Monday, November 24, 2008

Bigger Than Jesus

I know, I know . . . I vowed to stay away for a week. And I really am on my way out the door to go interview a source, but I just couldn't let this go past.

Over the weekend, the Vatican announced that it had "forgiven" John Lennon for his 1966 comments in which he remarked that the Beatles were more popular than Jesus. According to the article on the BBC website (which you can see here):
The semi-official Vatican newspaper marked the 40th anniversary of The Beatles' "White Album" with an article praising Lennon and the Fab Four from Liverpool.

The paper dismissed Lennon's much-criticised remark that the Beatles were more famous than Jesus Christ as a youthful joke.

The paper described the remark as "showing off, bragging by a young English working-class musician who had grown up in the age of Elvis Presley and rock and roll and had enjoyed unexpected success".
Um. No.

Give Lennon a bit more credit than that. While Lennon was certainly indulging in a bit of "showing off," he and his views were a lot more complicated than the Vatican is giving him credit for. For the record, here are Lennon's remarks, in their entirety, and in context with Maureen Cleave's interview and article in the March 4, 1966 London Evening Standard:
Experience has sown few seeds of doubt in him: not that his mind is closed, but it's closed round whatever he believes at the time. 'Christianity will go,' he said. 'It will vanish and shrink. I needn't argue about that; I'm right and I will be proved right. We're more popular than Jesus now; I don't know which will go first-rock 'n' roll or Christianity. Jesus was all right but his disciples were thick and ordinary. It's them twisting it that ruins it for me.' He is reading extensively about religion.
Once can certainly parse Lennon as much as one wants -- and back in 1966, Lennon's remarks were widely interpreted as enormously sacrilegious, with Lennon daring to displace Jesus with the Beatles at God's right hand.

But what Lennon was actually trying to do was make a point about Christianity -- which, in 1960s England, Lennon viewed as being subverted by the Church of England to the point where its message had been lost. Consequently, English teenagers were choosing the Beatles -- or television, or pop culture, or just about anything else -- over religion. That, to Lennon, was why Christianity would fade -- not because of the Beatles, but because the Church had failed to advance its message. And that -- again, to Lennon -- was the real problem.

Here's Lennon trying to explain just that view in a 1966 interview in Los Angeles -- and not really making things much better:

Finally, after countless protests in which Beatle records were burned in bonfires ("Hey, they had to buy them to burn them!" Ringo later joked) and the KKK began making gauzy threats, manager Brian Epstein had had enough. After a formal statement of apology failed to cool tempers, the Fabs were finally persuaded to sit before the cameras in Chicago for a hastily-called press conference at which Lennon offered a half-hearted, though Officially Formal Apology:

Once again, however, the press don't seem to get it, and Lennon -- normally quick-witted and articulate to a fault -- still couldn't make his point clear. And obviously, even 40 years later, there was still some confusion from the Vatican as to what Lennon was really saying.

Still, even if it missed the point, I give the Vatican credit for taking notice of the Beatles for their "unique and strange alchemy of sounds and words." Which rather sounds like the way one would describe a blind date.

All right, I'm outta here. Really.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Hello, I Must Be Going...

Next week, I'll be taking a brief hiatus from blogging while I do a bit of poking at my Work In Progress (which I still can't talk about, but if and when I can, I'll explain everything). On Monday, I'll be interviewing a source for several hours, then heading over to the Library of Congress on Tuesday and Wednesday. On Thursday, it's a little thing called Thanksgiving; on Friday, I'll nail my butt to the chair and do some keyboard pounding.

Meanwhile, to tide you over, here's a bit of Groucho Marx, bidding you farewell in Animal Crackers:

See you soon! Be good.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

"Someone Is Gunning For Masks...."

This just keeps getting better and better.

While I and my fellow nerds are squeeeing all over the Internets about the prospects of a way-cool Watchmen flick, there's one person who is decidedly unenthusiastic about the film: Watchmen writer Alan Moore.

