Sunday, March 25, 2007

Up On The Roof

April 22, 1969:

John and Yoko would have celebrated their 38th wedding anniversary on March 20th. So much has been written concerning their wedding in Gibraltar, as well as their subsequent Bed-Ins for Peace in the Amsterdam Hilton, and then later in Toronto. I admire what John and Yoko were doing with peace activism--using the press their honeymoon would naturally generate to make a blatant commercial for peace. Though some may call it naive, I call it brilliant and genuine; being the "world's clowns" for the sake of social change. Patti Smith remarked backstage at the RRHoF that some of the best art comes from a naive idealism, and I certainly agree with her observation. (Probably a reason I admire Patti so much--she is one of those great idealists, too.)

Yoko will always be a controversial figure within the world of Beatledom. But nevertheless, the intense relationship that John and Paul had could not sustain the presence of their female soul mates, Yoko and Linda--it was perhaps too much. There was a sort of possessiveness between John and Paul--a great amount of love and, conversely, jealousy. I can only imagine the hurt that both of them experienced during the "divorce" of the Beatles. (Of course, this is all just my opinion, which I have developed through years of loving the Beatles.) John noted that he never expected that it would end in such an acrimonious way. I suspect no one ever did.

I thought I would commemorate a special ceremony that illustrated how deeply John had been affected by Yoko's presence in his life. This former Liverpudlian teddy boy, "rough and ready with a look that said 'kill'," as his former wife Cynthia described him, now saw this woman, an artist and writer, as an equal--so much so that he was willing to take her name.

On the roof of the Apple headquarters in London, during a ceremony officiated by Commissioner of Oaths Bueno de Mesquita, John's official name was changed to "John Ono Lennon." (John later learned that he could not eliminate the "Winston" from his name.) John's comment concerning the name change: "Yoko changed her name for me, I've changed mine for her. One for both, both for each other. She has a ring, I have a ring. It gives us nine 'O's between us, which is good luck. Ten would not be good luck." Quite a poignant and chilling observation in hindsight, knowing how devastating the turn of events would be in the future.

(References: Lennon: A Journey Through John Lennon's Life and Times in Words and Pictures by John Robertson, p. 69)

Sunday, March 18, 2007

The Citizen Kane of Juke Box Musicals

Forty-three Years Ago:

Today's entry focuses on the filming of A Hard Day's Night, which began on March 2, 1964, at Paddington Station and concluded on April 24th in West Ealing. Like most Beatles fans, I've watched this film so many times that I recite the dialogue every chance I get. I don't know how anyone could watch AHDN and not fall in love with the lads immediately. As with most things to do with The Beatles, AHDN never fails to make me smile or lift my spirits.

The set of color photos first appeared in Roy Carr's The Beatles at the Movies book; they make a second appearance in Mark Hayward's The Beatles Unseen, so they are technically not "unseen" pictures. The other photos are from Beatles Book Monthly, the May 1964 and May 1984 issues. John is arm-wrestling Norman Rossington--very appropriate! Many of the pictures above were taken at the Scala Theatre, the location of the concert in the film. (All scanned by yours truly. Click to enlarge.)

Coming Up (like a flower): A bouquet of Sgt. Pepper sessions pix! It will take some time and effort to get them scanned and organized; therefore, your patience is appreciated.

Saturday, March 10, 2007

"Greatly turned on by the Spirit of the Age"

February 10, 1967:

A landmark event in a year filled with them--the orchestral overdub session for the 24-bar gap in "A Day in the Life", the majestic conclusion of the Sgt. Pepper album. Paul McCartney, bolstered by immersion in the avant-garde, envisioned an "orgasm of sound", an orchestral build up from a low note to the highest note each instrument could play. John Lennon loved the idea, and encouraged Paul and George Martin to make this vision a reality.

Forty musicians arrived in Abbey Road EMI Studio 1 for the 8:00 PM session. Also in attendance were the Beatles and many friends, including Mick Jagger, Marianne Faithful, Keith Richards, Mike Nesmith, Donovan, and Simon & Marijke of The Fool. The musicians were instructed to wear formal dress attire and don the various novelties provided--rubber noses, false eyes, upside-down glasses, etc. The studio was filled with bubbles and revelry, a party atmosphere permeated the session. The bewildered musicians eventually placed confidence in George Martin, and proceeded to attempt the unusual request:

"a.) Start very quietly and end very loud, b.) start very low in pitch and end up very high, and c.) make your own way up the scales, independent of your neighbor." (Lewishon, p. 244)

George Martin and Paul took turns conducting the orchestra while Geoff Emerick remained in the control room, capturing the crescendo. The crowd participated in creating the abandoned "hums ending", erupting in laughter at its conclusion. On Feb. 22, the final E major note (recorded by John, Paul, Ringo and Mal on pianos and George Martin on harmonium) that extends into infinity, was recorded to end the song.

NEMS employee and friend Tony Bramwell was in charge of filming the event, which was being documented with 7 hand-held cameras amongst the crowd. The film of that night (including different edits) is still in circulation. At first it was intended to be part of a larger Sgt. Pepper film, but this idea was later abandoned.

