The Beatles

Trial in the court of public opinion

A rare two post day!  Look at me!

One thing I find hilarious is how people will try to apply legal principles to everyday life, usually in the defense of something stupid.  Like when people say “I’m just exercising my First Amendment Right!” when they really mean “stop laughing at what I said!”.

I bring this up because I made a joke about Bill Cosby today on Facebook, basically about how I think it’s terrible that he raped women but that I enjoy the fact that it’s evidence for my theory that self-righteous people probably have something awful they’re trying to hide.

And without fail someone came along and said “He’s innocent until proven guilty!”

Yes.  In the legal sense, he can’t be sentenced to jail time until someone proves he raped them, and probably nobody ever will because the things he did took place long enough ago that the statute of limitations has run out.

And sure, I suppose I could be sued for libel for not appending my joke with allegedly.  If Mr Cosby or someone from his team wants to sue me for that, well fine.  This is all a joke!  You can’t sue me for joking!

At any rate, the point is, that I’m not going to send him to jail, so I don’t have to prove him guilty in my own mind in order for me to think he’s guilty.  That’s for me to decide because the legal system doesn’t reach the inner recesses of my skull.  Yet.

The other thing people bring up is- well his reputation might be ruined.  Yeah, apparently it is.  And a good part of his earning potential, but the man is 70 something and I’m sure he’s not relying on Social Security to pay the bills.

But the broader point is that people in the public eye are faced with an unfair burden- the public can turn on them at any moment if someone makes spurious charges.   I’m going to engage in a fairly glib line of questioning here, but here’s goes…

So what? 

Seriously, so what if the public turns against a famous person for reasons (possibly) beyond their control?

Let’s take this one step at a time.  First of all, the so what?

Actually, I don’t have that much to say about it because I don’t care.  If Bill Cosby loses his place as America’s Loveable Grouchy Old Man I couldn’t give two shits.  Don’t care any more about that than I care about the weather on Mercury.  I don’t care and you can’t make me care.  So there.

Second, really, so what?  Shit, people turn on famous people all the time for no good reason.  Do you think it’s fair?  Life’s not fucking fair.  It’s not like there’s always some great reason why the public started admiring someone in the first place.  Half of the celebrities in the world you can look at and think- what on earth are they famous for anyway?  If they disappeared tomorrow would you cry?  Would you hold a candlelight vigil?  No, you wouldn’t.  You’d move on with your life, only pausing to think – I wonder what happened to that guy like every ten years.

Finally, and most importantly- I am being serious here- we do not want to set the bar too high for people losing their reputation.  Because it’s fucking high enough.  Just think about all the terrible things that famous people have gotten away with.  Just the other day I was listening to this song:

and thinking- it’s insane that the Beatles could just casually mention wife-beating in a song, with no fear of any repercussions.  Now think about people like Jimmy Savile, a man who was able to molest hundreds of children, for decades and died before the truth was widely known because no one wanted to believe his accusers because people liked him.  Maybe most importantly, because he knew people wouldn’t believe his accusers, he was worse than he’d have otherwise been.  Or someone like Roman Polanski (whose movies I do enjoy, so yeah, I’m a hypocrite) who is a convicted child (as in, convicted in a court of law, i.e. proven guilty) rapist but still works.

The thing is, famous people have lots power to convince people they’re something that they’re not.  And that makes them dangerous.  I mean, not all famous people are dangerous, obviously, but celebrities can get away with terrible things if they set their mind to it.  And when they have wealthy, powerful people protecting them, often the only leverage the public has is to say “we won’t be your fans anymore.”  I’m kind of an amoral person myself and I believe in having whatever power I can accrue, and I’m not giving this one up.

So yeah, tough luck Bill Cosby.  Court of public opinion made you what you are and now they’re taking it away.  Oh well.

Self-Referencing

How soon is too soon?

My ears perked up at a line in this song when came on the radio this morning

 

I gave you bass

 

This is the All About That Bass girl.  I was just talking about that girl a month ago!  She has one hit and is already self referencing!

I don’t know what to think about this.  Maybe she just doesn’t have a ton of ideas, but more likely this is intentional.  From a brand new singer that’s either guts or some amazing hubris.  Either way I admire it.

I don’t know have any particular thoughts on artists that self-reference.  Sometimes it’s a fun way of rewarding your audience for paying attention.  Like when the Beatles did it, it was cute.  I suppose it could be sometimes just lazy recycling of old ideas.  Then again, you don’t have to self-reference to do that

You say you wanna revolution

I had a funny thought the other day.  Image you were a twenty year old in Turn-of-the-Century Russia.  You were at the peak of that time in your life when you see everything that’s wrong in the world and you want to change it.  You’re living under and oppressive Emperor who opposes democratic change and cares nothing for his own wealth.  You know what’s really sad?  Unless you were blessed with an extremely long life, that was a good as life was ever going to get for you.

