A bit over two months ago—October of 2018, to be precise—I was driving with the radio on, and I heard two songs played back to back. They sounded like they should be interspliced, as a conversation between the two singers. I created a post at that time, portraying the conversation, and describing it as “disturbing,” given the age disparity between the man and the woman. Imagine my surprise this week to find the two of them posing together on the cover of Rolling Stone. I will try to insert that picture [here]:
And here is a transcript of their songs, as they appeared on my blog two years ago:
John Lennon was born eighty years ago today—October 9, 1940.
Without John Lennon, there would have been no Beatles. Surely some other group or individual would have filled the gap that the Beatles occupied, but their artistry and creativity would have been different. As a result, the 1960s and history since that time would also have been different.
When Paul McCartney met John Lennon in 1956, John was leading a skiffle group called the Quarrymen. (Skiffle is a British folk music, not unlike some of the Appalachian and Ozark folk music still performed today in the United States.) Paul and John established a musical partnership, that was soon joined by George Harrison. Other members came and went, and various names were used by the group. The Beatles did not approach the peak of success, though, until Ringo Starr became the regular drummer of the group in 1962.
In their early years, the Beatles performed many rock-and-roll hits from the United States, from black performers as well as white performers. They paid as much attention to B-side songs as to the promoted hits. They also wrote their own songs and performed them. An early Beatles hit, “Please Please me,” reveals both the word-play for which John became famous and the innovate harmonies that helped the Beatles to stand out from the crowd of early Sixties musicians. While Paul is sometimes considered the more musical of the pair, comparing Paul’s “And I Love Her” to John’s “If I Fell” (both from the album and movie Hard Day’s Night) reveals that they had equal and complementary talents. When the Beatles stopped touring and became a studio band, John was able to direct his word-play into more complex songs such as “Strawberry Fields Forever,” “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds,” and, “I Am the Walrus.” But his musical abilities were also evident in songs such as “All You Need is Love,” which sounds like a simple rock anthem but has a complicated rhythmic structure which, every so often, drops half a beat.
John had a troubled childhood. Both his parents were absent, and John was raised by an aunt; his mother, Julia, died while John was still a child. (Oddly, Paul’s mother Mary also died while Paul was young.) John was perpetually contemptuous of authority and found it hard to maintain stable relationships. He was the first of the Beatles to marry; also the first to divorce and remarry. He was as absent from his sons’ lives as his father had been absent from his. John admitted that his promotion of love and peace for the world did not match the life he was living. John also experimented with a number of mind-altering substances, drawing his fellow Beatles and many other people into the drug culture of the later Sixties. He was briefly interested in Transcendental Meditation, a version of the Hindu religion promoted by a yogi who became very famous and wealthy as a result of his teaching. As the members of the Beatles sought meaning for their lives in various forms and aspects, the group fractured. John’s solo career was noted especially for the anti-war anthem “Give Peace a Chance” and the ballad “Imagine,” both of which are frequently quoted in contemporary conversations about life, politics, religion, and idealism.
John retired from the musical scene for several years, then began a comeback with new music in 1980. In December of that year, he was shot and killed by a deranged fan. As the Beatle martyr, John’s image and reputation became even more strongly associated with the values of peace and love. The Beatles remain cultural icons today, not only as representatives of the Sixties but as creators of music that continues to entertain, having passed the test of time. In the decades since the Beatles, many performers have enjoyed successful careers, but no one has shaped and defined music and culture as much as the Beatles did in their time. J.
One night last week I wanted to fill an hour with mindless entertainment and scanned the DVDs on the shelf for something that would be less than a feature-length movie but more than a half-hour episode. (Yes, I could have watched two half-hour episodes, but never mind about that.) On a whim, I grabbed my set of Van Dyke & Company DVDs and selected episode six. If anything brought about that particular choice (aside from ethanol-induced randomness), it was the Justin Timberlake song “Can’t Stop the Feeling,” that I have heard too many times on the radio in recent days.
Let me explain. For reasons that elude my thinking even on ethanol-clear days, Justin Timberlake chose to record and release a song that strongly resembles the disco anthems of the mid-1970s. Van Dyke & Company was recorded and broadcast in 1976 and 1977. Being a variety show, it had musical guests, and some of those musical guests performed disco music. Trying to understand why anyone would want to revive said music, I chose an episode that features a performance of one of the original perpetrators of disco music—namely, KC and the Sunshine Band.
