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.

I wish I didn’t know now what I didn’t know then

I have always been a big fan of interesting song lyrics. The coining of a phrase that says more than the few words used in the song make it memorable.The above title comes from a Bob Seger song “Against the Wind” as he laments it was more exciting not knowing some things when you were younger about love and life. The following sample lyrics are not necessarily my favorites, but they are a few that represent my fascination with good wordsmithing.

“See, the number on the matchbook is old and faded,” is a line from Jim Croce’s song “Operator.” He is struggling to find the number of an old girlfriend who ran off with his “best old ex-friend Ray.” Since it was written on a matchbook, it means it was probably written down in a bar, maybe when  she let him know she was leaving.

“Just like a paperback novel, the kind the drugstore sells,” comes from Gordon Lightfoot’s “If you could read my mind.” He has several like this in the song, but to me he describes the cheesy romance novels you can buy in a drugstore where the hero saves the day. This is a melancholy song about people who can’t reclaim the love they once had, so the hero references are fantasy and not reality.

“Clowns to the left of me, joker’s to the right, here I am stuck in the middle with you,” is a Stealers Wheel song whose title is the last phrase of the song lyric. The song can mean so many things, but it shows that we are in this together and we need to ignore the fools on either side telling us what to do. It is also a good metaphor for our political stalemate.

Bob Dylan wrote and sang “How many ears must one man have, before he can hear people cry.” The song made famous by Peter, Paul and Mary’s rendition sung on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial beside Martin Luther King is called “Blowing in the Wind.”  There are great references throughout this song, but I like this one the most as African-Americans have been maltreated for so long and it seemed to resonate more.

When people think of Rush, they do not first think of lyrics, but their many songs are replete with excellent wordsmithing. In the song “Free will” the words that resonate with me are “if you choose not to decide, you still have made a choice.” I found this very poignant as many do not realize that by not doing something, they are making a choice. A good example is choosing not to vote believing it makes no difference. Yet, by not voting, the lesser of two candidates can be elected making a problem worse.

Of course, no list would be complete without some reference to a Beatles song. In “Lady Madonna,” Paul McCartney sings “Lady Madonna, children at your breast, it’s a wonder how you manage to feed the rest.”  This line speaks volumes of the difficulties in raising children, but especially in poverty or near poverty when you are a single parent.

Let me close with romantic song from David Gates of “Bread.” The lyric goes “When my love for life has all run dry, you’ll come and pour yourself on me.”  This lyric from the song “If” resonates with me as we pick each other up. He has done all he can and needs help, so his lover comes and pour herself on him to bring his spirits back to life.

I would love to hear your reaction to these and for you to share some of your favorites. These were top of mind, so I have overlooked many great lyrics.

 

All the lonely people – let’s avoid being the future Eleanor Rigby

One of my favorite songs by The Beatles is one about lonely people – “Eleanor Rigby” written by John Lennon and Paul McCartney with Paul singing the lead and John singing a haunting echo that rounds out the song. The song highlights two lonely people, Eleanor Rigby and Father McKenzie, who meet each other at the very end of Rigby’s life as McKenzie is the only one attending her funeral. Here are the lyrics:

Ah, look at all the lonely people
Ah, look at all the lonely people

Eleanor Rigby, picks up the rice
In the church where a wedding has been
Lives in a dream

Waits at the window, wearing the face
That she keeps in a jar by the door
Who is it for?

All the lonely people
Where do they all come from?
All the lonely people
Where do they all belong?

Father McKenzie, writing the words
of a sermon that no one will hear
No one comes near

Look at him working, darning his socks
In the night when there’s nobody there
What does he care?

All the lonely people
Where do they all come from?
All the lonely people
Where do they all belong?

Ah, look at all the lonely people
Ah, look at all the lonely people

Eleanor Rigby, died in the church
And was buried along with her name
Nobody came

Father McKenzie, wiping the dirt
From his hands as he walks from the grave
No one was saved

All the lonely people
(Ah, look at all the lonely people)
Where do they all come from?
All the lonely people
(Ah, look at all the lonely people)
Where do they all belong?

We are a lonely lot of beings. It is only when we reach out to others, do we alter this fact. I am afraid we are becoming more alone as we become more disconnected. Michael Gerson’s column earlier this week introduced me to Robert Putnam, a Harvard Sociologist, who Gerson hopes is wrong about his findings. What are they? Putnam has done research on the rising individualism which has liberated us from social commitments. His data goes back to the 1990s.

What Putnam has discovered through an analysis of this data is we are shunning attendance at various social outings such as church services, bowling leagues, Moose lodges, company picnics and parties, etc. We have cocooned more by choice and now are more inclined to be less civil.  He also notes the trend is not distributed equally, as the working class is the group that has become more disconnected. He notes upper and middle class parents are continuing to introduce their kids to more social avenues, but others are suffering and it abets income inequality. He notes social connectedness is a strong predictor of later success whether it is test scores, college attendance or income.

