Monday, September 07, 2015

Explaining Trump

First off, I have the solution for campaign finance reform. At least for this election cycle. Here it is.

Hold the Democratic and Republican national conventions next week, and nominate Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump. Then, make them debate once a month on pay-per-view. Not only will they not need to spend a dime on ads, the money raised could probably make a serious dent in the national debt.

You're welcome. Moving on.

Second thing; the object of this is NOT to endorse Donald Trump. And, it's not to explain his popularity. The purpose of this is to explain him, his thinking, his whole point in running. It's a good point, it's a great point, you'll love it, all the polls say that you'll just think it's fabulous, when I posted this you know what happened? My numbers went up! People who are reading those other blogs, they're asleep! Hispanics love me. Love me.

Ahem. Sorry.

Jeb Bush has been, as I write this, taking shots at Trump for not being a real conservative or a real Republican.  Personally, I think this plays in The Donald's favor.  When he raised his hand at the first debate (being the only one at the time who refused to promise not to run as an independent candidate if he lost the nomination) I think his answer should have been; "Because I'm an American, not a Republican."

News outlets, and other candidates, take great pleasure in replaying old footage of Trump saying that he supports abortion, gave money to the Clintons, and on and on.  What people, media and political people in particular, tend to forget is that, until recently, Trump wasn't a politician.

When you're a politician, you've probably been one since you did it as an amateur.  You were the class treasurer in 5th grade.  You went out on your bicycle and canvassed the neighborhood for your favorite candidates and causes, years before you could vote yourself.  You made it a point to disagree with your Dad at the dinner table about some issue or other.  And you kept a calendar, marking off every day until you were old enough to run for the state legislature.

That would describe everybody currently in the race on both sides, with the probable exception of Carly Fiorina, Dr. Ben Carson, and Donald Trump.  These people had jobs, and lives, and probably didn't pay any more attention to politics beyond making it a point to vote.  They cared, they stayed in touch, they watched the news, but they also led busy lives.  They didn't worry about carefully crafting everything they've said since they were 12, in case it came up in a future campaign.  Trump was just another working stiff, a real estate mogul and part-time television celebrity.

Abortion?  Lots of women want to have them, the Supreme Court says it's all right, why not?  Sure, he supports abortion.  Clinton?  Hey, I want a foot in the door.  When I call, I want them to pick up and not let it go to voicemail.  If pressed, he'd have probably said in 1989 that he was against slavery and segregation, and for the free market.  So, you think you can come down another $100,000 on that building lot, or not?

When he started seriously thinking about running for President, that's probably when he started seriously thinking about policy.  And the more he looked, the more he realized that what they need (this is Probably Trump-think, btw) is a businessman.  People have been saying it for years.  Career politicians have, well, made a career out of maintaining the status quo, keeping everything on an even keel, and by all means don't DO anything!  Don't shake things up!  As the great songwriter, Bruce Cockburn, once said; the trouble with normal is, it always gets worse.

So if Donald Trump is so liberal ... then why isn't he running as a Democrat?  Because the field is so strong?  A scandal-ridden high-school class president clearly out of her depth, a geriatric banana-wacky who is NEVER going to be President and knows it himself, and "hoof-in-mouth" Biden.  An intimidating group, to be sure.  Oh, wait, I know; he's afraid President Obama will ignore yet another part of the Constitution and run for a third term!

If I were to hazard a guess - and that IS why I'm writing this - I would suppose that he might have looked at the issues in greater depth, and decided that maybe his earlier stands were ill considered.  Then, maybe he took a hard look at recent history and, like a good businessman, evaluated what works and what doesn't.  His conclusion, in this hypothetical situation, would apparently be that he's actually more of a Republican than a Democrat.

I think he's deadly serious about wanting to become President.  He isn't willing to cheat, but he believes he has a good shot, and a much better one than any of the "experts" think.  It used to be that a particularly successful General, like Eisenhower or Zachary Taylor, could get by the argument that they had no experience in government by pointing to how accomplished they'd been in their other endeavors.

So why not a businessman?  Are the politicians doing so well that nobody could do better?  Who, in the world of business, has the credentials to challenge the political class on their own turf?  Who has the accomplishments AND the name recognition?  Warren Buffet ... Bill Gates ... maybe a couple others ... and Donald Trump.

So should Donald Trump be President?  Well, that's the question we're all asking, isn't it?

Thursday, July 30, 2015

For Emily

I don't know about you, but I've sometimes wondered what I'd be like on the worst day of my life.  Now, I know.

It was a Thursday night.  I was getting ready for bed, under the assumption that I was going to get up at 5 am and head for work like any other day.  Like I had that day.  Then, Lynn called upstairs.  "Rick!  Get dressed and come down, now!"

A chill went through me.  The first thing I thought of was; Emily.  Something's happened to Emily.

We quickly decided to take two cars, in case one of us had to camp out while the other came home, for whatever reason.  I prayed the whole ride, while keeping one eye on the rear view mirror, because the Blazer Lynn was driving has some issues and I didn't want to lose sight of her.

There are three stages, it would seem.  There's the initial shock, when you're getting and absorbing all the information.  Then there's The Long Slog, when you're waiting for the inevitable.  Finally, there's The Long Slog 2.0, in which you get the past completed and start moving on.

Have you ever been in a room full of mourning teenagers?  It would almost be amusing to observe if you weren't going through it with them.  They don't know what to say, or what to do.  Then again, they're never supposed to.  Their friends aren't supposed to be lying there like that.  What has happened is supposed to happen to their great grandparents.  It's supposed to be expected.  It's not supposed to be one of them.

When we went to Lisbon to pick up the car, I could see it all.  The car was parked in a little lot up on a hill.  Coming down the hill, I could see across the river at the town hall and fire station.  She'd gone there to visit friends.  She got the urge to go out on her long board and cruise around the parking lot.

Did you know that they ask you to write something down, that they can then read in the OR when they do the organ transfers?  They actually read it out loud before they start.  I don't know if anyone but Dartmouth/Hitchcock does that, but I think it's an incredibly generous thing to do.  It keeps it from becoming just another job, where you disassemble a broken thing to repair other broken things.  I don't remember exactly what Lynn wrote, but it was perfect and I had nothing to add to it.

We're both proud and humbled by the fact that, entirely on her own, Emily chose to check the 'organ donor' box on her driver's license.  We both had done so ever since the option was available.  So far, five people have benefitted from receiving both of her kidneys, her liver, her pancreas, and her heart.

I have seen the hand of God everywhere, throughout this whole agonizing process.  I've felt it on my shoulder, and felt His warm embrace holding me up with I could not stand on my own.  When we finally meet face to face, I plan to sit down and ask Him about this whole thing.  I respect His opinions and decisions, most definitely, but I do have some questions.  I believe that He is active in this world, but not necessarily that everything that happens is His doing.  I also believe that He grants us free will.

I firmly believe that He knew what was coming.  He saw it when she walked out her friend's door and grabbed her board.  He knew what was going to happen when that man got into his pickup to drive home.  He knew it when she was born, and when the man in the truck was born.  I'm sure that during some battle between the Phoenicians and some warlord millennia ago, somewhere in the back of His mind, He was aware of how many days it would be before Emily Sharon Clogston would zig when she should zag.

