Thursday, August 8, 2013

We're now at

Hey folks--the new Wordpress site is fully functional, so go over to!

Please do not comment over here--go over there from now on.

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Thursday, August 1, 2013

Migration to Wordpress!

As some of you may know, we've talked about migrating this site over to Wordpress for years. We think traffic will be higher, it will look much better, and Wordpress' ever-increasing bells and whistles will give us more ways to improve the site experience generally.

Now that I'm feeling better, I was finally able to start this process, and the other Dullbloggers are enthusiastically fixing/updating their posts. Devin just wrote me to say that he was reformatting a bunch of stuff, adding images, etc. This is terribly exciting to me because, as great as HD is, it's only the tippiest-tip of the iceberg. My goal is for us to have the best Beatles fan site on the web—simultaneously a place for seasoned fans to engage in intelligent discussion and discover nooks and crannies of Beatledom that they might enjoy, and a place for newbies to browse and share in this thing we all love. There's a lot of stuff that we currently don't do—like interviews—which a sharp-looking site would make a lot easier.

What makes me think this Beatle-vana is possible is our splendid commentariat, which is why I'm writing to say:
1) Go over and take a look at
2) Is there anything we absolutely should have on the new site? Tell us in the comments section of THIS post.
3) If you like, start commenting over there--comments are so much of this site, and I want to make sure the new setup is easy to use, and really robust. And I want to make sure that we don't lose any comments in the change-over. For example, I've been watching @Karen commenting on the gargantuan Time-Lapse Photography thread; she sourced the John and Paul moped trip. Such a great nugget, @Karen, thank you.

So go check it out. I will be adding this post to the new site momentarily.

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Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Forward into the past

Our town of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, recently hosted festivities and commemorations around the sesquicentennial of the Civil War battle that occurred in the fields all around us. Tourists there were many; and where tourists gather, chatchkis will be sold. Among them, this arresting item: Lincoln, Pickett, Lee, and Meade crossing a road made famous little more than a century after the battle that brought them together. Figures of the past are called forth to recreate a tableau, utterly independent of themselves, that to us is itself an image from, and of, the past; yet the combination propels both a bit farther on into the future. I love it!

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Monday, July 29, 2013

Plea to Paul: Let it be when it comes to claiming credit

Last Thursday Rolling Stone online published an interview with Paul McCartney about his current tour. It sounds like a stellar show—I’m sorry I haven’t been able to see it this year—but I groaned when I got to the part of the interview in which McCartney says, of adding “Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite!” to the setlist, that he was “happy to kind of reclaim it as partially mine.” I just want to say to him: please don’t keep pouring kerosene on those embers. Please step back and let that frustration go, because you’re fueling the dynamic that seems to keep you feeling insecure.
Here’s the relevant question and answer from the interview:

Q: What made you want to revisit those particular songs?

A: Well, for instance, "Mr. Kite" is such a crazy, oddball song that I thought it would freshen up the set. Plus the fact that I'd never done it. None of us in the Beatles ever did that song [in concert]. And I have great memories of writing it with John. I read, occasionally, people say, "Oh, John wrote that one." I say, "Wait a minute, what was that afternoon I spent with him, then, looking at this poster?" He happened to have a poster in his living room at home. I was out at his house, and we just got this idea, because the poster said "Being for the Benefit of Mr Kite" – and then we put in, you know, "there will be a show tonight," and then it was like, "of course," then it had "Henry the Horse dances the waltz." You know, whatever. "The Hendersons, Pablo Fanques, somersets…" We said, "What was 'somersets'? It must have been an old-fashioned way of saying somersaults." The song just wrote itself. So, yeah, I was happy to kind of reclaim it as partially mine. But like I said, you've got to look what you're doing when you play that one.”

