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John Lennon and Paul McCartney in Transit

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THERE I STOOD, next to Paul McCartney and John Lennon — calm, but without a thing to say. I wasn’t intimidated, but more amazed I had managed to get through an endless skein of Beatlemanic intrigue. But with the aid of my press card there I was, for 15 minutes altogether, with them as they were hustled from one custom’s checkpoint to another last Saturday afternoon. Only while driving back to the city later did I remember that I had forgotten to ask them about all the rumors. Was it true that they were here to denounce the Maharishi? Was it true that they were breaking up and that’s why only two of them had come? Was it true that they were merely in New York to help promote their Apple enterprise into another million dollar Beatle spinoff?

(Tuesday at their press conference it turned out that the only rumor that wasn’t true — as usual — was that they were breaking up. Gently putting down the Maharishi, Lennon said they still meditate now and then but, speaking for all four Beatles, he said they feel they made a mistake about him. “After all we’re only human.”)

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Back at the airport, I did ask Paul if the screaming teenyboppers still turned him on and he said of course. He did a lot of sophisticated waving, and signed autographs for some of the airport personnel. John, more aloof and at times sort of surly, looked pretty tired even in white suit, white shirt, white tie, white shoes, and a plain white button on his lapel. He scrawled autographs without looking at the paper or the beseecher.

There had been reports all week, but the Beatles press people had kept the actual day and time of their arrival a good secret and so only two or three press people were there to greet them. But several thousand frantic crying teenyboppers in last year’s bellbottoms, informed by WMCA Good Guys, were racing all over the International Arrivals building trying to find out where the plane would unload. Watching them float was fantastic. If a girl screamed in one part of the terminal, maybe just out of frustration, a hundred others rushed shrieking in that direction.

After John and Paul left by way of a distant airport exit road in their black Caddy limousine (driven by a chauffeur wearing yellow shades), I headed out through the terminal to my car but a burly airport security supervisor stopped me.

“I can’t convince these kids that the Beatles have left. They just won’t believe someone like me,” he pleaded, while over his shoulder I could see at least a thousand of the tearful faithful trying to get in the doors I had to get out.

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“Someone who looks like you they would believe. You tell them that they left and they’ll all go home.” I said all right.

“Hey kids, this fellow is a reporter and he just had an exclusive interview with the Beatles and …” Two squealing girls grabbed my sleeve and the whole crowd suddenly found me fascinating and they screamed and screeched. I finally got everyone quiet enough to be heard if I yelled. They immediately began planning hurriedly at which hotel they would set up vigils until they could get a glimpse of their idols.

The Beatles are still up there. ❖

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From The Archives MUSIC ARCHIVES

In Bed with John Lennon and Yoko Ono

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I WAS IN TORONTO last week to do an interview for WABC-FM with John and Yoko Ono Lennon; one of the reasons the Lennons were there, as you probably already know, was to announce their “peace festival.” It seems everyone and his greedy brother is slapping together a rock festival, but this one sounds like it might headline the summer’s fare, and include one unique and cozy feature. The entire stage will be in the form of a massive bed, and so this July 3, 4, and 5 the joyful noise of “rock, peace, poetry, and whatever” will be coming from between the sheets. Then the Lennons will be coming from between the sheets. Then the Lennons would like to tuck the whole package in and take it on a world tour, especially to Russia and Czechoslovakia.

When I asked him about the Beatles as an entity, John said casually that they might never play again, then added that they feel that way every time they finish an album. On the other hand, he mentioned that it is getting increasingly hard to fit all their songs on one lp, notably since George has begun to write so prolifically. He did seem sure they would never tour again as a group. As for music, John felt they hadn’t made any dynamic changes since “Sergeant Pepper,” and their music should go further out again. He also denied that the Beatles are leaving the Allan Klein management, and in fact said he liked Klein, not only as a businessman but also as a person.

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When asked why he comes to Canada so often, other than problems with his U.S. visa, John answered, “Because it talks to China.” Another reason why he was there this time was to sign the 5000 copies of his erotic lithographs. In between writer’s cramp and macrobiotic meals (served by two chefs flown in from the Caldron on the Lower East Side), the Lennons planned the next phases of their peace campaign. They just completed their billboard event in Times Square and 10 other major cities, and will present another surprise in Japan by remote control in the next few weeks.

Both John and Yoko seem unaffected that war is even more powerful a piggy now, despite all their dove flutter and commotion. “We believe in selling peace … nobody says to give up Christianity because Christ died.”

Their latest angle will be a “peace poll.” Letters, postcards, or any other voucher from the peace-bent will be sent to a prescribed — as yet to be announced — address. They think that maybe a mountain of this mail can be delivered to one of those masters of war who is impressed by statistics. ❖

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CULTURE ARCHIVES From The Archives MUSIC ARCHIVES NEW YORK CITY ARCHIVES NYC ARCHIVES

John Lennon, 1940-1980

In 1971, I wrote something about John and Yoko that they liked a lot, and to show their appreciation they invited me and my girlfriend Dominique to John’s 31st birthday party — in Syracuse, where a Yoko Ono retrospective had been mounted. I’ve never been one to hobnob with the stars, but who could resist John Lennon? He’d always been my own personal Beatle, and probably yours. He was the one who could have been a friend of ours, the one we might have known in school or on the scene — the bohemian, the artist, the intellectual. Still, even after the party jet and the room down the hall from ex-Beatle security, I was reluctant to intrude. But this was the only famous person Dominique had ever wanted to meet in her life, and she wasn’t about to let the chance slip by. Eventually we got to the Lennon suite, where J&Y watched themselves on the news and signed 26 autographs for Dominique’s fifth-grade class. Among those present was Ringo Starr, grumpy because he’d called room service an hour before and there was still no food.

“Did you tell them who you were?” Lennon asked.

It should go without saying that Ringo hadn’t.

“Well, why not?” Lennon asked. “You’ve got the fucking fame — you might as well get something out of it.”

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A few weeks later the J&Y entourage picked me up on Avenue B, where the limo attracted more attention than the star–one of the local youngsters thought I was the Beatle, while another didn’t know what a Beatle was. After sitting around awkwardly in my dingy living room for a few minutes we repaired to the Cookery for discussions of Chuck Berry’s jail years and celebrity as a depletable resource — John wondered whether he should lay low for a while. He seemed astonishingly quick and intense — partly, no doubt, because he was. But it’s also true that unprotected by professional obligation I found myself starstruck, and I remember the meeting, our last, with some embarrassment — even as we analyzed how finite his fame was the man radiated an energy that befuddled me, just by being John.

More than most pop stars, Lennon tried to do good with his fame, but that doesn’t mean he had much success. By the time I’d met him there’d been bed-ins and the beginnings of war-is-over-if-you-want-it, so mystically well-meaning that they cost him almost nothing and accomplished little more. But less than a year later he squandered his resources on the ill-fated agitprop of Some Time in New York City — the most politically ambitious and artistically impoverished music he ever recorded. After that came the traumatic separation from Yoko and the half-hearted professional rock, a vocation for which this compulsively honest and necessarily direct artist showed little taste. In the end he chose — bravely and wisely — to lay low, to keep silent until he had something to say. Reunited with Yoko, finally a father again, he retreated into domestic pursuits, and when the couple returned to the studio after five years it was their pursuit of mutual retreat that they celebrated. One astute observer said Lennon seemed “infantilized,” which is true, but while the record was no Imagine or Plastic Ono Band, I found its candor irrefutable. Lennon had always seemed like someone who might make good new rock and roll when he was 60 — and I was 58. Nothing about Double Fantasy damaged that fantasy for me.

Well, the dream is over. Lennon’s death was unprecedented. This tragic superstar wasn’t another chronic suicide; he wasn’t killed, or even murdered. He was assassinated, a fate heretofore reserved for kings, politicians, and captains of industry. Yet as I sit here alternating between my records and WNEW’s all-night vigil, I must admit that my feeling of loss is qualified by a false sense of inevitability. We’ve been expecting this to happen, haven’t we, ever since Phil Ochs wrote “Crucifixion” and various assholes (the acid freak who introduced me to the Doors was one) began imagining Bob Dylan’s martyrdom?

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As I began writing it bothered me that I wouldn’t know much about the alleged killer, Mark David Chapman, until after deadline. Then I decided that whether the putative motive was ambulatory anomie or personal ressentiment or even twisted politics, the underlying pathology would be the same — the anonymous eating the famous like a cannibal feasting on testicles. But that’s too simple. As my wife said despondently an hour after the event: “Why is it always Bobby Kennedy or John Lennon? Why isn’t it Richard Nixon or Paul McCartney?” The fact is obvious enough. Dylan, of course. Jim Morrison, possibly. Neil Young, conceivably. But Paul McCartney? Neil Diamond? Graham Nash? George Harrison? Ringo Starr? Never — because they don’t hold out hope, even if they’d sort of like to be able to. John Lennon held out hope. He imagined, and however quietistic he became he never lost that utopian identification. But when you hold out hope, people get real disappointed if you can’t deliver. You’re famous and they’re not — that’s the crux of your relationship. You command the power they crave — the power to make one’s identity felt in the world, to be known. No matter that the only thing you’re sure it’s good for is room service. No matter that you’re even further from resolving anyone’s perplexities than the next bohemian, artist, or intellectual. You’re denying your most desperate admirers the release they need, and a certain percentage of them will resent or hate you for it. From there, it only takes one to kill.

Of course, many more of your fans will be like Dominique — enthralled, yet basically self-possessed. And they’ll mourn. ❖

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CULTURE ARCHIVES From The Archives MUSIC ARCHIVES

Now That We Can’t Be Beatles Fans Anymore

In early 1970, Tom Paxton released a single called “Crazy John.” Paxton is one of those ex­-purist folksingers whose major talent is persistence: when Dylan went electric, he commented, “Where it’s at is a synonym for rich,” but a few years later he was riding the heretic’s tail at Isle of Wight. “Crazy John” was evi­dence of Paxton’s new vocation, offering that wonderful nut, the John Lennon of bed-ins and peace billboards, some sage folk ad­vice: “They never can hear you, John/So how can you reach them?/They never come near you, John/So how can you reach them?” It’s appropriate for a folksinger to offer such a sterling example of that contemporary usage, the paranoid they, because the very idea of the folk connotes an integral audience, us, separat­ed by time and/or values from the shapeless mass, them. Paxton thinks John is crazy because he does not recognize this dichot­omy, and in an ass-backwards way he is right, for if John were capable of such easy formulas he might be almost as boring as Paxton himself. But John is a media artist, and like any media artist he continually confronts a maddening question: Where is my audience? More than any other pop star (except perhaps Dylan) he enjoys a creative rela­tionship with his own celebrity, plying it not merely out of ambi­tion or self-protection but because the process piques him aestheti­cally. John Lennon in public is like a filmmaker at the Movieola or Yoko Ono at a happening in 1963.