But I don't know if He planned it; if, somehow, it was something He wanted.  There might be a thousand reasons for Him to want that.  I certainly hope the five people who received her organs are grateful to Him.  Some people are talking about it as if He did it on a whim, like He wanted another soprano in the choir, or somebody to show Him a move on that board.  Or, to spare her from something that would suck even worse than getting hit by a pickup.  They take comfort in that, and I'm cool with that.  Heck, it's a possibility.  Just because He sees all of time and space doesn't mean He can't improvise.

The burning question in the back of my mind from that first moment has been; did she know the Lord? Oddly, I find that I have a peace with that.  It was her decision, of course, but I've been getting lots of reminders that she used to come to church with us, insisted on taking communion, had favorite hymns, went to youth group.  And the couple that ran that group are pretty sure that she sought a relationship with Jesus.  It's a little scary, because the last couple of years she's been backing away from all that.  But He would never back away from her. So, I think we'll meet again.

Now, those of you who aren't Christians may be privately rolling your eyes.  That's your privilege, of course, but remember; you're betting your life that it doesn't matter.

The outpouring of support has been amazing.  Her story made the front page of the Caledonia Record, and a really nice piece it was.  I could go on and on about what an incredible person she was.  I could also go on about how aggravating she could sometimes be, but it's all consistent with the fact that she worked very had to be as unique as she could be.

At one point, she was determined to become a veterinarian.  She always loved animals.  The cats in our house were all hers.  A few of them would not have survived as long as they did without her.  I can remember her diving into the shrubbery in front of the church, through all the stickers and cobwebs and everything, to fish out a scared and starving kitten.  We named him Junie, after the juniper bushes she crawled through to get him.

When she was little, she wanted to be one of the mermaids at Weeki Watchee Springs in Florida.  She couldn't have been more than 5 or 6 when we went down there to visit family, and she just thought that was the coolest thing ever.  She loved swimming and just hanging out in the water.  Lots of people have been sharing lots of Emily stories, and they always bring a smile.  I suppose any time someone that young dies it affects a lot of people.  When it's someone in their 80's or 90's, most of the people they know are already gone and it comes down to family.  There are so many more people in your life when you're 18.

Even so, it's beginning to appear that Emily Clogston is leaving a big hole behind her in a lot of people's lives.  And, happily, just about all of it's positive.  If she ever pissed anyone off, it's because she inherited her grandfather's tendency for seeing everyone as equals.  Like him, she could talk to the Governor the same way she'd talk to a bum on the street.  If you're the bum, it's great.  If you're the Governor, however . . . Yeah, she was never real big on people who are real big on themselves.  In retrospect, Grampa Sonny was probably better at the tact thing.

To some of her friends, she might well have been the only friend they had.  Or the first.  She hung out with a lot of people that any would consider misfits, and make them feel like they were worth something.  Which, of course, they are.  But her radar seemed to be tuned to find the one person in the room that had no friends.  She understood that, often, those are the most interesting people.

Now, in saying all this nice stuff about Emily, I don't want her siblings to think that we loved her more than them.  I have been very fortunate in the fact that all four of my children are incredible people, of whom I am very proud.  I certainly can't take much credit for that.  I second-guessed every decision I ever made regarding them.  And yet, by some miracle, they're all smart, loving, talented, hell, they're even good looking!  They get it all from their Moms, of course.  Good job, Lynn and Tracey.  And, sorry about the quirks they inherited from me.

When we first saw her that Thursday night in the hospital, she looked rough.  Blood all over her face.  Even when they cleaned her up and took her to Pediatric ICU, her face was all swollen.  It took a couple of days for her to really look like herself again.  The doctors made it clear from the beginning that there was little to no hope, and they weren't even considering surgery.

They did a profusion test on Friday, in which they injected her with a radioactive dye and gave her an MRI.  It showed that there was a minimal flow of blood to her brain.  Therefore, they could not officially declare her brain dead.  That was an important point, because it presented some options.  We could have asked right then that she be taken off life support.  She'd have lain there until her heart stopped.  The worst thing with going that way would mean some of her organs would not be usable for transplant.

We decided to wait another 48 hours and let them do another profusion.  It meant two more days of agonized waiting for the inevitable.  On the other hand, it gave us two more days with our daughter, and two more days for her friends and ours to come and pay their respects.  And, it would also mean that, when officially declared brain dead, more of her could be used to help others.  In the end, it was tough, but it was worth it.

There were times when I'd swear I could almost see her standing there in the room.  It was clear that she wasn't too happy about this situation over which she had no control.  After a while, I could no longer feel her in the room.  Or, maybe she'd just settled down.

On Sunday, they did the second profusion and confirmed that there was now no blood flow to the brain.  An operating room would be prepared, and they could harvest her organs.  I find that a particularly ugly phrase; harvest her organs.  I can only think of a big combine grinding its way through a field of Hammond B-3's.  Or some guy in black robes with a scythe.

It turned out that they weren't going to be able to get her into the OR until after 11 pm.  Around 9, things started to go awry.  Her blood pressure was dropping dramatically, and sitting on the sidelines we could only watch while doctors and nurses hustled in, plugged in new equipment to supplement the regular ICU stuff.  And try and make sense of what they were talking about.

At one point, one of them came and explained to me (the only layman in the room, as Lynn's an EMT) that it seemed her body was sick of waiting and was trying to leave before it was time.  They did a bunch of stuff and watched a bunch of readouts, and things began to level off again.  At one point during a lull in the action, I went around the bed and took her hand.  I told her, "I haven't asked you for anything, but it would be a good thing if you would hang on just a little while longer."

I'd gone a few times over the four days and held her hand or brushed her brow.  Spoke a few words, maybe.  Lots of people that came held her hand, gave her a kiss, talked to her, and that's good that they did.  But I knew that she most likely wasn't aware of anything, and there just didn't seem to be any point.  I'd be pretending to do something.

After that, things straightened out and she rolled easily across the finish line at almost midnight.  I'm certain it had everything to do with the doctors and nothing to do with me, but I just had to talk to her one last time.  We watched as they wheeled her out to go to the operating room, and then we came home.

When her brothers were little they cornered me once and asked me point blank which one of them I loved more.  As I recall, I laughed.  I tried to explain to them that love isn't something I know how to measure.  You just love.  There's different kinds, in that I love their Mother differently than I love them, or my guitar, or pizza.  But no amounts.  You love.  Actually, I can measure my love for pizza, depending on the toppings.  And, I love my kids lots more than pizza.  Surely a lot differently.

The service was absolutely one of the most beautiful experiences of my life.  I hope to never have another like it.  My other three, Alex, Tyler, and Cathleen, are all under direct orders to outlive me.  They have each promised to do their best.  That goes for you, too, Uncle Paige, and all the rest of you cousins and nieces and nephews.  And Autumn, and the rest of the extended family that Emily gathered around her.  I never realized I had to make such a request, so I recommend your children get the message, and soon.  And give them a big hug, too.