Van Dyke & Company was more than just another variety show. Seventies television was crowded with variety shows—some of them great, including Carol Burnett’s shows, but many of them average to poor. Dick Van Dyke was already a very popular entertainer; he had hosted his own situation comedy (sitcom) and had appeared in classic movies such as Mary Poppins. Everybody knew Dick Van Dyke. Rather than create just another variety show, Van Dyke chose to risk a parody of variety shows. Several running jokes fed subtle humor into Van Dyke & Company. For example, Dick Van Dyke presented himself as a star who was completely in control of his own show, yet he continually found himself forced to change his plans by the producers of that show. (One of those producers, also a writer of the show, was the comic genius Bob Einstein, who also played his character Super Dave Osbourne in two of the episodes of Van Dyke & Company). In episode six, Dick Van Dyke complains to the studio audience and viewers about a letter received by the show claiming that he only provided space to popular music performers to enhance the show’s ratings. Van Dyke emphasized that he personally chose the music performers and was close friends to all of them; he then completely garbled the name of KC and the Sunshine Band, leading to corrections from off-stage by Bob Einstein. Later in the show, Van Dyke complained that the producers had promised KC and the Sunshine Band two musical segments; Van Dyke went on to say that he was not consulted about that promise and that he demanded the second musical segment for his own song. As he began his song, his seat was wheeled off-stage and a curtain lifted to reveal KC and the Sunshine Band, who proceeded to perform their second song—a disco anthem which repeatedly informed the hearer, “That’s the way, uh-huh, uh-huh, I like it, uh-huh, uh-huh.”
Andy Kaufman appeared on most of the twelve episodes of Van Dyke & Company. Any fan of Andy Kaufman should own the recordings of this show, since they include Andy Kaufman performing before audiences who did not yet know what to expect from his act. In this sixth episode, Andy appeared as a cowboy. Dick Van Dyke had already selected four volunteers from the audience before Andy appeared. When he came on stage, Andy started a record and convincingly lip-synced the performer on the record, who was leading four children in singing “Old MacDonald Had a Farm.” Part of the joke was that the four volunteers apparently had no indication, when they were chosen from the audience, that they would be expected to lip-sync parts of a song. Andy was able to appear totally in control of the act, to the point of pushing his four volunteers into place and backstage as they performed for the audience in the studio and at home.
Unintended (I think) additional humor contained in this episode lies in the fact that KC and the Sunshine Band were also lip-syncing their two songs, but Andy’s lip-syncing talents completely blew them out of the water. Especially notable are KC’s hands on the keyboards—he appears to be striking the same chord repeatedly throughout the entire song without any change in hand position. (Given the lyrics of the songs, it’s entirely possible that they also involved only one chord.) Andy’s lip-syncing as a joke contrasted with KC’s lip-syncing as a serious attempt to entertain made this episode of Van Dyke & Company even more amusingly surreal than the writers and performers had intended.
Viewing this episode did not help me to ascertain why Justin Timberlake would care to revive a style of music that quickly became obsolete and deserves to remain forgotten. This noon in the car I heard once again his rendition of “Can’t Stop the Feeling,” and I thought I could hear one of the background singers slipping into “That’s the way, uh-huh, uh-huh, I like it, uh-huh, uh-huh.” J.
In April 1973, Apple Records released two double albums (eight sides in all) containing fifty-four songs that had been recorded and released by the Beatles between 1962 and 1970. Officially named The Beatles 1962-1966 and The Beatles 1967-1970, the recordings quickly became known as “The Red Album” and “The Blue Album” because of the color of the album covers. (A double album of new material from the Beatles, released in November 1968, had been named The Beatles but is usually called “The White Album.”)
Other compilations of Beatle music had been released before 1973 and have been released since 1973, but for many Beatles fans the Red Album and Blue Album are the definitive collection of Beatle songs. Fans can easily debate the selections. I, for example, would have included “If I Fell,” “I’ve Just Seen a Face,” “Got To Get You Into My Life,” “Here, There, and Everywhere,” “I Will,” and “Sexy Sadie,” among others. With the coming and going of compact discs and the current availability of digital recordings, the red and blue albums are likely irrelevant to newer fans of the Beatles. But in the history of Beatle fandom, those albums have an important place.