New York artists used to look at the six o’clock news or, perhaps, some wonderful new rock and roll group from England, and think, “Huh, what a weird thing to reach so many people at once.” They perceived masscult outreach as a basically formal quality, irre­spective of content, and experi­mented with it by devising art events which if they were very clever might make Howard Smith’s column, once Howard Smith had devised a column to deal with such phenomena. In this context, the Lennon/Ono mar­riage was the most successful multi-media move of the decade. Yet the taint of the avant-garde has stayed with Yoko, for after all, the cover of Rolling Stone or Crawdaddy just ain’t the cover of Life, and if Ono/Lennon appear on Cavett you can expect Mc­Cartney/McCartney to show up on Carson any time now. Ex­-groupie or no, Linda Eastman McCartney has class, and bank­er’s daughter or no, Yoko Ono doesn’t. John married genius and Paul married power, and in the world of public media it’s hard to be sure which is more important.

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None of this is to imply that Paul, or John, married for conven­ience. Like all artists, great pop­ular artists believe their own myths, and for popular songwrit­ers of the pre-Beatle era — which is exactly how Lennon and Mc­Cartney began — there was only one of those: romantic love. Repeat: they were popular songwriters. Even though the staple of rock and roll in the ’50s was teen schmaltz of wondrous innocence and vapidity, and even though the popularization of black music meant romanticizing the hard-­assed realism of rhythm and blues, the sheer physicality or rock and roll — its sexual underpinnings, always implied a nega­tion of such escapist rhapsodies. But the Beatles, unlike blues-influence fellow geniuses Jagger and Dylan, never showed much interest in this negation. Instead of projecting sexuality, they evoked it and made fun of it si­multaneously, just one more ex­ample of the insistent popness that always tempted the cynical to suspect they were finks. After turning out enchanting variations on the permissible themes of union and parting for three or four years, their version of the myth gradually became more acerbic (“Girl,” “If I Needed Someone,” etc.) but their formal commitment to pop remained unchanged — those later songs are reminiscent of the down Smokey Robinson, especially on the all­-important pop surface.

It was only during their mature period — including Sgt. Pepper, their best album, and The Beatles, their most inconsistent and probably their worst — that they abandoned the subject al­together. Great popular artists believe their own myths, but like all artists they do so from a dis­tance. As his relationship with Jane Asher became more prob­lematic, Paul’s romantic experi­ments became more outre. He never quite gave up on romance, but it is significant, that “Hey Jude,” one of his truest and most forthright love songs, was omitted from the white album, while “I Will,” a piece of fluff that seems designed to fit unobtrusively into that pastiche of musical exer­cises, was included. When Paul took up with Linda, however, he also took up the love theme with fresh enthusiasm. Typically, John’s withdrawal and return were more extreme. He discov­ered Yoko well before the white album, but not until “I Want You,” on Abbey Road, did he signal his renewed embrace of the myth. For both moderate Paul and manic John, romance was a lot of what getting back was about. After desperate years, each decided love is all you need, because each found his one-and-­only, doo-wah doo-wah.

But the revitalization of the myth of romantic love almost inevitably contributed to the disintegration of another myth, the myth of the Beatles, and it is significant that it was the group’s songwriters and resident movers who swung so precipitously from one myth to the other. In Hunter Davies’s official biography, Cynthia Lennon chides her hus­band for preferring the group to his family. “They seem to need you less than you need them,” the quote goes, and John admits it: “I did try to go my own way after we stopped touring, but it didn’t work. I didn’t meet anyone else I liked.” At that time, according to John, Paul had just about taken over leadership of the group. En­gaged to Jane Asher, Paul regretted that he was still so much a bachelor, but he wasn’t­ — he was married to the Beatles: “We’re all really the same person. We’re just four parts of the one.” At that time, Pattie Harrison was thought of as the independent Beatle wife because she still did some modeling. Now Ringo describes her as “a long­-legged lady in the garden pickin’ daisies for his suit,” and the mar­riage seems ornamental, the sort of show-business union that might just end some time. This impression may not be factual, of course, but there’s no doubting the accuracy of Davies’s description of Ringo as something of an Andy Capp, albeit solider and more devoted — Ringo is a common man in ways that don’t inspire our ready identification as well as ways that do. In any case, we re­alize in the context of more recent history that George and Ringo did not separate themselves from the group by marrying, although each gained a margin of autonomy. That margin proved necessary, because when John and Paul married they married hard, replacing the Four Mates with “Man We Was Lonely” and “Love is you/You and me.” It was as if their ambivalent relationship to the sexuality of rock and roll fi­nally caught up with them. Men in groups gave way to couples.

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John started it, of course. His mates mated with suitably mod types — an actress, a model, a hairdresser. Yoko, whatever else you might think of her, was a rather unbirdlike original, from her mature, buxom body to her obsessive creativity. She was strong — too strong. It is possible, I suppose, that the other Beatles bore her some faint racial or (more likely) artistic prejudice, but her deepest offense was to their male chauvinism. She aroused John’s male chauvinism, too, but because he was in love with her he responded dif­ferently: he actually thought she could become the fifth Beatle. And when he found he couldn’t work her into the Beatles, he began to rework the other available myth instead. Like all artists, great popular artists not only believe their own myths but carry them to new extremes: the dream is over, long live the dream. The myth of romantic love is usually a trap for women, but a sufficiently potent woman can transform it (as has been done before, after all) by com­pounding it with that vague notion of the perfect equality of all free spirits that can also be described lurking around our culture. Actu­ally, the combination isn’t so much a compound as a colloid, mixing disparate elements in suspension. Nobody just screams away his entire oedipal heritage, and even as John acts out the fierce symbiosis of his marriage, he remains a jealous guy who interrupts his wife on Howard Smith.

Paul, the born romantic, came more readily to the new roman­ticism, but naturally in a much more sentimental way. John has dedicated an album to Yoko, but it is hard to imagine him doing something so cutesy as con­cealing an Y.I.L.Y on some secret border. Paul and Linda are also much more moderate — in fact, it might be argued that they cop out on the new dream altogether. Linda is a creative partner, but in a traditionally sub­ordinate way, not just in the view of her husband’s fans but in the view of her husband. Her work is the mod art-craft, photography, and she has looked to rock as an energy source for years; in con­trast, Yoko is a conceptual artist who was completely outside the music when John came to her. John now calls himself John Ono Lennon, but it’s Paul and Linda McCartney, or even on their first co-authored song, “Another Day,” Mr. and Mrs. Paul McCart­ney.

In its radical or liberal version, however, romantic marriage has destroyed the group. The Beatles were an aesthetic unit, but what did they transmit in common? Exuberance, yes. Cheek, although George’s head change changed that somewhat. Youth, and then youthfulness; rock and roll, and then rock. But above all, what the unit transmitted was unity, the possibility that four very different individuals could constitute a harmonious and functioning whole. That image was very im­portant to the way we thought in the ’60s, and Yoko and Linda have made it impossible, not only by inspiring a counter-myth but by intensifying their husbands’ divergences. John and Paul com­plemented each other; Paul was conservative, John mercurial; Paul was fascinated with the silly history of pop music, John with its grand future; Paul was more comfortable with money, John with fame. But their women augmented rather than complemented. In class terms, Paul married up to Linda and her show-business wealth, while Yoko married down to John, who seems unlikely to abandon his scrappy lower-middle class heritage no matter how many possessions he accrues. But psychologically, the spirit of the husband, focused by the wife, dominates each marriage.

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These personal changes are reflected in their musical work, except perhaps for McCartney, which despite its melodic in­terludes I find difficult to take seriously as anything more than a million-selling wedding announce­ment. In a way, though, Mc­Cartney can be said to have provided impetus for John’s Plastic Ono Band, from ego­centric title to spare production. It’s as if John is saying, “This is what personal minimum music ought to sound like.” Plastic Ono Band is conceptual in the Yoko Ono rather than the Sgt. Pepper sense. It is one of the few albums I admire that does not permit casu­al enjoyment. You have to listen to it. Those who can do that — and there are many not in the cat­egory — customarily praise its lyrics, whereupon those who can’t conclude that John has not only gone off the deep end but dragged his friends with him. It is dis­tressing that anyone can take a collection of psychotherapeutic truisms as revelation, although “I Found Out” and “Well Well Well” are more than that on even the most obvious level. It is more dis­tressing, however, that others still consider John a simpleton (or perhaps a wonderful nut) who doesn’t know what he’s doing. Anyone who loves Rosie and the Originals the way John does un­derstands the value of dumbness. Of course the lyrics are crude clichés. That’s just the point, because they are also true, and John wants to make very clear that at this one point truth is far more important than subtlety, taste, art, or anything else.

I am not encouraged by John’s admission that he now writes melodies for lyrics rather than the opposite, because I believe music will get you through times of no lyrics better than lyrics will get you through times of no music. I also believe, however, that music overwhelms lyrics on Plastic Ono Band. Carman Moore thinks John has emerged as the most musical Beatle in terms of chords, melodic lines, and other such arcana, which only shows what I’ve said all along — ­that you can perceive that stuff without analyzing it. For me, the musicality of Plastic Ono Band can be summed up in one word: strength. At first, of course, what came through was the crudity. The music sounded stark and even perfunctory compared to the free harmonies and double guitars of the Beatles’ rock and roll. But the music of the album doesn’t inhere in its instrumenta­tion but in the way John’s greatest vocal performance, a com­plete tour of rock timbre from scream to whine, is modulated electronically. Like so much great rock and roll, it depends on studio gimmickry, with the great­est of the gimmickers, Phil Spector, providing the expertise while stripped of his power to grind 16 tracks down to mush. John’s voice unadorned appears only twice: on “Working Glass Hero,” and after the non­believing malediction of “God,” when John says, “I just believe in me/Yoko and me/And that’s re­ality.” Elsewhere it is echoed, filtered, and double-tracked, with two voices sometimes emanating in a synthesis from between the speakers and sometimes dialec­tically separated. In addition, the guitar and even the drumming is distorted.

This trickery slips by because Plastic Ono Band just isn’t a tricky album. It does sound strong, even primal; there really is something quintessentially raw about it. Yet it isn’t. John is such a media artist that even when he is fervidly shedding personae and eschewing metaphor he knows, perhaps instinctively, that he communicates most effectively through technological masks and prisms. Separating himself from the homemade pretensions of, say, McCartney, he does not bullshit himself or his audience about where he is in the world­ — namely, on some private pinnacle of superstardom. As always, he wants to reach us with a message that is also a medium and really equals himself. Like any great ar­tist, the great popular artist feels compelled to embody his myth in a form that offers its own pleasure. Plastic Ono Band had to be a one-shot, and Imagine follows it as inevitably in ret­rospect as New Morning followed Self-Portrait. Its myth is twofold: Yoko plus the move­ment. The word “imagine” is a Yokoism crucial as well to Mar­cusian theory, which regards the ineluctable utopianism of the ar­tistic imagination as essential to social transformation — we cannot change unless we can envision change. If “Working Class Hero” is John’s movement credo and “Power to the People” his move­ment marching song, then the title cut of the new album is his movement hymn.