Emily and Cathleen have a different Mom than Alex and Tyler, but they've known each other right along.  Still, it was Emily who took it upon herself the last year or so to deepen the connection with her brothers and get to know their Mom, Tracey Cassidy.  I'm glad she did.  In spite of occasional protestations to the contrary, family seems to have meant quite a lot to her.  And all her friends were, of course, part of that family.  If any of you are reading this, you still are.  Come by any time and say hello.

One of the interesting blessings in all this is that there's nobody to be mad at.  Reports indicate that either she hit the pickup or swerved suddenly into its path.  The driver wasn't drunk, just heading home from work.  He was a senior NH State Policemen, with EMT training.  It happened in front of two buildings full of potential first responders.  And I'm certainly not mad at God, because I have a little glimmer of how much He loves Emily, too.  Lots more than even I could.  Probably about the same as he loves me.  It's nice to not have anger gnawing at me.  It was about as pure an accident as it could have been.  We honestly feel bad for the poor fellow that hit her, and we pray for his comfort.

A number of people have been cornering me lately and asking why I stopped posting on my blog.  I had no idea that so many many people were reading it.  So, I'll start writing for it again, I suppose.  And I'll begin with this.  I also mentioned to a few in passing that I was writing this, although I had no idea of what to do with it.  They insisted I share it.  So, here it is.

Today is three weeks from that accident that took our youngest from us.  I've not gone a day of that without thinking about her and crying a little.  Liable to be a long time before I stop doing that.  No hurry.



Sunday, August 31, 2014

The President of Earth

When I was seven years old and in the second grade, my family moved to Hampton Beach, NH.  Dad was driving truck for Audley Construction on a highway project in the southern part of the state and was apparently making enough that we kept our house in Dorchester and rented an apartment near the beach.  I can remember going out the morning after a storm and finding seaweed on our car.

One of the great joys of that year was, due to our proximity to Southern NH and Massachusetts, we had all kinds of television.  This was in the days of antennas on the roof of the house.  We could actually get all three networks, AND a couple UHF stations, with just the rabbit ears on the back of the set.  Livin' large, y'all.

One of my favorite shows was a Japanese cartoon, early anime, called Astro Boy.  Astro Boy was a robot made to look like a little kid who could do all sorts of wonderful things like fly and fight big, mean bad guys.  I remember in particular one episode where he was commissioned to tackle a big problem by no less than . . . the President of Earth.

This is a widespread topic in the sci-fi world for a long time now.  H. G. Wells wrote about a unified world government, as has Isaac Asimov.  Star Trek, Babylon 5, Barbarella, Futurama, and story tellers high and low have used it in their predictions of Earth's future.  Some would argue that the League of Nations and the United Nations were intended to be steps in that direction.

The reason I bring this up is that a lot of people are trying to figure out Barack Obama's policies, and especially his foreign policy.  Many people feel he doesn't have one at all.  Even many of his staunchest supporters either can't figure it out, or they just aren't saying what they really think.  Others think he's a complete idiot who's simply way in over his head.  The administration seems to be telling us that it's a nuanced strategy that we'll understand better down the road, which could be beaurocrat-speak for . . . well, just about anything.

But as I watch the news and see events unfolding, I can't help wondering if there actually is a core strategy after all.  What if Barack Obama looks at illegal immigrants, ISIL, Putin, North Korea and China, not as threats, but as potential partners?

If you think about it, a unified world government could take one of two forms.  One way was the way the Romans, the British, the Nazis, the Communists and the Huns tried; conquest.  One ring to rule them all, blah blah blah.  One state dominating the rest.  Some, again, would say that the League of Nations and UN were the US's way of doing this.  It could also be said that American industry is trying to do that on an economic level.

The other form would be that of a democratic republic.  One in which every group of people were equally represented.  A government in which any group with a grievance could get a fair and equitable hearing.  One currency, a military that would act more as a police force, one executive branch, one legislature, one judiciary . . . and no borders.  One postal service!  One bureau to oversee agriculture, one educational system, one set of standards for transportation, to protect the environment, to oversee commerce, etc. etc. etc.  Even a bureau to adjudicate grievances between religious groups.

You could frame this any way you like.  Wells, Asimov, Roddenberry all saw it as a good thing.  Aldous Huxley parodied it.  Please don't imply a value judgement in what I'm saying, I'm just putting it out there as a possible idea.  I'm not trying to argue for or against it, I'm just saying . . . what if that's the goal?

It's entirely possible that seven-year-old Barack Obama was watching Astro Boy, or something similar, and thought to himself - as many undoubtedly have - why not?  And when?  And how?  So he goes into community organizing, and runs for Illinois State Senate, and then US Senate, gets a high-profile chance to be a keynote speaker at the Democratic National convention, and the next thing you know . . .

Now, I'm not suggesting that he's trying to make it happen during his presidency, or that he'd even expect it to be accomplished in his lifetime.  But IF it's a legitimate goal, then aren't current events, and the administration's response to them, leaning us strongly in that direction?  A day when there are no borders?  When Shi'ia and Sunni, Protestant and Catholic, Muslim and Jew and Russian and Ukranian and Korean and Mexican and German and so forth and so on are living under one flag?  Voting with one ballot?  Spending one currency?

When I look at a politician, I listen carefully to what they say and watch carefully what they do.  What I'm thinking about it, who's their real boss?  Who are they helping?  Whose help do they want the most?  Who owns them?  What's their goal?

There's one thing I can say for damned sure about every politician on the planet; they sure ain't trying to please me.  They don't know me from a hole in the ground.  I represent one vote.  But there are people, and corporations, and organizations, that represent far, far more than one vote.  The Supreme Court says that a corporation is a person?  Like hell!  It's thousands of people.  And so is a union.  And so is Al Sharpton, and the AARP, and the National Organization of Women, and any organization or group or person representing a large voting bloc.

The pharmaceutical companies can flex their muscle and make thousands of votes appear out of thin air.  How?  I have no idea, but they spend their money and the things they want to hear get said, and the next thing you know mysterious endorsements come out of the woodwork and thousands of people go to the polls and do the bidding of the pharmaceutical companies.

Same with the oil companies, and every other major industry.  And, the same with any of dozens of special interest groups.  Spin is generated that keeps a high emotional tone and on election day we march like a bunch of dumb sheep to save the planet, or create jobs, or meet a threat or blah blah blah.  And the few who really benefit might, in a generous moment, thank us and then shovel on more fertilizer.

But what if somebody with actual ideals, goals and plans, decided to play that system for their own benefit?

Meet Skeletor.  He's the arch enemy of He-Man, a particular favorite of my two sons, Alex and Tyler, when they were at the age I was when I discovered Astro Boy.  He-Man was easily the most ridiculous super hero ever conceived.   He was a big, strong muscle-beach type who . . . was good.  That's it, just good.  Never figured out quite why, he was just good.

