From Music

Musical Thank You #12: The Beatles

Do not fail to click on the photo of the handsome blokes standing on a small lighthouse in poses that say “I’m pretty cool, cat.” More photos of this post’s honoree await.

 
(1979) Jeff and I posed on Trinidad, California's lighthouse doing our best imitation of a Three Dog Night album cover. Photo by Mike D. Click right edge of photo for next old photo.Beatlemaniacs, circa 1979
  As I write this I am listening to the Beatles’ “White Album.”[1] Many moons ago, this post’s honoree Jeff T and I might have told you that it was the greatest album ever made, and that by repeated, careful, and chemically-augmented study of it, we had unlocked its multilayered and profound meaning. Well, at least we could have, if you had managed to catch us before we raided the Animal Apartment’s impressive larder: individually owned and labeled (possibly boobie-trapped) kitchen cabinets–four of us shared the apartment–filled with packages of Top Ramen© and boxes of breakfast cereal.[2] Shortly after feasting we would retire for naps, after which we would have struggled to express the deep but ephemeral insights we had gleaned from such profundities as “Piggies,” “Rocky Racoon,” and “Everybody’s Got Something to Hide Except for Me and My Monkey.” I have always thought it tragic that we were never able to recall and present to a grateful world our hard-won and revelatory interpretation of the enigmatic “Revolution #9.”

But no matter. Even if indistinctly remembered, our epiphanies persuaded us of the album’s mystical, greater-than-the-sum-of-its-parts masterpiece status. Lesser mortals have opined that had the Beatles pared the album down to its best twelve tracks, it might well have been the Beatles’ magnum opus, on par with Bach’s Mass in B Minor and Shakespeare’s King Lear.[3] Others have grasped its greatness as-is, and it has proved to be too much for at least one psychopath.[4]

Maniacs still, but more generally
  Time passes. Jeff and I never lost our love for the music of the Beatles. But the music of Elvis Costello, the Clash[5], the Talking Heads, and others was emerging from a new wave of musical talent more in-line with our generation. Eventually we expanded our musical horizons in unexpected directions.

We even, independently, came to see other Beatles albums as equal to or better than the “White Album.” I would probably go with Revolver as my favorite and I think Jeff may agree. Abbey Road and Let it Be are in the top tier for me with the two I’ve already mentioned. I’d put Rubber Soul and A Hard Day’s Night and, maybe, the American version of Magical Mystery Tour next.[6] And then there are the solo efforts: a lot of good stuff there, none better than George Harrison’s brilliant All Things Must Pass.

Jim P with my nephew Christian in a recent photo.Credit where credit is due
  A friend with whom I have lost touch, Jim P, deserves credit or blame (the choice is yours) for my earliest extended introduction to the Fab Four. This was not later than 1975. I know this date because Jim ran a mail-order baseball card business and he hired me, Jeff, and Mike D to sort enormous cases of Topps 1975 cards into complete 660-card sets. I’m not sure what we were paid, but working conditions were great! We all loved baseball, and Jim played his Beatles albums constantly.

I mentioned Mike D. He was nearly as influential Beatles-wise as Jeff and Jim. He will get his own “Musical Thank You” soon. The band is already warming up. (Mike is all over the photo album that accompanies this post.)

The bottom line is: Who did I call long-distance (a big deal in 1980) when the unthinkable happened on Monday evening, December 8, 1980? Jeff. And speaking of unthinkable, Jeff turned 60-freaking-years-old today!

The obligatory music video
  I could go with “Birthday” in honor of the friend I call Ffej on the occasion of–did I mention this?–his 60th birthday (Really, Sonni, are you aware of this?!). I won’t do that. Instead I will use a “live” version of Help! sung by Himesh Patel as a guy who really needed some help by this point in the delightfully silly and fun movie Yesterday. See it.[7]


Notes

  1. I put “White Album” in quotes because the official title of the album is The Beatles, though no one uses it. [^]
  2. Yes, each of us bought and hoarded his own groceries. Yes, ramen noodles and breakfast cereal made up the bulk of it. When we wanted a well-rounded, nutritious meal we picked one up at the nearest Taco Bell.
     
    While we lived in the Animal Apartment, Jeff, Mike, and I worked as busboys at the 76 Truck Stop. So we ate one free meal each shift. This was invariably chicken fried steak and mashed potatoes for me. (We also inhaled an inordinate amount of of nitrous oxide from cans of whipped cream. I’m not sure it had much nutritional value.)
     
    For Christmas, the owner of the Truck Stop gave each of his employees a frozen turkey. So we had at least three birds (possibly four, because our apartment mate Bob T briefly worked at the restaurant as well). A frozen turkey is inedible, we found. They did thaw at some point, but as hungry as we often were, we knew enough to not eat raw turkey. One or more of them might have “gone bad” and fed the dumpster instead of us. I was fortunate, though, and a couple of ex-high school classmates of the sex that is less likely to settle for ramen (even when augmented by sliced up Oscar-Meyer© weiners) took pity and helped me out. I’m pretty sure Becky B was one of these two. I’m also pretty sure I did not share my bonanza with my apartment mates.
     
    Just one more thing. If you should ever find yourself in a food-hoarding situation with Jeff, do not think that marking the level of your milk jug in pencil will stop him from partaking; he will swig straight from it and use tap water bring its level back up to your mark. Probably after downing a purloined helping of ramen. Word to the wise! [^]
  3. Making it a 12-song album? Sounds like an interesting exercise. I’ll have my entry listed here soon. [^]
  4. Charles Manson famously and tragically took the song “Helter Skelter” as a call by the Beatles for a race war. Worst. Song. Interpretation. Ever. It is a throwaway track inspired by a like-named giant slide at a London carnival. [^]
  5. The band that expectorated the lyric “phony Beatlemania has bitten the dust” is overdue for its own “Musical Thank You” post. [^]
  6. Casual Beatles fans may wonder if I have forgotten Sgt Pepper’s here. No I have not. For me, it ranks somewhere below those listed. I’m not being an iconoclast here. It still ranks high on many “great albums” lists only for extra-musical reasons. It was groundbreaking in some ways, but as a collection of songs? Meh. That’s the consensus view these days, I think. It’s mine, I know. One great song, “A Day in the Life,” and one other that I love, “Lovely Rita.” [^]
  7. Those churlish enough to dismiss this film based on its unbelievable premise are advised to listen to the lyrics of McCartney’s “Silly Love Songs” and to lighten up already. [^]

 

Musical Thank Yous:
DATE TITLE
10/04/2019 #12: The Beatles
08/19/2016 #11: Van Morrison
04/11/2016 #10: Conor Oberst
01/29/2016 #9: Reina del Cid
10/01/2015 #8: Ron Sexsmith and Neko Case
05/13/2015 #7: Elvis Costello
10/09/2014 #6: Longhair Music
08/27/2014 #5: Neil Young
06/19/2014 #4: Arcade Fire
03/14/2014 #3: Mike Doughty
02/10/2014 #2: Lucinda Williams
02/07/2014 #1: Richard Thompson