Channeling My Inner 11-Year-Old

The Beatles had a resurgence when I was a kid–as they seem to every few years since they broke up–and they were the first, em, “serious” pop band I listened to. I never listened to the radio–the cacophonous incidental sounds of radio (from AM/FM noise artifacts to commercials to DJs breaking in) made (and makes) it something I cannot tolerate for very long. I picked up some “Donny and Marie” and “Captain and Tenille”, but that didn’t really ignite any interest. (Can’t imagine why.)

Most of the music I listened to was classical or noodling–whatever I could play. (I never have “gotten” piano, though, sadly.) I had a kind of culture shock when I went from piano to guitar because piano teachers generally tell you what to play and guitar teachers ask you what you want to play. So guitar lessons were not successful at that point. (What were they going to do? Teach me Bach and Beethoven? Not likely.)

Flash forward a few months or a year, and one of my classmates takes on a tour of Capitol Records (where her father worked) and they handed out promotional copies of the latest Beatles compilation album, Love Songs. (One of the advantages of going to school in L.A. Another student’s father worked at ABC studios, so we toured there as well.)

Flash forward again, and I’ve got a few more albums and I teach myself a few chords and score a copy–I’m still not sure how–of the “Beatles Complete”, a fairly comprehensive book of typographically convenient piano arrangements of all the Beatles’ tunes. With some help from Peter, Paul and Mary for basic fingerings, I taught myself to play “Polythene Pam”.

Why that song? Five chords, but four of them aren’t bar chords, and when you play it actually sounds like the song on the album. (Because the book had been set up as a sort of fake book for piano–what else?–the music was often transposed into good piano keys, where the Beatles naturally played in good guitar keys. There was a later two-volume work that preserved the scores far better.)

And so I learned to play guitar. Ultimately, I learned fifty or sixty of their tunes, possibly more, though I had more success (as a guy alone with his guitar) emulating Simon & Garfunkel (hold the Garfunkel), ultimately learning all the songs of that duo with the exact or nearly exact fingerings (and quite a few post-breakup songs, too). Then, in the early MTV years, I’d play whatever came on which, to this day, gives me an odd selection of music to recall from that period. (It could’ve been huge on the radio, but if it wasn’t on TV, I didn’t hear it. Sounds strange, but MTV let the songs play all the way through without interrupting back then.)

During my Beatles period, I studied the music and learned about the phenomenon and hung out with other Beatles fans (there were about 50 kids altogether in my middle school, divided between Beatles fans and KISS fans, and ne’er the twain shall meet, except in my house where my sister was, predictably, a KISS fan).

This period ended for me when John Lennon was shot; I found it hard to listen to The Beatles after that for some time, and started listening to their solo albums. (Listening to “the latest” music has never been my thing, as you can see.) I cast about for other things to listen to, but I wouldn’t get close to anything like my Beatles obsession (at least in “pop” music) for ten years (when I rediscovered Loudon Wainwright III).

My transition from the banging chords of the Beatles to Paul Simon-style fingerpickin’ started with this blues song (which before this very moment I had never heard anyone else play ‘cept for me and the guy who taught it to me), and ultimately led me back home to Bach and other Baroque and Renaissance music. (There is truly “Classical” music for the guitar but most of it is terribly boring. The late 18th century and the 19th century isn’t a font of great guitar music. 20th century music and the guitar go gloriously well together, however.)

Anyway a couple years ago when I splurged and got myself a new classical guitar–and the best one I found was actually pretty old–the shopkeeper (sensing an easy mark, no doubt) also showed me a vintage 12-string Framus which I promptly bought, rationalizing that both old guitars together were cheaper and better sounding than the new ones I had sampled. (Random youtube of this kind of guitar in action, but you can hear it on a ton of the Beatles middle period stuff.)

Plucking out a few Beatles tunes on that thing does send me back–to a time before I was born, even. Heh. The sound is evocative.

But evocative in an entirely different way from this.

Although I’ve never quite understood the Guitar Hero attraction, I have to admit, this variant awakened my inner 11-year-old.

Dead Cowboys

One of the wonders of the K-TEL years was that I heard about two lines from every song ever made, the entirety of which would be delivered to me in 2, 3, or 4 record collection filled with other songs I also knew two lines of (from the same commercial), sung by musical groups I often hadn’t heard of.

One of those albums was a Statler Bros. collection, and they were singing about the movies and how neurotic and sexualized they had become. Not knowing anything else, it seemed sort of quaint a notion. Heck, I used to walk or drive by a porn theater daily as a youngster–itself a quaint notion these days.

Anyway, someone put that song “Whatever Happened To Randolph Scott?” along with a Sons of the Pioneers (?) song “Cool Water” to a bunch of photos of dead actor-cowboys. (At this point, long dead, many before I was born.)

Maybe some of y’all will enjoy that.