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Chances are the movement is just another of John’s phases, though he has always shown that mix of genius, indignation, and pugnacity that characterizes the movement media heavy. In any case, it is certainly an in­vigorating development for those of us who have been straining to link rock and politics. Yet the movement’s ability to get across to masses of people has proven so sporadic that a part of me sus­pects John’s new stance is a por­tent. The thing is, Imagine doesn’t quite make it. At its best it is richer and more exciting than Plastic Ono Band because its potential appeal is much broader. “Gimme Some Truth” is the union of Lennon unmasked with the Lennon of Blunderland word play, the kind of venom Dylan never quite managed to spew. “It’s So Hard” is the perfect blend of big blues and metapolitical despair. “I Don’t Wanna Be a Sol­dier Mama I Don’t Wanna Die” is a proper Spectoral extravaganza. “Oh Yoko!” is pure spontaneous joy, and captures more of the spirit of fun than all of Ram. And other songs succeed, too. But the combination of nasty lyric and good-timey ricky-tick on “Crip­pled Inside” has been exploited by every ex-purist folksinger since Phil Ochs, and “How?” is so psychotherapeutically lugubrious that it might not even have worked on Plastic Ono Band. Nor are these mistakes simply bad tries. They are symptomatic of Lennon’s limitations as an indi­vidual artist, limitations which contrary to suggestion are not musical. John’s music suits his vision perfectly. It’s his vision which is lacking.

As indicated, I think Ram is a very bad record, a classic form/content mismatch. If music is just gentle, fey, and oc­casionally funky, then why labor over it so assiduously? If you wanna have fun, then have it, don’t just succumb to conspicuous consumption. I am infuriated by the McCartneys’ modern young marrieds image — just normal folks who happen to have a wee recording set-up on their Scottish estate. Since Paul’s political perspective seems to be limited to Zero Population Growth, the production lavished on this album amounts to an ecological ob­scenity. Yet Ram is far from Muzak, and offers amenities that John could use. Paul’s voice conveys a warmth and sophistication that might make John’s manic-depressive extremism more palatable at those times when we just feel like lying around and listening to the stereo. Also, Paul uses Linda well. John seems unable to understand that although Yoko is a good artist, all that distinguishes her from a number of her fellows is access to media. This is indeed an impor­tant, and legitimate, distinction, but it ought to demonstrate once and for all that the function of avant-garde art is to inspire other artists, not the public. Yoko has entered John’s music successfully only once (on “Do the Oz” by the Elastic Oz Band) and although her own records are interesting they will never reach a large public unless she makes the move. But Linda’s participation on Paul’s records works in a good way, another example of the trend to allow women as well as men to sing in their everyday voices. It is not his commitment to yesterday, or another day, but to everyday, that might eventual­ly render Paul’s music pleasant again. Let’s hope so.

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What John needs most, you see, is just that acceptance of the ev­eryday that in Paul-without-John appears to us as repellent complacency. He needs continual reminder of his pop heritage, to balance his oedipal heritage and his lower-middle class heritage. That balance is what the Beatles always reflected back to us, because we’re all like that and tend to forget it. It is missing from the New York artistic/political avant-garde, which is why that avant-garde never lives up to its genius. John really does need it. But it’s obvious that John will never get it from Paul again. “How Do You Sleep” is the kind of public act committed by a lover who wants to make sure he will never return in momentary weakness to the one who has rejected him so cruelly, the best proof yet of how deep the Beatles’ unity once was. Perhaps he’ll find it in himself, or in George, who is capable of songs of rare beauty, or elsewhere, but although I’ll always love him I wouldn’t be surprised if it were lost to him for­ever. It is strange to foresee the artistic death of an artist who is still so vital, but I often do.

What the break-up of the Beatles represents on the largest symbolic scale is a central social problem of our time — the inability of couples to coexist within coop­erative groups. Perhaps they’ll all survive to lead happy truly productive lives, or perhaps like so many of us they will be trapped by this dilemma. John will be a tragedy, George and Paul some­thing not so affecting. But for Ringo it will be worst of all, and since Ringo is all of us, we’d better figure out what there is for us now that we can’t be Beatle fans any longer. Find our own love, maybe — and form our own group.

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From The Archives NEW YORK CITY ARCHIVES NYC ARCHIVES Style Uncategorized

7 Days: The Voyeur’s New York

When Adam Moss stepped down as editor of New York magazine last month, it marked the end of an era. Since taking the helm of the august title in 2004, Moss had helped set the industry standard for magazine journalism, documenting the life of the city in all its highbrow, lowbrow, brilliant, and despicable glory. 

Of course, as dedicated media-watchers know, much of the New York‘s DNA was apparent three decades ago, when Moss emerged from Manhattan’s media landscape as the 30-year-old wunderkind behind the much-loved, short-lived 7 Days magazine. Published by then-Voice owner Leonard Stern for two years bridging the ’80s and ’90s, 7 Days was a glorious failure, bleeding money, but minting the reputations for a generation of fledgling journalists

Flipping through the 7 Days archives today is an exercise in delightful discovery. There’s Jeffrey Toobin writing about the Yankees, long before he became the lead legal analyst for the New Yorker; future best-selling author Meg Wolitzer (The Wife) writing the weekly crossword puzzle; a regular magazine-watching column from fellow future best-selling author Walter Kirn (Up in the Air); Peter Schjeldahl covering the arts scene; Joan Acocella on dance. 

Over the next week, we here at the Voice archives will be sharing some of these treasures from the vault. Welcome to seven days of 7 Days.

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November 15, 1989

The Insides of Things

Go ahead and admit it, you want to get inside Paloma Picasso’s purse as much as the next person — not to mention Andre Soltner’s refrigerator or Phil Simms’ locker. Problem is, these people employ elaborate security measures — doormen, TV monitors, sometimes even personal bodyguards — to keep snoops and Peeping Toms at bay. But the urge to get inside, to take just one peek, is a strong one. That explains the addiction so many people have for those voyeuristic spreads in design magazines — after all, as the old saying almost goes, the living room is the window to the soul. In that spirit, we unlocked a few private Manhattan spaces. So go ahead, take a look. No one’s watching.

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CULTURE ARCHIVES From The Archives MUSIC ARCHIVES Pazz & Jop

1980 Pazz & Jop: The Year of the Lollapalooza

As we know, many voters found 1980 a confusing year. When Pazz & Jop gossip began a few months ago, various critics complained about their top 10s — after three or four inescapable lollapaloozas, 20 or 30 possibilities came to mind. Although different critics naturally heard different lollapaloozas, the poll did end up with three clear leaders, each more than 100 points (274 more in one case) ahead of its nearest rival: Talking Heads’ Remain in Light, Bruce Springsteen’s The River, and — easily the biggest winner in Pazz & Jop history — The Clash’s London Calling. Then there’s a cluster of four, then a cluster of two by artists who almost certainly would have done better if they weren’t black, and then the pack. The top three are the lollapaloozas, the next six inspired also-rans, and the rest varying amalgams of excellence and special interest.

Insofar as my personal take on 1980 is confusing, it’s because I spent the first nine months of the year trying to get a fix on the previous decade for a book-length Consumer Guide. As a result, I was only dimly aware of current music — after London Calling and Crawfish Fiesta in early January, no record really imprinted itself until October, although Public Image, the Brains, Gang of Four, the Pretenders, and Hassell & Eno all made dents. So I’ve spent the last three or four months force-feeding, which isn’t the method I prefer — popular music is meant to be lived with. This may have distorted some of my findings — I’m committed to a top 10 prepared two weeks ago for the balloting, and already I’d probably drop the Jacksons a few places and give five of the Clash’s points to Talking Heads and Prince. Still, I had my lollapaloozas, too — two from the collective top three and a third from the next six. But the more I listened the fonder I became of the top 10 also-rans as well, and in the end I found more than 40 A-quality records all-told. My force-fed conclusion: for quality, a good year, much like 1978 and 1979.

As our 201 1980 respondents learned late in December, the Board of Poobahs broadened eligibility this year. In the past we’ve limited the poll strictly to U.S.-manufactured (“released,” as we say) albums from the year in question. But this year both imports and “late-breaking” 1979 LPs were eligible, a change that had worked well when we introduced singles balloting in the previous poll. As a result, Michael Jackson’s Off the Wall appears in our top 40 for the second time, Pink Floyd’s The Wall sneaks in for the first, and two imports — Joy Division’s Closer and Young Marble Giants’ Colossal Youth — also make the list. My own top 40 also reflects these changes:

1. The Clash: London Calling (Epic) 25 2. Talking Heads: Remain in Light (Sire) 15 3. Prince: Dirty Mind (Warner Bros.) 12 4. Tom Robinson: Sector 27 (I.R.S.) 12 5. Wanna Buy a Bridge? (Rough Trade) 9 6. Jon Hassell/Brian Eno: Fourth World Vol. 1: Possible Musics (Editions E.G.) 7 7. John Lennon/Yoko Ono: Double Fantasy (Geffen) 5 8. Bruce Springsteen: The River (Columbia) 5 9. Professor Longhair: Crawfish Fiesta (Alligator) 5 10. The Jacksons: Triumph (Epic) 5.

11. Gang of Four: Entertainment! (Warner Bros.) 12. Public Image Ltd.: Second Edition (Island) 13. Alberta Hunter: Amtrak Blues (Columbia) 14. Neil Young: Hawks and Doves (Reprise) 15. Chic: Real People (Atlantic) 16. Captain Beefheart and the Magic Band: Doc at the Radar Station (Virgin) 17. The Feelies: Crazy Rhythms (Stiff) 18. Stevie Wonder: Hotter Than July (Tamla) 19. Poly Styrene: Translucence (United Artists import) 20. Si Kahn: Home (Flying Fish ’79).

21. The Psychedelic Furs (Columbia) 22. Pretenders (Sire ’79) 23. LPJE: Live at the Montreux Jazz Festival 1980 (Latin Percussion Ventures, Inc.) 24. The English Beat: I Just Can’t Stop It (Sire) 25. Pere Ubu: The Art of Walking (Rough Trade) 26. Pere Ubu: New Picnic Time (Chrysalis import) 27. John Prine: Storm Windows (Asylum) 28. Smokey Robinson: Warm Thoughts (Tamla) 29. Rockpile: Seconds of Pleasure (Columbia) 30. Joe “King” Carrasco and the Crowns (Stiff import). 31. X: Los Angeles (Slash) 32. Gil Scott-Heron & Brian Jackson: 1980 (Arista) 33. Steel Pulse: Reggae Fever (Mango) 34. Michael Hurley: Snockgrass (Rounder) 35. The Undertones: Hypnotised (Sire) 36. The Suburbs: In Combo (Twin/Tone) 37. The Clash: Black Market Clash (Epic Nu-Disk) 38. Bootsy: Ultra Wave (Warner Bros.) 39. T-Bone Burnett: Truth Decay (Takoma) 40. Lydia Lunch: Queen of Siam (ZE).

