Monday, June 20, 2011

Who Is Your Favorite Beatle?

It's a simple question, but one that says something about your musical identity.  Who is your favorite Beatle? 

My Beatles love started when I was about 16 and my mother bought me a tape - the Red Album - which includes all Beatles hits from 1962 (Love Me Do) to 1966 (Yesterday).  I had just started driving a car - an ancient Dodge Shadow which was subsequently christened the Red Ride - and on drives to and from school I would pop in that tape.  It soon became apparent to me that I could sing along, my voice was in the range of both lead singers, and that these songs were really awesome.  Soon after that, I decided I wanted to learn how to play the guitar.  If this story sounds like a song, well, it already is.

Now, when I first started listening to the Beatles, my favorite was Paul.  He was, to my young ears, the best singer; his songs were the most catchy and uplifting; and he was a lefty like me.  So he sort of became my musical hero from say about age 16 to 24.  Now, when I was actually in a band and became cool (by association only), John cast an increasingly large shadow, until the point where it was about even.  And I think for a few months in there - particularly in the time when I was consuming large quantites of smokey smoke and whiskey (age 25-26) - John was my favorite.  However, looking back this was not a happy time in my life. 

Then there was the time when I had quit the band and willed myself to cold turkey the smoke and booze.  This was a period of depression & withdrawl.  This was my George period (age 27).  I listened to "All Things Must Pass" all the time then.  The songs were so comforting.  This was my Dark Night of the Soul stage.  I will write about the Dark Night experience later, and perhaps All Things Must Pass as well in my "Favorite Albums" series. 

Now, I'm back solidly in the Paul camp.  The reasons are different now, and I realize that this is an unpopular choice for a musician, especially one who pretends to have hipster sensibilities.  Hipsters hate Paul for much the same reason (perhaps) that they hate Dave Matthews.  He is uncool, even nerdy.  His music is shlocky and commercialistic.  His more recent material really sucks.  Etc.  Hipster critics undoubtedly have a short memory.

Well, allow me to retort.  First of all, if Paul had died in 1980 and not John, the whole Western world would worship Paul as much, if not more, than they do John now.  Think about it.  The man wrote Let It Be, Hey Jude, Yesterday, Get Back, Here There and Everywhere, and on and on. 

Secondly, and more importantly, in my own personal voyage of self-discovery I found my true self staring back at me.  I'm a dork; I'm not cool; I never would have been even close to cool if it wasn't for my band mates, and no one would have ever heard any of the songs I created in my room alone if it wasn't for those guys encouraging me to.  I would argue that the same is true for Paul.  No one would have heard of him, except maybe under the stage name Paul Ramone on a Liverpool cruise ship, had John not found him.  So the funny thing was that I ended up back where I started when I was 16 and a Beatles fan. 

Let me tell you what else I like about Paul. 

He was the best musician in the band, bar none.  As a performer and showman on stage, he was the best, unquestionably.  One of the best electric bass players ever; an innovator with the instrument.  He also played piano and guitar exceptionally.  Particularly in the early years he would often teach George how to play certain guitar licks on tracks.  He was a warhorse in the studio.  And he had an exceptional quality of voice, which has more recently been compared to the sound of an oboe, especially considering he played the bass and sang lead live (which is very difficult - I've done it so I know). 

Now you have to really dig into the Beatle books to get to the nitty-gritty of how they created their art, and amazingly Paul is there for some of the most avant-garde creations.  Sgt. Pepper as a concept was his idea.  Side B of Abbey Road was his idea.  The beginning of Strawberry Fields - with those flutey keys - that was Paul.  I could bore you with more but hopefully the point has been made. 

The simple fact is that after Brian Epstein died in August 1967, John's output fell - he disengaged bit by bit, for a variety of reasons, and it was Paul who had to do a lot of the heavy lifting creatively.  He was hanging out in London immersing himself in the avant-garde scene while John was sequestered off in his country estate, busying himself buying random British islands.  Of course John was still brilliant, and you could argue it was John who unleashed Paul upon the world.  Paul was perhaps John's greatest creation (and/or worst creation, if you asked him in 1971 - John could be a very mean guy). 

There is one more reason.  Paul was able to overcome the grief and depression of his band breaking up to find a deep and lasting connection with his partner in life, his great love Linda

Here is a guy loved by women all over the world, but despite all the temptations of fame, and at the apex of the sexual revolution, he had the intelligence and inner peace to surrender his heart to one woman.  He somehow knew after all that had happened to him that sympathy and deep personal friendship is the key for life-long happiness.  All you need is love indeed. He became a family man and raised four kids.  To me that is cool - he figured out that being responsible and caring for his wife and children was really what true love and happiness is all about.  I can relate - my wife and I got together as my band was breaking up.  So I can appreciate in some small way what that must have been like.  And giving it all to Linda is a great and challenging example for men to follow.

That being the case... I wonder what my Ringo phase will entail. 

Mahalo ;)=~

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