It Was Fifty Years Ago Today
Watching the CBS Beatles' 50th anniversary special, several things came to mind.
The first being how much I miss John Lennon. Even when I was 5 years-old, Lennon was one I liked the best. Maybe it was infectious enthusiasm. Or maybe I just dug those sideburns.
Last night, as my wife and I watched a DVR recording of CBS' gala hoop-dee-doo, when John's biography came up, we were both in tears. It's inevitable at our house that any Lennon mention or extended remembrance instantly causes us to cry for the loss of this great artist.
I miss John's wit, humor and brutal honesty. Imagine John winding up on one of these politically charged cable shows, now so popular, and going a few rounds with some of those Orwellian double-speak talking heads. John spoke from the artist's point of view, which would-be politicos automatically dismiss as dreamers, but he was intellectually capable of the disambiguation of their distorted logic.
It was when he sang that he reached the height of eloquence. His high baritone was a pantheon of human emotions that most singers cannot reach. If John wanted to sing about anarchy-done. Same with tenderness, loss, depression and humor. His voice was a lightening rod, a touchstone and a safe place of healing and comfort.
Paul's voice always has an angelic quality to it, with some notable exceptions (Helter Skelter, I'm Down, etc.), and George was a master at harmony, but it was Lennon who delivered the body blows.
Composer George Crumb told me that, in order to understand music, that some 50 years have to pass before a proper cultural perspective can be realized. Now that we have arrived, I am amazed that we are still talking about the music of these Liverpudlians and that it still sounds fresh and relevant. Heck, I'm still waiting for the current generation of musicians to make their own Sergeant Pepper's or I Am the Walrus. Haven't heard it yet.
It won't happen because it was a once in a species event. The Beatles were so powerfully original that the mold they made for the rock 'n'roll writer/performer and was the one they destroyed with their constant reinvention. It's a long, long way from I Want to Hold Your Hand to A Day in the Life. Even from Mozart's first symphony to the last, there isn't that much of a sea-change. The cultural revolution that they created was the same wave they rode higher and higher until the bonds between them could no longer hold. There's was a perfect arc, a perfect evolution and ultimate dissolution.
The Beatles are in a category all to themselves. We can compare the Rolling Stones to such-and-such, but I have found that when you bring the Fab Four into the musical discussion, all the rules change. They are, were and will be incomparable.
What can the network that brought them into our living rooms, some fifty years ago, possibly do to bring a fresh perspective?
This brings us to CBS' shindig about the 50 years since the Ed Sullivan Show appearance when basically, in one night, they conquered America and influenced every would-be musician that was lucky enough to be in front of the family TV that awesome night. It was a cultural infusion of hope and innocence regained at a time when America was still grieving the loss of its president. They came at just the right time and in just the right way.
The artists gathered to celebrate the Beatles were a big name lot, but in the end none could reach inside the songs and revivify them with new interpretation. To me, a great artist is one who can perform in many styles and make something anew. There wasn't one performer who reached this level and there were certainly some bad, bad song-to-artist matchups.
Honestly, I'm not going through the horrible (Katy Perry) interpretations (Imagine Dragons) and the huge (Alicia Keys, John Mayer) musical disasters, lets just say (Brad Paisley, Maroon Five, Keith Urban) 98% of the performers missed the mark. The old guard, Joe Walsh, Jeff Lynne, Peter Frampton did well and decent versions, but no shining moments there either.
Oddly, I didn't understand why Harrison's son wasn't given a more prominent role. MIA: Julian Lennon. Present but annoying: Yoko Oh-No! and her dancing(?). Sean sure looked like he wanted to be up on that stage. Sean has a great voice, so why not the invite? CBS, you confound me.
What all the big network hocus-pocus showed me is that, to use Lennon's own words:
"There is no one who compares with you."
The Beatles were and still are, incomparable.