You have to know when it's right to be silent.
And you have to know, equally, when there's eloquence to be found in the absence of words, lyrics, melody. Though I have to admit that heretofore the mellifluous tones of the Fabs' oeuvre have been a particularly trustworthy source of revelation for me. Astonishing, therefore, how loudly silence can speak.
A few days ago a fellow I know who's as besotted by the Fabs as the rest of us received a generous gift---a videotape of the recently released, little mentioned home movies shot in 1967 by that gentle soul (whose unfortunate death makes another type of statement about gun control), Mal Evans. Mal was the Boys' road manager for years, and a trusted friend for life. Recently his family decided to auction selections from Mal's film library, possibly because they needed sustenance more than sentimentality. My friend screened it for me in its entirely--- and to my surprise, I *saw*, rather than heard, wondrous things within that brief hour.
On the surface these filmed vignettes are less than exemplary. Imagine typical home movies from the sixties---if "typical" is permissible in this context---and you've got the picture, so to speak...but only the picture. Mal shot these sequences in 8mm and there's no accompanying sound. The video distributors, perhaps wisely, decided not to add any, suggesting in the packaging that the viewer might like to experiment with appropriate accompaniment. But it's not strictly necessary.
Mal's trusty camera accompanies Paul on safari in Kenya in late 1966; to Denver and Los Angeles in 1967; and to the English countryside later that year during the filming of "Magical Mystery Tour" (for which I have a renewed sense of appreciation now that I've seen the preeminently-obtuse "Wonderwall". :-)
On the one hand, I'm not even sure I could recommend these movies of Mal's to even the most hard-core Beatlemaniac. Or at least that's what I felt during real-time viewing. For if you're looking for revelations about Paul's private life, or a plethora of depictions involving previously-unseen Fabs' filmic moments, you'll undoubtedly rue the day you spent whatever enormous sum it takes to own this package. You'll see what "regular folks" like to film on holiday: trees, mountains, streams; a stray dog trotting through an anonymous village square; giraffes and wildebeasts in Kenya; airports, city streets, taxicabs, motels. And a few moments of Macca's friends and coworkers cavorting on the Cornish plains of Newquay, intent on making a film about a mysterious tourbus journey.
True, there's an occasional glimpse of the principal players. In fact, Mal often films Paul filming the same scenery, with (I suspect) a similar camera. And that gave me pause. It struck me that, when you take these two men from the North (one the megastar, one the roadie), and let them roam through the "real" world, cut free from the fetters of fame, their interests are much like anyone else. But you get the distinct impression that what's exotic to them both is captured in these pictures, whether it's a rare African mammal or busy business loop in a typical American town. Maybe, in a way, these are equivalent vistas.
The Beatle whom Mal captures on film is fascinated by simple sights as well as complex ones. They flew to Denver to meet up with Paul's then-flame Jane Asher, demure and just twenty-one. At night she played Juliet with the Bristol Old Vic on its American tour; by day she explored a similar role, captured by Mal's camera as she and Paul hike in the woods or lounge by a lake.
What a peculiar side-trip for Paul, the man whose vision had led the Fabs to create the LP that would shake the world not two months later. With most of that masterpiece complete back in London, Paul apart from his musical cohorts was already contemplating the next move, a magical tour not unlike the one captured here, but suffused with an unfortunate modicum of self-conscious vision. To his credit, before he even knew what "Sgt. Pepper" would do in the world of music, McCartney was already in search of the new direction. Perhaps, like Mal, he was using his camera to capture some clue, to remind himself what a simpler world offered.
Yet this simple life, this wilderness, these everyday features of workaday cities were as remote to Paul as the past he and his mates had left when they sought fame. There was a note of sincerity in the young man's voice when the Beeb compere asked him in 1963 whether there was anything he missed, being a now-famous Fab. "A bus," replied Paul. He missed taking the bus. Already, not a year into being famous, these boys had moved beyond the turning point. Perhaps in their tenacity to attain the top of the pops, they hadn't considered, or cared, what ordinary---but possibly precious---elements of life they would leave behind.
That real turning point, one could argue, was right now, this time, this month, this moment...but thirty years ago. One marginal single release ("Love Me Do") now behind them; one last dreary tour of Hamburg done; one miraculously promising single recorded and awaiting release just days hence, on January 11, 1963. And a year full of unknowns ahead of them. Club dates, radio shows, even a television appearance or two; maybe writing songs for somebody important, like Helen Shapiro; maybe a few chart-toppers. What more could there be?
Of course there was much more. 1963 began slowly, perfunctorily, for the Beatles. By April of that year there was a ceaseless acceleration, a growing force that was the musical equivalent of a tsunami. Our poor lot here in the States saw none of it, savored none of the sweet incremental force that changed the fabric of modern music, that brought pop critics to their knees. This was England's year, a resonant British revolution. When it finally reached New York almost a year later, its impact was virtually instantaneous. For us there was no subtlety. And American culture placed little value in such things, anyway.
But thirty years in the past, there was a journey about to be made. This was the real mystery trip. The four musicians who made it, willingly, left behind their ordinary world for another full of wondrous sounds and silences...and in doing so, changed the musical universe for those of us who *still* find---in every lyric, in every pause, in every breath---an echo of that wonder.
