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!

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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.

An Evening With Sir Elton

Last night Kish and I went to catch the Columbus performance of Elton John’s Farewell Yellow Brick Road Tour. The singer-songwriter has been on the road performing for 50 years, and this is said to be his last tour ever.

It’s a show that’s well worth catching. Sir Elton performs with a group that features — in addition to a piano, of course — guitar, bass, synthesizer, and no fewer than three percussion set-ups. It pumped out a huge amount of sound. In fact, the volume was a bit too cranked up for my taste, and at times you could feel the bass and drums vibrating your seat and rattling the fillings in your teeth. But the band did a great job with the playlist, and Sir Elton himself was in good voice and can still tickle the ivory with the best of them.

As we enjoyed songs like Border Song, Rocket Man, Tiny Dancer, and Someone Saved My Life Tonight, I thought about what a huge star Elton John was in the ’70s, and just how many hits he’s produced. Although he didn’t perform my favorite (Mona Lisas and Mad Hatters), the show was a powerful reminder of just how insanely talented this man is. By the time the band finished its encore with Goodbye Yellow Brick Road, and Sir Elton rose into the backdrop and then stepped onto the yellow brick road on the jumbo video screen to walk into the distance, you realized that he occupies a level that has been reached by very few musical performers.

The guy is a living legend. How can you pass up the chance to see him one last time?

Is Christmas Music Bad For Your Health?

We’ve turned another page on the calendar.  It’s November already, and that means . . . get ready to hear Christmas music everywhere you go.  For all I know, Grandma Got Run Over By A Reindeer is already playing on heavy rotation at the local mall.

567b6ea8160000b300eb98d9The British newspaper The Independent ran a story yesterday in which a clinical psychologist is quoted as saying that listening to too much Christmas music is bad for your health — your mental health, that is.  In the story, written by a reporter with the delightfully British name of Olivia Petter, psychologist Linda Blair states:  “People working in the shops at Christmas have to tune out Christmas music because if they don’t, it really does stop you from being able to focus on anything else.  You’re simply spending all of your energy trying not to hear what you’re hearing.”

The psychologist doesn’t cite any studies or clinical tests to support her conclusions, but this is one time where confirming evidence doesn’t seem to be needed.  I happen to like Christmas music — with a handful of notable exceptions like the aforementioned Grandma Got Run Over By A Reindeer and Do You Hear What I Hear? — but I can’t imagine what it would be like to work in a store where, starting about now, you’re required to listen to an endless loop of the same Christmas songs, over and over again.  Your first listen to the Bing Crosby and Andrews Sisters version of Jingle Bells might put a holiday spring in your step, but by the 139th hearing on December 3 you’re going to be ready to hurl that appallingly fragrant holiday candle display through the store window and tackle the nearest Salvation Army Santa.  No wonder Clark Griswold lost it in Christmas Vacation.

Christmas music isn’t immune to the general rule that too much of anything isn’t a good thing.  So when you’re doing your holiday shopping this season, don’t be surprised if that person behind the counter seems a little bit edgy — and be sure not to whistle Frosty The Snowman when you make your purchase.