I’ve never been a fan of this song.  It’s just too long.

But it does have a great line

Meet the new boss, same as the old boss

The song is a pessimistic view of violent revolution that came out at a time in history where there was a loud minority in the USA proposing such a step.  My only problem with the MTNBSATOB* line is that it doesn’t go far enough.  In lots of places, if your new boss was no worse than the old boss, you got off easy.

Being a part of the punk rock scene for a couple decades now, I’ve heard plenty of people claim that a leftist revolution is that solution to our problems.  A leftist revolution in the USA is highly implausible.  Also highly implausible is the revolution that certain right-wing extremists call for.

But let’s say for a second that one of these were possible. Would it be advisable?  Say there were tens of millions of armed, mohawked vegan punx out there ready to Smash the State and start over with something, would violent revolution be a route to consider?

The long answer:

The short answer:

I’d love to see the plan!  Please put it in writing and I’ll be glad to forward it to the FBI.  For real, I’m snitchin’ on you. 

No, hell no, I don’t want to smash the state.  I don’t want to overthrow the government and replace it with one that follows the exact letter of the Constitution.  I don’t want to devolve power into self-governing units of voluntary associations.  I don’t want to abolish private property.

At most I want to make a few tweaks.  There’s no need for a revolution for that.

Like I said, I’ve spent years considering my thoughts on this, and I’ve read up on the Russian, Chinese, Spanish, Mexican and several African revolutions.  I’ve read about many of the resulting dictatorships.  I have a BA in Classical Studies, so I don’t want anyone to think is my field- it’s not.  Just something I’m interested in.  So take my thoughts with a grain of salt.

War of Independence vs Revolution

People who want to overthrow the government like to claim that the government is illegitimate, or better yet, foreign.  Because the most difficult problem for revolutionaries is dealing with all the people who supported the previous government.

The government that you want to overthrow may or may not have been elected, but it’s a simple fact that governments can’t exist without some degree of consent of the governed.  That doesn’t mean it’s tremendously popular, it may mean nothing more than the fact that people are resigned to the devil they know.  They might not like it if you just up and replace it with something they don’t know.  Or they may like the general direction of the government, but they don’t think it goes far enough in the direction it’s going.  Or maybe only 30% like the government, but those people really love it and will be very angry if you destroy it.  At any rate, lots of people aren’t going to be happy with rapid change.

So what does a revolutionary do with those people?  Here’s where the difference between a violent and non-violent (or mostly non-violent) revolutionary becomes important.  The Fidel Castro or the Mao Zedong has already shown that he can shoot his countrymen for his cause.  He’ll have to protect the revolution’s gains.  If he has to shoot some more people he will.  That’s not a good way to start out.

Also, there’s the problem of defining goals.  If the goal is “throw the other country out”, that’s not hard to define.  You make it tough enough, they’ll leave.  If the goal is to overthrow this dictator who took power through extra-legal means and hold elections, that’s harder, because like it or not, some people did support that guy.  If the goal is upend the whole social order and create something totally different… how do you know when you’ve reached that goal?

That’s if the revolution succeeds.  If you cause too much trouble, the population can turn against you and pick someone even worse than the guy you started fighting against to lead them.  That’s not good either.

 Is it really that bad?

Because it could get worse.

If it’s that bad…

Say you’re in Stalin’s USSR.  How much worse could it get?  Probably not much, right?  But on a personal level, it could get a lot worse for you.  And more importantly, it could get a lot worse for everyone who joins your rebel squad so you’re going to get few takers.  And among those who do join your crew, there are going to be at least a few that are excited to sell you out and send you off to Room 101 to be eaten alive by rats.  Good luck getting that revolution going.

The lesson I take away from places like China, Russia, North Korea and Cuba is that once a totalitarian regime gets in power, they’re going to hold it for as long as they feel like.  If the elites decide that holding power isn’t worth ruling over an economic basket case, they might be like China and change course.  Or maybe some foreign power will swoop in and take the guy out.  But the worst dictatorships rarely face existential threats from within.  People have grown into old age in North Korea, waiting for the Kim regime to end.  With Kim Jong Un being a mere 31 years old, and giving no indication that he’s going to be anything different than his father and grandfather, we might be talking several generations that live and die there.

