The Nitty Gritty

But more than all of those I am an entertainer. I carry around a ukulele with me for the same reason a gangster carries a gun; better to have it and not need it than need it and not have it. Stage or sidewalk, Your Pal Pete shows are just where they happen.
Currently, I'm working on a musical, RagnaPOP(or she's got the bomb), set to premiere at this year's Capital Fringe Festival. I'm also working on music, comedy, and musical comedy; for kids and/or adults.
The fruit of these projects will be available on this site, so check back regularly!

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Why I Let Music Destroy My Life: The Beatles

My first favorite band was the Beatles, they happen to hold that same space today. I’ve heard quite a few more bands since then and from day to day any of the other could have the space temporarily. But if I was only able to pick one band’s work to listen to on a desert island- a situation that happens more in drunken conversation than in real life- my choice would always be the Beatles.

They did so many fantastic hours of work, innovating almost accidentally with an undeniable timelessness that I still love. I have run across a couple folks who just don’t like the Beatles, and it’s always weird. These people are certainly entitled to their opinion, but it’s a little like when somebody freaks out when you let it slip that you smoke pot; you run across so few of those people that you never get used to it. These aren’t people that just haven’t realized that The Beatles did more of the songs they always have heard on the radio, but didn’t realize who did them, these are people that have weighed all the evidence and still said, “Nope, I don’t get it.” I may gasp, but I ultimately understand.

My first favorite song -that I remember at least- was “Dust In The Wind”, but thankfully the lesser works of Kansas held no similar pull. In one of the most significant musical experiences in my life, I saw Yellow Submarine on TV, broadcast to lower Delaware from one of the Philadelphia stations. The cartoons were the key to me listening to the songs, which I loved one after the other. A trip to my Grandmother’s house stopped me from seeing the rest of it, but in her basement full of my uncle and aunt’s forgotten records, I found something more valuable, The Beatles’ Magical Mystery Tour. Not the most acclaimed release by them, but perfect for my 9 year old self to soak into.

My parents bought me a couple more albums and they didn’t to be able write a song that I didn’t like, with the exemption of “dead dog’s eye” part of “I Am The Walrus.” Having so many aunts and uncles growing up in that era made every visit to relative’s houses meant discovering and listening to everything Beatle related in their collections. Every song I discovered was a great in a new and exciting way as they often were. I heard everything stripped of it’s context in rock history or it’s place among the other music I was familiar with at that age. The songs were what got me, although I didn’t intellectualize it that far for a VERY long time. The movements within the songs and experimental instrumental arrangements that flavored their later work were all fine and good but they still had amazing songs at the core; written by a band where even the third best songwriter -George Harrison-is still an all-time great.

I loved seeing Beatlemania through old footage with the freaking out teenage girls, sparking my own desire to make music; The desire to have girls chasing me through town in a jaunty fashion was as much of a motivation as actually making music. Having the all-time biggest band of all time as a favorite band provided me with quite the embarrassment of riches; on top of the many albums of great music, all the movies and the vivid news footage that would make their way onto our T.V. from time to time.

However, it was a different being a 9 year-old Beatles fan in 1979.
“I like that song of theirs ‘We Don’t Need No Education’,” one of my classmates said when I told him I liked the Beatles
I didn’t know who did that song yet (Pink Floyd) or what that song was really called (“Another Brick In The Wall (part 2)”) but I knew for sure it wasn’t MY Beatles. For most of my other peers, 1979 was all about Van Halen, and why not? Listening to Van Halen now makes my classmates devotion seem justified. There was no band that scratched the collective itch of American youth quite as hard as Van Halen’s first five albums. It’s a place that few bands have occupied as THE band you HAD to listen to to be accepted in certain social circles, like Led Zeppelin before them or Metallica later. If the band had broken up when David Lee Roth left, it would have been the most perfect breakup since The Beatles. But instead -for better of worse- they got Sammy Hagar; they were just different enough not be the same band. I don’t even remember if I even got to hear much Van Halen back in 4th grade, but I do remember seeing David Lee Roth’s bend backward in a hairy chested arc in the gatefold of their first album and realized that it wasn’t something I would be interested in quite yet.

We had a older music teacher named Mrs. Baxter who favored the tweed dress suits, jeweled broaches and cat-eye reading glasses that were straight outta the early fifties. She would occasionally make interjections about the changing social mores going on in the late 70’s: “I think Feminism is terrible, men don’t respect women anymore!” Sometimes it to give kid-buzz killing proclamations about the holidays we were looking forward to : “Halloween is disgraceful, it’s just organized begging.” Ouch! If we had time at the end of class, Mrs. Baxter would let us play a song from a single or an album we’d bring in from home. I was still under the mistaken assumption that all it would take would people to hear the music that I love for everyone that listened to it would love it, too. Sadly, I would hold on to this falsehood for another decade at least. I finally got the opportunity to play the Beatles song for my music class:”Help”.

I don’t remember Mrs. Baxter making any comment after any body played their selections (Queen, Bee Gees,Elvis) but she had something to say about mine.
“Completely overrated, you could easily find four students at the local high school who could sing better than them.” I was completely blown away, I still don’t understand why she saved her venom for my beloved Beatles.

I spent my teenage years stretching out a bit, INXS and Simple Minds played a big part before I got the disposable income to buy all the albums that the record guides that I won from the local radio station trivia contests told me to buy, leading to my High School obsessions with The Replacements and Husker Du.

I never had that moment of embarrassment that seems to come from so many things that I loved from back then, like “Knight Rider” and “Buck Rogers” or Frankie Goes to Hollywood, for that matter. The love songs that the Beatles wrote are still some of my favorite love songs. The rock songs they did rock me to this day, dozens of the most effortlessly brilliant pop songs ever written came out of six years of activity.

If you really want to get some idea how “Out there” they were for their time, keep in mind that the “long” hair that they had on their historic- in my opinion the most significant event in Pop music history-Ed Sullivan Show appearance made people think they looked like women, sideburns notwithstanding. Albums were seen as a way for the music buyer to re-buy singles by packaging songs from 45s and pack it with filler until the Beatles used the opportunity to use the format to create full length masterpieces. They were one of the only popular bands of the era to actually write their own songs.

You don’t have to like the Beatles for them to have affected the music you love.

By the way, I’ve never seen the Magical Mystery Tour or Sgt. Pepper movies , nor do I plan to.

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