Wednesday, 7 September 2016


Time Waits for Us All: the Beatles and the Stones

Reg, a proper British man, used to live across the street from us. Reg saw the Beatles in the Cavern Club and not just once, but many times because that’s what he and his friends used to do back then, go to shows. Reg is a smug bastard. I’ve been down inside the Cavern Club a few times myself. My Cavern Club is a slightly reconfigured, renovated tourist trap. Reg’s Cavern Club was the sweaty, primordial antithesis, the real deal.

My friend’s eldest brother had a ticket for a Beatles concert in Maple Leaf Gardens, in 1965 or 1966. For whatever reason, his parents would not allow him to attend. Perhaps a trip downtown was deemed too risky for a wide-eyed kid. I suspect that that considered and best intentions decision led to years of simmering resentment.

Grief is a bit like art in that I cannot define it but I really know when it hurts me. Run over household cats aside, sometimes I think the first true grief I experienced was the break up of the Beatles in 1970. I was ten. I could not comprehend how four best friends who surely shared a house or a clubhouse which in no way resembled the house I lived in could go their separate ways.

For many the Beatles are a documented abstract: they exist only on vinyl, celluloid or paper. Nobody’s seen them perform in concert since they gave up on the futility of touring more than 50 years ago. Whatever their emotional responses to the cessation of the grind may’ve been, technology had dealt them a double whammy. The audio equipment of the time was inadequate for baseball stadiums crammed with orgasmic, screaming teens. Also Beatles songs had become more complex as the group began to experiment with the sonic possibilities of the recording studio, using Abbey Road as another instrument. Too many tracks on ‘Revolver’ were too tricky for just the four members to attempt to play live even if they could’ve heard themselves on stage.

‘Eight Days a Week’ a documentary film detailing the Beatles’ increasingly frustrating years as road warriors opens in theatres the third week of September. Later that week the Rolling Stones unveil ‘Havana Moon’ for one night only in cinemas world-wide. The movie captures their massive free concert last fall in Cuba. Since the Stones have been ripping through the same set list pretty much since 1989, the hook is the setting, a crumbling Marxist paradise. I want to see both films, ideally on successive nights.

With the Beatles semi-retired the Stones essentially created the rock touring industry as we now know it. Their 1969 American tour laid the blueprint: a small roster of two or three acts, extended sets, proper amplification for venues never intended to host musical performances and expensive tickets – some as costly as $9.

The Stones were always grittier, especially when you compare their early recordings to the Beatles sides. The band’s image was louche posing, but what did I know about manipulation and improper public relations? I loved their disheveled look and I loved their music. On some level maybe I realized that trading in Canadiens legend Jean Beliveau and our hip parish priest in his pinstripe suit as heroes in exchange for Mick and Keith meant there was no turning back.

Imagine the music of the Rolling Stones as a simple horizontal line. While there’s a psychedelic or reggae squiggle or two, their regurgitated American sound for the most part has been churned out straight and true since 1962. Unlike the Beatles the Stones did not inadvertently imprison themselves in a studio trap. They could play just about everything in their catalogue if they felt like it and crucially, however they felt like playing them. The live album ‘Get Yer Ya-Ya’s Out!’ released in 1970 is a case in point. None of the hits sounded like the studio 45s and ‘Midnight Rambler’ was completely retooled as a chugging, nightmarish theatrical piece, their very own ‘Threepenny Opera.’   

The Stones last released new music in 2005. At the time I wondered if the title ‘A Bigger Bang’ was a response to Paul McCartney’s lovely album of that year ‘Chaos and Creation in the Backyard.’ Were they still that competitive? Not that it mattered anymore. The Stones have long given into the wrong-headed conceit of decrepit baby boomers who expect live performances to sound exactly like the records. Technology has since allowed McCartney himself to replicate the studio effects on any Beatles song he cares to on stage. This relatively new-found ability cannot help but tweak a bittersweet ‘What if…?’

This month offers me a sort of Cineplex roll ‘n’ rock omega and alpha narrative. I will watch and listen to the Beatles in the context of their times all the while knowing their as yet unconceived back to basics ‘Let It Be’ experiment will fail. When the group in matching suits in the movie runs off a baseball diamond in the final frames it will signal the beginning of the end, the winding down. The next night, 50 years later, the Stones, scarred and tired top dogs, will wind up an entire country – albeit a small one, and by rote. It’s only, well, it is just what it is and was.

No comments:

Post a Comment