A true supergroup, The Empty Hearts are Wally Palmar from The Romantics on vocals, rhythm guitar and harmonica, Elliot Easton of The Cars on lead guitar and vocals, Andy Babiuk from The Chesterfield Kings on bass and Clem Burke of Blondie on drums and vocals.
In 2014, The Empty Hearts released their self-titled debut album, which was expectedly greeted with wild applause. Considering how busy these guys are with their own separate projects, they can be excused for taking so long to deliver a follow-up effort. But it was definitely worth the wait, because the properly coined Second Album is just as fun and exciting as the first endeavor.
Dotted with wailing Yardbirds‘ styled harmonica trills, The Best That I Can crackles and crunches with classic garage rock fervor, and then there’s Well, Look At You, which includes hip horn arrangements and grooves to a sprightly soulful timbre.
Hook-laden power pop is the name of the game on fetching numbers such as If I Could Change Your Mind and Coat-Tailer, where Sometimes Shit Happens For A Reason bristles to a gritty blues pitch managed by tobacco-ravaged vocals and raw-boned emotion.
The band’s good friend, Ringo Starr, lends his fabled tub-thumping prowess to Remember Days Like These, that chimes brightly with Byrds inspired bliss and magical melodies by the mile. An apt statement of the turbulent times we’re currently experiencing, The World’s Gone Insane roars with red hot anger generated by throttling riffs and pulsing punk rock energy. Shaped of a larger than life chorus and a stomping beat, Come On And Try It plugs in as another rousing raver included on the collection.
Those hungry for a shot of authentic rock and roll will certainly feed their need with Second Album. The Empty Hearts play their great songs straight from their hearts – pun badly intended – and their passion for the music is instantly infectious. Equipped with killer-diller chops and the kind of telepathic chemistry found in the best bands, these fellows were destined to be together. Here’s to a standing ovation.
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Virtual Ticket Stub Gallery is a series of extended reminiscences of my in-concert memories. This is the first (and probably only) fictional entry in this series. The events detailed herein take place in the same make-believe universe as a previous story I wrote about The Flashcubes, A Brighter Light In My Mind.
It was John Lennon‘s idea.
Of the four former members of The Beatles, Lennon often seemed the most publicly opposed to the idea of getting the old band back together. Although The Beatles broke up in 1970, it seemed that hardly a day could go by without someone–a fan, a pundit, a reporter, a fellow rock star, even a freaking head of state–asking when this fabbest of fours would regroup. Would you want to go back to high school?, Lennon would reply, apparently dismissive of the very idea of ever wanting to get back to where he once belonged. Paul McCartney would insist that one couldn’t reheat a souffle; George Harrison‘s disdain for the notion rivaled Lennon’s; one suspected that Ringo Starr would have been fine with a reunion if it were to occur, but he warned all and sundry that it would only happen if and when it happened, if it happened at all. So the chances of a Beatles reunion appeared to be somewhere far south of slim, barely north of none.
So everyone–including Paul, George, and Ringo–was flabbergasted in 1976 to hear John effectively saying, Hey, lads! Let’s put on a SHOW! But that’s pretty much what Lennon did.
John Lennon was 35 years old, and he’d packed a lot into those years. His father had been absent, his parents ultimately estranged, leaving John to be raised by his Aunt Mimi; Lennon remained devoted to his mother, and was devastated by her death in 1958, when Lennon was not yet 18 years old. Lennon was creative, artistic, musical, mercurial, temperamental, a joker, a troublemaker. He was in a rock ‘n’ roll group. The group was a failure that became a greater success than any other group in history. He got a girl named Cynthia pregnant. He married her, and they had a son named Julian. John was as absent a father as his own father had been before him. John fell, hard, for an exotic, artistic woman named Yoko. One marriage ended, another began, standing in the dock at Southampton. His band broke up. He became more politically aware, more engaged on behalf of social justice. His antiwar activities drew the ire of the established, entrenched power structure. He wasn’t paranoid; they really were out to get him. The U.S. Government tried to deport him, and was nearly successful in that effort. He fought back, waging war on the battlefield of public opinion. He and Yoko separated. He had a famed, debauched Lost Weekend, spanning eighteen months from 1973 to early ’75. He reunited with Yoko; the separation didn’t work out. Their son Sean was born on John’s 35th birthday, October 9th of 1975. This time, John would not be an absent father. This time, he would do things right.
Yeah. So how much did you do in your life before you turned 36?
