I’m So Tired: so say we all, John…

“I think it’s 100 per cent John. Being tired was one of his themes; he wrote ‘I’m Only Sleeping.’ I think we were all pretty tired but he chose to write about it.” – Paul McCartney

John Lennon, White Album period (image courtesy Best Classic Bands)

Being a Beatle was, to be sure, exhausting. John Lennon in particular found the constant stream of attention to his every waking moment (and sometimes to his sleeping moments) tortuous. From “There’s a Place” to “Help” to “I’m Only Sleeping” to “Strawberry Fields Forever,” Lennon consistently looked for escapes from the pressures of being a Beatle, of being John Lennon. One might note that Lennon sought solace from having failed to beware of the old adage “Be careful what you wish for.” Being at “the toppermost of the poppermost” was, he found, a mixed blessing.

The song itself is one of that large number of tunes that he, Paul, and George composed during their retreat in Rishikesh, India, studying transcendental meditation with the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. While some of the songs such as “Dear Prudence” and “Julia” were playful or serious expressions of Lennon’s kindness and love,  “I’m So Tired” and “Yer Blues” were examples of Lennon crying in the wilderness – literally.

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Random thoughts about the record album – part 6: one last hurrah…and into the mystic

“There hasn’t been anything real since grunge. That was the last movement led by music or an art form.” – Daphne Guinness

(Read part 1, part, 2, part 3, part 4, part 5)

Grunge rock’s great, tragic star, Kurt Cobain (image courtesy Twitter)

The last great movement in rock music – and the last great flowering of the album, an art form inextricably tied to rock music’s rise – was Grunge. Its rise in late ’80s Seattle and its explosion into a national and international phenomenon in the early ’90s produced a wave of albums that most Xers and early Millennials know as well as their Boomer predecessors know Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, Let It Bleed, or Tommy.

Pearl Jam’s Ten, Alice in Chains’ Dirt, Soundgarden’s Superunknown, and Stone Temple Pilots’ Core are all albums that both epitomize the Grunge sound and convey Grunge’s vision: powerful music played loudly with lyrics filled with tales of misery and dark thoughts. In some ways this is brilliant music, capturing as it does both the misery of Xers who felt keenly traumas such as their desertion by parents (through divorce and the perceived economic necessity of two income households that created “latchkey” childhoods) and anticipating as it does (which perhaps explains its powerful appeal to older Millennials) a world dominated by technopolistic forces.

No force from the Grunge movement captured the angst of Grunge more acutely than Nirvana’s album Nevermind and its chief architect, Grunge’s icon, Kurt Cobain. Continue reading

The blood-red Shimbashi dress: a photopoem

In Tokyo, the mama-san is smarter than you…

Part of my S&R Tokyo Series

I am the gorgeous dress

of your beauty,

and I have loved you for a very long time.

You are nothing to me

if not

the reflection in which I see myself

and the glitter of my age

that has sparkled in

all the ice cubes

in all the drinks I ever poured in Tokyo’s slush-fund winters.

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Dear Prudence: John’s beautiful dreamer…

The song represents an aspect of Beatle songwriting that emerged on the White Album: the album is filled with songs that offer carefully observed portraits of characters real and imagined along with relevant social commentary…

“Dear Prudence is me. Written in India. A song about Mia Farrow’s sister, who seemed to go slightly barmy, meditating too long, and couldn’t come out of the little hut that we were livin’ in….  That was the competition in Maharishi’s camp: who was going to get cosmic first. What I didn’t know was I was already cosmic.” – John Lennon

Prudence Farrow (far left, dark hair) with the Beatles and Maharishi in India (image courtesy Rolling Stone)

The Beatles famously went to India in February of 1968 to study transcendental meditation. While they didn’t necessarily reach nirvanic enlightenment (hence John’s bit of waggery in the above comment), they wrote many of the songs that appeared in November 1968 on the epic double album The Beatles known as “the White Album”). Among these is “Dear Prudence,” John’s tune about his, George’s, and Paul’s attempts to coax Prudence Farrow, Mia’s sister, from her hut where she had become “addicted to meditation.”

The song is notable for a couple of reasons. One is that John learned a finger picking style from Donovan who was also on the retreat and “Dear Prudence” is the first song where one hears John’s newly developed skill. The second reason is that the song represents an aspect of Beatle songwriting that emerged on the White Album: the album is filled with songs that offer carefully observed portraits of characters real and imagined along with relevant social commentary such as “Back in the USSR,” “Bungalow Bill,” “Martha, My Dear,” “Julia,” Piggies,” “Sexy Sadie,” “Honey Pie,” and “Cry, Baby, Cry,”

“Dear Prudence” is perhaps the loveliest and kindest of these portraits. Continue reading

Random thoughts about the record album – part 5: they want their MTV

Video killed more than just the radio star.

“It made the record industry a one-trick pony. It became only about a three-minute single and a visual image, and if you didn’t have the three minutes you were over. The corner was turned at that point, I think, away from believing in the power of the music, and [to] believing in the power of the market. Once that corner was turned, we started on the path that has led us to this moment here, where kids are treating music as disposable.” – Michael Guido, entertainment lawyer“I think that there’s always been two different kinds – at least two different kinds of music fans. There are people that just are into songs, and there are people that are into artists.” – Danny Goldberg, record executive

The Buggles:

The Buggles: “Video Killed the Radio Star,” the first video aired on MTV

(Read part 1, part, 2, part 3, part 4)

During the era of the record album’s dominance, from 1967-1981, audiences listened to music. For young listeners it was more often a solitary rather than social experience, often taking place in a teenager’s room, sometimes made even more solitary by the use of headphones. It was easy to lose oneself in the experience of interrelated songs telling a story, as the concept album sought to present, or share in the intimate experience of the singer/songwriter’s soul baring compositions. If a fan went to college, the experience might become more social, though still in a fairly intimate way, sharing favorite albums with a roommate or a couple of suite mates, sometimes the experience enhanced by a few beers or a joint. And such listening became part of the mating rituals of countless romantic relationships formed during one’s college years.

If a music fan watched television during this period at all, it was perhaps a concert show like ABC’s excellent, short-lived In Concert or NBC’s long-lived, less excellent faux concert show Midnight Special. One listened to music; one watched TV.

That changed August 1, 1981. Continue reading

The Beatles’ “I’ll Be Back”: mood is everything

Sometimes a song simply resonates with some inner mood that is part of our existential selves. “I’ll Be Back” is that kind of song for me.

“A nice tune, though the middle is a bit tatty.” John Lennon

John Lennon (image courtesy Beatles Bible)

“I’ll Be Back” would be right at home on Rubber Soul. This early masterpiece of moody vulnerability is one of my top three favorite Beatle songs, and I doubt that John would be as dismissive of the song if he had the gift of retrospect.

The unusual structure of the song (no chorus but two bridges) is part of its fascination. Its intro also shifts from major to minor chords, a striking chord shift that at least one later rock icon noticed (that same chord shift is a feature in more than one Kurt Cobain song).

Like other songs Lennon wrote during what he called his “Dylan period” (the spring/summer of 1964 through Rubber Soul in late 1965 – other examples are “I’m a Loser” and “You’ve Got to Hide Your Love Away”), “I’ll Be Back” is introspective bordering on confessional. Unlike those other songs I mentioned, however, “I’ll Be Back” is less critical, more wistful and wishful than pained. Continue reading