New perspective on The Beatles
Book gives engaging and insightful backgrounds to epic songs
You might think that 47 years after the breakup of The Beatles, the world’s greatest band had been analyzed to death in endless books and magazine articles. Could there really be any new light to shed on the Fab Four?
Well along comes Rolling Stone correspondent Rob Sheffield with a new book, “Dreaming the Beatles: The Love Story of One Band and the Whole World,” which has been praised as, “the best book about the Beatles ever written.”
Not sure that’s true, but it is very engaging, revealing and often insightful as Sheffield illuminates the background to some of the band’s most epic songs.
Here he is discussing the Beatles’ “Rain” (1966): “Some people think Ringo was just a clod who could barely play the drums. These people are not necessarily evil … but they are so, so wrong. I am ardently pro-Ringo and for me this song is proof of his brilliance as a drummer. It’s psychedelic, cynical, hilarious, serene, sarcastic — and that’s all just in the drums. Hail Ringo!”
Sheffield even offers a whole chapter on Ringo’s coolness, lauding him as “one of the holy wise men of rock and roll.”
Here’s his take on “Dear Prudence” (1968): “Paul is on the drums — because Ringo just quit the band, storming out on the fractious ‘White Album’ sessions. It’s one of their loveliest, most placid and playful songs, but they recorded it in the middle of a crisis. Listening to how these troubled boys pour their hearts into ‘Dear Prudence’ — not knowing if Ringo will ever come back, not knowing if the band will survive or collapse, not knowing if life as they know it is over forever — that’s so inspiring to me. But also a little scary.”
Sheffield’s often humorous with intriguing observations such as how after the world’s biggest band broke up at the height of their power, John and Paul went off and formed bands — with their wives. “Can you imagine Mick Jagger and Keith Richards doing that?” he wonders.
While he’s a huge fan, Sheffield doesn’t scrimp on the occasional criticism, but in dismissing The Beatles’ psychedelic movie, “Magical Mystery Tour,” he fails to comprehend its significance and why it was such an epic event when it was released 50 years ago to British TV.
He writes: “Like most Americans who had seen it I ponied up for a bootleg video after hearing my whole life how bad it was, which turned out to be true.”
Born in 1966, Sheffield was too young to understand the cultural context of a film that captured the experimental spirit of the times and divided a nation between those in the know and those scratching their heads.
Living in London at the time, I had heard that the post-“Sgt. Pepper” Beatles were ready to blow our minds one more time with a TV special completely different from early films like “Help!” and “A Hard Day’s Night.”
Back in 1967, Britain only had three TV channels, two public and one commercial, and the Christmas period was the ultimate, peak time for programming. BBC1 had bought the rights to screen “Magical Mystery Tour,” and programmed it for the day after Christmas, a major holiday in the United Kingdom.
Unfortunately very few people owned color TVs, so this psychedelic marvel was screened to most in boring black and white.
With around 20 million viewers gathered around their tellys, it became the most-watched program ever during the Christmas period — and the most divisive.
We loved it. Unlike anything previously screened on Christmas, or any other time for that matter, it was zany, avant-garde, imaginative, trippy, groovy, satirical, radical and quite surreal, as though the Beatles were channeling Salvador Dali.
Director Martin Scorsese later cited it as an influence. “The freedom of the picture was very important,” he reported in a 2012 documentary on the film. “It’s influenced a lot of the work I’ve done.” And the future Monty Python crew obviously took copious notes.
It became a generational dividing line — us and them — those who had ingested certain substances and those who hadn’t.
Many were indignant with basically the entire British press savaging it. “There was precious little magic and the only mystery was how the BBC came to buy it,” moaned The Evening News. “Blatant rubbish,” fumed the Daily Express. “People protested that the BBC1 program was incomprehensible,” complained The Sun.
The howls of protest were so intense even the Beatles felt they had lost the plot.
“We don’t say it was a good film,” Paul announced a couple of days later. “If we goofed, then we goofed.”
