Tag Archives: Paul McCartney

Reading Red

So why does a guy who abhors gossip shows read rock bios?

I don’t know, but I do. I’m not talking about the ghoul books, where hacks write detached tomes about Paul McCartney or Mick Jagger without ever getting close to the subject or the inner circle. There are writers who make a career out of that, although their creative output wouldn’t fill a thimble. You know who they are, because their dust jackets brag about how many they’ve written. If you know anything about rock’n’roll and grew up listening to the artists, you already know more than you’ll ever get out of these pulp pissants – the equivalent of stones skipping across the surface of a pond.

But hey, it’s America – they’re free to write ’em and you’re free to read ’em.

I’ve actually become more of a documentary fan as I’ve gotten older, everything from social issues to films to music. The recent deluxe package of Bridge Over Troubled Water included a fascinating piece about the making of the album; it started airing on Palladia this weekend. I almost didn’t recognize Art Garfunkel, but he and Paul Simon were interviewed at length along with several key collaborators. I know that album backwards and forwards and the title song still gives me goosebumps (one of the greatest vocals, ever), but I came away learning something. More on that tomorrow.

I’ve been working like a fiend, 12+ hour days, and this weekend I knew I had to decompress, at least for a day or two. I’ve always been a voracious reader, a book a day from my teen years through my mid-twenties. When I do have the time I still enjoy reading, whether next to the fireplace on a miserable winter’s night, laying on the beach on vacation or just sitting in an Adirondack chair outside my house. Summer is short and sweet in upstate New York, so with the sun high in the sky and cocktail in hand, I grabbed Sammy Hagar’s bio Red: My Uncensored Life In Rock.

Video: Montrose:Bad Motor Scooter

I’ve never been a huge fan of Sammy’s solo material, but that first Montrose album was and is an absolute killer, and his first solo record had a few stellar tracks as well. Being a bit older, I grew tired of Van Halen rather quickly, but two of the best songs they ever did – “Why Can’t This Be Love” and “Finish What You Started” – were with Sam in the band. And although the musicians in Chickenfoot are all first-rate, it just doesn’t stick with me musically. Frankly, his smaller band (whether Waboritas or Wabos) sounds looser and more fun.

Red is a pretty quick read – dysfunctional childhood, outsider with ambition, chance meetings, a little magic, and a combination of solo success mixed with playing alongside one of the most innovative guitarists in history and one of the most psychotic, self-destructive people around. And those last two people are the same guy.

Hagar doesn’t pull many punches here – he’s pretty open about his own missteps and regrets – and with few exceptions (Michael Anthony, original manager Ed Leffler) the usual suspects have the stink of the business upon them. Irving Azoff is skilled but two-faced, Ronnie Montrose is brilliant but self-directed, Eddie Van Halen can be a charming and apologetic cat but is also criminally insane. David Lee Roth is a self-serving dick. The only relationship I couldn’t figure out was Alex Van Halen; Hagar alternates between saying they are so tight they call each other on birthdays, and that Alex conspires with Eddie to screw him over at every turn. I think something went amiss in the editing.

Video: Van Halen: “Why Can’t This Be Love

I went into the book looking for the insider’s view on what really went down in the Van Halen circus, but frankly I didn’t learn a thing. What I did discover – and it was never said overtly – was that Hagar has been smart enough to reach out to successful people for advice, and then take it. Like Jimmy Buffet, he modeled his lifestyle into an enterprise that will keep him independently wealthy for the rest of his life, which gives him the freedom to play music for fun rather than necessity. Between cantinas and his Cabo Wabo tequila business – eventually sold to a majority owner who made his percentage worth more than it was when he ran it himself – Hagar is a free man.

So since he didn’t write the book for money, was it to set the record straight about the bands he had been in? To declare that the low-scale concerts and smaller albums are by design? To distance himself from the myriad of casualties he’s been associated with and celebrate family and casual living? Frankly, I’m not certain. The book doesn’t even really end, it just…stops. I think he wants his fans to believe that he’s at heart a decent guy who supports charities, who takes care of people (the Wabos are paid year-round even though they play infrequently), who has gotten to the top through hard work and dedication. I would imagine his fans already know that.

