Dear Prudence: John’s beautiful dreamer…

“Dear Prudence is me. Written in India. A song about Mia Farrow’s sister, who seemed to go slightly barmy, meditating too long, and couldn’t come out of the little hut that we were livin’ in….  That was the competition in Maharishi’s camp: who was going to get cosmic first. What I didn’t know was I was already cosmic.” – John Lennon

Prudence Farrow (far left, dark hair) with the Beatles and Maharishi in India (image courtesy Rolling Stone)

The Beatles famously went to India in February of 1968 to study transcendental meditation. While they didn’t necessarily reach nirvanic enlightenment (hence John’s bit of waggery in the above comment), they wrote many of the songs that appeared in November 1968 on the epic double album The Beatles known as “the White Album”). Among these is “Dear Prudence,” John’s tune about his, George’s, and Paul’s attempts to coax Prudence Farrow, Mia’s sister, from her hut where she had become “addicted to meditation.”

The song is notable for a couple of reasons. One is that John learned a finger picking style from Donovan who was also on the retreat and “Dear Prudence” is the first song where one hears John’s newly developed skill. The second reason is that the song represents an aspect of Beatle songwriting that emerged on the White Album: the album is filled with songs that offer carefully observed portraits of characters real and imagined along with relevant social commentary such as “Back in the USSR,” “Bungalow Bill,” “Martha, My Dear,” “Julia,” Piggies,” “Sexy Sadie,” “Honey Pie,” and “Cry, Baby, Cry,”

“Dear Prudence” is perhaps the loveliest and kindest of these portraits. Continue reading

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Random thoughts about the record album – part 5: they want their MTV

“It made the record industry a one-trick pony. It became only about a three-minute single and a visual image, and if you didn’t have the three minutes you were over. The corner was turned at that point, I think, away from believing in the power of the music, and [to] believing in the power of the market. Once that corner was turned, we started on the path that has led us to this moment here, where kids are treating music as disposable.” – Michael Guido, entertainment lawyer

“I think that there’s always been two different kinds — at least two different kinds of music fans. There are people that just are into songs, and there are people that are into artists.” – Danny Goldberg, record executive

(Read part 1, part, 2, part 3, part 4)

Madonna and Michael Jackson, MTV’s biggest stars (image courtesy Fanpop)

During the era of the record album’s dominance, from 1967-1981, audiences listened to music. For young listeners it was more often a solitary rather than social experience, often taking place in a teenager’s room, sometimes made even more solitary by the use of headphones. It was easy to lose oneself in the experience of interrelated songs telling a story, as the concept album sought to present, or share in the intimate experience of the singer/songwriter’s soul baring compositions. If a fan went to college, the experience might become more social, though still in a fairly intimate way, sharing favorite albums with a roommate or a couple of suite mates, sometimes the experience enhanced by a few beers or a joint. And such listening became part of the mating rituals of countless romantic relationships formed during one’s college years.

If a music fan watched television during this period at all, it was perhaps a concert show like ABC’s excellent, short-lived In Concert or NBC’s long-lived, less excellent faux concert show Midnight Special. One listened to music; one watched TV.

That changed August 1, 1981. Continue reading

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

I’ll Be Back: mood is everything

“A nice tune, though the middle is a bit tatty.” John Lennon

John Lennon (image courtesy Beatles Bible)

“I’ll Be Back” would be right at home on Rubber Soul. This early masterpiece of moody vulnerability is one of my top three favorite Beatle songs, and I doubt that John would be as dismissive of the song if he had the gift of retrospect.

The unusual structure of the song (no chorus but two bridges) is part of its fascination. Its intro also shifts from major to minor chords, a striking chord shift that at least one later rock icon noticed (that same chord shift is a feature in more than one Kurt Cobain song).

Like other songs Lennon wrote during what he called his “Dylan period” (the spring/summer of 1964 through Rubber Soul in late 1965 – other examples are “I’m a Loser” and “You’ve Got to Hide Your Love Away”), “I’ll Be Back” is introspective bordering on confessional. Unlike those other songs I mentioned, however, “I’ll Be Back” is less critical, more wistful and wishful than pained. Continue reading

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

A few words about The Sorrows of Young Werther

Ich habe das Herz gefühlt, die große Seele, in deren Gegenwart ich mir schien mehr zu sein, als ich war, weil ich alles war, was ich sein konnte. (I have possessed that heart, that noble soul, in whose presence I seemed to be more than I really was, because I was all that I could be.) – Goethe, The Sorrows of Young Werther

The Sorrows of Young Werther (image courtesy Goodreads)

I ran across an article the other day (link popped up in the old social media feed) that suggested that Johann Wolfgang von Goethe’s Die Leiden des jungen Werther, known most commonly in English as The Sorrows of Young Werther, was a contender for the title “deadliest book in history.” While that assertion is rather preposterous on the face of it, and while as I write this I can think of example after example of books that have been deadlier (Mein Kampf, Mao’s Little Red Book for starters), if I grant that perhaps by book the author, Sean Braswell, means novel, then, that would be… different? Maybe. I can also readily think of novels that have been or are being deadlier (The Turner Diaries or anything by Ayn Rand, for example).