            Predictably, this is the answer that generated the most comments, including plenty of attacks on McCartney as a conscienceless credit-stealer newly taking credit for a Lennon song. Actually, McCartney’s claim about “Mr. Kite” isn’t that new. In Many Years From Now (1998), McCartney says that “almost the whole song was written right off this poster. We just sat down and wrote it. We pretty much took it down word for word and then just made up some little bits and pieces to glue it together. It was more John's because it was his poster so he ended up singing it, but it was quite a co-written song. We were both sitting there to write it at his house, just looking at it on the wall in the living room." (318) However, William J. Dowdling's "Beatlesongs" (1989) lists Mr. Kite as a 100% Lennon song. Lennon is quoted about the song’s coming from the poster: "I hardly made up a word, just connecting the lists together. Word for word, really." (172) No mention of McCartney adding anything

            Here’s the thing: even if what McCartney is saying is true—even if he did participate in writing “Mr. Kite” more than Lennon mentioned—I wish he would stop saying it, or things like it. I feel a great deal of sympathy for McCartney’s situation, because there can be few things more difficult than being the former artistic partner of a man nearly universally lauded as a genius and frequently considered a saint. Over the years McCartney has endured some unconscionably nasty digs (over and above deserved criticism, which he’s also received), and most of the nastiest compare him slightingly to Lennon. Hearing Lennon described, repeatedly, as the Beatles’ sole genius has to sting, especially given McCartney’s substantial, and well-documented, contributions to the band’s musical legacy. The hateful dismissal McCartney has often suffered is epitomized for me by a comment made in 2000 by “Kathleen Keplar” on George Starostin’s original “Only Solitaire” site: “Lennon was the organ grinder...McCartney was the monkey.” When McCartney gets defensive, I can see that that’s partly in response to people throwing darts.
          But when he asserts that he deserves more credit, McCartney stirs up more of the same kind of attacks, and the whole cycle repeats. Here are a couple of samples from the Rolling Stone comment thread:

"John S. Damm": "Bloody Conquistador with your boot on the throat of John Lennon's memory, legacy and your friendship with him. What will you do now with your drawn sword Sir James Paul McCartney?"

"CBP": “One finds sad--pathetic in the precise sense of pathos--his hopeless, evidently bottomless Sea of Insecurities. The driving force of Fab Four was murdered more than 30 years ago; yet, Sir Mega[lo] can't quite lay to rest his juvenile credits war with a long-fallen rock-qua-social genius. Verily, methinks he doth protest too much. Too much, and for too long . . . . the more he seeks to carry the weight, as it were, the more unbearable is his specific lightness of being. Time to retire, take wing to the dacha, Macca. Turn the business over to a younger, less disingenuous tribute band. Them freaks was right..."

"LenThea": “Amazing, Paul can't do an interview without taking credit for a John Lennon song. Whether he contributed a word or a sentence he just can't seem to help himself, and since John isn't alive to counter anything he says he does it all the time. Despite his enormous talent and recognition, he still has a tremendous need to claim a bit of a John song. He has an unbelievable need to get credit, even when he doesn't need it. It screams volumes about his insecurity and about his incredible need for recognition and reassurance of who he is. With all he's accomplished, he's competing with John even in death. How pathetic.”

            With regret, I have to agree that McCartney’s credit-claiming is pity-inducing. It’s a mark of how badly hurt he has been, of how much he still needs approval and recognition. As much as it might smart for him to let go of such claims—and I’m pretty sure he believes what he’s saying about the songs he discusses—I think letting go is the only escape from the vicious circle of “claim credit, get attacked, feel more hurt, claim credit, get attacked . . . .”
            If I had McCartney’s ear for a few minutes, I’d ask him to err more often on the side of generosity towards Lennon, and to believe that he can afford to do that. Some of McCartney’s own statements exhibit an understanding of their interdependence that shows up how unnecessary this kind of small-stakes wrangling over who wrote what is. In the last paragraph of the “John” chapter in Many Years From Now, McCartney sums it up: "A body of work was produced that I don't believe he alone could have produced, or I alone could have produced . . . . The truth of the matter is, John and I were kind of equal. It really did pan itself out about equal. That's one of the amazing things about it. People can say, 'Oh, well, it wasn't Paul, it was John, or it wasn't John it was Paul," but I was there know that's not true, the other Beatles know that's not true. So much of it was team effort, joint effort, there really was so much of it."
Note that “kind of,” so similar to “kind of reclaim it as partially mine.” But no “kind of” is necessary in a statement about the importance of their partnership. Lennon and McCartney achieved heights together that neither could have scaled alone, and even the songs they wrote independently during the Beatles years bore each other’s marks (rare indeed is the song that had no contribution, musically or lyrically, from the other). Malcom Doney, in his excellent Lennon and McCartney (1981), expresses this reality beautifully: "They shared with Picasso, and other major artists, the ability to soak up the stimuli thrown at them by their environment: contemporary music, words, images and experiences all became re-ordered and re-distributed to spill out into great music. But it was essentially a partnership. It only really worked with the two of them. When they wrote together, sparks flew. Each with his individual genius was able to counterpoint the other, excesses held in check—a creative clash of opposites. What they produced is evidence of a pairing of minds that transcended the mechanics of the making."
Amen. So I’d ask McCartney to let go of the “mechanics of the making.” Those pale in importance next to the fact that Lennon and McCartney consistently brought out the artistic best in each other, and that each man’s finest work was created through that partnership.

