Put your life in the hands of this rock ‘n’ roll band…

Oasis: Supersonic has it all: writing a certain song in the amount of time it takes six men to eat Chinese take-out, a speechless Liam Gallagher, ambushing a certain member of the band with a fire extinguisher because of his football preferences,a kiss for the camera, smashing a certain individual in the head with a cricket bat, the story of Abel and Cable, whispers of sausages, and much, much more. But how much do you want it?

The documentary, which played in US theaters for one night only (and that night was this past Wednesday, so sorry if you missed it, but no fear–it’s On Demand and iTunes and My Christmas List), focuses on the rise and early, insane success (covering, roughly, 1991-1996) of rock ‘n’ roll band (remember those?) Oasis, culminating in their historic performances at Knebworth Park. Combining audio interviews (no talking heads here) with Noel and Liam Gallagher as well as other band members, friends, family, and crew with live footage, never-before-been-seen-by-fans’-eyes home footage, and delightful animations, the story of this rock ‘n’ roll band and its two battling brothers is endlessly entertaining,  insightful, and surprisingly moving–just as advertised.

At the heart of Oasis, of course, has always been the combative, true love-hate relationship between Noel and Liam Gallagher. Their tension and explosive dynamic drove the band, while also ultimately killing it. In the film, the brothers offer differing explanations for their difficult relationship. According to Liam, Noel still holds a grudge against Liam for drunkenly urinating all over his new stereo; Noel rebuts that Liam has always resented Noel for his songwriting talent and being naturally assumed as the leader and decision-maker of the band. Noel offers perhaps the best explanation about the differences in their personalities: Noel is a cat, moody and valuing independence, while Liam is a dog, attention-driven and requiring constant attention (“play with me, play with me, play with me, throw this ball for me”).

Home video confirms this: in one of my favorite moments, Noel is intently focused at the mixing board in the studio during the recording of (What’s the Story) Morning Glory, and Liam pokes his head through the door, eventually dancing his way through the room, attracting all the attention. Yet, despite all their differences and jealousy, they each acknowledge the other’s strengths (often telepathically, according to Liam)–Liam praising Noel’s talent as a songwriter, Noel declaring Liam “cooler than me” (“There’s not a day go by that I don’t wish I could rock a parka like that man,” he states) and the greatest singer and frontman of his time. And even amidst all the tension and arguments, you can still see the inexplicable love and affection the two have for one another.

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“If this ever goes on video, I would apologize, but I’m not gonna ’cause he’s a PRICK!” Noel Gallagher

Aside from the basic differences in their personalities, however, the film highlights another dissimilarity between the Gallagher brothers: what exactly constitutes a great rock ‘n’ roll band. Noel believes in the power of the music and its fans, while Liam firmly believes that no rock ‘n’ roll band is truly great without the antics–being arrested (or, even better, deported–while en route via a ferry, no less), tearing up hotel rooms (“that’s a lot of work,” notes Noel), taking loads of drugs, and, of course, sex. (Never mind that The Beatles did just fine without this kind of lewd behavior–at least in excess or in public.)

During the group’s first visit to the United States, they appeared at the famous Whiskey A Go Go. Reeling from the effects of crystal meth (also known as ninja speed in some circles), the performance was a shambles: the group members weren’t always playing the same song (Noel apparently had a different set list from everyone else), and Liam may or may not have thrown a tambourine at his older brother. Disgusted by the band’s performance and behavior, Noel briefly left the band, retreating to San Francisco to meet up with a girl he’d met at an Oasis gig. When Noel told her he was leaving the band, she responded, “Well, what else are you going to do?” Lacking an answer, Noel wrote “Talk Tonight” and returned to the group. The dynamic between Noel and the rest of the band, however, had irrevocably changed: it was no longer a sense of “us,” it was now a sense of “me [Noel] and them.”

This revelation is one of the most moving and honest in the film. The Gallagher brothers have always been unabashedly honest, but their honesty throughout Supersonic is often startling. For example, the band’s first drummer, Tony McCarroll, has repeatedly been portrayed as incompetent and dim-witted in the band’s history. The Gallaghers (and others as well) concede their cruel treatment of McCarroll in Supersonic. “Whatever he [McCaroll] says is probably true,” Noel admits.

Noel similarly crushes the myth that the band suddenly became cohesive, successful, and talented once he became part of the picture. The band struggled to be noticed–until fate stepped in and the band tagged along to play at a gig in Glasglow with the band of Alan McGee’s ex-girlfriend. “There were seven people in the room, and he was two of them,” Noel later explained. McGee fell in love with the group on the spot and asked if they wanted a record deal. Wa-hey!  

Except there was no celebratory mood of “we’ve made it!” on the ride back home that evening, and the band struggled to record their first album (recorded on two separate occasions and finally successfully mixed by Owen Morris as a seemingly last-ditch effort–“Do whatever you want [with the tapes],” Mark Coyle instructed him). Yet, when fans sang along to the nonsensical lyrics of “Supersonic” on the day of its release at a gig, Noel began to realize the power of the band and its fans.

