it. By the end only the teacher was singing wholeheartedly, playing the piano and her back mostly to the class. A few other kids were still singing along in a purely obligatory fashion, the rest had abandoned it and a few were giving me dirty looks.

Afterward, by our lockers, one of the bigger girls in the class came over to scowl at me. She said she could easily write a better song than mine. I told her to prove it. I have been waiting thirty eight years now to hear her effort, although long ago I came to admit that my attempt was no feat to better.

A few years later I read about how The Beatles recorded, I first encountered the idea of multitrack recording. They weren’t playing these songs live at putting them on tape, they were recording a few bits at a time, overlapping all the pieces and putting it together as these grand musical paintings. I knew I had to try this.

My first attempts were probably made when I was 11 or 12. I had collected a few very crappy instruments, but it didn’t matter much because I didn’t know how to play at all. This didn’t seem important. I would record a track, usually at first it was a drum track or rhythm. I would rewind the cassette and put it in another deck where I could play it back loud, and record me playing along on the guitar and singing.

It was very rough at first. Between my inability to sing or play, tape his, and the high loss of quality that occurred when the back tracks were played over our family stereo; most attempts came quickly to the point of diminishing returns.

It was a few years later when I first got an open reel recorder, old fashioned even when I was a kid, half inch reel-to-reel at fifteen inches per second. This deck had separate record button for left and right, so I could easily listen to myself on one channel while recording the other. Soon enough I managed to find a way to bounce these tracks down to one, so I could then add on more parts, almost to infinity, in theory anyway. Again the devil that is tape hiss was always in the mix, although now he was more easily kept at bay. When I was sixteen or seventeen I got my first used cassette four-track. Finally, it felt like the skies were wide open and the training wheels were off.

I had so much fun for so many years just hiding away and making up songs, and attempting to put together little albums. I always enjoyed this so much more than playing live. The first few awkward attempts I made at performing had left a sour taste in my mouth. But I occupied and entertained myself for hours and years decades even, experimenting at home with what sort of weird sounds I could coax out of the darkness.

Years later, in my twenties, I would come to really love playing live. Ha. It helps when you know what you are doing, a little bit at least.

As I grew up I came to see The Beatles differently as well. I’ve admitted at a young age I really did want to grow up to be John Lennon, but as I got older I started to see in many respects he was not a man to emulate. I’m not perfect, no one is, Beatles included. There’s a few times if you know their history one could use words such as ‘asshole’ when speaking of them individually or as a group.

I’m not judging, I’m just saying, I learned pretty early these guys were just another set of goofy humans. There was nothing godlike or even saintly about them. Underneath it all, they were just these four guys, you know? Instead of trying to become anyone else or repeat anyone’s, I was free to do as I please, I was fully able to make my own mistakes.

I still have mad respect for their music, and there impact on me is something that can never be erased. I visited New York early in the century, and made a point of visiting Strawberry Fields and the Dakota, the last place where John Lennon lived. I got choked up as we walked passed the gated entrance, I don’t think I’m the only one, but I couldn’t say for sure as my eyes had become blurry.

And now, looking back, it has been fifty years since I first came to America, and swept us up in a tsunami of guitars and screaming teenagers. The question is often asked, as it has since probably the late 60s, can there ever be a band like this again, this big, this ubiquitous and global? I really don’t think so, but I don’t think it has much to do with music.

Not discounting their immense talents, there is also time and timing involved. Time wise, many things have changed since the Beatles split up forty-four years ago. I can’t see any musician today having the same global, universal impact. Music today feels so divided and compartmentalized. Timing wise, at least here in America, I think we have to remember when the Beatles first came to America, first played on the Ed Sullivan show, 50 years ago tomorrow, that the nation was still mourning.

Only three months prior our president John F. Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas. Besides the obvious grief and pain our nation was feeling, this act was also the point where many people lost their sense of innocence, started to look at the systems and constructs around themselves with a more suspicious and skeptical eye. I was born too late to know first hand, but from anyone I have ever read or heard or talked to on the matter describes it as a moment when we collectively felt the wind knocked out of us.

I imagine in many ways it felt much like September 11th, possibly more painful just because of the innocent time that it shattered.

The country mourned, some say the country fell into a depression all together. The months passed and then it seems the country needed something to break its lament, to lift off the melancholy blanket we hid underneath.

I think ultimately there will be more people on level with The Beatles, but they were so much more than mere stars. I believe they are up there with the names of the ages, with Shakespeare and Beethoven and Van Gogh. Those few names our species will remember as long as we go on remembering things.