John settled into a delighted domesticity. He took care of Sean, he baked bread, and he was just Daddy. The infant Sean was perhaps too young to be fully aware of his father’s devotion, but awareness and appreciation would come in time. Life, after all, is what happens when you’re busy making other plans.
In 1976, Paul McCartney occasionally dropped by Lennon’s apartment at The Dakota in Manhattan. John kind of wished Paul would call before showing up, but their friendship was old and resilient. Over the years, they had bickered and competed, as friends sometimes do; success and recognition magnify the cracks and faults that would appear anyway, so an argument can often become a lawsuit. Sue me, sue you their younger partner George had quipped. Tempers flared, cooler heads prevailed over time. They were friends. The complicated legal knot that had once been The Beatles would take a long, long time to untangle. The friendship would endure.
John and Paul had played together at an abortive studio jam session in Burbank in March of 1974, during John’s Lost Weekend, along with Stevie Wonder, Harry Nilsson, saxophonist Bobby Keys, and Paul’s wife, the lovely Linda McCartney. The hazy, drug-fueled session was emblematic of John’s excess at the time. In Paul’s visits to The Dakota, the musical collaborations were no more serious, but far more sedate.
On April 24th, 1976, Paul was with John at The Dakota. They’d had some drinks, played some songs, and were settled in front of the TV to watch a new episode of NBC’s Saturday Night, a late-night ensemble comedy sketch show enjoying great success in its first season. The show was hipper than hip. This should be a hoot.
But the former Beatles were wholly unprepared when the producer of Saturday Night began speaking directly to them, as they watched him on the TV screen.
The public mania for a Beatles reunion had reached peak silliness by ’76. There had been million-dollar offers–multi-million!–just to somehow get John, Paul, George, and Ringo on stage together again before a live audience. The preposterous truckloads of money could be paid to The Beatles themselves, to their favorite charities, to agencies fighting world hunger, even to failed Apple Corps projects The Fool and Magic Alex, for all any of the would-be promoters cared. Just GET BACK, Beatles! LET IT BE! ALL YOU NEED IS LOVE!! Money was not what The Beatles wanted. They wanted people to stop asking them to reBeatle. You want a new Beatles record? Take a few tracks each off Walls And Bridges, Venus And Mars, Extra Texture, and Goodnight Vienna, put ’em on a cassette, and PRESTO! Instant Beatles album! You wanna see The Beatles in concert? Take a time machine back to The Star-Club or The Cavern, before all the screaming drowned us out. That time is gone. The Beatles are no more.
Lorne Michaels, the producer of NBC’s Saturday Night, saw the humor in these desperate, clawing, failed attempts to reunite The Beatles. And, where there’s already inherent humor present, well, a comedy sketch just writes itself.
John and Paul stared at the TV screen, their jaws dropping like acid in 1967. Hi. I’m Lorne Michaels, the producer of Saturday Night. Right now, we’re being seen by approximately 22 million viewers, but please allow me, if I may, to address myself to just four very special people: John, Paul, George, and Ringo, The Beatles. Sitting there in The Dakota, their smiles growing wider, Lennon and McCartney watched with glee as Michaels detailed his mock offer to entice The Beatles to appear on Saturday Night. Michaels said he’d heard that maybe the group simply hadn’t yet been offered enough money to give any serious consideration to a reunion. Well, Michaels assured everyone, money wouldn’t be a problem for NBC. And to prove it, Michaels displayed a check from NBC, made out to The Beatles, in the princely amount of three thousand dollars.
McCartney spit out his beer, laughing. Lennon guffawed loudly, amused and engaged. But then he stopped laughing. And he turned to his old partner Paul and said:
We should do it! At first, Paul thought John was daft. But he also saw the appeal of this crazy idea. Alas, it was a crazy, impractical idea. John said they should head right to the NBC studio, just the two of them, and accept half of the $3000 offer as a joke. But it was late. They were tired. And the moment passed.
A few days later, John was still capering to himself a bit, thinking of that moment. And he started to wonder: had the moment really passed?
Lennon considered. He was determined to be an ever-present part of his new son’s life. He’d put music on hold, and would keep it on hold until he felt Sean was old enough to understand. But Sean was still just a baby, six months old–perhaps this was the right time for John to play one more show before devoting himself exclusively to full-time daddyhood.
