Monday, January 23, 2012

I Want To Hold Your Hand

Richard Furnstein: I'm not even sure how I should analyze this song. It's a powerhouse tornado storm locomotive sent from heavenly angels to demolish the stale mediocrity of pre-Beatles rock and roll. It's not the greatest song that The Beatles wrote but it may be the greatest song ever written. No, that doesn't make sense. It doesn't matter. Put on the mono version (clearly) and spazz out. Good luck to your floorboards. Hide your valuables, because I may start stealing things.

Robert Bunter: Yeah, that's some assault, pal! I think there's a real violence implied here: the insistent throb of the bass frequencies, the pounding drums, the handclaps like slaps in the face. These surging mopheads represented a threat to the conformist social order, not to mention YOU, the listener. If you're a boy person, you'd better watch out or get with the program because these fresh-fangled supermen are about to take all the girls. If you're a girl person, the raw sexual energy is so powerful that all you can do is rock back and forth in your seat and scream at the top of your lungs. Look at the old footage. Do those girls look happy to you? They have tears streaming down their faces and their eyes are wide with terror. They pull their hair and screech and probably they wet their pants. I don't envy the poor custodian who was in charge of seat wipe-downs in the upper decks of Shea Stadium in 1965, that's for sure. They were screaming in ecstasy, but it was ecstasy of a very edgy sort. They were driven straight out of their heads. Meanwhile, mom and dad are scared, but for different reasons. The last time Father saw anything like this was on the beachhead at Normandy. Mother sees something in Daughter's eyes that is chillingly familiar; remember, she was the one who had to do all the laundry. And young Robert was looking straight at the Sunday night Ed Sullivan TV set with glazed eyes, possibly the most terrified of all. Nothing will ever be the same now; these four lads are miles ahead of him in a race that he didn't even realize was being run. Lots of catching up to do, son. You might want to cancel baseball practice.

Richard Furnstein:
All this from a song about HOLDING HANDS. It's an innocent act, like millions of color tinted photographs of little kids wearing oversized adult-styled clothes while holding hands. Aw, how cute. It's not cute, this is how trouble starts. A gentle touch of hands after you move closer to her after coming back to the couch after a "get psyched" trip to the bathroom. An exploratory fondle underneath the booth at a bar. This is how babies are made and diseases are spread and hearts are broken. The Rolling Stones would take it much further in mere months, but they were probably satanists and ate venereal diseases for breakfast. The Beatles were just well meaning boys who were a touch overdue at the barber's. Or were they? Man this song does it all!

I don't envy the poor custodian who was in charge of seat wipe-downs in the upper decks of Shea Stadium in 1965, that's for sure.

Robert Bunter: When things soften up during the middle eight ("And when I touch you I feel happy / inside"), it doesn't really soften up at all. It's an obscene mockery of a tender moment, like a guy whispering "Here, kitty kitty" to a frightened cat in a dark alley that he's about to bludgeon to death with a cat hammer. The confident singer has been screaming in your face about his wants and needs; then all of a sudden the bottom drops out and he's sweetly cooing for just a few seconds, until he can't contain himself any more and starts screaming "I CAN'T HIDE! I CAN'T HIDE!" in a moment of such primal intensity that it wouldn't be out of place on a Stooges or MC5 record. The vocal harmony is in fifths, with no major third to smooth out the sharpness. I'll say it again: this record takes us to unsettling places usually obscured from sight during sane, daylight hours. The Beatles? Innocent young boys looking for a snog on the naugahyde love seat? Richard, these are four violent monsters. John was like one of those Aztec chieftans you see in the crude paintings at Mexican restaurants, with an ornate Eagle beak mask attached to his head, leading a young virgin up the steps of a hideous temple to have her heart cut out to appease Xpoctxzl, the Mushroom God. Paul is a mother snake, eating her own writhing young, still clicking and shiny with the glistening secretions of snake birth. George is one of Alex's droogs from "Clockwork Orange," ripping the doors off suburban homes and violating their screeching inhabitants. And Ringo? He was like a cross between Pennywise the Clown, Alfred E. Newman performing impossible violations of physical laws on the cover of Mad Magazine and one of the unspeakable malevolent forces in H. P. Lovecraft stories.

Richard Furnstein: Okay, point taken. "I Want To Hold Your Hand" is like a prequel to one of The Beatles' greatest accomplishments: "She's Leaving Home." John and Paul had the nerve to rip apart our social structure with their incredible music and bold new approaches to hygiene and causal sex. The world had to change with them; it took real balls to write a tragic song about the changes that they forced on the globe. The past was boring and typically in black and white. Then, after the dust settled, the full prism of deviance, addiction, and rot was exposed. That old drunk in the park was no longer a touch of local color, he was now a shifty eyed speed freak who rubbed his sagging torso against the jungle gym. Your cousin decided that her dream to become a stenographer was boring and now lives with an old biker in a rat infested city. You don't even want to know how she makes money now. The Beatles surveyed the land and realized that they created this technicolor fallout: broken homes and an insurmountable generation gap. Then they wrote "She's Leaving Home" as an olive branch to the world. "Sorry I wanted to hold your comely daughter's hand, I didn't realize that it would destroy your narrow dreams."