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Witnessing Noel’s haircut during his days as an Inspiral Carpets roadie on the big screen alone was worth the price of admission. More of this, please.

Despite the band’s arrogance, Noel, in one of the film’s most touching moments, attributes the dominance of Oasis to the group’s fans. Just as he did not realize he wanted to be in a band until he heard his songs being played back to him by his bandmates (his aspiration, up until that point, had been to simply keep his job as a roadie for the Inspiral Carpets–and, hopefully, get a new haircut), he similarly did not realize the power of his songwriting until hearing countless fans singing “I know a girl called Elsa/She’s into Alka-Seltzer/She sniffs it through a cane on a supersonic train” (…seriously, what?) along with his cocky younger brother. Oasis played to a record-breaking crowd of 250,000 during their two-night performance at Knebworth Park; however, Noel declares, that was not because of anything the band had ever done. It was because of the 2.6 million people who applied for tickets; it was the fans.

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Oasis, 1994: Tony McCarroll, Bonehead, Noel, Liam, and Guigsy (who is stoned through 98% of the film, suffering from nervous exhaustion the other 2%).

Yet Oasis is a truly unique phenomenon that will likely never be repeated. Cocksure and controversial, the Gallagher brothers were the most forceful rock ‘n’ roll stars the music world had seen for quite some time (maybe ever)–and hasn’t seen since. They were a group of homely (except for Noel and Liam, who was truly beautiful–and knew it), average musicians (no virtuosos ’round here) from a council estate who gained a record deal by fate, destiny, foreordination, whatever you want to call it. They produced the fastest-selling debut album (up to that point) and the second-fastest-selling album in U.K. history back-to-back, and their incredible songs, as Noel predicted, have (thusfar) lived forever.

Yet, the scale of their success is somewhat lost to our culture, partly because we have nothing to compare it to. When is the last time an individual (never mind, two of them) said exactly what s/he thought (even if it was as unfortunate as “Taking drugs is like getting up and having a cup of tea in the morning”)? When is the last time hundreds of thousands of people gathered to hear a single group perform–and they were actually focused on being a part of the experience instead of being apart from the experience by seeing it through their cell phone camera? No, as Noel states in the film, we live in a celebrity-driven, social media-crazed, self-absorbed culture. The internet is our global village, not the park of an English village with a population not even totaling 5,000. We take images of ourselves, not the world around us. And, Noel ponders in the documentary’s final moments,what does that mean for our history?

Supersonic reminds us of how much Oasis meant (and means) to so many people and what a cultural loss we are currently suffering through. Its only downfall is that it concludes with the historic concerts at Knebworth. Oasis should have disappeared into a puff of smoke at that point, Noel affirms, and Bonehead agrees. (The band instead continued, with various lineups, for 13 more years.) Liam disagrees, arguing that just because you’ve reached a peak and are likely to not go any higher doesn’t mean you just stop and give up. I’m not sure who has the stronger argument, but I do know I still miss this group of arrogant, disruptive, not-the-best-looking group where the whole was greater than the sum of its parts, exemplified by thousands of fans, not the lead singer, singing the chorus of one of their best-loved songs. So maybe Liam was right–you shouldn’t just stop and give up. At least not today.

Without Precedent

I often wonder about my love for The Beatles–why it is so inexplicable and embedded in my DNA and how millions of people, different from me in innumerable ways, feel precisely the same. Maybe this ingrained, intense feeling is why fans are so incredibly protective of the band’s legacy and equally critical of anything pertaining to The Fab Four, even if it is a feature-length documentary directed by an Academy Award winner named Ron Howard.

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John Lennon, with son Julian, visits Ron Howard and company on the set of Happy Days in 1974.

The producer of the film, Nigel Sinclair, who also produced Martin Scorsese’s documentary about George Harrison Living in the Material World, explained fans’ dual reaction to the announcement of the film: “Ron had people come up to him in the street and [they would] say ‘Mr. Howard, I’m so glad you’re doing the Beatles film.’ Ron said, ‘Of course the subtext is “And don’t screw it up.”’

From me to you (hey, I’m trying my zest here), he does not mess it up.

(My criticisms are few and minute, so let’s get them out of the way. I find the commentary from individuals not part of the Beatles’ circle superfluous, unnecessary, and rarely insightful. Do I care what Sigourney Weaver wore to see The Beatles at Shea Stadium? Not really. Do I care that Jon Savage’s parents wouldn’t let him go to a Beatles concert? Not really. What makes them different from the thousands of other ordinary people who loved The Beatles just as fervently? Oh, right, they are of some renown. Whatever. Get out. Secondly, the film’s tagline boasts that this film is about the band you know but the story you don’t…well, not really. I didn’t really learn anything new, but I did see lots of new photos and footage, and I got to see The Beatles on the big screen, replete with the entire Shea Stadium concert. Horrid snobby portion of this post over.)