John thought back to his last live performance: Madison Square Garden, November 28th, 1974. He’d lost a bet with Elton John, and had to join Elton and his boys in concert. He only did three songs: his own “Whatever Gets You Thru The Night,” The Beatles’ “Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds” (itself a recent hit for Elton), and “I Saw Her Standing There,” a song John introduced on stage as “a number by an old estranged fiance of mine called Paul.” So Lennon’s last concert performance to date had been singing a Paul McCartney song. Heh, Lennon chuckled aloud, That will never do! He’d been terrified to appear on stage with Elton that night; he’d been away from the spotlight too long, he thought. But it was fun. Exhilarating. Maybe he should consider doing one whole show.
Oh, the hell with it–maybe he should consider doing the one show everyone had been after him to do.
John went to the phone. One by one, he dialed each of his three mates. Paul? George? Ringo? I have an idea….
All three of the others were immediately skeptical, though both Paul and Ringo accepted the idea in short order. George was more resistant. Even when The Beatles were still together, he’d felt like a junior member rather than an equal. And he’d chafed under that feeling of confinement, restriction. He had not missed being a Beatle. He saw no compelling reason to become a Beatle again.
One thinks that should have been the end of this absurd idea of a Beatles reunion. John Lennon certainly wasn’t going to beg George, and nor were the others any more apt to persuade or coax him back into the fold. Nice idea. Let’s forget about it now.
On the other hand, Bob Dylan was perfectly willing to intercede.
For years, no one knew for sure how Dylan even found out about this potential reunion. Decades later, we learned that Yoko Ono had contacted Linda McCartney with the idea, and Linda got in touch with Bashful Bobby Dylan. Yoko was concerned that canceling this reunion would have been a disappointment to John. Her motives were perhaps not 100% altruistic–John had promised to be a stay-at-home father to Sean, and a disappointed John could lead to a wandering John, yet again–but nor were they purely mercenary, either. She wanted John to be able to do this; she wanted John to be happy. On top of all that, Yoko felt that she owed a debt of gratitude to the McCartneys; Paul and Linda had played an understated but undeniable role in getting John and Yoko back together after John’s long Lost Weekend. Furthermore, Yoko knew that Paul also wanted to be a Beatle again, even if just for one night, at least as much as John did. John and Paul were brothers–sometimes bickering, sometime infuriating, but brothers. They needed this…closure.
The idea of enlisting Dylan was simply brilliant. Dylan loved the idea of a Beatles show, so he certainly didn’t mind calling his friend George. George respected Dylan’s opinion, shrugged, and went along with the idea of temporarily–temporarily!–becoming a Beatle again. A reluctant Beatle, sure, but a Beatle nonetheless!
Beatles have people. Lots of people. None of us has ever, or will ever, had any freaking idea of what it’s like to be a member of that exclusive club of four. And part of being a Beatle meant that if you wanted something done, then snap! It was done. Emissaries handled logistics. Snap! Madison Square Garden was booked–quietly–and I still have no idea how they pulled that one off. Snap! Backing musicians were secured; Al Kooper would play keyboards, and the live sound would be further fattened by the addition of The Memphis Horns. Snap! And John, Paul, George, and Ringo found themselves at a secure location on Long Island–far from the madding crowd, far from prying eyes and ears–preparing to make music together for the first time in nearly seven years.
For their first day in the ol’ woodshed, The Beatles wanted to start without sidemen, just the four of them, getting reacquainted, learning again how to play with and to each other. There was no agenda that day; just icebreakers, joking, and jamming. Old friends. Guitars. Bass. Piano. Drums. That first day was more party than woodshed, as the once-and-future mates played random favorites as the thought occurred to them, riffing through Arthur Alexander, Carl Perkins, The Everly Brothers, Chan Romero, Richie Barrett, Little Richard, Ray Charles, Buddy Holly, James Ray, Wanda Jackson, Elvis, The Miracles, The Impressions, “Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door,” “Without You,” even “(Theme From) The Monkees.” They tried their hands at Beatle numbers, too, from “Love Me Do” to “For You Blue.” Paul earned loud snorts of laughter by singing a bit of John’s “How Do You Sleep?,” while John countered with Paul’s “Let Me Roll It.” (John’s attempt at The Chiffons‘ “He’s So Fine” prompted George to roll his eyes, but John made up for it by duetting with George on a heavenly rendition of “My Sweet Lord.”) The proceedings were chaotic, disorganized, start-and-stop…and wonderful. Old friends.
Business resumed in earnest on the second day, as Kooper arrived; The Memphis Horns arrived on the following day. There would be just over a week of rehearsals before The Beatles’ still-secret gig at Madison Square Garden. They needed to figure some things out in a hurry.
