Beatle Mania, 50 Years Later

One of my guilty little pleasures is my SiriusXM subscription in my car. The model of car that I bought had the deluxe stereo package and it came with a 3 month trial subscription. At the time I was commuting an hour and a half to work every day. I was sold on a subscription before a week had gone by.

That was almost five years ago and every year I try to talk myself out of renewing but of the subscriptions that I have I probably use this one more than most of the others. I don’t have a long commute any more but I listen to Sirius every time I go anywhere in my car.

This week Sirius started a new channel that has made me an even bigger fan of the service. You may have seen the ads for it on television. It is called the Beatles channel and it plays songs from the entire Beatles catalog including those recorded by the individual members after the breakup. It also plays music by musicians that influenced the Beatles like Elvis Presley and Chuck Berry for instance. It plays covers of Beatle tunes by various artists, many of which I was unaware. It plays short documentary clips about various details of the Fab Four. I also caught a little bit of a show where Little Stephen of the E-Street Band was playing his favorite song of each Beatle. I suspect we’ll have more different content as time goes by.

I was about to go through the process of deciding whether to keep my subscription for another year. This channel has just tipped the decision for this year at least.

So, why am I so excited about a Beatles channel anyway. Several reasons come to mind. Foremost among them is the fact that I grew up listening to the Beatles. The first LP that I ever owned was bought with Green stamps and was Beatles 65. The first song that my garage band learned was Eleanor Rigby. You begin to see a pattern developing here.

The Beatles weren’t the only band I listened to but as the years went by and my musical taste broadened, the Beatles remained in the core of my musical pantheon. I listened to the Rolling Stones, Simon & Garfunkel, Ten Years After, and Jefferson Airplane/Starship. As my musical taste matured I found myself listening to Santana, Joni Mitchell, Crosby, Stills, Nash, & Young, and Ricky Lee Jones.

Beatles song have a particular quality to them. They infused our culture so completely and for so long that they have become markers that bring to mind events in your life when a particular song was playing. For example, I associate Rocky Raccoon with the Saloon at Guntown Mountain the first night that I worked there. The rest of the cast was feeling me out and the fact that I knew Rocky Raccoon seemed to cinch their opinion of me as a competent guitarist.

I remember how upset I was that they were breaking up. It was a slow motion affair. The decision had been made and put in motion before the sales of Let it Be and The White album had even begun to peak. We didn’t have any idea of how prolific the individual members of the band would be after the break up.

I said there were a lot of reasons. I’ve really only given two are three. There are more but I’ll give it some thought and write about them another time. By the way, I wrote this blog post listening to… The Beatles, of course.

Sweet dreams, don’t forget to tell the ones you love that you love them, and most important of all, be kind.

Long Live Rock!

I heard today that Rock is dead. It made me pause and think. What would inspire anyone to come to that conclusion? Indeed, we have lost many good rockers in recent years. Some might say we’ve lost all of the original generation of rockers but that is not the point, even when it is true.

Is Classical music dead because all the original Classical composers are long dead? Just because Mozart can not play it for us himself, are his compositions any less brilliant. Which is not to say there are no Neo Classical composers of note. The form is alive and well as far as I can see.

And what about Blues? Is Blues dead as well? All the original Bluesmen are long dead. We are well into the second century of Blues and it seems to me that it is still going strong. B.B. King may be dead but Robert Cray is still belting out the Blues.

Then there is Jazz, Music Hall, Light Opera, Stage Musical, all with their own personality and style. They live on because they still speak to the heart and souls of the people that love them.

These genres have a life of there own. Just because the originators are gone doesn’t diminish the appeal to people of a like mind and spirit. Music transcends time and generational boundaries. It survives cultural evolution and fusion.

As long as teenagers are filled with angst, there will be Rock & Roll. As long as young lovers are convinced that they are unique and no one has ever felt the way they do, there will be Rock & Roll. As long as they feel invincible and immortal, there will be Rock & Roll,

We still have giants of Rock among us. There is Bruce Springsteen, Mick Jagger, and Paul McCartney.  Ian Anderson, Rod Stewart, and Crosby, Stills, and Nash. Even when these greats die out, their music will live on and inspire generation after generation of Rock musicians to come.

Rock isn’t dead and as one famous lyric proclaims “Rock will never die. Long live Rock!”

Sweet dreams, don’t forget to tell the ones you love that you love them, and most important of all, be kind.

Top of the Pops

We have an app that lets us stream BBC television live as it is being broadcast in the UK. This makes it offset from our local time by six hours. That means that, for instance, when we watch at 9:00PM here, it is3:00AM in Great Britain. It is surprising that we can almost always find things that we want to watch quicker there than we can in all the channels on the local cable pretty much any time, day or night.

I may have also mentioned that early on Saturday morning, BBC Four plays old Top of the Pops episodes from a long time ago. Tonight they were playing an episode from 1977. I was living in Germany at the time but I was totally unaware of Top of the Pops at that time. I was, however, aware of many of the artists that they featured.

As I watched such bands as Bob Marley and the Wailers, Thin Lizzy, and Queen to name just a few, perform their current hit songs I was impressed by how rigidly produced many of the acts were. Their dancing was choreographed. Rod Stewart was even using an acoustic guitar as a prop, he obviously wasn’t playing it.

In this post Milli Vanilli age modern audiences take a dim view of lip syncing but in 1977 it was required by most television producers. One can understand their nervousness about things going wrong on a nationwide feed but after all, that is what these artists do, night after night on tour. It is going to take more than the novelty of a television studio to throw them.

I had my run as a professional musician. It was exhilarating. By the end of the three year run I was as good a rhythm guitar player as most of the ones that I saw on tv tonight. And the more you play, the better you get.

But I was saved from that probable catastrophe by circumstances. The nail in the coffin of my musical career was when my wife got pregnant with our first daughter. We had to change the plan then. We couldn’t live on a shoe string and hand outs from our parents any more. I had to get a real job.

And as fate would have it, that job was as a missile computer repairman for the Army. It brought me to Huntsville and taught me the trade that would end up carrying me through a successful career as a programmer.

Being a professional musician takes a lot out of you. If you are successful you are never at home. You have to learn to make home where ever you are. And you have to resist the temptation of drugs and alcohol and promiscuous sex. In spite of the early termination of my musical career I struggled with those issues in my twenties. I can only imagine how difficult it would have been if I had had the kind of access to those vices that a musical career at that time would have given me.

On the other hand, if you are a less successful musician, you are never home. You couldn’t afford a home anyway. You are constantly looking for a gig to put food on the table and get you to the next gig. I won’t say things have been easy for me but they’ve been a lot easier than they would have been as a professional musician.

I miss the audiences though. It’s not a matter of ego though. There is a magical exchange of energy between musicians and an audience that digs the music they are playing. Both the crowd and the performers feed off of that energy and, paradoxically, the more they do, the more the energy is amplified.

I still play music. Not as much as I’d like. But I keep in practice. I keep my eyes open for a small group of musicians with similar musical tastes and abilities. The nonverbal communications between musicians is another thrill that I miss. If you play music and want to get together sometime, let me know.

Sweet dreams, don’t forget to tell the ones you love that you love them, and most important of all, be kind.