Eight Days A Week: The Touring Years tells the story of The Beatles, using their live performances as its focus, which, on the surface, may seem odd, since The Beatles were never exactly synonymous with extraordinary live performances. They didn’t have pigs or light their instruments on fire or create auto-destructive art. Their audiences were not rapt in hearing the words of a lyrical poet, as Dylan’s fans were (a fact he was proud of in his early career, especially when The Beatles’ phenomenon surfaced). For much of their performing career, the music was secondary to the spectacle of seeing The Beatles. By choosing this least-regarded facet of the band, however, Howard is able to more fully reveal how the Beatles progressed and evolved by contrasting it with the circus-like atmosphere of their increasingly stagnant live performances.

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Foreshadowing in Hamburg, 1960: “Their name liveth for evermore.”

The Beatles’ stage performances weren’t always so stagnant, though, and their success was not an accident that happened overnight. Ringo states in the film that playing was the most important thing for the band, and their stints in Hamburg, Germany, allowed them the opportunity to perfect their craft while playing for eight or more hours every night—to unruly, difficult-to-please crowds or to an empty club (empty except for a bearded drummer from another Liverpool group, Ringo Starr). This was their apprenticeship, this is where they learned how to play in front of people–how to mach schau, and when they returned to England, they broke the jazz-only rule at Liverpool’s The Cavern Club, performing a total of nearly 300 times. Having dominated The Cavern Club and garnered a local following, the group was still looking to improve and to move the next step up the ladder.

That next step up the ladder was not what any of The Beatles expected: Beatlemania. Opening with color footage of the band playing in Manchester in November 1963, the film shows the excitement and the burgeoning mania: girls screaming, fainting, and the sheer joy John, Paul, George, and Ringo exude. The film illustrates this joy and excitement perfectly with its abundance of unseen (or, at least, under-seen) concert and interview footage. Fans debate the sexiness of the members (“Ringo’s got a sexy nose.” “George’s eyelashes are sexy.”) and declare their undying love for them: “Paul McCartney, if you’re out there listening, Adrian from Brooklyn loves you.” Fans’ adoration for the Beatles ignites laughter but is genuine—and contagious. Just as contagious and laughter-inducing is The Beatles’ humor—then and now. Just a few favorites: John introduces himself to a reporter as Eric, George uses John’s mop top as an ashtray, George thanks Ringo for his contribution to a fan club record and remarks “We’ll phone you,” and Ringo recalls his inability to hear the band’s music at their concerts, “I couldn’t hear anything. All I could see was Paul’s arse, John’s arse…” Ringo had the best seat, am I right?     

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After conquering Europe, the Beatles arrived in the United States, where the madness escalated to a whole new level. While the Beatles complied with the larger venues (and greater profits) and increasingly manic American crowds, they refused to accommodate the demands of segregated venues. In this regard, they were pioneers, standing for what they believed to be right. As journalist Larry Kane, who accompanied The Beatles on their 1964 North American tour, remarked, he was touched by The Beatles’ kindness, their genuineness, and their intelligence.

After 1964, though, The Beatles’ pioneering in the live arena stalled, except by breaking attendance records by playing in larger venues. The opposite was true of their recording career, where they continued to flourish. With each record, they progressed, wrote better songs, and experimented with new sounds and ideas, culminating with the release of Revolver in May 1966. Tellingly, the Beatles never performed any songs from Revolver live, demonstrating how the sophistication of their recording career had overtaken the circus that was their live show.

By 1966, the group’s rosy relationship with the public was fraying. Not only were their performances inaudible but touring had become a life-threatening situation, which escalated with John Lennon’s remark that The Beatles were, in fact, more popular than Jesus Christ. (Real talk hurts.) Even their relationship with the press, who had adored their wit and cheekiness, was verging on hostile. In a clip, one journalists asks The Beatles why they are so “horrid snobby.” Paul, irrefutably the most diplomatic Beatle, answers that they are not snobby but the journalists and their questions are not particularly nice and get what they deserve. (Again, real talk hurts.) Death threats, Beatle burnings, and exploding firecrackers at concerts became the new norm for The Fab Four. They arrived to their final concert, at San Francisco’s Candlestick Park on August 29, 1966, in an armored truck. They decided they’d had enough–of touring, at least. Still, in these tense moments, you can still see their camaraderie and the joy their music brings.

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Paul McCartney and George Harrison at The Beatles’ final concert in 1966.

Despite all the obstacles this band faced — touring was a money-making venture not an artistic one, their concerts lasted no more than thirty minutes and offered little variation in terms of set lists, and oh yeah, the screaming which made it impossible for them to hear one another — the film shows what a good live band The Beatles were. They could have easily not put any effort into their live shows at all, but they were often in tune and played as a cohesive unit. That unity is a testament to their closeness as individuals and their faith in one another, my favorite aspect of the film.

“I was an only child, and I suddenly felt as if I had three brothers,” Ringo states in the film. Paul gets emotional recalling the first moment Ringo played with the group, and George expresses how he was always glad that they had one another to lean on and share the experience, unlike an isolated Elvis or Sinatra, declaring, “We were very, very close to one another.” This is the band that went from staying in a single cramped room in the back of a theater in Hamburg to occupying the entire floor of the New York Plaza Hotel, where they found themselves gathering together in one room to get away from the pressure of being Beatles and just be with each other.

