Showing posts with label Paul McCartney. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Paul McCartney. Show all posts

13 September 2019

Can the Beatles Vs. Stones Debate Make Us Better Writers?


Beatles Vs. Stones
Photoshop by Grace Maddox
by Lawrence Maddox

Two recent concert experiences got me reconsidering the ultimate rock 'n' roll litmus test: The Beatles or the Stones? Sure you can like them both, even simultaneously, but which one is better?


A manual on how to skirt
death, three chords at a time.
That was a no-brainer for me when I was in my late teens and early twenties. I was a Stones fanatic. My favorite albums were Beggars Banquet and Some Girls, and I played them on an endless loop. I read everything about them, including Tony Sanchez's down and dirty Up and Down with the Rolling Stones: My Rollercoaster Ride with Keith Richards. I totally lost interest in the Beatles, who just didn't seem to rock.  The Stones were fuel to all my youthful ne'er-do-well activities in a way the Beatles could never be.

Things change.

A few weeks ago I was driving home from work and I was hit by a tidal wave of traffic. Then I remembered: The Stones are playing the Rose Bowl tonight!  I live so close to the Rose Bowl that concerts sound great from my backyard, and even better from certain points in my neighborhood. I hurried home, poured a couple Makers on the rocks, and my wife and I took a stroll and listened. I have a writing assignment I have to finish, but I put it on the back burner (again).
"It just had to be done.
So we did it."

The Stones sounded great, and even though I got the requisite nostalgic ping, my long-standing take on the Stones was affirmed. I've had a growing dissatisfaction with the Stones for years, and I can narrow it down to one main reason: It's their lyrics. In my humble opinion, they don't hold up. I've looked into this, and here's what I've come up with.

The Rolling Stones recently wound up their No Filter tour, an amazing feat for four blokes pushing 80. Even more impressive is Mick Jagger going back on tour after having a catheter inserted into his aorta last April. My dad had similar surgery at a similar age, and as tough as he was I can't imagine him going on a North American concert tour afterwards.  "It just had to be done. So we did it," Keith Richards told the Toronto Sun.

Unlike the Who, the Stones at least make the pretense of touring to promote a new record.  They are masters at wringing product out of their tours. Album. Tour. Live album. Throw in well-timed greatest hits packages (they've got 26 compilation albums total, starting with 1966's High Tide and Green Grass through 2019's Honk), and you start to see the Stones for what they are: a disciplined, calculating, business-oriented music-making machine.

Keith Richards' Life.
It could seem, though I'm loathe to knock the insane success of the Glimmer Twins, that the Stones may take a mercenary approach to their songwriting as well. In Keith Richards' 2010 memoir Life, he writes that Mick would often hurriedly write the lyrics in the studio before the band had to record the song. Keith quotes Muscle Shoals engineer Jim Dickinson, who witnessed Mick writing "Brown Sugar" and "Wild Horses." "I watched Mick write the lyrics [to "Brown Sugar"]," Jim Dickinson is quoted as saying. "It took him maybe forty-five minutes; it was disgusting! He wrote it down as fast as he could move his hand." Dickinson said Mick did the same for "Wild Horses," taking about an hour.

In a 1968 interview with Rolling Stone, Mick Jagger said that he also wrote a lot of songs while on the road with the band. "You get back from a show,  have something to eat, a few beers and just go to your room  and write. I used to write about twelve songs in two weeks on tour. It gives you lots of ideas. At home, it's really difficult because you don't want to do anything really but read, and things like that."

The Glimmer Twins 
Journalist Johnathan Cott asked Jagger why he mumbled some of his lyrics. "That's when bad lines come up. I mean I don't think the lyrics are that important," Jagger answered. When pressed about the "really good" lyrics to "Get Off my Cloud," Jagger's answer was refreshingly honest and unpretentious: "Oh they're not. They're crap."

