Category Archives: Music — 1990s

66 & 2/3–Use Your Illusion I and II (Part One)

On September 17, 1991, the band that had been on top of the hard rock heapGunsnr-useyou_22 since its debut album  Appetite For Destruction went multi-platinum back in ‘88 made the groundbreaking — and seemingly insane — decision to release two separate full-length albums of original material at the same time. “An act of almost colossal arrogance,” one writer described it. (On vinyl, each one was actually a double album in and of itself). The Use Your Illusion project was a microcosm of the arena-rock breed of populism that had been annoying intellectuals and highbrow music writers ever since Led Zeppelin and its legions of high school parking lot smokers dropped a bomb on the progressive ambitions of the Woodstock Generation.

Of course, those progressive ambitions returned with a vengeance in the form of “alternative rock,” which killed off Guns N’ Roses quite handily. Turn, turn, turn.

Use Your Illusion I and Use Your Illusion II represented a lot of things – inflated runaway egos, rock & roll super-indulgence, perhaps the pinnacle of “event” albums, but most of all they represented the end of an era.

These albums were completely over-the-top, sonically massive, and in a way that seems charmingly archaic now, totally ridiculous in their excess. Overdubbed to the breaking point, featuring synthesized strings and brass, spoken word segments, and enough hubris to fuel three Kanye Wests, the fact that the Use Your Illusions were even allowed to exist opened the door to the more subtle, self-conscious, and self-effacing alternative rock that had been waiting quietly in the underground for a few years. In 1992, Alternative Nation would topple Dinosaur Rock, and cause a complete re-set on how music designed for the masses was recorded, marketed, sold, consumed, written about, thought about.

So the Use Your Illusions have become something of a milestone, a “You Are Now Leaving…” sign. Just like Nirvana’s Nevermind, released exactly one week later (I can’t believe the beautiful symmetry either), became a “You Are Now Entering…” sign.

For some reason (midlife crisis?), in the late summer of this year, I found myself gravitating toward and listening to the Use Your Illusions quite frequently. As with most of my temporary obsessions, I tried to think of a way to spin it into a Holy Bee blog piece, but for weeks, I couldn’t find an angle. I didn’t want to do a straightforward review, nor a “Holy Bee Recommends” segment…because I can’t in good conscience recommend it. Frankly, the albums are a mess.

So I thought briefly of doing the classic music-nerd parlor game of winnowing a sprawling double album into a tight, cohesive single album by discarding weak tracks and championing the keepers. A great exercise to foster discussion and debate on things like The Beatles (“White Album”), London Calling, and of course, Use Your Illusion I and II. But seeing how that activity has been done so incredibly frequently (by me and my friends, you and your friends, and certainly by other bloggers), I didn’t want to make it the whole point of the essay.

I didn’t know what I had to say about the Illusions, then it occurred to me (in the bathroom, where I get my best ideas.) Why not say everything? I had the brilliant idea of doing a shorter version of a  33⅓ book, which are not that long to begin with.

33Collage33⅓ is a series of small, slim paperbacks put out by Bloomsbury Publishing, each one dedicated to a milestone album. They are usually written by a critic or journalist, but several have been written by musicians. (My favorite 33⅓ book, on The Rolling Stones’ Exile On Main Street, was written by Bill Janovitz of the 90s indie-rock band Buffalo Tom). There are currently 98 33⅓ books in print, with several more slated though 2016. The authors are free to write about the album in whatever way they want: technical breakdowns, musical analysis, personal reflections on what the album meant to them, short fiction, etc. Or a combination of it all. No set format, and that’s what makes them fascinating.

I now had an approach. Regular Holy Bee readers know I’m a throw-in-the-kitchen-sink kind of writer, so I decided to dump all of my thoughts on this peculiar pair of albums into one massive, multi-part piece. My own little 33⅓ book.

Imagine my heartbreak when I discovered that there already was a 33⅓ book on the Use Your Illusions! I was stunned. Frankly, the 33⅓ books are a little on the hipster/elite side — their latest entry is on Sigur Ros’ (), to give you an idea — and I was very surprised Use Your Illusion I and II would appeal to their regular readers. Back to the drawing board for the Holy Bee?