Over at the Los Angeles Times, there's a fascinating article and interview with the always-interesting Moore, who says he will be "spitting venom" all over the movie. He's entitled. Moore's a purist about his work and the comics medium in general:

Moore said that with "Watchmen," he told the epic tale of a large number of characters over decades of history with "a range of techniques" that cannot be translated to the movie screen, among them the "book within a book" technique, which took readers through a second, interior story as well as documents and the writings of characters . . . he believes "Watchmen" is "inherently unfilmable."
I agree with Moore only to the extent that it's impossible to pack into even a three hour movie all the complex layers, subplots, and backstories that embody Watchmen. (There's already a rumor that the comic-within-a-comic, Tales of the Black Frieghter, was filmed but cut from the movie due to length -- and will be put on the DVD release as a bonus feature.) In fact, I've always argued that it would make an ideal 12-part made-for-cable film, rather than a full-length feature.

That being said, I'm still excited about the film. And Alan Moore is more than allowed to be crabby. He's earned it.

The interview with Alan Moore is here -- and I warn you in advance not to read the comments, as they make me want to punch some people in the face. (For the record, Moore earns nothing off the film adapatations of his work -- he signed the film rights to Watchmen, for example, over to artist Dave Gibbons.)

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Carnival of Light

Over the weekend, Paul McCartney announced his intention to release a 40-year-old "lost" Beatles track, a 14-minute avant garde piece assembled by McCartney -- with an assist from John Lennon -- called "Carnival of Light." As reported by the London Guardian, the track was never released -- not even for the deep-drilling Anthology collection -- "because three of the Fab Four thought it too adventurous."

As a Beatles completist, you can be sure I'll buy anything Sir Paul wants to release. But will the track be worth listening to? Here's what I know about it:

In 1967, Paul McCartney was asked by his friend, the artist and journalist Barry Miles, to assemble a soundtrack for an electronic musical festival to be held that winter at the Roundhouse Theatre in London. McCartney -- whose taste for the avant garde had been spawned and whetted largely through his relationship with the actress Jane Asher and a number of her artistic acquaintances -- eagerly agreed to submit a piece. On January 5, 1967 -- as the Beatles were putting the finishing touches on "Penny Lane" -- McCartney persuaded his bandmates to dedicate a few moments to laying down an avant garde soundtrack.

"We were set up in the studio and would just go in every day and record," McCartney told the BBC. "I said to the guys, this is a bit indulgent but would you mind giving me 10 minutes? I've been asked to do this thing. All I want you to do is just wander round all of the stuff and bang it, shout, play it. It doesn't need to make any sense. Hit a drum, wander to the piano, hit a few notes ... and then we put a bit of echo on it."

The banging away in Abbey Road's Studio 2 lasted for 13 minutes and 48 seconds -- at that time, the longest uninterrupted track the Beatles had ever recorded. Here's what Beatles historian Mark Lewisohn says about the recording session:

" was a combination of a basic track and numerous overdubs. Track one of the tape was full of distorted, hypnotic drum and organ sounds; track two had a distorted lead guitar; track three had the sounds of a church organ, various effects (the gargling of water was one) and voices; track four featured various indescribable sound effects with heaps of tape echo and manic tambourine.

"But of all the frigthening sounds it was the voices on track three which really set the scene, John and Paul screaming dementedly and bawling aloud random phrases like 'Are you all right?' and 'Barcelona!'

"Paul terminated the proceedings after almost 14 minutes with one final shout up the control room: 'Can we hear it back now?'"
According to Geoff Emerick, the Beatles' go-to recording engineer, neither he nor producer George Martin was all that impressed with what they heard. "When they had finished," recalled Emerick, "George Martin said to me, 'This is ridiculous, we've got to get our teeth into something a little more constructive.'"

When asked about the track twenty years later, Martin claimed not to remember the recording session ("..and it sounds like I don't want to, either!" he joked). But when asked about the track again recently, his response was more diplomatic. "It was a kind of uncomposed, free-for-all melange of sound that went on," said Martin. "It was not considered worthy of issuing as a normal piece of Beatles music at the time and was put away."

McCartney apparently lobbied for its inclusion on Anthology, but was vetoed by the other Beatles. Their attitude, McCartney said, was "'this is rubbish.'"