Of course North Korea is maybe a bad example since North Korea’s dictatorship was mostly just installed by the Soviet Union.  Or maybe it’s not, because that takes us all the way back to that young man in turn-of-the-century Russia who was joining up to overthrow the Emperor.  Thanks a lot buddy.

 

*Trying to start a meme here

Ranking albums by how many songs off of them I can play

I had a funny idea today.  It’s kind of high concept but it’s the title of this post.  If I really like a song I want to learn to sing and play it myself, assuming it’s not too hard.  So I spent the afternoon trying to think of all the albums I listened to that made me want to learn the songs.  I figured it might be give me some idea of what a good album is.  And just for fun I tried to rank them based on how many songs I know and how often I usually play those songs.

5.  The Stooges Fun House

Songs from this album I can play:

Loose, TV Eye, 1970 (I Feel Alright)

In terms of total percentage of songs on an album I can play, this is probably the most.  Mainly because there are only seven songs on it- six if you’re like me and don’t consider LA Blues a song.  These are all just ones that are fun to break out in practice because most rockers know them.  I’ve performed TV Eye and 1970 live before, but probably wouldn’t again.  A little too old for that.  I’m just not that intense a performer anymore.

4.  The Beatles Beatles for Sale

Songs from this album I can play:

Baby’s in Black, Everybody’s Trying to Be My Baby, Kansas City/Hey! Hey! Hey!

This is just kind of an odd one that happens to have songs that are easy and two of these  aren’t even by the Beatles, but they introduced me to the songs, so it made the list.  Not even close to my favorite Beatles album.  Baby’s in Black is probably my favorite one to play, just because it’s a simple melody and kind of country-ish, so I sing it to myself.  I’ve actually played Kansas City live as part of a different medley, a long time ago.  I can’t remember what I played with it.

3.  Flying Burrito Brothers Gilded Palace of Sin

(I couldn’t find the full album, so I put up this one song, because it’s one of my favorites)

Songs from this album I can play:

Sin City, My Uncle, The Dark End of the Street

This is an album, along with the Byrds Sweetheart of the Rodeo, that really taught me to love country music.  It was also one of the last CDs I ever went out an purchased (a double album set with Burrito Deluxe), and when I got it home I listened to it over and over again.  For a good six months I was obsessed, and I learned a few songs off their second album as well.  Part of why I love the songs on here is that they’re not hard to play- Gram Parsons was a good but not extraordinary singer.  No George Jones or Merle Haggard, that’s for sure.  So I could sing along fairly easily, and hit most of the notes he could.  Any of the songs on those three albums are great for just sitting on my bed and singing.  Probably Sin City, Image of Me (from Burrito Deluxe) and You’re Still on My Mind (from Sweetheart of the Rodeo) are the ones you’ll most likely hear if you walk by my window on a Saturday afternoon.

2.  New York Dolls New York Dolls

Songs from this album I can play:

Subway Train, Personality Crisis, Trash, Pills

Johnny Thunders being one of the great GUITAR GODS of punk rock, this is a must album for every aspiring punk guitar player.  They’re also great, nasty rock and roll tunes.  Pills is originally a Bo Diddley song, but New York Dolls really made it their own here.  Subway Train is a good, sad song to sing on the acoustic.  Personality Crisis, Pills and Trash are punk rock standards, and regularly get busted out in practice.

1.  T-Rex Electric Warrior

Songs from this album I can play:

Cosmic Dancer, Lean Woman Blues, Monolith, Get It On (Bang a Gong)

This is a great album from start to finish and all of the songs are fairly easy, but it’s a diverse set of tunes.  I’ve heard people say The Slider or even Tanx are better, but I’m not going to argue because all three are great.  Of these songs, Monolith is probably my favorite.  It’s a sad, silly song about whatever fairy tales were running through Marc Bolan’s head.  Cosmic Dancer is another great one to play alone on an acoustic guitar when I’m feeling sad or lonely or just in an introspective mood.  Get It On is a fun one to bust out at practice.

What does this tell me?  Well, actually, these are some of my favorite albums.  But they’re also easy to play and they’re from bands that didn’t put out that many albums- New York Dolls and Flying Burrito Brothers put out two that most are familiar with, The Stooges put out three total, and T-Rex put out about four that get much attention.  Only The Beatles have a large output, and including them here is kind of silly, since two of the songs I know are just basic blues tunes.  I probably know more songs by the Kinks or the Ramones, but they’re not all concentrated on any one album since they put out so many.  So I guess there aren’t too many conclusions to draw from this.

