Invisible TouchBy Greg Olear
August 09, 2009
here are three chapters in American Psycho—“Huey Lewis,” “Whitney Houston,” and “Genesis”—in which Patrick Bateman, the narrator, ruminates on three of his favorite musical acts. In the third such chapter, he writes:
I’ve been a big Genesis fan ever since the release of their 1980 album, Duke. Before that I really didn’t understand any of their work, though on their last album of the 1970s, the concept-laden And Then There Were Three (a reference to band member Peter Gabriel, who left the group to start a lame solo career), I did enjoy the lovely “Follow You, Follow Me.”
By this point in the book, Bateman has already mutilated a homeless saxophone player, chopped a co-worker to death with a chainsaw, and served his girlfriend a used urinal cake dipped in chocolate. But it was only upon reading the preceding paragraph that it really kicked in: “He thinks Phil Collins is better than Peter Gabriel?!?! Holy shit! That guy’s fucking nuts!”
This is clearly the author’s intent. By all accounts, Bret Easton Ellis is something of a music snob—Less Than Zero, of course, derives its title from the Elvis Costello song of that name—who in real life (one supposes) would not hold with Bateman’s assessment of the horn-heavy Collins hit “Sussudio”: “great, great song; a personal favorite.”
That Peter Gabriel is “better” than Phil Collins, artistically if not commercially, is axiomatic. You won’t find many serious music listeners who disagree with that statement. The question is: why?
After all, Gabriel and Collins, as Ellis (and Bateman) point out, began in the same band, Genesis. Their sensibilities are akin. They dig African-style drums. They lean towards progressive rock, rather than the straight-ahead, I-IV-V variety. They are both gifted songwriters, able to craft sweet, catchy melodies. Even their voices are similar.
And yet there is something about Peter Gabriel, a certain ineffable quality, that Phil Collins lacks. I don’t know how to define it, I can’t break it down and tell you what it is, but it’s there. I mean, I can feel it coming in the air tonight. An added dimensionality, a depth of emotion, a more visceral expressiveness. Call it depth, call it gravitas. Call it…an invisible touch.
And it’s not the songs themselves. If Collins were to record Gabriel’s “Don’t Give Up,” it would be cheesy as hell, and if Gabriel took on “Against All Odds,” it would be one of the better sad songs going.
No, it’s something inherent in the men. Gabriel has the shine; Collins doesn’t. If I listen to Peter Gabriel for too long, I get tired of the songs. If I surfeit on Collins—which happened recently, as I purchased his greatest hits CD at a yard sale for $1, and the kids made me play “Take Me Home” (which I like; hey, I bought the album, OK?) over and over and over again—it makes me physically ill.
Another example of the Gabriel/Collins dialectic: Bruce Springsteen and Billy Joel. Imagine the Boss covering “Innocent Man.” Pretty good, right? But Joel doing “Thunder Road” would invoke the wrath of the gods. Frogs would fall upon his Baldwin, the moon would turn blood red, the Whore of Babylon would reveal herself to be Christie Brinkley.
But why? “Innocent Man” has a stronger melody line than “Thunder Road.” The lyrics aren’t that inferior. And Joel is a better piano player than Springsteen. So it’s not the songs; it’s something in the artists themselves. Bruce has a je ne sais quoi that Billy lacks.
It’s a quality some artists just have, naturally.
I caught an episode of Weeds awhile back—a maddeningly inconsistent show—and in one scene, where Mary Louise Parker is supposed to be sad, they play the Sufjan Stevens song “Holland.” I’d never heard it before—I only had the Illinoise album, not the Michigan one—but the song was so powerful, so evocative, so damned good, that it pulled me out of the scene. I no longer cared about Parker’s problems—Sufjan had upstaged her, with a few short bars of music.
This duality is true of other art forms as well. Take the world of letters. The Wizard of Earthsea series is Peter Gabriel to the Phil Collins that is the Harry Potter franchise. Ursula LeGuin possesses a kind of magic that all the wand-wavers of Hogwarts could not bestow upon J.K. Rowling, however more commercially successful she might be. Next to the former, the latter is a literary muggle (note: if you disagree, I direct your attention to “comments” section below…and don’t let the door hit you in the Snape).
In On Writing, Stephen King discusses his struggles with alcoholism. This is heavy stuff, heartbreaking really, and obviously personal for him. But there is a disposable quality to the writing. It comes off breezy and shallow, like a sequel to Dolores Claiborne. It lacks power. I’m not sure why. He’s not a bad writer, and the topic is engaging enough. But for all his prodigious book sales, King just doesn’t have the…well, the shining.
(Which brings up another point. The Shining, the novel, does not have the eponymous shining—but the film does. Why? Because Stanley Kubrick radiates the quality of which I speak. The material is exactly the same, and yet Kubrick has made high art out of a mass-market horror book.)
Sometimes, the alignment of perceptive criticism and bad novel is sufficient to pinpoint what makes some writing lousy. Here’s the great Anthony Lane, writing in The New Yorker, on The DaVinci Code:
There has been much debate over Dan Brown’s novel ever since it was published, in 2003, but no question has been more contentious than this: if a person of sound mind begins reading the book at ten o’clock in the morning, at what time will he or she come to the realization that it is unmitigated junk? The answer, in my case, was 10:00.03, shortly after I read the opening sentence: “Renowned curator Jacques Saunière staggered through the vaulted archway of the museum’s Grand Gallery.” With that one word, “renowned,” Brown proves that he hails from the school of elbow-joggers—nervy, worrisome authors who can’t stop shoving us along with jabs of information and opinion that we don’t yet require. (Buried far below this tic is an author’s fear that his command of basic, unadorned English will not do the job; in the case of Brown, he’s right.) You could dismiss that first stumble as a blip, but consider this, discovered on a random skim through the book: “Prominent New York editor Jonas Faukman tugged nervously at his goatee.” What is more, he does so over “a half-eaten power lunch,” one of the saddest phrases I have ever heard.
Indeed, when I read Brown’s book—and it was a struggle—I felt physically ill afterward, as I did after watching Independence Day, or listening to “Take Me Home” for the tenth time in a row. I felt violated. Call it the Phil Collins effect. (And call me a snob, while you’re at it. Just remember that I’m the snob who wrote a piece extolling the virtues of Billy Joel).
