Wednesday, April 08, 2009

My gift to you

Life is good. And bad.

Ain't that the way? The key is skewing towards the left side of the ledger--if, in fact, the first two sentences of this post, in addition to being the first two sentences in the post, also represent a schematic rendering of a ledger-based interpretation of the notion that life is both good and bad--and managing expectations.

Me? My strategy for this is to consistently act like an idiot. That way, when I do manage to say something intelligent, everyone is impressed. Try it. Really.

Anyway, back to my gift to you. Have you ever heard of singer/songwriter Leah Siegel? Probably not. How about the Beatles? Can you name all four?

Regardless, I'm here to tell you they were really quite special. And that I'm awfully fond of Rubber Soul, one of their early albums. And particularly the song "In My Life".

Poor dead George Harrison was one of the Beatles. My favorite, just for the record. And legend has it, when he and the boys would be sitting around the house chanting Eastern melodies and dropping acid, as they were wont to do, at a certain point he would love to pull out a brace of ukuleles and start messing around on them.

The notion of The Beatles sitting in George's living room, hammered in their own special way, each playing a ukulele, makes me smile like nobody's business. My guess is that Ringo would grab a tambourine or something. I doubt he could play a ukulele. But the others? Definitely.

All of which brings me to my gift.

The link you see below is a quicktime audio file. Click on it (unless you are in a meeting or something).

(Actually, for reasons I can't fathom, you have to cut and paste the goddam link into your browser, then play it. I know this is annoying, but go ahead and do it--otherwise the rest of the post is less impactful)

It's Leah Siegel singing the song in question accompanied by a guy named Roger Greenawald on, as you may have guessed, ukulele. And something called robot drums (which would be a cool name for a band). Plus some backup singers which, through the miracle of computer technology, are also Ms. Siegel herself.

All of which is brought to you by not so much me as by two guys named David Barratt and the previously noted Roger Greenawald. Interesting how they both have unusual spellings of their last names.

They have a site called The Beatles Complete on Ukulele.

Their stated mission is to:

A) Record & perform on ukulele all 185 original compositions by The Beatles with 185 guest artists.

B) Write essays to coincide with each release.

C) Make available for download one new recording and essay every Tuesday for 185 weeks, beginning January 20, 2009 (Inauguration Day) and climaxing July 24, 2012 (The eve of the London Olympics).

Wow. This, dear reader, is a worthy cause. I mean, really. I'm getting a massive goosebump in my throat. You should hear their version of "While my guitar gently weeps" (although I can assure you that the instrumental riff at the break is a guitar, not a ukulele. Nobody plays a ukulele like that.)

What they write about the Leah Siegel version is also good clean fun:

Song - In My Life

Artist - Leah Siegel

Original Version recorded October 18, 1965

Ukulele Version recorded March 7, 2009

Leah Siegel: Vocals

Roger Greenawalt: Ukulele, Robot Drums

Produced by Roger Greenawalt at Shabby Road Studio, Brooklyn

For maximum enjoyment please put In My Life on repeat in your music player as you read this Essay. That’s what I do when I write it.

In My Life is a John Lennon song from the Rubber Soul album. Although I just read in Wikipedia that McCartney disputes this, saying the melody is mainly his. I believe…

Ringo. No it’s a Lennon song. It’s so Lennony.

It doesn’t get much better than this. Wistfulness and sadness at the passage of time is not an easy subject to discuss in a two minute twenty-eight second pop song. Lennon nails it. This song is the Celtic world view in a nutshell, seeing the beauty of the world through a mist of tears. It’s an Irish wake this piece. Thank god they recorded it so we can go down to the Irish Pub of our mind and drown our sorrows anytime we like.

Regrets, I’ve had a lot. Not John. This is an out and out Love Song To The Past.

A love song to a Dead Girlfriend. Or in this case a Love Song To His Dead Mother. Or the Dead Best Friend. Stu the painting bass player.

Not to be Freudian, but this lyric just screams “Mommy’s Dead!” to me. Sorry Stu.

It’s time to trot out Lennon and McCartney’s big fat artistic advantage.

(No they weren’t gay, but that would have been awesome. Imagine how much better The Beatles would have been if they were having sex with each like Fleetwood Mac.) No, their big advantage, and by far the biggest fact that they shared when they first became friends, was that they both had Young Dead Mothers. Like Madonna, who also has a Young Dead Mother, this emotional bottomless pit can create an engine of fierce need and ambition.

Just the thing to push you over the edge of excellence.

No amount of love or money is bringing her back. But huge amounts of love and money are a nice distraction if you’re grieving.