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No Room in the In: the Brains, Junie. Wait Till Last Year: XTC (Drums and Wires), the Brides of Funkenstein (Never Buy Texas from a Cowboy), Smokey Robinson (Where There’s Smoke…). Alternative disciplines: Arthur Blythe (Illusions), Steve Reich, Dollar Brand (African Marketplace), Big Youth (Progress), Henry Cow, Michael Mantler. Judgment reserved: Joy Division, Al Green, Bunny Wailer, Pylon, Sandinista!

My album choices are somewhat eccentric — four of my top 10 finished toward the bottom of the Pazz & Jop top 100, and 13 of my top 40 didn’t make the top 100 at all. But this is the kind of thing that happens to hermits — my singles list is positively weird. I didn’t get to go out dancing much in 1980, and listened to the radio only on vacation. (When I could stand it, that is — commercial broadcasting has really regressed. I’m hanging a red ribbon out my window till PIX comes back.) I’ve always believed that singles transcended consensus and objective judgment — there are so many that those you love aren’t just good, but enter your life. Here are 10 that affected mine:

1. Pylon: “Cool” (Caution) 2. The Beat: “Twist and Crawl” (Go-Feet 12-inch import) 3. Diana Ross: “Upside Down” (Motown) 4. John Anderson: “She Just Started Liking Cheatin’ Songs” (Warner Bros.) 5. Joy Division: “She [sic] Lost Control” (Factory 12-inch) 6. Stevie Wonder: “Master Blaster (Jammin’)” (Tamla) 7. Pretenders: “Brass in Pocket” (Sire) 8. The Slits: “I Heard It Through the Grapevine” (Antilles) 9. Lenny Kaye: “Child Bride” (Mer) 10. Suzanne Fellini: “Love on the Phone” (Casablanca).

The top of the singles poll is pretty weird, too, in its way — and exciting. When “Rapper’s Delight” tied for 22nd last year, who would have figured that a rap record would take it all 12 months later. I like other rap records even more than “The Breaks,” but there can be no doubt that it was Kurtis Blow (later for Deborah Harry) who took a genuine (New York!) street form to all of the people some of the time. Almost as remarkable (later for Deborah Harry) is the passionate support of Joy Division, who — unlike the Pretenders, last year’s import champs — did it with little radio. As for Deborah Harry, I figured “Call Me” for a shoo-in — she’s even got a Spanish-language disco disc out on Salsoul. But after that I think the singles list gets boring — commuters enjoying favorite album cuts outnumber the voters who live for all the one-shots that make 45-rpm so speedy these days. Other noteworthies include this year’s domestic-indie champs, the Bush Tetras of Gotham’s own 99 Records; John and Yoko; destined-to-be-mythic one-offs from the Vapors (the exotically slanted “Turning Japanese”), Lipps, Inc. (the tract-disco “Funkytown”), and Martha and the Muffins (the post-surf “Echo Beach”); imports from the Jam and the Pretenders (again); indies from Pylon and the Dead Kennedys; is-it-an-indie-or-import from Joy Division; and almosts by Richard Hell, Suicide, Delta 5, the English Beat, and, er, Queen.

For the second year, voters were also asked to list three local bands, defined as groups without major-label affiliation that gig regularly in their hometown areas (which need not be the voter’s — Token Uptown Poobah Dave Marsh threatened to vote for Fela Ransome-Kuti, and that would have been fine with me). Here I indulged my own subjectivity once again by honoring my fondest club memories of 1980 with no attempt at balanced long-term assessment: thank you to Material (at CBGB in February and the late lamented Tier 3 in July), DNA (at Irving Plaza in January and CBGB in November), and the Babylon Dance Band (at Trax in December).

Since about half the Pazz & Joppers live in New York, the local band category favors this locality, especially given its mushrooming (if clouded) club scene. Last year, though, Austin’s Joe “King” Carrasco (whose debut album placed 70th in 1980) finished a surprising second, and this year Los Angeles’s X (also a favorite last year) was the overwhelming winner — 26 votes to 10 for New York’s Kid Creole and the Coconuts and Boston’s Human Sexual Response. Working Poobah Debra Rae Cohen (who voted for X herself) thinks New York is too factionalized to champion one act, although Poobah in Absentia Tom Carson’s theory that the action is now elsewhere also has its merits. In any case, only four other New York bands — the Bush Tetras and the Nitecaps with eight votes, the db’s [sic] with six, and the Dance with four — made much of a showing. Other names to remember include Los Angeles’s Blasters (eight), Wall of Voodoo (four), Go-Go’s (four), and Falcons (four); Boston’s Mission of Burma (eight), Peter Dayton Band (five), and Stompers (four); Minneapolis’s Wallets (five) and Curtiss A (four); Kent, Ohio’s Human Switchboard (five); San Francisco’s Romeo Void (four); and Lawrence, Kansas’s Thumbs (four).

But what’s most interesting about the local band competition brings me back around to the crux of the poll, the LP ballot. Not only did X’s album — on Slash, outgrowth of an L.A. punkzine — come in 16th, but the two runners-up also had minor-label albums, Kid Creole on Antilles (77th) and Human Sexual Response on PVC, a domestic arm of import biggie Jem. Other locals with Indie LPs include the Blasters, the Human Switchboard, Curtiss A, and Thumbs. And while three indie albums made our top 40 in 1979, this year two imports brought the total to six. The indies finished higher, too. In short, as the big corporations opt out of marginal music, small entrepreneurs figure out how to make money off it (X’s Los Angeles is up to around 50 thou with Jem distributing, and the band tours a lot), and journalists spread the news. In short short, to reprise an old theme: avant-garde pop.

This is the time, then, when I should begin analyzing the two critical camps into which our increasingly enormous electorate is divided — the avant-gardists versus the traditionalists, the radicals versus the conservatives. With myself, of course, firmly on the side of the former, a/k/a The Good. But while I was certainly an avant-garde radical type five years ago, before there was a punk/new wave and a ditto press, I’ve since been outflanked by youngsters who wouldn’t think of putting old farts like the Clash and Talking Heads on their lists. Anyway, my tastes aren’t always even on the respectable left — The River and Double Fantasy aren’t my chart-toppers, but I prefer them to Entertainment! and Crazy Rhythms and The Art of Walking, enjoyably significant though I think those pop experiments are. And just exactly how does one categorize Triumph? Or for that matter Crawfish Fiesta and Amtrak Blues?

I mean, there are other ways to run it down. How about formalists versus expressionists, for instance? Now which side are you on? For, in general, those of us who were championing the Ramones (81st!) in 1976 have recently found ourselves aligned with “progressives” who, until the post-punk expansion, were amusing themselves with old Soft Machine records. Granted that their tastes have improved and ours broadened (or vice versa, if you prefer), I’m not entirely comfortable with this alliance. I don’t sympathize with the blues-and-country limitations of those who delve no further into “new wave” than Rockpile and the Pretenders, who seize upon every reworking by the Stones and the Who and Van Morrison as manna from rock ‘n’ roll heaven. But I also dissent from the affectlessness, the mannered despair and/or passion of so many rock vanguardists.

If these generalizations seem a mite broad, take them as hints and consider Triumph and Crawfish Fiesta again. One indication of how rich and basic black popular music is, how essential it ought to be to anyone who claims to like rock and roll, is the way black performers confound our already contradiction-ridden categories. Stevie Wonder and Smokey Robinson are committed formalists — they revel in music-for-its-own-sake above all. But without second-guessing themselves they also employ form to express (or simulate, doesn’t matter) the most elementary (which doesn’t mean simple) human emotions. To dismiss such artists as “corny” or “commercial” — the usual racist commonplace — is to misapprehend their context, tradition, and aesthetic aims. And what kind of vanguardism might that be?

One way of making sense of this mess might be to refer (gingerly, I hope) to auteur theory. Say Smokey and Stevie and maybe Van Morrison and John Lennon and Ray Davies are the equivalent of Ford and Siegel and Hawks — intentional artists, sure, but unselfconscious even when they’re pretentious. Ambitious craftsmen who think about their place in history — Pete Townshend, Bruce Springsteen, Bob Marley — are more like Preston Sturges (when they’re good) or John Huston (who offers more than meets the eye but can still be a real jerk). All the new guys, meanwhile, are like, how about that, Godard and de Broca and Bourguignon. La nouvelle vague, they used to call it.

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To extend the metaphor, you could say that each of the two latter groups has produced its Allens and De Palmas, too, and while away the tween-sets trying to figure who’s who. The question then becomes — where’s Francis Ford Coppola? I think 1980 was when various contestants made their bids. No more tightly controlled genre pieces for these boys; they were going for grand, sweeping — perhaps even popular! — statements. The rhythmic expansiveness of what just two years ago was a resolutely stiff-necked music — John Lydon’s reggae immersions, Talking Heads’ Africanisms, the Clash’s excavations in every rock and roll style — is one sure sign. Even more convincing that three of the top five LPs were doubles: London CallingThe River, and Second Edition. Not counting last year’s 10th-ranked Bad Girls, you have to go back to the ’76 and ’75 winners — Songs in the Key of Life and The Basement Tapes — to find another two-album set in the Pazz & Jop top 20. Clearly, a new generation of artists has achieved enough commercial stability and artistic scope to think big. It’s like 1968 or 1969 all over again, with the hubris of the new hierarchy kept in check, I hope, by their less than hegemonic control of the marketplace. And if the Clash and PIL and Talking Heads are (very roughly speaking) our Beatles and Stones and Byrds, can Van Morrison and Randy Newman be far behind? Presumably, they’re not far behind at all — which is as good a reason as any for me to devote the rest of this annual wrap-up to a rundown of the albums the critics chose as the best of 1980.

40. Pink Floyd’s The Wall: Nothing like a big single to attract belated attention to a struggling young band — “Another Brick in the Wall” got four votes and catalyzed enough album points to push this late-1979 release into the bottom slot. I take the song so seriously myself that I may go for my doctorate in social psychology.

39. Diana Ross’ Diana: Chic album of the year on the strength of “I’m Coming Out,” an all-purpose sell-the-gays hit that received four votes in the singles competition, and the tenth-ranked “Upside Down,” a good time for sure. Not since Lady Sings the Blues has Ms. R. been forced into such a becoming straitjacket. But I still prefer Chic’s own Real People, where Rodgers & Edwards get to, well, express themselves.

38. Joan Armatrading’s Me Myself I: The perennially unclassifiable London-based West Indian singer-songwriter meets Instant Records honcho Barry Gottehrer (Blondie, the Strangeloves) for her hardest music ever. The title tune is to narcissism as “Brown Sugar” is to racism, which serves somebody right.