There is no doubt that the Stones have written well-crafted and thoughtful lyrics.  In a '95 interview with Rolling Stone Jagger talks about writing "Sympathy for the Devil" all on his own in his house in Chester Square.  From their own words, its seems fair to say that writing lyrics has often taken a back seat to recording. Lyrics are often written on the job, with the clock ticking. Rewrites don't always happen. Playing the song, finding the song's sound, is paramount.

Months before I eavesdropped on the Stones at the Rose Bowl, I took my family to see Ringo Starr at the Greek. My two kids are pre-teen, and I've taken this window of opportunity (while they still listen to me) to force stuff I like into their unsuspecting worlds. I've made them watch all the original episodes of Jonny Quest with me. We tune into Svengoolie on Saturday nights to watch cheesy horror films. It's jazz and classical stations when we drive. I play them Beatles music and show them Beatles movies. They love the Beatles. For now, anyway.

Ringo Starr, Honorary
Santa Tracker
Ringo has a band made up of famous people from other bands. The youngest member is Colin Hay from Men At Work,  just to give you an idea of how far back these cats go.  It's a nostalgia show all the way, something the Stones, admirably, haven't done much of (a notable exception being 2016's Desert Trip, dubbed "old-chella" by the Burning Man crowd). We sang along to all the old Beatles songs with Ringo. I'd never sang along at a concert in my life, and I've seen Frank Sinatra. I'll never forget sharing that with my kids.

A must-read for Beatlemaniacs
The Beatles wrote everywhere and anywhere, and their songs were often personal in nature.  Lennon wrote "Help" at home after a night at the recording studio. "I was fat and depressed and I was crying out for help," Lennon told Playboy. "In My Life" started out as a poem Lennon wrote about his childhood. McCartney wrote the music for "Yesterday" at his girlfriend Jane Asher's home. He sat on the song for weeks, calling it "Scambled Eggs" until he could compose the lyrics. "Eleanor Rigby" was another song McCartney tinkered with for awhile. It was later finished at Lennon's home, with all the Beatles contributing.  Ringo suggested "darning his socks," George "all the lonely people."  After their trip to India, the Beatles came back with a ton of songs that became The White Album and beyond. When you listen to the Beatles, you get the impression that those lyrics are vetted. There's no mumbling through half-baked writing.

So what do these masters of pop have to do with that lingering writing assignment I mentioned somewhere at the top, or your lingering writing assignment?

Akashic's Dublin Noir,
signed by Jim Fusilli and Gary Phillips.
Courtesy of the Maddox Archives
Jim Fusilli is a Wall Street Journal music critic who also writes crime fiction.  I was introduced to him by his terrific story in Akashic's Dublin Noir, "The Ghost of Rory Gallagher." It's about the price a fan pays for his obsession with a dead rock star.  As a side note, if I hadn't been so wowed by Jim's Akashic story, I may have never written "Old Cold Hand," published in Akashic's 2010 Orange County Noir. Anyway, when I heard that Jim was giving a writer's workshop, I jumped at the chance to attend. It was a good intro to creative writing, and Jim sprinkled it with rock 'n' roll anecdotes.

Jim talked about the importance of carrying a journal and being ready to write all the time. It's been roughly twelve years since Jim's workshop, and I'm not sure if he connected the Beatles to the habit of always being ready to write or if I did it on my own, but it stuck either way. John and Paul were always on. They never stopped writing. They jotted down their ideas and sweated over lyrics until they got them right. George too. He stockpiled and reworked songs that he couldn't get on Beatles albums because, well, Lennon and McCartney. When the Beatles broke up, he put these songs on All Things Must Pass, perhaps the greatest of the fab four solo albums.

My copy of Aaron's 1956
Assignment: Treason.
The second in the series.
Don't think the Stones don't have their lessons, too. In my post from April 19 ("Edward S Aarons and the Great Spy Series That Never Came in from the Cold") I write about the insanely prolific Edward S. Aarons, the creator of the Assignment series of novels, arguably the first US Cold War spy series. From 1955 until his death in 1975, Aarons wrote 42 Assignments. His output and longevity was very Stones-esque. Aarons was one of many paperback writers of the period (I wonder which one Paul had in mind on "Paperback Writer") who wrote book after book, often labeled men's action adventure. Many of these writers weren't feted at the time, though they're being rediscovered. They churned out titles, and sometimes they couldn't stop to be too precious with the words. It's like Keith said about going on tour after Mick had his surgery: "It just had to be done. So we did it."

I could use some of that Stones "get it done" mentality right now. I'm still struggling to finish that writing project I should have been done with months ago. I could blame my lagging on things like a crashed-beyond-all-repair hard drive, but that's just whining. I need Keith over my shoulder, getting cigarette ash on my computer keyboard, saying "Time is money, mate. It's NOT on my side or yours. Get with it."

I think we reach for the Beatles, for that work that will echo beyond us through generations; but we need the lessons of the Stones.  We need to push and meet our deadlines; to keep turning out product;  to not let the drug busts, Anita Pallenberg, heart surgery, or a busted hard drive defeat us. You can't alway get what you want, but if you try sometimes...

Learn more about Jim Fusilli at JimFusilli.com. Jim's latest, The Mayor of Polk Street, is available as an Audible Original.

Music is like a true friend who understands us and sticks by us no matter what unworthy slobs we secretly are. When someone knocks our favorite musicians, it can tick us off. And by "someone" I mean me, and by "us" I mean you good folks. If you need to vent, please comment here; or on twitter at Lawrence Maddox@Madxbooks; or drop me a line at Lawrencemddx@yahoo.com. Remember, it's only rock 'n' roll.

To the left is Fast Bang Booze. The sequel is the writing assignment I mentioned. To the right is Orange County Noir, 2010. I had Jim Fusilli in mind when my story got accepted.


 

07 June 2016

Hope There’s No Shortage of Tinfoil


by Paul D. Marks

It’s June. So I thought I’d write about conspiracy theories. What it has to do with June, I don’t know. But why not? Maybe it’s a conspiracy.

So, to start off, here’s a list of conspiracy theories from Time Magazine (http://content.time.com/time/specials/packages/completelist/0,29569,1860871,00.html). The commentary is mine and not meant to be offensive. We can agree to disagree, but hopefully have some fun doing so.

The JFK Assassination: Okay, we all know about this one. The CIA or Lyndon Johnson or the Mafia or Castro had Kennedy killed. Nobody can believe that a dipwad like Oswald could have done it alone. And despite Oliver Stone’s fiction called JFK, and having read Jim Garrison’s book, Heritage of Stone, which challenged the truth of the Warren Commission’s investigation about JFK’s assassination, I still believe Oswald acted alone. So put me down on the side of Vincent Bugliosi, who pretty much debunked the conspiracies. The real conspiracy here is the size of his book, but you know what they say, big book, big… Just ask Mr. Trump. He has big books.

9/11 Cover-Up: In this one it’s our own government (again) who planned and done it. I hate to blow anyone’s tinfoil helmet off their head, but sometimes a cigar is just a cigar. And sometimes it’s the simplest theory that explains something. There have been investigations, both government (I know, can’t trust ’em) and by private groups, including Popular Mechanics and The National Institute of Standards and Technology, and there’s just no real evidence of a government conspiracy.

Area 51 and the Aliens: Aliens crash landed in the Southwest desert and are being refrigerated at Area 51, a top secret base. Now, I know this one’s true ’cause I saw Jeff Goldblum and Will Smith in Independence Day and that was a documentary, wasn’t it? Kind of like Stone’s JFK was a documentary. Okay, the government has secrets. Okay, people have seen weird flying machines over the desert, most likely from the Lockheed’s Skunk Works in Lancaster, CA, if not from there from their own psilocybin addled brains. – Okay, for real: for this one you need more of a colander on the head. Tin foil just won’t do.

A magazine about the Paul is dead rumor
Paul Is Dead: Well, I know this one’s not true. Because I’m not dead…yet. But I have come close a few times. Once, when a producer threatened to send his pals in the Israeli Mossad after me after we got into an argument. But I digress. This one’s about all the clues in Beatle songs and on their album covers pointing to the “fact” that Paul McCartney was killed and replaced by a look-alike, sound-alike double. After all, we all know the Walrus was Paul, Paul was barefoot on the cover of Abbey Road, which also had the words 28 IF on a car license and John sings “I buried Paul” at the end of Strawberry Fields. All I know is that if Paul is dead, the FNG did a pretty good job at songwriting and singing and coming up with some inventive bass parts. So maybe it was a good thing the real one got offed. And perhaps he is dead or at least ran away with Elvis and Jim Morrison, who are really not dead either, and are living the life of Riley on some fabulous bikini atoll somewhere.

Secret Societies Control the World: The Illuminati, the Masons, the Bilderbergers, the CFR, rule the world behind the scenes for their own nefarious ends. But unless their nefarious ends are total stupidity and chaos, they’re not doing a very good job. Now, if I could write a great conspiracy yarn and make Dan Brown money off this I’d become a true believer. And you know what they say about converts…

A Scene from the movie Capricorn One
The Moon Landings Were Faked: Hey, I know this is true. I saw Capricorn One, with James Brolin, Elliot Gould and O.J. Simpson, before he learned how to swing a knife. In this documentary something goes wrong and instead of looking like morons and upsetting the American people, the Powers That Be decide to create the whole moon landing experience on a movie soundstage. Lotta people believe it went down this way. I wonder how Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin felt/feels about that.

Another scene from Capricorn One

Jesus and Mary Magdalene: This is an alt rock band from Scotland. Formed in 1983… Oh, wait, that’s the Jesus and Mary Chain. Take 2: In this one Jesus and Mary are married. People want to believe what they want to believe. See Dan Brown comment above.

Holocaust Revisionism: This one says the Holocaust never happened. And I know it didn’t. I cite an impeccable source, quoting from the Time piece: “Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, for one, has called the Holocaust a ‘myth’.” We know there’s no agenda there and such an upstanding citizen of the world would never lie. Hence it never happened.

The CIA and AIDS: This time we learn that AIDS was created by the CIA to wipe out homosexuals and African Americans. Let’s not forget Ebola and now Zika. I’m sure they were also created by the CIA. I’m not saying nobody in our government – or other governments ever do anything wrong. But as my mom would say, some people just want to believe the worst. I know we’ve done some bad things, I just don’t think, from what I’ve been able to find via people who don’t wear tinfoil helmets, that this is true.

The Reptilian Elite: Okay, I have to admit I didn’t really know what this one was. So here’s part of the Time piece in case you’re as ignorant as me: “They are among us. Blood-drinking, flesh-eating, shape-shifting extraterrestrial reptilian humanoids with only one objective in their cold-blooded little heads: to enslave the human race. They are our leaders, our corporate executives, our beloved Oscar-winning actors and Grammy-winning singers, and they're responsible for the Holocaust, the Oklahoma City bombings and the 9/11 attacks ... at least according to former BBC sports reporter David Icke, who became the poster human for the theory in 1998 after publishing his first book, The Biggest Secret, which contained interviews with two Brits who claimed members of the royal family are nothing more than reptiles with crowns.” Now, I don’t know about the royal family, but I’m pretty sure Kanye West might be one. And all of our prez candidates and everyone in DC. So this one might be true.

This list barely taps the source, it’s proverbial tip of the iceberg of conspiracy theories. But in an effort to keep it manageable I went with Time’s list.

There might be some great story ideas here – reference Dan Brown and Dan Brown above. And they can be fun and entertaining. But they can also be scary when people believe them and reject common sense. And if they’re proven true you can tell me how wrong I was and let one of the Reptilian Elite perform a Vulcan mind meld on me.

Sorry if you’re a true believer and don’t think I’ve taken these theories seriously enough. I will probably be locked up when the New World Order takes over.

So if I’ve offended your paranoid fantasy, put on your tinfoil helmet, plug yourself into the wall and blast off. And for the real stories check out the Time link above.

***
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