Friday, 16 October 2009

The Beatles: Rock Band

I hope to be writing quite soon about Sam Taylor-Wood's new film Nowhere Boy, concerning the adolescence of John Lennon, which I think is closing the London Film Festival this year, and is for that same reason quite properly under wraps for media coverage until then. Meantime - since I don't listen to 'new' music other than what I overhear on the wireless, and since like a million other people I was lured into a record shop on Wednesday September 9 in order to re-buy records I already own - I've been listening to a lot of Beatles music again lately... Indeed I suspect a million other people like me have been well primed to appreciate Sam Taylor-Wood's forthcoming directorial debut.
I only just realised, for it had quite passed me by, that Philip Norman published a long and newly researched biography of Lennon last year. The newness has to me a special novelty because, in common with a lot of other readers, I think Norman's Shout! was the definitive account of The Beatles' lives and times. That said, I was 10 years old when I read it, and my critical radar may have been a bit shaky. Still, great long passages of it live in my memory still, as much else Beatles-related from that time - which was, to be precise, in the months immediately following Lennon's murder, one of the first news events to truly shock and unsettle my young self.
I'm not sure if at that point I had already acquainted myself with those Beatles LPs that were already in my parents' collection. What I know for sure is that after reading Norman I managed to get for myself what seemed to be the pertinent ones missing from that collection - first Revolver and Sgt Pepper, later 'The White Album', Abbey Road, Let It Be. In other words my folks' Beatles collection stopped at the point where the stuff got a bit darker and stranger and zanier (though, if I remember right, they did have a splendid and rare-looking vinyl of the Magical Mystery Tour, so resuming the continuity around 1967...)
But well I remember my 10-year-old excitement at owning my own Revolver - its very outer sleeve as spidery and enticing and monochrome-cool as Philip Norman had described it in his book, right down to the absence of the band's name from the cover. And the music? Oh boy. Well, 'She Said She Said' remains today one of my favourite songs, and sums up the direction in which John seemed to lead the band circa 1965-66: the worldlier lyrics, the acidic bite of the guitar, the new signature of bass, and John's voice with a new edgier authority too.
At first I used to think pretty much everything that was 'right' about The Beatles was down to John. And then for some years I thought the Stones were far better anyway, because they were less 'English', and properly inspired by Robert Johnson hawking his soul down at the crossroads rather than by Strawberry Fields and Penny Lane. But my reacquaintance with The Beatles is giving me a new appreciation for Paul - for 'Paperback Writer', 'Lady Madonna', 'Blackbird', 'Hey Jude' - and yes, I know there's an existing consensus that these were already pretty good songs before I came round to them.
I guess I've also come round to the view that Lennon wasn't always the perfect singer of his own songs. Or at least that some of the cover versions I've heard - of 'Julia', 'Across the Universe', latterly 'Jealous Guy' - make huge leaps in bringing out their deep feeling. Whereas McCartney always had the feeling on tap. With Lennon, of course, there were other emotional issues at play. This is part of what makes Nowhere Boy... But, well, more of that anon, I hope...

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