So initially I found myself agreeing with a number of commenters and dismissing the article’s author as being provocative for the sake of grabbing eyeballs. It’s a useful article, though, because it gets Goethe’s breakthrough work into the public consciousness, and that’s a good thing.

And there is something about Werther that makes it a book we should be thinking about. Continue reading

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Eleanor Rigby: the real and the imagined…

“I thought, I swear, that I made up the name Eleanor Rigby like that. I remember quite distinctly having the name Eleanor, looking around for a believable surname and then wandering around the docklands in Bristol and seeing the shop there. But it seems that up in Woolton Cemetery, where I used to hang out a lot with John, there’s a gravestone to an Eleanor Rigby. Apparently, a few yards to the right there’s someone called McKenzie.” – Paul McCartney

Paul McCartney – pondering the existential dilemma, perhaps (image courtesy The Internet Beatles Album)

Any artist who has ever tried to explain the genesis of a work has had the experience. When the work is a significant one, such as Paul McCartney’s “Eleanor Rigby,” interest in the genesis of such a work is high; fans, critics, and music historians all have keen interest in understanding the how and why of such a song.

A song that explores the existential pain of loneliness, “Eleanor Rigby” is the tale of Eleanor and Father McKenzie, the priest in the church where Eleanor “picks up the rice…where a wedding has been….” Eleanor deals with her painful loneliness, McCartney tells us, by living “in a dream.” Father McKenzie, the person that conventional expectation would assume could serve as a comforter for Eleanor, is as lonely and isolated as she is, writing sermons “that no one will hear” and “darning his socks in the night when there’s nobody there.”

Father McKenzie trying to help Eleanor Rigby is a case of a lonely soul unable to help another lonely soul. Continue reading

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Some wasted words about Gregg Allman

“I ain’t no saint, and you sure as hell ain’t no savior… Don’t ask me to be Mr. Clean, cause Baby I don’t know how….” – Gregg Allman, “Wasted Words”

The original Allman Brothers Band, Gregg on the left in the middle row (image courtesy Fanart.tv)

Gregg Allman’s death Saturday of liver cancer brought to a close the colorful, tragic story of the group more responsible than any other for creating the genre known as Southern Rock. By blending rock and roll, soul, country, blues, and jazz, the Allmans created a brand of music that nearly 50 years later sounds as fresh and original as it did when it first appeared.

Duane Allman brought jazz and rock and roll to the table (and his work with R&B and soul artists led to his bringing  drummer Jaimoe Johnson to the band who added jazz style drumming). Drummer Butch Trucks and guitarist Dickey Betts came to the band from more conventional rock bands, though they brought with them a bassist, Berry Oakley, who quickly grasped Duane Allman’s vision of a band playing soul/R&B inflected blues rock with twinges of country and extended improvisations in jazz style.

But they needed a singer. Gregg Allman, who’d steeped himself in soul and R&B as well as rock and blues, provided that. He also became the band’s main songwriter.  Continue reading

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Richard Farina’s Been Down So Long…a myth maker’s myth…

“The conscience of my elusive race gives not a fig for me, baby. But I endure, if you know what I mean.” – Richard Fariña

Been Down So Long It Looks Like Up To Me – author Richard Farina pictured (image courtesy Goodreads)

After reading David Hajdu’s excellent Positively 4th Street which chronicles the early careers of Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, and Richard and Mimi (Baez) Fariña, I decided to re-read Fariña’s first (and only) novel, Been Down So Long It Looks Like Up To Me. I hadn’t read (or thought much about) this book since I read in during my undergraduate days in the early 1970’s. My memory of that reading is a little hazy (the early 70’s, after all, were an extension of the 60’s with all the attendant excesses), but I remember being impressed with Fariña’s novel. It seemed to me to capture – well, anticipate, I guess would be a more accurate term for what I felt then and think now – the zeitgeist of that time.

There are other works that spoke to that zeitgeist, of course: Richard Brautigan’s Trout Fishing in America; Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse-Five; Carlos Castenada’s The Teachings of Don Juan: a Yaqui Way of Knowledge; Herman Hesse’s Steppenwolf; Tom Wolfe’s The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test; Fariña’s college roommate Thomas Pynchon’s The Crying of Lot 49  – all of these are works that  many Boomers remember as the stuff of conversations around the beer keg – or bong. But of all these counter culture touchstones of reading, Been Down So Long… holds a special place because it is a near perfect depiction of the ambivalence that plagues Boomers.  Continue reading

Posted in Uncategorized | 3 Comments