American Tune

Many is the time I’ve been mistaken
And many times confused
Yes and I’ve often felt forsaken
And certainly misused

Oh but I’m all right, I’m all right
I’m just weary to my bones
Still you don’t expect to be bright and bon vivant
So far away from home
So far away from home

And I don’t know a soul who’s not been battered
I don’t have a friend who feels at ease
And I don’t know a dream that’s not been shattered
Or driven to its knees

Oh but it’s all right, it’s all right
For we’ve lived so well so long
Still when I think of the road we’re traveling on
I wonder what’s gone wrong
I can’t help it, I wonder what’s gone wrong

And I dreamed I was dying
I dreamed that my soul rose unexpectedly
And looking back down at me
Smiled reassuringly

And I dreamed I was flying
And high up above my eyes could clearly see
The Statue of Liberty
Sailing away to sea

And I dreamed I was flying

Gonna come on the ship they call “The Mayflower”
Gonna come on the ship that sailed the moon
And we come in the age’s most uncertain hour
And sing an American Tune

Oh but it’s all right
It’s all right, it’s all right
You can’t be forever blessed
Still tomorrow’s gonna be another working day
And I’m trying to get some rest
That’s all I’m trying: To get some rest
Paul Simon

Inaugural Blues

Talkin’ ‘bout my generation
People try to put us down
But they weren’t people, just our parents
Now they’re old or not around

Bill and Hill are our first couple
Student prez, homecoming queen
Tipper’s cute, Albert’s handsome
The in-crowd is the winning team

The baby boomers are the bosses
Rock and roll is here to stay
Fleetwood Mac got back together
In separate limos on reunion day

We got Elvis and the Beatles
Protested war, now we’ve won
Bill’s gone gray, Al’s slightly balding
But we are forever young

It’s not quite a coronation
Feels more like a senior prom
In D.C., bells ring, there are fireworks
On TV, we see Baghdad bombed

Points of light and talk of angels
It’s rhetoric, it must be told
I’m talking about my generation
Hope we grow up before we’re old
Hope we grow up before we’re old, yeah

–Loudon Wainwright III

I’m Looking At The River

In Germany before the war
There was a man who owned a store
In nineteen hundred thirty-four
In Dusseldorf

And every night at five-o-nine
He’d cross the park down to the Rhine
And he’d sit there by the shore

I’m looking at the river
But I’m thinking of the sea
Thinking of the sea
Thinking of the sea
I’m looking at the river
But I’m thinking of the sea

A little girl has lost her way
With hair of gold and eyes of gray
Reflected in his glasses
As he watches her

Randy Newman

How Old Are You?

How old are you?
Tell me what’s your story?
How old are you?
Tell me when did you start?
Are you in it for the money or the glory?
Do you still have the brains, the guts and the heart?

When you were younger
You were so much better
When you were young
You were really hot
But now you’re much older
And you’re colder than ever
Why don’t you hang it up?
Why don’t you stop?

–Loudon Wainwright III

(42)

This Year

Another year’s gone
Here comes a new one
What’s gonna happen?
This year

We’re gonna make it
Not gonna take it
Make no mistake it’s
This year

Last year was a fiasco
A real disaster
So full of sorrow

This year will be a great year
I just can’t wait, dear
Until tomorrow

Forget the old pain
Sing a new refrain
Uncork the champagne
This year

No, it’s not too late
We’ve got a clean slate
The future’s our fate
This year

Last year was a fiasco
A real disaster
So full of sorrow

This year will be a great year
I just can’t wait, dear
Until tomorrow

It’s after midnight
I’m just a bit tight
Hey, but I’ll be all right
This year

The year is brand new
The old one’s all through
And it’s time to kiss you
This year

–Loudon Wainwright III

Merry Christmas!

This year has been a little crazy for the Andersons
You may recall we had some trouble last year
The robot council had us banished to an asteroid
That hasn’t undermined our holiday cheer!

And we know it’s almost Christmas
By the marks we make on the wall
That’s our favorite time of year!

Merry Christmas
From Chiron Beta Prime
Where we’re working in a mine
For our robot overlords

Did I say overlords?
I meant protectors!
Merry Christmas
From Chiron Beta Prime

–Jonathan Coulton

Conspiracy

We don’t believe in you-know-who
But we don’t let the kids know it
We’re parents, we’re grown-ups
There’s a line, we have to toe it

But we’re all part of a conspiracy
About this bearded big-fat guy
Who isn’t real, who never lived
Who’s old but doesn’t die

We took them to the department store
We went out on that limb
We told the kids it was you-know who
We said that bum was him

Then we set them on his knee
(To me the knee seemed bony)
Happily they sat there though
Chatting to that phony

Told the kids we could provide proof
(Deceit! Oh how I hate it)
Put out the milk and cookies
I confess I drank and ate it

Then there’s that fib about the North Pole
As if any elves could live there
We helped write and send that letter
Knowing full well it went nowhere

You-know-who comes down the chimney
How could such a fat man fit?
The whole thing is preposterous
Yet we get children to buy it

We have no shame, the lies pile up
You think at least we’d balk
When singing about red-nose reindeer
And snowman that can dance and talk

Well, it’s just a harmless tale
A bit of Christmas fun
Sort of like that other tale
The one about God’s son?

Where angels speak to shepherds
And wise-men troop after a star
And a virgin has a baby!
That’s fetched pretty far

But we adults buy that conspiracy
We toe and swallow that old line
Disappearing milk and cookies?
How about that bread and wine?

It’s enough to make you wonder
It’s enough to give you pause
Maybe it’s just as important
Kids believe in…
You-know-who

–Loudon Wainright III