They loved one another and had faith in each other, just as many individuals around them had faith in them — notably George Martin having faith in their artistic vision to not touch the unorthodox structure and sound of “Tomorrow Never Knows” and Brian Epstein sacrificing so much for them and maintaining his faith in them despite no measurable success for so long (John Lennon once said there was a period where the only people who had faith in the band were Brian Epstein and George Harrison). And by having faith in each other, they inspired others to have faith in one another — so that it didn’t matter if you were black or white, weird or popular, young or old; The Beatles were a uniting force, beautifully encapsulated by the chorus of grown men singing “She Loves You” to celebrate their football club’s victory season. And there it is — that inexplicable feeling of love swelling inside me. I love The Beatles like no other. They are, quite simply, without precedent.

P.S., Happy Belated Birthday

No, dear faithful followers of The Hand of Count Petofi, The Count did not desert you, although The Count probably has had more desserts than necessary these past few months. And where have those past few (well…maybe more than few) months gone?  I’ve mourned the loss of Bowie and George Martin and Paul Dano’s first Oscar nomination and win (in a word: un·be·liev·a·ble) and fought to keep my head above water. There were so many times when I felt like I was drowning, but here I am — gasping — dying — but somehow still alive…

On Monday, Pet Sounds (aka the greatest rock album ever made, Mar!) turned 50. Instead of posting about it yesterday when the internet was inundated with (justifiably) laudatory and celebratory articles, I’m posting today because I believe it’s an album that should be celebrated (and by celebrated, I mean LISTENED TO) every single day, I’m still kind of drowning and trying to get my life together, and when have I ever been a timely person? I mean, one of my favorite actors has been dead for fifty–fifty–years this July. I’m not exactly hip or now, you know.

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Maybe the album’s only imperfection: its bizarre-o album cover. Thanks, The Suits at Capital. Branding! (Not to be confused with Brand-o.)

Pet Sounds is perhaps the only true perfect album. From boo buh bom pa to do da do do da do do da BOOM (2,3,4) buh DOOM to the howls of Banana and Louie, there is not a false note. Every song is beautiful, purposeful, and connected. There are no fillers. There are no clunkers. There is no “What Goes On” (the song that ruins Rubber Soul–an album I love dearly, dearly, dearly–for me every time). (Speaking of Rubber Soul, it’s interesting to think that the album that so inspired Brian Wilson to create Pet Sounds wasn’t really Rubber Soul but instead Capital’s amalgamation of Rubber Soul and Help!, omitting the horrendous “What Goes On”, creating a distinctively folk feel. So maybe those Beatles weren’t so special after all. Yeah…maybe.) And every song is universal.

Pet Sounds is Brian Wilson’s creation, no doubt about it. He just had some other stuff inside of him besides surf and sun and surf and cars and surf and girls and surf that he just had to get out. The songs found on Pet Sounds are delicately beautiful and vulnerable, expressing the need for love and acceptance. Even the instrumental “Let’s Go Away for Awhile” evokes a wistfulness for escape into a haven of love and comfort–and not just because of the title but because of the meticulous arrangement of the instruments and their dynamics and interaction with each other. The group’s innovative cover of the folk song “Sloop John B” also recalls a similar desire with its plaintive refrain: “I feel so broke up, I wanna go home.” (And, perhaps, it nods to the counterculture: “This is the worst trip I’ve ever been on.” Talk about destroying your brain.)

It’s hard for me to separate Pet Sounds from the scenes focusing on its creation in Love and Mercy. It’s not that Paul Dano is so-gosh-darn-cute (which he is), it’s just that the movie did such an extraordinary job of re-creating Brian Wilson’s meticulous, relentless work ethic and the joy he felt being in the studio recording this album. It makes me a little teary-eyed every time I watch the scene as Brian Wilson (played to perfection by Paul Dano) listens to the musicians play “Wouldn’t It Be Nice”–with two bass players playing in two different keys–and it sounds just like it does in his head! He is so incandescently happy because he is at home in the recording studio, producing these introspective, sophisticated, and loving songs. I don’t think Brian Wilson worked harder or was ever happier than he was when working on Pet Sounds. He put his heart and soul into the album–and so is it any wonder that he was crushed when the world at large (and maybe a band member or two…okay, maybe just one) reacted lukewarmly to his magnum opus (not that he would ever call it a magnum opus or a masterpiece or anything like that because he is actually the most humble man in the world)?