So while the book was a quick read – conversationally written, very pleasant – it was an afternoon’s diversion rather than a deep-dive. I did come away liking the guy and respecting his drive, and although I remain ambivalent about the majority of his catalogue, there are several classic songs of his that have endured well over time. If I ever meet him and he wants to do a shot of Cabo Wabo, it would probably be a good time (I did learn that Sammy brings the party with him). But sadly, maybe that Van Halen story will never be known.

Unless…I wonder if Michael Anthony is interested in writing a book?

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Happy Birthday, Brian Wilson

What can I say that hasn’t already been said?

I can add what a friend of mine said, because he succinctly captured the essence of wonder in a couple of short sentences.

For his son’s 20th birthday, Gary Frenay bought him tickets to see Brian Wilson on Brian’s 69th birthday, a concert in Ottawa, Canada. The band opened the show by having the audience sing “Happy Birthday” to Brian. Per Gary, “what followed was nearly three hours of music by an incredibly talented band, who lovingly supported their aging, but still – at times – quite youthful-sounding, leader. As in all of Brian’s shows over the last 9 years, the show is split into two parts. The first is a greatest hits set, with many rarities and album tracks throw in for the ever-faithful. Then after a break, the second set is his latest album in its entirety. In recent years, these have included Pet Sounds, Smile and That Lucky Old Sun

This tour, the album is Brian Wilson Reimagines Gershwin. While that isn’t my favorite of his recent releases, it really shone as a concert piece, especially with the addition of the string section throughout. Also, Brian was noticeably in better voice for the Gershwin set. Not sure if that’s a matter of warming up, or of the material being in a better range for him. Really sounded strong in the second set.”

You must understand that Gary is a huge fan of Brian Wilson and Paul McCartney; his own songs have honed that perfect intersection of their two majestic bands – arguably the best Britain and America had to offer in the 60s. But as we all watch our musical heroes and icons age, we must stop and realize just how incredible it is to see what we’re seeing forty years after the magic. Especially when at some point we all hoped we’d die before we got old.
 
So in the midst of wonderment – let alone the priceless experience of sharing something like that with your child – Gary stopped to smell the roses.
 
Not sure if I’ll get the chance again to see him perform, but really, how amazing is it that he’s still out there, doing dates all over the world, at his age, and with his well-publicized troubled past?”
 
How true. Savor the moments, rock fans. Get off your ass and don’t take anything for granted. Get thee to a club or theatre and live the music.
 
Don’t it always seem to go that you don’t know what you’ve got ’til it’s gone…”
 

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I Buried John

Thanks a lot, Paul.

You would think that the backlash from your efforts to change the songwriting credits to “McCartney/Lennon” would have been a clue. But no, you still can’t deal with the fact that although you are likely the most financially successful songwriter of all time, you will never have the social or intellectual credibility of John Lennon. And this won’t help: 

Paul McCartney has spoken once again about the end of the Beatles, this time revealing that it was John Lennon who brought an end to the group.”

Leave it to lame Access Hollywood to ask such cutting edge questions forty years after the fact. But Sir Paul, you should have just shrugged your shoulders, say “asked and answered a million times, uh-huh uh-huh yeah“. And is there even a reason to even sit down with them in the first place?

Let it be, Paul.

Flip Your Wig here.

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Beatlesque Again

What can I say? He’s done it again.

As a followup to the prior Meet The Beatlesque, my pal Angelo at Power Pop Criminals has unleashed a new two-CD mixtape of Beatley tunes called Beatlesque Again. These are not Beatle covers, but rather a collection of songs that capture the essence and spirit of the Fab Four.

The list of artists should entice any fan of the genre, from more recognizable names like Robyn Hitchcock and Julian Lennon to successful indie pop stars like Ben Kweller, The Nines and Splitsville. Those yet to discover the wonders of Magic Christian, Kenny Howes, The Singles, The Greenberry Woods and The Redwalls will be bowled over.

There’s great music being made all the time, you just have to go find it. Angelo is one of your chief warriors in this effort, so click here and be thrilled by this fifty-five track collection.

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Games People Play

Beatlemania hit fast and it hit hard.

Of course, you know that, and if like me you were there for the seismic shift, you remember the Ed Sullivan Show, and the screaming girls and the absolute dominance of the pop charts. You remember the cheeky interviews and the Christmas Fan Club singles and even debating whether some Canadian musician was standing in Paul McCartney’s Beatle boots.

There were lunch boxes and posters and trading cards. There were even cartoons. And then there was Flip Your Wig.

