Friday, February 18, 2005

Things Appall A Fart

I have come to realize that yesterday's post on the Sixties was a tad bit puerile. I wasn't at the top of my game yesterday, emotionally or intellectually, and what came out was a bit of a strident blort. I won't redact it, though, because, well, I was who I was yesterday and I yam what I yam today. Do I contradict myself? Very well then I contradict myself, (I am large, I contain multitudes. And this complete breakfast. And 120 rockin' milligrams of headache-bustin' Indomethacin.)

But I did have a point to make, and I stand by that point. Let's try to get at it from a slightly more oblique angle, eh?

I think it was the nearly universal reaction to Paul McCartney's appearance at the Super Bowl that set me off on this binge: Ooh, 2003's halftime show was so shockin', woah Janet's titty and Nellie crotch-grabbin' and woo I'll have you naked by the end of this song, let's get the OLD GUY in here STAT, the SAFE ANCIENT DODDERING OLD FART who'll lull a raw and restive world back into its warm cocoon with lullabies of disposable nostalgia and songs your mother should know...

And Paulie had a nice, full-throated Liverpoodle Larff at all our expense. And nobody knew it.

He led off with Drive My Car, one of the funniest, slyest, nudge-nudge-wink-wink extended sex jokes that's ever been pulled -- beep-beep-mmm-beep-beep, YEAH!...

And not a single swingin' dick under the age of about six hundred years old got the goddamned joke.

He didn't rip anybody's bustier off, fondle his willie, wipe his ass with anybody's flag -- but he pulled off a blatantly subversive prank: "I shagged her rotten, innit, and she loved every glorious second of it, beep-beep-yeah..." But because the lyric hides behind a gossamer-thin veil of jokeyness, and because Paulie is such a crowd-pleasing, top-hat-and-cane showbiz hoofer, The Man, the National Super-Ego, Darth Vader, the Force of Darkness, smiled approvingly and nodded along -- an excellent choice, Mr. Tagliabue, an excellent choice...

And Macca followed it with "Get Back," which had me half-cringing -- a surrealist word-association potpourri that name-checks transvestism, reefer, incest... Fabulous family fare, Mr. Powell! I'll wait to hear from you in the morning!

Not a peep. Nothing. Ka-PWINNNG, right over everybody's heads and off into the Land Where Naughty Jokes Go to Die.

But the finale, "Hey Jude," was the most brilliantly transgressive choice of all. This song is the most point-blank decent, humane, kind, downright dare I say Christian thing I know of: Hey, look, you're in pain, I'm in pain, but I love you and trust you, and I hope you feel the same, and maybe if we were all nice to each other for a change we'd all be a little bit happier.... This in the midst of our annual national bread-and-circuses spectacle, where steroid- and ampetamine-crazed behemoths grunt silverback territorial threats at each other under the jet flybys and the steelbellied Barbie-doll cheerleaders wiggle their booties in martial rhythm and idiot color commentators yacket on about achieving Deep Penetration into the enemy's Red Zone...

The late Ian MacDonald, in his brilliant book, Revolution in the Head, presents us with a chart, many pages long, that places all the Beatles' recordings in their historical and cultural contexts. From this list we know, for example, that on March 2, 1963, when The Fabs' "Please Please Me" hit Number One on the British charts, their chief competition was Cliff Richard & the Shadows' Summer Holiday, Elvis Presley's Girls! Girls! Girls!, and the Four Seasons' Walk Like a Man. Not very prepossessing stuff, you'll agree.

Try to imagine, if you can, how glowing and incandescent and utterly mindblowingly shocking a song like "Please Please Me" was to some poor bastard soaked in all that 1963 dreck. "Last night I said..." where the harmonies part, one voice descending a ladder while the other holds its note, a straight cop from the Everly Brothers' "Cathy's Clown" from three years before, but yanked forward into Telstar modernity by the sheer, sexy, joyful drive of it, just two-guitars-bass-drums but sounding like a perfect gyroscope-balanced rocketship, every note signifying, and not a single note too many. And that incredible hook, the octave leap on "please please me woah yeah," a ballsy thing to write for yourself to sing onstage night after night, the work of a supremely self-confident songwriter. This was totally, unprecedentedly, thoroughly, life-affirmingly new.

