Rocketman and Yesterday

Yesterday, my son and I saw the movie “Yesterday” about a young singer who is in an accident caused by a blackout leaving him injured, but also the only person on the planet who remembers The Beatles. The movie stars Himesh Patel as the singer and Lily James as his manager and largest fan among very few. Yet, it is abetted by the role Ed Sheeran plays as himself recognizing the genius songwriting and Kate McKinnon as both performers greedy manager.

Last month, my wife and I saw “Rocketman,” a biopic about Elton John and his songwriting partnership with Bernie Taupin. While it differs from “Yesterday,” both feature the musical genius of the songwriters and performers. “Rocketman” stars Taron Egerton as John with Jamie Bell playing Taupin. “Rocketman” also stars Bryce Dallas Howard and Steven Mackintosh as John’s unsupportive parents, whose best adult support came from his Nan played by Gemma Jones

In both movies, the stars sing the songs. Egerton does a highly credible job of singing like Elton. Patel does not sing as well, but that is a key part of the story. He is an unsuccessful singer who starts singing great music, while Egerton is playing the singer. “Yesterday” is directed by Danny Boyle with the story and screenplay written by Richard Curtis and Jack Barth. “Rocketman” was directed by Dexter Fletcher with the story and screenplay written by Lee Hall.

Both movies are worth seeing. “Rocketman” reveals the musical genius of Elton John who could play songs after hearing them for the first time, even as a young boy. He was classically trained after his Nan helped him, but he could only go as he benefitted from a scholarship. Billy Joel, who toured with John later in their careers, noted John wrote backwards from most songwriters, writing the music to the words of Taupin.

“Yesterday” introduces the breadth of music by The Beatles to a younger audience featuring the songs of John Lennon and Paul McCartney with a few of George Harrison’s thrown in. The movie includes songs from early in The Beatles’ career as well as songs off The White Album. Please stay around for the credits as well, as you will fade out with a well-known song.

It is hard to pick which movie is better. Since, I am a huge Beatles’ fan, I would have to give the nod to the latter, although the critics liked “Rocketman” a little better. It should be noted, I also liked the movie of a few years ago “Across the Universe,” which had young actors singing The Beatles’ songs as part of the plot, not unlike “Mamma Mia,” which uses ABBA’s music. I think both movies are just shy of the success of “Bohemian Rhapsody” about Queen which won some Academy Awards last year, but they are still highly entertaining.

Since my wife could not join us, I am likely to go see “Yesterday” again. I think it is worth another go. It should be noted Lily James also played in the sequel to “Mamma Mia” which came out last year. In “Yesterday,” her singing is relegated to playing a chorus in early recording sessions, but she adds greatly to the movie.

Competition and collaboration

I am reading a wonderful book on the life of Paul Simon. His story of dedication and diligence to his craft is an amazing read. He is a highly competitive, yet very collaborative professional. And, he notices these qualities in others.

Simon noted after meeting the driving forces of The Beatles, he saw how competitive John Lennon and Paul McCartney were. They made each other better trying to outdo the other. But, they also were highly collaborative with each other and other musicians within the band and recording studio.

Don Henley and Glenn Frey of The Eagles were similar. Like Simon and the lead Beatles, Henley and Frey are highly prolific songwriters. Yet, they worked relentlessly on their harmonies. They were as close to flawless as possible. Regardless of who sang the lead, the others contributed to making the music sound even better.

The Beatles were known for their harmonies as well, with numerous takes and much practice. Like The Eagles, regardless of the lead, they all worked together to get the right sound, either vocally or instrumentally. There is a great documentary on the making of Sgt. Pepper that highlights the competition and collaboration which created the most acclaimed album of its time.

Back to Paul Simon, he and Art Garfunkel would practice their harmonies facing each other to watch the other’s mouth as they sang. They even preferred to record singing in one mike because rhey felt it sounded better. And, like The Beatles, Simon constanty pursued makig the music better collaborating with other musicians who brought different styles of music.

Plus, Simon is competitive due to being told he was not tall enough, he wasn’t good enough, he didn’t have the right birthplace to be a folk singer, he wasn’t rock-n-roll enough, he couldn’t sing as well as Garfunkel, etc. Simon just learned his craft behind the scenes even going to England where he was more accepted for his unique style and songwriting.

Competition is a good thing. Yet, checking egos and working together make the product even better. Collaboration is vital, otherwise the competition can become unproductive through sabotage or rooting for failure. The dysfunction in Congress and White House are obvious examples where the absence of collaboration is stifling progress.

So, it is more than fine to compete, but do collaborate. That added seasoning could make all the difference.

 

The movement you need is on your shoulder

Conversing by comment with our British friend Roger, I recalled a line from the song “Hey Jude,” written by Paul McCartney following a conversation with John Lennon’s son Julian who went by Jules. What started out as Hey Jules was McCartney recalling how he encouraged Jules to speak to a girl he liked.

One of the best lines in the song per the older Lennon was almost struck because McCartney thought it was too corny. The line is simply “the movement you need is on your shoulder.” The power of the line is if we just use our brain, we have the ability to solve the problems we encounter. The reference to the word “movement” is key as well. We must act on what we need to do. We must make a move.

