Sunday, May 29, 2011

Crazy Cool

May, 1961

The wonderful sound coming out of the Beatles amplifiers are only part of their magic.  As mentioned before, another big contribution is made by that almost undefinable something we call "charisma".  And the Beatles are getting and projecting pure doses of it every night in Hamburg.

What is happening was reinforced for me by the news this week of Gil Scott Heron, a troubled musician and poet who died this week after decades of drug and alcohol abuse.  I saw him him the mid-60s at the Grande Ballroom in Detroit.  I feel like what I saw there is in a direct line of descent from what the Beatles and their Hamburg friends were starting in 1961.  I remember being completely mesmerized by his reading of his most famous poem "The Revolution Will Not Be Televised".  It was not about an esthetically attractive work of art, but as if we were being shaken awake from a pleasant hypnotic dream.  As with the Beatles, his work was about much more than just providing window dressing to be gazed at and admired.  It was meant to be a wake-up call and consciousness raiser.  Of course, John Lennon and company were light years away from the political message of Gil Scott Heron, but there was undeniably an element of "Shock of the New" in the Beatles music, a shock that demanded full attention from  its audience.  That shock distinguishes all great art, whether Joyce's "Ulysses", Picasso's "Guernica" or the Beatle's "I Saw Her Standing There".

The Beatles performances, while I doubt they knew what they were doing at the time, is not about white shirts, narrow ties and choreographed moves on stage.  But about eating, smoking, joking, just having fun with the audience by whatever means necessary.  Another influential band sharing the Hamburg spotlight with the Beatles was the Remo Four.  Like the Beatles, their onstage antics can, also be said to be in equal parts musical performance and theatrical event.  Imagine their cover of this song that really says it all so well, "But I Was Cool". 

Incidentally, that line of cultural descent leads further on to Alice Cooper, glam rock, poetry slams and a million other aspects of modern musical expression.  Pretty cool!

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