Monday, October 29, 2012

Roll Over Beethoven

Richard Furnstein: "Roll Over Beethoven" was a bold mission statement when Chuck Berry recorded the song in 1956. "Hey, Mr. DJ, stop playing that boring dead person music and put on this exciting blues-cum-redneck monstrosity that will surely impregnate your daughter." The dead composers in the lyrics were just symbols for the conservative European conception of music/art/lifestyle/existence. "Dig to these rhythm and blues" wasn't an invitation to enjoy this new brand of music, it was a request to dig your own grave because your world was over. "Time's up!" said Chuck, and the old white people clapped and went on with their boring racist lives. These same morons later made a movie about a clumsy dog named Beethoven tormenting Charles (Chuck?) Grodin. Get it? Dogs roll over.

Anyway, mild-mannered and gentle voiced George Harrison took this stomping declaration of cultural awakenings and turned it into a nostalgic stomp about rockings past. Beethoven and Tschaikowsky were completely dead at this point. America was advancing toward civil rights, but little George Harrison genuinely wanted to write a letter to his local disc jockey to hear his favorite rock n' roll record and that is that. I'm certainly not implying that George was misguided to sing "Roll Over Beethoven." I actually consider it a sweet reminder of the changes that took place in eight years.

Robert Bunter: That's right, jack. Roll over, Chuck Berry. The Beatles probably considered this song as a great, inspirational rocker that they were comfortable with from their live set so why not use it to pad out the album? They probably weren't aware that they were actually heralding the dawn of another revolutionary moment. Forget about the sexually-threatening duck-walker in the black-and-white TV footage. George and the boys are unwittingly sounding the alarm about a group of four colorful young lads who will preach the gospel of love, independent thought, honesty and optimism to a generation of blank-minded kids in coonskin caps and 3-D glasses. Those kids internalized the message and proceeded to recklessly abuse narcotics and cluster together in squalid "crash pads" with infested mattresses and bloodshot eyes. The 1950s squares who were upset about Chuck Berry didn't know how good they had it; in retrospect, they would be happy to have their daughters impregnated by this stylish hipster with his energetic take on T-Bone Walker's innovations from the '40s and songs about snappy automobiles and hamburgers. The moptops delivered something far more harmful.

Richard Furnstein: Now you got my attention! Chuck Berry was only hinting at one night's revolution: pitching a ball and driving fast cars. The Beatles helped introduce the world to cosmic seers, the thick hairy ropes inside high grade lysergic, and regressive psychotherapy. Greasers popping wheelies and speed in the malt shop parking lot don't sound so bad after that, eh?

George and the boys are unwittingly sounding the alarm about a group of four colorful young lads who will preach the gospel of love, independent thought, honesty and optimism to a generation of blank-minded kids in coonskin caps and 3-D glasses.
"Roll Over" also suggested that the return to Year Zero was upon us again. We were ready to turn the page on the roots of rock and roll, as we came to know and love this group of shape-shifting Brits that would continually renew our collective culture. Roll over, Ludwig and Elvis and Chuck and Herman's. You are all useless now. The Beatles would later prove that their earlier selves were useless as they burned through a series of drugs, shirt patterns, intellectual foundations, and mustaches. The Inferiors would try to stumble in their wake, buying Beatle boots and letting their sideburns tickle their ears. It would be a futile exercise as The Beatles kept advancing, ripping the calendar off the wall with every new release/promotional appearance/publicity stunt. What day is it today? It's the birth of a new age, Scrooge. Put your new flavored trousers on, stroll down to the group sex demonstration in Trafalgar and smoke angel dust with some Pakistani prophets.

Robert Bunter: OK, stop belaboring the point! Ha, just kidding. Let's take a listen to the music. The boys do a credible job on this one; none of the whitewashed antiseptic blandness that all too often was the result when black '50s rock legends were subjected to cover versions. George pays respectful homage to the master's licks, but the Beatles unashamedly put their own stamp on this one with the trademark Merseybeat sound: double-tracked vocals, Ringo's unrelenting drum hurricane, special studio effects (handclaps). At the beginning it sounds like George actually says "WE," as in, "We're gonna write a little letter / gonna mail it to my local DJ." He subsequently reverts to the first person, but the point had been made.

Richard Furnstein: He definitely says "we." I'm not sure how to take that. Most likely George was just wrapped up in the moment (that guitar lick sure is exciting), pushed by adrenalin and Ringo's dopecruncher beat. However, I like to imagine George is fantasizing writing a joint letter with the one and only Chuck Berry to their mutual local DJ. It's an impossible dream, but still exciting. George hunched over his father Harold's drafting table, while Chuck dictates the letter to him. Chuck is probably duck walking as he tries to finish his carefully crafted sentences. George made samosas for this crucial summit but Chuck declines. Politely.

Robert Bunter: Ah, I see. The two representatives of the new world order drafting a progressive charter that would forever change history. Mindful of the past, looking toward the future. Beautiful!

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