Amazingly, there was actually quite a bit of agreement among The Beatles about what they didn’t want. They didn’t want to be a nostalgia act; they didn’t want to do any kind of chronological representation of The Beatles’ story–they were The Beatles, for cryinoutloud, not bloody Beatlemania. They didn’t want to do a smooth, slick Greatest Hits show. They didn’t want to take anyone back to some imaginary glory days of yesteryear. They wanted to play, in the here and now.
At the same time, they also knew they needed to play Beatle songs. It was a delicate balancing act. If you just give the audience what it wants, you’re a whore; if you don’t give ’em anything they want, you’re a prima donna. The four of them agreed they wouldn’t want to go see, say, Roy Orbison, and not hear “Only The Lonely.” Nor would they care to see (or perform) a show played by the numbers. Balance. They came up with a list of about fifty songs, and started going through them. “Yesterday” didn’t work. Early bubblegum material felt wrong. “Hey Bulldog” was awesome, but fell victim to inevitable cuts in the set list, elimination choices which also claimed “I’ve Just Seen A Face,” “Yer Blues,” “A Hard Day’s Night,” “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band,” “Savoy Truffle,” and an ace cover of Buddy Holly’s “Peggy Sue.” Rehearsals went on. The set list gelled. The band got tighter. All that time spent apart melted away.
They were The Beatles once again.
Word finally leaked out a week before the show, and an official announcement was made: The Beatles would reunite for one single concert. It would be a slight exaggeration to say that the show sold out instantly. It took nearly twenty minutes to sell out. Arrangements were made to also carry a live feed of the concert in movie theaters throughout the country, around the world. A splendid time was guaranteed for all!
On the day of the concert, John was nervous, apprehensive, nauseous. George alternated between wondering if he’d made a mistake agreeing to take part in this circus and…well, looking forward to it. He found his dichotomy of emotion unexpected, but oddly calming. Paul and Ringo took it all in stride. John pulled himself together. Toppermost of the poppermost. It was time.
The massive crowd at Madison Square Garden was giddy, boisterous, and frankly, high as a kite. The lights went out. Gasps. Cheers. Anticipation. Palpable, tangible thrill.
Ladies and gentlemen…THE BEATLES!! Still in darkness, John counted off, “1-2-3!” The lights came on, brilliant and blinding, dazzling, dizzying, louder and more popular than Jesus. The grinding guitar consumed the arena, as Paul let out a scream and John began to sing:
You say you want a revolution, well you know We all want to change the world The Beatles charged through the opening verse and chorus of “Revolution,” Paul and George adding back-up shoo-be-do-wops to the subsequent verses. “Revolution” led into a furious, manic “Helter Skelter,” and The Beatles’ guarantee of a splendid time for all was already achieved.
“While My Guitar Gently Weeps.” “You Won’t See Me.” “No Reply.” The Beatles played an eclectic, electric selection of songs from their catalog of wonder. A new George Harrison song called “Crackerbox Palace” followed, and then flowed into the distinctive riff of “Ticket To Ride.” “Strawberry Fields Forever.” Ringo’s “It Don’t Come Easy.” “Come Together.””Here Comes The Sun.” “Penny Lane.”
There was little between-song patter; there was just an easy-going, amiable on-stage ambiance, incongruously tethered to a lit fuse and an ongoing explosion of buzzing musical delight. John told the fans that they all needed to pay tribute to the rock ‘n’ roll that got them there in the first place, and launched into an impassioned cover of Chuck Berry‘s “Johnny B. Goode.” Those guitars like ringin’ a bell segued into John’s “Whatever Gets You Thru The Night,” then Paul’s “Maybe I’m Amazed,” then “I Am The Walrus.” “Magical Mystery Tour.” “With A Little Help From My Friends.” “Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds.” George introduced “Something” as Frank Sinatra’s favorite Lennon and McCartney song. Thank you, Frank! John whooped out a Thanks, Frankie! in response. “Back In The USSR.” Ringo’s “Photograph.” “We Can Work It Out.” Day Tripper.” George’s “What Is Life.” “Let It Be.” “Don’t Pass Me By.”
It was a long show. These aging rock stars, all in their late thirties by now, should have been dragging, but still seemed energized, ignited, as if they were still that impossibly young bunch of punks tearin’ up the Reeperbahn in Hamburg those many years ago. The guitars gathered more volume, the air became thicker, as every inch of space at MSG gave way to the force and fury of “I Want You (She’s So Heavy).” Paul moved to the piano for a climactic “Hey Jude.” The show concluded with John and Paul singing “I Don’t Want To Spoil The Party,” The Nerk Twins, the British Everly Brothers. And The Beatles said good night.