37. John Lennon & Yoko Ono’s Double Fantasy: The only rockcrit-estab Voice-Phoenix-Stone types to vote for this besides co-fantasts R. Christgau and C. Dibbell were John Swenson and Martha Hume (cohabiting, though not with each other). The single finished high, however, so maybe more tastemakers will catch on after “Beautiful Boy” and “Watching the Wheels” top the charts.

36. Graham Parker’s The Up Escalator: By most accounts, the latest from last year’s victor-by-consensus is the downer of the year, following up on everything pinched in his singing and mean-spirited in his vision. But it’s hooky — “the hummable Graham Parker,” Tom Carson called it — and for some that’s apparently enough.

35. Carlene Carter’s Musical Shapes: Mother Maybelle’s most famous granddaughter and Nick Lowe’s most famous wife has been touted as the next Marshall Chapman since she surfaced in 1978, and here she comes up with the nasty, compassionate songs to justify it. Producer Lowe puts the likes of “Cry,” “I’m So Cool,” and “To Drunk (Too Remember) [sic]” into musical shape.

34. Arthur Blythe’s Illusions: Due more to demographics than to narrowing tastes — this is a rock critics’ poll, despite its silly but immutable name — jazz fared worse in this year’s P&J than in 1979, when the Art Ensemble of Chicago’s Nice Guys placed an unprecedented 29th and LPs by Mingus, Ulmer, Davis, Blythe, Coleman & Haden, Old and New Dreams, and Monk also finished in the top 100. In 1980 the Art Ensemble’s Full Force came in 91st and Jack DeJohnette’s Special Edition 54th, and unless you count Weather Report (82nd) or, no kidding, George Benson (62nd), that was it — except for the more avant-garde of Blythe’s two 1980 offerings (his In the Tradition also got two mentions). In 1979 I voted for Blythe’s Lenox Avenue Breakdown, which had a lot of witty, almost danceable things to say about body rhythms. Illusions didn’t make my list, mainly because it hit me as a “pure” jazz statement — the best I heard all year, a bracingly concise all-hands-in-top-form synthesis. Special plaudits to cellist Abdul Wadud, bassist Fred Hopkins, and guitarist Blood Ulmer. P.S.: Ulmer’s Are You Glad To Be in America? came out as a rather thin-sounding Rough Trade import in 1980; I eagerly await Artists House’s American mix.

33. Neil Young’s Hawks and Doves: This met with scorn from skeptics but was welcomed affectionately by Young’s admirers — only Neil would make a deliberately minor record about war and peace after four successive masterworks about himself. Not all of his admirers voted for it, though — me, for instance. And those who did gave it about 10 points per ballot — last year’s second-ranked Rust Never Sleeps averaged 13.

32. The Specials: Ska is/was a reactionary fad in England — white kids turning on to the black music of a time safely past. In America it’s just another Anglophile exoticism, and not a bad one — integrated bands are always an up. The Specials are on the catchy, jokey end of the continuum, their beat rapid and insistent but light, their politics liberal. The follow-up, More Specials, steepened their pop proclivities and was hailed for its brazen irony by some, but only two voters mentioned it.

31. Professor Longhair’s Crawfish Fiesta: The first blues album to make the poll was cut shortly before the death of the man who passed New Orleans piano from Jelly Roll Morton to Allen Toussaint. Part-time producer and full-time entrepreneur Bruce Iglauer deserves double thanks — it’s the best music ’Fess ever recorded, and it’s earned him the esteem he’s always deserved. The secret of the album isn’t so much standout tracks like “Big Chief” and Fats Domino’s “Whole Lotta Loving” but its jaunty, bow-legged gait, which ’Fess didn’t develop sailing the seven seas.

30. The Iron City Houserockers’ Have a Good Time (but Get Out Alive): Springsteen has always had imitators — take a bow and pose for the trades, Johnny Cougar. Joe Grushecky is more like a slightly self-conscious soul brother, shorter on talent but close to the roots. It’s poetic justice that the critics prefer him to Blondie (“Now they’re playing your song in all those places/They won’t let me and Angela in”), but I still prefer Autoamerican (three mentions).

29. Lydia Lunch’s Queen of Siam: I’ve walked out on three different bands led by this dame, but she’s come up with a funny, sexy little record, exaggerating her flat Cleveland accent into a hickish, dumb-and-dirty come-on and playing her foolish nihilist poetry for laughs. Pat Irwin’s big-band atonalisms are interesting in themselves and suit Lydia’s city-of-night shtick perfectly. And “Spooky” is the cover of the year.

28. The Police’s Zenyatta Mondatta: Not to be confused with 1979’s 35th-place Reggatta de Blanc, except perhaps by yours truly. Jon Pareles said it all in his January 14 Riff, including my main point: De do do do, de da da da.

27. Van Morrison’s Common One: As somebody who considers Moondance an apotheosis and has never gotten Astral Weeks, I think this is his worst since Hard Nose the Highway — sententious, torpid, abandoned by God. I know lots of Astral Weeks fans who agree. But Morrison has a direct line to certain souls, and they still hear him talkin’.

26. T-Bone Burnett’s Truth Decay: Having put the omega on Alpha Bandmate Steve Soles (Soles does show up in the credits, but — unlike the ever-adroit David Mansfield — not as a band member), the Christer who’s reputed to have pointed out the Way to Bob Dylan turns his attention to benighted rationalists like me and I hope you. On John Fahey’s Buddhist blues label. Since no Alpha Band record ever did much in this poll, grand Burnett is succes d’estime and pray that he’ll take on the Moral Majority next time — he’s got the guts. P.S. Dylan’s Saved didn’t make a single ballot.

25. Young Marble Giants’ Colossal Youth: I’d call this modern romance — two brothers, a girl, and a rhythm machine — the cult music of the year, only it doesn’t have the requisite high points-to-voter ratio (cf. Closer, Queen of Siam). Maybe that’s because its cult likes not getting excited about something. Call it cult Muzak of the year — quiet, tuneful, passing weird. Me, I prefer Hassell & Eno.

24. Squeeze’s Argybargy: Poppophiles Glen [sic] Tilbrook and Chris Difford don’t settle for have-fun fall-in-love fear-girls. They pen short stories worthy of early Rupert Holmes, and with a beat. Next title: Herkyjerky.

23. Smokey Robinson’s Warm Thoughts: To me, this was the biggest surprise of the poll, not because I don’t agree that he’s come back, but because I thought the turnaround was 1979’s Where There’s Smoke…, which received zero votes last year. My guess is that a groundswell began with “Cruising [sic],” the late-breaking single off that album and his biggest since “Tears of a Clown.” The follow-up LP is, well, slower — make-out rather than dance music, a more songful version of 1975’s unmoored A Quiet Storm.

22. Joy Division’s Closer: A controversial band, due mostly to the mysterioso torments of singer-lyricist Ian Curtis, who committed suicide from the apex of a love triangle last spring. I only began to hear the band when I ignored Curtis and concentrated on the other musicians’ dark, roiling, off-center rhythms. And now Curtis sounds pretty good to me.

21. The English Beat’s I Just Can’t Stop It: Known simply as the Beat in England, and rightly so — their ska is deep and driven. The bassline on “Twist and Crawl” (10 votes b/w “Hands Off She’s Mine”) moved more feet than anything Bernard Edwards came up with in 1980. Electoral-politics song of the year: “Stand Down Margaret.”

20. The Rolling Stones’ Emotional Rescue: You can tell this is an ordinary Stones album because it finished so far out of the money. World’s greatest rock and roll band, y’know.

19. David Bowie’s Scary Monsters: Bowie’s best-received LP since Station to Station is also his hardest-rocking since Diamond Dogs and Aladdin Sane, and the first time I’ve been fully convinced that his fascination with fascism is a species of repulsion. Wish I could say I liked the thing — he’s always tried to sing like a mime, ornate and overstated, and after a decade he’s really learned how.

18. Dire Straits’ Making Movies: If any rock and roller aspires to auteur status it’s Mark Knopfler, and among those with a taste for his rather corny plots this establishes his claim. Me, I’d rather hear him work on somebody else’s stories — his guitar has emerged from Eric Clapton’s shadow into a jazzy rock that muscles right past Larry Carlton and ilk. Steely Straits, anyone? Or would that be Dire Dan?

17. The Feelies’ Crazy Rhythms: Out-of-towners provided nine of the 19 mentions but only 72 of the 219 points for this New York cult band, and as a longtime cultist I go along with them: I can see listing this, but only near the bottom of a top 10. The band’s minimalist raveups have a body that doesn’t come fully alive on record — at least not this record, which is exciting in a disturbingly abstract way. Of course, that’s probably how these so-straight-they’re-cool weirdos want it.

16. X’s Los Angeles: Combining raw tempos and abrasive lyrics with sawed-off Chuck Berry guitar lines, the punkest album of the year almost justified the desperate stupidity of the rest of the band’s ingrown scene. But I was taken with this comment from L.A. critic Jay Mitchell: “Their death and gloom aura is closer to the Eagles, which is to say it is all Hollywood.”

15. Rockpile’s Seconds of Pleasure: Solo LPs by Dave Edmunds and Nick Lowe finished 13th and 14th in 1979. In 1980 the ace revivalists joined forces and dropped a place. Hmm. To me, this one proves Lowe’s conceptualist bravado, not his voice, is what stamps his albums. Another collection of good rock n’ roll songs in Edmunds’ neoclassicist manner, neither as slack as its detractors claim nor as meaningful as rock n’ roll loyalists wish.

14. Peter Townshend’s Empty Glass: Townshend has said the only reason this isn’t a Who record is that it wasn’t time for a Who record, which may be his way of apologizing for not being able to sing like Roger Daltrey. On his earlier solo ventures, the reflective, lyrical mood suited his light timbre. Here he tries to voice urgency and anger, with results that nonbelievers find whiny. Who fans, rock’s oldest and most steadfast critical fraternity, find the gap between aspiration and achievement touching and apt.

13. Michael Jackson’s Off the Wall: Nothing like four big singles to attract belated attention to a struggling young man — why else did eight new voters regard this 18th-place 1979 finisher as a 1980 album? I hope that when “Heartbreak Hotel” and two or three others make their mark, the Jacksons’ Triumph (83rd this year) will repeat the trick.

12. Steely Dan’s Gaucho: Another painstaking step toward the cocktail rock they’ve sought for almost a decade — after half a dozen hearings, their most arcane harmonies and unlikely hooks sound comforting, like one of those electro-massagers that relax the muscles with a low-voltage shock. Craftsmen this obsessive don’t want to rule the world — they just want to make sure it doesn’t get them.

11. Peter Gabriel’s Peter Gabriel: The first man of Genesis came back even stronger than Mark Knopfler after hitting a sophomore jinx with Peter Gabriel, on Atlantic. His post-progressive art-rock minidramas won support from formalists and expressionists both, fulfilling the debut promise of Peter Gabriel, on Atco. Personal fave: “Biko,” a different kind of Africanism.