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This is what The Beach Boys actually look like in my head. Love-less, peaceful, and in complete, perfect harmony. Who needs a little place like Kokomo? Not I, said the Count…

Brian Wilson said that with Pet Sounds, the group was trying to “bring love to the world through our harmonies.” There is so much love in this album. The world needs Pet Sounds now more than ever — if only people would listen, listen…

Which is exactly what you have to do with Pet Sounds. I’ve listened to this album so many times, and it never gets old. I never want to skip a track. I never want to turn it off after listening to “just the hits.” I love every song; I don’t know if I could pick a favorite. (Although Paul McCartney can. But what can’t Paul McCartney do?) They’re all just so gosh-darn-beautiful, I wanna cry

Merry Christmas and Thank You

Where has the time gone? There’s only 16 days until Christmas, only three days until Sinatra’s 100th birthday, and yesterday marked 35 years since John Lennon was assassinated. (It’s amazing how no matter how much time passes between hearing that man sing, there is always a comfort and a chill when I hear his voice–so real and so authentic and so very missed.) Things in my life have been very strange these past few months. A few months ago, I couldn’t wait to listen to A Jolly Christmas from Frank Sinatra, so I didn’t. Oh by gosh by golly, it was time for mistletoe and holly in October. Last night, I had no desire to watch any holiday-themed films; I just wanted to watch Love and Mercy–darn that Paul Dano if he doesn’t simply radiate the spirit of Brian Wilson so darn well, especially when he’s in the studio and so incandescently happy. It warms my heart and brings a little tear to my eye. Give that man an Oscar!

It is, however, time to indulge in the Christmas spirit and begin a series of (serious) posts about some of my favorite Christmas-related things. Up first: a critical analysis of one of the best Christmas songs and videos ever, Wham!’s “Last Christmas.”

Plot synopsis: Last Christmas, George Michael gave his heart to a girl. The very next day, she gave it away to be with…the other guy from Wham!. Yeah. Totally believable.

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So we’re off to a great start when a jeep pulls up to a snowy retreat in the mountains and out jumps a waving, smiling George Michael. We meet George Michael’s former flame (the one who threw his heart away)–for the sake of simplicity, let’s refer to her from this point forward as…Sally. Friends wave each other excitedly, and George Michael strategically places his arm around his new girlfriend–with whom he has ZERO chemistry and who has ZERO personality. Just look at how dully she greets George’s friends:

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“Hi, nice to meet you. I left my personality at home. Isn’t it weird how George greets a friend with more passion than he expresses toward me throughout the entire duration of this video?” 

Once everyone is inside the cozy haven, it’s time to set the table for dinner and decorate the Christmas tree. George is on tinsel duty, which is a natural choice since every time he smiles, his Colgate-white teeth light up the room. There is some tension in the air as Sally watches George decorate the tree (more like watches George’s butt), and the tension continues to build until…GASP! George drops the tinsel and makes eye contact with Sally. Remember in Titanic when Old Rose reminisced about posing for the naked portrait for Jack? “It was the most erotic moment of my life…” Yeah.

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Since things were getting a little too heated inside, the gang moves outside to play in the snow. George Michael, though, plays it cool and aloof, melting the snow with his smoldering stare…

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He’s apparently successful because next thing we know, the gang’s back inside, enjoying Christmas dinner. George Michael sits at one end of the table, sipping a glass of wine and attempting to engage in conversation with the people around him. (Is that his new squeeze sitting there? Hard to tell because THEY DO NOT INTERACT OR HAVE ANY CHEMISTRY!!) George and Sally’s eyes meet. Oh my gosh. What is this?

“I’m melting! I’m melting!”

It’s time for a flashback. We see happier times–like Katie and Hubbell putting the books away in California. Sigh. George and Sally roll around in the snow…

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George has just told a REALLY funny joke. How could she ever give his heart away?

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We then see George, with an open shirt, give Sally THE GIFT…THE GIFT that she gives to…the other guy from Wham!? Really? Why? Are you delusional?

Cut to the gang heading up the ski lift and saying their goodbyes until they see each other again. It’s such an unhappy, unsatisfying ending. I really am struggling to grasp the fact that Sally would ditch George Michael for the other guy from Wham!–and why does George Michael have that other girl? He pays zero attention to her! It’s just like in The Way We Were. How could Hubbell leave Katie after she had the baby? She was the only one who really loved him, the only one who was going to push him to write his second novel, the only one to make him a better person, to give him a spine. George and Sally are Hubbell and Katie all over again. “Your girl is lovely, Hubbell.” Gag me! Oh, well–maybe…next year…

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Five Favorite Newly Discovered Rick Nelson Gems

After six months of listening to nothing but the Brothers Gibb, it regretfully reached a saturation point, and I forced myself to enter a new listening cycle. Chest hair, pearly white smiles, and tight white satin pants have been replaced by the laid-back, natural, gorgeous tones (and head and shoulders and knees and toes and eyes and ears and mouth and a nose – oh, a nose!) of Rick Nelson.

In case you’ve missed one of the recurring themes of this blog, I can’t just like something. I can’t just watch a movie. I can’t just read a book. I cannot — and I refuse to — just listen to a song or an album or an artist’s complete discography. I must completely immerse myself, devouring every last morsel of information and media available to me. I guess you could refer to it as an “obsession.” So right now, I’m obsessed with Rick Nelson…again. (I also tend to recycle my obsessions.) I’ve been tracking down episodes of The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet I haven’t seen (can’t wait for the ultimate box set to be released!), raiding the library of all their Rick Nelson materials (do you think they’ll notice if I don’t return them?), absent-mindedly drooling over my Rick Nelson records (I am going to have to start investing in those clear protective sleeves), and, of course, listening to all the Rick Nelson I can, all in my search for THE REAL RICK:

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(Yeah, I have totally been carrying this picture around with me and pulling it out, asking people if they know or have seen THE REAL RICK. No one’s signed me up for any medical attention…yet.)