During all their years of insane, unprecedented, hysterical popularity, The Beatles never performed an encore. No. They did their show, and they got out. So tonight would be history on top of history. The arena thundered with the eager noise of delirious fans wanting more!
Back on stage, soaking in the applause, beaming with pride and satisfaction (wait–wrong band!), The Beatles were ready to oblige.
Thank you, Beatle people. It says here we passed the audition! “Get Back.” “A Day In The Life.” “Eleanor Rigby.” And finally, Larry Williams‘ “Dizzy Miss Lizzy.” The clock struck eternity. The enchantment ended. This amazing, amazing night was over.
Record labels fell over each other trying to secure the rights to release a live album of The Beatles’ MSG show. Paul, George, and Ringo were each already under contract with competing labels, though John was a free agent. But it didn’t matter; the show was not officially recorded, and would forevermore be only the stuff of memories and bootlegs. Ob-la-di, ob-la-da, life goes on.
The Beatles would never again perform together before a live audience. The four discussed the comic merit of taking NBC’s Saturday Night up on its offer, but ultimately decided it wasn’t something they wanted to do. George Harrison did appear on Saturday Night with guest host Paul Simon; Harrison participated in an opening skit about trying to claim the $3000 the show offered for The Beatles to come on the show, as producer Lorne Michaels deadpanned that he thought it was clear the offer was for four people, not just one. Simon and Harrison then teamed up for lovely renditions of “Here Comes The Sun” and Simon and Garfunkel‘s “Homeward Bound.” John and Paul appeared together on a subsequent episode, carrying out John’s initial joke to demand $1500 for an appearance by two Beatles. The former Fabs played two acoustic sets on the show, without outside accompaniment: Eddie Cochran‘s “Twenty Flight Rock” (the first song Paul played for John when they met in 1957), “Norwegian Wood,”and “Blackbird,” then “In My Life” and “Yesterday.” The two harmonized on each song; notably, it was the first time Lennon had ever sung “Yesterday” in public. Later in the same show, John and Paul plugged in with the NBC house band for a blistering medley of “I Saw Her Standing There” and “Rain.”
And with that, John Lennon once again withdrew from the spotlight, making good on his vow to be Sean’s Daddy, nothing more, nothing less. Paul McCartney, George Harrison, and Ringo Starr returned to their own careers. The three of them performed together at Eric Clapton‘s wedding to George’s ex-wife Patti Boyd on May 19th, 1979.
John came out of retirement in 1980 for Double Fantasy, a new album with Yoko. He did a short small-venue tour in support of the album, and enlisted the members of his son’s favorite group The Flashcubes to play with him. Lennon had struck up a friendship with the ‘Cubes when he arranged for them to play for Sean at a private party on December 8, 1980, the same night police arrested an armed individual loitering outside The Dakota; the unidentified man killed himself while in custody, leaving many to shudder at the thought of what might have happened if the Lennons had returned home earlier. Paul joined Lennon and The Flashcubes on stage at Carnegie Hall for the encore of their final show in March of ’81.
Sadly, a rift developed between Lennon and Harrison. John felt that he’d been deliberately snubbed in George’s autobiography I Me Mine. Relations between the two were strained for quite some time thereafter, though they eventually made amends. Ringo generally remained on good terms with each of the other three, though even our little Richard occasionally grew tired of always being viewed as a Beatle, no matter what.
The Beatles declined an invitation to perform at Live Aid in 1985. The group’s 1988 induction into The Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame offered the seemingly certain prospect of a Beatles reunion, but Paul did not attend, citing the sticking point of still-lingering business disputes with his former co-workers.
Finally, the morass of The Beatles’ Sargasso Sea of legal complications and intricacies was navigated and left behind by the dawn of the ’90s. John, Paul, George, and Ringo cooperated and fully participated in the making of The Beatles Anthology, a comprehensive video history of the act you knew for all those years. Proposals for a new Beatles album or tour or one-off concert were ruled out immediately, but they performed several songs together on the Anthology video. Although this would be their final full collaboration, all four remained on cordial terms through George’s death in 2001. The others agreed to honor George’s memory by leaving The Beatles in the past. There would be no more public reunions of any kind. In the end, the love you take is equal to the love you make.
