Imagine there's no Beatles
Do you want to know a secret? I've had it up to about here with the Beatles.
It's been more than six months, and the foofaraw surrounding the 35th anniversary of the Fab Four shows no signs of abating. First, I get a chance to buy--for a paltry 160 bucks--the totally gear eight-cassette videotape series of the Beatles documentary, Anthology, and now a veritable siege engine of Beatlemania has appeared: KTCY-FM 104.9, "Fab 105," a commercial-free, all-Beatles, all-the-time radio station. All of this forces me to reexamine an age-old failing: I just never really cared that much about the Beatles. Born too late for them to have the mind-melting, vista-opening effect they had on many, I also was born too soon for the band to freshly reverberate as it does for those born after the demise of the Apple Corps. It's always sort of puzzled me, my flatline response to the madcap Liverpudlians; at various points in my life I would look over the shoulders of a pal obsessing about the cover of Sergeant Pepper, or listen to Revolver for the umpteenth time, earnestly desiring to have the secret revealed, and each time ending up thinking: "Wha? Whatever."
We're all familiar with the Michael Stipe quote about how the Beatles were always elevator music to him, because the first time he heard them was in an elevator. Hey, Mikey--the first time I encountered the Beatles, they were a combination of Saturday morning cartoon and lunch box. To my young mind, the Beatles, the Archies, and the Monkees were virtually interchangeable, and no band was the voice of my third-grade generation. No, the Beatles and their ilk were the province of older brothers and sisters, surly and bepimpled giants familiar with the mysteries of learner's permits and bras and not that far removed from their old roles as wedgie givers, noogie bestowers, and chest sitters who had mastered the art of lowering that string of drool until it almost touched your squirming face, then sucking it back. Seventy percent of the time. The music of the mop-tops wasn't exactly that of oppression, but you could make a case for it being the soundtrack to malevolent indifference.
Sixth months ago, I settled down to watch the gazillion-hour multi-installment Anthology, thinking, 'OK, let's watch this. This is important.' Instead, it was a return to old unanswered questions as I kept having to remind myself to watch the show, pull my nose out of a magazine or seed catalog, and, by God, feel the magic. Then someone would start nattering on about how it was in 1962, and I would find myself wondering if I could hold a quarter between each toe and still manage to walk around the room.
And now this. I'll give the lads their props, though: They certainly inspire devotion. "I'm glad to be making a purely artistic statement," says Tony Rodriguez, KTCY's owner. Rodriguez is a scion of the Spanish-language radio dynasty, best-known for its ownership of KESS-AM 1270; Tony himself owns two other radio stations (KRVA-FM 106.9 and KRVA-AM 1600) and is close to buying another. "I'm really more of a fan of the '60s, but the Beatles personify the '60s, and what better way to shake up the status quo and freak people out than to put this right in the middle of the '90s? You can't deny their influence on music, the music business, or pop culture; homage must be paid. There's no other band that you could do this with."
Deadheads might respectfully disagree, but there's no disagreeing with the purity of Rodriguez's approach: He runs no ads, and doesn't even have a sales staff, although he acknowledges that "sooner or later, the bills gotta get paid." Until then, he plans to "promote the things that I believe in. Right now it's the environmental group Friends of the Earth, but what I really want to address is the spirituality of creation and the Creator and our relationship to that; I think that most people will dig it. The world is so caught up in material things, I want to help balance that out, if only for a moment."
A few days of listening reveals the expected classics, covers, and solo efforts; although not yet sure of the legal issues, Rodriguez is hoping that his memberships with BMI and ASCAP will enable him to also play bootlegs and other "unofficial" versions of songs. The station does not come in well indoors, however, and he acknowledges that his station "isn't as strong as others, but that's all FCC controlled; I'm doing all I can do...It's really made for listening to in the car," where reception is clearer.
A few days of listening also reveals--as Frank Zappa would say--"the crux of the biscuit" in the form of a German-language version of "Get Back." I've never heard this particular variation before and have no trouble admitting that "Get Back" is a totally boss song. A totally boss song I have heard 3,455,622 times, and the German isn't enough to overcome that.
I mean, I know that the Beatles are the spring from which most, if not all of what we today consider pop flowed, and I acknowledge the extent to which I--when tapping my feet to, say, the Connells--am really tapping my feet to the Beatles. It's just that Albert Einstein also was a genius in his field whose work forever changed the world, and that didn't make physics class any easier to sit through.
And that, kids, is what we've got here: rock 'n' roll as curriculum. If you doubt it, you can go up to Cleveland, where the Big State U of rock sits, helpfully letting us know what's important and what isn't, turning something that should be fun into canon.
