All Together Now

As I’ve taken walks around Schiller Park over the last few days, I’ve noticed that people are interested in publicly expressing their collective community spirit.  The above sign appeared in the window of the Hausfrau Haven, and I’ve seen similar messages chalked onto sidewalks — like “#RallyColumbus.”  It’s all part of an effort by the common folk to show some mutual support, and let their fellow citizens know that we’re all in this together, and that together we will get through our coronavirus trial.

I’m confined to the German Village area, of course, so I can’t say for sure, but I suspect that the signs and sidewalk messages I’ve seen here are just the very small tip of a much larger iceberg that can be found across the country.  Americans have a way of coming together during difficult times, helping each other out, and working to lift each others’ spirits.  Our political representatives might fight like the gingham dog and the calico cat, but the people stand together during the tough times — and messages that express that sentiment in a tangible way, for all to see, really help.  And, of course, there’s a lot more that we can’t see publicly that also reflects a fighting, mutually supportive spirit, like texts among groups of friends and co-workers and e-mail chains and virtual get-togethers and Facebook memes.

The attitude of toughness and resiliency makes me think of one of my favorite Beatles’ songs and video snippets, which appeared at the end of the Yellow Submarine film — All Together Now.  Let’s hope that we can maintain that ‘tude, and it will carry us through. 

A Day In The Life

We had a great time at the Sgt. Peppercorn’s all-day Beatles Marathon at the Bluestone. I was there from 11:45 to 11:45, hanging in from the great introduction to the show from Sir Paul McCartney though all of the early songs and Sgt. Pepper, to the second disc of the White Album. At that point, with my feet aching from standing for 12 hours straight, Revolution No. 9 dead ahead, and looking at about 2 a.m. as likely target for the end of Abbey Road, I decided to call it a day. We left hoarse but happy.

But what a day! If you like Beatles music (and singing aloud with a group of friendly, lubricated, singalong strangers), it’s a must-attend event. It’s impossible to go, listen to that music, and not be happy — and impressed at both the musicianship and stamina of the great band. It will definitely put you in a holiday mood!

Next year we’re going to get there even earlier in hopes of getting actual seats.

From a-Ha To ZZ Top

After months of painful work, my careful reconstruction of my failed iPod is coming to an end.  I started with a-Ha, worked my way through the Beach Boys and Beatles, through Elton John and Veruca Salt and Yo-yo Ma, compiling dozens of different playlists along the way, and have finally hit Zuilli Bailey and ZZ Top.  After that end-of-the-alphabet omega point, there are some random Japanese characters and numbers — .38 Special and the 5h Dimension figure prominently, for example  — but we’re basically done with the project.

What does it all mean?  I’m not sure, except for this:  there are a ridiculous number of talented musicians out there, and an even more ridiculous number of great songs,, and I desperately want to have them all.  What surprises me in my effort is that there is so much great music that I want to have on my iPod, just in case — and also how much fun it can be trying to organize it into playlists.  My musical tastes are broad, and if someone tells me I’m going to need to choose among the Beatles, the Temptations, Neil Young, Linda Ronstadt, Eric Clapton, Merle Haggard, George Jones, John Coltrane, the Benedictines of Mary, Queen of Apostles, and countless other artists, I’m not going to be a happy camper.

Fortunately, the old iPod has sufficient storage capacity that I don’t have to make such choices.  I can winnow things down without cutting crucial things out — and that is a great luxury of the modern world.  We are lucky we live in times of such technological advances.

When You Realize You Are Completely Out Of It

One of my mentees and his wife have welcomed a new addition to their growing family.  The baby’s name will be Maxwell.

I wanted to make a mild joke about the newborn with my other mentees, so I asked them whether they thought it would be appropriate to get little Maxwell a silver hammer.  In response, I was greeted with absolutely blank stares.  “I don’t think a hammer would be an appropriate gift for an infant,” one of my mentees politely responded.  “Is there some kind of tradition involved in giving a hammer to a child?” another asked.

“You know, the Beatles song,” I prompted.  Additional baffled looks.  “Maxwell’s Silver Hammer?”  I added.  More uncomfortable silence.