And he protected Eternia, I remember that.  From this other guy, Skeletor.  He was . . . well, he was bad.  That's all.  He wasn't a dad, or a Republican, or even an advocate for the rights of blue people.  He was just bad.  He laughed at other people's pain and tried his darndest to defeat He-Man.  Oddly enough, my sons adored Skeletor.  He was much cooler than He-Man.  I guess somebody like that just brings out the Skeletor in people.

This inane cartoon series sold a lot of action figures (NOT dolls!) for Mattel, who apparently had no political agenda.  They'd sell you a Skeletor doll - er, Action Figure - just as quickly as they'd sell you a He-Man.  They didn't even care if you made him kiss Barbie.  Or Ken!

If you get your news from certain sources, you might come to wonder if Barack Obama was actually Skeletor with a makeover.  Certain other sources would tell you no; that George W. Bush is Skeletor.  They're bad.  Just, simply, purely, bad.  Evil.  No reason, no ideas, no goals, just bad.  

Personally, I'm skeptical.  I don't think either of them are Skeletor.  I actually liked Bush, and I think I understand what motivates Barack Obama.  I even agree with him, to a certain extent.  I think his methodology is deeply and fatally flawed, but if he's trying to do what I think he's trying to do, there's at least an argument in his favor.

Y'see, I believe, from a few years of observation, that President Obama has two core goals that he's trying to advance; the protection of the environment, and the unification of the world.  These two goals are advanced more efficiently through the Democratic/liberal/progressive side of the political spectrum, so he's using that avenue.

I would agree that humanity needs to be better stewards of the world that God made for us to live in.  I believe that we can make a significant impact on the environment, in spite of what many conservative commentators say.  I know I've used this analogy before, but peeing in their swimming pools would certainly liven up the debate on the topic.  On the other hand, I think most environmental legislation is flawed, but that's a debate for another day.

As for the other, I think that's rooted in the belief that power is best used when it's controlled by a governing body instead of left to the private sector.  I personally believe that mankind is corrupt and fallen, and that power only adds to that corruption.  Again, I've written other essays on this blog about that.

But I do not believe that Barack Obama is Skeltor, or Satan, or Hitler.  I believe he is a well-meaning visionary who thinks he's doing what is best for everybody, now and in the long term future.  I believe he thinks that in twenty or a hundred years his goals will become more apparent, and we will thank him.

And, I believe he's wrong.

Wednesday, July 02, 2014

Fear of Impurity and Countertops

I recently dug out an old Talking Heads album and found myself really enjoying it.  It was very popular in its day, and if I'm not mistaken it was their best selling album at the time.  Surprisingly, there isn't much that sounds like it these days.  At my age, with as many albums as I've owned, I can trace a lot of what I hear coming out these days directly back to something I'm familiar with.  But nothing seems to lead to Fear of Music.

One of my favorite songwriters happens to be a good friend of mine, Jim Tyrrell.  Among his other activities, he participates in a thing called Songfight.  This is a website for songwriters.  They will assign their participants to write a song on a certain theme.  It may be a phrase, a topic, it could be anything.  You have, if I'm correct, a week to write, record, and post a song.  He does it because it helps him hone his craft; a worthy reason if ever there was one.

One of the songs Jim wrote for this was called "God Hates Penguins."  Songfight assigned their group / family / minions / devotees to each write a song to go along with that title.  When they're posted, they get voted on.  Obviously, the people with the busiest Facebook pages win.  Jim didn't win, but he wrote a very clever song that I like very much.

I have a problem with things like Songfight, but I'm not really sure why.  Maybe it's some outmoded, misguided psychological problem of mine relating to the 'purity' of songwriting.  Whatever my issue, I'm probably wrong, because I really like Jim's songs.  It's just that the whole idea seems so... I'm about to use a bad word here... commercial.

Most of what we regard as Classical Music was written in similar ways.  Back in the day people like  Haydn, Bach, Mozart and Handel worked for a nobleman or high church official.  They were an employee of the court or diocese.  There were events, parties, church services, ceremonies, whatever, that you would have to provide music for.  And don't be trotting out something by Vivaldi, we hired you because you can write!  J. S. Bach wrote over 300 cantatas for church services during his career, and they were never repeated.

So if Count Olaf and the little woman show up and the Duke gets out the good schnapps, you might find yourself getting the orchestra up and dressed at 3 am for karaoke time.  And if you ran out of ideas... well, you quietly sign out one of the back-up carriages and take a ride through the countryside.  Cruise by a couple of barn dances and if the local fiddle player's got a snappy tune, write it down, go home, and claim it as your own.  It's not like they're going to come to Vienna and sue you for plagiarism.

Another of my favorite songwriters is also a good friend, Mr. Sky King.  I think it's safe to say he fits in the mold of "pure folk musician."  As Pete Seeger famously said, folk music is the music that folks play.  For Sky, songwriting isn't unlike keeping a diary.  If he meets somebody interesting or anything at all moves him emotionally, he's likely to write a song about it.  Maybe nobody will ever hear it, maybe he'll pop it out at the next open mic.  He would look at "God Hates Penguins" and probably think; no, he doesn't.  Then, just maybe, he'd write a song about it.

In a way, modern rock stars are not unlike the Great Composers, in that they do it for a living.  A cranky Count wanting to hear something he can dance to in 1679 isn't that different from a record company executive in 1979 screaming, "I don't hear a single!"  They write their songs with... here comes that word again... commercial considerations, meaning that they try and write something that people are going to like.

Now, wait a minute... What's wrong with that?  Why would you, for instance, deliberately write a song that people didn't like?  I think this is where that 'purity' thing comes in.  Should you write a song because people will like it... or because something deserves to have a song written about it?

If we use Pete Seeger's measuring stick, everything on the radio, on MTV and VH1, on YouTube and Rhapsody and iTunes and Sirius/XM... is folk music.  It's part of the common consciousness.  It's the music of our lives.  Just like that fiddle tune at the barn dance in 1679.  And much more so than whatever great, important music is that's being written in some dark corner of academia where only a rare few will ever hear it.  Only now, it's the folk musicians stealing ideas from the Royals.

And most rockers, rappers, or whatever, generally begin as more 'pure' folk musicians.  They write their songs out of a need to express themselves, not necessarily with a desire to get rich and famous.  They picked up their guitar or ocarina or Korg Kaoss and expressed themselves.  And the ones who did it well and/or had good connections and/or good luck got rich doing it.  The commercial part comes when they're in the mindset of wanting the train to keep rolling.

Which brings us to the Talking Heads in 1979.  In a handful of years they've gone from geeky artsy students, to a band, to a band that a lot of people in the New York vicinity liked, to a signed act, to major stars touring the world.   Their income increased dramatically and quickly, and their calendars filled to overflowing.

And the same thing was happening to a lot of their friends.  New York was a vanguard location for the original Punk movement, along with London and Los Angeles.  Punk began as a grass roots reaction to disco and progressive rock and the (here it comes again) commercial state of rock in general.  Rock and roll was now complex and expensive and very, very difficult to get into.  A lot had changed since Buddy Holly was playing roller rinks.  The stars, and their music, was also increasingly detached from its audience.  A lot of young people found the Ramones and Television and Richard Hell easier to identify with than the Village People and Genesis.

