The Beatles and You: Finding Inspiration in Abbey Road’s “The End”

Ugh, my big plans for the blog this year have run into some real-life snags. More posts soon, I promise!

On the other hand, I’ve been enjoying this trip through the Beatles catalog and exploring the genius and creativity behind it. So here we go with another spin of our Jacke Wilson Randomizer… the wheel spins… the marble drops into place… and…

Oh no. Really?

The End (Lennon-McCartney, Abbey Road)

(The clip is of three final songs* of Abbey Road, Golden Slumbers, Carry That Weight, and The End. This is the recommended way to listen to The End (it builds, it builds, it builds!). The End starts at 3:07 if you want to skip ahead.)

*Yes, I’m aware of the mistake-snippet Her Majesty that got tacked onto the end of Abbey Road. And no, I’m not counting it. In this post, we shall end with the proper end. The End.

THE SELECTION

Never has it been more difficult to stick to the song chosen by the gods! If I was doing this in any sort of order that made sense, The End would come last. Because, of course, it was The End for the Beatles: the final song on the final album they recorded, the majestic triumph Abbey Road. The story goes that after the bitterness of Let It Be, they agreed to close out the Beatles with a real album, a spectacular one, one with George Martin at the helm and the four of them applying their powers in a final unified way. An album by a band, not just four individual musicians working sort-of-together a la the White Album.

So Abbey Road was the end. And The End was the end of the end.

How do you cap off such a preternatural run of brilliance? For a brief period these guys owned the world. Music and inspiration flowed through them like the spirit of God flowing through four angels.

Yes, I can get carried away. But come on! Here’s a list of the 100 greatest Beatles songs, presented by Rolling Stone. Number 100 is Hello, Goodbye. Number 100! A catchy, compelling song that beat out I Am the Walrus to be the A side!  (For more Walrusing, check out our last choice of the gods.) And perhaps most to the point, a song that was a number-one hit.

What other band has a song that went to number one as their 100th-greatest song? Really, you have a band in mind? Well, tell me: did they write all the songs themselves? In seven years ?

For that kind of whirlwind achievement I think you need to look across centuries. Who else is comparable? Keats? Shakespeare? Picasso? Mozart? Bach? Alexander the Great?

CLIMBING THE FINAL PEAK

So what do you do when you’ve done everything possible? For the Beatles, you top yourself, once again, with something new. That’s The End.

Oh, sure, you say. The End isn’t even the best song on the album! There’s Oh! Darling, for example, and Here Comes the Sun, and of course the Medley from Heaven, and the criminally underrated You Never Give Me Your Money (listen to this podcast episode for a brilliant and amusing defense of the song). Come Together was on this album! And Something!

Where does The End fit among all this genius? Continue reading

Advertisements

Embrace Your Inner Beatle! (“I Am The Walrus”)

Whoa. The dice tumble, the dial spins…and the gods have chosen!

Oh, ye gods. What a sense of humor you have.

A work of genius? Yes. It’s a big one this time. A landmark in weird, mindblowing creativity. In context, maybe the strangest song ever written, and yes, I’m including Revolution 9 in that calculus. I think this song is stranger.

Yes, that’s right, we’ve landed on…

“I Am The Walrus” (Magical Mystery Tour, Lennon-McCartney)

Man. This is the Beatles in full flower. In fact, it used to scare me a little, when I was ten and listening to these songs for the first time. Not just because of the drugs, although I sensed that something was going on, something that grownups had warned me against. But because it felt to me insane.

There’s a great piece in the Anthology where they talk about John going insane at Shea Stadium. (“A little bit mad,” was Ringo’s quote, I think.) Look at him in this video, especially at the end:

That look—wild, exhausted, exhilarated, sweating, grinning, tipped out of our normal world and entering into some strange manic place—I’m not sure John intended to travel to this place, but whenever he found himself there, he knew what to do. Continue reading

Embrace Your Inner Beatle! Nowhere Man by John Lennon

nowhereman

THE SELECTION

Aha! This week we use the perfect randomizer: four spins of a Life board game dial. Szzzzzzzzz-tika-tika-tika…. and the gods of creativity have chosen!