Contrast this to, say, the opening two lines of Great Jones Street, the underrated masterpiece by Don DeLillo about the lost rock star Bucky Wunderlick:
Fame requires every kid of excess. I mean true fame, a devouring neon, not the somber renown of waning statesmen or chinless kings.
Now, that, Mr. Brown, is how you use the word renown.
With acting, there are so many examples, but for the sake of space, try this exercise: watch Almost Famous. Now, imagine how much better the film would have been with Sarah Polley (the original choice, who pulled out of the project) rather than Kate Hudson as Penny Lane.
Fine art offers perhaps the best example, as our own Lance Reynald can attest: Andy Warhol making art out of soup-can labels.
So what is the secret? My theory is that on some level, with art in general but with music particularly, composers are not authors as much as vessels, vehicles through which the soundtrack of the universe is transmitted. Some melody lines, to my ears, sound so primal, they simply can’t be new.
“Tom’s Diner,” for example. That aching, haunting melody—does it not sound older than Earth itself?—was not written by Suzanne Vega as much as it was discovered by her, as Clyde Tombaugh discovered Pluto.
Bollocks, you say (if you’re James Irwin and you’re British). That’s a lot of New Age claptrap.
Perhaps. But consider:
Keith Richards drinks a bottle of whiskey, blacks out, wakes up the next morning in the recording studio, hits play, and finds the riff to “Satisfaction,” which he had composed during his drunken stupor.
Paul McCartney wakes up with the melody of “Yesterday,” completely intact, in his head. This is the most-played radio song of all time—and it came to him in a fucking dream.
And Ludwig van Beethoven composes his Ninth Symphony, easily one of the grandest pieces of music ever, after he has gone deaf. He’s deaf—deaf!—and he cranks out the Ode to Joy. How is that even possible?
I wish I could come up with a name for this quality, this element of artistry, this depth of expression. But I can’t locate the mot juste.
I will, however, submit a term for the opposite of the high-art shine. The anti-Peter Gabriel, the converse of all that is timeless about art. That word is this:
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Postscript: No (Book) Jacket Required
This is not to suggest that I possess the Peter Gabriel quality in spades, or that my novel, Totally Killer, is some sort of literary Ninth Symphony. There is plenty of Phil Collins in Greg Olear—although probably not enough to sell ten million copies of my book, as he did with No Jacket Required. But one can hope.
Speaking of TK, please watch and share this book trailer—written by moi; with music by my wife; produced, directed, edited, and improved by TNB’s own Kimberly M. Wetherell. (The “M” stands for marvelous).
116 Original Comments:
What a fantastic post.
I laughed. I sang along. I THOUGHT.
I’m still thinking. There are so many things to say about this post, but I’m too busy appreciating it.
Oh, but I think some of what you are talking about is to do with ‘cool.’ Some people are just born cool. You can’t learn it. You can’t fake it. You either got it or you don’t.
And you’ve definitely got it, Greg.
Thanks, Zara. You flatter me.
A good point about cool…but does cool flow from this, or does this flow from cool? Insight on the birth order of chickens and eggs would also be appreciated. ; )
It definitely flows from cool. The cool comes first.
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Well done, sir. I always enjoy your stuff.
I’ve had this same argument with friends, but my example is Lennon vs. McCartney.
As with most Beatles fans, you favor either Paul or John. Paul wrote some truly brilliant music and lyrics, as did John, but John would never (and never did, that I can recall) write a disco song. Paul did: Silly Love Songs with that drippy disco beat and strings.
I think it has something to do with the choices artists make, which projects to take on: commercial or artistic.
But hey, what do I know. On my best days, I doubt I even have what it takes to be that “better” artist. (Fragile, Pisces ego talkin’, sorry.)
I agree that John is “better” than Paul, but that’s almost like saying Godfather I is “better” than Godfather II. That those two guys wound up in the same band is just unfair.
I should also add that there is no shame in being Phil Collins, lord knows. He’s spread joy with his music, and that’s about as good as it gets in this vale of tears.
And I’ve read your stuff, and there’s plenty of Gabriel in there. Tell your fragile ego to knock it off!
I think Paul gets a bum rap in a certain way, because everyone always thinks that John was the “creative” one, the “edgy” one, but Paul was just as responsible for the Beatles’ far-out ideas as John.
At the same time, I think their relationship brought out the best in Paul, who sought John’s approval even while competing with him. By the end of the Beatles, Paul was kind of running the show. Somebody had to. The Beatles really ended in 1966, when they stopped touring, and Brian’s death a year later didn’t much help. It was Paul who kept them together, which he did for selfish reasons. He figured that, as long as he was going to write songs, he might as well have the best band in the world to play them. And look what happened when the band dissolved!
In fact, some of the early solo/Wings stuff wasn’t bad at all, but by the end of the seventies, it was pure awfulness. Those collaborations with Michael Jackson and Stevie Wonder are some of the most sickening records ever made. I retch to think of them.
I’m not sure that I’m making any kind of point here.
Jim, the doubts you have are the same kind that afflict me on a daily basis.
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Paul was also able to assuage John’s urge to be weird for weirdness’ sake. He was probably the best musical “editor” of all time. (Just as John pushed Paul to be less cornball).
“Ticket to Ride,” for example. John wrote it. One of my fave Beatles songs of that era. But the jerky, syncopated drum part? All Paul. And the drum line makes the song pop.
At least in terms of the writers, I’d like to suggest the indefinable quality that separates the wheat from the chaff has to do with this quote from Nabokov, which Kyle Minor was good enough to quote on Facebook recently:
“There are three points of view from which a writer can be considered: he may be considered as a storyteller, as a teacher, and as an enchanter. A major writer combines these three – storyteller, teacher, enchanter – but it is the enchanter in him that predominates and makes him a major writer.”
Leave it to Vlad to nail it. Thanks for sharing the quote.
Oooh – an “enchanter” – I like that.
Great quote, Dawn. Thank you for citing it.
For your next installment, could you please provide a literary comparison between the largely under-recognized masterworks of Roger Gale and Greg Olear?
I’m still shuddering to think of Billy Joel singing Thunder Road.
You’ll pay for that one, you will…
Have you heard him do “The Times Are A-Changin’” on the Russia album? Bob Dylan, he was a-cringin’.
And Roger Gale is a fucking hack.