But wait! The Use Your Illusion I and II 33⅓ book is perhaps the most reviled work in the entire series. Former Spin and Village Voice music editor Eric Weisbard pissed off nearly everyone with his take on the albums. Here’s some titles of the scathing Amazon reviews:

“This Book Is Garbage !!”

“Yikes. Not for the fans!”

“An hour of my life I won’t get back.”

“Wow – This writer is completely self-indulgent and pretentious.” (The Holy Bee looked around nervously at that one.)

“The Worst Book in the 33⅓ Series I’ve Read.”

And so on.

Weisbard decided to write a piece about popular culture in the early 90s, using the Use Your Illusions as a filter through which he 33grexamines the changing of the musical guard described above. What infuriated readers is that his look at the music on the Use Your Illusions is cursory and intentionally secondary. It’s based on his memories of the album from twenty years ago…without re-listening to it until he wrote the final chapter! By his own admission, he was far from a Guns N’ Roses expert, and not even much of a fan.

I was siding with the indignant Amazon reviewers, until I plunked down a ten-spot and actually downloaded the damn thing to my Kindle to see what all the fuss was about.

It turns out Eric Weisbard is a good writer. With every turn of the page, he fires off an eloquent passage expressing the whole end-of-an-era idea much better than I ever could. To wit: “The idolatry required to sustain albums on a 1970s or 1980s scale could no longer be met by a popular culture whose niche markets were collectively far more valuable than its consensus heroes…In the season of the blockbuster [album], CDs still came in ‘long boxes’: tall rectangles shaped like skyscrapers, and meant to…fit record store bins, and provide at least a hint of the majesty that LP covers had offered. Unlike vinyl, however, once you bought a CD and ripped the long box open the effect was instantly gone. A couple of years later, the industry stopped faking consumers; the aura of the LP had been replaced by the profit margin of the CD…We need to hear Use Your Illusion I and II with the long boxes still intact, those twin towers of September 1991. Filter back in the audience they summoned and expected to speak for…”

And there’s more where that came from. (Check out his NPR article on Brad Paisley’s “Accidental Racist” if you like his style.) I understood what he was trying to do, and I think he succeeded in doing it. I can definitely recommend his book — with the caveat that, as the reviewers have made clear, it’s not really about the Use Your Illusion albums

And when he did get to some thumbnail analysis of the songs, he gets everything entirely wrong, naturally.

Good thing I’m here. I decided to plunge ahead and write the 33⅓ (or 66⅔ if you will) on Use Your Illusion I and II that people seemed to actually want. Along with my picks for a single-disc version. Not even Eric Weisbard could resist that little exercise. He may be a great writer, but his single-disc UYI mix blows. Continue reading

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This Used To Be My Playground, Part 19: Pulp Friction In The Voodoo Lounge

#143. “Black Hole Sun” — Soundgarden

The pattern began before I moved to my new apartment. I had recently swapped out my old Mazda Sundowner pickup for an ‘86 Bronco II, which had been my family’s workhorse for years prior to its being put out to pasture with me, and gaining the sobriquet Millennium Bronco (its hyperdrive was similarly unreliable, and I never even attempted the Kessel Run.) I would drive to Danielle’s house, check if her car was in the driveway, and if it was, ring the doorbell. (Calling ahead was for chumps.) If it wasn’t, I would seek out Caspar’s dad’s liquor cabinet. If that failed too, it was a disappointed return home and locking myself away with Soundgarden, Green Day, and Nine Inch Nails.

sg_0I had way more free time on my hands than Danielle. By the end of August, she was at high school six hours a day. She had an evening math class at the college (just like I did the year before, but hers was due to her being too advanced, rather than mathematically retarded like me.) She had a job at Round Table, and just got a second job as a hostess at a family restaurant. (Yuba City folks loved them some family restaurants — Sizzler, Lyon’s, Perko’s, Jerry’s, Hal’s, Mr. Steak, and the ever-present Denny’s just across the river in Marysville.) That August and September, the precious few hours she had each week before doing something productive were more often than not spent on her family room couch with me, watching videos, or listening to some new CD I’d bought over to spin on the player perched on her kitchen counter. She was also undoubtedly bracing herself for the inevitable moment when I would try to kiss her. Between coughs.