"Here's the first big chart-busting bombshell of '63!!!! The Beatles
have made *THE* RECORD OF THE YEAR!"
Sometimes the :-) doesn't work as advertised.
email@example.com (Mandakini Dubey) writes:
>...I have to reluctantly point out to you that your understanding of what
>I meant in my little question ("what does the wide and expansive world
>of Beatlefandom have to do with sexist skits?") is way off mark.
But with a non-sequitur like this, what's to understand? You didn't make clear whether you had a deep concern about the dissemination of literary types, or whether you yourself were making a joke. I can't tell from your "little question".
>The other thing you said which I didn't actually agree with is that there
>are ingenuous literary "types", that it isn't sexist to recognize them for
>what they are. Well, in that case, the stereotypes of the mendacious Jew,
>the decadent homosexual, the virginal woman, the prostitute, the macho
>guy, the wimp -- these are all perfectly alright and should be treated as
>art just because they exist as cliches.
Not too sure what you mean here by "ingenuous"...perhaps "indigenous"? There's a slight difference in meaning.
Be careful how you restate my words. I never said that such types were "perfectly alright" or "should be treated as art". I said they were literary types, and while they do exist in art, from songs to poetry to sculpture, they are not necessarily validated by art. It depends upon the artist's purpose. What's more important is being able to recognize them as typological characters, even if they bear only a passing resemblance to literary antecedents, without exclusive focus on the veracity---or morality---of such types. Otherwise you're not absorbing such material as art. It's in danger of becoming didacticism. And didactic "art" calls into question all art which is not sufficiently moral. Books have been burned for causes like this.
It's sincerely my most humble opinion that any generation which *doesn't* recognize censorship for what it is (the PC debates in particular) is in danger of losing its right to choose what it will read, hear, see, and think. If you're suggesting that art may not be Art if it deals with bad people, bad types, bad situations, then I think there's a problem.
Perhaps it's not with you or me, but with critics of art who insist we must interpret works as morally suspect, unless they espouse current societal propriety...whatever that may be in this particular decade. As you've seen, it changes over time.
>...my opinions have nothing to do with thought policing, or PC,
>or whatever you choose to call the modern orthodoxy....
Well, it sounds to me as though you're leaning a tad toward typological morality. Take literary characters. You say we're obliged to "recognize them for what they are".
But what are they? Is the female character of "Day Tripper" a fun-loving liberated woman who deals men the cards they deserve, or a cruel, hardhearted tease? Maybe you have that clear in your mind, but someone else might take it further. If critics get it into their head that it's not sufficient to *merely label* such characters as sexist, or homophobic, or racist (or the products of same)...well, what's the the next step? An outright ban on art that offends? Heaven help us if some future Thought Police decide that "Day Tripper" should be censored because it's sexist! Does this sound like an exaggeration? The current hullabaloo over "Imagine", and whether or not it is (or isn't) a musical advocate of irreligiousness is a case in point.
>...I certainly think that good art of any kind is art that discusses
>people as they really are, rather than describing life as a series
>of equations between a bunch of stereotypical, formulaic characters.
You're a bit confused, I fear, about the difference between real life and art. There *is* a difference. Art---the Fabs' music included--- deals with people and situations who resemble real life...but if they're to have any universal impact, or staying power through time, they must be symbolic too. Our friend Aristotle refered to artistic language as the unusual, the strange, the innovative, the unexpected (something which the formalists may have adapted). Poetry should not use natural everyday spech and idioms, but rather words made distinct and memorable by their rarity. Otherwise it's only conversation.
So with literary (even musical!) personalities. These are people whose lives would never touch ours if they weren't given that extra rarification; but they are not "people as they really are". They're more than that.
Odysseus, the Wife of Bath, Juliet, Pierre Bezhukov, Holden Caulfield, Eleanor Rigby---all have the blush of everyday humanity, but their souls are enhanced. Each has a passing acquaintance with literary typology, but that's not where it stops. We know their type, but we know much more because their creators allow them to symbolize humankind. Good critical analysis doesn't stop with character alone.
>When Guns'n'Roses sings about killing women, about "niggers", it isn't
>very relevant to me what the riff is like.
But to some people this is an ongoing pedagogical dilemma. :-) Back in 1966 I was castigated by a friend for liking The Leaves' "Hey Joe", a song about a man who takes off after an unfaithful woman with a shotgun. My friend insisted I had no business liking a song that was about killing. On one level she was right. But it *does* have a terrific riff.
>Why should all
>thought be suspended when listening to music? Why can't I have my own
>opinions about the characters described in music?
You can, of course. But you were all set to attack a gentleman who asked what seemed to be an innocent question about thematic characters (good/bad girls) in music. Why did you castigate him for being sexist? Surely he too is entitled to his own opinions?
>Finally, all that withering sarcasm about my wanting to break
>CD's is lost on me....
It was neither withering nor sarcastic. It was a historical allusion to the 1966 "Ban the Beatles" campaign, which swept mainly through the U.S. Bible-belt and caused thousands of teens to break their Beatles records, or turn them into collection points for other forms of destruction. The question remains whether CDs can be broken or not in public displays of pique. Perhaps latter-day Ban-The-Boys enthusiasts will have to find a more modern form of protest.
"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 (firstname.lastname@example.org) Click here to return to the rmb home page.
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