And whatd’yaknow, the real Rick — I think — is not found in the wise cracks of an irrepressible kid or the idealistic portrayal of life found on his family’s television show (which I love dearly) or even his dreamy blue eyes and long, long, long — man, are they long! — eyelashes but in his music. And, thankfully, there is so much music. So much, in fact, that I am still wading through it, trying to find it all, digesting it and loving it.

While digging through all this music, I have enjoyed listening to old favorites and forgotten favorites, but I have most of all enjoyed discovering new songs I had never heard before — and here’s a list of a few, out of many, of my newly discovered favorites, most of which were never major hits (or minor hits or any kind of hit) and all, save one, were penned by Rick himself — yes, not only could this guy sing the phonebook, but he could write, too!

5. “Dream Lover”
Single, 1979

Rick’s cover of Bobby Darin’s 1959 hit is subtle, magical, and dreamier than the original (or any subsequent cover) ever even hinted was possible. His voice is older, maybe not quite as smooth as it once was, but still as beautiful and captivating as it ever was. I love that this song, which could have signaled yet another comeback for Rick, was released amidst the sea of Punk, New Wave, and Disco. Rick didn’t change his style to gel with current trends; he sang what he knew and loved.

4. “Gypsy Pilot”
Rudy the Fifth, 1971

As understated and gentle as “Dream Lover” is, “Gypsy Pilot” is as loud and guitar-fueled — maybe even the loudest and rockiest song of his career. The autobiographical lyrics also offer a fitting epitaph, particularly the last verse: “When they claim my body/They won’t have much to say/Except that he lived a good life/He lived every day/And I know he saw the sunshine/And I know he felt the rain/And he loved everybody/And he hopes you’ll do the same.”    

3. “Easy to Be Free”
Single, 1970

I love that in the clip posted above, Rick is peacefully standing amidst the open country. He is calm and steady and completely at ease; the music, like his surroundings in the clip, is breathtakingly beautiful and lulling, perfectly mirroring the lyrics expressing freedom and the peace it brings. The ease and naturalness with which he sings this song reflects, I think, how he lived his life and directed his career. At times in his career, the music he created didn’t necessarily follow what was popular in the charts or reflect what many people perceived his (or, rather, their) “image” to be, but he did what he loved and believed in. He was genuine and heartfelt and free. But I doubt it was truly easy — nothing really is.

2. “Are You Really Real?”
Garden Party, 1972

Oh, I love this song so much. Hidden on the Garden Party album, this has to be one of the most beautiful songs Rick ever wrote (seriously, this dude could write songs — who knew? Not enough people!) or recorded. With the yearning lyrics and his voice doubled for effect, it envelopes the listener into a kind of a trance — the kind of trance where once the song ends, you have to listen to it again. And again. And again. And again…

1. “Life”
Rudy the Fifth, 1971

The trance of listening to “Are You Really Real?” on repeat indefinitely can only be broken by listening to “Life” on repeat. Fact. This song is so simple, yet so poignant, and despite posing some of humanity’s common questions (“Tell me life, what are you here for?/Tell me life, I wanna know more/Tell me life, what are we here for?”), implying uncertainty and a desire to know more, the song exudes bliss. Still, when Rick asks, “Life, will you go on without me?”, in the song’s opening line, it’s sobering. Life has gone on without Rick, and it will go on one day without each of us. That last sentence looks so depressing in print, but I swear this song is not depressing. It’s beautiful, and I could listen to it all day. (Pssst, I already have.)

Oh, and check out this performance from 1972. I have no idea what the premise of this special (“Fol-de-Rol”, according to the description) was, but it features Rick as a kind of minstrel, replete with tights, so you know it’s totally worth your time.

Rick Nelson was a great artist, understated and under-appreciated. Miss him! Can’t wait to discover even more gems buried in his discography…

Five Favorites I Would Induct into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame

In 2006, it was announced that the Sex Pistols would be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. In response, John Lydon (aka Johnny Rotten) faxed a handwritten letter to the institution, politely declining the honor. He described the hall of fame as a “piss stain” and “urine in wine”, and he also raised some legitimate criticisms of the institution–the fact that it is a non-profit organization lacking transparency as to where exactly its funds go (you have to exit the actual museum via the gift shop, y’know), the anonymity of the nominating committee, and the vagueness of their criteria. It is a great letter, full of sneering Rotten-isms and grammatical errors, and it addresses many of the things I dislike about the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

But most of the time I don’t care about the Rock and Roll of Fame, whom it inducts and whom it snubs. Except last night the 2013 induction ceremony was on television. It was vapid and tasteless, and it reminded me of all the things I hate about the Hall of Fame–its elitism, its inconsistency, its unpredictability. Why are some genres (er, prog rock) so underrepresented? Why is a performer’s induction so dependent upon commercial success in the United States? And why oh why is Randy Newman an inductee but not the Zombies? Odessey and Oracle, hello! It’s not rocket science, people.