No (thankfully). But oddly, Bob Dylan is one of the few artists who should have let anyone but himself sing his songs. Usually I’m not a fan of covers (save Shawn Colvin’s “Cover Girl” and Hitchcock’s own remake of “The Man Who Knew Too Much”), but in instances where the brilliant songwriter is NOT a brilliant singer (Rufus Wainwright is another), covers are perfectly acceptable.
I don’t think you really “get” what Roger Gale was doing. What you call “Hack” I call, “Proustian”.
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I included Bob Dylan in my piece about people I don’t like, and even I was aghast when Billy attempted it.
We could have a whole thread on covers that far surpass the original. Have you ever heard the original version of “The Tide Is High”? It’s a train wreck. Blondie rules.
Ooh! I haven’t! I thought that was hers…
(pause to find original version… hm. reggae. flat. stoney.)
Add “The Tide Is High” into the mix of acceptable covers.
(Coincidence? I’m going to go see her play with Pat Benetar on Thursday night.)
Johnny Cash could over just about anything he wanted and make it sound better. Trent Reznor even said he prefer’s Cash’s cover of “Hurt” over his original. Like most kids who came of age in the mid-90s I love me some The Downward Spiral but I have to agree.
the Cash cover of Hurt is just brilliant.
Ok – Olear, you have used that Ursula LeGuin vs. J.K Rowling argument for too long now.
I’m the one who knows that you have never read the Harry Potter books.
Maybe you read part of the first one. (and I know this people as I have the inside scoop).
Hear me – and this is from the girl who weeps for Lennon everyday but who just passed up
a chance to see Paul McCartney with V.I.P seats. And I have never tired of Peter Gabriel’s “SO” and feel equally as sick as you after the Phil Collins $1 CD being played over and over in the car because of our crazed children.
But, I couldn’t put the Harry Potter books down (bourgeois, yes, I know) and I could not get through the first chapter of Wizard of Earthsea, which still sits dusty on my nightstand. And I tried – I tried – I tried! I shouldn’t have to try that hard.
And I have good taste, as I really love your book and several other books by people on this fine website.
Leave J.K. Rowling alone until you have read the books – mkay?
I read the first two Potter books and also the final installment (Remember? I read the last page first and told you “He’s dead!”). I understand why people like them, but I don’t. I find Potter the character extremely boring…this whole business of him being the Chosen One, yawn yawn yawn. I want to like it, but I don’t.
Also: maybe to catch all the bad wizards, they should hire an HR placement specialist to source candidates for the Bad Arts teaching job — oops, I meant Dark Arts; Freudian slip — and imprison anyone who qualifies.
The LeGuin books are not as fun; they’re very dark. But when you read them, you get why the magic works. And Ged, like Potter, was thought to be a chosen one, but he falls from grace and never quite redeems himself — it’s a more nuanced character, and I find him endlessly more fascinating than H.P.
Finally, you can’t write a seven-volume series and then issue a press release stating that one of the main characters is gay and wondering why no one picked up on it. Well, you can, you just can’t expect to be regarded as a serious artist if you do.
This concludes the “elitist jerk” segment of the comments. We now return to our regularly scheduled programming.
no sex for you.
i’ll show you dark.
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I love Harry Potter. He is much better than “Cats.” I want to read it again and again and again.
Well played, my friend!
DOA: I know where my bread is buttered.
I don’t want to get into trouble with Steph, but I read maybe twenty pages of the first Harry Potter and didn’t understand its popularity at all. I thought the writing was really clunky, like out-of-key singing. I hear that Rowling improved, book by book, but…well, that’s how I responded, for the little it’s worth.
It’s a kids book.
As kid entertainment goes it isn’t that bad— if not all that original.
As serious literature it makes Cactus City Blues look like Shakespeare.
I think the HP books do improve as they advance. The first one is, as Jedi says, a kids’ book, but the later ones aren’t. If she had to do it again, I’d guess that she’d like to do the first two over. And maybe that will be the next project: HP the prequel. Like “Star Wars.”
I should have known there would be crickets and tumbleweeds on my outing that I
actually enjoyed reading the Harry Potter books. But my point was more to out the fact that Greg didn’t read them and was writing as if he did.
But you can’t read something you don’t want to. They have a crack pipe quality. And
sometimes I like a little crack. They were cracky.
And actually, the other point I was going to make before I went and tried to prove how cool and smart I am in spite of the fact that I enjoyed the Harry Potter books — I think it’s much harder than we know to provide good crack. In that, “Maybe I’m Amazed” is probably my favorite love song. And comedians can make really great dramatic actors, but it’s generally harder for a great straight actor to be funny. So, maybe it’s actually harder to be Phill Collins. Maybe it is.
“Maybe I’m Amazed” is a great song. And I agree that it’s harder than we realize to produce crack. In fact, I really went for the “crack” effect as much as I could with BFL, because I know how much I enjoy being held captive by a book. At the same time, I knew I might be sacrificing any claim for the book as literature, since, as we all know, literature is invariably turgid.
Speaking of which, I think I’ll go read The Road now.
Incidentally, this comment should be the hundredth. You’re breathing down my neck, Olear. This could get ugly.
Goddamn HTML error!
“Turgid prose.” One of my high school teachers used to say that. Funny.
I don’t speak Gaelic, but I’m pretty sure the word for “pretentious” is “Cormac.”
The best novels are both deep and cracky.
It’s new blurb sensation!
One of the things I liked best about BFL is that it incredibly captivating, never gets boring.
That’s what I like in books. I hate deep and heavy— it’s why I never really got the Beats and HST is perhaps my favourite writer.
Shit, look at Vonnegut, his books are full of brilliant thoughts, captivating stories and amazing writing. It is possible to say something intelligent and fun.
CCB is just fun, masquerading as satire. And I’m desperately hoping the elements of mystery and twists prove to be as gripping as I’d hope. (I’m actually very pleased with it).
However, the fact that you both seem to have spent years on refining your stories and ideas worries me. CCB was formulated in hours, refined over weeks and laid out chapter-by-chapter after a month or so.
I can’t help but feel I’m doing it wrong.
I also wish it was a ’serious’ novel.
Ah, well— I can’t wait to read Totally Killer.
Also— comedians as dramtic actors. What about Phil Collins as a dramatic actor? It happened…
Thanks as always, Jim.
I don’t think there’s any formula for how long it takes to produce a novel — and by that I mean conceiving a novel as well. BFL came to me in a minute — the story in its entirety. It was just so ambitious in certain ways that it required endless revision — and part of that went toward not making it appear “ambitious.”