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Saturday, July 27, 2013

Experiment: Two Words

GEORGE: I wrote "While My Guitar Gently Weeps" at my mother's house in Warrington. I was thinking about the Chinese I Ching, the Book of Changes...the Eastern concept is that whatever happens is all meant to be, and that there's no such thing as coincidence—every little item that's going down has a purpose. "While My Guitar Gently Weeps" was a simple study based on that theory. I decided to write a song based on the first thing I saw upon opening any book—as it would be relative to that moment, at that time. I picked up a book at random, opened it, saw "gently weeps," then laid the book down again and started the song. (In the BEATLES ANTHOLOGY, quoted in MANAGE YOUR DAY-TO-DAY: BUILD YOUR ROUTINE, FIND YOUR FOCUS, & SHARPEN YOUR CREATIVE MIND) Hey Dullbloggers: Pick up a book at random right now and open it. What two words do your eyes fall on? I'll start: "Quarto, Folio"

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Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Psychedelia in the UK: "A Technicolor Dream"

Any of you that have been interested by my burblings on "psychedelia"—by which I mean the whole gestation, birth and decay of the flower-power movement—will be interested in a video I streamed from Netflix last night: "A Technicolor Dream." It documents the UK scene: the Albert Hall poetry reading in 1965; the Indica bookstore; IT; The London Free School; UFO; and finally the Fourteen Hour Technicolor Dream on April 30, 1967.

Lots of Beatles-related stuff in here, from McCartney's right-hand Miles, to footage of a very stoned John Lennon. Here's the trailer…

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Sunday, July 21, 2013

Dullblog Book Report

By John McMillian
Simon & Schuster
288 pages, $25
October 29, 2013

A character in Jonathan Lethem’s novel The Fortress of Solitude claims that every small-group dynamic found in fiction or in life is comprehensible via the Beatles model of organizational relationships:  “The Beatles thing is an archetype, it’s like the basic human formation.  Everything naturally forms into a Beatles, people can’t help it.” He illustrates this theory by applying it, convincingly, to Star Wars and The Tonight Show. (For the record, the archetypal roles—or “four sides of the circle,” as the title of a Beatles bootleg once had it—are said to be those of the responsible-parent, the genius-parent, the genius-child, and the clown-child.)

It is a longstanding tendency of Beatle fans to feel, in this or some similar way, that their favorites encompass the whole of humanity—every personality type, psychological disposition, emotional style. Fans of the Rolling Stones have never fostered any such fancy. The Jagger-Richards domination was, almost from the beginning, so strong that the band’s geometric equivalent, rather than a circle with four sides, might resemble two rhombi connected by crescents to a string of three shapes (Jones-Taylor-Wood heptagon, Wyman trapezoid, Watts kite) trailing behind like an essential but subordinate tail. A self-completing solid of arcs and edges versus a stylized scorpion: That, in one formulation, is Beatles vs. Stones. It is about the only contrast between the groups not tracked by John McMillian in his book of that title. The two groups, he writes, “represent two sides of one of the twentieth century’s greatest aesthetic debates,” one with inkblot meaning for each individual: Which you prefer is “thought to reveal something substantial about [your] personality, judgment, or temperament.” 