10. Gang of Four’s Entertainment!: This suffers a bit from Feelies syndrome — the tense, zigzag rhythms sound thinner than they do from a stage, where the Gang also get to make their chanted non-melodies visible. But the band’s progressive atavism is a real formal accomplishment — by taking punk’s amateur ethos up a notch or three without destroying its spirit, they pull off the kind of trick that’s been eluding avant-garde primitives since the dawn of romanticism. And if you want to complain that their leftism is received, the same goes for your common sense.

9. Prince’s Dirty Mind: Although the vocals are love-man falsetto, the metallic textures and simple drum pattern are as much Rolling Stones as Funkadelic. And where the typical love man plays the lead in “He’s So Shy,” Prince is aggressively, audaciously erotic. I’m talking about your basic fuckbook fantasies — the kid sleeps with his sister and digs it, sleeps with his girlfriend’s boyfriend and doesn’t, and stops a wedding by gamahuching the bride on her way to church. I mean, Mick can just fold up his penis and go home.

8. Stevie Wonder’s Hotter Than July: “Side two is the perfect example of an artist doing his job and doing it well. With fun and grace at that,” saith the surprisingly quotable Jay Mitchell (never heard of him myself), who didn’t vote for it. I didn’t vote for it either, but I just played side one and found it only a little less of the same. Except for the all-embracingly pan-Afro-American “Master Blaster,” there’s no great Stevie on this album, but between his free-floating melodicism and his rolling overdrive, his hope and his cynicism, he seems more and more like the best thing the ’60s ever happened to. Sure outlasted Jerry Garcia, didn’t he?

7. Elvis Costello’s Get Happy!!: When this Stax-based 20-song loss leader failed to take either critically or commercially, I thought Costello had blown it — no shock to me, but obviously a major disappointment to Mr. Costello, his many believers, and the Columbia Broadcasting System. But while Get Happy!! fared somewhat worse than any of his other albums in Pazz & Jop, it received such strong and varied support that I’m now convinced of the opposite — that Costello’s craft and commitment bespeak the kind of staying power that keeps some critical faves in the running till they finally break through on sheer persistence.

6. Captain Beefheart and the Magic Band’s Doc at the Radar Station: Beefheart is a genius and an utter original, but that doesn’t make him the greatest artist ever to rock down the pike — his unreconstructed eco-freak eccentricity impairs his aesthetic as well as his commercial outreach. But never before have his nerve-wracking harmonies and sainted-spastic rhythms been captured in such brutal living color — if only he’d had saved some melodic secrets for side two, this might be the undeniable masterpiece he’s always deserved.

5. Public Image Ltd.’s Second Edition: In which former three-chord savage John Lydon reveals himself as yet another arty primitivist — a sharp, sophisticated one. PIL reorganizes the punk basics — ineluctable pulse, attack guitar — into a full-bodied, superaware white dub with disorienting European echoes, an ideal counterpart to the civilized bestiality of Lydon’s vocal drama. Much of this music is difficult, and some of it fails, but just about all of it makes me stop and listen. And “Poptones” could have been my single of the year.

4. Pretenders: It’s dumb to put them down as pop — pop hasn’t come this far yet and I’m not sure it ever will. They get on the radio, sure, but their structures are too open-ended (compare the anal-compulsive neatness of Squeeze or Elvis C.) and their passions too out-front. And no matter where they get their hooks, they have their own melodic style. Admittedly, though, Chrissie Hynde is a little thin in the soul — even her nastiness doesn’t sound as if there’s much behind it.

3. Talking Heads’ Remain in Light: In which David Byrne conquers his fear of music in a visionary cross-cultural synthesis, clear-eyed and rather detached yet almost mystically optimistic. One song celebrates a young terrorist, another recalls John Cale at his spookiest, a third turns failure into a religious experience. Yet when Byrne shouts out that “the world moves on a woman’s hips” — not exactly a new idea in rock and roll — it sounds as if he’s just discovered the secret of life for himself. Which he probably has.

2. Bruce Springsteen’s The River: All the standard objections apply — his beat is still clunky, his singing overwrought, his sense of significance shot through with Mazola Oil. But his writing is at a peak, and he’s grown into a bitter empathy. These are the wages of young romantic love among those who get paid by the hour. Maybe he’s giving forth with so many short fast ones because those circles of frustration and escape seem even more desperate now.

1. The Clash’s London Calling: Oh yeah, and then there was the Clash. If this was the Year of the Lollapalooza, the Clash was the Lollapalooza of the Lollapaloozas. Their triple-LP, Sandanista!, finished 55th as an import and is sure to come in a lot higher next year, and they also put out a 10-inch “EP” that had 34 minutes of music on it. But this was the biggest one, supported by all but the bared-teeth brigade and the shameless sticks-in-the-mud. It generated an urgency and vitality and ambition (that Elvis P. cover!) which overwhelmed the pessimism of its leftist world-view. And it was good for an actual hit single. I mean, what else is there?

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Selected Ballots

BILLY ALTMAN: Elvis Costello and the Attractions: Get Happy!! (Columbia) 15; T-Bone Burnett: Truth Decay (Takoma) 15; The Cars: Panorama (Elektra) 15; Public Image, Ltd.: Second Edition (Island) 10; Creedence Clearwater Revival: The Royal Albert Hall Concert (Fantasy) 10; Captain Beefheart and the Magic Band: Doc at the Radar Station (Virgin) 10; Joan Jett (Blackheart) 10; Talking Heads: Remain in Light (Sire) 5; Squeeze: Argybargy (A&M) 5.

LESTER BANGS: Public Image Ltd.: The Metal Box/Second Edition (Virgin import/Island) 30; Otis Rush: Groaning the Blues (Flyright import) 30; Talking Heads: Remain in Light (Sire) 5; The Sex Pistols: The Great Rock ’n’ Roll Swindle (Virgin import) 5; The Clash: Black Market Clash (Epic Nu-Disk) 5; The Rolling Stones: Emotional Rescue (Rolling Stones) 5; Captain Beefheart and His [sic] Magic Band: Doc at the Radar Station (Virgin) 5; Ramones: End of the Century (Sire) 5; Lydia Lunch: Queen of Siam (Ze) 5; Sid Vicious: Sid Sings (Virgin import) 5.

LESTER BANGS: Au Pairs: “Diet”/”It’s Obvious” (021 import); Teenage Jesus & the Jerks (Migraine EP); Mars (Lust Unlust EP); The Mekons: “Snow” (Red Rhino); The Clash: “Bankrobber” (CBS import); Lipps, Inc.: “Funkytown” (Casablanca); Ramones: “I Wanna Be Sedated” (RSO); Was (Not Was): “Wheel Me Out” (ZE/Antilles); Public Image Ltd.: “Memories”/”Another” (Virgin import); Bush Tetras: “Too Many Creeps” (99).

TOM CARSON: The Clash: London Calling (Epic) 20; Public Image Ltd.: Second Edition (Island) 20; Captain Beefheart and the Magic Band: Doc at the Radar Station (Virgin) 12; Elvis Costello and the Attractions: Get Happy!! (Columbia) 9; Peter Townshend: Empty Glass (Atco) 9; The Brains (Mercury) 9; David Bowie: Scary Monsters (RCA) 6; Ramones: End of the Century (Sire) 5; Iron City Houserockers: Have a Good Time (but Get Out Alive) (MCA) 5; The Rossington Collins Band (MCA) 5.

BRIAN CHIN (all 12-inch disco discs): S.O.S. Band: “Take Your Time (Do It Right)” (Tabu); Queen: “Another One Bites the Dust” (Elektra); George Benson: “Give Me the Night” (Warner Bros.); Rod: “Shake It Up (Do the Boogaloo)” (Prelude); Cameron: “Get It Off” (Salsoul); Gayle Adams: “Your Love Is a Life Saver” (Prelude); Gene Chandler: “Does She Have a Friend?” (20th Century); Kurtis Blow: “The Breaks” (Mercury); Teena Marie: “Behind the Groove” (Gordy); The Brothers Johnson: “Stomp!” (A&M).

DEBRA RAE COHEN: Talking Heads: Remain in Light (Sire) 14; The Clash: London Calling (Epic) 14; Public Image Ltd.: Second Edition (Island) 14; Joy Division: Unknown Pleasures (Factory import) 12; Arthur Blythe: Illusions (Columbia) 10; The Brains (Mercury) 7; Steely Dan: Gaucho (MCA) 8; Elvis Costello and the Attractions: Get Happy!! (Columbia) 8; Captain Beefheart and the Magic Band: Doc at the Radar Station (Virgin) 7; The Feelies: Crazy Rhythms (Stiff) 5.

DEBRA RAE COHEN: Joy Division: “Love Will Tear Us Apart” (Factory import); Joy Division: “She’s Lost Control”/”Atmosphere” (Factory 12-inch); Delta 5: “You” (Rough Trade import); Robert Wyatt: “At Last I Am Free” (Rough Trade import); Pylon: “Cool”/”Dub” (Caution); Suicide: “Dream Baby Dream” (Red Star); The Rolling Stones: “Emotional Rescue” (Rolling Stones); Kurtis Blow: “The Breaks” (Mercury); NRBQ: “Me and the Boys” (Red Rooster); The Jam: “Going Underground” (Polydor import).

BARRY MICHAEL COOPER: Junie: Bread Alone (Columbia) 15; Bootsy: Ultra Wave (Warner Bros.) 15; Devo: Freedom of Choice (Warner Bros.) 12; Herbie Hancock: Mr. Hands (Columbia) 12; Stevie Wonder: Hotter Than July (Tamla) 8; Al Green: The Lord Will Make a Way (Myrrh) 8; Cameo: Feel Me (Casablanca) 5; Talking Heads: Remain in Light (Sire) 5.

MIKE FREEDBERG: Prince: Dirty Mind (Warner Bros.) 15; Change: The Glow of Love (Warner Bros.) 15; Smokey Robinson: Warm Thoughts (Tamla) 15; Geraldine Hunt: No Way (Prism) 10; Diana Ross: Diana (Motown) 10; Earth, Wind & Fire: Faces (Columbia) 10; George Benson: Give Me the Night (Warner Bros.) 10; Stevie Wonder: Hotter Than July (Tamla) 5; Teena Marie: Irons in the Fire (Gordy) 5; Cameo: Feel Me (Casablanca) 5.

VAN GOSSE: Joy Division: “Love Will Tear Us Apart” (Factory import); Generation X: “Dancing with Myself” (Chrysalis 12-inch import); Kurtis Blow: “The Breaks” (Mercury 12-inch); The Tamlins: “Baltimore” (Taxi 12-inch import); Pylon: “Cool”/”Dub” (Caution); Siouxsie & the Banshees: “Christine” (Polydor import); Stevie Wonder: “Master Blaster (Dub)” (Motown 12-inch import); Bush Tetras: “Too Many Creeps” (99); Split Enz: “I Got You” (A&M); Siouxsie & the Banshees: “Israel” (Polydor import).

