But not forgotten.
Read entire post
Is there any humor better than Beatles humor? Of course not. In the midst of playing Beatles Rockband like it was a job, I've posted a friend's recent humor column for Tribune Media Services over at mikegerber.com. Mark's column inspired me to write a little Beatles-inspired scene-let of my own at the end. Enjoy.
This is for anyone who is interested, which may not be some of you:
As I wrote in my posted comment on "The Best Dancer" below, thinking about Chuck Klosterman's piece got me thinking about Mark Shipper's piece — which, being a book, is a much bigger piece. Its title tells you that: Paperback Writer — The Life and Times of the Beatles, the Spurious Chronicle of Their Rise to Stardom, Their Triumphs and Disasters, Plus the Amazing Story of Their Ultimate Reunion. That blows the hell out of Klosterman's title, which is a mere five words long. And the book behind it goes much farther down the same path toward a reinvention of not just the Beatles' factual history, but the general perception and popular mythology around them.
"The finest novel ever written about rock and roll," goes the Greil Marcus blurb on the back; "Marvelously entertaining!" says Hilburn of the LA Times; "Devastatingly funny" writes Selvin in the SF Chronicle. I love the book my own damn self, and began wondering what became of Shipper. Apparently others have wondered that too. My Internet caught this email exchange (whence I swiped the jpegs posted here) between Scott Woods, majordomo at Rockcritics.com, and Richard Riegel, who reviewed Paperback Writer for Creem upon its 1978 release. Woods and Riegel discuss the novel (Scott reckons it funnier than The Rutles) and the mystery attaching to its now-you-see-him-now-you-don't-author, who followed up the Beatles satire with the compellingly titled How to Be Ecstatically Happy 24 Hours a Day for the Rest of Your Life, and then went underground, or at least sufficiently far to the fringes that he may be theorized as the J. D. Salinger of rock writers.
Riegel mentions that our elusive satirist now does something called "The Shipper Report," which would make him the "rarely-seen radio guru" referenced here, as well as the subject of this vintage piece of journalistic documentary from the Bush I era. Though Shipper is also said to have written for Creem in its early days, Woods says that in scanning back issues he has never come across his name. However, at the same time, Shipper demonstrably was in charge of a fanzine called Flash, which I discover is quite highly regarded in the annals of that particular subculture. Fanziner Christopher Stigliano constructs what must stand as the definitive history-critique of the short-lived Flash, including reprinting Shipper's Bangs- and Meltzer-influenced mission statement. Down below, if you scroll, is an extensive thank-you response from Shipper himself, which would seem to confirm his continued existence as of February 16, 2007. And another blog entry, with a much fuller low-down on the content of Paperback Writer than I've offered here, includes another, much shorter response from Shipper, which brings us up to September 18, 2008.
Time since then, as far as I can find it, goes unrecorded in the public forum. But I hope Mark is working his wang dang doodle somewhere this very moment, well and happy.
One more piece of Shipperiana, or related bizarrerie: a centerpiece of Paperback Writer is a deliriously imagined songwriting summit between a fully-baked Lennon, McCartney, and Dylan, the three magi drawing from their collective marijuana mists a horror of Surrealist wordslop called "Pneumonia Ceilings." ( "You've got the idea," Bob encourages Paul, "but the problem with your line is that it could make sense.") I recalled that I had not so very long ago come across a reference to this "song," but a reference that assumed it was real! Couldn't recall where, though, till some peremptory 'netting led me here, where the story is likewise repeated for fact.
Ta, Rock Turtleneck: your scroll-down commentator rights the historical wrong, and you remind me of where I saw Mark Shipper's "Pneumonia Ceilings" gag first become academic-archival myth: the gazillion-page reference work The Bob Dylan Encyclopedia, by Bob scholar Michael Gray — which our very own Beatle Ed Park had me review in The Village Voice three years ago!