I was recalling this line as many of us resort to prayer to solve our problems. That is all well and good, but we lose sight of the greatest invention God or Allah gave us – our brain. Paraphrasing Solomon in Proverbs, God gave us a wonderful brain and we honor him when we use it. Please do not look for these precise words, as you won’t find them. They are my simple take on who the bible considered the wisest of kings.

My point is we often don’t realize when we pray that God gave us the ability to solve our problems. Or, we may be praying for a miracle cure, but we overlook the brilliant surgeon and his or her team may be the embodiment of God’s miracle. What surgeons do can be viewed in such manner as they are honoring God’s gift to them.

Many religions believe their way is the only way to find heaven. Personally, I find that to be a tad arrogant. Especially when religions have some of the same principles embedded therein. We should be open to all manners of faith. What gives us the most peace, should be the one we follow. It may not be the path your parents took. That is OK. The peace it gives and the generosity of spirit is more important.

God gave us a wonderful brain. Let’s use it more than we do to solve our problems. He also gave us two ears and one mouth. We should use them in that proportion.

A few distractions from unexpected guitarists

With so many things happening in the world, we could use a few distractions. The following music factoids on some interesting guitar collaborations are quite unimportant, but may bring a moment of relief and reflection.

Joe Cocker covered several songs making them his own with his unusual style, including The Beatles’ “Little Help from my Friends.” What I just learned this week, the beautiful guitar lead-in to and throughout the song was played by none other than Jimmy Page. Page had left The Yardbirds and had not started Led Zeppelin with Robert Plant.

– Speaking of great lead guitarists, Jeff Beck, who also played with The Yardbirds and with several famous performers like Rod Stewart, Mick Jaggar, Tina Turner et al, was captured in a collaboration on a very famous song with a Motown star. Stevie Wonder’s “Superstitious” has a pulsating and memorable guitar riff throughout, played by Beck.

– Another guitar collaboration married a very talented songwriter and performer by the name of Michael Jackson with lead guitarist Eddie Van Halen. Jackson’s famous song “Beat it” has a Beck-like guitar riff and solo player by Van Halen, whose own band is quite successful.

Eric Clapton is arguably the best known guitarist in the world. He also played briefly     with The Yardbirds – an amazing line-up of guitar talent. Before he died, Duane Allman of The Allman Brothers joined with Clapton on his most famous song “Layla.” Allman was an expert slide guitarist, so he played the plaintiff crying sound on “Layla” for the last half of the song.

– Finally, although not quite the capable guitarists as the above players, two other famous musicians played on “Carolina in my Mind,” James Taylor’s song. Taylor was signed by Apple Records, which was The Beatles’ self-created label. Needing a bassist and additional guitarist, Paul McCartney and George Harrison decided to do the honors for Taylor. That was quite the set of studio musicians for the 18 year old Taylor.

I find these collaborations fascinating. When I learned of them much later than when the songs were hits, I enjoyed the songs even more. Give them a listen and hear past the singer for the guitar sound. There are some famous fingers strumming along in these songs making them even more memorable.

Paul is dead

When The Beatles released what I think is their best album called “Abbey Road,” quite a stir was raised. It was in 1969, well before Social Media and just before the mechanics of the Internet were invented. A rumor was started that Paul McCartney was dead and it went global as a story.

The rumor was based off a story in 1969, that Paul had died in a car crash three years earlier and was replaced. There were several clues, but a key piece of evidence was on the cover of the Abbey Road album where the four band members were pictured walking across the street in front of their studio of the same name.

John Lennon walked first dressed in all white like a spiritual being. Ringo Starr came next dressed in black as a minister or funeral director might. George Harrison was last dressed in jeans and a blue work shirt, as if he portrayed grave digger,

Paul was third and was dressed in a suit with no tie and no shoes. He was also walking out of step with the other three. Other signs were used as evidence from earlier songs and albums. Was this to promote record sales or was it one of the many crazy stories that followed The Beatles?

Two final comments. If this story came out today with Social Media, it would go viral beyond belief. It would likely fragment into many permutations which would also go viral. I am reminded of the story about Bob Hope’s passing which led Congress to have a moment of silence for him to commemorate his life. Yet, no one checked into the fact that he was not dead at that time.

Lastly, I am among many tourists who travelled to the site of the famous album cover picture. Like many before, I quickly walked on the street for a photo shot. The dilemma is Abbey Road is a busy street and the tour guide forwarned us. We just might have ended up dead like Paul needing the three others to bury us. By the way, Paul is still not dead.

 

God gave us a wonderful brain


Paraphrasing King Solomon’s words from the bible, let me say this with emphasis. God gave us a wonderful brain. We honor him when we use it. Here is a sampling of Solomon’s wisdom:

“For whoso despiseth wisdom and nurture, he is miserable, and their hope is vain, their labors unfruitful, and their works unprofitable.”

“Wisdom is glorious, and never fadeth away; yea, she is easily seen of them that love her, and found of such as seek her.”

“But the multitude of the wise is the welfare of the world: and a wise king is the upholding of the people.”