JOHN PICCARELLA: The Clash: London Calling (Epic) 15; Bruce Springsteen: The River (Columbia) 12; Talking Heads: Remain in Light (Sire) 12; Public Image Ltd.: Second Edition (Island) 10; Art Ensemble of Chicago: Full Force (ECM) 10; Captain Beefheart and the Magic Band: Doc at the Radar Station (Virgin) 9; Elvis Costello and the Attractions: Get Happy!! (Columbia) 8; Neil Young: Hawks and Doves (Reprise) 8; Peter Gabriel (Mercury) 8; The Psychedelic Furs (Columbia) 8.

GREIL MARCUS: Gang of Four: Entertainment! (Warner Bros.) 15; Image Publique S.A.: Paris Au Printemps (Virgin import) 15; Iron City Houserockers: Have a Good Time (But Get Out Alive) (MCA) 15; The Clash: London Calling (Epic) 15; Carlene Carter: Musical Shapes (Warner Bros.) 15; X: Los Angeles (Slash) 5; Roxy Music: Flesh + Blood (Atco) 5; Black Uhuru: Sensimilla (Mango) 5; Robin Lane & the Chartbusters (Warner Bros.) 5; Dire Straits: Making Movies 5.

GREIL MARCUS: The Beat: “Twist & Crawl” (Go-Feet import 12-inch); J. Geils Band: “Love Stinks” (EMI America); Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers: “Refugee” (Backstreet); Blondie: “Call Me” (Polydor 12-inch); The Clash: “Train in Vain” (Epic); Red Crayola: “Born in Flames” (Rough Trade import); The Beat: “Stand Down Margaret (Dub)” (Go-Feet import 12-inch); Delta 5: “You” (Rough Trade import); Tommy James: “Three Times In Love” (Millenium); Anemic Boyfriends: “Guys Are Not Proud” (Red Sweater).

DAVE MARSH: Bruce Springsteen: The River (Columbia) 30; Donna Summer: The Wanderer (Geffen) 17; Stevie Wonder: Hotter Than July (Tamla) 12; Smokey Robinson: Warm Thoughts (Tamla) 10; Van Morrison: Common One (Warner Bros.) 8; Peter Gabriel (Mercury) 8; J. Geils Band: Love Stinks (EMI America) 5; Public Image Ltd.: Second Edition (Island) 5; The Clash: London Calling (Epic) 5; Peter Townshend: Empty Glass (Atco) 5.

JON PARELES: Lydia Lunch: Queen of Siam (ZE) 20; Captain Beefheart and the Magic Band: Doc at the Radar Station (Virgin) 10; Talking Heads: Remain in Light (Sire) 10; Steve Reich: Octet/Music for a Large Ensemble/Violin Phase (ESM) 10; David Bowie: Scary Monsters (RCA) 10; Gang of Four: Entertainment! (Warner Bros.) 10; The Cars: Panorama (Elektra) 10; Laraaji: Ambient #3 Day of Radiance (Editions EG) 10; Bootsy: Ultra Wave (Warner Bros.) 5; Peter Gabriel (Mercury) 5.

JON PARELES: Siouxsie & the Banshees: “Happy House” (Polydor import); Glenn Branca: “Lesson No. 1” (99); NRBQ: “Me and the Boys” (Red Rooster); The Dance: “Dance for Your Dinner” (ON import EP); Bush Tetras: “Too Many Creeps” (99); Joy Division: “Love Will Tear Us Apart” (Factory import); Rod Stewart: “Passion” (Warner Bros.); Paul Simon: “Late in the Evening” (Warner Bros.); The Method Actors: “This Is It” (Armageddon import EP); Colin Newman: “B”/”Classic Remains”/”Alone on Piano” (Beggars Banquet).

ANDY SCHWARTZ: The Feelies: Crazy Rhythms (Stiff) 22; X: Los Angeles (Slash) 13; Joan Jett (Blackheart) 13; The Decline of Western Civilization (Slash) 12; Lydia Lunch: Queen of Siam (Ze) 10; Captain Beefheart and the Magic Band: Doc at the Radar Station (Virgin) 8; Echo & the Bunnymen: Crocodiles (Sire) 7; Public Image Ltd.: Second Edition (Island) 5; Elvis Costello and the Attractions: Get Happy!! (Columbia) 5; Jack DeJohnette: Special Edition (ECM) 5.

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Top 10 Albums of 1980

1. The Clash: London Calling (Epic)

2. Bruce Springsteen: The River (Columbia)

3. Talking Heads: Remain in Light (Sire)

4. Pretenders: Pretenders (Sire)

5. Public Image, Ltd.: Second Edition (Island)

6. Captain Beefheart and the Magic Band: Doc at the Radar Station (Virgin)

7. Elvis Costello and the Attractions: Get Happy!! (Columbia)

8. Stevie Wonder: Hotter Than July (Tamla)

9. Prince: Dirty Mind (Warner Bros.)

10. Gang of Four: Entertainment! (Warner Bros.)

 

Top 10 Singles of 1980

1. Kurtis Blow: “The Breaks” (Mercury)

2. Joy Division: “Love Will Tear Us Apart” (Factory import)

3. Blondie: “Call Me” (Chrysalis)

4. (Tie) The Clash: “Train in Vain”/”London Calling” (Epic)
Pretenders: “Brass in Pocket” (Sire)

6. Stevie Wonder: “Master Blaster (Jammin’)” (Tamla)

7. John Lennon: “(Just Like) Starting Over”/Yoko Ono: “Kiss Kiss Kiss” (Geffen)

8. The Vapors: “Turning Japanese” (United Artists)

9. Lipps, Inc.: “Funkytown” (Casablanca)

10 (Tie) Diana Ross: “Upside Down” (Motown)
Bruce Springsteen: “Hungry Heart” (Columbia)

— From the February 9, 1981, issue

 

Pazz & Jop essays and results can also be found on Robert Christgau’s site. His most recent book, Is It Still Good to Ya? Fifty Years of Rock Criticism, 1967–2017, was published last year.

Categories
AD CANDY ARCHIVES From The Archives

Ads of Christmas Past

It’s yuletide in the East Village, 1970 edition: MGM, the big movie studio, is setting up shop to capture some local color on Second Avenue. But, as Howard Smith reported in his weekly Scenes column, Kip Cohen, of the Fillmore East, was having none of it, fearing the out-of-towners might exploit “the whole East Village scene.” So the club manager covered his venue’s marquee with black drapes and devised a “sound mechanism” to distort the filmmakers’ audio track.

The two-page spread in the December 10, 1970, issue of the Voice exemplified a new decade looking to make sense of the advances, struggles, love, and violence of the tumultuous Sixties. Smith also reported on the travails of Art Raveson, who was having “some really big hassles trying to sell boxes of Christmas cards portraying himself as a kind of tenement Jesus crucified on a fire escape ladder.” Smith added that the long-haired Son of God ringer had turned his one-room apartment into “a miniature Hallmark factory,” and that reaction on the street to his wares ranged from “the standard New York blank stare to outrage — one woman hurled a box of the cards into the gutter and stomped on it after a five-minute harangue.”

Almost half a century on, the ads on that spread reveal that the times were definitely a-changing. The Beatles were no more, but the Plastic Ono Band were releasing an album featuring one of the world’s most famous couples, John Lennon and Yoko Ono, in alternating portraits. A much smaller ad presaged that a more raucous style of rock was waiting in the wings: “PUNK MUSIC BY SUICIDE” exclaims the copy in an ad for a show at the Village Vanguard, more commonly thought of as a temple of jazz. The Ramones would not burst onto the scene for another few years, but Suicide bandmates Alan Vega and Martin Rev were already promising some “nasty punk.”

Another ad from that same month featured a man who needs no introduction now but was still a fresh phenomenon in 1970: Jesus Christ Superstar. As the copy asks, “Was he God, myth or magician?”

Well, he wasn’t yet a Broadway star, but the double album about his life was climbing the charts and would hit number one a couple of months later. Decca bought a full-page ad in the December 3 issue of the Voice to stoke the buzz and tell people what was happening, quoting a reviewer in the L.A. Free Press: “Potentially the single most important recording since Edison waxed his first cylinder.”

What would Christmas be without some serious hyperbole?

 

Categories
CULTURE ARCHIVES From The Archives MUSIC ARCHIVES show-old-images

Beaten or Stoned? Was 1968 the Beginning of the End of the Sixties?

Late in the summer of 1968, Pope Paul VI came out forcefully against the birth-control pill, putting a moral crimp in the decade’s libido. London, however, was still swinging strong, and the Beatles decided — perhaps as Communist lark rather than Christian tithing — that it was truly better to give than to receive. In the August 8, 1968, issue of the Village Voice, part-time theater critic Charles Marowitz reported that the world’s most popular rock group was shuttering its Apple store (named for its record label) and giving away all of the shop’s existing stock. One mother walked in with her two children “just to windowshop and walked out with new dresses, summer suits, and other assorted goodies.” As she left, the mom said, “Give Ringo a big kiss for me.” The Voice correspondent noted, though, that not everyone was happy. “In the past few days, I have heard the Beatles maligned more viciously than they ever were at the height of their controversial pop success. For they have been guilty, in certain people’s eyes, of the worst sin imaginable — not weaning the young on drugs or spreading Buddhist cultishness, but subverting the principles of commerce…. The Beatles have repudiated the premise on which all business is firmly established: i.e., that you can’t get something for nothing.”

During that tumultuous decade, the pope wasn’t the only one questioning the mores of the times. In the October 3, 1968, issue, Howard Smith reported in Scenes, his regular Voice column, that the other chart-topping group from across the pond was being vexed by their record label. “The Rolling Stones, the group with the sandpaper personalities, continues to scratch the smooth wherever it is found. Although their new album, ‘Beggar’s [sic] Banquet,’ was completed months ago, it has still not been shipped to the stores. The Stones like the bathroom wall graffiti jacket design. Their record company says it’s in bad taste and won’t release it. Not even the $1 million advance sale has been enough to bridge this obscenity gap. Also turned down was Mick Jagger’s suggestion that the album be sold in plain paper bags labeled ‘unsuitable for children.’ ” (This almost two decades before Tipper Gore headed the Parents Music Resource Center’s crusade to label recordings for adult content in a manner similar to that used for motion pictures. Jagger, who had attended the London School of Economics before the Stones rocket took off, was cannily aware that the forbidden always makes for a good sales pitch.)