Another question I have heard asked especially recently, what about fifty years from now, will people still be talking about them when they are one hundred years old? I think so, almost certainly. I will, at least, if I’m still around.

Beatles #1

ab erode

Stunt Puddles- A Bee Rowed

Sunday, February 9th marks the fiftieth anniversary of The Beatles first appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show, in effect the beginning of Beatlemania as well as the British Invasion. For the first time in the short history of Rock & Roll, a band stayed relevant beyond the few years which were expected at the time, put out an incredible and prolific stream of music, and completely transformed popular music, if not the world.

By the time I came around, it was over. But some of my earliest memories relate to The Beatles, at a very early age they managed to make quite an impression on me. With much of their music it’s impossible for me to remember the first time I heard it, it seems to have always been there, certain songs go as far back into my memory as I do.

I have been thinking about this as I hear the media gearing up for a celebration, tried to remember what their music meant to me even at such a young age.

Even at eight years old, in 1980 when we heard that John Lennon had been shot, it impacted me greatly, I can still recall the day clearly. I was in the backseat of the car, looking out at the yellow winter day, feeling the bit of heat the sun managed to push against the glass. I was too young to know that the Beatles had broke up before I was born, and in my simple mind I didn’t realize they all wrote songs and sang, I thought John sang all the lead parts in the band. “I guess the sun will never come again,” I remember saying, apparently already poetic and melodramatic, and also referencing a song George Harrison wrote and sang.

Although I can’t quite make out when, there is an otherwise clear memory of us, my family, getting a little stereo system from Sears or Kmart or a similar place. Cheap but effective, it had radio, a cassette deck, and a record player.

This is when music first affected me in a magical way. I remember going through the stacks of old records I found around the house, my moms and my dads. Even at the time much of it didn’t impress me or hold my attention, until I got to The Beatles albums.

This was something different. A lot of the music I heard before sounded mechanical and boring, but this was magic. Each song was a tiny spell cast; engaging, hypnotic and impossibly fascinating.

The first time I can remember having a favorite song, it was I Am The Walrus. It was on an album called Reel Music, which I don’t believe has ever been considered for reissue on CD. It was a collection pressed by the record company, a sampler of songs from the movies The Beatles made. I am the Walrus stood out because of the nonsensical lyrics and the fact that I couldn’t recognize how any of the sounds were being made. I was sophisticated enough to know a guitar or a piano or a violin, but this song was so thick and random and – let’s face it – weird. As often as I listened to it I had no idea what it was about or how it was done. I am sure this has influenced and instructed my own art more than I need say or probably can recognize myself.

I can’t quite recall how old I was when I decided I wanted to grow up to be John Lennon, but I did. There was a project in elementary school where we were supposed to research the career we would like to pursue when we grew up. Many kids gave the expected responses; fireman, police officer, president, garbage man, plumber, so on. It came to my turn and I said, “Rock Star.”

This was the first big laugh I ever got, the entire class erupted around me. I wish I could say this was my intent, but it wasn’t. I was far too serious for my age. The laughter burned my ears. The teacher only made me feel worse, telling me being a rock star wasn’t a profession.

The assignment was to research your chosen career and give a report on a handful of aspects such as how to go about learning and training for your field, what you will need to know and what will be expected of you once you arrive. I spent some time in the school library as well as the public library, trying to find some information on how one goes about becoming a professional musician. I came up with next to nothing, there was an encyclopedia entry on Musicians, but nothing about how they went about getting there. It is entirely possible I didn’t know what to look for, but there seemed to me to be no information available on how to get a job playing guitar and getting rich and famous at the same time.

I’m not sure if I ever finished that report, but that was nothing out of the ordinary if I didn’t. I do know my mind had already been firmly set on what I wanted to do when I grew up.

Even back in kindergarten, a dim distant memory that is only coming to me now as I write this, I was trying to write songs and start bands. I had a little plastic electric guitar, a toy, it took a nine volt battery and had one thick metal string that blurted out of a cheap plastic built-in speaker. I made my brother and our neighbor join my band, and I remember walking back to school one afternoon, dragging our instruments along, to play a few songs I had written for the music teacher.

I have no idea what the songs were, but I am certain they were terrible and probably not music, technically. I can’t recall how the teacher reacted, but I don’t think it was what I expected. It was probably a polite dismissal, a ‘that was lovely, thank you. See you in class tomorrow, goodbye.’

Labrador Dali- Abbey Road medley part 1- Halloween 2010