Sunday, October 18, 2009

Son Of A Beatle

I'm so frozen in time, I wouldn't know an X-Box from a PlayStation if you smacked me upside the head with it, so I haven't the slightest idea how the Beatles Rockband game works. I was curious enough to watch some of the animated videos, however, and they are wonderful. (See them here) Besides, if I want to play a Beatles song, I'll mess it up on guitar like everybody else. But it's amazing to me that 40 years after they broke up, the Beatles are the hottest, cutting-edge group going. Consider that the remastered CDs, prepared for release to coincide with this new project, have already sold 2.2 million copies in a marketplace that barely sells CDs anymore. They topped the Billboard charts yet again and the Las Vegas Cirque du Soleil "Beatles Love" show is sold out forever. Finally, younger people are realizing that Paul McCartney was in a band before Wings.

On the anticipated Rockband release date, Melody and I were surfing channels on a Sunday afternoon when we came across the Beatles' Anthology on VH1. Six hours later, we wondered how the time flew by so quickly. Recalling such sheer joy, we concluded that the first couple of years of Beatlemania were the best and last innocent times we knew. In 1965, LBJ was sending half a million men to Vietnam, and by the time the Beatles reached Memphis in 1966, the emerging evangelical movement was ready to crucify John Lennon for saying the Fabs were more popular than Jesus. At least they were on the pop charts. All those pictures you see with people holding signs saying "Beatles Go Home" were taken in Memphis, where they held a counter-Beatle rally and concert at the Auditorium while the Lads played the Coliseum. I was there when the cherry bomb was tossed from the upper balcony and John Lennon jumped as if he had been shot. The Beatles played two shows in Memphis, and there were still tickets left unsold. Had I known that, I would have attended both. But, I saw the Beatles, and despite the pandemonium, I also heard the Beatles; and it was a religious experience.

When "Hard Days' Night" was released in 1964, local theatres didn't know how to market it, so it premiered at the Malco Twin Drive-In on Summer Avenue. My sister, Susan, and I saw it in Times Square on a family vacation to New York. So many memorable moments in my life are punctuated by Beatle songs. The first time I heard "I Want To Hold Your Hand," I was driving east on Walnut Grove Rd. and immediately took a left on Mendenhall, headed for Pop Tunes, to buy the single (which I still have in the original dust cover). I can tell you where I was sitting in Knoxville the first time I heard "Day Tripper," and wished I was still in a band. Melody favors "Norwegian Wood" and insists that if I outlive her, "In My Life" must be played at the memorial service. I was thinking of "Nowhere Man" for mine, but I figured it was too self-deprecating, so I'll settle for "The End." And during the multi-year run of my lost and lamented radio show, "The Psychedelicatessen," I always started the program with two Beatle songs, just to begin where it all began. My life would have been immeasurably less interesting without the Fabs in it, and I am grateful.

George Harrison was still alive during the taping of the Anthology, and there was a scene towards the end when the surviving three were discussing the impossibility of a Beatle reunion. Answering suggestions that Julian Lennon replace John, Paul said, "Why would we wish to put him in the middle of this?" It's better to "Let it Be" and savor the memories of a remarkable era. The Rockband game offers memories in the making for young fans not yet alive when the Beatles ruled the world, and the sales and popularity indicate a whole new wave of Beatlemania, Part II in the air. These fabulous songs and wonderful melodies have come to life again for fresh listenings, or discovering for the first time. I don't intend to start playing video games now, but I'm sure happy that it's there. If I had teenagers, their Christmas presents would be already chosen.

Rather than dusty dreams of re-forming the Beatles, my new show-biz idea is to start a new band called Sons of Beatles. Ringo has two sons, Zak and Jason Starkey, who are both drummers; Zak, most notably, with the Who. Consequently, The Sons of Beatles could have double drummers like the Allman Brothers. Both Sean and Julian Lennon are artists and singers, with Julian showing a prodigious talent for songwriting. Dani Harrison, George's son, is a singer and guitarist, and surely one of Paul's children, maybe James, can be taught to play bass if he doesn't already know how. Place them all under the control of George Martin's son, Giles, who was instrumental in assembling the Beatles Rockband, and you have a phenomenon waiting to happen. I would certainly like to see it, even if they were rotten. But there's too much nascent talent there for that to happen. Since Brian Epstein left no progeny, I will volunteer for the manager's position. That's OK, fellows; You don't have to thank me.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Premature Acclamation

OK, maybe Rocky hasn't yet amassed the resume of previous recipients of the Nobel Peace Prize, but to hear the nasty protestations of his deranged, right-wing detractors, you'd think they gave the prize to Yasser Arafat or something. I mean, let the man broker a treaty first. Even Obama seemed perplexed at having been chosen International Homecoming King, but there are worse things than having the U.S. President regarded as a peacemaker by the rest of the world. Obama's public statements regarding the prohibition of nuclear weapons, torture, the elevation of diplomacy, human rights, and an outstretched American hand to nations once our adversaries, stand in such stark contrast to his predecessor, that the Nobel Peace Prize is as much a rebuke of the former administration as an expression of approval in the country's change of direction. George W. Bush must have misread the Sermon on the Mount to think it said, "Blessed are the warmongers."

