Wednesday, September 01, 2010

On Being Boring

My previous post is very boring. Not only are lists boring, but within moments of posting this one I had echoing in my head the speech the Jack Black character makes about some list that combines standards with a few curves thrown in just to make you seem slightly original. Polythene Pam, you expose me.

I was born in Heidelberg in the immediate aftermath of the breakup of the Beatles (after Abbey Road and just before Let it Be). I was unaware of the extent of the tragedy of John Lennon's death, even after my pacifist elementary school teacher had us all study the lyrics to "Imagine." I liked the song just fine, but a ten-year old boy's interest tend toward (I can't honestly remember what... I think Blondie). I didn't listen to the Beatles until my buddy Chip brought over the White Album. I remember him with a big grin on his face mouthing "Bang bang, shoot shoot" on "Happiness is a Warm Gun." We were sitting in an odd part of my old house, a narrow sort of wing off of the living room which featured mostly bookshelves, my parents' record player, and a smallish bar. For months thereafter I listened to cassettes of Sgt Pepper and Rubber Soul and Revolver, and discovered to my delight that my parents (whose collection was otherwise disappointing) had a copy of Abbey Road.

Probably my peculiar sense of the passage of time, of decades and of eras, has as much to do with those months as with anything else. It turns out, according to Billboard, that the number one song of 1970 was "Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head."

A small coda: a little before I latched on to the small, sad youth culture of John Hughes movies, the Violent Femmes, and others unimpressed with Morning in America, and it may have been a matter of months, I was at a dance somewhere. "Hard Days Night" came on, and I danced, leaping up and down alone. It gave me a way to make it through to college, a little bubble to ride out adolescence. Thinking of it now, it's not the same as nostalgia. It was a tool, and that tool gave me a particular sense of history, one that skewed some things and clarified others. It was very interesting to me, yet now seems banal in the telling, a lot like my list.


Dawn Coyote said...

I’m driving Madeline to school early this morning, with Abbey Road playing (somewhere in the middle of the medley - my favorite Beatles "song"), and she says, I like this. It reminds me of my dad, I tell her. He used to turn this up really loud on Saturday mornings. It would drown out my cartoons (in my mind's eye I can see the room; I’m sitting on the rug in front of the tv and the music is booming behind me).

Why did he do that? He liked it, I guess. She’s trying to remember her favorite song. It’s a name. Eleanor Rigby? No. Ruby Tuesday? No. There are a lot of them.

Come Together starts, and I tell her how the Beatles music changed after they began dropping acid and taking trips to India. They started out all lightweight pop, and then they got raunchy. What happened, she asks. I think they were looking for something. Everyone was.

I drop her off and then I’m on my way to the gym, thinking about the Beatles’ unflagging earnestness, even as things got weird, and of the tragedy of Lennon’s death, and of my father’s. I think about my family, how we love each other with a mad ferocity, like infatuated teenagers. I think of something Stephen King wrote, about the promise of the sixties, and how it never panned out.

Maybe pacifism isn’t dead. Maybe it’s just gone to the store for a new iPad, and when it comes back and finds the house on fire, it’ll snap out of its acquisitive daze and get back to work on the revolution.

(Songs I bought on iTunes today: Vanilla Queen, Candy’s Going Bad – Golden Earring; The Core – Eric Clapton; Bell Bottom Blues - Derek and the Dominos.)

august said...

One thing I like about the Beatles is that they did a lot of amazing things even after they stopped getting along with one another. Even when they weren't actively collaborating, they were sort of looking over their shoulders at one another figuring out a way to make it work.

Yes, they were looking for something, and they were trying to push themselves, and they didn't really know what they were doing.

Pacifism is surely not dead. Like poetry, it's not the sort of thing that everybody is going to be into. I do think it will reappear, I'm just a little scared of what it might take. I'd really rather not live through another Vietnam era. In general, I've probably been overselling the idea that radical politics of the time is gone. Some of it is gone, some of it just seems less radical (like environmentalism).

I think part of what I was listening to at the time, and something that really dawned on me only a couple of years later, was that my parents had had a life before me. (Really, Abbey Road, and Bridge Over Troubled Water, and Nashville Skyline, and My Sweet Lord (the only albums they had of any interest to me) were all from during my life, but before I was aware of it.) They had somehow negotiated the time, and my mom's subscription to Ms. was as radical as they got. Even now it's hard to place them, hard to see them, quite, as baby boomers. Which is weird because my grandparents were so of a piece with their generation (Depression/World War II).

I watched a documentary about the Doors.

Dawn Coyote said...

I watch The Last Waltz at least once a year. I never get tired of it, for the nostalgia for a more hopeful time.

Your posts have brought up a lot of memories. Thanks for that.

Keifus said...

On the Beatles, I can add that they were a big part of my wife's formative experience too. Her dad had played them (along with some other iconic music that closed out the sixties, like Creedence Clearwater Revival), and when she hears them, she lights up with, um, that connection to her past. I did good by her when I gave her Sergeant Pepper's (some anniversary edition with a T-shirt, even) for Christmas last year.

I have a theory that musical acts that can make it through their differences and successes (and failures) long enough achieve a certain something. I am tempted to call it maturity or subtlety, although I'm not sure it's quite right, and anyway I don't have a lot of data points.