As a young band playing bars in Hamburg and Liverpool, The Beatles fantasized of becoming The Toppermost Of The Poppermost. It was a heady, unlikely dream for four ne’er-do-well punks from a rough-and-tumble seaport town. But the dream came true. Decades later, we dream on still.
The dream isn’t over. We do believe in Beatles. And you know that can’t be bad.
You can support this blog by becoming a patron on Patreon: Fund me, baby! THE BEATLES: LIVE AT MADISON SQUARE GARDEN 1976
Revolution Helter Skelter While My Guitar Gently Weeps You Won’t See Me No Reply Crackerbox Palace Ticket To Ride Strawberry Fields Forever It Don’t Come Easy Come Together Here Comes The Sun Penny Lane Johnny B. Goode Whatever Gets You Thru The Night Maybe I’m Amazed I Am The Walrus Magical Mystery Tour With A Little Help From My Friends Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds Something Back In The USSR Photograph We Can Work It Out Day Tripper What Is Life Let It Be Don’t Pass Me By I Want You (She’s So Heavy) Hey Jude I Don’t Want To Spoil The Party
Dark times call for music, friendship, smiles and good memories. This is that. Wherever you are, whomever you are, there is someone who loves you and values what you bring to this life, whether you’re aware of it or not.
YOKO ONO: “Kiss Kiss Kiss” Geffen, 1980; A-Side: JOHN LENNON: “(Just Like) Starting Over” Some called her a Dragon Lady. To John Lennon, she was probably the one true love of his life.
A lot of rock ‘n’ rollers never understood Yoko Ono, and likely never will. I don’t exempt myself from that; I’m not a fan of her music, either with John or the material she made after his murder. But I don’t think I ever fell into the trap of demonizing her, or wishing she were out of John’s life, or blaming her for The Beatles’ breakup. Honestly, I think Yoko saved John’s life; I have a hard time believing that the rudderless Lennon of the mid ’60s could have survived into the ’70s had he not met Ono. His 18-month “lost weekend” without her in 1973-75 could serve as evidence for or against that idea; he looked back on that time with regret, and he clearly drank and partied too much, but he also seemed happy in the moment with girlfriend May Pang, and he worked prolifically as a recording artist (three albums in that short span o’ months), producer, and musical collaborator. Still, ultimately John needed Yoko. The separation didn’t work out.
My respect for Yoko One as a person need not have any bearing on my appreciation of her work. In general, her music just isn’t for me. There was, however, one instance where I preferred Yoko’s music to a contemporaneous song by John. That was Yoko’s “Kiss Kiss Kiss,” the B-side of John’s “(Just Like) Starting Over” in 1980.
For me, the summer of 1980 marked three years since I’d first heard The Sex Pistols and The Ramones. I graduated from college in May of ’80, moved into an apartment with my girlfriend, and became a professional burger-flipper at the mighty Golden Arches. I still loved The Beatles, but felt punk and new wave pulling me away from most post-’67 Beatles–no power on Earth could ever hope to separate me from Beatles ’62-’66–and I was increasingly disinterested in contemporary releases by former Beatles. I thought George Harrison and Ringo Starr had become boring. I liked some of Paul McCartney‘s recent stuff, particularly “Coming Up” and 1979’s “Getting Closer,” but found him unreliable, and I actively disliked “Arrow Through Me” and “Goodnight Tonight.”
And John? John was MIA. After his lost weekend ran its course in ’75, he realized he needed to be with Yoko. Yoko wasn’t so sure. But when Lennon appeared as Elton John‘s special guest, singing a few songs with The Elton John Band at the conclusion of their 1975 Madison Square Garden show, Yoko met John backstage, and the reconciliation commenced. One wonders if John thought of the lyrics to the song he’d just performed–a song he introduced as “by an old estranged fiancé of mine called Paul,” a Beatles oldie John had never sung before, and the last song that John Lennon would ever sing in concert:
Well my heart went boom When I crossed that room And I held her hand in mine Oh, we danced through the night And we held each other tight And before too long I fell in love with her Now I’ll never dance with another Oh, when I saw her standing there That’s the legend, anyway. Real life, real love, isn’t quite as simple or uncomplicated, but the end result was the same: John & Yoko. Together, man. They had a son, Sean, and John became a devoted father, retiring from public life for five years. He baked bread. He was Daddy. He was there.