The Nobel awards have never been beyond politics, but Obama accepted with a humility that was nearly uncomfortable. It was as if he were awakened by Rahm Emmanuel and answered, "I won what?" John F. Kennedy got a Pulitzer Prize for "Profiles in Courage," a tome composed when he was still a junior senator from Massachusetts, with the uncredited assistance of a professional journalist. Henry Kissinger won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1973 for his "Peace is at hand" speech, when in reality, he interfered with the Paris Peace Talks of 1968 in order to get his man Nixon elected. So, it is not uncommon that these awards are given to a mission in progress rather than the completed work. The last sitting American President to win the Peace Prize was Woodrow Wilson for authoring "The Fourteen Points," and configuring the Treaty of Versailles which ended "The War to End All Wars." But when Wilson attempted to establish the League of Nations, he was thwarted by an obstructionist Republican congress who wished no part of a world governing body. The result? World War Two. Obama rightfully noted that the prize was, "a means to give momentum to a set of causes," rather than for a new President with precious few political victories to brag about.

One would hope that the "loyal" opposition would be gracious enough, just for once, to say "way to go," and press on, but immediately, Fox News went into overdrive with indignity and condemnation and the wing-nut radio talkers exploded in revulsion. Fox's Brian Kilmeade speculated that Obama delayed sending more troops to Afghanistan in order to win the prize, and Rush Limbaugh brayed, "The Nobel gang just suicide bombed themselves," and, "Something has happened here that we all agree with the Taliban..about, and that is he doesn't deserve the award." RedState's Erick Erickson artfully said the Nobel committee must have been trying to fill an "affirmative action quota." The Obama-haters applaud and cheer when he loses the Olympics and grouse when he wins the Nobel Prize, and these are the self-described "patriots." Yet even a partisan like Bill O'Reilly said, in an unusual spasm of conscience, "Deserved or not, having a U.S. President honored with a peace prize is good for the country." The voodoo wing of the conservative movement remained mute.

All Republicans were not as typically obnoxious as the party's right wing. John McCain and Tim Pawlenty were gracious with their remarks, which puts them out of the mainstream these days. Pawlenty is running for President, and McCain is wise enough to realize that Obama is not the Anti-Christ, as suggested in the above mentioned RedState blog and other internet sites, just the Anti-Bush, who must be sitting in Dallas with the relief that no one is searching for the three sixes on him anymore. Had you told the conservatives in advance, omitting any physical description, that their new president was not only a family man with a beautiful wife and two adorable children, but also a constitutional scholar, lawyer, and college professor, who agreed to let his mother-in-law move in, they would have named him a Saint. And the thing is, Obama's not all that liberal. People see in him what they wish to see in him, including the Nobel Prize Committee, who awarded the honor for noble intentions and the desire for peace. It's like my mother says about eating chicken soup for a cold; "It couldn't hurt."

Depending on where Obama decides to go on Afghanistan will determine his mettle and mantel. A large part of the battle we are fighting, as General William Westmoreland used to say, is for the hearts and minds of the people we are trying to assist. It does us no harm for the Afghan civilian population to perceive that Obama has peaceful intentions for their country. He has already accepted the indigenous nature of the Taliban and recognizes that they are not the enemy; Al Qaeda is. Before we commit more troops to this struggle, it would be wise to remember that the Soviets lasted ten years fighting in Afghanistan before going broke. The U.S. is now into its' ninth year of conflict. The battle against the guerrilla insurgents that this country armed to fight the Russians would be better waged with special forces, spies, and bribes. Obama is walking a fine line between giving humanitarian aid to our friends and the Green Berets to our enemies, but if this bloody conflict is merely to prop up another corrupt dictatorship friendly to the U.S., then it's Vietnam redux. If the President can bring some semblance of normalcy to the Afghan people, and draw down the combat forces in Iraq, he may well deserve the recognition bestowed upon him by the Nobel Committee as "peacemaker." Until then, I can already hear the heathen rage, "Sometimes Satan comes as a man of peace."

Sunday, October 04, 2009

Things I'll Never Understand

While songwriting in Nashville, the publisher brought in his man from L.A. to tell us hicks what he wanted in rock songs. He played us a cassette of an unreleased tune called "Like A Virgin," and said it was the future of popular music, to which I replied, "God, I hope not." I always thought Cyndi Lauper would clean her clock. A pure product of the video age, her workout regimen must be fierce; especially the crunches. The only thing flatter than Madonna's stomach is her voice.