In a succinct introduction, McMillian enumerates the standard polarities assumed to separate the groups: “The Beatles may be described as Apollonian, the Stones as Dionysian; the Beatles pop, the Stones rock; the Beatles erudite, the Stones visceral; the Beatles utopian, the Stones realistic.” But McMillian—whose previous book was the excellent Smoking Typewriters: The Sixties Underground Press and the Rise of Alternative Media in America (2011)—acknowledges that none of these traits are categorical, that each stereotype is complicated by contradiction and overlap. He takes a similar view of the processes by which the bands took up opposing positions in the popular mind, arguing that while it was in some measure an expedient media creation fed throughout the ‘60s by fan bias, it also has a natural grounding in the competitive proximity of two gifted, ambitious collectives occupying much of the same musical and geographical space: 

It is sometimes said that the “rivalry” between the Beatles and the Stones was just a myth, concocted by sensationalizing journalists and naïve teenyboppers. In reality, we are told[,] the two groups were always friendly, admiring, and supportive of each other. It is doubtful, however, that their relations were ever so cozy or uncomplicated. The two groups clearly struck up a rapport, but that never stopped them from trying to outperform each other wherever and however they could. And as most people understand, emulous competition rarely nourishes a friendship; more often it breeds anxiety, suspicion, and envy.

McMillian means to disturb the “conventional wisdom” around the Beatles-Stones duality, but purely as a means of arriving at a greater historical clarity. He has no personal case to argue for or against either band: “In this dual biography, I’ve merely juxtaposed the Beatles and the Stones, examined their interrelations, and shown how their rivalry was constructed.” Though he admits to a preference, McMillian does not reveal it. That is not only fair, given that he writes as a historian and not a critic, but also wise: Had he revealed his own preference even at the very end, it might have cast a pall of impartiality over the proceedings. 

The Beatles’ and the Stones’ trajectories through the 1960s were hardly parallel lines, but they were common paths. Both were English groups influenced by American styles; both sought stardom in the US as the ultimate and essential peak of success; both held dominion over the London pop scene at its apex of influence; both were embroiled in the drug and revolution wars of the late ‘60s; both were natural counterparts in larger debates about pop and rock, rebellion and concession, authenticity and contrivance, rockers and teenyboppers. McMillian details the processes by which the Beatles (raised on Liverpool streets of moderate-to-extreme roughness and baptized in the pits of Hamburg clubland) and the Stones (chip-on-shoulder types from middle-class London suburbs who opted for the fringe and filth of bohemian living) came to their precipices of success, and by which their respective managers, Epstein and Oldham, fashioned them in images nearly the exact opposite of their apprentice-level selves.

In one sense at least, the Beatles may be seen as a priori more “authentic” than the Stones: They hit the music scene first, and so were the defining influence. As has been well known for many years, Oldham modeled his Stones to be the anti-Beatles. In the words of journalist Chris Hutchins, “Brian [Epstein] left the way open for the Stones to occupy a very large vacancy”; or as Greil Marcus wrote, “It was the Beatles who opened up the turf the Stones took as their own—there was no possibility of a Left until the Beatles created the Center.” Likewise, the Stones’ incorporation of the Beatles’ musical influence was often so blatant as to appear less absorption than appropriation (“Yesterday,” a string ballad, was followed by “As Tears Go By,” ditto; the sitarized “Norwegian Wood” was echoed by “Paint It Black”; Pepper was imitated, or parodied, or something, by Satanic Majesties). 

But it would be foolish to claim that because the Stones’ musical influence on the Beatles was not so obvious, it was less profound. Influence takes different forms, and one is the imperceptible stress of competition. There can be no doubt that the Beatles’ necks registered the Stones’ hot breath just as keenly as that of Dylan, the Beach Boys, or the wizards of Motown. If the Beatles were to stay ahead, they needed a competitive entity like the Stones—also a band, also English, with a hunger for novelty similar to their own—to stay ahead of. McMillian is quite good at tracking this tension, and at keeping it alive for the reader. His book reads fast, as if self-propelling. He doesn’t linger too long on one episode before taking up the next.

