Tuesday, November 29, 2011

10th anniversary tribute to george

I debated what to post on the 10th anniversary of George's death. I thought about discussing his legacy and why I think he's so underappreciated, but I think it's more appropriate to simply let his music and words speak for themselves. Somehow, I think that's what George would have preferred. So in that vein, I've collected here a sample of my favorite acoustic demos and words of wisdom from the songs. I hope you enjoy them and that, as a tribute to George, you take a moment today to stop what you're doing and smell some flowers. Maybe even plant a tree.

Let it Down
Hiding it all behind anything I see, should someone be looking at me.

Beware of Darkness
Beware of sadness. It can hit you, it can hurt you, make you sore and what is more, that is not what you are here for.

Run of the Mill
Everyone has choice when to or not to raise their voices. It you that decides which way you will turn.

All Things Must Pass
Sunrise doesn't last all morning. Cloudburst doesn't last all day. Seems my love is up and has left you with no warning. It's not always gonna be this grey.

Blow Away
I'd almost forgot, all I got to do is to love you. All I got to be is happy.

Isn't it a Pity
Isn't it a pity, isn't a shame, how we break each other's hearts and cause each other pain.

While my Guitar Gently Weeps
I don't know why nobody told you how to unfold your love. I don't know how someone controlled you. They bought and sold you.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

why do the beatles continue to be so popular?

I know the question that forms the title of this post is one of the most cliched in all of pop/rock music analysis. However, since I haven't yet found a satisfying answer (and I'm not content with the typical fan response of "It's because their music is awesome, omgggg!!!111"), I'm going to take a crack at providing a--hopefully--more analytical answer.

First of all, I think it's important to point out that I wouldn't consider this question an interesting one if applied to any other band from the 60s or 70s. That's because the continued popularity of the Beatles--as measured according to any number of metrics, from album sales to number of tumblrs devoted to the group--is at a level no other group from that era has attained. It's not interesting--to me at least--why people continue to listen to and buy Rolling Stones or Dylan records. The music is great, so why not? But the devotion to the Beatles remains at a level that isn't at all inevitable 41 years after the band's breakup.

Second of all, it's important to point out that, at least for me, I don't think it comes down to nostalgia--at least not completely. After attending four McCartney concerts (three this summer, and one two years ago), I can attest to the fact that just about every age bracket was represented in the audience, and there were more than a few young people there without their baby boomer parents. For a perhaps more objective piece of evidence, take the fact that Urban Outfitters (a clothing company that explicitly caters to people 18-34 years old) has begun carrying Beatles t-shirts and Abbey Rd posters. The Beatles have suddenly become cool with hipsters.

So if it's not nostalgia, what is it? I believe it's the fact that the Beatles provide a comprehensive fan experience. That means that, while other artists provide great music and perhaps a few interesting interviews or even a film (The Last Waltz, anyone?), the Beatles provide the following:

1. A relatively large, but (most importantly) varied discography that is musically complex and innovative enough to remain interesting, even after hundreds of listens. Beyond the core 13 studio albums and 22 singles, fans can engage with the 6-disc Anthology series, the Live at the BBC collection, and a virtually endless supply of bootlegs.

2. 5 feature-length films, which vary in quality, but which nevertheless remain interesting, even after hundreds of viewings (this is particularly true with A Hard Day's Night and Yellow Submarine).

3. Countless interviews, which are virtually all available on YouTube and which collectively provide hundreds of hours of footage. The wit the group possessed means that the interviews remain fresh and entertaining.

4. Thousands--dare I say even close to a million?--photos. This group was photographed more often than any other. Not only does that provide some measure of entertainment, but it provides artistically inclined fans with material for artwork. Indeed, the group has inspired a tremendous amount of beautiful artwork, from amateur drawings and photograph manipulations, to Cirque du Soleil.

5. A fascinating back story, which we have access to on a level unsurpassed by any other group. The story of the group's rise to fame, years in the spotlight, and famous breakup, is the stuff of Hollywood films. I can personally attest to how easy it is to get caught up in the romanticism of their early days in Hamburg, not to mention the twists and turns of their whirlwind 7 years at the top of the world.