A few days ago I tested my memory to see if I could recall all fifty-four songs included on the red and blue albums, as well as the order in which they appeared. Some sides I remembered easily; others were dimmer in my memory. Finally I had to pull them out of my collection and fill the gaps. (Yes, I still have my vinyl albums that I bought in the Seventies and Eighties.) Interestingly (to me if to no one else), the songs I had forgotten were largely from the Rubber Soul and Magical Mystery Tour eras. “In My Life” and “Hello, Good-bye” are both songs that I like, but for some reason I had forgotten that they are included on the Red Album and the Blue Album, respectively.
Last year’s movie Yesterday imagined a world in which the Beatles had never existed and almost no one had ever heard their music. One man could remember and reproduce the songs of the Beatles, and he introduced them into the world. At first he found it difficult to get people to listen, but eventually the songs made a big impact. The first time I saw the movie, I didn’t like how the Beatle music was scrambled together, not showing the development of their musical styles and interests. But I then realized that younger Beatle fans know the music of the Beatles exactly in that fashion—all one package, without context of years and albums and formative influences. My children grew up hearing the Beatles music at home, and they probably remember some songs by album—Abbey Road, for example, or A Hard Day’s Night. But even for them, hearing “And I Love Her” side by side with “Oh, Darling” would probably not strike them as essentially different songs—just two of the many great songs written and recorded by the Beatles. J.
My review last week of the musical Wicked has prompted memories of my own career on stage many years ago. The high school I attended put on a play every fall and a musical every spring; the productions approached a professional level and were popular in the community. My sophomore year I played in the orchestra for The Music Man. The next year I was back in the pit for Fiddler on the Roof. My senior year I finally found the courage to try out for a part on stage. That year the faculty chose to produce Hello, Dolly! and I was given the part of Horace Vandergelder (clear evidence that, even in high school, I was already recognized as a curmudgeon).
The high school had enough talented students interested in these productions that they were able to double-cast every major part. On Fridays and Sundays the main cast would have the major parts, while the “understudies” would perform smaller parts. On Saturdays (and for the school assembly promoting the production) the “understudies” performed the main roles while the main cast took the smaller parts. This meant that many students had to learn two characters for each production.
The Music Man portrays a traveling salesman who sells musical instruments for children, as well as uniforms and instruction books—in spite of the fact that he has no musical training. The town’s librarian, who also gives piano lessons, is the chief threat to his sales campaign. Being a comic musical, a romance develops between Professor Hill and librarian Marian Paroo. That year the school boasted a fine crop of actors and musicians, especially among the young men. The smaller parts for said young men were the school board, who begin the play bickering in public but become united when Professor Hill introduces them to barbershop quartet music. In the cast room after the production, and on other occasions out of the public eye, the two quartets would combine into a powerful octet, singing barbershop songs from the musical. I was one of the three trombonists in the orchestra (a far smaller number than the seventy-six trombones mentioned in the show). I also got to produce the blats of the tuba for the children’s band that appears in the finale of the show.
Fiddler on the Roof depicts a Jewish community in Russia during the nineteenth century. What a learning experience for white, Protestant, suburban kids, learning how to portray a vulnerable and persecuted community of outsiders. Although the script has comic moments, the tenor of the show is very serious. The cast became very close during the rehearsals and put on a powerful performance.
Hello, Dolly! is a comedy about a New York widow early in the twentieth century who also serves as a matchmaker. As the heart of the story, Dolly decides to choose a match for herself—a wealthy but dour merchant in the suburb of Yonkers. Several subplots become entangled in the story, including the merchant’s two assistants, a milliner and her assistant, the merchant’s niece and her prospective husband, and a famous restaurant in New York City. Those of us who had been involved in Music Man and Fiddler found Dolly to have less substance and life than the previous shows; I, for one, was rather glad when the curtain came down on Sunday afternoon. On the other hands, I became good friends with some of the sophomores who were getting their start in theater, which made rehearsals, performances, and cast parties a lot more fun.
I have not been able to return to acting since high school, although I have been an enthusiastic supporter of amateur community theater everywhere I have lived. I cannot count the number of live productions I have seen over the years. My family owns dozens of DVDs and VCR tapes of famous musicals. I understand that a number of people are not fond of productions in which the story is interrupted periodically by singing and dancing, but I agree with a friend of mine who wrote a song, “Life Should Be More Like a Musical.” J.