And whaddya know... That chorus: Hey! It's a sex joke! Aaaaaall the way from stuffy old black-and-white, Profumo-scandal, Kim-Philby, missile-crisis, ring-a-ding-ding, loneliness-of-the-long-distance-runner 1963... A sneaky plea for a BJ! Let's both be naked by the end of this song!

I long to feel that shock again, and I begin to suspect I never will. Grumpy old Stephen Maturin often cites the Spanish proverb que no hayan novedades -- "may no new thing arise," and I'm afraid I know just what he means. The new that was new then is not now new.

This is why I become so defensive about old Sir Paul. In far, far too many ways today, we seem to be living through Yeats' Second Coming, where the best lack all conviction and the worst are full of passionate intensity. MacDonald (who, it pains me deeply to say, took his own life not long ago) wrote in his introduction:
The true revolution of the Sixties -- more powerful and decisive for Western society than any of its external byproducts -- was an inner one of feeling and assumption: a revolution in the head. Few were unaffected by this and, as a result of it, the world changed more thoroughly than it ever could have done under merely political direction. It was a revolution of and in the common man; a revolution (as Aaron Copeland, author of the eponymous fanfare, observed) whose manifesto -- its vices as much as its virtues, its losses as well as its gains, its confusions together with its lucidities -- is readable nowhere more lucidly than in The Beatles' records.
So hear this, you of the passionate intensity, you who would break the back of of my humanism, you who would force me to inhabit your horrid new empire that mocks me for my age and for my convictions: I know what you're up to.

I read the news today, oh boy....


Anonymous said...

Thanks Neddie for your close reading of McCartney's lyrics. I guess I'll never hear those words otherwise than more or less onomatopoeically. It has got something to do with intense listening-sessions during the sixties in swinging Helsinki. Downstairs by a teakish hi-fi set. LP's with strange American covers. Revolution in Tapiola.


XTCfan said...

Neddie, I always learn something new here in Byjingoville ... I always thought Please Please Me was a sneaky plea for a handjob, not a BJ.

Anyway, good points on Macca's performance at SB XXXLXIXXXX ... I should have paid closer attention, but I think it's right to give credit where's credit's due. Let's hope that was what was on Paulie's mind.

As for I know what you're up to, remember ... they know what you're up to, too. Keep in mind that, under the right circumstances, 2+2=5.

Your pal,

Neddie said...

Terve "Anonymous" Esko! Hyvää on!

I believe my first Beatle record, "Twist and Shout" b/w "All My Loving" (Christ, that was a b-side!), actually reached the Jingo ears one floor up from that Fisher hi-fi....

Neddie said...


I don't want to sound complaining
But you know there's always rain in my heart
I do all the pleasin' with you, it's so hard to reason
With you, whoah yeah, why do you make me blue.

I'm pretty sure Dr. O'Boogie would have accepted any method on offer to relieve his, er, blueness.

Anonymous said...

No niin Ned-poika,

Are you/we talking about the very first Beatle-single in all the three floors? The one with All my loving & I saw her standing there, the one - it pains me to say - I was not allowed to listen on Good Friday (a totally weird decision in an otherwise quite permissive household of the 3rd floor.. Revolution !). The one with a deep profundo bass-note in the end (".. what the heck was that.."). The one ..

Ok, I don't want to turn this into a Beatles fan site - but since you started..


Paul McCartney said...

Hullo, Neddie-

I'm really glad that you liked our little Superbowl thing, man.

Dunno if I put as much thought into the setlist as you give me credit for, but yeah, that was the general direction.

My real rebellion was a private one, mate- I was wearing a huge vibrating bumplug up me arse the whole time. Ha!