Sunday, 13 December 2009
Monday, 7 December 2009
When I was in my early to mid teens it wasn’t hard for my parents to choose my birthday and Christmas presents. The Beatles in those years brought out two albums a year in synchronicity, more or less, with these two occasions. All of the Beatles albums I owned, up to and including Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, were in mono. I didn’t realise it at the time (I owned a small portable record player and mono was what it did) but the Beatles themselves only paid attention to the mono pressings, leaving the stereo mixes to the EMI boffins in their white lab coats. I sold my albums in the late 1980s, replacing them with CDs which were, of course, stereo mixes. Not that I listened to these all that much. Partly this was because when the music originally appeared I had listened to it with the attention only someone of that age can bring to things. I knew every note of every song and if I had the vocal cords of a Petra Haden I could probably have duplicated a lot of the musical parts. Partly also, as I now realise, the sound on these CDs simply lacked the immediacy of the old mono (and later stereo) albums. So I investigated the new Apple pressings of the works and, to my surprise, I found myself listening with the excitement I had originally felt for much of this work. The sound now jumps out of the speakers (or the cans) as it once did and the stereo mixing has been done with care. I can hear small parts in some of the songs that I swear I had never heard before. The only problem is that the mono/stereo choice has already been made for all but the most fanatical (and salaried) discophiles. The mono mixes will only be available as a complete set, the lame excuse for this being that too many different versions of the disks would cause confusion and clutter in the stores. This just doesn’t wash with me. The band and the record company have made a lot of money out of us punters over the years. The simple answer to the problem is one that has been used before for other sixties bands: put both mono and stereo mixes on the one disk (and sacrifice the DVD moments).
I’m interested too in the shift of critical consensus over the relative worth of these albums. In the wake of progressive rock, Sgt Pepper was long thought of as the Beatles’ ‘masterpiece’ but from the late seventies on (roughly speaking) Revolver became the more highly regarded album. In the 2000s I sense that the honour has passed to the ‘White Album’, though there’s always a few who’ll differ with this (like Billy Childish, a true maverick, who figures it was downhill all the way after the unofficial recordings from the Star Club). What had once seemed a weakness (the overly eclectic nature of the material) now, in the MP3 era, seems a virtue. Two of the best critical pieces on these disks are from Ian MacDonald (author of the wonderful Revolution in the Head) and Charles Shaar Murray. MacDonald’s book goes into detail about all of the Beatles official recordings and while there’s much to differ with I tend to find his comments mostly on the money. He notes that the ‘White Album’ was originally to have been entitled 'A Doll’s House' but that the Leicester band, Family, brought out their first album with a close enough title for the Fabs to have to change tack. MacDonald ruminates on what a possible cover illustration together with the slightly seedy, crepuscular feel of the work within might have done for the album. While he doesn’t consider it their best work by a long shot he details the long studio session when the track order was worked out and calls the album ‘a masterpiece of sequencing’. Murray noticed astutely that while the people he spoke to were almost all in agreement that the album would have been better as one record rather than two it was hard for them to reach any agreement about which tracks were to be retained.
A personal footnote: When I was at Monash University in the late 1960s the Labor Club, while preferring the official music of various Marxist regimes alongside the work of tedious ‘folk’ artists, begrudgingly countenanced some current rock and pop, presumably to lure in those youngsters like myself who knew no better. In 1968 however, a ban was placed on all Beatles records not long after ‘Revolution’ hit the airwaves.
Wednesday, 2 December 2009
Friday, 27 November 2009
Friday, 6 November 2009
Tuesday, 13 October 2009
Though I was never keen on sport I had been otherwise as physically active as any sixteen year old, but the upshot of this event meant that I spent several months of my life in a state of relative physical inactivity. Though I had been a successful student generally I nonetheless had to repeat my fifth year of high school because I had missed the end of year exams. Over the academic year of 1966 I had it easy, with mostly unchallenging schoolwork and no sport. I began then to write poems. Elsewhere I have noted how periods of enforced leisure have often turned young people’s minds to writing. William Carlos Williams spoke of a ‘heart strain’ diverting his attentions from track stardom to poetry, and many others have had similar experiences. To be deprived of activity in one area while you are in your youth tends to divert your energies elsewhere. And this is what happened in my case.
Another side effect of my collapse was that my long-term memory, or at least that of events before the incident, was adversely affected. I realised later that much of what I thought I could remember was either the product of information given to me by a third party or a false memory worked up from photographs. Over the years I have retrieved memories that I know there is no external evidence for. But I have no memory of the day of the aneurysm apart from what I’d been told since. I’ve given an account elsewhere based on the information I had at the time but it turns out that this information was wrong on a couple of points and lacking in detail. Thanks to the web (and as of the last week) I have a clearer picture of what happened. John Scannell, whom I’d only seen once briefly since leaving school at the end of 1967, found, through happenstance, this site, and as a result sent me a couple of wonderful emails that finally tell a story that rings true. Here, in edited form, are the details in his words:
The main reason for me getting in touch was to fill you in a bit on something you have on another site regarding your aneurysm. The sequence as I recall it starts with you crouching at your locker (bottom row, second from the left) after school, getting your books out to take home. I was standing beside you when you put your hand to your temple and said "I've got a headache". At which point you collapsed to the left onto the classroom floor. This naturally attracted some attention, particularly from Mrs Mee who wanted to take you to the sick room. I stopped her and told her to call an ambulance. Other teachers arrived and insisted on moving you. I put the lid of a desk under your head and shoulders to prevent movement and it was at this time that the ambulance arrived. After it left with you aboard, I telephoned your mother and told her what had happened. The rest you probably know.
I recall that I would call in at your place each morning on the way to school for an update. I know that I visited you in hospital at least once. After reading your e-mail yesterday, I was surprised at how many memories came back to me. I was reminded of a passage from "The Shadow of the Wind", by Carlos Ruiz Zafon, where he said "As it unfolded, the structure of the story began to remind me of one of those Russian dolls that contain innumerable diminishing replicas of itself inside. Step by step the narrative split into a thousand stories, as if it had entered a gallery of mirrors. Its identity fragmented into endless reflections." It goes on a bit later; "Those first images, the echo of words we think we have left behind, accompany us throughout our lives and sculpt a palace in our memory to which, sooner or later- no matter how many books we read, how many worlds we discover, or how much we learn or forget- we will return."