Next came a turn on the censor’s wheel for one of the Beatles, even as the bad-boy Stones were blinking in the face of their record company’s skittishness. The November 7, 1968, Voice offered readers full-frontal nudity from the cover of John Lennon and Yoko Ono’s album Two Virgins; the record company objected to the nudity, but had even more problems with the only thing Lennon wore — an odd pendant. In a deep caption, Smith spelled out what it was all about. Sort of. “Hereby hangs a very interesting tale of commercial censorship. The music (which is electronic) from John Lennon and Yoko Ono’s film ‘Two Virgins’ was supposed to come out as a soundtrack album. But the Beatles’ British and American record companies balked because of the jacket photo, in which Lennon has a very unusual pendant hung around his neck. He refused to explain its meaning, saying: ‘If I give in on this and tell them, the next thing they’ll be telling me what kind of glasses to wear.’” Smith further reported that comedian Bill Cosby — of all people — came to the rescue, directing his record company, Tetragrammaton, to help with distribution, witchy jewelry be damned. “Meanwhile,” Smith concluded, “the handwriting on the bathroom wall has been erased by Decca Records: the Rolling Stones gave in, in this Year of the Great Album Cover Dispute.” (The Lennon tale hung around into the 1990s, when Noel Gallagher, of Oasis, obtained the bauble for brother Liam. “I bought him a few presents in the 90s. I bought him a thing from an auction which was an Indian necklace thing that John Lennon wore when he went to see the Maharishi. It’s worth a fortune — it was round the man’s neck when he wrote ‘Sexy Sadie’ — so I sent it to [Liam] for Christmas and next time I saw him he had it on. He took it out the frame and the label saying ‘worn by John Lennon.’ I said, ‘What are you doing? It’s fuckin’ memorabilia!’ and he said, ‘John Lennon wore it, I’m wearing it.’ He’s probably flushed it down the toilet by now. I don’t know, haven’t seen it since.”)

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Serendipitously — or perhaps not so much — in that same column Smith covered a Free Store on East 10th Street, which was having a much harder time with the locals on an even more expansive concept of giving than the Beatles did with their one-shot extravaganza: “The climax came one night last week when a group of cars and bikes reportedly pulled up and the store’s windows were shattered by shotgun butts.” Apparently, freedom, as the posthumously released Janis Joplin hit “Me and Bobby McGee” puts it, is indeed “just another word for having nothing left to lose.”

Stones guitarist Keith Richard once said, “Funny year, ’68, it’s got a hole in it somewhere.” In fact, two of the biggest albums of that (or any) year were released on ominous dates. First came The Beatles (more commonly known as the “White Album”), which hit the streets on November 22 — the five-year anniversary of the assassination of John F. Kennedy. That was followed by the Rolling Stones’ Beggars Banquet, on December 6, a date that would soon have its own run-in with history. In the December 12 issue of the Village Voice, music critic Carman Moore approached the White Album from clashing perspectives in the Riffs column —“I’ve never met a Beatle: they may be assholes, counter-revolutionaries, and purple meanies. But they’re always something more: the most complete music-making organization in the pop world and song writers whose corporate name is not out of place with those of the great classicalists. I don’t know whether the original idea of doing virtually every popular music style since the ’20s and putting those 30 cuts into a plain, white cover is actually pompous, larcenous, or what. I only know that they invade those fields and end up cutting the heavies in all but two or three of them (even Tiny Tim). The key to this mastery — the easy way to say it — is that while others break their necks inventing styles, the Beatles invent songs. Another way — also easy — is that they are obviously still respectful and excellent listeners to anybody else’s thing, that something makes them keep improving, and that music is their natural religion and they would yell their voices into hamburger, put their deepest secrets on a PA system, or strip stitchless if music is involved (A pretty girl is like a melody).”

Moore, an African American, wrote for the paper about such gospel singers as James Cleveland and Shirley Caesar, and found that in “Sexy Sadie,” Lennon sang “excellently with a black-style r&b ballad vibrato thrown in.” Moore also praises “Revolution 9” as “a not-badly-formed avant-garde outing.”

In that same Riffs column, rock critic Robert Somma sought language equal to the massive themes found on the Stones finally released Beggars Banquet (in a simple white cover with elegant script). “If rock has a royalty, then the Stones are king; if a hierarchy, they’re the Pope; if an occupation, then they’re the boss. ‘Beggar’s [sic] Banquet’ asks you to sup first with the devil, and then with the rest of the damned, a cast of characters, strangely not unlike you and me.” Somma goes on to list some of the players:

For Lucifer:
“I was there when Jesus Christ
had his moment of doubt and pain
made damn sure that Pilate
washed his hands and sealed his fate.”

For the rejected lover:
“Your heart is like a diamond
you throw your pearls at swine
and as I watch you leavin
you pack my peace of mind”

For the gangster:
“Yes he really looks quite religious
he’s been an outlaw all his life”

For the well-known common man:
“Raise your glass to the
hardworking people
let’s drink to the uncounted heads.”

It’s more than passing odd that during such a flamboyant, hopeful, violent, brilliant, mad travail of a decade, these two seminal albums arrived under similarly spare cover, the Beatles’ as bleached as bones, the Stones’ a prim invitation to the apocalypse.

But then things got weirder.

Far, far away from any London recording studios, a rancid guru named Charles Manson was in California — that ragged edge of a continent where dreamers, madmen, tricksters, and geniuses pile up on themselves with nowhere else to go — busily convincing his flock that he was in psychic communication with the Beatles. Such songs from the White Album as “Blackbird,” “Piggies,” “Revolution 1” (and “9”), “Sexy Sadie,” and, especially, “Helter Skelter,” were, Manson informed the faithful, direct confirmation that his visions of a world cleansed of pigs and killjoys was nigh. A career criminal, Manson was prepping his followers for murder and mayhem, and the Beatles were providing the soundtrack.

Or not. Revisionist historians argue that prosecutors’ claims of Manson planning the murders of Sharon Tate and her friends to launch a violent race war, which would leave him and his followers as rulers of the planet, are as ridiculous as they sound. Instead, these scholars of Manson’s mind blame the Tate-LaBianca bloodbaths on drug deals gone very bad, crimes which were in turn covered up by the authorities to spare the reputations of Hollywood’s decadent, wealthy, and socially powerful elite. Whatever the motive, Manson was undoubtedly a world-class con man, one who once pontificated to a courtroom audience, “I have killed no one and I have ordered no one to be killed. I may have implied on several different occasions to several different people that I may have been Jesus Christ, but I haven’t decided yet what I am or who I am.” Such musings were much too heavy for Lennon and McCartney’s preternaturally catchy pop melodies to shoulder.

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And besides, the Stones’ “Sympathy for the Devil” was more legitimately drenched in blood than anything the Beatles ever put on vinyl. While the band was recording the song, in early June 1968, Jagger sang the lyric, “I shouted out, ‘Who killed Kennedy?’/When after all, it was you and me,” in reference to the JFK murder. But the world would come to know the lines that made the final version: “I shouted out, ‘Who killed the Kennedys?’/When, after all, it was you and me.” The lyric change was only made public thanks to Jean-Luc Godard’s film One Plus One (later retitled Sympathy for the Devil) — which featured the band revising and recording the song in a London studio. Even then, only close viewers noticed, as the musicians did numerous takes, that the lyric was changed from singular to plural after Robert F. Kennedy was gunned down by an assassin on June 5, in Los Angeles.

Additionally, “Sympathy” received undo credit, a year to the day after the album’s release, for putting the final nail in the Sixties’ coffin, when eighteen-year-old Meredith Hunter was stabbed to death by Hells Angels as the Stones were performing the song at their calamitous Altamont concert, on December 6, 1969.

Or so the story went. Again, it took a filmed record to set the facts straight. On December 6, 1970, Gimme Shelter, the Maysles brothers’ film of the Stones’ 1969 tour, revealed, for those willing to watch, that Hunter had, in fact, been attacked during the buoyant strains of “Under My Thumb,” not — as had been reported by media outlets around the world — during “Sympathy for the Devil.”

Perhaps it’s no surprise that Joan Didion called out this misshapen history in her 1979 collection of essays assaying California’s dystopian paradise, by titling her book The White Album. As she informs us on the opening page, “I am talking here about a time when I began to doubt the premises of all the stories I had ever told myself.” 

Didion had had a decade’s hindsight to arrive at her revelation, so give Voice critic Somma credit for divining the majesty and malignity of the music that defined his moment. He knew there would be much more to come, writing, “Like any work of art one can describe as total, insular, comprehensive, self-explanatory, and multi-layered, the ‘Banquet’ needs more than a few words and will reveal itself, like a shrouded, necessary truth, with the passage of time.”

Categories
From The Archives NEW YORK CITY ARCHIVES NYC ARCHIVES

The Beatles Rap in New York

On August 22, 1966, the Beatles flew into New York and gave two press conferences at the Warwick Hotel on West 54th Street. Asked their opinions on the war in Vietnam, they were succinct, John Lennon saying, “We don’t like it,” and George Harrison adding, “War’s wrong and that’s all.”

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When a reporter asked, “Would you care to elaborate?” Paul McCartney said, “We would elaborate, but not here. …  In England people will listen a bit more to what you say. Here everything you say is picked up and turned against you. There’s more bigotry in America.” The Voice‘s reporter, James Kempton (son of the well-known commentator Murray), noted, “Every pencil in the room came down.” And that’s when the quick-thinking 24-year-old McCartney decided that it might, in fact, be a very good moment to elaborate: “There are more people so there are more bigots.”

Still smarting from the controversy he had caused a few months earlier when he said that the Fab Four was “more popular than Jesus,” Lennon quipped to his bandmate, “Say any more and you’ll be explaining all about it on the next tour.”

At a second meet-and-greet session, this time with fans who had won a radio station contest to lob softball questions at the Liverpudlians, one young woman held up a leaf and asked McCartney, “Do you recognize this? It’s supposed to come from your front lawn.”

“Sure,” he replied, “I’ve missed it for months!”

In this same issue we get Richard Goldstein in his Pop Eye column reviewing the Beatles’ Revolver album, calling it “a revolutionary record, as important to the expansion of pop territory as was Rubber Soul.” A little further on, Goldstein zeroes in on Revolver‘s last track, “Tomorrow Never Knows,” rhapsodizing that “No one can say what actually inspired this song, but its place in the pantheon of psychedelic music is assured. … While not unprecedented, the combination of acid-Buddhist imagery and a rock beat has never before been attempted with such complexity. At first, the orchestration sounds like Custer’s last stand. Foghorn-like organ chords and the sound of birdlike screeching overshadows the vocal. But the overall effect of this hodgepodge is a very effective suspension of musical reality.”

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Bill Frisell’s Big Sur Quintet

He’s brought his famous lilt to tunes by Stephen Foster, Bob Dylan and John Lennon, but there’s something truly enticing about Frisell burrowing into a program entitled “This Land: Woody Guthrie’s Better World.” Both icon and interpreter can be folksy or fierce, and that kind of pliability becomes magical when the guitarist has his imaginative quintet with him. From “Do Re Mi” to “Pastures of Plenty” they’ll follow the spirit where it leads, and don’t be shocked if it takes you an unexpected spot or two down the road from Guthrieville.

Fri., Sept. 19, 7 & 9:30 p.m.; Sat., Sept. 20, 7 & 9:30 p.m., 2014