Wednesday, April 15, 2009

John, Paul, 'Tom' and Ringo

The Virgin Records store here in San Francisco is closing and everything is on sale. Pickings are slim, but I found a great Beatles' DVD that I didn't know even existed.

It's three episodes of the 'Tomorrow Show' with Tom Snyder and features John Lennon's famous interview from April 1975. This is the last TV interview he did before his 'retirement'. I've seen it many times (including the original broadcast), but it's been a long time. I probably still have a copy I taped on VHS but God only knows if it's even watchable.

The broadcast they provide is actually the rerun that was shown the day after John was killed. Which is actually better from a historical point-of-view as it contains interviews with a reporter who interviewed John shortly before his death and Jack Douglas, the producer of Double Fantasy. And of course Tom, surprising cool and professional, talking about the murder.

The Paul and Linda interview is from December 1979. It's recorded via satellite an hour before a Wings concert. Denny Laine and Laurence Juber are also on hand. Everyone comes off really well, and Paul is much more funny and likable than he seems these days. An interesting tidbit is that this was recorded a few weeks before his pot bust in Japan which basically destroyed Wings and his relationship with Denny. So while nobody knew it at the time, this was the end of a major era for Paul. They also show a 'Spin it On' video and bits of 'Wonderful Christmastime'.

The Ringo interview is less interesting, and only half of the hour long show. The other half is Angie Dickenson talking about some 'new' but now forgotten TV series. But I'm glad they included it so we have the entire episode. They also show a lousy 'Wrack My Brain' video and Ringo is promoting his Stop and Smell the Roses album. The interview was done in November, 1981.

Ringo does reveal some interesting thoughts, like his regret over how the films A Hard Day's Night and Help! forever labeled his as 'dumb' because the public thought the Beatles' caricatures in their films as being real, i.e., John witty, Paul sexy, George mean and Ringo the dim, hangdog outsider.

There's also promos for a 'Tomorrow Show' DVD showcasing punk and new wave acts (including a Johnny Rotten interview) and another one for Acid Head types with Timothy Leary and the Grateful Dead (yawn). The punk one looks pretty cool.

I was so happy I found this DVD! It's great to see these old interviews and I was always a big Tom Snyder fan. I saw him once driving down the street in LA and I honked and waved and he waved back. And considering I was a young freaky long haired big brute at the time, it was cool that he gave me a wave and a smile.

So if you, like me, were really into the Beatles' solo careers back in the 70's, this is a must. Get it on Amazon or if you live in San Francisco, you've got a few days to pick up a copy cheap at Virgin. They had a few more copies.

Monday, April 13, 2009

The Lunch Box Incident

The other day, a 30-something co-worker went off on the Beatles having had a lunchbox back in 1965. As if a lunchbox is the exemplification of selling out.

I asked him what does he know about the exact details of how Beatles came to be the center of a merchandising craze and what was their role in it all (e.g., did they approve various products and disapprove of others)? He said it didn't matter and that the mere fact that they 'allowed' their images to be pasted on lunchboxes and other various souvenirs somehow affects their place in culture. That a 'real' artist wouldn't allow such a thing to happen.

First off, when the Beatles (actually it was Brian Epstein) sold their likeness and names to be sold on pajamas and record players, they didn't know if they'd fade off into the sunset six months later. Who knew that 45 years after their first record they'd still be so popular and talked about.

They (and Brian) were a bunch of young kids from Liverpool with little or no experience in such matters. And where do you draw the line anyway? Are movies okay and lunchboxes not? Is appearing in Teen Magazines acceptable but bubblegum cards tacky? Who knows?

Second, to say rock and roll musicians (even those as talented as The Beatles) are 'artists' kind of diminishes the real giants like Mozart, Shakespeare and Michelangelo. If you're comfortable with the label 'artist' for anyone who makes a living in the 'arts', that's fine. But let's get real. Nobody involved in pop culture, whether it's The Beatles, Stanley Kubrick, Jack Kirby, Meryl Streep or Quentin Tarentino, are artists. They practice a 'craft' and are basically hustlers trying to sell their goods. Movies, TV, pop music and comic books are not art in the same sense that the Mona Lisa or 'Don Quixote' are.

This does not mean what they create is not wonderful and cool and makes us feel happy/sad or more connected to the rest of the human race. And the affect The Beatles (and a few others) have had on society is not to be taken lightly. They changed a generation. But that was more a testament to them as 'people' not their records.

I think the true test of a great artist is someone who everyone pretty much agrees was, well, great. No one with an ounce of intelligence says that Shakespeare was lousy (he may not be your cup of tea, but you can't deny the genius). Same with Beethoven or Rembrandt. But there are plenty of intelligent people who dislike and dismiss any pop star, actor or filmmaker that you can think of. No matter how popular or respected they are. Some people hate Elvis, The Beatles, Orson Welles, Marlon Brando and Charlie Chaplin. And who's to say they are wrong? Yes, they're clever and the best at what they did, but you know what they say about the land of the blind. It's just movies and pop music and whatever else our modern culture has to offer.

So get over yourselves. Enjoy it and have fun. But let's not put the Beatles is the same league as Mozart. Even Paul McCartney would say you're crazy. And don't expect them to be 'above' things like having their pictures on lunch boxes. It's their job!

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Number 9, Number 9, Number 9

On 09-09-09, Apple will release remastered versions of just about everything.

You can read all about on the Beatles official site and in Beatle News (see links to your right). The packaging looks super and they're also including mini-documentaries on QuickTime files. Personally, I'd rather see new DVDs of Let it be and 'Magical Mystery Tour' (not to mention a CD Capitol Albums, Vol. 3), but I suppose redoing the 'official' canon is a priority and fans have been clamoring for it for years.

And while these new 'stereo' versions will be fun, I'm actually more interested in the companion package: The 'mono' stuff.

They are marketing this one for the more hardcore collector types. It will include newly mixed mono versions of everything up to the 'White Album' along with the previously unreleased original stereo versions of Help! and Rubber Soul. If that tidbit confuses you, I'll explain: The current CDs of those two albums are indeed in stereo, but were remixed by George Martin in 1987. Some fans consider the original 1965 stereo versions were superior.

It's a bit overwhelming, all these versions. For Help! and Rubber Soul, I count at least ten versions:

US vinyl stereo
US vinyl mono
British vinyl stereo
British vinyl mono
The 1987 CD
Capitol Vol. 2 mono
Capitol Vol. 2 stereo
New Remastered CD
New Remastered mono
New 1965 remastered stereo

...and this doesn't include the cassette/8-track/reel-to-reel stuff!

So, yeah yeah yeah, we're all excited about the remastered announcement, and of course I'll buy them. But the funny thing is, while CDs are great in the car, I'll probably do most of my Beatle listening the way I've always done it: Grabbing my vinyl Capitol/Apple record off the shelf, and plopping down the needle.