These five elements provide, in a sense, a tremendous amount to do for a fan. The Beatles are to the fan experience like an advanced role playing game is for a video gamer. It's easy to spend hours playing one of those video games that involves exploring a world because there's just so much to do. You're much less likely to get bored than you would if you were playing Tetris.

But the final element that makes the Beatles so incredibly popular is, I believe, how unabashedly optimistic and life-affirming virtually everything they produced is. Of course there's a good deal of bitterness in their backstory, but when it comes down to the music, the interviews (for the most part), and the films, being a fan of this group means engaging with material that's bound to leave you happy.

Do you agree? Disagree? Let me know in the comments!

Monday, November 14, 2011

funny gifs

If nothing else, the internet has breathed new life into the hours upon hours of footage of the Beatles. One way it's done that is by allowing people to make gifs. Gifs are little video clips that play over and over again. Here are some of my favorites, with captions I feel are appropriate. :) I hope you enjoy them!


no one realized quite how aggressive mr. harrison could be.

some of us are just extra ... special.

others of us are just ... disturbed.

all things must pass: maturity in post-beatles solo work (part 1)

Jurgen Vollmer, one of the Germans whom John, George, Stu Sutcliffe, and Pete Best befriended in Hamburg during their stints playing nightclubs in 1960-62, once said that, due to his quiet demeanor, it was often easy to dismiss George Harrison. However, once you got to know him, it was quickly apparent that he possessed a certain maturity that the others lacked. Jurgen said that George looked you straight in the eye when speaking to you, and seemed genuinely interested in what you had to say.

What does examining John's and George's solo material through the lens of maturity tell us about them as artists?

I'm going to argue that George's solo material articulates its messages with more maturity and perspective than John's. However, in the interest of space, I'm only going to address John's output in this post. I'll save George's output for the next one.

Let me briefly address Paul's work, though, just to justify why I'm not including it in the overall analysis. I'd rather not compare Paul's work to George's and John's simply because I think the vast majority of Paul's work seeks a fundamentally different musical goal. Explaining that difference probably merits its own post, but for now I'll say that Paul's songs, with a few exceptions, simply aren't personal enough to evaluate according to the same criteria as George's or John's. The most explicitly personal McCartney song I can think of is "Here Today," his tribute to John. That's certainly a beautiful song, but one song isn't enough to go on. Much of the rest of his output involves stories or simple love songs. A lot of it is absolutely wonderful, but it's not particularly personal, at least not explicitly so.

Therefore, I think it's more appropriate to compare George's and John's catalogs. Both of them tended to write explicitly personal songs that arose from almost existential struggles. I'd characterize their songs almost as confessionals. However, there's a key difference in style between the two writers that, I think, suggests more maturity and nuance in George's work.

That difference comes down to the degree of subtlety. Take "Julia," for example. Anyone with any knowledge of John's past knows immediately that the song is about his mother, Julia. The lyrics are gorgeous and the song is haunting, but listening to it almost makes me uncomfortable because it's so explicitly about his struggles connecting with his dead mother.

For an even more uncomfortable experience, try "My Mummy's Dead." The track consists of John and an acoustic guitar, mixed so roughly that is sounds like a home demo. The lyrics are "my mummy's dead/I can't get it through my head/though it's been so many years/my mummy's dead/I can't explain/so much pain/I could never show it/my mummy's dead." As a listener, I almost feel as though I'm sitting in, uninvited, on John's therapy session with his psychologist.

Now why do I feel like this hyper-explicit, confessional music indicates some level of immaturity? It comes down to the function of an artist's output. An artist, I think, releases music because he/she wants to share something with his/her audience. Part of the reason that art is shared with the audience is, I think, to provide the audience with some product to which they can relate. However, by writing songs that are so explicitly personal, John sometimes made it difficult for his audience--at least in my case--to relate to his music. Even if I had a deceased parent, could I really relate to "Julia" or "My Mummy's Dead," when they don't seem to have been written at all for me? I think the expectation that we should purchase and enjoy songs clearly (I think) not written for us indicates some level of immaturity--or at least entitlement--on the part of the artist.

Now, none of this is to say that I don't enjoy John's solo material. I think much of it is absolutely gorgeous. However, I think the hyper-explicitly personal songs indicate some level of immaturity that George's music simply doesn't. I'll explain why I think George's solo material is more mature in the next post.

Do you agree? Disagree? Let me know in the comments!