Monday, July 15, 2013

Rev. Paul McCartney’s Revival Meeting

This weekend Brother Beatle brought his traveling musical salvation show to the nation’s capital to try to end the rainy season and lift our spirits with the kind of rollicking music he’s been making for more than five decades. And it worked. The music was marvelous and the magic kept the children dry.

From his opening songs, Eight Days A Week and All My Lovin, he had us under his spell, which he kept going through more than two hours of ballads, up-tempo toe-tappers and hard rock riffs. His current band, while not up to the vocal harmonies of the original Boys from Liverpool, is tight and gives him such solid support; you stop comparing them to The Beatles or Wings.

Paul still has the mellow voice, the boyish good looks and charming patter that made him a heartthrob in 1963 and the musical abilities that made him a superstar songwriter and musician.

Unlike some performers who speak in three word sentences to live audiences, Paul told stories, cracked jokes and paid brief moving tributes to John and George. He told about how Jimmy Hendrix liked Sgt. Pepper so much when it was released on a Friday, he learned it in time to open his show with it on Sunday. He read an audience sign that said, “My son is named Lennon Paul Thomas,” and cracked, why didn’t you go all the way and add George and Ringo?

He talked about how George Harrison had written Something In The Way She Moves on his ukulele and winced as he said Frank Sinatra called it his favorite Lennon-McCartney song. He started the song on his uke, part of a mini-set that began with Your Mother Should Know, All Together Now, Lovely Rita Meter Maid, Eleanor Rigby and followed by Obladi Oblada, Band on the Run, Back in the USSR and Let it Be before knocking us back on our heels with an ear-popping Live and Let Die that exploded into a crescendo of fireworks.

Part way through that masterful mix of songs, I decided that things had gone beyond nostalgia and great music: I was listening to the Gospel according to Paul (and John). I don’t think they intended to do much more than move beyond skiffle tunes when they began, but the body of work in retrospect carries a fascinating philosophy. Whether it is the social observations of Lady Madonna or Eleanor Rigby(all the lonely people) or the chin-up be happy sentiments of “life goes on,” there’s an overall impact that is hard to ignore.

It got clearer as Paul took to the piano for the mournful but inspiring, Let it Be. The religious overtone is up front with Mother Mary but she fades as the burden to survive falls on us.

And when all the broken hearted people
Living in the world agree.
There will be an answer, let it be.

Things could have gotten a little heavy when he segued into “Hey Jude,” a virtual handbook for young people on how to cope with tragic change.

Hey Jude, don’t make it bad
Take a sad song and make it better
Remember to let her into your heart
Then you can start to make it better.

Then Paul the showman took over to get the audience to sing the endless chorus of Nah, Nah, Nah, Nah, Nah…Nah, Nah, Nah. All right now the men only. Nah, Nah, Nah, Nah. Now the girls, come on ladies. Nah, Nah, Nah, Nah. While we are singing, he’s pantomiming men showing off their muscles then women dancing, shaking their hips and outlining a curvy female form.

Talk about making a sad song better! He had us then and I am sure we would have followed him if he asked us to march out of the baseball stadium and head toward Capitol Hill.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Summer Reading: Telegraph Avenue

If you are looking for a good escape this summer, there is no better place than the East Bay area of Oakland, California and the world that Michael Chabon has created around the Brokeland Records Store. No one draws characters as well as Chabon and when he uses the music business as a setting for their hopes and dreams, foibles and failings, the result is rich reading.
Here are some of the characters you will meet in Telegraph Avenue.
Archy Stallings, “moonfaced, mountainous, moderately stoned…wearing a tan corduroy suit over a pumpkin-bright turtleneck that reinforced his noted yet not disadvantageous resemblance to Gamera, the giant mutant flying tortoise of Japanese cinema.”
Nate Jaffe, his partner and fellow musician, “who showed up for work under a cloud. His bad mood a space helmet lowered over his head, poor Nat trapped inside with no way to know whether the atmosphere was breathable, no guard to tell him when his air supply would run out.”
One of the regulars at the store was Cochise Jones, “with that inveterate hunch to his spine from fifty years conducting experiments at the keyboard of the Hammond B-3.”
Jones travels with a parrot named Fifty Eight on his shoulder, who could give out “a note-perfect reading of Jones’ take on the old Mahalia Jackson spiritual, Trouble of the World.”
There are more, like the ex-NFL star turned record store and real estate magnate, a funeral director who’s linked to Archie’s dad Luther Stallings (the star of kung fu blaxploitation films in the 70s trying to find the money for a comeback with his co-star Valletta Moore: “Do what you gotta do. And stay fly”) and Archy’s pregnant wife, who is a midwife.
The basic plot is pretty standard. The record store is going under, and the developers will try any trick they can to get them to sell out their anchor position for the new “mall.”
While this is not the paean to life in a record store that Nick Hornby created in High Fidelity, it is an admirable entry in the genre. Here are some samples of Chabon’s use of the music mystique.
--The science of cataloging one-handed. Pluck a record from the crate, tease the paper sleeve out of the jacket…waiter the platter out with your fingertips touching nothing but label. Angle the disc in the morning light …to tell you the truth about the record’s condition.
--Archy tended to make up for his hypercritical attitude toward the condition of vinyl records by going too easy on human beings.
--Only Mr. Jones had always stopped to drop a needle in the long inward spiraling groove that encoded Archy, and listen to the vibrations.
--Cochise began his vandalism in earnest, snapping off bright bunches of melody and scattering it in handfuls, packing it with extra notes in giddy runs.

Chabon broadens his story from the confines of the record store and its crates of musical history to offer comments on the struggles of the civil rights era and the cultural habits of today’s Berkeley hipsters. At times his plots and characters careen from crisis to crisis like Keystone Kops eventually to be reined in by enduring ties to family and history and music.

Telegraph Avenue is the age-old story of people pursuing dreams while trying to figure out the rent. Can we keep the band together? Can we hold on to music etched onto vinyl?