Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Sir Paul is 64

(published in the Johnson City Press)

As announced by the news media recently, Sir Paul McCartney turned 64. I am one of those people who have hummed and memorized “When I’m Sixty-four” and wondered where a pop band like the Beatles ever dreamed to incorporate a clarinet and chime in their orchestration. On top of all that I’m not so far behind Sir Paul in age.

When the Beatles first appeared on TV, on "The Ed Sullivan Show," in ancient times, I was dismissive. Their music just wasn’t my kind of stuff. I was a cornet player (a real musician, I knew theory and scales and all that stuff) and liked jazz more than rock and roll. We had two stereos in our house and lots of LPs. Vera, Chuck, and Dave were off in the future--for all of us. My sister, now a grandmother, was the Beatles fan. Her first Beatles album was Hard Day’s Night (the soundtrack) and I still have it (along with Sgt. Pepper and Meet the Beatles, both in vinyl if any one wants to know). You’d think they would be worth lots of money on the auction sites. But, they’re not. Rather, they might look nicer in a frame with the recording out far enough to read the label. I’ve seen this done and it looks terrific.

But the Beatles were not my band nor my music at first. I was in high school band at the time and not very inventive about forming a band. My tastes ran to Urbie Green and Mundell Lowe and Andre Previn and Henri Rene. Most of us wanted someone else to try--and let them fail--so we sat back and waited. Is that true of boomers still?

Long after “Lady Madonna” or “Eleanor Rigby,” if my memory will stop slipping for a moment, I began to appreciate Beatles music more. I didn’t buy into Beatlemania but I was beginning to change my liking--a little. And I found Sgt. Pepper, at least, to be music, with lyrics, innovation, and message, more than just yelling and screaming and something better than the current pop cussing. I began to notice that these guys wrote songs. Paul McCartney could play the piano, for heaven’s sake, and bass guitar. Both clefs! And sing. Goodness, how had I missed that?

We bought long-play albums for that one or two tunes that were getting airplay. While I understand the immense success of the pay-for-play concept, airplay is still maybe one of the most important promotional tools any band could have. Sell some CDs at the Blue Plum, get on Studio 1, go on NPR. Somehow get the word out, “let them listen and they will buy,” unless nostalgia interrupts then I buy the CD and the DVD and then the internet tune, never buying anything new. On Meet the Beatles are three songs I recognize and nine my sister paid for that went nowhere. Strangely, on this album is “Till There was You,” by Meredith Willson, from his musical hit, The Music Man. Go figure.

However many albums the band produced, it has to be noticed that one or two songs became exceptionally popular and ten or eleven did not. If there were 25 albums (we’ll be conservative) produced and each has a dozen songs, the Beatles recorded 300 songs and if each of those 300 surfaced only after another ten false starts, the boys wrote an incredible 3,000 pieces of music. Of their own stuff. Is this unusual? How many tries did Stephen King take until a story survived the 50,000-word treatment? And then pushed that to the 100,000-word limit only to get shot down by a publisher? Producing popular art might be harder than we imagine. In all the talk about creativity and making money, it’s forgotten that the artist has more misses than hits but the hits need help--both artistically and financially--for the artist to continue with their work.

My congratulations to Sir Paul. Sixty-four is still young, I’m told. “Send me a postcard/ drop me a line/ stating point of view,” and when I get there I’ll let you know.


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