I don’t remember how much of this I knew at the time. On the one hand, I saw a photo of Lennon in Rolling Stone, and he looked…old. On the other hand, in my punk-fueled mind, John had been the rocker in The Beatles, the fast ‘n’ loud balance to Paul’s silly love songs. It was a fiction I believed. As disconcerted as I was by the image of a grandfatherly ex-Beatle, I was convinced that Lennon could still return and show ’em all how it was s’posed to be done.
So I was delighted to hear that John Lennon was working on a new album in 1980. Early hype was encouraging; John & Yoko were working with producer Jack Douglas, and recording with a little help from new friends Cheap Trick, the one band–really, the only band–that every rock ‘n’ roll fan seemed to like at the end of the ’70s. The album was Double Fantasy, and its cover depicted John & Yoko sharing an affectionate little kiss. John had shaved his scraggly grandfather beard, and cut his hair to a properly fab mid ’60s love-me ‘do. The first single, “(Just Like) Starting Over,” was released ahead of the LP, and I eagerly traded cash for vinyl at Brockport’s Main Street Recordsto own a copy of that 45.
And I was so disappointed with it.
My expectations were unfair. I wanted Revolver and Rocket To Russia and power pop and punk and new wave and jangle and buzz and harmonies and Rickenbackers and drums and yeah-yeah-YEAH! That wasn’t gonna happen, even if Cheap Trick had been involved; as it was, most of the Trick’s contributions were omitted from the official version of Double Fantasy. There was certainly no audible evidence of them on this single. Instead, “(Just Like) Starting Over” fell somewhere between pre-Beatles pop and Electric Light Orchestra, and I wasn’t at all impressed. It was…okay. That’s all. Okay.
John had the A-side; Yoko had the B-side. I surprised myself by liking “Kiss Kiss Kiss” immediately. It seemed an edgier track, its herky-jerky riddum reminiscent of Marianne Faithfull‘s Broken English, its vocal styling similar to what I heard on records by Public Image, Ltd. and avowed Yoko Ono acolytes The B-52’s. Plus, like, it sounded like the Lennons were shakin’ the sheets at the end of the song. “Kiss Kiss Kiss” popped for me in a way the A-Side couldn’t. Although I gradually developed some level of fondness for “(Just Like) Starting Over,” “Kiss Kiss Kiss” was the side I played, and I played it often.
I held off on getting Double Fantasy. I heard another song or two on the radio, definitely the Beatley “Woman” (which I thought nicked its riff from Argent‘s “Hold Your Head Up,” but which I liked nonetheless), and probably “Watching The Wheels,” Lennon’s statement of defiant domesticity. On December 8th of 1980, a nobody with a gun decided his pitiful craving for attention was more important than John Lennon’s right to live, Yoko’s right to a husband, Sean’s right to a father. The killer’s name will never be mentioned in anything I write.
The events that followed the album’s release made it impossible to assess Double Fantasy on its own merit. I still can’t. There was a rumor (and I betcha it’s true) that Rolling Stone had a negative review of Double Fantasy all set to run, but pulled at the last minute in the wake of Lennon’s murder, with a glowing and reflective review run in its place. I can’t say if that was the right thing to do. Probably. Maybe. I kinda doubt that I would have ever really embraced the album, but who knows? I sure don’t know. I can’t separate the album from that lingering memory of how bad I felt on the evening of December 8th.
We can grieve for people we’ve never met, losses that may not seem personal to onlookers, but losses that hurt, that ache, as if a vital part of our lives has been ripped from us. We shouldn’t commit the sin of comparing our feelings in the wake of John Lennon’s murder to what Yoko felt, what Sean felt, to the anguish of older son Julian, ex-wife Cynthia, Aunt Mimi, or Paul, George, and Ringo, or May Pang. It’s not the same, not even close. Still hurts anyway, though.
On the evening of the murder, John and Yoko had been in the studio, working on a new Yoko single, “Walking On Thin Ice.” Can’t separate that one from its circumstances either, and I’ve never been able to enjoy it. An album called Milk And Honey was eventually assembled from unused Double Fantasy sessions, and I wound up digging its focus tracks “Nobody Told Me” and “Living On Borrowed Time” more than I liked most of Double Fantasy. Different circumstances. Different expectations.
Nowadays, I don’t often listen to “Kiss Kiss Kiss.” Among solo Beatles, I’m generally more likely to spin some McCartney than a Lennon, Harrison, or Starr record. I never listen to Yoko Ono at all. Yet I’m still fond of “Kiss Kiss Kiss,” and I still recall with vivid immediacy the rush of realizing I liked the Yoko track better than I liked the John track. Honestly, I think John Lennon would have forgiven me. Yoko saved his life, for a while anyway. She was the one true love of his life. He just wanted us to appreciate her, too.