I have a radio in my car. I like to hear music while I’m driving. The station I’ve chosen plays songs from the last forty years. I’d like the station even more if it expanded the selection to the last sixty or seventy years, but I enjoy most of the songs it plays. Their DJs chatter a bit too much for my tastes, but on the other hand the music is free.
Of course nothing is truly free. Someone has to pay the costs of running a radio station, and that someone consists of sponsors. In between the songs I like are advertisements trying to make me discontent with my life. They seek to create a need that they then can satisfy by selling me their product. Our national economy depends heavily upon this creation of needs and desires, along with the sale of items to meet those needs and satisfy those desires.
So the radio sponsors want to remake me from head to toe. One warns me of hair loss and promises to stop and reverse the loss of my hair. Another offers to improve my hearing so I will know what I’ve been missing. A third offers eye surgery so I will no longer need glasses or contacts. A dentist’s office offers me a better smile, assuring me that people who smile more are happier and live longer. Yet another sponsor offers to remove pockets of fat, leaving me looking younger and fitter. Still another criticizes my wardrobe, promising to interview me about the clothing I like and send packages of clothing to my home—I only have to pay for what I like; I can send the rest back at no cost. Finally, one sponsor assumes that I am miserable because of foot pain; this sponsor says my life can be fuller and happier if I buy foot supports at their store.
I’m glad that these services exist for people who want them and need them. We all need dentists, and a few people need foot supports. But on the whole, I’m content with my body. I know that Christian stewardship includes caring for the body God created. I keep it clean, eat properly, and try to get enough exercise. But no radio ad is going to persuade me to spend money to reverse my hair loss, fix my eyes, or fill my closet with a whole new wardrobe. I accept the way I look. So far as I know, my appearance does not frighten animals or small children. So I think I’ll keep my money until I spend it on things that matter more to me.
After all, I only get to use this body for a lifetime. Some day it will be dead and buried, and I won’t be using it any more. After that a Day will come when it will rise, healed of all its problems, and then I will have it forever. It will be new from head to toe, and in the new creation nothing will ever go wrong with this body.
So I do not need to envy the full head of hair other men sport, nor their 20-20 vision, nor their fancy clothes. The Bible tells us not to covet. Advertisers have different ideas about coveting, but my confidence is in the Lord, who promises me a brand-new resurrected body at no cost to myself. J.
I’ve been hunting for something clever to say about Hurricane Dorian, something that would connect it to Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray. Perhaps something along the lines of realizing that the storm is remaining unchanged even as pictures of it grow larger. But so far, I’ve not been able to top the local newspaper, which printed a photograph of two people boarding up their home in Puerto Rico with the headline, “Dorian Blues.”
For decades, radio DJs have talked over the instrumental introductions of songs. As I age, I find the practice increasingly annoying. With some songs it doesn’t matter, but the opening chords of Survivor’s “Eye of the Tiger” should never be eclipsed. Likewise for Kenny Loggins’ “Footloose.” And the opening guitar chords to “Shallow” from the recent movie “A Star is Born” set the mood for the song and should be heard without interruption.
One reason this practice of talking during the instrumental introduction annoys me is that the afternoon DJ on our local station seems to think she does it well. She doesn’t. At times she keeps on prattling into the opening words of the song. And she often neglects to restore the volume of the music after she has turned it down to hear herself talk. I could turn up the volume, but then I have to hurry to turn it down again before the song ends and her voice blares again from the speakers.
Another reason I’m annoyed by the talking DJ is that I only listen to the radio in my car. At work I don’t listen to music; at home if I want music I choose a CD. Now, many other things rattle my equilibrium when I am driving. Some drivers swerve from lane to lane going ten miles above the speed limit; others drift to the edge of the lane while driving ten miles under the speed limit—they are texting while they drive, which is why they drift; their drifting makes it difficult to pass them safely. Ergo, since I’m already annoyed behind the wheel, the DJ is only going to increase my discomfort.
Then there’s the issue of turning right at a red light. All too often I’ve had a driver try to squeeze in front of me when that driver was facing a red light and I had a green light. On the other hand, this happened again yesterday, twice: I was trying to turn right on a red light, but every time I inched forward to look for traffic, the car in the left turn lane also inched forward. That driver had nothing to gain from the adjustment, but it was to my disadvantage.