The aforementioned Soundgarden, Green Day, and Nine Inch Nails were also all over MTV right around then. The intensely creepy video for the pseudo-psychedelic “Black Hole Sun” was in heavy rotation that summer, so viewers were treated to its face-melting CGI nightmare fuel every 45 minutes or so.

We did get off the couch occasionally. I took her to the opening weekend of the215px-NBKillaz Oliver Stone gonzo bloodbath Natural Born Killers, illustrating how completely tone-deaf I was as to what girls might want to see at the movies on a date. I don’t even recall asking if she wanted to see it. I just announced that was what we were seeing.

But Danielle seemed to tolerate me. When I finally worked up the courage to kiss her cheek (high on the jawbone, near the ear), she accepted it gracefully, but it did not lead to a make-out session. I even asked “Was that OK?” (ever the gentleman) and she said “Yeah, it was nice.” I didn’t push any further at that point.

In my defense, her mother, little brother, and two dogs loved me. Her brother, a sophomore, was another overachiever-type and worked at the McDonald’s in the same shopping center as my video store. He would make me quadruple quarter-pounders (just called “pounders.”) Eating these on a regular basis may be solely responsible for the shooting pain in my left arm every time I rise from a seated position two decades later.

A lot did seem to be going right. But I couldn’t push through to the next level with her. The issue couldn’t possibly be me, could it?

The pattern continued…

#144. “When I Come Around” — Green Day

Gas was cheap in ‘94, hovering around a buck-twenty per gallon. I did a lot of aimless driving around, listening to sports talk or the oldies station (no CD player in the Millennium Bronco…yet), but I always ended up seeing if Danielle was home.

As we’ve discussed, Danielle was a busy girl. Her car was there maybe one out of every three or four days that I checked. I imagined her being disappointed on the days she was there and I somehow missed her. Missing her was a highly unlikely scenario because I watched that driveway like a hawk, but I imagined it nonetheless. “When I Come Around” was Green Day’s version of a ballad, and it was then and remains today my favorite song by them. The lyrical narrator is always “out on the prowl,” while the object of his affection is just sitting around “feeling sorry for [her]self.” I naturally applied this scenario to my situation. I was the roaming free spirit, she was the faithful waiter. Pure fantasy, of course…but there was an odd little hiccup that indicated I was subconsciously aware that whatever was going on with Danielle was kind of doomed.

I had a habit of slightly tweaking song lyrics when I would sing along with them to better suit my current state of mind. Even at the height of my delusions, I couldn’t kid myself about the last verse of “When I Come Around.” I mentally reversed the pronouns when I sang along with the song (which was often), switching the song’s “you” and “your” for “I” and “my.” As in “I may find out that my self-doubt/Means nothing was ever there/I can’t go forcing something if it’s just not right…” Very telling.

But “forcing something” I did. I pushed my chips to the center of the table one night as I was leaving, and planted a kiss squarely on her lips. She smiled, and continued saying whatever she had been saying before I moved in. But she did smile. I was hoarding whatever positive signs I got from her, because evidence that this was not going to work was piling up. (The coughing was a purely a nervous reflex at this point, and still lingering.)

Not long after that, I finally asked her to make it official with me. We were up in her bedroom, and she was doing something incredibly labor intensive (draining a waterbed, I think), and I sat cross-legged (not helping) on the floor, nervously fingering my shark’s tooth on a pukka shell necklace that I got in Hawaii a couple of months before. (It went nicely with the three-button polo shirt I was also wearing at the time. Why anyone would let me in their house is beyond me.) I steered the conversation toward Official Couplehood, and she didn’t steer it elsewhere (lack of panicked refusal = permission to continue). I ended up making clear that I was very low-maintenance. But the way I phrased it — “It doesn’t take much to make me happy” — didn’t come across the way I intended it. “Oh, thanks,” was the sarcastic reply. Smooth operator that I was, I somehow rescued the situation, and left for work that evening with the (ambivalent) impression I had a girlfriend again.

