Utopian Turtletop. Monsieur Croche's Bête Noire. Contact: turtletop [at] hotmail [dot] com

Monday, February 09, 2004


Several weeks ago I saw "School of Rock” and laughed my butt off. (Funny image! My butt suffered no damage.) Afterwards, wanting to bask further in the Spirit of Rock, I took down a recently published volume by the reigning spirt of the “spirit of rock” school of rockwriting, the late Lester Bangs, and paged my way to a piece on the Beatles and their post-Beatles careers, written in the mid-'70s. Bangs got my goat -- my wandering, straying, easily get-able goat -- when he called Ringo “inept.”

Now, I’m 40 years old, too young to have experienced Beatlemania first-hand, but when I started to have my own opinions about what music was or was not cool, in junior high in the mid-‘70s, the Beatles were my favorites. And I’ve never stopped digging them. A conclusion that I’ve come to in recent years is that Ringo ruled. Not only was he a charming heartfelt individualistic rockin’ singer, but his drumming had verve, energy, musicality, originality, style, and considerable influence. That their early records crackle through their pop is as much due to him as anybody. And on the psychedelic records like “Strawberry Fields” and “A Day in the Life,” the tom-tom fills Ringo was playing ended up being copied all over by many many drummers. Always musically interesting (at least with the Fabs), he plays subtle tasty parts on the ballads like “Something” and seemingly effortlessly nails the meter-changing, tempo-changing tours-de-force like “Happiness Is a Warm Gun.” It’s no wonder that Lennon and Harrison hired him for their early solo records, including Lennon’s stark, minimal, practically naked intense, rhythmically subtly complex monster album “Plastic Ono Band.” Inept? Dude! What are you talking about? I regret asking a rhetorical question to someone who only still lives in his writing.

It’s the 40th anniversary of the Beatles playing on American TV for the first time. Cute buggers they were, and so talented!

My junior high school cohort in secondhand Beatlemania, musician Jay Sherman-Godfrey of Queens, wrote in response to yesterday’s awkward and tentative post on beauty, and went on to talk about the Beatles anniversary. Here’s Jay:

“I enjoyed your entry about beauty. I was thinking of something similar the other day, in trying to decide why I liked a particular fragment of music I had heard on the radio. Perhaps because it was a fragment, without reference or much context, I had a particularly lucid moment in which I felt I knew exactly why I liked it. It had to do with juxtaposition of tone(s) and a particular wide harmonic picture. I have no idea what it was.

“It struck me that relationships within structures that "jibe" for us create allure -- beauty maybe. That harmony has some vernacular "meaning" makes this even more interesting.

“So, I guess I am a musical, or perhaps more specifically, harmonic, fetishist.

“The anniversary of the Beatles' 1964 "Landing" (like men on the moon!) has the radio dial full of the most beautiful music. My old friend and college roomate Richard Dennis used to cite the downfall of the professional songwriter as the end of the good in popular music -- something the above Beatle event affected greatly, of course. But to me, the great allure of the Beatles is not as rockers, but as songsmiths. Lennon's rejection of the "pop" Beatles as dishonest (based on MacDonald's suppostions) led him back to rock and roll -- in which it is easy to be "honest"; you just rock (and he knew how). But I like him better on his other tip. On the radio I heard, back to back, Here There and Everywhere, and Yes It Is. Both top catalog, IMO, and very much in  "professional" songwriting. Perhaps a little light on the lyrical side vs. the greats. Lennon was a great, impassioned, ballad singer. Maybe he thought he had to give it his all to make it real.”

John replies: Yes it is, yes it is, yes it is, oh yes it is! Lennon was a great great ballad singer who gave "his all." And -- as a song is a marriage of music and lyrics, one hopes the marriage partners are congenial and well-matched; I agree with Richard Dennis that the rock era swayed the balance toward music (though some of Duke Ellington’s lyricists also failed to procure suitable spouses for his tunes); and, like any marriage, the mating of words and music is a deeply tangled complicated personal topic.

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