Occasionally, an incident occurs that crystallizes the fact that you are getting incredibly old, and the common cultural touchstones that used to be assumed in every conversation are common touchstones no more.  My references to Beatles song have no more resonance with my 20- and 30-something mentees than the latest Jay-Z song (assuming Jay-Z is still a popular artist — which I of course am blissfully unaware of) would have with me.

Abbey Road

Tonight, as we ease into the weekend, I decided to listen, again, to the Beatles’ timeless Abbey Road.  It’s only, say, the 10,000th time I’ve listened to this album, which has been a staple on my music rotation since it was first released.  It’s one of the few pieces of music I’ve listened to consistently over those 40+ years, from the teenage years through college, to the D.C. era, the early family years and now to my mid-50s.

As I’ve listened to the music over the years, my perspective has changed.  At first, I just loved the music because it’s great music.  In college, I listened in fervent hope that the Beatles might reunite and create more fantastic music like this.  By the late ’80s, when CDs replaced albums, Abbey Road was one of the very first CDs I bought, because the album is an absolute foundation stone, an essential element of any collection of modern music.

Tonight I listen, marveling at the extraordinary musicianship of this group of four British lads and thinking hard about what it must have been like, in the late ’60s, to be in the studio when the music first came to life.  At that time, the Beatles were at the absolute pinnacle of popular culture, in a way no single person or act has been, perhaps, before or since.  Their every move was flash-bulbed, their every every lyric and note was scrutinized, and their every album was breathlessly anticipated by millions as yet another opportunity for the Beatles to break the mold, bend the arc of popular music and culture, and move the frontiers forward.  What must it have been like to write a song under those conditions?  What must it have been like to know that, by sleeping in an Amsterdam bed or being photographed with a new girlfriend or attending the show of a new act you could control the stories that appeared in tomorrow’s headlines?

And I think, as I listen to side two of Abbey Road, which has been my favorite piece of music during those 40+ years, period, I wonder:  what must it have been like to sit in that Abbey Road studio, at the very peak of the popular world, and think:  “Hey, let’s combine all of these great songs into one continuous song, blending seamlessly one into the other” — and know that you have the complete, unfettered freedom to do something like that because, for you, at that moment in time, there are no boundaries whatsoever?

The Man Who Put The Beat In The Beatles

Today is Ringo Starr’s 70th birthday.  He is celebrating with a private event at the Hard Rock Cafe in New York City, followed by a concert at Radio City Music Hall.

I always thought Ringo Starr was a vastly underrated rock drummer.  Because he was a character who became known for his “Ringoisms”  — like “a hard day’s night” — I think many people considered him to be less important musically than other members of the Beatles.  When Lorne Michaels offered some ludicrously small amount for the Beatles to reunite and play on Saturday Night Live, he specifically said that the other band members could give Ringo a lesser cut if they wanted to.  It was supposed to be funny, but it was a cruel joke.

Sure, Ringo didn’t write many songs or have many singing hits when he was with the Beatles.  (Ironically, for a few years after the Beatles split up, Ringo had the most post-Beatles hits of any ex-member of the band, with songs like It Don’t Come Easy and Photograph.)  Nevertheless, he was the man who put the beat in the Beatles.  He had rock ‘n roll in his soul and never let showmanship get in the way of keeping the beat.  Listen to the ferocious drumming on, say, Twist and Shout and you will know what I mean.  Anyone who likes to dance to the early Beatles tunes — songs like Dizzy Miss Lizzie or I Saw Her Standing There — should tip his cap to Ringo Starr because his excellent drumming made those songs easy to dance to.  Even on his one drum solo — at the end of side two of Abbey Road — Ringo seemed to focus mostly on the beat, and not on technical flourishes or showoff riffs that detracted from the rhythm.  Yet within that guiding framework, Ringo also was capable of inventiveness.  Rain and Come Together are two pretty good examples of that fact.

I think it is safe to say that the Beatles without Ringo would not have been the Beatles.  Happy Birthday, Ringo!  Let’s celebrate with this video of Rain:

Practice Makes Perfect

Sir Paul McCartney (apparently known to British tabloids as “Macca”) recently stated that when the Beatles started out in Hamburg, they weren’t a very good rock band. Playing constantly at different clubs, working at their craft, learning new songs, and figuring out how to bring customers in to their venue, as opposed to the club down the street, turned the Beatles from a mediocre act into the greatest rock music act in history.

There’s a lesson in there somewhere.