NOWHERE MAN (LENNON-MCCARTNEY, RUBBER SOUL)

Oh, wow. Once again, the gods seem to have looked out for themselves. Here’s another divinely inspired song, or at least divinely delivered. More on that later.

“Nowhere Man,” from the album Rubber Soul, was written in what John later called his “fat Elvis” period, when he was unhappy, bitter, isolated, troubled, uncertain. Oh, you never knew that? You never knew he was suffering? Here’s Paul:

I think at that point, he was a bit…wondering where he was going, and to be truthful so was I. I was starting to worry about him.

(Gee, Paul, you think? I mean, the guy only wrote a song called Help!) Continue reading

A History of Jacke in 100 Objects #7 – The Keyboard

 

Every kid in school was afraid of the music teacher.

The grownups didn’t understand this. Miss Steiner had been teaching forever – she had taught the grandparents of some of my classmates – and when she had been young she had apparently been kind and patient and not yet disillusioned. To us, though, she was impossibly old.

And worse than being old, she had gotten mean.

At least it seemed mean at the time. Now I think it was probably a vast internal cauldron of frustration, simmering for years, now boiling over. Decades of teaching music to elementary school children had taught her one thing: children are terrible at music no matter what you do. And the corollary statement: if you are someone who loves music, then observing this phenomenon up close, day after day, year after year, will destroy you.

By the time our generation came along, Miss Steiner was desperate to save Music from the butchering hands of grade school kids with no talent. She would accompany soloists at recitals, pounding the keys of her piano in an attempt to drown out some poor clarinetist murdering a rendition of “I Love You Truly.” She played with desperation, as loud as she could, sweating and clenching her teeth and gasping for breath at the end of each song. It was as if she had no choice – as if Music itself had demanded it of her.

Music class was taught on the school’s stage, a dark, cavernous area separated from the gymnasium by a heavy curtain. Someone said Miss Steiner lived back there, like a troll, which I doubted but could never quite disprove. Sightings of her outside the school were rare and unconfirmed. Someone said they saw her at a restaurant once, where she was eating pancakes, and someone else said they saw her walking on a sidewalk with a man during Cheese Days. Both of these were impossible to imagine.

Another rumor informed us that Miss Steiner’s gray, wiry, bouffant hairdo was actually a wig. A girl reported that she’d seen Miss Steiner with her hands on her scalp, adjusting her hair as you might a poorly fitting helmet. I don’t know why the idea of a wig terrified us so much, but it did, as if Miss Steiner were not a music teacher at all but secretly some kind of space alien or bald monster.

Now that I’m an adult, my guess is that she was not adjusting her false hair. I would bet she was trying to press out a migraine headache. She was anxious and angry and had pretty much lost control of both her classroom and herself. If you told me she drilled holes in her skull to release the pressure, I would not be all that surprised.

During small group sessions she was usually fine. She could even demonstrate patience, now and then. But when conducting the entire band, she had completely given up any hope of sanity or rational behavior. Wearing a blue pantsuit and nurse’s shoes, she stood on a raised wooden platform, whipping a baton that had long ago splintered from the abuse it had endured at her hands. The way she whipped that thing around, slicing the air and battering the music stand in front of her, was simply incredible. More than once I had seen her hit herself in the eye with her own baton, an obviously painful event, but she only blinked and muttered and resumed screaming.

Yes, screaming. It was the hallmark of her performance: in both recitals and concerts, she screamed through every single song.

Kevin, no! Kevin! Kevin Schlotzky!—NO NO NO NO NO!… Not yet, drums. DRUMS! DRUMS!! NOT YET!!!! You—you with the flute! Like this! Like this! Da-DA-da. Da-DA-da! [whipping baton against music stand] KEVIN SCHLOTZKY, WHAT ARE YOU DOING? YOU ARE PLAYING THE WRONG SONG! PUT YOUR INSTRUMENT DOWN, KEVIN, PUT IT DOWN AND DON’T PICK IT UP AGAIN!

I would say Miss Steiner was on the verge of a nervous breakdown, but that can’t be right. Surely the breakdown had happened long ago. By the time I reached fourth grade we had to be at least a full decade in.

You might think that all this had soured me on music, but here was the thing: somehow I had gotten it into my head that I wanted to learn to play the piano.

And as everyone knew, Miss Steiner was the only piano teacher in town.

Continue reading