The pictures above are from this remarkable session, including screen captures from the existing film. Of particular interest is viewing some of the 100 speakers along the walls of Studio 1. These speakers were utilized while recording the overdub and created a unique sound--"ambiophony". (EDIT: Jim Boggia has brought it to my attention that Brian Kehew and and Kevin Ryan's Recording the Beatles book provides session information that refutes the ambiophonic speakers being used because too much feedback was created in the process. I have the RTB book, but haven't gotten into the meat of it yet. Thanks for the info, Jim.)

I found the first photos up for auction at It's Only Rock 'N' Roll, and quickly saved them to my hard drive! I scanned the middle ones from The Beatles: 365 Days book, and I did the screen captures myself.

A friend used to want to listen to "A Day in the Life" over and over again with me--she swore the sound was like that of the end of the world, very apocalyptic and chilling. I was reminded of T.S. Eliot--"This is the way the world ends/Not with a bang, but a whimper."

"A Day in the Life" is perhaps the most evocative, moving, and complex of The Beatles' recordings--a true collaborative effort, and the "message" of the Sgt. Pepper album as a whole.

Saturday, March 03, 2007

"It's So Far Out, It's Straight Down"

It is well known that Paul McCartney was an active member of the London "underground" scene, having become friends with Indica Books and Gallery owners (Barry) Miles, John Dunbar and (needless to say, being his fiance's brother) Peter Asher. Paul eagerly assisted them in setting up the bookstore by "fixing holes" in the walls and stocking shelves, as well as designing wrapping paper for the packages sold there. Eventually Miles established the infamous International Times, an underground newspaper supported by all four Beatles. Through the encouragement of both John and Paul, Miles began an illustrious career in rock journalism, and attained the role of ghost writer for McCartney's autobiography, Many Years From Now. Throughout that book, Paul asserts his status as a full-fledged participant in the avant-garde, perhaps trying to shed the "silly love songs" reputation he had attained over the years.

As the underground movement gained momentum, the media naturally became interested in exploring the phenomenon of "happenings". Granada television filmed a documentary entitled It's So Far Out, It's Straight Down" with the cooperation of Miles. Paul McCartney agreed to be interviewed for the documentary--his popularity and respectability would attract viewers and maybe draw in some converts along the way. The best part of the documentary is Pink Floyd, led by the charismatic and talented Syd Barrett, emerging on the scene as the quintessential psychedelic group.

Paul: "I really wish that people that look sort of with anger at the weirdos, at the happenings, at the psychedelic freak-outs...would be unbiased about it. Because they really don't realize that what these people are talking about is something that they really want themselves. It's something that everyone wants, you know, it's personal's a real basic pleasure for everyone, but it looks weird from the outside. (On society:) It's a bit too controlling....A lot of people have twigged...they've got all the rules for everything: rules of how to live, of how to paint, how to make music, and it's just not true anymore. They just don't work, all these rules. All this scene is trying to do is see where we are now and see what we've got around us and see what mistakes we've made and straighten them out. What we've done before is not necessarily the answer. They're talking about things that are a bit new, so people tend to put them down a bit."

Paul also attempts to get regular British society to view the new scene around them without fear, trusting that because human beings are behind it, "and you know vaguely what human beings are like" it can't be all that bad.

The next day, the Beatles began recording "A Day in the Life", considered by many to be the pinnacle of the Beatles' recording career. This song sort of ties in with what Paul discussed prior--the awakening to a new way of living, apart from the mundane and trivial aspects of daily life. The Beatles declared that this was possible, and they would love to "turn on" society to this new way of thinking. A revolution was in the works, and The Beatles went about recording the masterpiece that would bring Mozart to the supermarkets: Sgt. Peppers' Lonely Hearts Club Band, a touchstone for the upcoming Summer of Love.

In the meantime, regular society was trying to adjust to the changes they were observing in their beloved Mop Tops.

A prime example of this reluctance and confusion occurred on March 11, 1967, when the psychedelic promos for "Strawberry Fields Forever" and "Penny Lane" were aired on Dick Clark's American Bandstand. The teenagers assembled around Clark watch in a sort of state of shock. Their responses after the promos range from, "The moustaches ruin their image." "They look like grandfathers." "They're weird." "They went out with the twist." "They're as bad as the Monkees." "They're ugly." "They look so different." And my personal favorite: "Mick Jagger"! A few dissenters stated that they liked the new look and the Beatles have the right to look as they want. It seems as if the youth of Philadelphia (and the rest of the US) were not quite ready for the upcoming psychedelic movement; however, many would change their minds in the coming months. For those of us not yet alive at this pivotal time in history, having this document of AB allows us to see what it must have been like to experience The Beatles in real-time, and how they led the way in exposing the underground to the uninitiated, eventually making it a part of the larger society around them. Fascinating....

Today's photos come from screen captures of the Granda documentary, the promos for SFF and PL, and American Bandstand. The top photo is of Barry Miles, John Dunbar, Marianne Faithful, Peter Asher, and Paul. I want to note that the screen captures from SFF and PL were made by the fine folks at Let It Beatle. I do not think this fansite is being updated anymore, but it is a treasure trove of Beatles photos. Please visit here: Let it Beatle Photo Gallery
I did the rest of the captures myself. Enjoy!

(References: The Beatles: A Diary--Barry Miles; That Magic Feeling: The Beatles' Recorded Legacy Volume Two 1966-1970--John C. Winn)