And I had one more ace up my sleeve if all else failed… Continue reading

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This Used To Be My Playground, Part 18: Never Bring Laundry To A Mud Fight

Two years is a long time…practically forever in Internet-land, but that’s how long it’s been since an entry has been made in this series.

If you’re to new to the site, and/or a shut-in with mobility issues, you can begin with Part 1.

Or catch up on the last few entries here:

This Used To Be My Playground, Part 15: Parker Lewis CAN Lose Or, The Perils of Clinging To Adolescence

This Used To Be My Playground, Part 16: A Fantastic Voyage With Cousin Bob (Loser Chronicles, Vol. II)

This Used To Be My Playground, Part 17: Nine Inch Fails — You Want To What Me Like A What??

When I first started these musical reminisces five years ago, it was intended as a quick skim through a few songs that I felt culturally encapsulated a very important decade in my life. Well…300 songs. The Holy Bee has always been an ambitious blogger. Ambitious…and verbose. The little capsule reviews of ‘90s songs and a few funny/sad memories to go with them swelled into a rambling autobiography, and it stopped abruptly at a particular time — the split between myself and my high school/early college girlfriend, Emily. I now realize that was the point to which I was writing. Once I got there, it was like lancing a boil, or vomiting up something that had sickened me for far too long. The whole damn thing was not about music at all, but about heartbreak. And when I purged, I lost interest in continuing.

Looking back on the first seventeen entries, I am both proud and somewhat embarrassed. I was honest — too honest, sometimes. I included some real names I should have changed, some incidents best left unreported, and some thoughts best left unexpressed.

So I’ve gone back and changed a few more of the key names, including Emily’s. Why? Anyone who knows me from back then knows the real name(s), of course, and those who don’t wouldn’t be aware of who they are anyway. But I’ve just grown increasingly uncomfortable typing those real names, especially the girls (now middle-aged women long past caring, but it still feels intrusive.) The only person guaranteed to keep his real name is McKinney. Leaving his name attached to my memories is my inadequate tribute to his legacy as a genuine character.

I suppose I could stop the whole thing right here, but I feel I should see it through. The web is littered with abandoned blog series, and I refuse to join them. There’s still a few stories left to tell, and even a little music to remember.

One thing that will make it easier for me to continue is that “The Nineties” as an era, not a set of calendar pages, really ended for me in late 1997, and that’s when this series will pretty much end (probably with a quick 98-99 epilogue). Your mileage may vary, but I think unfocused anticipation (fear?) of 2000 shortchanged the last few years of the 20th century. So, if I keep it brief, I can see the end of my Nineties from here.

Decades are much more of a cultural span than a rigid group of numerical ten-year blocks, overlaid with very personal associations for those who experienced them. Culturally, the decade known as “The Fifties” was much more than Jan. 1, 1950 to Dec. 31, 1959 (add one year to each of those for you mathematical sticklers out there.) It started with the Baby Boom and the Cold War just after WWII, and continued well into what the calendar told us was the 1960s. Depending on your point of view, the turbulent “Sixties” began with the assassination of JFK or the American arrival of the Beatles (the two events took place eleven weeks apart). The Sixties “era,” too, lingered into the 1970s. A recent book called What You Want Is In The Limo by Michael Walker made a good case for the cultural “Seventies” starting in ‘73.

holybee94

The Holy Bee, looking typically morose, late ’94. Form an orderly line, ladies.