Meantime, I believe I am going to have the pleasure of meeting TK very soon. And Phil Collins as dramatic actor? No thanks.
CCB feels rushed, but it seems to be doing ok.
I’m desperate to get it finished— sticking to my original plan of not worrying too much about the words; laying a foundation and then building up before refining back down.
I’m also genuinely quite pleased with it. Part Two especially— it’s like a band’s second album in a way. It’s the same as the first, but with some new stuff in there and a little darker.
As much as I’d love to see it published (unlikely, however good it may be) I’m more excited about it just being read. Fills me with excitement to imagine. And yet still I’m hardly writing at the moment. TNB is far too distracting!
Phil Collins starred in ‘Buster’ with, I think, Julie Walters.
PC also played a great derelict in the “That’s All” video.
Jedi, just finish the thing, and worry later about all the rest.
Duke — yes, promo sure is time-intensive. I now understand why writers want to go to Yaddo.
Oh right Phil Collins has acted. And didn’t Sting in somethiing? Shiver me timbers.
And Duke, dear one, BFL does have crackishness – I mean – the first line itself draws you in like that first inhale (ok – i’ve only heard – haven’t ACTUALLY done crack) but then it morphs into a long healthy buzz that one gets from endorphins naturally, like from running – and then you just keep reading because it infects your soul. And then you miss it. And think about reading it again – but you can’t because you lent it out. And then you buy two more copies with Amazon Prime.
I can’t wait for you guys to read TK too. Good luck James with the writing – can’t wait to read it one day.
The first line of BFL is my favourite opening line in literature. It’s as explosive as F&L in Las Vegas but hasn’t been imitated to death (says the guy who has used ’somewhere around Barstow on the edge of the desert’ in both CCB and his latest TNB post).
Greg— I nearly, nearly gave up on it. After I finished Part One I couldn’t write for two months and I was convinced it was shite. I took a risk, showed it to someone and luckily got postive feedback. I have to finish it. I never finish anything. And it is pretty good.
I’d love to send it your way once it’s done (I mean second draft done, rather than done done).
Sure, send it along when it’s ready.
“Never exhibit your rough drafts. It’s like showing people your sputum.” — Nabokov (I’m probably butchering the quote)
I wanted desperately to keep it under wraps until it was done (and I got 69 pages in before I did) but I got really quite depressed out the thing. I probably would have thrown in the towel otherwise. And the feedback was actually so positive that I’m as excited as when I started it.
I had to look ’sputum’ up. Disgusting.
‘Sussidio’, indeed. Excellent term for the opposite of art. I shall begin use of this term immediately – on par with ‘claptrap’ and ‘flimflam’.
Thanks, Greg, for this one. Beautiful. ( :
It both is a word for anti-art, and it explains what the hell he’s singing about — always a matter of puzzlement.
Man, I love Phil Collins. He’s the musical equivalent of Point Break.
I don’t like like Phil Collins Genesis, I have an almost ironic appreciation for him. I’m not a Gabriel fan at all, except for Carpet Crawlers.
One thing I definitely do like though is this post…
I just did the math, and you weren’t even born when So came out. Man, does that make me feel old. So was one of Those Albums. Everybody had it, everybody listened to it.
Great line about Point Break. I can’t argue with that. I don’t not like Phil Collins — like I said, I did buy the CD…
I bought ‘Face Value’ on tape once for 25p.
Most albums I own pre-date my birth.
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Peter Gabriel can write circles around Phil Collins. I think that’s what puts him over the top. Plus he has a hint of whiskey on his pipes, which helps. Supper’s Ready is one of my top 5 all time favorite songs. My Dad spun it over and over when I was little. I can remember the song before I can remember being able to see. It makes the hairs on the back of my neck stand up sometimes. I eventually ruined his copy by sitting on his turntable while it was running, in some sort of low-budget merry-go-round attempt. I broke his $100 cartridge (in 1983 dollars, mind you) and my Mom hid me in the closet to keep him from killing me. Good times. Anyhow, Genesis rule. And Phil Collins should stop composing Disney soundtracks and get back behind the kit.
Amen. Well said, Phat.
When my four year old thinks something is less than artistic, she says, Look, it’s just scribble-scrabble! Sussudio, indeed! This is a fantastic post–I loved reading this!
Thanks, Stacy. I really hope it didn’t put the song in your head. It is kinda catchy…
Wait — your four-year-old thinks things are less than artistic? Awesome.
You know what I can’t figure? “Sledgehammer” by Peter Gab. Is that song about fucking? Because I think it is. And I don’t want Peter Gabriel singing to me about fucking. That somehow changes everything.
I enjoyed this piece. Even though I think Sufjan Stevens is a wimp. And most music snobs are fakes. And rock critics suck, too.
I can be a bumper car bumpin’…this amusement never ends. Yeah, I think it might be about sex. Either that or demolition.
Thanks, JB. Sufjan is kinda wimpy, but that’s what makes him so good. He makes it OK to be a wimp.
“Most rock journalism is people who can’t write interviewing people who can’t talk for people who can’t read.” — Frank Zappa
I like what David Lee Roth said, too. Something about rock critics liking Elvis Costello over Van Halen because they all look like Elvis Costello–and not like Roth.
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Ha! Personally I can’t stand Van Halen. I like DLR as a performer, but the songs are eh.
Do you like that Killers song? I can’t decide. I think I’m dancer.
The Killers come up with some gorgeous melodies. But, man, like many bands they suffer from the Curse of the Frontman. He’s a blockhead. Still, The Killers will release a fine singles collection someday, given that those will someday still exist.
And, yes, I am dancer.
Yes, Justin, “Sledgehammer” is absolutely about fucking. Let there be no doubt about it, as the man says.
Loved it…”Frogs would fall upon his Baldwin…” absolutely cracked me up!
I went to college with many children of famous parents–Peter Gabriel’s included. I’ve seen him numerous times. Oh, to be able to say Peter Gabriel is your dad!
And I agree completely with all your points, esp those about Dan Brown. But let me just say that I really sort of love “Point Break.” Yes, the acting is awful, but those young men were so cute, most of them. I could watch that film over and over…
Who doesn’t love Point Break?!
I’ll readily admit it is probably my favourite film of all time.
It is so awful it’s genius.
I have additional affection for it as it took me months to find it on dvd. It was like the quest for the holy grail.