The value and meaning of an artist’s music isn’t found for me in recognition from a board of anonymous weenies. A band or artist is going to mean the same to me whether they’re in the Hall of Fame or not. But because I’m in a contradictory sort of mood, let’s discuss five (out of many) of my favorite artists currently eligible for induction that I think deserve a spot in the Hall of the Fame.

 5. Pulp

pulp

Eligible Since: 2008
Nominated In: Never
Essential Albums: His ‘n’ Hers (1994), Different Class (1995), This Is Hardcore (1998)

Pulp was a band that was always slightly out of step with the rest of the world. Fifteen-year-old Jarvis Cocker formed the band in 1978, they released their first record in 1983, and, after many lineup changes but with Cocker still at the forefront, they finally achieved mainstream success with 1995’s Different Class–in the UK, at least. And that, more than anything, is what is  going to bar their entrance into the Hall of Fame. Because, you see, a band has to have HUGE SUCCESS in the United States to have any credibility for the Hall of Fame. It’s ridiculous. It’s especially ridiculous in the case of Pulp because Jarvis Cocker is one of the greatest songwriters and lyricists. He writes about the mundane, the seedy, and the misfits with warmth and disgust and humor and the keenest details. There is no one in the world like him, and I was intent on marrying him all through college.

Actually, I still would.

Britpop is one of those genres and musical movements that the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame is probably going to ignore as long as possible. Which is stupid as it produced some of the best music of the 1990s.

4. The Monkees

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“I got a chandelier!”

Eligible Since: 1991
Nominated In: NEVER!!
Essential Albums: The Monkees (1966), More of the Monkees (1967), Headquarters (1967), Pisces, Aquarius, Capricorn, & Jones Ltd. (1967). Also you have to watch both seasons of their television show because it is fun, funny, zany, and did I mention FUN? Also John Lennon watched it and loved it.

The Monkees are a tricky one. There’s still some confusion as to whether they were a real band because apparently all those albums they made without Don Kirshner playing puppet master isn’t enough proof. Yes, they were initially a manufactured band, but they went on to write and perform their own material. And even when they weren’t writing and playing ALL the instruments on those first two albums, they were still, you know, singing. Other groups used session musicians and performed the work of other songwriters. Other groups who are currently in the Hall of Fame. So, what’s the deal, Rock and Roll Hall of Fame? Oh yeah, I forgot, y’all are elitist wieners. The Monkees had some great songs, written for them and by them, and they are a unique cultural phenomenon.

3. The Smiths

the_smiths

Eligible Since: 2008
Nominated In: Never
Essential Albums: The Smiths (1984), Meat Is Murder (1985), The Queen Is Dead (1986), Strangeways, Here We Come (1987)

Johnny Marr’s guitar playing. Morrissey’s morose, biting, hilarious lyrics, sung somberly and gloomily as only Morrissey can. Does a more perfect musical marriage exist? Nope. Their influence is palpable, and the fact that all of their studio albums (and you also have to listen to the singles compilations, of course!) are essential listening speaks volumes.

But in order for Morrissey to attend the ceremony (which would be a major long shot anyway), there would probably have to be no meat within 50 miles of the venue because, you know, meat is murder, and he does not tolerate your alternate views.

2. T. Rex

t_rex

Eligible Since: 1993
Nominated In: NEVER!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Essential Albums: Electric Warrior (1971), The Slider (1972). I also really love Futuristic Dragon (1976), but, y’know, it ain’t for everyone.

I had forgotten that T. Rex has never been inducted–or even nominated!–into the Hall of Fame, and I suddenly got very, very, very mad because that is absolutely ridiculous. Bolan (the man I wanted to marry before Jarvis, sigh) and T. Rex may have not had been able to sustain the same level of commercial success as their contemporary David Bowie but their influence is incredible. My suspicion is that the Hall of Fame is wary of inducting them because they are so closely linked with “glam” rock, although Bolan did experiment with other genres (soul and R&B, notably), and that’s embarrassing for some reason. Fact is, Bolan wrote some great rock ‘n’ roll songs. Some of the best. Summer is heaven in ’77! 

“I can’t cleverly theorize about Marc,” Morrissey once wrote. “I just loved him.” Me too, Mozzer. Me too.

1. The Jam 

Photo of Rick BUCKLER and JAM and Bruce FOXTON and Paul WELLER

Eligible Since: 2002
Nominated In: Never, because, once again, the nominating committee are actually shareholders in Oscar Mayer. (Translation: They’re WEENIES!!)
Essential Albums: In the City (1977), All Mod Cons (1978), Setting Sons (1979), Sound Affects (1980), The Gift (1982). I just listed all of their studio albums, save one. OOPS!!