I remember buying this for my neighbors Fran and Janet and probably even playing it once. But if you thought it was demoralizing to watch girls moon over Beatles picture sleeves while not giving you the time of day, imagine playing a board game with them where every roll of the dice involved kissing a cardboard cut-out of a Beatle. And you wonder why most guys were Stones fans.

But Doc, that’s old school shit my grandpa babbled about. I’m a ’77 punker and I hate The Beatles. I grew up on cool bands like The Clash.

No problem, young whippersnapper

My buddy Angelo over at Power Pop Criminals went to great pains to scan and reassemble the free game that the rock weekly Sounds gave away. Angelo describes it as a Snakes and Ladders type game covering events in the band’s early career, complete with playing cards and cut-outs of the handsome quartet.

So click here to visit PPC, get your scissors, tape, glue (no sniffing!) and cardboard and have at it. It’s a White Riot!

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Nowhere Boy

Beatle Weekend, Part Two…

Finally got the chance to see Nowhere Boy this weekend, and despite my trepidations I was pretty impressed overall. I wasn’t sure what to expect, thinking perhaps a Backbeat story arc, but I liked it. On one hand it was the story of John Lennon leading up to Hamburg, but it was also one of the oddest love triangles in film history. Kudos to both Kristin Scott Thomas as Mimi and Anne-Marie Duff as Julia, Lennon’s aunt and mother respectively…and inversely, of course.

At first glance Thomas’ Mimi is impossibly prim and tight, while Duff’s Julia is wild and flirtatious, almost carnal; both characters are caricatures rather than people. But as the film develops, both move towards the center, eventually connecting before fate steps in to deal a bad hand. Likewise, Lennon is shown as a polarized youth, pulled between a wild streak and a crippling need for affection, but he too learns to balance both sides into a confident approach…the Lennon we would soon come to know. The film was nominated for four BAFTAs and won one (Duff as Julia).

Trailer: Nowhere Boy

Aaron Johnson gets credit for inhabiting the persona rather than aping it; his inner conflicts are as visible as his facade. There are several pivotal moments in the story, of course, and director Sam Taylor-Wood makes sure they’re driven home, but the film’s best moment is understated.

John first meets a young Paul McCartney in a bathroom doubling as a dressing room for a small park concert. Like gunslingers, they stand face to face, and as John draws his wit and leverage, Paul fires back by riffing a flawless intro to “Twenty Flight Rock“. Johnson, as Lennon, doesn’t say a word, but we see him realize that he brought a knife to the gunfight.

The humility, and the language of music, would open a door that would change their lives forever, and ours as well. And here’s the song that brings it all home

Video: “In Spite of all The Danger

Official film site

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Blast From The Past: I Am Sam

Beatle Weekend, Part One.

Also known as How To Sell A Beatles Tribute Album With A Movie Tie-In. The premise of the relationship between this collection of Beatles covers (more specifically, Lennon-McCartney covers) and the Sean Penn film is Penn’s character’s affinity for Beatles music.

Fine by me. I imagine the reason that not too many of the artists strayed from the formula had more to do with “keeping it real” for the imagination of the Sam character (mentally challenged) than the participant’s unwillingness to experiment with established classics. Regardless, great songs are great songs, and several of the almost spot-on performances (Aimee Mann and Michael Penn on “Two Of Us” and Sheryl Crow’s “Mother Nature’s Son“) are enjoyable versions that could have been bonus tracks on those respective artists’ albums.

Video: “Two of Us“, “Blackbird“, “I’m Looking Through You

Some veer slightly off the path, like The Vines with “I’m Only Sleeping” (great finish), Stereophonics‘ soulful “Don’t Let Me Down” and Howie Day’s desperate reading of “Help“. I would have preferred that The Black Crowes tackle something raucous like “Birthday“, as their restrained performance of “Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds” is missing a spark. The original “Across The Universe” succeeded largely because of the vocal; Rufus Wainwright’s interpretation grows tired very quickly. Paul Westerberg disappoints with a dull “Nowhere Man” but Ben Harper surprised me with his solid take on “Strawberry Fields Forever“.

Oddest moments: Not hearing “The Weight” immediately after “Golden Slumbers” (Ben Folds, natty) and Eddie Vedder making “You’ve Got To Hide Your Love Away” sound like a suicide note. Then again, most things Vedder sings could fit that description.

(This 2002 review originally ran in Yeah Yeah Yeah, Issue #21.)

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