In addition to other measures, he encourages having healthier community institutions and engaging families to participate more. He encourages stronger family units through birth control to prevent early pregnancies and permit better family planning. He also encourages more economic leveling approaches which will help those on the bottom end make a decent living. I would add a comment I have heard in my work with impoverished people – we need to build off community assets. For example, each community should have a vibrant public school or public park that is inviting of extracurricular activities for the students, parents and other citizens. These become community centers. As communities are improved, we need to allow for safe and inviting public gathering places that will attract events, meetings, etc.

And, we need to unplug and get out. Social media has enabled us to share and reach out to far more people, but it can also make us loners. Let’s avoid being the future Eleanor Rigby’s and Father McKenzie’s. Let’s get out and meet and greet each other. It is the best way to stop the loneliness.

 

Let’s go to a concert

Whether it is a local band or one who has sold millions of songs, attending a venue to hear live music is thrilling and makes you feel alive. My wife and I have stumbled into live music on vacation which was a treat and we have made special plans to attend artists of renown. We have even gone to see our friend play piano in one of his bands  on very short notice. This post is dedicated to him as he suffered a stoke yesterday and may not make it. We are thinking good thoughts for him and his family.

Let’s honor him together and take a trip down memory lane. Please feel free to offer some of your thoughts and experiences.Together, my wife and I have seen some fairly big name performers and with very few exceptions were worth trip. I have even taken my boys to see some artists that my wife has not cared for, but were excellent to us – I could not drag her to see ACDC, Styx or Rush, for example, but we enjoyed the heck out of them. Yet, I was able to get her to see the Allman Brothers, which was well worth the effort.

Some of the well-known artists we have been fortunate enough to see include: Bruce Springsteen, who will leave you worn out, but you could hear just one more; Paul McCartney, from which I had to text my Beatles fanatical brother to guess where we were, Elton John, where we saw three generations of fans singing word for word with Elton; Eric Clapton, who brought along Buddy Guy and Derek Trucks for kicks; Tina Turner, the best performer around; Heart, led by Ann Wilson, one of the greatest Rock and Roll singers around; Tom Petty, who is so very underrated even with his tremendous body of work; Steve Winwood, what a thrill; Rod Stewart, who my wife had to see, but I enjoyed as well; Bob Seger, one of my all time favorites where we got tickets in the nose bleed section; KD Lang (once with Tony Bennett),  who can sing almost anything and does the best version of “Hallelujah” you will ever hear; Bonnie Raitt, God she is great; Peter, Paul and Mary, a wonderful treat, Chicago, where it rained half the concert, and George Benson, a great guitarist and performer.

In some smaller venues, we saw Mary Chapin Carpenter, who is genuine, talented and funny; Elvis Costello, who my wife did not want to see, but enjoyed immensely; James Taylor, several times and always a treat; Jimmy Buffett, who is especially entertaining when seen with your drunk brother-in-law; Jackson Browne, who actually disappointed (avoid the first concert tour date), but whose music I love nonetheless and Flogging Molly, which was a wonderfully unique experience. We also saw: Arlo Guthrie (twice), Marcia Ball (go see her if you can), Marshall Tucker (a band with a tragic history), Altan, a neat Irish band, Blood, Sweat and Tears, Foreplay, Harry Connick, Jr. and I am sure I am leaving off several others. My wife has gone to several with my daughter that were interesting from Owl City to Emilie Autumn, who apparently throws muffins at her audience.

Yet, we have seen some nice local bands that were a thrill, from Jazz to Blues to Swing to Pop. We have bought their CDs to honor their performance and help them out. But, the CDs also provide some memories taking us back to Montreal, New Orleans, Killarney, San Francisco, Blowing Rock or even home in Charlotte or Winston-Salem when we lived there. There is a Cajun restaurant in my home city that has live music every day. A neat memory of ours is my oldest son being asked to sing along with an Irish family in a pub near Watertown, Ireland as he was the lone American who knew the words to a song.

Music heard at home or in your car is a wonderful experience, but hearing live music makes it memorable. My wife won’t listen to Elvis Costello at home, but she enjoyed his concert, e.g. Yet, let me close with a tribute and memory of our friend Eddie, who had the stroke. Eddie plays in several groups, but the last time we heard him play was at his oldest daughter’s wedding a few months ago. It was also memorable as my wife played social director and got everyone up to dance, including Eddie’s mother. God be with you Eddie. You make us feel better about our lives with your music.

So, let me hear from all of you. What are some of your memorable experiences? Have you seen some of same folks? Do you have friends that play?