In case I haven’t made it clear here before…I worship Paul Weller. I mean, I really have it bad for this guy. I think he is the world’s most wonderful human being and a stunning lyricist and songwriter with unquenchable passion for and belief in what he does. And wham bam, long live The Jam! I would induct Weller into the Hall of Fame in all of his incarnations–with The Jam, The Style Council, and as a solo artist, but The Jam probably holds the most value as far as influence and a solid, cohesive body of work. It still blows my mind that the group produced six albums in five years, with so many great songs, and they broke up at their commercial and critical peak. What guts 24-year-old Paul Weller had! Love that guy. But The Jam never really achieved any kind of success in the United States, which is commonly explained by their being “too British.” (And the Kinks were…?) Yes, because the stream of images painted in “That’s Entertainment” are only relatable and vivid if you are British: “Two lovers kissing amongst the scream of midnight/Two lovers missing the tranquillity of solitude/Getting a cab and travelling on buses/Reading the graffiti about slashed seat affairs/I say that’s entertainment, that’s entertainment.”

Name me a songwriter in the hall of fame who can write lyrics like THAT. I can probably count ’em on one hand.

Debbie’s Choice

We live in a world where Robert Redford’s face exists, radiating light and beauty, Jonathan Frid was Grand Marshal of at least one parade, and, in 1968, twin brothers Robin and Maurice Gibb were contestants on an episode of The Dating Game–and, 45 years later, we are able to watch that episode via the Internet. (Thank you, Chaplinssmile1 for recording your television and uploading this gem! You are a star.) We live in a wonderful, wonderful world.

The gist of The Dating Game is this: There is a single contestant and a panel of three bachelors. The contestant and the panel do not see one another, and the contestant asks each member of the panel individual questions. Based on the answers to these questions, the contestant selects which bachelor she would most like to date, and the show supposedly sends them on a date.

At the start of the show, the host introduces us to the contestants: “There’s no mystery about how The Bee Gees got their name. It was brother Barry Gibb and two other people who supplied the moniker. Now the big mystery this evening is whether our lovely young lady will choose one of the two Bee Gee brothers…or our Olympic Gold Medal winner.”

mointro robinintro
Left: Bachelor #1, Maurice “Mo” Gibb, Right: Bachelor #3, Robin “Hunky” Gibb. Not pictured: Bachelor #2, Some Olympian Whose Last Name Is Not Gibb.

I think its no mystery whom I would pick. Ha ha. But who will the contestant, Debbie, pick and what kind of questions will she ask?

The first question Debbie asks Bachelors 1 and 2 is: What do you like most about the dark?

“Well, I love gathering lilacs in an old brown shoe. Basically. In the dark,” Mo answers nonchalantly.

Uh, okay.

Then Debbie asks Bachelor 3 (ROBIN), “If you came over to my house and my mother was playing cards with a tomato and my father was talking on a banana and I was wrestling with a grapefruit, what would you do to fit into the family?”

Ummm….WHAT? I know it was the ’60s and everything, but did contestants not have to pass a drug test to be on this show? Seriously. What the heck, Debbie? You are so weird.

Robin, though, is good-natured about it, and says he would join in. When pressured by Debbie to define what exactly he would do in order to fit in, Robin tells her that it wouldn’t really matter what he did with a family like that–he could do just about anything. You tell ‘er, Robin.

And if that question wasn’t weird enough, Debbie then asks, “If on our first date, you kissed me and I turned into a flower, what kind of flower would I be and what would you do with me?”

This is literally Mo’s face while Debbie asks the question:

mobored
“Get me out of here!” Me too, Mo. Me too.

“You’d be a rose and I’d water you,” Mo replies. Can you believe this guy would one day write “Closer Than Close”? I think Mo must have borrowed Robin’s sass for this show.

Debbie asks some more really weird questions, and then she concludes her interrogation with, “I love soft things, so say the softest thing you can think of to me right now.”

vlcsnap-00020
“Cushion. C-U-S-H-I-O-N.”

(Dear Robin, U-R-A-Q-T.)

vlcsnap-00021
“Butter.”

“Water?”

“Butter. B-U-double T-E-R.”

This girl is so weird. W-E-I-R-D.

Debbie now has 60 seconds to decide which bachelor she would most like to date. Who do you think she will pick? Let’s review. There’s Mo, who has appeared quite disinterested in the whole thing. His answers have bordered on caustic, but since he’s a Gibb, you know there’s no real malice. Then there’s his twin brother, Robin, whose speaking voice even closely resembles that of an angel. His answers have been polite and well-thought-out. And then there’s some other guy but he is OBVIOUSLY not even in the running because what chance does he stand against TWO Gibbs? Zero chance, that’s what.

And Debbie chooses…

mowinning mowon
Bachelor #1, Maurice Gibb! He is absolutely chuffed.

Now, there were a few confusing things about this program, like the questions and how anyone thought they stood a chance against Robin Gibb and then how anyone but Robin Gibb was selected as the date, but something that really confuses me is the “date.”

The host tells this story about rocks and how Debbie and Maurice are going to this place where special rocks are discovered–the diamond mines of Johannesburg, South Africa! Okay, never mind that this is a bit over-the-top for a first date, WHY would anyone going on a date with Maurice “Mo” Gibb need to go anywhere but MOTOWN? Honestly. This show is weird.

I’d really like to know if Debbie and Mo ever went on that date to South Africa. Debbie, the world is waiting for your tell-all.

Watch for yourself: Part One | Part Two