Call me a bundle of nerves. Call me a frustrated Ringo Starr. Most people just call me annoying, because I can’t stop drumming. I don’t mean sitting at a drum kit, bashin’ away while a garage band of my peers stumbles through a gloriously inept approximation of “(I’m Not Your) Steppin’ Stone.” That would be great! No, the vehicles of my percussive assaults are counter tops, tables, even my own legs if I happen to be sitting down. Maybe there’s actually a song playing, as I attempt to keep time with it in my own inherently flawed fashion; often, it’s just an imaginary song in my head. Either way, I try to play along. Badly. And it pisses people off.
When did this start? Probably when I was a teenager, I guess, though maybe earlier. I did receive a set of bongos from my great grandmother’s husband in 1968, when I was eight years old, and I certainly enjoyed pounding those pagan skins. About a decade later, I would take those bongos with me to college and go on to become percussionist for internationally obscure jazz combo Bud Mackintaw & the Skeeters (but that’s another story).
I’ve generally drummed by hand–it’s the bongo player in me–but I’ve owned drumsticks, too. My first sticks were castoffs from real drummers playing live rock ‘n’ roll, projectiles that slipped through the grips of Tommy Allen of The Flashcubes, Barry Whitwam of Herman’s Hermits, or Martin Chambers of The Pretenders, among others. I also bought myself a pair of drumsticks somewhere in there because…I dunno. I just wanted to participate. I wanted to be a musician. A guitarist. A singer. Something. Drumming was the easiest thing to fake.
For all that, I’ve never even sat at a drum kit, not once, not ever. It almost happened one time in college, when my roommate Paul and I were working on a campus radio station commercial for a local chicken wing place called Munchies. Trust me, Munchies had the best Buffalo wings imaginable, and I wrote a radio commercial celebrating that rainbow of spice (from mild to abusive and even nuclear), all to the tune of “(Theme From) The Monkees:” Hey hey, we’re the Munchies! Clever? That’s me! There was a drum kit available for our use in producing the commercial, and Paul suggested I handle the percussion. I protested that I wasn’t really a drummer, but Paul said what the hell, I could keep time adequately when attacking a chair with my sticks to provide rhythmic accompaniment to Blondie‘s “Accidents Never Happen” back at the dorm, so, y’know, good enough. Well, fine by me! But scheduling complications and technical issues in the production room scuttled the whole thing.
My attempts at drumming have mostly been a source of tension and discord for those around me. The night before our wedding in 1984, my bride-to-be Brenda and I went out with a bunch of pals for drinks and merriment. There was fun! There was camaraderie! There was beer! There was music, which meant there was me, drummin’ on the table with manic glee. And there were the unaffiliated folks at the next table over, angrily insisting I cease that infernal pounding. Brenda thought it was hilarious.
After decades of complaints, I’ve grown tired of it all. Over the past few weeks, I’ve been making a conscious effort to curtail the drumming. It’s difficult, because the rhythmic impulse is ingrained within me, in spite of my lack of discernible prowess. But I’m trying. People hate to hear me pounding on counters, and I understand that. It’s a flaw in my character. I don’t think it’s quite as heinous as some character flaws I don’t exhibit, like smoking, or farting, or talking during a movie, or voting for Trump. But I have to grudgingly admit that it’s a character flaw nonetheless. I fall so far short of being who I wish I could be. I talk too fast. I don’t enunciate with sufficient clarity. I drum. But I’m trying to fit in better. I’m trying not to be an annoyance. I’m trying.
I’m not giving up air guitar, though. Let’s not get crazy. Some concessions are simply too much to ask.
“Abbey Road” is the latest Beatles’ record to get the deluxe remaster treatment, and it’s a dilly. The version I’m reviewing is the two-disc set. All tracks have been lovingly restored by the late George Martin’s son, Giles Martin. Disc one contains the original record remastered, while disc two is a track-for-track match-up of alternate versions.
I’ve given several of these Beatle reissues a listen, and this one is hands-down the best. It’s bare and in your face when it needs to be, and dramatically-lush at other times. Martin has created new depth with these tracks, and some, particularly “Here Comes The Sun” and “Because,” are brilliant beyond words. It’s a shame that John Lennon and George Harrison aren’t here to take it all in.