by RIP RENSE
(Nov. 21, 2006)
with Thanksgiving and Christmas---today is the holiday I’m
A long time ago, when the
United States was still a democratic republic and most politicians did not
vote on the basis of whether they thought Jesus was hiding in the closet, there were things called “new Beatles albums.”
These things happened
with astonishing regularity between the years of 1964 and 1970, and every
time they happened, millions of people became very happy. Happy in a way
that is probably impossible to explain if you weren’t there.
I don’t know, maybe it
was like discovering that leprechauns were real, that the moon actually
smiled, that disease was just an ugly rumor. That hope and creativity and
exuberance and individuality were the most important things in the world.
You know, as opposed to hedge funds.
I don’t want to make too
much out of this---no, I take that back. I can’t make too much out of this.
It was so extraordinary and so transporting that none of us who loved it
could possibly understand how extraordinary and transporting it was at the
Although we suspected
that it was pretty damn good.
One measure of it: you
look at your old Beatles albums today, and you know exactly where you
bought them, where you were when you first listened to them. They were not
albums, they were life landmarks.
Life should be made of
better stuff, you say?
What better stuff is
there than music, I say.
I first heard “Rubber
Soul” and “Revolver” while visiting my brother in Isla Vista, CA., where he
was a UCSB student. I played them over and over and over in his tiny
apartment, while was working at a hamburger stand. There was nothing
better to do. (Often, there still isn’t.) On a subsequent visit, my
brother told my father and me how The Beatles had changed their name, and
then he played the opening two songs of their brand new album, “Sgt.
Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.”
Laughter! Broken, runaway calliopes! Marshmallow skies! Indian sitars!
Orchestras roaring atonal terror! Rock 'n' roll drumming as high art!
Because there had never
been any music remotely like “Sgt. Pepper” before in human and probably
intergalactic history, my parents bought the album. So did most of the rest of
the civilized world. For some reason, they ordered it from the May Company,
along with “Revolver,” and the two albums were---quite
fantastically, in my limited experience---delivered right to my door in a big brown truck.
I signed the bill for
these masterpieces one stultifyingly hot summer day in 1967, then
cranked them up on our stereo system for the first of at-least-once-a-day
listens that lasted at least for the next year. I know it was once a day for
a year, because my former stepmother was driven nuts by my playing “Pepper”
at barely audible volume before school in the mornings.
“Magical Mystery Tour”
showed up under a Christmas tree a few months later, and “I Am The Walrus’ promptly mixed
with canned FM carols (rather well, too.) The “white album" came the next Christmas---the most
anticipated item under the tree, so much so that we played it on Xmas Eve,
prompting my father to grumble that he didn’t think much of “that 'Dear
Prudence.'” I didn’t think much of “Why Don’t We Do It In the Road?” (I still
don’t), but I didn’t say so, because surely The Beatles had good reason to
do whatever they did. As McCartney said during an “Anthology” interview in
1994, “It’s The Beatles’ white album, so shut up.”
“Abbey Road?” I stumbled
across it---the British version---at the Marina del Rey “House of Sight and
Sound,” on my way home from Venice High School. I promptly ran the rest of
the way home, gathered up change amounting to $3.49, then ran back (I was a
cross-country guy) and bought the damn thing with quarters and
nickels just before closing time. It was about two miles each way.
What are the Beatles
up to now? What will they sound like on the next single? The next album?
Everyone wondered. Huh? Ringo sings “Good Night?” I thought that was
Paul. And John wrote it? Paul plays piano on "Lady Madonna?" Seeing
Lennon and his long hair in the “Revolution/Hey Jude” films put the buzz in
the air: “John’s freaked out!”
For me, it was always the
music, never the gossip, never the show. One can analyze it and pontificate
about it---countless journalists and authors have---but the truth is that in
the studio, the Beatles (and producer George Martin) produced wonderment.
They had no idea of their own genius, the depth of their inspiration, even
considering McCartney’s titanic ego and 1969 pronouncement, “It is like
we’re Stravinsky, and it’s in the music.”
He was right,
though---as with Stravinksy or any composer, it’s in the music. The
Beatles were no longer a performing act, or a “cool little band,” as Ringo
likes to downplay it these days. They had crossed over. The Beatles were a
composer, a single composer whose skills and works were reduced by
the absence of one or more participants. That extends to the mere presence
of the others. The fact that they knew they were a unit influenced the way
they worked, sang, and tuned, thought. Would McCartney have even written
“Yesterday” had he not been in The Beatles? Would Lennon have written
“Across The Universe?” Neither wrote songs as potent and artful after
they went solo.
These four guys were
somehow able to tap into guileless, unfiltered inspiration and stick it on a
record. There was something true and immutable and radiant going
on---something that had everything to do with human cooperation; with four
kids who grew up together---whose frets and picks and cymbals grew
together---and stayed together as a creative entity until they were nearly
Which brings me to
This is the highly
appropriate name of the new Beatles album being released today. Original
producer Martin and inherit-the-mantle son Giles took the original session
tapes and mixed and matched guitars and drums and vocals and sitars and
tablas and horns and horse whinnies and. . .everything old is new again. You
have to hear it to comprehend it.
Some of the songs have become
small suites, built of many other songs, and it’s a tribute to The Beatles’
compositional constancy that choruses or drums or guitars or vocals from
1964 fit neatly into basses and pianos and strings and horns from 1969. In a
way, "Love" reveals the whole body of songs as one "huge melody," to
borrow the provisional title for the climax of "Abbey Road."
The Martins did it for
a wacky Las Vegas Beatles show by the Cirque du Soleil that was
suggested by the late George Harrison. In Harrison's honor, the elder Martin
also scored string backing for Harrison’s acoustic guitar performance of “While
My Guitar Gently Weeps”---which constitutes nothing less than a new Beatles
song in the year 2006.
And they did it for, and
Love. Love is not
kissy-poo. Love is not diamond rings (I don’t care too much for money.) Love
is not Tom Cruise and poor Katie Holmes, God help us. But great art is love,
perhaps the ultimate valentine to existence.
And that is what The
Beatles left us on this very special holiday:
New Beatles Album Day.
BACK TO PAGE ONE