If you are a bad driver, please do not advertise your church or your beliefs with a sticker on the back of your car. If you are breaking the law or generally being rude and discourteous, the last thing you want to do is associate your community of faith with your behavior.
On a lighter note, one of my students of history made an interesting observation last night. On Tuesday we discussed the Harappan civilization of ancient India: they reached a high level of civilization many centuries ago, with amazing architecture, indoor plumbing, and a written language that no one alive today knows how to read. Afterward, their civilization collapsed, and no one is sure what happened to their descendants. Then, last night, we covered the Olmec and Maya peoples of the western hemisphere. Again, their architecture and use of running water and many other characteristics are astounding for the ancient world. Yet the Olmec abandoned their cities without a trace, and the Maya also walked away from their dwellings (though the Maya writings are being translated, and there are people living today who are descended from the Maya). My student noted that the common threads in these civilizations are their use of plumbing and the collapse of their civilizations; she thought there might be a connection. I told her to write a paper on the subject; it might make her famous.
It is worth nothing that one of the theories about the fall of the Roman Empire is related to plumbing. The Romans used lead pipes to bring water into their homes. Lead poisoning is thought to have weakened them to the point that they were overcome by invaders. It’s not a popular theory—many other causes are also given for the fall of Rome—but it’s interesting, all the same. J.
Breaking up is hard to do. That’s not just a song from the Bubble Gum Era of rock music (the early 1960s); it’s also a fact, one that is hard to deny.
This summer would be a bad time to end a relationship. I say that because of the ubiquitous song “Be Alright,” written and sung by Dean Lewis. (“I know you love her, but it’s over, mate….”) If I were dealing with the aftermath of an ended relationship, I would probably want to destroy my radio the next time that song began.
That’s unfortunate, because most of that song contains good advice. Alright: the “bottoms up to forget” is bad advice, because drinking only increases the pain; it doesn’t make it go away. But the rest of the song is fitting: breaking up does hurt a bit for a while, and after a while things do get better.
I have experienced ended relationships, and I have not forgotten the pain. But I survived—life goes on, and new joys replace the old. I have encouraged others when they were grieving ended relationships. Being the supportive friend can be difficult—you see the light, but they only see the darkness. You know there is hope, but they don’t want to hear about hope. For a while, it seems that they want to cling to the pain, to coddle it, to make it the center of their lives, the meaning of their existence. For most people, that stage also ends, and life goes on.
What would I add to Dean Lewis’ words of wisdom? It doesn’t rhyme, but it’s still worth saying: love makes us vulnerable. When we love someone, our love makes it possible for us to be hurt. That is true of more than romantic love: family relationships can be painful, and even friendships can be painful. But the possibility of pain—even the reality of pain—is worth bearing because of the immense, immeasurable value of love itself.
Even the Almighty God has made himself vulnerable to the pain of rejection. He loves his fallen creatures. He grieves when any of us turn away from him and reject his gifts. The lover whose loved one chooses someone else has a taste of the holy, divine grief of God. The lover whose loved one wants to end the relationship knows how Christ felt when Judas betrayed him for money, when all the disciples ran away, and when Peter said three times that he did not know who Jesus is.
Love is central to God’s nature. Love flows among the Persons of the Holy Trinity outside of time and space. Creation happened as a gift of love from the Father to the Son. We are created in God’s image, meaning that we are created so we can love God and so we can love one another. When God speaks of our relationship with him in terms of family—even in terms of marriage and romantic love—he is not taking an experience we know and using it as a metaphor. He is speaking a truth that is not metaphor: he is saying that he loves us with all the passion of human romantic love.
The cross proves that God would do anything for us. Perhaps God allows us the pain of broken relationships in this lifetime so we can look at the cross in a new light. Our minds might not grasp the connection, but our hearts can feel the love of God that would bear a cross and accept its pain and suffering, all for the sake of love.
Breaking up is hard to do. God does not want to break up with his people. Through the message of the Bible and in the life of the Church, God nourishes our loving relationship with him—our faith—so we remain in a proper relationship with him and are not in danger of breaking up with him. For all the messy complicated problems of the Church on earth, it is valuable as a link to God, who pours his blessings into our lives through his Church. J.