It cost about £6— but if you want the ultimate, you’ve got to be willing to pay the ultimate price.
Doesn’t Brad have a whole chapter in his book devoted to “Point Break”? I have to get that one again.
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A whole chapter and countless references.
Ah, funny it is.
The question is – are you aware of Point Break: Live, the stage show where they grab a random audience member each night to play the part of Keanu Reeves?
Please tell me you just made that up.
Sadly Smithson speaks the truth.
That’s almost like “Elephant! The Musical” from “The Tall Guy.”
We had a lot of famous spawn at Georgetown, too, but nobody in that league. Peter Gabriel must be a cool dad, as dads go.
Great post, Greg. And for the record, I’d love to see the Whore of Babylon reveal herself to be Christie Brinkley.
Thanks, Rich, and ha! There’s an “Uptown Girl” joke in here somewhere, but I’m too tired to formulate it…
I really enjoyed this as usual, because you’re so fucking funny.
But there were a few points that needed clarification: Phil Collins is FAR more successful than Peter Gabriel in terms of sales. All that Disney shit? He won an Oscar for it. Probably that soundtrack alone sold more than all Gabriel’s records combined. I prefer Gabriel, but big Phil is one of the more wealthy minstrels out there and has been for some time. Phil Collins kid lives in Vancouver and was trying and failing to go after a girl in my 7th grade class. Even an invite to Phil’s concert where this kid got to play drums for a number didn’t seal the deal. There’s your genetic “ineffable” quality about Gabriel: he doesn’t strike out the way Phil artistically needed to (”One more night”.
Secondly, The Shining as a book and the film are ENTIRELY different. The ending, the theme, the content. I just finished an entire book about Kubrick and the Holocaust and the whole goddamned film was about it from top to bottom was this critic’s contention, whereas the book is really more about Stevie dealing with his demons as a parent, addict, artist. The book ends nice with the dad coming through trying to save the day. The movie, not so much. I agree with you that King is a good writer, what he lacks is a FUCKING EDITOR. A 2k daily quota for words is a solid thing—it doesn’t mean you have to KEEP all of them when you submit it to the publisher. I haven’t read much of his stuff but I’ll never get over the odd feeling of reading The Body and having him nail as good as any writer what it’s like for a kid to stumble onto the dead body of another kid: “He wasn’t sleeping. He wasn’t sick. He was dead.” And then proceeds to go on FOR A PAGE about all the things Ray Brower was never gonna do: trip over untied shoelaces, drink a snow cone, get to 2nd base, base a mailbox, etc etc. I wanted to strangle Steven. YOU DID IT. LEAVE THAT SHIT ALONE.
I have these little books that talk about album sales by decade…I was surprised to see just how many copies of his stuff Phil has moved. He’s definitely rolling in dough…but money don’t buy Rosanna Arquette in her prime.
Interesting, that bit about the Holocaust. Never would have picked that up. I enjoyed the book, too, but I read it a million years ago. King isn’t bad, not at all — he just doesn’t run as deep. As with Collins, there’s no shame in that. He gives a lot of people pleasure, and that’s a good thing.
I haven’t read much of his work, but I’ve found that I generally prefer King’s short fiction to his novels, expecially the horror stuff. Except for ‘Salem’s Lot; that thing was pretty awesome.
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His best work is “Different Seasons.” I really liked “Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption” when I read it back in high school…no surprise that it made one of his best movie adaptations.
I think it all depends on whose “downtown world” is involved…
Dave of Apocalypse would know.
Well written indeed, I love stuff like this although other than Richards and Beethoven I don’t particularly like any of these artists and some of them I downright despise.
Though if I had to choose, I’d pick Gabriel as well. Waters vs. Gilmour?
Waters/Gilmour. Good one. That’s closer to Paul/John, though, in that they both have significant depth. You can’t play the guitar solo in “Comfortably Numb” without some anti-Sussudio going on. But Waters, you’re right, is a whole other level. I love that guy. Love him.
I really hope Peter Gabriel swings by NY when his new, brilliant CD comes out shortly…I will personally take you backstage to meet him and his equally brilliant bassist, my pal Tony Levin. Then you’ll realize just how much sense this article makes on so many levels.
Loved it, Greg.
And Kimberly? Wah! I want a book trailer like Greg’s…you are brilliant, too!
I’m holding you to that! Levin’s bass on “Don’t Give Up” is fucking sick. I don’t know how he gets that sound. Unreal.
Aw thanks, girl. You know I’ll do it for you in a heartbeat. I already know you and your kin will provide a kick-ass soundtrack…
In fact, any TNB-er who wants a trailer. Call me. Let’s talk. TNB discounts for one and all (unless you have a cush house like Olear who’ll pay for it, and then… it’s highway robbery.)
P.S. My favorite episode of South Park? Phil Collins popping up everywhere, clutching his Oscar.
Say Anything would have been an entirely different movie had Sussudio been blaring from John Cusack’s boom box.
I’m just saying…
I should have just written that sentence and spared you guys the other 1600 words.
—I wish I could come up with a name for this quality, this element of artistry, this depth of expression. But I can’t locate the mot juste.—
the only word I’ve ever found is Resonance.
it is that fine line where we are working collaboratively with our audience, tapping into the emotions that we share…
in defense of Billy Joel… NOBODY else could have ever pulled off Moving Out. Come on dude, you and I both know that was a piece of vinyl that almost got worn out by guys our age…
oh and while we’re at it… one place in music that is a curiosity to me… Prince covers always seem to hold up… true genius transcends the artist… listen sometime… when doves cry… always something amazing, no matter the cover… just saying… and the purple paisley master knows that, he lets anyone have the stuff to play with.
thanks for the shout out, for both me Andy and me.
great piece Mr. O.
True, Lance – but there’s a world of difference between his and Chaka Khan’s version of “I Feel 4 U” or when he sings “Nothing Compares 2 U” and when Sinead sings it.
Sure, they’re good–great even– but when Prince deigns to sing them? Nothing Compares 2 It.
but we are that age… ahem.
one cover does give me chills though… Patty Smith- when doves cry…
I’d imagine that one even delights “the artist” ( amusing sidenote… only his talent is so certain the ownership of the magic could survive being authored by a symbol…)
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now I’ve got Purple Rain going on the iPod…
I am something that you’ll never comprehend
No need 2 worry
No need 2 cry
I’m your messiah and you’re the reason why….