…So my Nineties felt a little short. It got rolling only in late ‘91 when Nirvana shook up a bloated and complacent music scene, and ended for me in the fall of 1997, for a few reasons. 1) I discovered I was going to be a father in 1998. I would have to be a grown-up from then on. 2) I began feeling the autumn breezes on the crown of my head a little more than in previous years, and the contents of my hairbrush and shower drain confirmed the physical (if not emotional) aging process had truly begun for me. 3) I lost touch with the music that was on the charts and on the radio. It began targeting a different audience (younger and dumber, in my opinion), and I became [sigh] “hipsterized,” for lack of a better term — interested in digging for the non-mainstream, the obscure. What little was left of the musical mono-culture crumbled into sub-genres and sub-sub-genres, “event” albums that everyone owned (and even albums themselves) would soon cease being relevant, staring as they were down the barrel of mp3s and new ways to consume music. Not necessarily bad ways, just not Nineties ways. The New Millennium was already eating its way backwards. Like the Fifties, I feel the 2000s (“The Oughts”?) began a little early, and lingered a little long. In fact, have the 2010s established an identity — a “feel” — even now?

Where were we? Oh, yes. It was August 1994, and I was a mopey 19-year-old college student and video store clerk who had just been dumped. Wispy early attempts at facial hair came and went according to my whims. I was spending a lot of time holding down a barstool at Mahler’s coffeehouse, where the coffee was gratis thanks to the counterman Caspar (an old high school acquaintance), and fellow regular patrons Audrey (Caspar’s girlfriend) and McKinney were allowing me a semblance of a social life again… Continue reading

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This Used To Be My Playground, Part 17: Nine Inch Fails — You Want To What Me Like A What??

#133. “Closer” – Nine Inch Nails

#134. “No Excuses” – Alice In Chains

#135. “The Day I Tried To Live” – Soundgarden
For some reason, the summer of 1994 was a heyday for particularly grim music. Saturating the air were the negative vibes of “industrial” bands like Nine Inch Nails and Ministry (their 1994 offering was entitled Filth Pig. Indeed.) All the grunge knock-offs and second-generation shoegaze aided and abetted the general ambiance of doom. Which was fine by me. It matched my state of mind. I was in the grips of post-breakup grief, and things like the NIN magnum opus The Downward Spiral (“Help me – I’ve broke apart my insides/Help me – I’ve got no soul to sell/Help me – the only thing that works for me/Help me get away from myselfMy whole existence is flawed…”) gave it a voice.

The gritty Alice In Chains EP Jar Of Flies was also a favorite at this time, thanks to the song that may have summed up my feelings better than anything else. I almost wore out the CD on this one, so it’s worth quoting at length:

It’s alright…There comes a time
Got no patience to search for peace of mind

Laying’ low…Want to take it slow
No more hiding or disguising truths I’ve sold

Everyday something hits me all so cold
Find me sittin’ by myself — no excuses that I know

It’s okay…Had a bad day
Hands are bruised from breaking rocks all day

Drained and blue …I bleed for you
You think it’s funny, well you’re drowning in it too

Everyday something hits me all so cold
Find me sittin’ by myself — no excuses that I know

Yeah, it’s fine…We’ll walk down the line
Leave our rain, a cold trade for warm sunshine

You my friend …I will defend
And if we change, well I love you anyway

Get the picture, skipper? Continue reading

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The Best & Worst of the Solo Beatles, Part 4: Ringo Starr

Part 1: John Lennon

Part 2: Paul McCartney

Part 3: George Harrison

OK, this is the one I’ve been dreading. Most folks who lead normal lives are blissfully unaware that the former drummer for the Beatles has released sixteen solo albums. That is not a typo. But the experience of listening to all of them actually turned out not to be excruciating. Read on…

Starr may have been the Beatle who least matched his public persona, a persona created out of thin air by the early-’60s media (especially the American media, who initially had trouble telling them apart) and reinforced by his “Ringo” character in A Hard Day’s Night, Help!, and especially the ridiculous Beatles Saturday morning cartoon. He was the mascot, the goofy dimwit, condescended to and put upon by the others, but always childlike and cheery. Out of the spotlight, however, the real-life Richard Starkey could be just as cutting and sarcastic as Lennon, as moody as Harrison, and as savvy as McCartney.