Back to In My Life. John sings very innocently here, like an orphan in a Disney movie or Dickens novel.

Falling in love with the past is great. I do it all the time.

“Some are dead and some are living.”

That’s a heavy lyric for somebody who had just turned 25 and was at the vortex of a crazy hurricane of fame and fortune. Any normal person in his place would have been shagging Twiggy on acid in Morocco. Instead he was living in the dreary suburbs of London and making masterpieces.

Writing like this is why Lennon enjoys such a high reputation. Deservedly so.

I wish they hadn’t double tracked the John’s lead vocal. It’s not quite tight. Enough to be slightly nervous making to modern ears. The backing vocals, which sound like Harrison and McCartney doubling themselves, are Perfuckto. Ring’s Drum part is really innovative, he only plays a normal beat in the second half of the B sections. The verse drumbeat is a minimal marvel.

Ringo swings, using silence as his main weapon. Unfortunately, there’s the usual insanely loud tambourine doubling the ride cymbal in the B section. Shame.

John’s falsetto at the end would become his most featured and beloved vocal effect. It signals vulnerability. Or in the case of The Bee Gees, disco.

There’s a trick sound in the solo. George Martin wrote a Baroque piano bit that he found was too difficult for him to play. By slowing down the master tape from 15 inches per second to 7 and a half inches per second, thanks to the magic of physics, the music plays back at half tempo and down exactly one octave. Martin then played the part on a normal piano at half speed at the slower tempo. When that was played back, the tone of the piano became much brighter and harpsichord like. That the part is written in the style of an 18th Century composition makes it all the more witty.

Our version features the stunning vocalist Leah Siegel. Her voice makes one swoon.

Since I have been making the case that The Beatles Legacy eclipses that of Shakespeare, It behooves us to just stick the two together. As sung by Leah, In My Life is sung by Ophelia, who is a drowned ghost, to her doomed not yet dead Danish boyfriend Hamlet. The big change is that the guitar melody at the start of each A section now has a lyric, and the bridge has paranoid voices inside of Hamlet’s skull instead of a harpsichord solo. Oh and did I mention,



Wow. If you are the kind of TYOMP reader that never reads the red stuff, just take a look at the last big paragraph. I love the part about Hamlet and Ophelia and the voices in Hamlet's head. I also like, I guess, the choice of a larger font size than I perhaps might have chosen for myself. Based, I guess, on the assumption that anybody old enough to give a shit about the entire Beatles oeuvre reinterpreted for ukulele is in need of a bit of ocular assistance.

That said, I resist the notion that the Beatles legacy has eclipsed that of Bill Shakespeare. Have you ever seen Slings and Arrows, the Canadian Broadcasting Co.' s comic take on a small Shakespearean theatre troupe doing, in Year One, Hamlet. Since we're talking about things Ophelian, check this out. The director (whose name is Geoffrey--gotta love that) is tutoring an actress on how to play Ophelia's mad scene. The actress is later replaced by her understudy, played by Rachel McAdams.

And in the piece de resistance, here's Geoffrey helping the actor playing Hamlet (an American movie star who comes to Canada to do Hamlet as a career legitimizer). About ten minutes before the scene below, Geoffrey says to the actor, who's freaking with pre-show jitters, "The whole play's just six soliloquies. The rest, as they say, is silence." "It's a bit more than that," the actor replies. "Filler," Geoffrey responds.

My favorite part comes at 3:06, when the actor cuts off Geoffrey while he's trying to explain the motivation behind the "To be or not to be" soliloquy. That's when you know he's got it. It's like the moment in the Swing Time number in the dance studio when Ginger hitches up her skirt for the first time and starts really dancing. Also worth noting is Rachel McAdams playing Ophelia gone bonkers. It's at 6:20 or so.

The rest of it is too hard to explain. Except that the old guy who shows up @ 5:22 is actually a ghost. Geoffrey, you see, is quite mad. He went insane playing Hamlet 7 years earlier.

Did you ever read Donna Tartt's "The Secret History"? Well, it made you want to go out and learn Greek. Watching Slings and Arrows makes you want to go and read Hamlet. Listening to the Beatles just makes me want to drop acid and play the ukulele. Which, I am here to tell you, is not the same thing as reading Hamlet.

All that said, there is no getting around the power of music. Witness this:

Vocals by, of course, Leah Siegel.

And, because this is about painting, not Shakespeare, or the Beatles, take a look at this:

It's the upper right hand corner of Barack 3. My two favorite annotations: "Fuck Bipartisanship" and, of course, "You may say I'm a dreamer/But I'm not the only one."



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