“Being British, we thought we’d give it to the BBC, which in those days was the biggest channel, who showed it in black and white,” Ringo later reported. “We were stupid and they were stupid. It was hated. They all had their chance to say, ‘They’ve gone too far. Who do they think they are? What does it mean?’ “
John Lennon would sum it up as, “the most expensive home movie ever filmed.”
As the first long-form music video with sketches tying the songs together, it drew from classic English music-hall humor and took a poke at the establishment, which probably added to American viewers’ confusion.
Plus American audiences were likely mystified by the film’s narrative of the Liverpool lads careening around the countryside in a packed bus of day trippers. Back then it was common for people to take bus trips to holiday destinations. The Beatles were just riffing on something they had grown up with.
Observing how the Beatles’ popularity has never dimmed, Sheffield quotes the liner notes from “Beatles For Sale” in 1964, by their publicist, Derek Taylor.
“The kids of AD 2000 will draw from the music much the same sense of well-being and warmth as we do today,” he prophetically wrote. “For the magic of the Beatles is, I suspect, timeless and ageless.”
Released in 2000, the Beatles “1” collection sold more than any other album that year. Surpassing all critical and commercial expectations, it reached No. 1 in more than 35 countries and became the best-selling album of the decade.
“Their music continues to delight, define and provide a sound- track for fans all over the globe,” writes Sheffield. “It seems that with each passing decade this band has become more popular, more influential, more ubiquitous, more beloved.”
In new Beatle news, Ringo has just released the album, “Give More Love,” which features Paul on two songs, fresh versions of two tracks co-composed with George, and a new rocker written with Richard Marx, who just played on Maui.
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St. John’s Kula Festival in Keokea will feature live entertainment between 9 a.m. and 4 p.m. Saturday. Performers include 2017 Na Hokuhanohano winners Kanekoa, the halau of kumu Maka’ala Palmore, steel guitarist Joel Katz, Jamie Lawrence, Brian & Meryl, and Soul Kitchen.
Among the musicians playing at the event, Kanekoa has a cool, live version of “Norwegian Wood” on its website, and Katz has recorded Beatles’ songs on his albums including “Because,” “In My Life,” and a charming “The Fool on the Hill,” from “Magical Mystery Tour.”
Admission is $1, with children under 10 years of age admitted free.
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Aloha in Action will present an ‘Aha Aloha “Ocean of Love” III celebration at 5 p.m. Sunday at the Makawao Union Church. The event features Lei’ohu Ryder and Maydeen ‘Iao with special guests kumu Puna Kalama Dawson and Jazmyne Geis.
Advance tickets are $25 cash only and are available at Maui Kombucha & Raw Vegan Fusion Cafe in Haiku, at MacNet in Kahului and online at www.aloha inaction.com. Tickets at the door on the day of event are $35 for adults and $15 for children ages 12 and under cash only.
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Hoping to record a new album, Randall Rospond of The Haiku Hillbillys is seeking public support.
“I am beginning a new recording project,” he says. “Many have requested a CD featuring my live solo looped-guitar performances. I’ve decided to record ‘live’ in my home studio, but also retain a clean sound free of clanking bottles and audience chatter.”
For $30 you get a CD with a handmade art book and shipping to your address. For $100 you receive four CDs, an art book and shipping. Rospond can be reached at PO Box 790875, Paia, HI 96779.
Rospond performs from 5 to 8 p.m. Tuesdays at Beach Bums BBQ & Grill in Maalaea, from 4 to 6 p.m. Fridays at the South Shore Tiki Lounge in Kihei, and from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. every other Wednesday at Charley’s Restaurant & Saloon in Paia.
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Also seeking public funding is Molokai musician/activist Guy Hanohano Naehu, known as the Paniolo Prince. He has a Kickstarter campaign to record Molokai’s first hip-hop album.
“Aloha aina can be the swing in momentum that the planet needs right now,” he says. “It’s time to shift our consciousness and this damn paradigm. My album will provide insight on what it takes and how it feels to remove the chains from our brains.”
With many people donating so far, his goal of $15,000 needs to be raised by Sunday. Check out his Kickstarter page. For $25 you get a signed CD.