I love Billy Joel, and I agree…but he doesn’t have the resonance. He wants it, at times he flirts with it, but it eludes him.
The best songs do hold up when covered, even in different styles. Have you heard Tori Amos do “Smells Like Teen Spirit”? Incredible. Totally works.
I’m now going to search for Prince covers. He’s got the butterflies all tied up…
Patty Smith covers teen spirit too… also check out the Scala and Kolachny Brothers cover of it… a solid song… but then again, it was a song that changed the musical landscape, no?
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True, true. But ditto “Doves Cry.” The guitar intro is impossible. Prince never gets his due as a guitarist.
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The videos for Gabriel’s “Sledgehammer” and “Big Time” still stand as two of the greatest music videos ever. I can’t see Collins ever pulling something like that off, Oscar or not.
The “Land of Confusion” puppets didn’t do anything for you?
My kids love the “Sledgehammer” video.
OK, the last three lines were as close to perfection as I think I’ve ever seen a writer get. But yes, I know what you mean – some people just have that quality which takes them to the next level; the top level.
I was actually talking about this to a friend recently, after watching, of all things, Entourage. There’s a scene where Jeremy Piven is arguing with a friend over some goings-on, and the friend says ‘Hey, this isn’t about you!’, at which point Piven wheels on him and snaps ‘In so many fucking ways it is.’ Sure, it’s not Lawrence of Arabia, but it was this tiny moment when I suddenly thought ‘Man. Piven just inhabited that character completely and totally right then.’
(I’ll also point to Smokin’ Aces as a demonstration of the man’s talent. And now that I think about it, he’s also in Say Anything.)
Thanks, Simon. I was pleased when I thought of the “Sussudio” line, I’ll admit it…
Yet another coincidence for your list: I just now came upstairs from watching last night’s “Entourage.” Piven as Ari Gold is ridiculous. It just doesn’t get better than that. The guy is incredible. Every nuance, every line delivery…he’s tops. The episode where he;s trying to get his son into the school? Man, so good.
He’s got the goods, all right. He’s excellent in an old Emilio Estevez flick, Judgment Night, an otherwise throwaway action flick. The guy seems to have complete control over even the smallest facial and body movements.
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I will chime in on the Piven thing…he is so good in that role, it’s ridiculous. He’s the only reason I will even watch the show…lead character is so blah, so lacking in movie star charisma. But Piven is amazing!
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Kevin Dillon is also very good…at this point, despite a veritable 30-year head-start, he’s managed to eclipse his brother’s career. Love that Johnny Drama.
I’ve run into that kid from Entourage, the lead, and he’s got no charisma in real life either. He’s fifth guy from the right. But I can’t speak about the show, because I’ve only watched maybe ten minutes of one episode.
He’s immensely likeable, though, even though he’s clearly the weak link in the chain. Call it the Keanu Reeves effect — you root for him even though he’s not that talented.
I ordered Totally Killer over a month ago. Then I moved all my books from one end of the house to the other. Just because. Now I can’t find it, so I have to buy another one. I’m an idiot. When I find the other one, though, I can give it to someone.
[wondering if I should tell Irene that she’s not an idiot, and that she pre-ordered it, and the reason she can’t find it is because it hasn’t come out yet]
Fear not, Irene: it will be shipped to your house on 9/29, when it “drops.” And thanks for buying it!
I’ve been looking for days!
I guess I’ll find it when it comes in the mail.
This is not at all unusual for me. I bought Banned for Life twice. I gave one of my sons a copy.
I also bought The Border Trilogy THREE times. I discovered that when I
moved all my books. Two of the copies went to Chicago with me and given to my two Chicago sons.
I keep the book publishing business humming virtually all by myself.
BFL is worth buying twice. There’s nothing Sussudio about Duke.
Well, I guess this is my cue.
Thanks to you, Irene, for buying two copies of BFL (but was it a mistake?), and thanks to you, Greg, for the praise.
Your thesis, Genesis aside: I first came across an idea similar to this one when I read a biography of the great Italian stage actress Eleanora Duse, a contemporary of Sarah Bernhardt and considered her rival by some, who essentially said that she was possessed by the spirit of the part when she acted, and it was her job to get out of the way. It’s the mystical approach, to give it a name.
I’ve certainly had experiences artistically in which I felt “something else” take over — particularly with music. I even wrote about it in BFL. Speaking of which, it took me a year to really start the book after many false attempts, and then it happened by accident, so to speak. I wrote something that wasn’t supposed to be the start and suddenly realized that’s what it was, and suddenly the whole thing began to pour out of me. But that came, again, after a year of frustrating effort. When something is right, you just know it.
But it’s that year of effort that gives me pause. Because I think there’s preparation occurring. I mean, it’s not magic,, though it feels that way. As much as I find myself arguing with that Malcolm Gladstone guy (or whatever his name is) and his 10,000-hour thing, there may be something to it.
But, as with my comment about the Beatles, I’m not sure that I’m really contributing with this one.
I was unaware that Genesis had an album called Duke, incidentally. But I never paid much attention, if any at all, to Genesis, as you would expect, though I now have a strong urge to listen to Peter Gabriel.
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Yes, you write about this to great effect in BFL, I’ll add.
Julian Jaynes would hold with the mysticism theory, too…he says that every creative impulse comes from the right brain, which we have no control over. We just wait for it to kick in. (This from the clumsily titled The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind, one of the most fascinating books I’ve ever read).
In that sense, the Gladwell 10,000 hours thing is simply preparing to receive the revelation. It will come, yes, but first you must build it.
Novelwriting is a loooong process. Totally Killer was based on 1) the B-movie conceit, devised in 1993; 2) a twist on the conceit, realized in 1998; 3) the 1991 setting and 4) the first-person narrator ideas, both formulated in 2006. I needed all four ideas, working together, to make it work. In the meantime, I just researched recruiting and conspiracy theory and wrote other shit. The title was forced from the right brain in ‘08, the cherry on top of a cake that took 15 years to bake. And TK is not by any means The Kindly Ones in its ambition, just a fun book.
There are other books where I’m still waiting for the right brain to feed me a crumb that I need to make the full loaf of bread. Maybe I’ll get it, maybe not.
I didn’t know about the Duke album either, but I chuckled when I re-read that.
So is Gabriel’s best album, but I really like the second one, with “Self Control” and “Intruder” at the beginning.
