Tag: John Lennon

…But Listen To The Color Of Your Dreams…

Okay, full disclosure, I only titled this post as I did as an excuse to make a reference to the Beatles. This post has nothing to do with them or music or anything. It does have to do with the creative process.

Have you ever had a dream that was so vivid, so brimming with little nuggets of information that it is a self-contained story that demands to be told? I had one in about 2006 when I had a dream that I was in New York City outside the Dakota building waiting to get an autograph from John Lennon. No seriously this post isn’t about the Beatles. The dream turned into the first draft of a novel. I’m still not satisfied with it so it’s still a draft. I’ve had stuff to do. The point is that tiny little vignette turned into an entire novel.

I have another novel I started working on well over a year ago after a visit to New Orleans but set aside quite a while ago after hitting a brick wall creatively. Then, a few nights ago I had another one of those dreams that was so lucid that it demanded attention, and I knew as soon as I awoke that it was the next piece of the story I have to tell. Because the dream was a crystal-clear scene from a specific spot I’d been to in New Orleans, and a face in the dream was just as hauntingly clear. It was a New Orleans musician, a subject to which my story intimately relates. It was like the dream was grabbing me and shaking the next phase of my story out of me. I wasn’t about to ignore it.

Stories are like that. They come to you one chunk at a time. Each chunk, when it comes, gives you a giant leap forward. So listen to your dreams. Use them. Especially if a story you are trying to tell is really weighing on your mind but you can’t quite get it going. Your dreams are what is beneath the surface of your consciousness. Maybe these bits that come to you in a dream are so strikingly perfect sometimes because you’ve given them time to gel while you’re only sleeping.

Certainly I can’t wait around for that kind of inspiration to strike me while I am freelancing, but inspiration shows itself in various forms, thankfully. I listen for it.

What the Beatles Taught Me About the Value of a Second Draft

The Beatles, according to many, were the greatest songwriters of all time. I’m not here to argue that. The point is, great as they were, it did not always come easy to them.

The melody for “Yesterday” famously came to Paul McCartney in a dream. So he didn’t forget it, he shoved in the first words he thought of, which happened to be “Scrambled eggs/Oh, my baby, how I love your legs,” and so on.

I’m serious.

When McCartney and John Lennon first wrote “Drive My Car” it included the chorus “I can give you golden rings/I can give you anything/baby I love you.”

It’s trite, and it’s a massive cliche, and the Beatles knew it. But they liked the tune, so they went back to the drawing board. In the end, what they came away with was an anthem for women’s empowerment. The “girl” in the song was the VIP and the guy was her driver.

I think we can all agree that the final drafts of both songs were far superior.

Later, in “Paperback Writer” McCartney sang “I can make it longer if you like the style/I can change it ’round but I wanna be a paperback writer.” Clearly he understood that you aren’t always finished when you think you are, and it isn’t always brilliant when you think it is. Sometimes you just need to run a comb through it and tweak a few lines here and there. Sometimes you need to run your manuscript or lyric sheet or whatever through a shredder and start over. Either way a second draft can bring a freshness, a vitality to the piece.

And that’s just the writing process. When they got into the studio, they, like most recording artists, would do multiple takes of a song. The demo was the rough draft and each ensuing take was another “draft.”

In 1968, George Harrison brought a song to the sessions for the White album called “Not Guilty.” It is well documented that the Beatles recorded about 100 takes of the song. Literally. Many of them were partial or just false starts. But still they kept at it until they got it right. To top it off, after all that work they didn’t put it on the album!

It disappeared until 1979 when Harrison put it on his own album.

“Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da” began as a very different song than the one they eventually released. They tried countless variations, but it was missing something, particularly in the intro. Then one day Lennon walked into the studio, went straight to the piano and banged out what would become the song’s famous opening.

It took a lot of work, but in a moment of frustrations/inspiration, it morphed into one of their most beloved tunes.

In 1969, according to Lennon in typical hyperbolic form, the Beatles recorded “a hundred million” takes of “Maxwell’s Silver Hammer,” yet another McCartney number that was not held in high esteem by Lennon or Harrison. McCartney was convinced it was strong enough to be a Beatles single.

