Get Back

Yesterday, filmmaker Peter Jackson — the guy who made those lavish, but incredibly long, Lord of the Rings movies — announced his next project, and it’s pretty intriguing.  Jackson has been given access to more than 50 hours of never before seen footage shot by director Michael Lindsay-Hogg during the Beatles’ recording sessions that ultimately were used to produce the album Let It Be.  Jackson will be using the footage to produce what is, in effect, a remake of the documentary that was released in 1970.

maxresdefaultBeatles fans know the prevailing story:  the band went into the studio to record a new album that was originally going to be called Get Back, because the idea was for the band to get back to its rock ‘n roll roots, with Billy Preston playing along on keyboards.  After some initial highlights — including an impromptu concert on the rooftop of Apple Corps that happened 50 years ago yesterday, and was the last time the Beatles performed live in public — the album effort supposedly ground down in a maze of acrimony and dissension that presaged a group on the edge of a final break-up.  The effort was shelved, and months Phil Spector was enlisted to produce something out of the recordings.  Let It Be then emerged in 1970 — a combination of some great, quasi-live recordings, classics like the song Let It Be, and awful, overproduced Spector versions of songs like The Long and Winding Road.  Let It Be would be the last original Beatles’ album to be released (with Abbey Road being the last album the Beatles recorded);

That’s the story we’ve heard, and it was largely framed by the 1970 film that emphasized the tension and dissension, but Jackson suggests that it’s not the true story.  He’s watched the unseen footage, and listened to more than a hundred hours of the audio tapes from the recording sessions, and he says:   “It’s like a time machine transports us back to 1969, and we get to sit in the studio watching these four friends make great music together.”  He added:  “Sure, there are moments of drama, but none of the discord this project has long been associated with. Watching John, Paul, George and Ringo work together, creating now-classic songs from scratch, is not only fascinating – it’s funny, uplifting and surprisingly intimate.”

It’s hard to imagine that there is much new to be learned about the Beatles — they are clearly among the most loved, photographed, analyzed, and psychoanalyzed musical and cultural figures in history — but this unreleased footage may help to alter the storyline.  I’ll be heading to the theater to watch the result.  These days, how often do you have the opportunity to watch musical legends at work, in their prime?

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Dueling Pianos

Last night we had a mid-winter, get out of the house night on the town with family members. After dinner at the Tip Top, we Ubered down to the Big Bang Bar in the Arena District for a Dueling Pianos performance arranged by Sister Rocker. I wasn’t even aware of the place, but then the Arena District is full of surprises.

When Sister Rocker first suggested a trip to see Dueling Pianos, I initially thought it would be like Ferrante and Teicher, or perhaps cocktail lounge piano music. I could not have been more wrong! This was about as raucous as piano music (and a drum set) can get, with three guys rotating on stage in staggered one-hour shifts and pounding away at the keyboards of two grand pianos. They took “suggestions” (song requests unaccompanied by money) and “requests” (song requests submitted with moolah) — guess which ones were going to get played, and which would get crumpled up and tossed? — and they played everything from vintage Jerry Lee Lewis to country to ’80s MTV staples to last year’s hip hop hits. And there’s a lot of audience participation, both through singing along and through birthday and anniversary celebrants and bachelorette parties going up on stage to dance and perform.

It makes for a rollicking time and it’s obviously popular, because the place was packed — as crowded a venue as I’ve seen in years, in fact. If you reserve a table, as we did, expect to feel a bit like a sardine, because they really pack people in. It’s a young crowd, too; we were the oldest attendees by far. And the amount of alcohol consumed by the patrons — the better to lubricate the vocal cords and loosen up lascivious onstage dance moves, I guess — was colossal. This was a crowd that was ready to rock out and fight the mid-winter blahs with some liquid-fueled entertainment.

Dueling Pianos isn’t something I’d do every weekend, but it’s a nice entertainment option to have on a cold winter night.

