Saturday, September 06, 2008

With the Beatles in Worcester, Mass.

The Fab Four are with us still ...

In case you were worried, I can report that The Beatles are alive and well, all four of them, in Worcester, Massachusetts, where a big crowd of us watched them perform live in Elm park at sunset just recently.

Of course Beatles For Sale (www.beatlesforsale.net) is a "tribute" band and not really the Fab Four in the flesh, but the spirit was convincing enough to take us back "to where we once belonged," and to give a couple of succeeding generations a taste of what it was like when the group's every new release was a revolution in sound.

Those of us who are old enough can still date the periods of our lives (and/or partners) according to which album each song was on. For me, Help! was my first date at a drive-in movie, Rubber Soul will forever recall close friends departing for college at the airport, Revolver the introduction to hallucinogenic substances, and the White Album with its Charlie Manson connections one of the least savory parts of my youth. And how can I begin to describe the perfect joy of walking down the leafy side streets of Coconut Grove back then and hearing Sergeant Pepper coming out of each window, emphatically new every time?

Then there are all the associations with particular songs. I remember watching the first live transatlantic TV broadcast using Comsat, the first communications satellite, in 1967. They showed events and scenes from both coasts of the USA, England, France, and Germany. But the only one I remember is the one from London -- the Beatles singing "All You Need Is Love" in a sound studio crowded with friends and violins, with balloons rising, confetti falling, magnificently wacky. How could that not change the world?

When the band did "Got to Get You Into My Life" it brought back Leonard Bernstein, who sang it in his gravelly baritone while accompanying himself on the piano in a special TV lecture designed to explain to the grownups why the Beatles' music was important. (He actually compared "Good Day Sunshine" to Schubert lieder.)

And then there was "Michelle," which my own father, also a classical pianist, believed would be enough all by itself to insure the names of Lennon and McCartney would go down in history. He predicted a longevity comparable to "Greensleeves" and other hits of five hundred to a thousand years ago.

By this time the memorabilia was so thick that even the name "Worcester" started us discussing the scene in the 1966 movie, The Russians Are Coming,The Russians Are Coming, where the Soviet submarine crew argues over how to pronounce "Gloucester" on their American map. Is it Glockester or Gloochester? Later Alan Arkin gives himself a smack in the head when he hears the Americans call it "Gloster."

(Worcester is of course pronounced "Wooster," unless you come from the parts of Boston where it's "Woostah.")

But getting back to The Beatles ...

It was clear there was an abundance of us old fans at the concert in the park, all these portly bald men and dowdy women dancing and grinning with glee, and several meandering characters still spaced out and thinking they were back at Woodstock. But we were surrounded by children and grandchildren likewise lapping it up and having a blast. Amazingly, the music is still fun after all these years. The band must have gone through fifty favorites spanning the entire brief career of some of the most prolific songwriters of the twentieth century.

Most amazing is to consider what the equivalent would have been back in 1968. Can you imagine a crowd in a park back then boogieing to the flapper tunes of 1928, or dancing the Charleston? No way. We hated that stuff with a passion, including all the later eras of 1930's crooners, 1940's big bands, 1950's Broadway shows, and the terminally cute pop tunes of the very early 1960's. No self-respecting hippie would have been caught dead anywhere within listening range of anything but mainstream rock.

But now there seems to be room for all the pop music of the intervening years to coexist peacefully. From acid rock to heavy metal, punk, grunge, rap, hip-hop, trance, techno, you name it, it's all going on at once. Even our teenage relations were observed later that night listening to a Jimi Hendrix mix on an iPod. (Hendrix, the Paganini of the electric guitar!) So apparently Leonard Bernstein was right and the music we grew up on was really as good as we thought. It certainly has already lasted longer than anyone expected.

And there are still those, the smallest among us, who can look forward to discovering it as fresh and new. Soon as we get back home, I promised myself, I've got to pull out those DVD's of Help! and A Hard Day's Night for the grandchildren so another generation will see what we saw. I'm guessing they will still get it.

1 comment:

  1. As a member of the band, it was nice to stumble across this article (albeit several months later!) Glad you had a good time. We did too, and look forward to returning this year.

    Dan Kirouac
    Keyboards/Vocals - Beatles For Sale