He was the oldest Beatle, and the others have all reminisced about how much more cool and sophisticated Starr seemed before he signed on with them. In fact, “Richy” (his spelling) was considered something of a tough customer, rising up from the lowest of the Liverpool slums (a place called “The Dingle”) to become the powerhouse drummer for the hardest-rocking band on the local “beat” scene, Rory Storm & The Hurricanes. He drove a sporty car while his future bandmates still scrounged for bus fare, wore flashy jewelry (hence the stage name, which close friends never referred to him by), and cultivated a cool bohemian beard as early as 1960.

The fact that the proto-Fab Three had coveted him and his drums for years should certainly say something about how his skills were regarded at that time, and the fact that the great Ringo Starr ditched his sweet gig with the Hurricanes and deigned to join these upstarts should say something about Starr’s own musical judgment. [ADDENDUM: I’ve recently (Nov. 2013) read the first volume of Mark Lewisohn’s exhaustive three-volume Beatles biography, and it shed a lot of light on this era. Evidently, the Hurricanes were stagnating — Ringo had already quit them once — and the Beatles, far from being “upstarts,” had been top of the heap in Liverpool for some time, and were clearly poised for bigger things.]

Maybe his role as the “runt” stemmed from the fact that he joined the band at the last moment before they skyrocketed in late ’62. Maybe it was the fact that he was three inches shorter than the others, or wasn’t quite as handsome (that nose, y’know.) What seems clear is that the dismissiveness people sometimes projected onto Ringo as a personality began to spill over to his skill as a drummer, and that’s just plain unfair. Continue reading

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The Best & Worst of the Solo Beatles, Part 3: George Harrison

Part 1: John Lennon

Part 2: Paul McCartney

As a vocalist, he was nothing special. His voice was not as immediately powerful as Lennon’s nor as sweet as McCartney’s. In fact, it was kind of sub-par. Adenoidal and thickly accented, but I suppose he could carry a tune. As a guitarist, he was admittedly unable to improvise on the fly, definitely out of sync with his flashy Sixties peers, and not criminally underrated the way Ringo was as a drummer. (Relax, we’ll get to him in Part 4).  As a songwriter, he couldn’t hold a candle to the great rock poets like Dylan and Springsteen. Harrison’s talents in all these areas can best be described as “modest.”  One gets the impression that if there were no Beatles, Lennon and McCartney would have found another path and still be known to us in some capacity, but Harrison was in dire need of his Beatles background to launch his solo career.

But wait! Let’s examine all this again. Harrison’s voice was certainly distinctive and full of character (and blended perfectly with Lennon and McCartney’s to create that special Beatles alchemy, usually pinning down the tricky middle harmony). As a guitarist, it may not have been a bad thing to be out of step with his flashy Sixties peers. Some of those wanky, Vanilla Fudge-style blues-worshipers soloed like there was no tomorrow, often forgetting they were supposed to be playing a song.

Harrison did not go down the very well-trodden blues path, but played in a much more country & western-influenced rockabilly style, patterned after guys like Chet Atkins and Carl Perkins. His major concession to R&B was a healthy dose of Chuck Berry, which is the one thing he had in common with all other Sixties rock guitarists. (Hell, even the great Keith Richards spent most of the decade recycling Berry riffs, until he discovered open tuning in ’68.) Every Harrison solo was short, punchy, and served the song perfectly. Re-listen to some Beatles songs (“Can’t Buy Me Love” and their cover of the Larry Williams scorcher “Bad Boy” come to mind) with an ear on the solos, and you’ll see what I mean. As a songwriter, neither Lennon solo nor McCartney solo were on par with Dylan or Springsteen, either, and the best of Harrison’s solo material certainly equals the best of Lennon’s and McCartney’s. As far as being unable to improvise, who gives a good goddamn? The Beatles were never a jam band, anyway (thank God.)

