Re: Goons vs. Fabs<BR>

Re: Goons vs. Fabs

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In article <> (edward s. chen) writes: >In article <> (Brian Leibowitz) writes:
>>One might be able to see Spike's nonsense influencing John's prose, but
>>there's certainly some cross-polination when you listen to the Beatles'
>>sound-pictures, e.g., "A Day In The Life", "Revolution 1", "For The Benefit
>>of Mr. Kite", etc.
>I don't particularly see the Goons as influencing the "sound-poems" of
>the Beatles. Probably the primary influence is on the Beatles Christmas
>records (particularly the later ones) -- pure nonsense in the best British

I agree here. In no way could it be said that "A Day In The Life" had anything to do with the Goon Shows or comedy inspired by same; it's a remarkable short-story-in-song but it's not told to get a laugh out of its audience but to share its writer's perceptive vision of art, media, and the middle-class...and you may quote me. :-) "Mr. Kite" comes virtually intact from a 19th-century circus poster, as we all know; John again decided that there was poetry in advertising (this wasn't the first time!) but it's perfectly sensible fin-de-siecle verbiage, though to modern ears it sounds exotic.

>As far as "Revolution 1" being inspired by the Goons, highly

I'll go further than that. I'll say no chance! Is it possible that the original article meant to refer to the surreal "Revolution 9", rather than the bemusedly didactic "Revolution 1"? Even if "No. 9" is meant, I'd say that it owed more to John's experiments with tape loops and Yoko's "performance art" influence than any Goon antecedents.

The only direct lyrical connection I can find to the Goons in the Beatles' output is in "What's The New Mary Jane" (if you consider that a Beatles song :-) wherein the reference to "Yehti" (viz., "She'd like to be married with Yehti") recalls the title of a Goon Show episode, not surprisingly called "Yehti", from August 1955.

The Boys' Christmas records, particularly those from 1966 onward, bear a closer resemblance to the style of a typical Goon radio show from the 1954-1958 seasons. They lack direct borrowings of the characters and voices used by the Goons (this is actually a blessing, I think, because the Beatles weren't capable of pulling off such a tribute), but they have the loosely-connected mini-skits which are reminiscent of the Goon Shows. Though improvised, rather than heavily scripted like actual Goon broadcasts, the Boys manage to create a fair amount of inspired fun, naturally relying on their capable manager George Martin for snappy editing. Check the chatter during the rehearsal for "Think For Yourself" for more Goonish humor; Paul's and John's talent for funny voices is particularly delightful.

It's worth noting here that George Martin was a personal friend of Spike Milligan (one of the Goons and primary writer of the Goon Show scripts, though he also collaborated with Larry Stephens). Martin had produced solo novelty/comedy records for both Milligan and Peter Sellers. But the collective Goons (adding in Harry Seacombe) recorded their biggest "hits", such as "The Ying Tong Song" and "I'm Walking Backwards For Christmas", ironically, at Decca. George Martin, despite legend, did not produce their comedy shows nor their hit records.

I'd always thought that some of the writings John did in his early days, in particular the "dubious history" of the Beatles which appeared in Bill Harry's newspaper "Mersey Beat", had Goon-esque qualities, though I hasten to emphasize that John's literary ability was more than merely imitative. Argue as necessary about the Edward Lear/Lewis Carroll/James Joyce connection; John's nonsense prose and verse had a spark of originality that took it quite beyond its points of inspiration.

>...the Goons inspired the "outlook" the boys had on life --
>particularly John Lennon. Certainly, "happenings" such as the bed-ins
>for peace ("If we make you laugh -- great! Because you're laughing,
>and not killing people), of "Bagism" were inspired by the Goons.

The Goons probably inspired the Boys to think fast and learn the art of the quip, but as far as more adventurous artistic fare, I don't think so. The Goons' heritage is traceable from British music-hall and vaudeville comics, and though it is decidedly crazier compared to those antecedents (even bordering on the verbally surreal in the later fifties), it was not avant-garde.

"Happenings" and "Bagism" were more in keeping with art movements popular in France and Britain during the early sixties, what we might now call performance art, but admixed with pop/op art and countercultural artistic expression. They were also funny only in a limited sense, and I mean no disrespect to its generators.

The humor of the Goons was so popular because it didn't take itself seriously. Based on puns, wordplay, and a plethora of endearing (if decidedly odd) characters, the Goon Shows charmed a range of audiences from schoolboys in Liverpool to the Prince of Wales. The avant-garde art movement, which captured John Lennon's attention toward the end of the sixties, demanded respectability as an artistic form before it would let anyone in on the joke--- if indeed anyone ever got the joke. :-)

The famous Lennons' bed-in and bag explorations made very few people laugh. They were certainly an absurdist's response to the grim horrors of war, but they were not statements of a true comic. The Goons actually did a better job lampooning war, bureaucracy, modern civilization, and batter-pudding hurlers than did the earnest Mr. & Mrs. Lennon.

>Once freed of the confines of the group, Lennon
>used the wit and silly wordplay in his songs,
>producing things like "Bring on the Lucie (Freda People)",
>or "The Nutopian National Anthem."

I'd still trace this to Lennon's innate literary talent, and not strictly to Goon humor, since he was beginning to exhibit his predilection for puns and odd spellings in childhood (so reports Aunt Mimi). Around the time the Goons (then known as the "Crazy People") began their radio shows on the BBC in 1951, it must have seemed to the young Mr. Lennon that he'd found kindred spirits.

The need to write "serious" love songs within a pop group necessarily put the kibosh on much of this ability, one must assume. Being a Beatle didn't give John much latitude for surreal wit, though it certainly enhanced his image as the "intellectual one" when he allowed it to emerge.

>For the record, John wrote a glowing review of "The Goon Show Scripts"
>for "The New York Times Book Review" on September 30, 1973.

I think John had the greatest love for the Goons of all the Fabs, though it touched them all. My impression of their film "Help!" was much elevated when I realized that it bore a strange resemblance to a Goon Show made visual. And if you think about it, "Help!" has all the hallmarks of an imitative tribute to the Goon format: terrible puns, a foursome in the foreground (Michael Bentine, the fourth Goon, admittedly left rather early in the game), a passel of amusing sidekicks, nebulous villains both foreign and domestic, and a script rife with non-sequiturs and theatrical stylizations.

>Similarly, George was inspired by the Goons, but was more inspired by
>India. He would not allow "Goon / Python"-style comedy to influence his
>music until well into the 70's.

George seemed to need a more contemporary translator of humor, such as the Monty Python group (who were also inspired by the Goons), to loosen him up. Odd to think, isn't it, that George's interest in Indian music et al might predate "Help!", which is the source he always cites, and might actually be traceable to characters such as Peter Sellers' Babu Banerjee in the Goon Shows. :-)

"Those who flock round The Beatles, who scream themselves into hysteria, whose vacant faces flicker over the TV screen, are the least fortunate of their generation, the dull, the idle, the failures...." ---------------------------------------------saki ( Click here to return to the rmb home page.

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