12 Hours Of The Beatles

We caught the Sgt. Peppercorn Beatles Marathon at the Bluestone today. They play the official Beatles songs based on the British releases, in chronological order, with a few songs from the post-Beatles solo careers thrown in for good measure. The show started at 12:30 p.m. with Please Please Me.

We made it up to Revolver, but the band was still going strong when we left. It’s an awesome show that is expected to continue until about 2 a.m. Be prepared to sing along — you just can’t help yourself!

12 Hours Of The Beatles

Some people celebrate the Twelve Days of Christmas, with particular emphasis on that annoying partridge in a pear tree.  On Saturday, we’ll be marking the holiday season by enjoying, instead, the 12 hours of the Beatles.

49d1ba3fc5499a96b74466cc757c7065It’s called Sgt. Peppercorn’s Beatles Marathon.  For the ninth year, musicians in “Sgt. Peppercorn’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” will perform all 215 officially released Beatles songs in one performance.  It’s supposed to be the only place you can go to see all of the Beatles songs performed in one sitting, and it’s happening here in Columbus.

The songs will be played in chronological order based on the release of the Beatles’ original British albums and singles, starting with Please Please Me — the album the Beatles recorded in one legendary day — beginning at 12:30 p.m. and ending with Abbey Road, about 12 hours later.  That means we’ll avoid the embarrassing mish-mash of the American records, where songs that were recorded years earlier could get released on later albums.

A 12-hour Beatles marathon poses certain logistical challenges.  We’ll have to have a hearty lunch before the performance starts, of course, and then carefully time eating and bathroom breaks to coincide with some of our less favorite tracks.  Basically, any song that you carefully positioned the tone arm on your turntable to pass over would be a good candidate.  I’m suggesting, for example, that we try to fit dinner in during side 4 of The Beatles (commonly known as the White Album), and I’ll no doubt hit the men’s room when it’s time for Within You Without You on Sergeant Pepper’s.

Who needs five golden rings when you can listen to gold records instead?

Conference Room Music

Yesterday I was at a conference at one of those ginormous conference centers you find across America.  That means that, during breaks and when waiting for the meetings to start, I’ve been exposed to conference room music.

wasgn_meetings_breakout01There’s a spectrum of music played in public places in America.  At one end of the spectrum — and unfortunately, very rare in my experience — are actual, recognizable songs, whether it’s classical pieces, or rock music performed by the artists who made the songs a hit, or jazz from John Coltrane or Dave Brubeck.  As you move away from that end of the spectrum, generic elements are introduced — for example, by having a song that you know covered by some unknown band whose rendition sucks the life out of the tune and renders it inert, so that it takes a while before you recognize what you’re hearing as a dim, distant version of Foreigner’s Hot Blooded.

At the opposite end of the spectrum is elevator music and telephone hold music — music that is specifically calculated to do nothing except provide soft and low background noise while you are unfortunately waiting to move on to your day.  Conference room music is a notch up from elevator music.  It’s never a recognizable song from a recognizable artist, because the music may have to cut off at any minute when the meeting starts, and they don’t want the meeting participants to be disappointed that they didn’t get to hear the guitar solo on Pink Floyd’s Mother.  So it’s inevitably some random piece, usually jazzy in nature with keyboard and horns, but more upbeat than elevator or hold music.  It’s designed to keep you awake and alert while you sip your generic coffee and glance around at the generic conference room fixtures and decorations, but leave no lasting impression whatsoever.

No one leaves a conference room humming a few bars of conference room music or asking the concierge what was playing before the meetings started.  You’ve utterly forgotten the music the instant the meeting begins, just like you immediately and irretrievably forget the wisps of the dream you were having when you wake up in the morning.

When you think about it, there’s some talent involved in being able to create music that is so consciously bland.  You have to wonder:  do musicians deliberately set out to write conference room music, and do they think with satisfaction that their creation will be the perfect complement to the metal coffee urn, the spread of breakfast pastries, and the always uncomfortable conference room chairs?