I’m still trying to piece together my new book. I’ve made a few starts, but none seem quite right. A few bits are missing, and I have no idea what they are.
Then, too, with the way that novels are promoted these days, I don’t see how anyone ever manages to find the time to write a novel.
I’ll have to look into the Julian Jaynes book: yet another to add to a list already too long. Reading also falls victim to the time crunch.
I was sure, when I first saw your reference to Duke that you were fucking with me. But only for a second.
I’m still trying to piece together the book I wrote before TK, which I began writing in earnest in May of 2002. I think I finally have it figured out. I think.
Jaynes has some awesome blurbs:
It’s deep stuff, but he writes really well…sort of like he’s older and knows it’s not going to be taken seriously by the psych departments so he figured, fuck it.
And it’s Bret Easton Ellis fucking with you, not me.
Greg, you show the rest of us up with your wisdom, your humor, and your surfeit of comments.
Also: I once heard that Phil Collins was an anti-semite. There’s no evidence to support this, but I continue to believe it and have treated him with disdain ever since.
Marni, my dear, you flatter me.
Re: the comments, I need 260 more to catch Mr. Haney, who is clearly the Duke of Surfeit.
I heard the same thing about Phil Collins…story I heard was he was drunk and ranting at some Australian awards show he was hosting…but Snopes (I just checked) has disproved this:
Mel Gibson, on the other hand…
Can I help with the comments? Someone has to give Duke a run for his money…
I’m good with haiku.. I can start leaving some on your board? Maybe one about Phil Collins..or Mel Gibson??
To catch the Duke, I’d need one comment for every line of “The Twelve Days of Christmas.” I happily concede defeat…I feel blessed that I get any comments at all, frankly. 116? I’ll take it.
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[…] my piece about Peter Gabriel and Phil Collins, for example, I take the extremely controversial position that Dan Brown is a lousy novelist (Way […]
i know this is mega-old and that i am late, but my thoughts on it are as such:
that magical quality? it’s genuineness (i don’t know if that’s actually a word, but i’m pretty sure you get my drift.).
peter gabriel GENUINELY feels the stuff he sings and writes. phil collins mimes it (and fairly passably to some), but doesn’t believe it, doesn’t feel it. but he sure is happy that he found out how to mime it so well!
bruce springsteen – same thing. and i LOVE me some billy joel. he was my first concert ever. i will always have great memories of him, but bruce is more powerful because he’s more genuine. billy joel is that good time dude who happens to know how to put words together with some melody and did it at the right place and the right time. bruce is giving you a piece of his SOUL (dramatic, i know – he’s kind of always struck me as such).
It’s never too late, especially when your insight is so bang-on.
I think you hit the nail on the head. Proof is, easily the most raw, emotional entry in the Phil Collins catalog is “In the Air Tonight,” a song that he basically made up on the spot. A genuine song,in other words.
Well played, Shannon. Thanks for writing in and reading.
i had a whole lot more written because music is something i can get on board with discussing in the written form, but then i realized that the lennon/mccartney debate is a precarious topic (the thesis of my argument is: paul mccartney is a douche.) and i’m not ready to alienate myself or anyone else at this time.
i’m thoroughly enjoying going through tnb and reading everything. although i try to wait until i’ve read all of someone’s stuff before commenting so i can do so in a “wholistic” manner. but this is something near and dear to my teeny tiny black heart.
Now you’re making me want to hear the thesis!
I prefer Lennon to McCartney, but I don’t feel like to crown one king the other must be cut down. They are 1 and 1a, I think, and that they were in the same outfit is sort of unfair.
you just inspired the essay i have to write for class. i’ve been struggling with it because, i realized about 5 minutes ago that i was researching for another paper – our final paper.
i may have further, more concise and fair insight on this subject in 2 weeks time.
lennon v. mccartney – compare and contrast. why didn’t i think of that??
an obvious subject for an obvious class.
you’re my heropatomus.
one more thing – it’s not going to be lennon v. mccartney, i think that’s pretty done. it’ll be bruce v. billy. still done, but not done enough for a WR121 class, right? right.
so, in a week or 2, we’ll be able to avidly discuss bruce v. billy.
and i will be more than happy to extrapolate my mccartney = douche theory. perhaps in more private environs so i don’t offend with my coarse language, thoughts and most definite lack of tact.
i seriously think that dude would be wearing ed hardy were he 20 years old today.
Happy to have helped with your essay, Shannon. And looking forward to Billy v. the Boss.
Well you don’t HAVE to choose.
Just because McCartney is better doesn’t mean that you have to quit liking Lennon.
Though I should point out that I was just reading earlier today about how when Lennon lamented to Yoko Ono that McCartney’s songs always outsold his, she–his own wife–suggested that McCartney’s songs were more complex & sophisticated than John’s.
I mean, I don’t want to claim Yoko’s too much of an authority on anything, but you know. If she’s willing to say that about Paul’s songs to her own husband, I don’t know what’s wrong with other people admitting it to themselves.
Paul 4 EVAR!!!
Obviously Yoko had quite a bit of heroin in her system at the time…
When they were recording “Obladi Oblada,” a song everyone but Paul hated, they played it like a hundred times, doing various things, and Paul kept rejecting the efforts. Finally John, at wit’s end, went to the piano and played a dopey kid’s music intro, mostly for the sake of laughter. That is, of course, how the song begins…
I wish Paul wrote better lyrics. Just slightly better. The Sailor Sam crap sticks in my teeth. George was the best lyricist, I think…
I love that song. Say what you like, but the man has a preternatural, almost spooky sense of what will appeal to people. Popular success isn’t the only measure of quality, of course, and the rabbithole of subjectivity is bottomless, but if writing something that people like and want to buy and listen to for decades is any measure of quality, then Paul’s writing is winning the race by quite a few lengths.
It’s interesting you prefer John’s lyrics. I think John’s lyrics are dull and kind of dopey, by and large. Just strings of bizarre images and incoherent nonsense. Like, if no body can figure out what’s going on, it must be cool. The rallying cry of adolescent poets world-over.
Everybody’s Got Something to Hide Except Me and My Monkey. 90% of the lyrics to that song are “Come on.” The rest is faux-profound blather like:
“The deeper you go the higher you fly
The higher you fly the deeper you go”
I mean, that’s an extreme example, and not all his songs are exactly like that, but usually they suffer at least some lesser degree of the same problem.