And there is always a next. The London fashion photographer David Bailey, who took some of the best contemporary shots of both groups, is quoted, “I thought of the Beatles as a boy band, a very manufactured group when they started out,” whereas “the Stones seemed to grow organically”—which demonstrates handily the pitfalls of mistaking image for reality, as well as how little the common cant about “authenticity” has to do with good music. The standard benediction on the Stones, and concomitant knock on the Beatles, has always been that there was something somehow realer about the Stones; that their combination of black influence, rebel stance, sexual display, drug hipness, and wild musical style constituted an image not patched together or appropriated but, as Bailey says, “organic.” Who can say why that is—except to suggest that that image confirms an image that confirms the observer to himself? Or that that image is one that regards broad popular acceptance, particularly among grownups and females, as illegitimate? Or that there is a deep male narcissism, often indulged by women, coiled at the center of that image? 

McMillian cannily relates this orthodoxy of the organic to what we call rockism, “a particular kind of snobbery [which] privileges feelings over technique, and emotion over craft,” and which in the ‘60s, long before it was named, led blues purists and proto-rockists to scorn “pop’s lumpen love of the Beatles.” He also quotes a key insight from Phil May, lead singer of the London blues-rock band the Pretty Things, contemporaries and near-slavish imitators of the Stones. At Stones shows, May recalls, male libido and male prerogative were excited, where they’d been stifled or dulled by earlier pop shows, which most boys attended at the behest of their dates and disdained as girly affairs. But come the mid-‘60s and the Stones’ particular type of “organic” badassery, “the chicks were pushed further and further back because they were physically overwhelmed.” By the late ‘60s, the audience at a Stones concert is predominantly male. By the ‘70s and ‘80s, it is overwhelmingly so—as are the audiences for hard rock, heavy metal, and progressive rock. Here we are at the heart of the male-female, rock-pop, fanboy-teenybopper dynamic—and the Beatles-versus-Stones debate. McMillian is well aware of this, but he could have gone further down this road, a road that forked at a certain point, with the mass audience, the bisexual audience—the Beatles’ audience—sticking to the main route while the fan-boys carved out their cults elsewhere.

“The Stones were the cool group,” McMillian writes, “because they valorized youth in ways that the Beatles did not.” Valorized youth to itself, perhaps—which may be one reason why the Stones are perhaps not as good a group as the Beatles to grow old with: They flattered youth and made a fetish of youthful attitudes like disdain, diabolism, and cruel sexuality. (All exciting spices in the ghoulash of art and life, but simply not as enticing after a certain point of maturity.) The Stones were, however, sometimes seen as a better group to be young with—especially in the antiestablishment atmosphere of America in 1968. McMillian builds on his previous book’s richly detailed history of the underground press with an authoritative composite of that press’s response to the “Revolution”-“Street Fighting Man” kerfuffle. He retrieves livid passages from agit-prop broadsheets and radical rags like the San Diego Door and Space City! to limn a fuller picture than we’ve previously had of just how the groups’ differing responses to street revolt went down with the radical audience. We witness a fascinating display of rock archeology as John Lennon spends most of 1968 (and beyond!) trying, like an aggrieved virgin, to decide if he will or he won’t; and Mick Jagger, flush with the underground approval that greeted the anti-utopian “Street Fighting Man” and Beggars Banquet, goes from revolutionary hero to “half-assed male chauvinist prick” in little more than a year.

Beatles and Stones in ‘68 is a locus classicus of rock and politics in full flaming collision. Both bands have continued to weather criticism for the positions they took in the late ‘60s, or didn’t take, or took and then took back; their fans and detractors, explicators and users are likewise eternally vulnerable to the revisionist’s scold. McMillian, historian-not-critic, declines to pass judgment, and good for him, because many of the rest of us have. We know how the Beatles, the Stones, their fans, and their critics should or should not have reacted to everything in their world back then. We can plainly see where musicians and audience were visionary and where they were shortsighted. Retroactively, we can topple any stance, justify any equivocation, or vice versa. What we can’t so easily do is see the Beatles and Stones as human beings, and admit that yes, they were passionate—but mainly about their music, not about politics or pushing society in a better direction, except insofar as those were incidental to the music; that they were, as much as they were anything, young and fashion-conscious; that they were not particularly farsighted, analytical, or politically informed; that they were innovators within a status quo of which they were uniquely successful products. It was not in the nature or ability of the Beatles or Stones to be revolutionaries, or to respond intelligently at every point to the exploding components of a world that at the flashpoints of 1967-69 demanded nothing so much from them as the “proper” allegiance—be that to the establishment, or to the revolution, or to their art, or to the future. Even less could they begin to imagine the rampant revisions of future analysts like ourselves, we who fault or praise them according to our personal preferences and from our elevated vantage—this moment in time where we, like everyone before us, imagine we can see for miles in every direction, but are in fact only looking back from somewhere a bit further down the same long, long road.