In fact, not only did Lennon and Harrison not appreciate it, it is often cited by fans as one of their least favorite Beatles tracks.

That’s three very different outcomes for songs given multiple takes (drafts). But in every case, the result was appreciated by someone.

I’ll be honest. When I am writing on this blog, I don’t very often write a second draft. Especially with long posts like this, I edit and improve it as I go along. But I’m not letting it sit for a day or two and coming back to it with fresh eyes. I absolutely do that when I am writing for a client. Because they expect my best, for one thing, but also because I know that you can always improve a piece you’ve written. There is always going to be a more colorful, more insightful way of saying something.

But when it’s finished, you just know. And at some point you’ve got to release the album.

Beatles Relics Come To Rochester – The Magical History Tour Exhibit

My wife and I rolled up to the Beatles Magical History Tour in Rochester tonight. I am not the type of bloke who can very often be told things about the Beatles that he didn’t already know. But this exhibit did just that.

The main thing I learned that I didn’t already know was that those thousands of fans who were waiting at the airport for the Beatles when they arrived in America in 1964 were paid to scream and wear Beatles shirts. I mean it’s not like a myth has been shattered or anything. I think a part of me knew that must have been the case.

And though I know that Beatles marketing went berserk in the spring of 1964, I was still really amused to see exactly how nuts it got. For instance, did you know there were Beatles nylons…for some reason? Among the thousands and thousands of trinkets, toys and snacks with the Beatles name and likeness on it, that has to be the weirdest one for me. None of this stuff was endorsed by the Beatles. Well, very little of it. At this point it was a commercialized free-for-all beyond anyone’s control.

Did you know that the band that became the Beatles existed longer before the “Ed Sullivan Show” appearance than it did after the show? It’s true. And I would have liked it if the exhibit included more from the very early days of the band variously known as the Quarrymen, Johnny and the Moondogs and other monikers until they settled on “Beatles.” But it was nice to see a section featuring some of early Beatles bassist Stuart Sutcliffe’s artwork. I think he would have been well-known in the art world even if he had not been a Beatle, if he’d lived beyond the age of 21.

Being a super Beatles fan that I am, in some ways the exhibit was underwhelming. There are too many things to name that I would have liked to see that weren’t included. But they only had so much space, and let’s face it, some of the things that I would have liked to see probably should stay wherever they are. Besides, I know that for anyone who is at least a little more casual about their fandom than I am, the exhibit will be fascinating.

It was fun to listen to some of the songs that inspired each of the Beatles growing up. That interactive experience, coupled with the 1950’s era radios installed in the exhibit allowed one to imagine they were a teen in Liverpool listening to Radio Luxembourg just like John, Paul, George and Ringo did.

Speaking of music, though…

I was feeling good vibes hearing songs like “I Saw Her Standing There” and “I Want To Hold Your Hand” near the beginning. But the farther you get into the exhibit, each segment has different Beatles songs playing, and the further you go, the more songs layer on top of one another until it feels like, to reference Beatles manager Brian Epstein’s bio, “a cellarful of noise.” Midway through the one song that stood out to me among all the simultaneously playing songs was “Tomorrow Never Knows” which is already a cacophony of sound by itself. So it, layered with songs from every Beatles era, it got to be a bit much. You wanted to celebrate their music. It’s indispensable for such an exhibit, obviously. But I couldn’t help thinking a better way may have been having the tour scheduled on the hour or something so that everyone going through was at the same section at the same time. That way once you’re past the “I Saw Her Standing There” section they could switch that off and turn on “Help!” or whatever it was. But you don’t want something like this to be so strictly regimented, so it is what it is.

Speaking of “Tomorrow Never Knows”, there is one whole open section draped with psychedelic colors wherein “Tomorrow Never Knows” plays, and it is there that you know beyond a doubt that you are about to walk into a new phase of Beatledom. It’s a trip.