Robert Bunter: That's exactly what happened. Did you ever notice that this song doesn't even seem to have distinct instruments? Sure, there's guitars and basses and drums and voices, but they all seem to blend together into one big rumble. The effect was heightened when the song came out in 1964, before the era of high fidelity audio reproduction systems. Back then, the only places to hear this song were on portable record players, AM radio, or the laughable speaker cone on your parents' TV when the Ed Sullivan show was on.

Richard Furnstein:
"Ladies and gentlemen, The Four Sexual Aliens Who Will Reconfigure Our Minds And Create Uncomfortable Distance Between You And Your Children!" (APPLAUSE.)

Friday, January 20, 2012

When I'm 64

Robert Bunter: Oh, Paul. What are we going to do with you? Possessed of one of the most electrifying male voices in heavy rock history, James Paul McCartney also happened to be one of the most versatile and gifted songwriters of his era – equally capable of breathtaking anthems, bold experimentalism, heartrending ballads, and delicate acoustic meditations. And it mattered not to what he turned his hand: it was almost always anchored by an almost supernaturally catchy melody and performed with admirable virtuosity on a wide variety of instruments. He is the man who can do anything. So what does he do? He dons one of those round Styrofoam hats, grabs his dancing cane and plops out a seemingly endless series of rooty-toot soft shoe ditties “for the grannies to dig” as George so accurately put it. It’s like Albert Einstein took a break from his equations to write jokes on Bazooka Joe wrappers, or Michelangelo painting the side of a goddamn barn.

Richard Furnstein:
Sure, Paul had a great howler on him. He could have built his entire career on his howl and a rebellious rock persona with a tight expiration date. Paul was more than a get rich quick scheme and a leather daddy hat. Sometimes wanted to sing about old people tending to their little potato patches, grandchildren that scoff at your Eddie Cochran imports, and finding your dear love attractive even though she's now an old lady and smells weird. "Hope I die before I get old," eh, Pete Townsend? No way, Paul's seen the impact of early death on his life (his dear mama and good friend Stu and maybe some other people) and he's celebrating the crazy journey of life. "You and I have memories longer than the road that stretches out ahead," he would later observe. Sounds nice. Put some tea on the kettle. You grandkids can use that dorm room hot pot that you plug in, but I'm doing this the old fashioned way. Take the long way 'round.

Robert Bunter: Well, it pains me to admit this, Richard, but you’re right. Paul’s right. You’ve actually taken this whole analysis to the next level. Everyone assumed John had the greater emotional maturity because he was willing to forcefully confront his bleakest demons. Likewise, we assumed Paul’s eager-to-please Everyperson charm was a mask behind which he hid his real feelings. The truth is, he was aware the whole time that the real cosmic truth of life lies in the simple, everyday world around us. Old people shuffling around in sleepgowns while they brew their tepid brown mugs of Earl Grey were once vital, young people, full of angst and complex thoughts. THEY NEED BEATLES MUSIC, TOO. Paul’s ultimate wisdom recognizes the endless circle of life and the inevitability of aging and loss in a way that John’s primal babyscream tantrums were unable to approach. As someone once said, “It’s like a dusting of opium on Auntie Minn’s biscuits.” Behind the Paul-mask, a showbiz entertainer. Yes. But, behind the entertainer mask: PAUL.

Richard Furnstein: A snake eating its own tale. Adding to the cycle of life cacophony is the fact that this is one of Paul's first songs. It's the sound of pure melody pouring out of a confused adolescent on the sitting room's upright piano. "Your Aunt Mim has stopped by for wafers and tea, Pauly. Play us that song about old people." And he did, because he gives the people what they want. I'll tell you what I want, though. Great recorded pop music with killer bass tones (CHECK) with a light touch of sentiment (OH YEAH). It's not just light story time, however. Paul offers the amazing lyrics: "Every summer we can rent a cottage in the Isle of Wight if it's not too dear" and "Yours sincerely/wasting away." "When I'm 64" is the perfect balance to an album about the heavy progression of youth culture. Take all the drugs you want and give your love away now, kids. But keep in mind a lifetime of new drugs (grandchildren, post menopausal intercourse, nice old sweaters) awaits you. It's closer than you think...

Paul was more than a get rich quick scheme and a leather daddy hat.

Robert Bunter: Wow. We’re really getting down to it! The harsh yet comforting realities of life. Now for some random observations: if you listen really closely in headphones, you can hear some amazing, subtle reverb on Paul’s lead vocal, which seems totally dry at first listen. While we’re on the subject, Paul’s voice has been sped up to sound more youthful, and he adopts a ridiculous Scottish accent on the word “your” in the lyric “Grandchildren on your knee.” I’ll bet whoever was in charge of ringing the bell at the end of that bridge had a hard time not laughing. The Lennon/Harrison backup vocals add a distinctive flavor, like pepper (!). The harmonized clarinet line under the last verse (and under the phrase “go for a ride”) is really compelling when you focus on it. Lastly, Paul’s closing “Hooo!” as he trots offstage is totally corny.

Richard Furnstein: So we agree, this is one of the clear highlights of "Sgt. Pepper," right?

Robert Bunter:
You’ve got to be kidding me! It’s is without a doubt the worst song on that album. I’m going to go even further: it’s terrible.

Richard Furnstein: I hope you enjoy the rest of your life. I hope you bounce grandchildren on your knee or whatever it is your people do. Best of luck to you. We can't grow old together as friends now.

Robert Bunter:

Original Beatles fan art by Jeff Love (