“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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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.