“Wintry Mix”

The new preferred phrase for describing the combination of ice, rain, and snow that occasionally bedevils the Midwest during the winter is “wintry mix.”  You might hear a cheerful, overly tanned weather forecaster say something like this:  “Tomorrow we’re expecting to see wintry mix during the morning rush hour, so get ready for a long, ugly commute that will get your day off to an especially nerve-wracking start.”  Apparently “sleet” or “freezing rain” are no longer in vogue.

wintry20weather20returnsI was thinking about how much I hate the “wintry mix” as I was slogging through slushy, slippery sidewalks on my way to work the other day when I suddenly realized that “wintry mix” could have an alternative meaning — i.e., a mix of songs about crappy winter weather, rather than the dreaded, appalling weather condition itself.  So, for the rest of the dismal, cold, wet walk I mentally assembled the start of a “wintry mix” playlist:

Cold As Ice — Foreigner

Tenth Avenue Freeze Out — Bruce Springsteen

Ain’t No Sunshine — Bill Withers

Blue Wind — Jeff Beck

Ice Cold Daydream — Shuggie Otis

In The Cold Cold Night — The White Stripes

Ice Ice Baby — Vanilla Ice

Shiver — Coldplay

Beyond The Gray Sky — 311

Winterlong — Neil Young and Crazy Horse

The Sun Doesn’t Like You — Norah Jones

I’m sure I’m missing some songs, but the whole exercise made my trip through the “wintry mix” and the gray skies a little more tolerable.

Bohemian Rhapsody

Yesterday Kish and I went to screen Bohemian Rhapsody, which tells the story of Freddie Mercury and Queen.  Biopics about rock stars have become something of a genre unto themselves these days — according to the previews yesterday, there’s another one coming out soon about Elton John, by the way — and Bohemian Rhapsody is a worthy addition to the playlist.

BOHEMIAN RHAPSODYThe film begins as Mercury and Queen prepare to perform at the Live Aid concert, then takes us back to the group’s earliest roots.  We meet Farrokh Bulsara, a buck-toothed baggage handler at a British airport who dreams of doing something bigger.  He finds a struggling band called Smile playing in pubs, and when the group loses its lead singer, Queen’s journey begins and Farrokh becomes Freddie Mercury.  The film traces the artistic arc of the group, which became one of the most inventive, boundary-breaking bands of the ’70s — as the song that gives the film its name attests — and the band steadily moves from playing small towns to filling some of the largest stadiums in the world, with the flamboyant Mercury leading the way.

As the band’s story is told we get glimpses into Freddie Mercury’s personal life, from his frosty relationship with his Indian parents and their Zoroastrian faith, to his long-term bond with a woman he called the love of his life, to his embrace of his gay lifestyle and ultimately to his discovery that he had AIDS at a time when that diagnosis was viewed as a death sentence.  And, as always seems to be the case with rock star biopics, enormous success and fame have their price, and we see Mercury dealing with drugs and alcohol, leaving the band that was like a family to him, and supporting the creeps and hangers-on who always seem to find a way to latch on to the successful creative minds and sap them of their unique energy.  But Mercury breaks the downward spiral, sheds the leeches, and reunites with the group just in time for a triumphant performance at the Live Aid concert.

Bohemian Rhapsody has been criticized for glossing over some aspects of Mercury’s life, especially his sexuality, but the film is telling a wide-ranging story that simply doesn’t allow it to delve deeply into every relationship — whether it be Mercury’s relationships with fellow bandmates or his relationships with his lovers.  The result is a film that increased my appreciation of Queen and the dazzling personality who was one of its principal creative forces.  And Rami Malek is himself brilliant as the brilliant Freddie Mercury.

Why are there so many rock star biopics?  I think it’s because the music world is home to a lot of very interesting stories that are well worth telling.  The story of Freddie Mercury and Queen is one of those stories, and Bohemian Rhapsody tells it well.