“You can’t be the best, you can just be a good ‘un.”
In one of Seattle’s remaining print newspapers, and possibly the one that will win the game at the rate the others are falling, The Stranger, they have a personal ad section where they cut to the meat of love and love has a lot to answer for. There’s all sorts of terrible ways to meet your life partner. If you don’t believe me simply turn to the person to your right, or left, and ask them how they met their love. Even if that person is yours truly, maybe especially so, you’ll soon be listening to a tale of woe equal parts ghastly and boring. Ponder that before you scoff at the Stranger’s harmonic way of helping the lonelyhearts meet. Here’s how it works. You read two opposite things, pick one and hope that distills enough truth about you to make a match. For example: Early Bird or Night Owl. Mundane, I know, but any night owl out there knows the condescending look the early bird gives to the seemingly lazy and further knows how sad any argument made about how productive the night time is sounds at 1:30pm when still in bed. Night Owl, know thyself. Early Bird, the night time can be really, really productive. For example: Library Card or Amazon. Library Card right? Bullllshit. Don’t call me. For example: Princess Leia or Princess Amidala. Why do we encourage this? Don’t answer this one. For example: I-5 or Aurora. For those of you not familiar with these great American highways lemme tell you, they’re both parking lots and could bring out the worst in a puppy. Then the questionnaire gets real. Stones or Beatles. If you had to know just one thing, a desert island question if you will, this is the big one.
But first, lets digress. Elsewhere in this blog, I wrote about Leo Fender and his wonderful shit-can guitars. To my ears they’re just about the best thing going. But, the sound is more than junked pick-ups and tube amps, it’s about making something out of necessity and out of a feeling. The sounds Chess and Sun records had have never been duplicated because they weren’t created in the first place. Not out of any acoustic engineering sense. It was always as much about limitation as it was about talent. It was a plugged-in electrified folk movement of poor blacks and whites and immigrants trying to makes some bucks. Leonard and Phil Chess might not have known much about the glory of shit-can guitars, but they at least didn’t care enough to buy something better for their artists and when someone like Bo Diddley walked in with a homemade box with strings that would as likely cause a fire as change all of rock-n-roll it’s a wonder and a blessing they didn’t.
Now obviously, all of our music is interconnected. Some just have deeper ties to each other. The Blues and Rock-n-Roll are tight. They are both dominated by men and all about sex. Jazz used to be about sex, but started to think of itself as an artform and there’s nothing overtly sexy about art that hasn’t become porn, which by the time it’s become that has stopped even being interesting let alone erotic. Country is too concerned about getting caught to have fun or enough reckless abandoned to be considered hedonistic. It’s just sneakin’ around or even worse – love. R&B has kept the torch burning I suppose, longer than most, but even that has become a little too Barry White and too little James Brown. So, here we are in the 21st century and without much urging from our puritanical roots we’ve lost all that’s lusty and fun about music. How did this happen?
I realize that’s not entirely fair. We could lay the blame at so many American feet. But, the rub is no one quite changed music the way the Beatles changed music. Maybe Dylan. That’ll come and he’s made ammends of some sort for what he’s done. It’s the art that bothers me I guess. The prog in the rock. The sergent in the pepper.
I would guess the Brits didn’t intend to kill it and as I said, we would have killed it all in short order ourselves if they hadn’t been faster on the drop. In the beginning their boys just wanted what our boys wanted. Listen to those early German and London sessions, they’re raw and hellbent. There was grease in their hair and dirt under their nails. But under the collars, no matter how shabby they were was prep schools. It was in their nature to turn what they touched into art. The moments of non artistic expression are brief for the Beatles. Primarily the early pre-invasion years when they were still boys from Liverpool tearing it up through Germany’s red light districts and not yet the mods from Hamburg. Soon enough though the grease was washed out and the bangs were cut and Love Me Do was about to hit big.
Rock critic Richie Unterberger writes “they (the Beatles) synthesized all that was good about early rock & roll, and changed it into something original and even more exciting.” In an unrelated matter this might be an opportune moment to mention something about Nick Tosches’ “Unsung Heroes of Rock ‘n’ Roll”, but we’ll do our past to keep on track for the moment and say instead that the above quote is perhaps the worst sentence ever written about music. Ever. Now, Richie knows his Beatles. That fact can’t be doubted. I on the other hand can’t remember how many of them there were and what that one singer’s name was who played his bass upside down, but no matter, for whatever their glories making music more exciting than Muddy Waters, Chuck Berry, Carl Perkins, Charlie Feathers, Wanda Jackson, Elvis Presley, Bo Diddley, Howlin’ Wolf and Rosetta Tharpe was not one of them. What they did do, was make the whole thing respectable in an uptown stiff suit sort of way. An alternate history of all the wonderful trashy music made vs. the art rock could be drawn up in the types of drugs the various camps favored. Booze and pills vs. pot and heroine. Sure you can’t ride the snake on all that Jack and reds, but it would probably just make you sick anyhow and nothing ever good comes from seeing the face of God.
So, in the coming weeks with the release of all the Beatles records that have already been released you may be pondering whether or not you should purchase them all over again (readers note: if you bought the Neil Young archive set, no need to continue reading here buddy, you know you’re gonna buy both these sets too). Ask yourself what it is that you want. A good time? Or some sort of enriching experience? The Real Mr. Heartache is always looking for a good time and that’s why I’m gonna check the Stones on my personal ad (with a mild protest for there not being a Muddy Waters box) and if you’re looking for love, I may be the wrong place, but it’ll be a long and winding road.
Author’s Note ~ The Beatles, for all their sins, are what they are and I fully acknowledge my own personal debt for Yea, it is a heavy chain, indeed. I don’t condone violence, very much, however you should slap yourself right in the face for not liking them for something. For God’s sake it’s not like they’re the Eagles.