Defending The Beatles

Even the title of this post is kind of ridiculous.  The Beatles, of all bands, shouldn’t need defending.  But I have found that if you get a group of music nerds together, someone is going to feel the need to claim that The Beatles are overrated.

I’m not talking about the guy who says “The Beatles are a bunch of pussies and their music is gay”.  If I ran into that guy in 2014 I don’t think I’d even bother arguing.  I’d just walk away.  But that’s a subjective point and frankly, I don’t care.  I’m not going to try to convince anyone that they should like The Beatles.  If you think their music is silly, then think so.  If you think it’s for children, or that it’s sappy and lame, fine.  Makes no difference to me.

I mentioned this in my last post, but I find about half of their music fairly annoying.  Even some of their hits- Eleanor Rigby, for one, is relentlessly irritating.  Notice I’m not saying it’s a bad song- though they did write a few of those.  Just that I don’t like it.  That’s an important distinction.

But The Beatles are overrated is a different claim.  That’s a claim that somehow they don’t deserve their place in Western Pop.  Which is nonsense.  There’s music before The Beatles and music after.  No band in the 20th was as influential as them.  This is indisputable.  And frankly, if you try to argue this with me, I am going to have some answers.  Here are some common ones I hear:

The Beatles weren’t good at their instruments

This claim has the benefit of being somewhat true.  Compared to some of the guitar heroes of the 60s, George Harrison was just average*.  Ringo Starr wasn’t as bad as some people claim, but he was no Ginger Baker.  Paul McCartney was actually a very good bass player.  John’s contributions on guitar or piano were also merely average.

But this criticism misses on two points.  First of all, they were a pop band.  Comparing them to Cream or the Jimi Hendrix Experience is silly.  That’s like asking why Maroon 5 doesn’t have a guitar player as good as Jack White.  Total point missing.

Second, and more importantly, voice is an instrument.  And by any standard, the two main singers- Paul and John- were very good pop singers.  As a band they could make music like this-

Or like this-

Or like this-

Now some people might say, “well yeah but have you heard _____” and point to some opera singer or Freddie Mercury or someone.  Yeah, fine, but as pop singers go, they were pretty damn good.

George Martin was responsible for their success

George Martin was responsible for some of their success.  He helped teach Paul to arrange, for instance, he helped him with Eleanor Rigby.  Which really is a point against George Martin.  But let’s say you like that song and it’s a point for.  Fine.

Yes, he helped them on Penny Lane.  He helped them on a good deal of Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.  He’s a producer, that’s what producers do.

But you know what George Martin, so far as I know, didn’t do?  Shepherd any other bands to a similar level of success as The Beatles.

Seriously, if Dr Dre could produce both NWA and Eminem, certainly George Martin could have replicated his success with someone else.  Mike Chapman and Nicky Chinn managed to write hits and produce records for Sweet, Mud, Suzi Quatro and even wrote Mickey for Toni Basil**.  I’m not saying any of these guys produced anything as good as the Beatles, just that they could replicate their success with other bands.  George Martin doesn’t appear to have done that.

Other bands were more important

Who?  The Beatles defined the modern Pop song.  Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds is my favorite example, but it’s a song that could be produced today.  The melody from the verse is not connected at all to the giant, soaring chorus.  Songs didn’t sound like that before.  They also didn’t have multiple hooks.  Brian Wilson from the Beach Boys has admitted he was in competition with them, and the Rolling Stones, FWIW, clearly were as well.  Who else was there?  The Who?  The Who’s big contributions were in the late 60s.  As where Jimi Hendrix’s.  Bob Dylan?  OK, maybe Bob Dylan.  Maaaaaaybe.

So there’s what I came up with.  Like I said, I don’t think the Beatles really need defending, but if you run into someone who feels the need to show that they’re some sort of iconoclast, maybe this will help.

 

*I’d say the same about Keith Richards, and he’s considered a GOD, which further proves my theory that people don’t accurately assess guitar players’ skills

**Amongst other hits.  Check their Wikipedia page, those guys had hits for everyone.  Mike Chapman produced Blondie’s Parallel Lines and the first two records by The Knack.

Continuing thoughts on cultural appropriation- the 1960s

Here’s where the discussion of rock and roll gets interesting.  Most of the early rock and rollers had been from the South and could plausibly claim to have been personally exposed to the type of music they were borrowing from.  But by the early 60s they had all mostly disappeared, died or were no longer very popular. Then along came the British Invasion.