The exhibit really had everything though. I laughed at the witty letters written by or about the Beatles, at the Beatles mop-top inspired comb and bobble heads, and at the pieces of John and Paul’s hair, and the piece of carpet that had been cut up from a hotel room because the Beatles had stayed there. I awed at the spot-on reconstruction – graffiti and all – of the Cavern Club stage, the venue where the band played hundreds of shows in 1961-62, and at the original drum kit of Colin Hanton, the Quarrymen’s drummer from 1957-58. I sat in silent reverie for a moment in front of the actual Double Fantasy album that John Lennon autographed for Mark David Chapman just hours before Chapman murdered Lennon.

Given that the exhibit was otherwise a joyous affair, it deflated the experience a bit seeing Lennon’s signature there, picturing him signing it, assuming he thought he was signing an album for another fan who loved him and his music.

That was the polar opposite experience from the series of guitars on display that had been used by the Beatles. There were signs telling what albums, songs or promo films the instruments were played on, and by which Beatle. You could take yourself back to that time and imagine what was going on in the studio while they worked on those projects. They even brought in Beatles producer George Martin’s clavichord which was used on the album “Revolver”, a set of chimes used on various Beatles songs which you could play with a stick, and even a sitar which I assume was George’s that you could “play”, sort of. So, you know…happy thoughts.

At the end of the exhibit there is a life-sized poster of the Abbey Road crossing where you can get your picture taken, and of course a ton of merchandise to peruse. Some unique Beatles t-shirts, hats and bags, and even some wicked expensive replica guitars. If you know me, you may not believe that I’ve never been big on Beatles memorabilia. For me, it’s just the music and the history of the band, and you get a load of each with the Magical History Tour. Check it out. Today and for the next few Mondays it is free, but even at the every day admission price of $15, it would be worth seeing. It is family-friendly, and wheelchair accessible.

When we got home I told my wife “You know if we ever went to Liverpool, I’d get out of my wheelchair and drag myself down all those stone steps to see the basement of the Cavern Club right?…But we’ll probably never go there.”

To which she replied “Not with that attitude.”

“Lenny”: A Film Review and Social Commentary

I do have a bedtime. Normally. Normally I’ll watch a late night talk show monologue and call it a night by 11 pm. Last night being Sunday, I was flipping through the channels looking for something else to cap off my weekend.

I happened upon “Lenny”, the Dustin Hoffman biopic of controversial 1950’s-60’s comic Lenny Bruce. For one reason or another his name had just come up the day before in conversation with my wife. I put the clicker down and was glued to the TV until the film ended at exactly midnight.

I am a proponent of free speech in all media. Granted, there are things that, just like anyone, I wish certain folks wouldn’t say. But they’ve got a right to say it. So free speech pioneers like Lenny Bruce are important to me.

You could say Bruce was a beat journalist of sorts. He was also a bit of a sociologist. To my knowledge Lenny Bruce did not tell “dirty jokes” for the sake of being “dirty.” If what he said bothered his audience he wanted them to think about why that was. Part of Bruce’s thing was that what makes dirty words dirty words was in the eye of the beholder.

In one scene in the movie, Hoffman as Bruce was on stage the night after being arrested for saying a certain word. He began this post-bail performance by greeting the many police officers in attendance, then conducted a focus group with audience members wherein he repeatedly used the word “blah” in place of what he was obviously talking about. And the police could not do a thing about it. At one point he remarked that this was “the filthiest show [he’d] ever done” demonstrating that it was not the word, but what was in the minds of the audience that was filthy.

And how do you censor that?

But it went deeper than that.

A second prominent theme in Bruce’s most controversial bits pointed out that we censor words, meanwhile our kids are watching people kill each other on TV and nobody says anything. This sentiment was echoed years later by John Lennon, another great pop-sociologist who noted “we live in a world where we have to hide to make love, while violence is practiced in broad daylight.”

Lenny Bruce went so far as to say that if it came down to a choice between a stag film and a dramatization of The Old Testament, he’d rather allow his kids to watch the stag film. The reason being that the first portrayed consenting adults, and the latter involved so much violence and bloodshed.

As I watched the film last night, the anniversary of Lennon’s death passed. I made a mental note that both of these men died at age forty, and that both were provocateurs in their own way to make people think about what was offensive. In 1967, a year after the comic died, Lennon chose Bruce as a member of the “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” collage, linking the two forever.