McCartney's announcement has caused a bit of a dither in the Beatles fanbase -- some are excited by the idea of a new track, while others accuse Sir Paul of going to the Beatles vault once too often, milking the Beatle legacy for another quick buck. I'll willingly admit to falling more into the former camp -- I'm always interested in hearing what was left on the cutting room floor or given up for dead, as this track apparently was -- and I'll eagerly pick up anything they want to release. If it's unlistenable, I'll simply treat it as I do pieces like "Revolution 9" and "Flying": when they pop up on the iPod, I'll just push the Forward button.

I'm a Beatles Completist, McCartney Enabler, and, apparently, part of the problem. But I'll gladly take "Carnival of Light."

The Guardian article can be found here. And, closer to home, you can see The Washington Post's take on the story right here.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Skillful and Habitual Oddities

I always put DVDs and CDs back in their cases with the title straight up and down, for ease of reading.

I can only talk on the phone with the phone pressed against my right ear.

I take notes in fountain pen.

I'm not a great driver, but I can squeeze a car into almost any parking space with room to spare.

When I listen to music, I often try to sing only the harmony or backing vocals. I call this "Singing the John Oates Part."

I organize my bookshelves by topic -- and then I arrange books by height on each shelf, from tallest to shortest.

I consider myself an artist, even though I can't really do anything but draw cartoons.

I generally force myself to listen to five songs on any radio station before I change the channel.

I can build a roaring fire in a fireplace in no time whatsoever.

My handwriting is terrible, yet I can print beautifully.

I can get lost backing out of my driveway.

I love my coffee strong -- but then I fill it full of cream and sugar. Which sort of defeats the purpose, I suppose.

What are your odd skills or habits?

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Aw, Shucks . . .

A Google crawl only just recently brought this to my attention, but I was pleased -- and pleasantly surprised -- to see the Writers and Editors website mention my homepage -- linked over there to your right -- as an example of a well-designed author website for marketing, publicity, and promotion.

Considering I'm in company with Tom Wolfe, Judy Blume, and Miranda July's way clever page, it's high praise indeed. And the credit goes solely to Me Bruddah Cris, my web designer and webmaster, who did a terrific job taking my lame pencil drawings and even worse over-the-phone descriptions and turning them into news you can use.

Thanks to Pat over at Writers and Editors for the compliment. Her main page is here, and you can see her discussion of internet marketing here.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Veterans Day

"It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us -- that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion -- that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain -- that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom -- and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth."
-- Abraham Lincoln
Gettysburg, Pennsylvania
November 19, 1863

Monday, November 10, 2008

Agent K!

Congratulations to Agent J and his wife, Cameron, on the birth of their son, Roan Michael Lyons, on Tuesday, November 4! Quite an election day for them, I'm sure.

Friday, November 7, 2008

A Great Fall

It might be early November, but you'd never know it from the weather in Maryland. Even as the Midwest is pummelled by a freak blizzard, the Atlantic seaboard (or at least our corner of it) is enjoying temperatures hovering near the 70s. So we get to enjoy the autumn colors in spring-like temperatures.

That's causing some amusing confusion in our yard. The view from our kitchen window -- framed by a walk-under trellis with a wisteria vine -- looks like a typical autumn postcard:

Meanwhile, a lone zinnia -- a decidely summer-loving flower -- has decided to raise its head at the very edge of a cleared flower bed, to give November a blast of summer color. He's understandably confused, be we're enjoying him while we can.

How's your autumn looking?

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Still More Profanity! *%!& Yes!

Friend O'The Blog Brian D. -- who's not only a pal, but one of those rare lawyers with a sense of humor -- shot me a message regarding yesterday's post about the Supreme Court's "fleeting" profanity discussion that helps put some of the remarks in better context. Over to you, BD....

Reading today's blog, curiosity got the best of me and I set out to find the transcript. As great as the Post article was, the reporter actually bungled it. In that exchange, Garre was actually conceding (for the moment) that if something is "funny" it may not be "shocking, titillating, or pandering" and therefore the FCC would consider that in not fining someone -- which was the proper set up for Scalia's joke.