That's fine, but what ends up serving as canon fodder is the belief that rock 'n' roll exists most acutely on a sunny afternoon with the windows down, or in the evening when you pull into the parking lot and she's already waiting for you on the steps and you know that everything's going to be all right. What's lost is the fact that the best rock 'n' roll band in the world is--as Keith Richards says--a different band each night, and you never can be sure that more than a dozen people even saw it, or knew it for what it was.
Of course you don't sell many lunch boxes celebrating the immutable, ineffable inability to ever really know anything for sure, whether it's a sunny drive with the windows down or Albert Einstein. It takes a ready hook, and it's interesting to note that few spend time discussing the way in which the Beatles were one of the first ready hooks in the selling of youth culture signifiers, making Elvis and Davey Crockett look like pikers, and presaging everything that would come in after they went through that door.
So potent are they that they can go through that door again, 35 years later, spawning a tedious reexamination that is so devoid of quality control that six months ago a Dallas newsman replayed his interview with the Beatles when they were here back in 19blahblah as some sort of important event, even though he didn't know dick about the band and his cluelessness provoked affable mockery from them.
In an arena so broadly defined yet so fervent that a handful of limp new "songs" compelled frothy analysis far beyond their merit, surely there is room for someone not to go nuts over the Fab Four. I'm not dissing the Beatles, but just noting that I felt more connected to their spirit watching Help than I ever did during that interminable documentary Anthology. Is there really so little ahead of us that the past fascinates us so? And what is it about our fascination that seems to suck the life out of the objects of our scrutiny? What if we were to leave the Beatles alone, ascendant atop their accomplishments, and get on with our lives?
Now that really would be something.
Cut the cake
Longstanding Deep Ellum keystone Club Dada celebrates 10 years in the biz starting September 26 with a free Ten Hands reunion show featuring what frontman Paul Slavens called a "semioriginal" lineup. The band's original original drummer, Matt Chamberlain (later of New Bohemians, Pearl Jam, Saturday Night Live, and more), was replaced by Earl Harvin, who joins Chapman Stick player Gary Mueller, Slavens, guitarist Steve Brand, and percussionist Mike Dillon for the show.
"There was a time there where we were the shit," Slavens recalls. The Big One is Coming was recorded live at Dada, and as an additional treat Ten Hands is releasing 300 copies of another 75 minutes of music recorded then. "It's recorded live to two-track," Slavens explains. "It's a warts-and-all affair, and very much has the old feel, the sound of that era."
The band also has yet another album from that period--a studio effort--that the band was considering releasing, "but we thought that might be kind of grandiose, considering that we're only playing once," Slavens admits. Other bands scheduled for the weekend-long throw-down include traditional early evening acts, Beatles cover band Hard Night's Day and Grateful Dead cover band the Dead Thang, in addition to later acts Dah-Veed, Lockjaw, and Spot.
Rhythm of Life
Brilliant area drum collective D'Drum--Jamal Mohamed, John Bryant, Doug Howard, Ron Snider, and Ron Smith--reprises its collaboration last year with sculptor-storyteller John Broadnax, who will once more be displaying his oddly compelling handmade drums as the group constructs its amazing and affecting jams. If you've never heard D'Drum you owe it to yourself to check it out; the group's drumming is cinematic in its scope and textural depth. The show will be at the Dallas Visual Arts Center and starts at 2:30 p.m. Saturday, September 28.
You can take 'em out of Dallas...
Diablo Sol, like so many other bands, was founded in Dallas and spent a couple of years here before running off to bask in the glow of the Stately Pleasure Dome of Live Music, a.k.a. Austin, Texas. "Our time in Austin made us realize that we're a Dallas band," reports lead guitarist Brannon Brewer. "And we found our real following here." Now with a new vocalist--Paul West, formerly of Blink--the band is back in town. Its next shows are Saturday, September 21, at Club Clearview; and Thursday, September 26, at Galaxy Club.
Slow Roosevelt is throwing a record release party to celebrate Shaving St. Nick, its new album, at Trees Friday, September 20. Caulk, Buck Jones (recently featured in Billboard), and Mustache also play...
Juno Specter is going into Jeff Bridges' Big Noise studio to work on a new album due out around October.
Street Beat welcomes your e-mail comments, tips, and info at Matt_Weitz@dallas-observer.com.
Get the Music Newsletter
Keep your thumb on the local music scene each week with music news, trends, artist interviews and concert listings. We'll also send you special ticket offers and music deals.