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Beatles thoughts and considerations

Wednesday 8/10/22

* The reason I don't like Mark Lewisohn's writing is because he's not a writer. He's a historian. What he does is find what the Beatles called themselves for five days in 1959, before abandoning that band name for another. I don't find that interesting. That's not a reading experience to me. It's not very important. He also doesn't have a feel for music. He doesn't understand music. He can't describe music in his prose which has no feel or quality as writing. I don't think he hears music well, or hears the Beatles' music well. Against my wishes, Rolling Stone changed a review I wrote of Tune In and gave it more stars, because the editor said Lewisohn worked too hard on the book for it not to have that many stars. I don't care how hard you worked when I am looking at your work. I care what you produced.


* The Beatles misuse the term "jazz" in the Get Back docu-series, when they are talking about Eric Clapton and Cream. Jazz doesn't just mean improvisation. The Who improvised--they weren't jazz. In some ways, the Beatles were savants. They felt their way around the cave and understood the shape of the room. That was plenty for them, with their skill. It may have been better for them. Humans do not have instincts because they have free will, but there was a lot of brains in the gut of the Beatles, if that makes sense. Feeling their way around the cave as they did was helpful to them because it was liberating. The light was not on in such a way that they'd say, "Oh, I see we are not allowed to do that," or "That is not done," because there are these signs in life that try to dissuade you that way, and dissuade creative people that way. That is why a creative person needs peerless vision, however they come by it.


* I admit that George Harrison is a favorite guitarist of mine more for reasons having to do with the fact that he played the lead parts in Beatles songs than his technique or skill. He had some and he has winning moments as a player, but he was not a particularly gifted guitarist. That is okay, in a way--he worked for them and their purposes. And there are definitely memorable passages--his third solo on the long Abbey Road melody, for instance. Curiously, he is central to recordings that changed the history of sound: the opening chord of "A Hard Day's Night," though there was more to it than just his guitar. But that was not a technique thing. Still, it's him. He was there. Lennon said the meaning of rock and roll was be here now. He was talking about being present, which makes him correct, though I am not sure anyone has ever understood what Lennon meant with that remark, but that's it. Lennon could seem like he was just being glib, but there was also something there. The "be here now" idea works for Harrison the guitar player, too. But I also like his tone. "And I Love Her"--though not indicative of this tone, as it is an acoustic number--features a solo that stands in remarkable contrast to everything else Harrison did with the band. You totally don't expect it or think he had it in him.


* A Hard Day's Night is the only Beatles album that reveals a skiffle influence. It is very skiffle-y. The bouncy beat, the instrumentation. The latter has a lot to do with Lennon's rhythm guitar, which has this washboard quality. Much of the suffusing joy of that record comes from the skiffle component. A Hard Day's Night stands out sonically more than any other record in rock and roll history. It is the ultimate sonic one-off LP. Nothing remotely like it so far as it's personal sound goes.


* Two of the great joys/surprises in the Beatles' catalogue: the way Lennon inserts a "bye" during McCartney's count-in on "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band (Reprise)" and the "ooooh" he sings/hums after McCartney is done singing and Lennon returns for the close of "A Hard Day's Night." A Hard Day's Night and Sgt. Pepper are cousin LPs. They tell the whole of the Beatles' story. They are sonic signatures, each standing apart, though they can be inversions of each other. They are epochal celebrations in sound. They both represent the apex of Beatlemania, but from different parts of the same peak.


* The music of Revolver is "better" on the whole than the music of Sgt. Pepper, but it is not a better record. Pepper is more than what it is musically, and I don't mean in terms of fame, reach, or impact. It has an intangible quality that is located in the best magic.


* Our age in which everyone uses what has been termed in these voices as the ass voice is a drag when it comes to the Beatles. People are also dead inside and when they are dead inside they become about dead things, like the past, and that is why most people are so reliant on nostalgia which is like some opiating drug for them. When you are about dead things, the past, and nostalgia, the things you liked in your past become this extension of yourself because you have no stability in the present, no purpose with which you live, no self-knowledge and self-acceptance and love. Thus, any criticism, no matter how valid--see my remarks on George Harrison above--becomes for this person a personal attack in their mind against them. They don't think. They don't think critically. Do I enjoy the playing of George Harrison less because of what I said above? No. I enjoy it better, because I understand it more. My own self-esteem is not tethered to what praise comes his way or anyone's way. That people are like this, that people use the ass voice, means that no one says anything compelling--let alone correct, for the most part--about the Beatles. The Beatles were dynamic artists and dynamic artists are always alive, but that is not how the self-professed biggest fans treat the Beatles. They actually do them a disservice because they have the Beatles on mothballs. They have the Beatles cryogenically frozen in this sad state of nostalgia. Read my Beatles writings. Read my Beatles books when they come out. They are the antidotes. The awakeners.


* It is hugely telling--that is, it's not some lark of a comment--when John Lennon says his joke at the Hollywood Bowl in 1964 re: "She Loves You" that it's this older number that you might remember, being from last year. An insightful comment. The Beatles had a different relationship with time. I have a different relationship with time to a much greater degree than they did. But they stood outside the bounds of people's normal understanding of time. The time from the release of "She Loves You" to that point in the summer of 1964 was not measurable, for them and what they were doing, by the calendar.


* If you took the Beatles' skill and transposed into another art form, they would not be what they were. I will tell you why the Beatles were what they were: melody. Humming the songs. Singing them in the shower. It's that simple, in a way. A tune. Then you have lyrics that are often simple--though they can be clever--and when you're feeling that melody, the juices are flowing, you're feeling emotional, and you apply those lyrics to yourself. Music brainwashes us that way. We get caught up in what is flowing through us. I take the Beatles seriously, but to a point. For instance, if you transposed that talent to writing, who would the Beatles be? I think they'd be at about the level of a Charles Dickens. That's very good. It's not the best artist of all time stuff, though. It's not even close. Having said that, the best writing there is is more musical than music.


* The Beatles' best song is "She Loves You." It's a better song than "A Day in the Life." It's more radical. It is more inventive. Do you understand how bonkers it was for a band to write a song that's this second-person sort of creation, a kind of read-aloud epistle, with the point of view of a friend giving advice to another friend about his romantic interest, who the friend also likes? This is staggering maturity, and it's a unique songwriting perspective. Then we get into the chords. We also have the single most exciting moment in the history of popular music, when the opening chorus gives way to that wash of drums and guitar, taking us to the verse. That's as close as music gets to an orgasm, that moment. It's beyond orgasm. The higher calling version. Could someone else play what Harrison does on this song? Yes. But it's so him, and that's also why I like him as a guitar player. His fills are integral to this masterpiece of a song.


* The sixth take of "Across the Universe" features a late innings return for John Lennon to a semblance of his voice on A Hard Day's Night. His voice changed markedly after that LP. This take was unreleased, but it's one of the most revealing Beatles cuts of all, the kind of thing that is the basis--understanding them this way--for my Same Band You've Never Known: An Alternative Musical History of the Beatles.