I spot very few mistakes in Beatles vs. Stones, and those are minor—though there’s one inaccurate lyric, and McMillian leads into his discussion of “Street Fighting Man” having forgotten to identify the song. His style is not particularly vivid, but it is smart, and his pages flow, even past the occasional crag of cliché (“a limousine whisked [them] away”; the Beatles were “generational pied pipers”). Having cautioned us that he is not a critic, McMillian proves it in the few passages of musical or lyrical analysis, which send the reader’s eyes skipping stone-like over the smooth surface of things that have been said before. He has a tendency now and again to let the descriptive line go slack: “[They] kept going into these long, intentionally sloppy improvisational blues jams… Oldham was so oblivious that he didn’t even realize he was getting punked.” That’s lazy, colorless, first-draft writing, easily mistaken for an interview quote from someone who’s not a writer. 

Beatles vs. Stones concludes with an “Epilogue,” and the epilogue ends with brutal abruptness—a short paragraph on John Lennon’s assassination. The logic of ending this book this way is not difficult to make out, or to work out, but it is a bad miscalculation. It doesn’t ring, rouse, resonate, or resound. It does nothing. McMillian slams a door, cuts off a conversation, and the voices and lingerings of “one of the twentieth century’s greatest aesthetic debates” all blow away as ash in a quick wind. No, I cry out, now is the moment for the author to step up, not to vanish. Culmination is called for. I’m a sucker for culmination—for end statements that are both totalizing and cryptic, poetic and tangible, that encompass theme and event in a unified field of meaning while leaving wide and undeclared the vista that spreads beyond the book. Is that too much to ask? Perhaps the components of a wrap-up are scattered throughout the earlier chapters; perhaps McMillian could give me what I want simply by cutting and pasting a few passages into a different order. Will he do that in a future edition? Probably not. The ending remains abrupt, alienating, an emptiness diminishing all before it.

The majority of the “Epilogue” is given, in fact, to a takedown of the Stones post-Exile. It’s undeniable that, from one perspective, the worst thing they ever did for themselves was to not break up at the right time. McMillian recounts the Stones’ accumulation through the 1970s, ‘80s, ‘90s, aughts, and ‘teens of megatours, corporate sponsorships, time-wasting albums, coin-snatching compilations, inflated admission prices, and licensed crap affordable and desirable only to those fanboy-jock executive millionaires who literally have so much money they don’t know what to do with it. Yet again, we find it is impossible to survey the results of the Stones’ commercial elephantiasis and not come away damning the deadly sin of avarice—the band for promoting it, ourselves for ever having fed it. Yet again, we’re reminded of the classic line Nik Cohn wrote far back in 1968, in Rock from the Beginning, to end his chapter on the Stones, whom he loved: “And if they have any sense of neatness, they’ll get themselves killed in an air crash, three days before their thirtieth birthdays.”

Did anyone ever write anything similar about the Beatles? Would it have occurred to them? Or did the Beatles guarantee themselves a longer life in sound, memory, the collective daydream not simply by having the sense to break up before they fell apart, but also by landing on the world stage less beholden than the Stones to purist or rockist claims of authenticity; to someone else’s rebel yell; to the proprietary pulse of the penis? Perhaps it’s upon questions like these—and one’s personal response to them—that the Beatles-vs.-Stones debate tilts, and is finally won. By the Beatles.

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Thursday, July 18, 2013


From Dullblogger Hua: "She's Leaving Home" from the perspective of a girl leaving home. (Anyone know anything about Kathy McCord?)

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Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Devin after reading the preceding item

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