Here's the exchange:

JUSTICE STEVENS: Maybe I shouldn't ask this, but is there ever appropriate for the Commission to take into consideration at all the question whether the particular remark was really hilarious, very, very funny? Some of these things --


JUSTICE STEVENS: -- you can't help but laugh at. Is that -- is that a proper consideration, do you think?

GENERAL GARRE: Yes, insofar as the Commission takes into account whether it's shocking, titillating, pandering –-

JUSTICE SCALIA: Oh, it's funny. I mean, bawdy jokes are okay if they are really good.

I'm with you -- can't wait to read the decision on this one.
Back to me again. I'm glad to see the Justices have a sense of humor about it, even as they continue their delicacy with language (it's like the Monty Python sketch, where a group of politicians trying to come up with a new sin tax keep talking about taxing "thingy"). But I think it also brings up a good point that I hope they'll keep in mind during their decision: context counts. I'm glad Stevens is questioning whether that deserves "proper consideration."

We'll see what happens. Keep watching.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Supremely F*%#ing Funny

I loved this story in today's Washington Post, about the Supreme Court's discussion of whether the government can fine television networks for a one-time, "fleeting" expletive on television. The case came about in response to Cher inadvertently(?) dropping the Queen Mother of Swears on a live awards show in 2002.

I got a kick out of government's attorney arguing that overturning this policy could lead to "a world where the networks are free to use expletives . . . 24 hours a day," including "Big Bird dropping the F-bomb on Sesame Street" -- a hilarious bit of hyperbole -- but more than anything, there's something really funny about the Supreme Court justices trying gamely not to use the dirty words in question in the courtroom, falling back instead on more delicate terms like "F-bomb", "freaking" and "the eff word."

And then there was this:

...88-year-old Justice John Paul Stevens asked whether the FCC would sanction a broadcaster if the indecent remark "was really hilarious, very, very funny." Solicitor General Gregory G. Garre said the commission would, along with "whether it's shocking, titillating, pandering."

"Bawdy jokes are okay, if they're really good," Justice Antonin Scalia cracked, to more laughter.
I don't know how this is going to turn out, but this is one Supreme Court opinion I'm going to read. But only to see if they left in all the dirty words.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008


My wife and I headed over to Damascus Elementary School at eight this morning to cast our votes in the election. There are thousands of reasons we love living in a small town, and here's yet one more: here's the line we stood this morning as we waited to vote:

(Sorry it's blurry; I took it with my phone camera as I was approaching the entry.)

Yup, we waited exactly ten seconds before we signed in to cast our ballots. However, it's different in other places across our county. One of my colleagues reported standing in line for more than 90 minutes; others have been in line since the polls opened at seven this morning and, as of ten a.m., still haven't reached the voting booth.

But you know what? None of them are complaining. "I waited in line for Green Day tickets for six hours," one person told me. "I can certainly wait four to vote."

I agree. Heck, I've waited two hours to ride Space Mountain at Walt Disney World. With that in mind, waiting in line to vote isn't an inconvenience; it's practically downright patriotic.

I don't care who you vote for today, just so long as you vote. Too many have worked too hard and given too much to make sure you can.

Do it.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Topping It Off at the Pasatiempo

My pal Brian D. informed me that there's an interview with me in Pasatiempo, the arts magazine of the Santa Fe New Mexican. It's actually the transcript of a conversation I had over the phone with reporter Craig Smith about ten months ago, as I was stuck in traffic. It's also one of the first interviews I ever did -- at least sitting on the business end of the microphone -- and I think the jitters show, since I tend to ramble a bit from each question.

There's one funny moment, though, right at the end of the discussion, where a misheard, mis-transcribed word, makes things sound rather dirty:
The other thing I would really hope comes through in the book is how hard this guy really had to work. If you see his letters, he didn’t spell very well; it’s why I wanted to print his letters as they are. He had to work hard to make his writing work. He took it very seriously.

While people thought he was writing this elegant prose and topping it off, he was humping.
Actually, what I said was "tossing it off," not "topping." But paired with the term "humping," it probably sounds more interesting that way.

Here's the link to Pasatiempo, but it's a bit of a mess navigating the pages. If you're so inclined, I'm on pages 32-34. At some point, I'll put a (corrected) transcript up on my main website.