Every time I see one of these guys, I wonder if they might live long enough, infections aside, to seriously regret their self-mutilations. My generation grew our hair long to show we were in harmony with the natural order. This practice shows solidarity with the primitive rituals of isolated, Amazonian tribal savages. I'll hand it to you though, you sure look different.

Local News
Local news is actually regional stories with corporate direction. From coast to coast, they have been using the same formula for 35 years. A bi-gender, mixed race anchor team finish each other's sentences before throwing it to bleached blonde reporters in the field who are all looking to make it to the networks. We've all heard the phrase, "If it bleeds, it leads," by now. But must they drive a hundred miles away in the "news van" to find some meth-head who murdered his family because there wasn't enough serious violence nearby? And how come everything is always "Breaking News?" If the local news was all you watched, you'd never leave the house.

Chicken Joints
Why is it that every time you go into one of these places around dinnertime, they're out of chicken?

I understand I'm a provincial with an unsophisticated palate, but among the reasons man discovered fire, wasn't one of them so that we could cook our food?

Ronald Reagan
The "B" actor who co-starred with monkeys and co-operated with the House Un-American Activities Committee in the 50s, became a mouthpiece for right-wing causes before entering politics. Speaking against Medicare, he said, "One of the traditional methods of imposing Socialism on a people has been by way of medicine. It's very easy to disguise a medical program as a humanitarian project." As Governor of California during the campus unrest of the 60s, Reagan said, "If it takes a bloodbath to silence the demonstrators. let's get it over with." And as President, he relaxed regulations on business and industry, imposed a draconian fiscal policy that his own Vice President called "Voodoo Economics," courted the religious right, and declared government as the enemy. I know the Republicans haven't had a hero since Theodore Roosevelt, but do they really want to carve a face on Mt. Rushmore of the man that said, "Trees cause more pollution than automobiles?"

Black Republicans
It must feel groundbreaking to be a big fish in a little pond, but they're using you, pal. How can a black man be the spokesman and apologist for an increasing virulent racism spreading among the base elements of his party? It's like Dick Gregory becoming the Grand Wizard of the KKK. They aren't your friends and are frothing at the mouth to toss you overboard. You believe you're a pioneer, but you're merely a stooge and your term as RNC Chairman will end badly.

A constant and persistent reminder that I ain't so damned smart. I have become such a numerophobe that when you discuss figures with me, my eyes roll back in my head. Math was my worst subject and created a visceral loathing of unknown origin within my soul. I only graduated college because they allowed me to substitute Ethics for Math. When someone tells me, "You do the math," I have a panic attack. I think that in a former life, I may have been an accountant.

Why? When did turning left become a sport? I'd like to see them try to negotiate Poplar Ave. If you asked me if I would like to watch some goober wearing a jump suit covered in small corporate logos, barrel a car blanketed with large corporate logos for 500 miles in an asphalt circle accompanied by the stench of burning tires and gasoline, I would have to say, "No thanks, I'd prefer to watch water evaporate."

Pot Prohibition
Since we have seen the outlawing of a weed, that grows almost anywhere, result in violent drug gangs that deal in bloodshed to protect their massive profits; the filling of our prisons with casual users; revolts in several states to de-criminalize its use by medical cannabis smokers; and the barbaric home-invasions of minor pot growers by DEA and SWAT teams, why is marijuana still illegal? I guess we'll have to wait for Obama's second term before we can even whisper about the complete failure of our government's absurd, 80 year old pot policy.

Fox News
There have always been agitators who blur the line between free speech and hate speech. From Father Charles Coughlin and the Nazi appeasers in the 30s, to Sen. Joseph McCarthy in the 50s, to Rush Limbaugh today. But there has never been a 24 hour "news" network dedicated to propagating lies and slander with the intention of destroying a presidency and furthering radical conservative causes at the behest of its owner. I saw "Tea-baggers" wearing patriotic colors admit that they watched Fox News exclusively. They are unwitting water carriers for an unscrupulous, bare-knuckled, publishing monopolist from Australia named Rupert Murdoch, who could give a damn about the U.S. government so long as they don't re-regulate the multiple ownership of media outlets in one market by a single company. If Fox is to be the broadcasting propaganda arm of the far right, how about removing the word "news" from their title to conform with "truth in advertising?"

If you are holding a telephone, why are you typing on it?

Thug Rappers
I don't care how relevant, gritty, ghetto, or "street" the message is, I can't hear it because I can't stand being shouted at. And what is this affectation that every single rapper has adopted with the stiff-digits and thrusting hand motions? Are they all supposed to be playing "air turntable?" The "man" is exploiting you, fellows. Learn to sing.

Garth Brooks
See "Madonna" above. This guy has sold over 100 million albums with a talent that rivals Hootie and the Blowfish, yet he will surely be inducted into every existing music hall of fame. Did I lose my taste or my mind? And, truth be told, "I have friends in low places," is not that clever a song idea. I sure wish I'd written it though.