"How is it different than...karaoke? I mean I once sang karaoke harmony on 'You're Gonna Lose That Girl,' and it was definitely fun, but is this that much different? Oh? What's that you say? Oh it's about playing the instruments? Really? Is it that much fun to play that guitar-thing like it's, I don't know, Defender?
Isn't the fun of playing this kind of music on an instrument, part of it anyway, being able to do it your own way, at your own pace, adding your own little embellishments and whatnot? Rock Band just seems so...totalitarian. There! I said it! Just looking at that stream of colored notes makes me anxious. It's like being asked to monitor the production line at the Starburst factory! If I wanted to do that, I'd just watch Unwrapped..."
—Overheard (in my own brain)
This sort of I've-been-living-under-a-rock thing shouldn't work...but I think Klosterman pulls it off!
It is not easy to categorize the Beatles’ music; more than any other group, their sound can be described as “Beatlesque.” It’s akin to a combination of Badfinger, Oasis, Corner Shop, and everyother rock band that’s ever existed. The clandestine power derived from the autonomy of the group’s composition—each Beatle has his own distinct persona, even though their given names are almost impossible to remember. There was John Lennon (the mean one), Paul McCartney (the hummus eater), George Harrison (the best dancer), and drummer Ringo Starr (The Cat). Even the most casual consumers will be overwhelmed by the level of invention and the degree of change displayed over their scant eight-year recording career, a span complicated by McCartney’s tragic 1966 death and the 1968 addition of Lennon’s wife Yoko Ono, a woman so beloved by the band that they requested her physical presence in the studio during the making of Let It Be.
—Chuck Klosterman on the reissues, in The Onion's A.V. Club
Everyone and their brother is writing about the Beatles today -- and last night VH1 was showing Help!, for heaven's sake! It's weird, and oddly it's making me a little bit cranky. (Like, Hey, I liked them first.) This happened back in 1995, though, a couple of years after my own personal conversion to Beatlemania, when Anthology landed and suddenly everyone was a big-time fan. So I guess it will blow over. In the meantime, if you find yourself growing fatigued with reading box-set reviews by Johnny-Come-Latelys, I recommend Chuck Klosterman's take at the Onion's AV Club. (Thanks to friend Betz for sending me the link.) Here's a sample:
1967 proved to be a turning point for the Beatles—the overwhelming lack of public interest made touring a fiscal impossibility, subsequently forcing them to focus exclusively on studio recordings. Spearheaded by the increasingly mustachioed Fake Paul, the four Beatles donned comedic Technicolor dreamcoats, consumed 700 sheets of mediocre acid on the roof of the studio, and proceeded to make Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, a groundbreaking album no one actually likes. A concept album about finding a halfway decent song for Ringo, Sgt. Pepper has a few satisfactory moments (“Lovely Rita” totally nails the experience of almost having sex with a city employee), but this is only B+ work. It mostly seems like a slightly superior incarnation of The Rolling Stones’ Their Satanic Majesties Request, a record that (ironically) came out seven months after this one. Pop archivists might be intrigued by this strange parallel between the Beatles and the Stones catalogue—it often seems as if every interesting thing The Rolling Stones ever did was directly preceded by something the Beatles had already accomplished, and it almost feels like the Stones completely stopped evolving once the Beatles broke up in 1970. But this, of course, is simply a coincidence. I mean, what kind of bozo would compare the Beatles to The Rolling Stones?
1. Dangerous Bacon, Stackridge (from “The Man In The Bowler Hat”). The whole album is a masterpiece, the missing link between the Beatles and Prog, produced by George Martin in 1973. The harmonies are soaring, the songs alternately epic, whimsical and vaudevillian, all snapping with crackle and pop. It’s the kind of album you want to tell people about, the kind of music you’d like to listen to while you write epic, whimsical, vaudevillian books.
From "Living With Music: Wesley Stace" on the NYT's Paper Cuts blog