Don’t get me wrong. I like a great number of Lennon songs. Some of them I like a LOT. But I can’t say I’d call him a great poet or anything like that.
I so did not even intend to find myself in this argument today. It just so happened that your response to Shannon coincided with a flare-up of my chronic Paul McCartney obsession.
Oh, John is no poet laureate, either. But “oh yeah” and “the higher we climb” is anodyne; I don’t even hear it, so it doesn’t pull me out of the song. The songs with characters get really irritating really quickly, I find.
I like “Obladi” also. Very few Beatles tracks I don’t like, actually.
I was in a big “Band on the Run” phase last week.
Well, I was going to point to “Eleanor Rigby” as evidence of Paul’s particular lyric-writing talent, but if you don’t care for his character sketch-type songs, then that probably won’t sell.
“Blackbird?” How can you deny “Blackbird?” “Let It Be?”
I don’t think Paul’s storytelling is any more tiring than John’s relentless, goofy attempts at profundity, though.
In the same vein as the babble from “Me and my monkey,” you have “nothing you can do that can’t be done, nothing you can sing that can’t be sung.”
I like that song, but man, it happened to come on as I was driving home. I think The Guy was fucking with me. I have to just shut my brain off and not pay attention to that song too closely; otherwise, I start shouting at the stereo.
“WTF does that even mean, John?!?!?!?!”
I understand from the song that all I need is love. That is beat into my head sufficiently enough, but I’m not convinced the rest of the song says anything at all.
So, you know, we tire of different things, I guess.
But I’m surprised that, being a writer, you aren’t more appreciative of Paul’s flash fiction approach to songwriting. I thing Rigby is particularly literary.
Oh right. And that one.
“Hey Jude” is a no-brainer, but that’s not necessarily particularly awesome writing so much as it’s just an awesome song on the whole.
The full epic-ness of it defies explanation and understanding.
Hey Jude wouldn’t pack the wallop it packs if you didn’t know the back-story.
Not true. The only reason I found out the backstory was because I was obsessed with the song.
I like both Paul and John, remember. Paul is capable of writing good lyrics — “Back in the USSR” is really funny, and the songs you cite, especially “Hey Jude” and “Let It Be,” are terrific. “Rigby” is better than some of the others, as is “She’s Leaving Home,” but ultimately, I don’t care for his story songs (John didn’t, either).
There’s a lot of Lennon stuff going on in my book, BTW…the villain basically excoriates the guy, and the song he makes fun of is “All You Need is Love,” never one of my favorites. Although it has grown on me.
But, at the end of the day, I’m with John. Our daughter is named Prudence, after all, not Eleanor.
(Shannon, meanwhile, is getting all these notes from her comment and must think we’re all nuts).
We are all nuts.
I just think John is markedly less impressive if you take away his social/cultural outspokenness and just look at the music. His status as an icon and cultural touchstone is undeniable, but I think the iconography gets confused with acumen.
When you’re evaluating the two men for technical skill, range, and, dare I say, competence, I think Paul comes out on top. Blackbird sprung from he and George playing Beethoven or Bach or something like that at parties. I mean, the man knows music.
But these are the sorts of things that matter the most to me with regard to artists and craft and I understand that there are other facets to appreciate, among them, intent, passion, vision etc. Certainly plenty of room for opinion, as if it needs me to say it for it to be true.
I don’t really care if McCartney is/was a douche, for example. This is a non-factor to me. I like Ezra Pound’s poetry, and he was a fascist sympathizer.
If I ever have a boy, I’m naming it Jude, so maybe one day he and Prudence can get together and have this same ridiculous argument.
The other thing to consider is that they didn’t operate in a vacuum. There’s a reason they shared writing credits, even late in the game.
For example, “Ticket to Ride” was written by John, but that really cool syncopated drum beat that Ringo plays during the verses? Paul’s idea. And John wrote the “movement you need is on your shoulder” line in “Hey Jude,” among other things. As songwriters, they complemented each other nicely.
Paul’s more of an air sign — he has more range, can do more stuff, but doesn’t go as deep.
And in the end, the love we take is equal to the love we make.
They shared writing credits, but that’s kind of a cop-out. Most were written primarily by one or the other, and it’s not tough to tell which is which in most cases. Though it does explain why the “shoulder” line is so out of place and nonsensical in that song. My least favorite line. Always has been. 😉
John doesn’t go deep. Ugh. John goes pretend-deep. Attempted-deep. I have no doubt that he was a deep soul; his persona certainly seems to reflect that. But his music doesn’t. The translation didn’t make it. That’s what I’m saying.
You sell Paul short. The sentiment expressed in “Rigby” is way more emotionally complex/evocative and artful than John’s telling-not-showing.
Harumph. *cross arms* *snort*
John’s a Libra! Totes blah.
(Says the Libra rising woman married to a Libra whose friends are mostly Libras.)
I’ve got mercury in Gemini or something. My allegiance is with my brain.
Paul 4 Evar.
Let’s just tell it like it is, admit we both like Ringo best, and move on.
Oh well that’s just out of the question. Wikipedia says he’s a cancer.
Oh, and I think you’re probably right about George.
If he hadn’t gone on his Hindu trip and gotten a little weird–the curio of so much of the Beatles’ repertoire–he’d probably be a more formidable presence in the debate.
Who was I talking to about people who profess that George is their favorite Beatle? Was that you? I don’t think so.
Like, those people are just being difficult for the sake of themselves. I mean, you know. Overall, I don’t think he’s really in the running.
They are the same people who voted for Perot.
As a third wheel, George was pretty amazing, though. He’d be the top guy in almost any other band.
becky, i must write a paper (i’m using avoidance tactics now) but i will expand on my thoughts a little later, i promise.
Oh gosh. Don’t feel pressured to defend your stance to me. I think you’ll find I’m particularly closed-minded on the topic. My adoration of McCartney borders on the fanatical.
no pressure becky – i LOVE talking about this stuff. but i want to do it the right way. 🙂 i have fanatical feelings about some bands that people just don’t get.
so here’s what i’ll do: while i’m writing a paper (that i still haven’t started – geesh!) i invite you to check out a musical canadian who opened for paul mccartney (street cred with you, yes?) the last time he was in toronto or ottawa or one of those canadian, non-frenchie speaking towns.
i advise starting with disc 1 of “three” (yeah, he’s bad-ass enough that he put out a TRIPLE album. what?) or “truthfully truthfully”.
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