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Abbey Road box set thoughts

Tuesday 8/20/19

Today I will be receiving the upcoming Abbey Road box set. It's waiting for me at the UPS store, and I'll pick it up after I write a new piece on Tarkington and proof a new short story.


Suffice it to say, the last three weeks have seen me work harder than ever, produce more than ever, write better than ever, and things are, partially as a result, partially because of many other things, worse than ever. I will not detail that here in this entry. It will have to wait. My days have been centered on ceaseless composition, panic attacks, vomiting, exercise, a lot of crying, more composition, an attempt to continue to mount the fight against the most corrupt system there has ever been, and also time with Emma, helping her out, and also, in sooth, being helped by her in maybe simpler ways, but ways that mean a lot to me still. I have also passed out a couple times, which is worrisome, but I think it's stress.


I am not sure I will be writing on this Abbey Road box set. Venues do not care if you will write better on something than anyone else could, and that people would much rather read that, discuss it, share it, carry it around with them, as the decision-makers at the venues care about hooking up their people and they do not care if those people are mediocre and have absolutely nothing new to say. But, I will mention some things to look for with the box, at least, which I'd get into further in a proper piece, and which I'll probably--well, hopefully--discuss at greater length in a book in future. I'm prognosticating a bit here; I haven't the box yet, of course.


Some of this material has never been booted either. NPR has not employed me in two years, despite all of the top-notch segments I did there over a five year period, but I pitched this to them--I do not get the courtesy of a reply after those years of service, which also involved me writing what the hosts said, picking the sound, and always cutting my portion in a single take. It's a rundown of the new material that represents special art in and of itself and which compels us to look at the official art in a different way. But again, it's not about how you perform on the radio, it's not about how well you write with the magazines, newspapers, publishers. Those are the last things that anything is about here. And it's why the publishing and radio industries are dying. And will continue to die, and then be gone entirely, unless some people--the responsible parties--wise up and start to care about actual ability and value for consumers and show some vision.


The idea with the NPR segment was that I'd introduce each track, then some of that cut would be played, and while it was playing I'd point out a thing or two, and get out of the way in time to let you hear it. People would love it. But this is never about what people would love. That is the problem. Given a choice between MVP-level Tom Brady and a journeyman quarterback who can barely complete half his passes, these people will often be unable to tell the difference, they have no clue and they don't care, and they will pick the journeyman if that is their friend, or they go to the right tony parties, and if the journeyman--not a gender thing, stick in journeywoman, if you'd prefer, I'm just using a sports term--is someone who is like them. And simple. Stock and simple. Like a simple stock-photo, but in human form.


As a result, mediocrity has become the hot commodity of our times; it's not actually "hot," you're just told that a given whatever or a given person is, because we have to be told that something is, something needs to win the awards, be pushed forward, be pushed on us, but the reality is is that we could just as easily be told that anything else that is also mediocre is the gotta-have-it thing; it's just this thickly smeared paste of samey-ness.


And an industry needs to pick someone to be the stars, but it might as well be random, the lottery of the mediocre. It's all interchangeable. Because nothing is real. It's all that you are offered; which doesn't mean that anyone actually likes any of it. And it's not like you can get excited about mediocrity or care about it, and that's why you go elsewhere, and that's why when everything is mediocrity-driven, no one cares about anything, there's no personal, emotional, mental, or intellectual investment, commitment, or attachment. That becomes the culture, that becomes the culture slide, the descent, that which gets us that much closer to slithering in the mud again. It's what is on offer--not what you react most to, want, enjoy. We don't honestly care about things anymore. That's why we make up issues to care about where there are no issues actually there.


Don't be fooled by the latest braying of the lazy, parroted consensual, would-be bottom-line--which is really subjected to little thought, critical thought, experiental evidence, or vetting--that the problem is limited attention spans, the fact that we're bombarded with so much, etc. Those things are true, but they are not the core issue. Put Brady in, win the game, crest to the 15-1 record, get people riled up, get people pumped, make the march on glory. Enough with the journeymen and journeywomen. In a world where some people fake everything, you still cannot fake talent.


Sorry for the preamble, Beatles buffs. You're going to want to look to these cuts:


1. McCartney's home demo of "Goodbye." Even on bootleg, this has been a tricky find over the years. It was written for Mary Hopkin, who was in the Apple stable; now, the thing with her is, she needed a high quotient of melody in her material to succeed. This is the height of McCartney melodicism. Which is to say it's the height of anybody's, ever. Schubert's, Mozart's. Handel was really good at melody. At the same time, it has a throwaway air, but it feels lasting. Occupies a unique space in the McCartney song dossier.


2. Take 7 of "The Ballad of John and Yoko." You know what the best sound is in all of Beatledom? I think it's the sound of Lennon and McCartney dueting. They rarely did this. You might think, what? Is that true? It is! They harmonized a lot, which is different. And if you don't have sharp ears and you aren't paying super close attention, it's pretty easy not to know who is providing the harmony. But, examples of Lennon-McCartney duets: "If I Fell," the final verse before the coda of "Hey Jude" (there is a reason they put that duet there, before the song explodes into the orgastic heaven of heavens of all coda/choruses); "Two of Us," and "The Ballad of John and Yoko." I don't know if this outtake has another attempt at that duet, but I definitely hope so, because that would be potentially one of the euphonic epiphanies of the band's output.


3. Take 3 of "The End." The guitar "battle," with the nine guitar solos, that you hear on the record is a first take performance. Did they try it over and over? Is there a version of nine different guitar solos? I'm thinking no, but I'd like to be wrong. We will find out here.


4. Take 36 of "You Never Give Me Your Money." When the White Album box came out last year, there was talk about how the long version of "Helter Skelter"--which was chopped down anyway--was sure to be this heavy metal grail. That was not going to be the case; it was more like a long, one and two-note bluesy vamp, a thudding; like a simpler version of the Who's "Magic Bus." Not hard to anticipate. The heavy metal grail of the unreleased material has always been this outtake. George Harrison is awesome on the jam portion.


5. Take 5 of "Come Together." One of the few times on this record they're playing straight-through in the studio like in the old days, which makes sense, given that this is a Chuck Berry pastiche-by-way-of-Lennon-postmodernisms. Starr is very good on the official version. His drum sound is one of the core sounds on Abbey Road, and it sounds like this nowhere else. Do you hear how much warmer it is, blanketed, pillowed? His drums on Sgt. Pepper had a lot of what I call air in them--listen to the fills on "With a Little Help from My Friends." Micky Waller was another guy who played with a lot of air. Lennon was not a man who dished out the compliments with ease or frequency, but he praised McCartney's smokey piano playing on this number, so we get to hear Macca take another stab at that, presumably.


6. The early takes of "Golden Slumbers." McCartney half-joked during this period that he couldn't sing as well as he used to, like he was old and had lost something. Interesting that he felt that way. This song requires a special kind of attack. A great rock and roll singer can execute a great vocal performance that a technically great singer could not. On this song, you'd have to be great on both the rock and roll singing and the technical singing sides. Not a lot of rock singers were that way. Elvis was that way. This is a very naked style of singing; you're out there on your own, making a decision, too, how far you're going to go. On the official version, McCartney goes damn far; it's a kind of vulnerability that I'm not sure he could have shown with another band, or even on his own. Was that his starting point?