We often pray for miracle cures, good fortune and remedial help with our difficulties. Yet, we lose sight of this wonderful thing in our heads. God has armed us with a great tool to solve our problems. As Paul McCartney once sang about in the famous anthem Hey Jude, “the movement you need is on your shoulders.” It should be noted, McCartney was going to strike that line from the song as he thought it cheesy, but John Lennon said to leave it in as it was the best line in the song.

I have written before that God does not care who wins football games, so thanking him when you win is misguided. Now, thanking him that no one was hurt is different. Same holds true about war. One of my favorite questions is “which side was God pulling for during the Civil War?” Both sides felt they had righteous cause, yet the prayers should have been for leaders to find wisdom to stop this carnage and let all people be free and not to win a war that claimed the lives of 750,000 Americans.

It is my belief God wants us to solve our problems. He  gave us this wonderful brain and it is incumbent upon us to use it. When people pray for a miracle to cure cancer in their child, how do we know if the doctor’s experience, skill and intellect are not the miracle for which we are praying. As reported on “60 Minutes” last night, some doctors at Duke University may have discovered a cure for certain kinds of cancers using a variant of polio. I stand in awe of those who are behind this research that has saved three lives and prolonged others, thus far.

So, let’s continue praying, but don’t stop thinking and acting. We may have the ability to solve our own problems and doing so would make God happy, just like it does when a child makes his parent happy.

I am reminded of the key moment in the movie called “Ray” about the life of the blind singer and pianist Ray Charles. The scene is when the mother leaves him alone in the house as a child and watches from the door as he figures out things on his own. It is breathtaking. In my eyes, she was God-like. Let’s use our brain like Ray did.

 

Blackbird singing in the dead of night

The title is from a line of The Beatles song “Blackbird” which is a tribute to the struggle for African-Americans for their civil rights. The song was sung by Paul McCartney with writing credits to both him and John Lennon, although McCartney was the lead.

Blackbird singing in the dead of night
Take these broken wings and learn to fly
All your life
You were only waiting for this moment to arise

Blackbird singing in the dead of night
Take these sunken eyes and learn to see
All your life
You were only waiting for this moment to be free

Blackbird fly, blackbird fly
Into the light of the dark black night

Blackbird fly, blackbird fly
Into the light of the dark black night

Blackbird singing in the dead of night
Take these broken wings and learn to fly
All your life
You were only waiting for this moment to arise
You were only waiting for this moment to arise
You were only waiting for this moment to arise

Here is what McCartney said about the origin of the song in an interview in 2002.

“I’ve got a poetry book out called Blackbird Singing…..I was in Scotland playing on my guitar, and I remembered this whole idea of ‘you were only waiting for this moment to arise’ was about, you know, the black people’s struggle in the southern states, and I was using the symbolism of a blackbird. It’s not really about a blackbird whose wings are broken, you know, it’s a bit more symbolic.”

I added McCartney’s quote as I wanted the clarity around what the song means. African-Americans are still fighting an uphill struggle for their civil rights. What has happened in Ferguson, Cleveland, New Jersey, Charleston, Charlotte and Baltimore is tragic, but evidence of the disenfranchisement of African-Americans. The lack of opportunity, the malaise, the maltreatment, the deterioration of the neighborhood, the lack of respect given to people of color in our country continues.

I have noted before that Warren Buffett has said he was born lucky. He was born a white male in America. All three components of that phrase are important – white, male and America. Yes, he worked hard, but he was afforded opportunities that African-Americans do not get.  Not only do many whites like me have a hard time knowing the challenges of being black, but we also do not fully realize the advantages of being white. As I wrote recently, as a white man, there are not too many places I cannot go no matter how I am dressed. But, there are far too many stories of how a black man can be dressed in his Sunday best, yet still be stopped by the police and think “be careful as this may be the last thing I do on earth.”

I would encourage three things. First, please do not look at those committing violence and rioting as indicative of the African-American community. The community knows this is not the path forward. Second, people who look like me need to do our best to understand the challenges we have in America for people of color, but also for all people in poverty. Third, as always, talk is cheap. These issues are complex and solutions have to address many underlying concerns. There are no sound byte answers as some politicians have espoused.

I mention this last point as we must address the wide disparity in American between the “haves” and “have-nots.” This is not just an African-American issue. It is an American issue, as most people on food stamps are white. Please re-read this previous sentence. Poverty exists in urban areas, in rural areas and even in the suburbs. We have to stop the “war on poor people” and make this a “war on poverty.”

We must invest in our infrastructure and deteriorated assets repurposing them. This will spawn jobs as well in places where it is needed. We must revise our minimum wage to be consistent with a living wage for one person, which varies, but is just over $10 an hour. We must invest in education at all levels. We must embrace the Affordable Care Act as it is helping so many people and fully implement it through Medicaid expansion in the remaining 20 odd states. For some politicians to say we have a poverty problem and be against the ACA is hypocritical and shortsighted, especially when it is working pretty well.

Remember McCartney’s words and lets help these folks with broken wings learn to fly. To do otherwise, goes against what our country is all about and any of the teachings found in religious texts.