There’s not much earnestness left in American culture so I listen to things like this and I hear a kind of desire to prove that they’re real bluesmen

But obviously they’re just some kids from the UK.  So were these guys:

I pick out these two bands because they were trying a lot harder to ground their music in authentic American sounds.  I’ve said before I find the whole concept of authenticity in music fairly foolish, but you can understand the position they’re in.  They want to sound as real as possible.  The Animals pulled it off fairly well.  The Stones… well, they’d get much better at American music in few years.

And this is where I don’t know how to feel about the whole idea of cultural appropriation.

I’ve recorded a few of my songs and I’ve put them on the internet, which means possibly somewhere, someone is copying some idea from one of my songs.  Not likely, but stay with me.  I actually don’t care.  I can make more.  If someone gets rich and they direct some interest my way, that would be even better.  But I don’t have an actual career to think about.

Let’s imagine you’re Howlin’ Wolf.  You release this song:

It wasn’t a huge hit, but it’s a great song.  Then some art school kids from England come along and release their clunky* version and it shoots to #1 on the British charts.  Even the audience in this video looks bemused.

Now if you’re Howlin’ Wolf you might be kicking yourself.  Some little punk kids have come along and outdone you.  From what I read Howlin’ Wolf was a smart man and was wise with his money, having a long career free of the hard times that would strike some of his blues contemporaries.  But he would never be in the same tax bracket as the Stones.

Is that fair?  Howlin’ Wolf was gifted with a powerful voice and an imposing figure, but not a face that would ever make him a pop star, even if we totally ignore racism he would have faced in that time period.  So he was probably always at a disadvantage when it came to young, cute guys from England.

I don’t really know the answer.  We all start out young punks and I can imagine being the Rolling Stones and hearing all this amazing, exotic music and thinking I want to do that.  I kind of want to now.

On the other hand, the world didn’t really need the Rolling Stones version of Little Red Rooster.  I like the Animals version of The House of the Rising Sun, so I’ll give that one a pass.

Did the world need the Yardbirds or any of the other British Invasion bands to deliver inferior versions of this?

Or a Yardbirds version of this?

Or the Beatles’ cute, but corny version of this?

Or the Beatles’ fairly uninspired cover of this**?

No, not really.  These songs are much better than those early British Invasion versions.  The best thing the British bands did was start writing their own songs.  .

But I’m not saying the original is always better or that no one should ever do cover versions.  Just that I can understand if some American musicians were upset about having fairly weak versions of their songs becoming better known than the originals.

 

*It’s not that bad, but Mick Jagger really wasn’t ready to be a blues singer at that point.

**Actually, I read Smokey Robinson’s autobiography and he said that at the time Motown was just starting out and that having the Beatles record the song brought them a lot of attention, so insofar as it helped introduce Motown to the world, the answer is yes.

Pete Seeger

My grandmother died recently.  People told me different variations of “I’m really sorry to hear that” but I wasn’t sad.  She’d been ill with dementia and various physical ailments for years.  I was kind of happy for her that she was gone.  I would never want to go through that at the end of my life.  She deserved some peace.

For the same reason, I look at a guy like Pete Seeger and I’m kind of happy for him too.  I read somewhere that there was an Ancient Greek proverb “Do not say a man is happy until he is dead”.  Which allegedly meant that Greeks considered their life a work of art and that until your life was over you couldn’t say how it would turn out.  I always took it to mean something more like- you never know what kind of awful things the gods are going to throw at you, so be happy if you die before they do it.  I could be wrong.

Anyway, I look at Pete and see a man who was in touch with who he was and what he wanted to do in life.  And actually managed to do what he wanted to do, unlike the rest of us.  He lived to 94, and only outlived his wife by a year or so.  What more can you ask for?

Being born to ex-hippie(ish) parents, I heard a good deal of folk music growing up.  Woody Guthrie, Peter, Paul and Mary, The Byrds, Bob Dylan and, when my dad was feeling down, Joan Baez.  I can’t remember if they had a Pete Seeger record, but obviously his influence was all through the above singers (except Woody, who obviously influenced him).  Even probably in that damn John Denver tape my mom used to play on every family vacation.

Like Bob Dylan, I find Pete’s voice a little grating.  I can’t help it, I do.  But Pete could write beautiful tunes.

Even though I heard a lot of it growing up, I feel like old folk music, like old country, was just waiting for me to reach the age where I could discover it.  And when I did there was this enormous, magical songbook of great music I could lose myself in.  Folk music is the basis for music today- all the big simple melodies, the songs about everyday things- those come from folk.  From blues, from country, from jazz too, but you can hear the sounds of modern pop in the way folk writers made their songs.  Music was just waiting for The Beatles to come along, put a big bow on it and present it to the world.