The Talking Heads were from the side of punk that came to be known as New Wave.  It was more artsy, more intellectual.  Their original audience was a lot more likely to ask, "Why is there air?" than "Where's the beer?"  They discovered very quickly that the knobs on their amps had numbers between 0 and 10, and used them.

One thing about punk, then and now, is that it's generally made by people who can barely play.  To the more rough side of the genre, this becomes a problem; the more popular they become, the more they play.  And the more they play, the better they get.  This ruined a lot of punk bands.  But the New Wave side used these newly acquired skills to enhance their sound and come up with newer, better songs.

So here's the Talking Heads at the end of the '70's.  I can almost see it happening.  They've done two albums and toured the world.  Now, they're back in New York, hanging with their friends.  Some are other newly-famous New Wavers, some are just the people they always hung out with before they were rich and famous.  They're probably still in that happy space before "everybody else got weird about it."  They're getting pretty good at playing and writing songs, and while smoking a few doobies and sharing some lines with their friends, they get talking about the follow-up to "More Songs About Buildings And Food."

People start saying, "You oughta do a song about..."  Somebody gets out a pen and a piece of paper and starts taking suggestions.  And the list quickly grows; Cities.  Mind.  Paper.  Drugs.  Life During Wartime.  By the end of the party, the four members of the Talking Heads realize they've got a very good list of valid song topics.  They make a commitment to write these songs.

I don't know if that's how it really happened, and the wikipedia article on the album suggests otherwise, but listening to Fear Of Music it could easily have happened just that way.  It's a very good album, their best IMHO, and very well thought out.  The whole thing is downright danceable, and yet it will really make you think.  Too rare a combination, if you ask me.

I was going to write this piece several months ago.  What reminded me of it was seeing a band at Make Music Plymouth called Jake McKelvie and the Countertops.  Three young guys playing in front of the ski shop on Main street.  They sounded very original, very creative, and yet oddly not unlike early Talking Heads.  I really enjoyed them.

I don't know if they've got a CD out yet, but they seem to be an up and coming band, attracting a fair bit of attention.  I get the impression they were one of the better-known bands playing at MMP.  One day, I may be able to impress people by saying I saw them for free back in 2014 on Main street in Plymouth.  I wonder how their third album will sound?

Thursday, September 05, 2013

The Beatles (White Album)

For the last couple of days I've been listening to the White Album in the car.  The Beatles are one of those groups I regularly return to, and with a long drive to and from work and a good CD player in the car, it’s been fun going through some of my favorite albums.  I've been making a chronological journey through the Beatles’ later catalog, starting with Rubber Soul and working my way toward the end.

This particular album, in my humble opinion, is quite possibly the most significant in the history of the group.  I've seen at least two different polls in which it was named their best album.  It’s sold over 20 million copies since its initial release 45 years ago, making it one of the top selling albums in history.  But, again in my humble opinion, it just might be . . . their worst album.

One thing is without dispute; in the history of this, the biggest rock band ever, it was the beginning of the end.  From their first recordings up through Sgt. Pepper and even the ill-fated Magical Mystery Tour movie, it was always The Beatles against the world.  The fame that threatened to consume and destroy them was always met with a united front.  Manager Brian Epstein handled the business end, producer George Martin steered the ship in the studio, and John, Paul, George and Ringo provided the wind for the sails.

The years 1966 and 67 were full of upheaval for the band.  In ’66 they decided to stop playing live.  Their concerts were so big that they couldn't even hear themselves play, and the technology of live sound hadn't yet caught up to the needs.  Plus, they were leading an extremely stressful life, going from the road to the studio and back again, over and over without a break, from late ’62 through most of ’66.

So 1967 was a year of relaxation and reflection, and their studio time was much more leisurely.  They, along with George Martin, took the time to produce one of the most important rock albums ever, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.  Then, suddenly, Epstein died, leaving them somewhat rudderless.  Their response was to take several tunes that had already been recorded and make a script-less movie called Magical Mystery Tour.

The movie got scathing reviews after being shown on British television the day after Christmas, 1967.  But the album stands as one of their best and was a huge hit, with several of their most popular songs, from Penny Lane to Strawberry Fields Forever and even I Am The Walrus.

When the time came around to start the next set of recording sessions, tensions inside the group were beginning to build.  They used to stand united, circling the wagons as the adoring public, the press, their competition, and everybody else came at them.  Now, with nothing to do but create, their individuality began to take over.

It would not be altogether untrue to consider the White Album to be the first solo work by each of the Beatles.  Four very creative, very strong personalities were free to do whatever they pleased.  But then each of the four was required to fill the role of back-up musician to each of the other three.  And when the slots on the album began to fill up, the dominance of Lennon and McCartney caused yet more tension.  And there was no Brian Epstein to run interference, and no tour for a distraction.

One controversy of this album is that it’s their only double album.  Many people, including producer George Martin and drummer Ringo Starr, felt that the best songs should have been used for a single LP.  I think that is the tack I am going to take here and go through the album, track by track, and designate which should stay and which should go.  Feel free to chip in your own $0.02 on the subject.



This song caused quite a stir back in the day.  A lot of people didn't like rock and roll to begin with, considering it The Devil’s Music and complaining that it was bad for the youth of the world.  Lennon’s comment in 1966 that the Beatles were “more popular than Jesus” didn't help.  Many of their detractors viewed this song as a smoking gun.  Anyone this immoral obviously had to be communists too, right?

Frankly, I think it was simply what it appears to be, a tribute to (and maybe even parody of) Chuck Berry’s Back In The USA.  It was written and sung by Paul McCartney.  People had known for years that the whole Lennon/McCartney thing was fiction anyway.  Sometimes the other would contribute a line or a snatch of melody or something, but for the most part their songs were written by Lennon OR McCartney.

Evaluation – Keeper.


John Lennon was in a pretty weird space by mid-1968.  His marriage was on the rocks and he had publicly taken up with Japanese avant-garde artist Yoko Ono.  He was also taking a lot of drugs, of a lot of different varieties.  The previous year had ended with Brian Epstein’s death and the band’s famous trip to India with the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, which turned out to be very disappointing for John.

Without the distractions of the road, he had to deal with issues dating back to his childhood; absent father, raised by a strict aunt, and a free-spirited mother who never quite had it together enough to take care of him.  It has been speculated that Yoko took advantage of his Mommy issues, simultaneously controlling and liberating him.

The result was a body of work that was often unfocused but occasionally brilliant.  He was by far the most intelligent and creative member of the band, but also had the biggest issues.  Yoko arguably tied him to her and he spent the rest of his days in a rambling three-legged race to nowhere.  Even so, the postcards he sent back could have some wonderful scenery in them.  This was one of his better efforts in this collection.

Evaluation – Keeper


Another Lennon tune, and another pretty good one.  Not great, but not bad.  Letting a little of his anger out, and also playing with the Paul-is-dead idea, teasing the fans with a couple “clues.”

Evaluation – Keeper


Everybody loves this Paul McCartney composition.  It’s cute, it’s bouncy, it uses the word “bra” in a strange context.  Paul has a gift for taking some little piece of nonsense and making something out of it.  I’ll bet he made the best, and most elaborate, lanyards at summer camp.  Other moms would turn to their kids and say, “Why couldn't you make me one that nice?”

Yeah, but this song, well . . . it kinda sucks.  Paul went through a period of really being into depression-era English vaudeville and dance-hall music.  The kind his dad played.  So, he made the lanyard for his dad.  I’m impressed.

And yet, even with that . . . well, the damned thing is cute, it is bouncy . . . and frankly, again in my humble opinion, if bras aren't the greatest thing ever, they’re next to it.  ;>

Evaluation – Maybe, maybe not


What, are you kidding, Paul?

Evaluation – Throw it!


This is your brain on drugs.  For those of you smart enough never to experience being really wasted, this is what happens to you.  Listening to this song again, I can describe the exact process of how it was written; somebody said something and got it a little wrong.  Bungalow instead of buffalo.  A giggling fit ensues.  Hey, Bungalow Bill!  Then, John Lennon picked up his guitar and did this.  And because he’s John Lennon, nobody had the balls to tell him to stop.  Yeah, it’s cute.  Filler at best.

Evaluation – Throw it!


An absolutely amazing, beautiful song, and proof that George Harrison was closing the gap with Lennon and McCartney.  George’s friend Eric Clapton provided the uncredited guitar solo.  The live version on Concert For Bangladesh was great, and so is Jeff Healey’s rearrangement in the ‘90’s.  Btw, George played rhythm guitar on that recording, too.

Evaluation – Keeper


A strange, disturbing, rambling little John Lennon tune.  I certainly wouldn't release this as a single, but whether you like it or not, it drips genius.  And sometimes, genius is almost intolerable.

Evaluation – Maybe, maybe not



It is appropriate that these two songs, Happiness and Martha, should be placed consecutively on this album.  The former is John indulging his muse with great result but for no good reason.  Same for Paul with this song.  They were definitely headed in different directions at this time, but using the same road map.

Once again, Paul’s penchant for vaudeville comes through.  And like everything that Paul McCartney does, he worked on it really, really hard, crafting it carefully and buffing it to a high gloss.  Or, rather, making George Martin do it.

The difference is that this is a very worthy piece of music, regardless of where its inspiration came from.  You can draw a straight line from the little love songs he wrote in ’63 and ’64 to this.  The first few lines say “Tripe,” but then the song begins to blossom.  It’s really rather good.

Evaluation – Keeper


One thing with John Lennon, you don’t have to wonder what he’s driving at.  Damn, I’m tired.  I’m so-o-o tired . . . wait, not so tired I can’t grab my guitar and a piece of paper, and immortalize being bushed for posterity.  Then, the next time Bloody Damned George Martin is hounding me to do Just One More Take, I’ll sing him this.  That’ll fix ‘im!

Evaluation – Maybe, maybe not


One of the most revered songs that Paul McCartney ever wrote, and for good reason.  He spits these things out like the lowly oyster spits out pearls.

Evaluation – Keeper


Do I need to bring up that Charles Manson used this song as an excuse to murder a bunch of people?  Nah, I won’t mention it.

This song puts me in an odd position.  I really like George, wish that he’d gotten more songs on the Beatles’ albums, and by the end of the group a case could be argued that he was actually the best of the three songwriters.  I also, in very general terms, agree with the theme of this song.  Rich people do tend to behave like a-holes.

Unfortunately, it’s not one of his best efforts.  My guess would be, he was just in a pissy mood and decided to get up on his Hare Hare soapbox and give a bunch of arrogant rich people what for.  Not a bad thing to do, in and of itself.  Just not a great piece of art.  Taxman from Revolver was much better.

Evaluation – Throw it


You really need to hear the early version from Anthology to appreciate this to the fullest.  A bit of stoned rambling from Mr. McCartney.  It would be easy to laugh off and dismiss . . . but it’s so damned catchy!  I've been playing it live for 40 years, and people love it.

Evaluation – Keeper


This recording is a crime.  Not because of the quality of the song, but the way it was treated.  Yeah, Ringo wasn't a songwriter, but he spent an awful lot of time with three of the best of his era.  So he tried his hand at it.  And ya know what . . . it ain't bad!  Nice simple little song, all the boxes checked, no major flaws . . . not bad at all, Ring.

And then they do THIS.  Gaaakk!  Hey, dudes, it’s the one, single, solitary piece of songcraft the boy ever contributed.  The least they could have done is give it a fair shot.  Just play it straight, two guitars, bass, and his drums.

I always liked the way the rest of the band treated Ringo.  He was the worker bee, the guy who always came up with a good drum part, the guy who always followed along no matter what and gave his best.  Listen to the latter half of Anthology, and the one constant is Ringo, nailing it, every stinkin’ time.

In return they would always let him sing a song.  John and Paul would even sit down together and write him one, usually the only time they ever actually collaborated on anything.  Yellow Submarine.  A Little Help From My Friends.  Octopus’s’ Garden.  And now, our friend, the guy who holds it all together, ladies and gents give it up for . . . Ringo Starr!!

And then HE writes something, and it’s even good enough to include, and you do this.  Might as well have rolled a calliope down a staircase.  Shame, shame, shame.

Evaluation – Maybe, maybe not – if Keeper, purely out of spite.


Paul’s B-side for Wild Honey Pie.

Evaluation – Throw it!!


Another little throw-away gem from Paul.  I’d like to hate it because it’s so sweet and cute . . . but it’s so sweet and cute!

Evaluation – Keeper


This John Lennon tune defines the term “achingly beautiful.”  It is, quite possibly, the best song on the record.  This, or While My Guitar Gently Weeps.  It’s the song Blackbird and I Will wish they could be.  Paul never even came close until My Love, and then barely, and never again.  And it’s not even Lennon’s best work.

Evaluation – Keeper



This should be one of the ones to throw away, but it’s so damned good!  Especially Ringo’s little solo, and the kicker back in.  Yeah, we’re goin’ to a party, party . . .

It may actually have been a collaboration, although I detect a lot of McCartney DNA.  But there’s some Lennon as well.  I've heard it speculated that there’s a Beatles song for absolutely every occasion.  It just might be so.

Evaluation – Keeper


This should be yet another for the dustbin.  There was a blues revival in the UK about this time.  John Mayall, Alexis Korner, Clapton, the Yardbirds, everywhere you looked some Brit was copping some blues record that an English merchant sailor brought back from the Colonies.

The Beatles grew up on that stuff, Liverpool being a port and all, and when it started getting really popular I guess John couldn't resist.  The trouble is, to real blues people, there was some of this British blues that frankly sounded like a bad parody.  And when this kicks off, it seems to fit into that category.

It’s one thing to pay homage to a whole musical style, something else entirely to seem to be making fun of it.  The opening bars of Yer Blues really, really sounds like some white kid goofing on the whole thing, with no understanding whatsoever of where it comes from.  It certainly doesn't ring of the respect that people like Eric Clapton, John Mayall, or even Keith Richards gave it.

But the deeper into the song you get, the more apparent John Lennon’s passion is.  Not so much for the style he’s chosen, but for the subject.  Once again, you never have to guess at what he’s thinking.  When he says; “Lonely, wanna die,” you believe him.  And that, brothers and sisters, is the blues.

The Abbey Road album had two of these types of songs, one by Paul called Oh, Darling that comes off as even more of a parody than the first verse of this; and another John composition, I Want You, that’s another passion-and-angst song, but for my money not quite as good as this one.  You want to hear the Beatles try and do the blues?  This is it.

Evaluation – Keeper


Another perfect little jewel from Paul.  Not the depth of Julia, but certainly the skill, and flawless execution.  The Beatles started out as a hot little R&B band, but then Paul wrote Yesterday and Eleanor Rigby.  By the time they followed the Maharishi to India, they had become comfortable with the acoustic guitar.  Many of this album’s acoustic songs were written there.

Evaluation – Keeper


This should be John’s version of Wild Honey Pie, an easy call to make.  But it’s not, dammit.  You got to give it to him, when he’s on, he can’t fall off.

Let’s face it, if he wasn't John Lennon, there’s a lot of songs nobody would have ever heard.  Things like Dr. Robert, Mr. Kite, and Tomorrow Never Knows were fine buried deep within an album full of number-one singles.  They could be ignored until one got to really know an album, and then they would creep into your consciousness.  This is one of those songs.

Evaluation – Keeper


This was where John chose to spit his venom regarding his disappointment with the Maharishi.  The Hindu holy man was caught making sexual advances toward actress Mia Farrow, who had made the pilgrimage along with the band.  At that point everything the man had said became suspect.  The incident should serve as a warning to anyone professing adherence to a moral standard; physician, heal thyself.

John’s sarcastic wit is at its sharpest here.  Unfortunately, his feel for the craft of songwriting is not.  The music is clever, but disjointed, and I’m afraid it fails as a song.

Evaluation – Throw it


This was the other song used as a teaching tool by His Holiness Charles Manson.  It’s really an homage to a popular carnival ride.  It’s also Paul’s attempt at capturing the burgeoning style known as heavy metal.  Black Sabbath, Blue Cheer and the like were just beginning to make an impression.  It’s not really that bad a song, but it’s not really that good either.  U2 did a much better version, without even practicing it.  Find that on Rattle & Hum.

Evaluation – Maybe, maybe not


George Harrison actually did two solo albums while still with the Beatles, Wonderwall Music and Electronic Sound, both quite experimental.  After the breakup of the band he did his first proper solo album, a three-record behemoth called All Things Must Pass.  Many of those songs were written while with the Beatles, some dating back to 1966.  Those songs had all been rejected by Lennon and McCartney.

Many people, including myself, think All Things Must Pass is the best album by any of the former Beatles.  This song sounds a lot like much of that album.  And frankly, it probably would have sounded better if he’d saved it for later, produced by Phil Spector and featuring the Mad Dogs And Englishmen band.  It’s a darned good song, and the Beatles did a pretty good job on it all the same.

Evaluation – Keeper



Legend has it that this song was born of a luncheon meeting between John Lennon and Jerry Rubin, founder of the Yippies and a leader of the American revolutionary movement of the ‘60’s.  He was one of the Chicago 7.  Anyway, he was sharing his ideas on the socialist revolution that he, Abby Hoffman, and others were leading.  Then a young waiter came to his attention and the great revolutionary starting hassling him.  Lennon protested, saying that if the revolution was real, then it was for the benefit of people such as the young waiter.

What this song says is that Lennon agreed with the basic premise of the movement, but didn't appreciate Rubin’s hypocrisy any more than he did the Maharishi’s.  John objected to the way the rich and powerful ran the world, but saw that the revolution might just replace one set of arrogant despots with another.  Power to the people, right on.

John wanted to release this song as a single, but the others thought it was too slow.  So a faster version was recorded, one that never appeared on a proper Beatles album but that Capitol eventually put out on its Hey Jude/The Beatles Again album.  They also did a video for release to the Ed Sullivan show.  After they gave up playing live, Sullivan became their favorite outlet for these videos.

I have to say, I do like the faster version better, but this one is worth including.

Evaluation – Keeper


Paul McCartney’s jones for ‘30’s dance hall music found no greater expression than right here, with the possible exception of Your Mother Should Know from Magical Mystery Tour.  Hey, I’m as sentimental as the next guy, but c’mon already!

Evaluation – Throw it


Another Harrison tune.  He had learned his craft well, but that didn't always translate to a good song.  This is an example.  We’re dealing totally in the realm of my opinion here, but George, bless his heart, had a number of songs that were well done, good melody, proper chord structure, but . . . well, they just didn't work.

Old Brown Shoe from Let It Be is a good example.  It seemed like, for every If I Needed Someone there would then be a Think For Yourself.  To me, this falls into the latter category.  Play it back to back with While My Guitar Gently Weeps, and you’ll see what I mean.

Evaluation – Throw it


A rather strange little Lennon tune that seems to have no beginning or end.  What we are left with is a pleasant little romp of a song that’s really a lot deeper than it initially seems.  It’s one of those songs you almost don’t notice, but keep coming back to later.  Still, if trimming this album down to a single LP becomes too difficult, this is one that wouldn't be too badly missed.

Evaluation – Maybe, maybe not


Musique Concrete is a genre that uses snippets of recorded sound, speech, and whatever to create its compositions.  Lennon had liked avant-garde art long before meeting Yoko Ono.  This piece was his way of introducing a wider audience to the style.

It’s difficult to know how to approach this, and most other of its ilk.  It doesn't use melody, harmony or rhythm the way “normal” music does.  You can just let it play in the background and allow it to invoke an emotional response, or you can listen carefully and attempt to analyze it and try to discern any meaning.

The latter approach makes it an interesting listen, although I've been doing it for 45 years and am no closer to figuring out what the hell he was trying to say.  With the former approach, it’s just unpleasant.  Still, it’s instructional.

There’s also the place it holds in the Paul-is-deal lore.  As the story goes, Paul McCartney allegedly died in a car accident in 1966.  The Beatles and their management, fearing the derailing of one of the greatest gravy trains ever, replaced him with a lookalike.  I’ll spare you the rest, which probably is laid out in a wikipedia article anyway.

But Revolution 9, especially if played backwards, supposedly contains many clues.  It escapes me why they would do such an elaborate cover-up, and then sprinkle all their albums with clues regarding the deception, but there are still people who actually believe it.  Somewhere I've a cassette with a recording of the piece played backward.  The clues as described in various sources can be identified, but for the most part it sounds a lot like it does when played forwards.

It’s important to note that all their albums before this one were done with a simple 4-track reel-to-reel deck at Abbey Road studios in London.  Sgt. Pepper was recorded on two machines that were then synced by hand, by George Martin, for the mastering process.  When the boys showed up to begin these sessions, they discovered a spanking new 8-track machine that hadn't even been taken out of the box.  The insisted it be set up, and it was used for everything else they ever did at Abbey Road.  That deck made Revolution 9 possible.  Thank goodness it wasn't all they did with it.

Evaluation – Throw it


A pretty little lullaby with way-too-lush orchestration by Sir George Martin and sung by Ringo.  If we’re trimming, it can go with no tears.

Evaluation – Throw it

And so we are left with the following keepers:

Back In The USSR
Dear Prudence
Glass Onion
While My Guitar Gently Weeps
Martha My Dear
Rocky Raccoon
I Will
Yer Blues
Mother Nature’s Son
Everybody’s Got Something To Hide Except for Me And My Monkey
Long Long Long
Revolution 1

Hmm . . . that’s 15 songs.  But there’s 30 to start with.  George Harrison went on record as being one of the ones lobbying to make it a double album, because they had so large a backlog of songs.  It’s hard to believe they left so many of his songs off and chose to include things like Why Don’t We Do It In The Road.  Ah, well.

It’s tempting to simply trim it down to what would fit on a single CD.  This is impossible with the entire original White Album, because there’s 93 minutes of music.  If you wanted to go that route, you could probably include all the Maybes:

Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da
Happiness is a Warm Gun
I’m So Tired
Don’t Pass Me by
Helter Skelter
Cry Baby Cry

That would allow you to pull off the real drek, and I suppose you could even keep sentimental favorites like Bungalow Bill or Savoy Truffle.

But it should be remembered that in 1968 the album that George Martin was lobbying for would have had to fit on a vinyl record.  That means an absolute maximum of around 50 minutes, as opposed to the 80 of a single CD.

This raises a controversy that followed the band’s early career; the difference between the UK and US versions.  Up to and including Revolver, the UK and US versions of each album was different.  Invariably, the US album had fewer songs.  The songs left off were later put together as albums that didn't exist in the UK.  This is where the US got records like Something New, Beatles ’65, Yesterday . . . and Today, and others.

One reason was pure greed.  Everything with the name Beatles on it sold in huge numbers.  At one point, the Beatles occupied the top three spots on the album charts and the top five places on the singles charts.  So Capitol records would take the Parlophone album of 12-14 songs, pull off 2-4, re-order what was left, and presto.  Do that a couple of times, and the leftovers got released as yet another album.

But there were other reasons as well, and pretty valid ones considering.  One was that an album with fewer songs on it could be mixed to have more bass response.  Bass notes take up more space, because the grooves had to be wider.  This meant, fewer grooves would fit on a vinyl record.  And so, the US releases tended to sound just a little better than the UK ones.

Plus, Capitol never just chopped off the last couple songs on each side.  They were carefully chosen, and then the remainder were put in a different order.  In my opinion, the US versions of Rubber Soul and Revolver were just better albums than the UK versions.  And for those who absolutely had to have everything, the leftovers eventually got put out there anyway.

At any rate, the album that George Martin imagined would have fit on one vinyl disc, preferably coming in around 40 minutes or less, for release in both markets.  Still, the fifteen songs I've picked would come out to about 46 minutes, which is doable.  If you wanted to cut a few in order to improve the bass response, I’d recommend Everybody’s Got Something To Hide Except For Me And My Monkey, and Long Long Long.  And maybe Martha My Dear.  But you could just as easily leave all three.

Ringo’s idea was to release the whole thing, but as two separate albums; The White Album, and The Whiter Album, as he put it.  The smart play, of course, would be to mix Keepers with Tossers.  But if you make the first one with the list I've provided, that makes the second one;

Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da
Wild Honey Pie
The Continuing Story of Bungalow Bill
Happiness Is A Warm Gun
I’m So Tired
Don’t Pass Me By
Why Don’t We Do It In The Road
Sexy Sadie
Helter Skelter
Honey Pie
Savoy Truffle
Cry Baby Cry
Revolution 9
Good Night

Now, think about it; on what planet would that be considered a proper Beatles record?  How does that lineup stack up against Revolver?  Or Abbey Road?  Or Rubber Soul?  Granted, in this setting, it sure makes Helter Skelter and Ob-La-Di look pretty good, but is this what we expect a Beatles album to be like?

What I’m saying, and what George Martin was trying to say, is that there was a lot of stuff on the White Album that isn't up to the Beatles’ usual standard.  This is all stuff that belonged maybe on Anthology, or Past Masters Volume 3.  These are the outtakes.

For that matter, look at the list compiled for the first one.  The keepers.  Now imagine going through Abbey Road, or Let It Be, or Magical Mystery Tour, or even Meet The Beatles.  Which songs off those acknowledged classics would you replace with anything on my keeper’s list?

Which finally brings me back to my original argument; that this could well be the Beatles’ WORST album.  In all their history, from their first recording session in 1962 up to the end of the sessions for Abbey Road, the White Album is the worst collection of songs they ever put together.  Even compared to their earliest stuff, which was a gaggle of their singles, from two really young guys still learning how to write songs, interspersed with covers and other filler.

And yet, even if it IS their worst, it just goes to show how truly great the Beatles were.  There’s a reason that, more than 50 years after Love Me Do, they are still the biggest band ever.  Even their worst album is pretty damned good.  And 45 years after its release, I’m digging it out for yet another play through, not even skipping Why Don’t We Do It In The Road or Wild Honey Pie.

As Paul McCartney famously said for the Anthology TV specials; It’s good, it sold, it’s the bloody Beatles’ White Album.  Shut up.

So this is me, shutting up.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

The Last Hippie Muses

Titles for instrumentals I don't remember writing:

Furby's Last Friend

Lisa Marie's Deep Brown Crown Victoria (for which she traded an old Mercury Montego before finding out it was really a used police car)

Tickling the Nickels

Buried Beneath Somebody Else’s Barn

Jerry Orbach’s Car (We’d have called it Jerry Orbach’s Eyebrows, but we don’t know anything about his eyebrows.)

The Last Hippie Muses

". . . and that's when the Illuminati had him assassinated," the Last Hippie said solemnly, punctuating his statement with a long pull on the fat doobie in his hand.  "Stupid bastards . . ."

We sat nervously, not sure whether to believe a word the scraggly old freak was saying.  It didn't matter.  He kept right on saying it.

"The Secret Army was never really behind him anyway," he said, blowing out the lungful of smoke.  "Half of them thought he was crazy, and all of 'em were just there for the free donuts.  But the Navy . . ."  Another drag.  ". . . They were the real deal.  They believed."

The Last Hippie shifted in his chair and examined the glowing end of his joint.  "Of course, the Colonel was a hundred percent behind it.  He even paid for the training.  I think what it was, people called him the King for so long, they got to believing it."

He sighed, the smoke now thick in the air.  "Anyway, after the funeral, the Army just disappeared.  You find one of them rats now, they'll deny everything.  The Navy hung in there as long as they could, but with nobody making the loan payments the banks eventually took the pontoon boats.  It didn't matter.  Elvis never told 'em where he buried the ammo anyway."

He got up and strode slowly to the window.  Then he laughed.  "Jimmy Carter still has no idea how close the bullet was that he dodged."