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.)

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