Friday, February 8, 2008

Beatles Vs. Stones

I figure I will just get this one out of the way. Otherwise it will hang over this whole blog silently, the White Elephant that none of us will acknowledge.

In many ways, there is no comparison between these two bands. I have childhood memories of The Beatles. They were important to me as a cultural lighthouse before I went to kindergarten. My mother is a wonderful guitar player and I thought she'd written 'When I'm Sixty Four' until an embarassingly late age. A large canon of songs were mistakenly attributed to my mother by me early on, old folk songs and new standards alike.

So there is something primal about The Beatles to me, something that goes back so far in my consciousness that it coincides with my infancy and the sense of being totally provided for and catered to. I was listening to The Beatles and crapping my pants, ok? I didn't hear The Stones til much later.

I vividly remember being in my cousin Ken's basement listening to Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band. This would have been the late 1970's. Somehow the idea came up that The Beatles had broken up. I don't think I'd ever even thought of The Beatles as being real people, they were more like the air, or the mountains, or God. They simply WERE. This being so, they couldn't simply STOP being. But they had 'broken up'. I heard that term applied to The Beatles before I ever heard it applied to a romantic couple.

A gulf of sadness enveloped me as this realization hit me. They'd broken up??? Huh? How could this music happen and then be rejected? What they hell were they thinking? It was at this moment that I first understood that being a grown up was going to suck. And then they started scaring the hell out of me. If The Beatles couldn't be happy, how the hell was I going to manage it?

The moment passed and Ken and I probably went outside to pretend The Red Sox were finally winning the World Series.

Aside from The Beatles, I was primarily listening to 'Oliver', 'Oklahoma', Don McLean, and The Raunch Hands, a vocal group from Yale. This wasn't really music fandom yet as it was imaginary play. I was IN 'Oliver', I was IN 'Oklahoma', the story songs of Don McLean and The Raunch Hands were platforms for play. The Beatles were the first band that I was a fan of, that weren't means to an imaginary end.

Strange connection to The Stones in there. While listening to Don McLean's 'American Pie', we were somehow aware that the whole Devil portion was a metaphor for Mick Jagger of The Rolling Stones at Altamont. I've come to hate the conservative 'things were more authentic way back then' bullshit attitude of this song in spite of its undeniable melody, but this song was so powerful to me as a youngster that I had a built in distaste for The Rolling Stones.

Flash forward to high school. I've now become a dyed-in-the-wool punk rock aficionado. I have disdain for all things classic rock. Led Zeppelin are bloated bullshit artists. The Stones are hopelessly passe. The only songs I really know are 'Satisfaction', 'Jumpin' Jack Flash', etc. I'm still not crazy about either of these songs to tell you the truth.

But then I heard 'Sympathy for the Devil' on the radio. I find it hard to believe that there was a first time that I heard that song, but there was and it was during my adolescence. Now, I know this song has almost become a cliche itself with the falsetto background and all, but I remember the specific bit that first caught my interest. I remember the DJ saying, "The Stones! Sympathy for the Devil". The title alone was more interesting than any of the music I'd heard from them up to that point. All of a sudden Mick Jagger is singing about driving a tank during the Blitzkrieg??? About making sure that Pontius Pilate washed his hands??? What's more, it was as if this was an answer song to Don McLean. Oh, you think I'm evil??? Take this!

My definition of punk rock expanded to include The Rolling Stones.

Flash forward to 1999. I am doing a play in North Carolina. Since high school, my taste has become almost pathologically eclectic. I can't stand not having the best of any genre, even if I don't particularly care for the genre itself. Hence the Miles Davis and John Coltrane albums. I've continued to dig The Stones, buying 'Beggars Banquet' to get 'Sympathy for the Devil', and 'Exile on Main Street' to get the inside scoop on the madness.

But I would still not really characterize myself as a FAN. They are dinosaurs that I can enjoy, that continue to be alive in spite of the meteor shower of modernity.

And then I met Melody. Someday I'll write a music post about that first meeting. Suffice it to say that her name doesn't feel like an accident to me. The first few weeks of knowing Melody barely feel real to me, they feel like a great romantic comedy that had to have happened to some other lucky guy.

At one point in these early days, we pulled out of a restaurant we'd just eaten at. She was driving off in her car, I in mine, and we were at a light waiting to go our separate ways. She was blasting 'Beast of Burden' and she yelled that it was her favorite song at the moment. Needless to say, The Stones grew in my estimation along with my exploding heart.

She appreciates The Beatles, but for her The Stones are more real, more fun. The Beatles just make her sad. And when you think about it, she's right. The Beatles were destroyed by their union, The Stones are still making music almost 50 years after they started.

In an amazing footnote, we were lucky enough to score free tickets to The Rolling Stones 2006 concert at Dodger Stadium. There they were, teeeeeny tiny action figures blasting an ungodly noise that they'd begun honing in the 1950's. Sure The Beatles recorded 'Sgt. Pepper's', 'The White Album', 'Revolver', etc. etc. But The Rolling Stones are continuing to gather no moss in their own unparalleled fashion.

If I was stuck on an island by myself, I'd take The Beatles. If I was lucky enough to have Melody with me, I'd happily take The Stones and dance away in beautiful isolated unity.

No comments: