“PAUL McCARTNEY REALLY IS DEAD – The Last Testament of George Harrison”: A Total Farce

This weekend I’ve been attending Abbey Road on the River, a mega-Beatle fest at the Gaylord National Harbor Resort. My wife and I have had a great time; I got to meet Pete Best, the Beatles original drummer, and Ron Campbell, who did the animation for both the Beatles animated series and Yellow Submarine. The tribute bands have been a mix of the good, the bad and the hysterical, but that’s OK, I’m used to bad Beatles imitators (and honestly, my standards are probably unrealistic).

A truly surreal experience, however, was being exposed to the “East Coast Premier” of the DVD PAUL McCARTNEY REALLY IS DEAD – The Last Testament of George Harrison, a 90 minute crock of horse manure, posing as a documentary. We saw it in a room with about 50 people; a steady stream left throughout, and to the credit of those who remained, there was audible laughter at times.

The premise of the film is that George Harrison, after having survived a knife attack in 1999, recorded an audiotape that reveals, in a very detailed narrative, that Paul McCartney really was killed and replaced by a double in 1966, and that this historic audiotape was then mailed to an obscure company named Highway 61 Entertainment, to which Harrison had no previous connection whatsoever. The film offers the voice as George Harrison without any collaborating evidence, and the audio quality, despite it supposedly being from an 11 year-old audiotape, is as clear as if it had been recorded in a studio yesterday. Also, instead of having the amateur, stream of consciousness form that you might expect from a sickbed confession, what we get is a polished, chronological account of a very convoluted, and not very believable, conspiracy to simultaneously cover up (while at the same time revealing), the truth of McCartney’s death.

Since Harrison is supposedly the person relating the series of events (which include the English Secret Service, over a 35 year period, repeatedly threatening to kill the surviving Beatles if they did not maintain the fraud), you would expect that “common knowledge” facts from the history of the band would be accurate – and you would be mistaken.

This George Harrison does not know that: both Rubber Soul and Revolver were released prior to November of 1966; that the Beatles never actually recorded the Capitol release Yesterday and Today, and that the “Butcher Block Cover” for the album was actually released into circulation, and that in any event, it too was released prior to November of 1966. This George doesn’t know that John had divorced Cynthia and married Yoko, and that Paul had married Linda Eastman, months before Abbey Road was released. This George also believes that the Let It Be sessions occurred after the Abbey Road sessions.

There are other logic-defying assertions from this Harrison, such as that a witness to the fatal crash in 1966, after threatening to reveal the truth in 1993, is maimed and reconstructed as – get ready for it – Heather Mills! No matter that Mills was born after November of 1966 (and remember she successfully carried a child to term in 2003, 38 years after supposedly witnessing the crash). The film is full of “you’ve got to be kidding me” moments, which is where the Beatles experts in the audience found the most humor.

One thing I found disturbing was the venom that this George directed at John, the “new” Paul and poor Ringo. The George Harrison narrating this movie is not a very pleasant person, and he makes the other Beatles out to be either deranged or stupid. He also doesn’t sound much like the real George Harrison, and he sometimes lays on the Scouse so thick that it sounds more like parody than mimicry.

What is clear after having sat through this cinematic fiasco is that the director, Joel Gilbert, clearly only has a superficial knowledge of his subject matter, which is curious, since he went to such lengths (and expense, I imagine) to create a movie that claims “insider” access to the individuals and events depicted. It seems to me that if he had allowed even a cursory proofreading of the script by a real Beatles fan, many of the silly errors could have been corrected, which which have made the film, if not plausible, at least not so easily exposed as the fraud it is. His failure to do so reveals Gilbert to be a sloppy movie-maker, who has apparently wasted a lot of someone’s money, and quite possible destroyed whatever standing he may have had in his industry.

In short, PAUL McCARTNEY REALLY IS DEAD – The Last Testament of George Harrison, is a poorly conceived and executed attempt to exploit Beatles fans that will fail because the director couldn’t be bothered to do his homework. As a result, few true fans of the Fab Four will find his work credible, and I suspect that it will soon be relegated to the ash heap of hysterically bad movies. I suppose for this I should actually be grateful.


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On Doug Fieger And The Knack

The front cover of their debut LP

It was announced today that Doug Fieger, the singer/songwriter behind The Knack, had lost his battle with cancer at age 57. For me, this is another one of those moments when I feel a little bit older; when I feel a little bit closer to a stage of my life that I’d rather not have to think about just yet.

Doug Fieger, like me, was a huge Beatles fan, and that came across in his music, which is probably a major part of why I found the Knack so appealing. He even crafted the band’s image to be a reflection of the Beatles, which ironically was part of The Knack’s undoing. A lot of musicians cite the Beatles as a huge influence on their work, but in the end, Fieger took it just a little too far. Because of this, even as the Knack dominated the charts in 1979, there was already a growing “Nuke the Knack” backlash movement, just waiting for them to fail.

The band’s records were even on 1960’s vintage Capitol labels.

I was five when the Beatles last recorded together, so I had pretty much missed them. As a result, I had been expectantly waiting for “the next Beatles” of my generation to appear (and still naive enough to believe that there would eventually be a “next Beatles”). When The Knack exploded onto the charts in the summer of 1979, I was taken in, not just by the image, but also by their Beatles-esque sound. Don’t be mistaken, The Knack, with Doug Fieger writing and singing their songs, were very good.

That summer, “My Sharona” topped the charts and went on to be the #1 single of the year. “Good Girls Don’t” and “That’s What the Little Girls Do” also climbed the singles chart, and “Get The Knack” shot to the top spot in the album charts. I thought “the next Beatles” had actually arrived. I also liked that Fieger’s lyrics were naughty, which gave them a slightly rebellious feel, even in their black ties.

The Knack’s next album in 1980, “But the Little Girls Understand” was also good, but, I uneasily admitted to myself, not quite as good.

This album’s big single was “Mr. Handleman,” which like the LP, didn’t hit quite as big.

Here’s a couple more from their second LP:

Disappointed, I anxiously waited for their third album, which would sort of be the tie breaker on the “next Beatles” thing. In 1981, they released “Round Trip,” which was utterly forgettable, and for me, officially relegated them to the “what might have been” category. It also made me realize, maybe for the first time, just how difficult it is to be the Beatles, even for two albums.

With that, I moved on, and so did the music industry. The Knack was suddenly passé, a relic of that awkward time between disco and New Wave. The Knack wouldn’t release another album for ten years.

Years later, as a husband and father, I began purchasing CDs to replace my old records, and I made sure that “Get The Knack” was one on my early acquisitions. Listening to it again for the first time in years, I remembered how good that album was; nowadays, a couple of times a year it will occupy one of the six spots in my car CD changer. A few times I heard about Knack reunion tours that I planned on going to, but nothing ever seemed to come of it. In 2005, The Knack was scheduled to appear on the NBC reality show Hit Me, Baby, One More Time, which was supposed to be a chance for old bands to get a fresh chance on TV, but the show was so terrible it got canceled right after A Flock of Seagulls were on it.

A year later, Fieger was diagnosed with cancer, for all intents and purposes closing the books on The Knack. And now, with Fieger gone, the band is literally a part of the past.

As for me, I still have “Get the Knack,” which will console me, and date me somewhat, as I drive to UMBC in the morning. Man but that was a good album.

There’s Still The Who

The Who circa 1975

For me, the NFL season ended yesterday, when my other team, the Minnesota Vikings, fumbled away the NFC Championship Game.

Adrian Peterson Puts Another One On The Ground

Not that they deserved to win. If a team has five turnovers in a championship game, they should be prohibited, by rule, from winning the game. It’s sort of life having a certain number of “lives” in a video game. When Brett Favre threw that last interception in the waning moments of regulation, the words “GAME OVER” should have immediately flashed on the screen.

It is probably just as well, because I’m not sure if I could have taken the sight of Payton Manning rolling up 40 plus points on the Vikings in the Super Bowl. If there’s one thing I learned this weekend, it’s that Indianapolis is much better than the other playoff teams. I know, “on any given Sunday…”, but let’s face it: the only way the Saints win this game is if the Colts have a meltdown, and considering the experience on that roster, that’s very unlikely. I would make Indy a 7-point favorite.

That means that Jim Caldwell will probably get a Super Bowl in his rookie coaching season, though I suspect he’ll not get all of the glory. It’s reminiscent of the Super Bowl George Seifert won with the 49ers in 1989; that team was considered to be Bill Walsh’s team that Seifert was just fortunate to have inherited. For Caldwell, this team is still considered to be Tony Dungy’s team, plus there’ll be a lot of “Who couldn’t win with Payton Manning?” talk, as if Manning had ten rings.

With Manning and Drew Brees on the field, I expect it’ll be an exciting game, but what I’ll be really looking forward to is the halftime show, featuring rock’s second-greatest band ever, The Who. (For the record, my top three goes like this: Beatles, Who, Rolling Stones.) The Who also authored what I believe to the best album of the rock era, Who’s Next (and remember, I’m a Beatles fan, first and foremost).

While I realize that it’s really only half of the Who now, with Keith Moon and John Entwistle being dead, but honestly, it was always Pete and Roger’s band, wasn’t it? The Who has always been a great concert band, and it crosses my mind that this may the last time I ever see them play a live show (albeit on television), so I’m really jazzed.

My son Ryan, who will be 21 in a month, is a Who fan too, and we’ve been discussing with what song they should open the show. I can’t imagine anything other than Baba O’Riley, but he wants it to be Pinball Wizard. So, I’ll put it to you, faithful readers. What song should open the Who’s set?

Remastered Beatles CDs Totally Worth It

So, here I am, almost 40 years into my obsession with the Fab Four, getting to know the band as if it were for the first time – and loving it.

For Christmas this year, I received the Beatles Remastered Stereo Box Set. The set includes 13 remastered Beatles’ CDs, plus Past Masters, a collection of Beatles’ singles and other recordings that were never included on their LPs. It also contains a DVD documentary on the making of each Beatles’ album.

Listening to the remastered discs is somewhat like discovering the Beatles all over again. The new clarity of these recordings peels back the layers of each track and allows the listener to hear each instrument and vocal part individually. I’m hearing instruments that I never knew were there, because on previous releases everything just blended together.

For example, Paul doesn’t use his bass guitar on “I Will,” he sings each note instead. For all these years, I had no idea, but with the use of earphones, I heard it distinctly (and then did internet research to confirm my discovery). Crazy.

Having gone through the discs once, here are some things this experienced Beatles connoisseur discovered:

In Glass Onion, John sings “here’s another place you can go – where everything froze.” I had always thought it was grows.

During a rest in Don’t Pass Me By, Ringo gives himself an audible eight count.

Another lyrical correction from Happiness Is A Warm Gun: “…lying with his eyes while his hands were busy working overtime.” I had it as flying.

Also in Happiness Is A Warm Gun, in the line “…down to the bitch that I left uptown,” I thought it was just John double-tracked, but now I hear someone else singing backing vocal, too.

Paul shouting “wooo…” and “come on…” in the background of Birthday is much more noticeable.

In Yer Blues, “…girl you know the reason why” is not just John double-tracked, someone echoes John in the background. Other unidentifiable background shouting. There’s also a overlaying of two different lead guitar solos in this song.

The background laughter, talk & shouting is much clearer on “Everybody’s Got Something To Hide Except For Me And My Monkey” and “Helter Skelter.”

The end of “Long, Long, Long” is really eerie.

There are strange sounds on bass side early in “Cry Baby Cry.”

The voices and sounds in “Revolution 9” are much more easily distinguished.

The use of echo on Sgt. Pepper is much more obvious.

Ringo plays maracas on a lot of Beatles songs.

I became aware of the use of drumsticks as a percussion instrument on “Do You Want To Know A Secret?”

Ringo’s overdubbed Arabian drum accents are easily noticed on “I’m Happy Just To Dance With You.”

McCartney’s walking bass on “Honey Don’t” really comes through.

I’m sorry, John, but it sounds even more like “I Buried Paul” on Strawberry Fields Forever now.

“Baby You’re A Rich Man” is a lot of fun to listen to.

Someone says something at :22 of “All You Need Is Love.” I could make out the word “change.”

Listening to George Martin’s film score from Yellow Submarine really brought back memories. I had forgotten how beautiful “Pepperland” is.

Everything about the “Let It Be” album sounds better remastered. The ever-present studio chatter is much clearer – for example, after “Dig A Pony” (one of the rooftop numbers), Lennon can be easily heard saying “My hand’s getting hurt…too cold to play a chord.”

When I was copying the Past Masters CD to iTunes, for some reasons, the titles of disc 2 were imported in Japanese. Strange.

A final note: the DVD documentary is only about 40 minutes long, but it’s very well done. It covers the making of each Beatles album and includes the recollections of John, Paul, George, Ringo and George Martin. It’s stylishly produced, and interesting to watch.

So, now I’m heading back for more doses of Fab Four. You should, too. After all, a splendid time is guaranteed for all. And on this promise, the Beatles always deliver.

The Day The Music Died – For Me

We’ve all heard somber-sounding people on television or the radio asking the question: “Do you remember where you were when you heard about (insert traumatic event here)?”

For my parents, there was Pearl Harbor and then the assassination of John Kennedy. For most people of my generation, we have 9-11. But I think there exists a second category of psychic traumas, traumas that are not national ins cope, but are more personal, and leave their scars on a smaller, more targeted audience.

For me, the shooting death of John Lennon on December 8, 1980 falls into this category. I’ve always been a Beatles‘ fan, surrounded as I was by older brothers who were Beatlemaniacs (until I was 8, I was led to believe that all music was Beatles’ music). As I got older, I developed my own love for the Beatles, and for John Lennon’s music in particular. Being a sixteen-year-old in the winter of 1980, I guess I identified with Lennon’s rebellious nature, his brutal honesty and the raw truth in his lyrics. Lennon bowed to no one, and had a reputation as a troublemaker. All of this I found very appealing.

On the night of December 8, 1980, I spent a good deal of time tying up my parents’ telephone line in conversation with my best friend, Dave Padgett (that was how we communicated with each other back in the day). We laughed as we imitated Monty Python skits, in particular, The Piranha Brothers, and we talked about playing an elaborate practical joke on my brother Alan. It was a typical, nondescript Monday night.

Much of America heard about Lennon’s shooting on Monday Night Football. At that moment, however, I was in my family’s upstairs bathroom, having just finished washing my hair. As I was vigorously toweling it dry, my mother, who had been watching the Tonight Show with Johnny Carson in the living room, called to me that NBC News had just broken into the program to say that a Beatle had been shot. I rushed downstairs, telling myself that she must have misunderstood, that someone with a similar sounding name or something must have been shot. It had to be a mixup. When I got there, Johnny was back on the air, seeming completely oblivious to the incredible news (I didn’t realize that his show was taped).

Flipping around the few channels we had in 1980, I found a reporter in front of Lennon’s building in New York, the Dakota, with a growing crowd behind her. As the taped interviews with witnesses and the updates from Roosevelt Hospital came in, it became clear: John Lennon was dead. I called Dave, who hadn’t been watching television. We hung up quickly to watch the coverage, which alternated between reporters at the hospital and the chaotic, sad scene outside the Dakota. By 1 AM, there were literally thousands of people gathered around Yoko’s building, singing John’s songs, hugging and weeping.

Radio stations of all formats immediately switched to all-Beatles programming, and I stayed up all night, listening to the music, listening to the tributes, listening to the DJs struggle to make sense of it all. It was strange, but I kept checking the newscasts, almost believing that there was still a chance that it was all a mistake, but the facts remained unchanged. John Lennon was dead, killed by a mentally ill fan. We later found out that Lennon had signed a copy of Double Fantasy for his killer, Mark David Chapman, earlier that evening, and the moment had been captured by an amateur photographer:

At school the next day, Dave and I made plans to travel to New York for what was certain to be a massive public funeral. As it turned out, there would be no funeral. Instead Yoko opted for ten minutes of silence on Sunday the 14th; it is said that tens of millions stopped to observe it.

During that week, it seemed like every magazine featured a tribute to John Lennon, and I wondered how much money was made from the grief.

For my part, I kept reading newspapers, listening to the radio tributes and talking to Dave. I sent a short letter to Yoko expressing my feelings of loss, knowing that it was one of a million letters she’d never see. It all seemed surreal.

Over the next few weeks, it felt like we struggled to place John Lennon in context. Was he a pop superstar, a troubled poet, a rebel rocker, a peace activist, or a feminist house husband? How could we label him for easy, convenient packaging? Lennon reinvented himself so often it was hard to pin him down. I remember DJs starting to refer to him as “The Master,” as if he required a label (maybe because Elvis was “The King?”). Thankfully, the attempts to label John Lennon soon passed. The selling of John continues unabated, however, and I expect that he will be redefined and repackaged by each succeeding generation; such is the price of immortality.

For me, though, it was more personal than that; I felt robbed of Lennon’s future almost as if it were my own. I recall being in a record store in Lansdowne soon after and overhearing two middle-aged women discussing the tragedy. They were tsk-tsking it, saying what a shame it was. You have no idea, I remember thinking. You have no idea.

My Top 20 Christmas Songs

Christmastime is here, and in honor of the season, I’m going to do a few Christmas lists. The first one out of the gate are my twenty favorite Christmas songs:

1. I Believe in Father Christmas – Greg Lake. From Christmas 1975 – Lush, gorgeous music paired with a biting, cynical message (“Hallelujah, Noel, be it heaven or hell; The Christmas you get you deserve.”) Not exactly uplifting, but awesome nonetheless.

2. Happy Xmas (War Is Over) – John & Yoko. A sentimental favorite. I’m a huge Beatles/Lennon fan, and this is typical John, reminding everyone that there’s much to be done.

3. You’re A Mean One, Mr. Grinch – Thurle Ravenscroft. If there’s a recurrent theme in this list, it’s that we carry our childhood around with us forever. I love How The Grinch Stole Christmas (the original animated version, not that sin against nature that Jim Carrey foisted upon us), and I’ve even memorized most of the Suess script. BTW, did you know the guy who sang this was the voice of Tony the Tiger, the Kellogg’s Frosted Flakes spokescharacter? Heeee’s Great!

4. Frosty the SnowmanJimmy Durante. Another throwback to my youth. This version is from the animated classic, which so impressed me in my youth that I eventually went out and got myself my own cute blonde girl and married her. How’s that for influence?

Karen

Laurie

5. 2000 Miles – The Pretenders. I’m a big fan of Chrissie Hynde and the Pretenders, and I love her contribution to the Christmas season.

6. Wonderful Christmastime – Paul McCartney. My Beatles thing influencing me again. Bouncy, upbeat, hopelessly optimistic. In short, perfectly Paul.

7. God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen – Barenaked Ladies & Sarah McLachlan. This is a really great folksy mashup  of God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen and We Three Kings. I wish it was played more often on the radio.

8. Let It Snow, Let It Snow, Let It Snow – Dean Martin. The definitive version by the always smooth, slightly intoxicated Dino.

9. Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas – Judy Garland. This is a sad song anyway, but when Judy sings it, it’s got a tragic, almost heartbreaking feel about it. If you’re a potential holiday suicide candidate, stay away from this one.

10. Sleigh Ride – Leroy Anderson. The original version, and for me the signature tune of the Christmas season.

11. Holly Jolly Christmas – Burl Ives. Another childhood memory, this time from Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. Whenever I hear this song, I don’t think of Burl Ives, I think of Sam the Snowman.

12. Christmastime Is Here – Vince Guaraldi Trio. From the opening scene of A Charlie Brown Christmas, where the Peanuts gang is skating. Whenever I hear this song, in my mind I also hear the sound effects from the cartoon. Weird.

13. The Christmas Song – Nat King Cole. The definitive version from the definitive voice. Classy, smart and timeless.

14. Do You Hear What I Hear? – Bobby Vinton. When my mom tucked me in every Christmas Eve, she let the small radio play next to my bed so that I could listen to the news bulletins tracking Santa’s movements across the globe (I always dozed off when he was up around Newfoundland). For some reason, this version of this song was always on that station, and thus became welded to my childhood Christmas memories.

15. Santa Claus Is Coming To Town – Bruce Springsteen. Proof that you can be cool and rock Santa Claus. I wonder: Did Clarence ever get that new saxophone? Good stuff.

17. The Little Drummer Boy – Harry Simeone Chorale. Another memory from the radio next to my bed on Christmas Eve.

18. Rockin’ Around The Christmas Tree – Brenda Lee. It was only very recently that I actually saw a picture of Brenda Lee for the first time. I had always imagined her looking like Sandra Dee. You cannot imagine my disappointment.

Sandra Dee

    

Brenda Lee

18. White Christmas – Bing Crosby. Bing’s original rendition is ancient and perfect.

19. O Holy Night – Mario Lanza. A voice from the heavens, crazy powerful and booming, almost compelling you to “fall on your knees” and ‘hear the angel voices.” Perhaps the greatest vocal performance of all Christmas songs.

20. Silver Bells – Elvis Presley. The King, doing his Christmas thing. A bit bluesy, all Elvis. Thank you, thank you very much.

21. Baby, It’s Cold Outside – Steve Lawrence and Eydie Gorme. Steve and Eydie did a few Christmas songs that I like, and I inadvertently left them off the list, until reminded by the intrepid Melissa Smith. Curiously, though, I can’t think of Steve & Eydie without being reminded of the Sinatra Group, an SNL skit that was a send up of the McLaughlin Group. Mike Myers and Victoria Jackson do a great job, with the late, great Phil Hartman as ol’ Blue Eyes.

Have a swinging Claus-Day, Jack.

Oh, Sweet Irony, Thou Art A Hard Mistress

Irish rockers U2 will play a free concert at the Brandenburg Gate tonight in Berlin, celebrating the 20th anniversary of the destruction of the Berlin Wall.  The show is part of MTV’s European Music Awards and is expected to draw a walk-up crowd of about 100,000.  Organizers, however, have decided that capitalism can’t survive in an atmosphere where large numbers of people can get to see the show for free. Their response? Sheer genius.

The Berlin Wall was constructed beginning in 1961 to protect communism by keeping East Germans in their place – and away from a clear view of freedom. Now, somehow oblivious to the irony, U2 concert promoters have ordered a 12-foot wall erected to protect capitalism by keeping non-ticket holders in their place – away from a clear view of the band.

So now, we have a large wall separating the people of Berlin from a show that is celebrating the destruction of a large wall separating the people of Berlin.

Perfect.

Maybe 20 years from now, the surviving members of U2 can be wheeled onto a stage in Berlin to celebrate the destruction of that wall, too. If you want to see that show, though, you’d better make sure you get there early to get a ticket, just to be on the safe side.