And when, on a whim, he decided to join American R&B act Delaney & Bonnie on their British tour in 1969, he finally embraced the blues, but in his own way, rapidly developing an almost Hawaiian-sounding slide guitar technique that became the defining sound of his solo career. I still doubt there would have been a George Harrison music career without the Beatles, but luckily for everyone, there was a Beatles. And there’s some great stuff in the Harrisongs catalog…and also some turkeys. That’s why we’re here.

Anything else I have to say about Harrison, I said in my 2010 essay “The Quiet One.” In fact, I’ve probably already repeated myself somewhat, so let’s get on with our examination of the solo Harrison. Continue reading

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The Best & Worst of the Solo Beatles, Part 2: Paul McCartney

I have a little theory: Paul McCartney is insane. Batshit nuts. I don’t know quite when the cheese slid off his cracker, but I’m guessing about twenty-five years ago. Yes, he’s always been a little goofy, but lately? From his bizarre hair-dying experiments to the interviews that are about equal parts inane platitudes, vegetarian propaganda, and total gibberish accompanied by a cheery thumbs-up, he’s been leaving a trail of crazy wherever he goes since the mid-1980s. It’s not train-wreck, flame-out crazy, like Martin Lawrence wandering through traffic with a  handgun. It’s a subtler crazy, as if during the recording of Press To Play, alien beings had made off with his brain and attempted to replace it with an exact replica, but assembled it from poorly-translated instructions.

That’s not what happened of course. What happened is that his ownership of many valuable song publishing rights kicked in about then, he became a multi-billionaire instead of a multi-millionaire, cut himself off from anything resembling reality, and has been living in a totally self-generated bubble-world ever since. And I don’t blame him. If I became a multi-billionaire, I would reach foaming heights of crazy that would make Andy Dick look like a Presbyterian deacon.

For reasons directly related to his billionaire-induced craziness, Paul has become the most-maligned Beatle. With every misfire album and every cringe-worthy quote, his light dimmed a little more. But make no mistake — he was the driving creative force of the Beatles in the second half of their career, and that’s no small thing. He always valued the concept of being in a band more than the others. Lennon gets credit for being the witty, rebellious iconoclast, Harrison gets credit for being the quiet mystic, and let’s face it, both of them get double-extra-credit for being dead. Everyone loves a corpse, because they never disappoint. They’re not around to release mediocre albums anymore. But both of them tired of the “band” concept long before Paul did. In the 70’s, Paul tried to keep the idea alive by putting together a bunch of hirelings and calling it “Wings,” but even he knew they weren’t a real band — they were his employees, and various members came and went like the clock-punchers they were.

(At the start of his solo career, he followed the example of Lennon and installed his wife as full creative partner. His second solo album is officially credited to “Paul & Linda McCartney.” On John & Yoko’s joint albums, Yoko contributed full songs. Horrible, horrible songs. But songs, nonetheless. Linda’s contributions consisted of 1) hilariously flat backing vocals placed super-high in the mix, and 2) helping to write some lyrics. The conceit fooled no one, but co-crediting songs kept their royalties from becoming “frozen assets” in the morass of the Beatles break-up lawsuits going on at the time.)

At times, Paul seems to be resented by fans for simply still being alive and somehow tarnishing the image of the Beatles by his very existence as a living, breathing doofus, which can’t be helped. This can result in some unfair treatment. (There’s a song buried in the second half of Off The Ground — if you make it that far– called “Winedark Open Sea,” a kind of sparse, dreary piano ballad that I suspect would be hailed as a “classic” if it came from Springsteen or Neil Young. Those guys can get away with almost anything.) Other times, it’s entirely his own fault. The parallels with George Lucas become obvious if you’re petty enough to examine them (which is my stock in trade). The younger creative genius gives us several gifts we all cherish, things that beyond providing hundreds of hours of entertainment, may even have molded us as people. He then ages into the older billionaire crank and starts doing stupid shit, such as going back and futzing with the legacy. McCartney’s bone-headed attempt to change the songwriting credits on “his” Beatles songs from “Lennon-McCartney” to “McCartney-Lennon” a few years ago is the musical equivalent of Greedo shooting first. Continue reading

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