"You'll never get ahead if you don't take care of what you have." - Doris Waddell, RIP

A historic building on our U of M-Morris campus - morris mn

A historic building on our U of M-Morris campus - morris mn
The multi-ethnic building was the original home of the music department at UMM. (B.W. photo)

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Solid second half not enough for MACA boys

Sauk Centre 57, Tigers 49
Eric Staebler made his presence felt with 19 points (including three 3-pointers) and 15 rebounds. This was in the Tigers' season opener. In their only game before the Thanksgiving break, the MACA boys took on the Streeters of Sauk Centre. Sauk Centre picked up its second win of the season, 57-49 over the orange and black.
Staebler was a force but the Tigers had trouble summoning momentum, as they only had 14 points at halftime. The Streeters had 25. The second half was more upbeat for coach Mark Torgerson's squad. The orange and black had a 35-32 advantage over the visitor in the second half.
Overall the Streeters had just too many weapons. Their main weapon was Matthew Moritz who put in 21 points. Cole Neubert complemented that total with his 14 points. Austin Nelson scored seven, Riley Primus five, Shariff Silas and Carter Kranz four each, and Jay Friedrichs two.
Moritz sank three 3-point shots and had two steals. Primus and Nelson each made a shot from 3-point range. Neubert collected eight rebounds. The victor was 18 of 44 in total field goals.
Meanwhile the Tigers made 18 field goals in 37 attempts. We were nine of 20 in freethrows.
Noah Grove made one 3-pointer to go with Staebler's three long-rangers. Grove's point total was ten. Sean Amundson scored six points, Riley Biesterfeld five and C.J. Nagel four. Jacob Zosel had two points and dished out the team-best four assists. Grove executed three steals. Andrew Goulet scored two points and Robert Rohloff one.
Boys hockey: Willmar 6, MBA 3
MBA played a home game on the Benson ice on Tuesday, Nov. 25. This was MBA's second game of the season and Willmar's first. Willmar seized the key momentum in the first period. Josh Tinklenberg and Isaac Kobienia scored to put Willmar up 2-0. Riley Grabow and Kobienia assisted on the Tinklenberg goal. Grabow supplied an assist on the Kobienia goal.
Brennden DeHaan got MBA on the board with a second period goal, assisted by Corey Goff. But Kobienia proceeded to put the puck in the goal again for Willmar. Nate Ackerman assisted.
MBA began the third period scoring with a Taner Gimberlin goal, with Goff and Eric Johnson assisting. MBA got the score tied 3-3 with an Eric Johnson goal that had Gimberlin and DeHaan assisting.
Willmar owned the rest of the  period (and the game). Austin Smith was the Cardinal scoring at 10:55. Then, Sawyer Delp scored for the red crew at 14:20, assisted by Smith. Tinklenberg finished the night's scoring with a goal assisted by Kobienia. So, it's a 6-3 final score with the red team up.
MBA was left with a 1-1 mark.
Tony Bruns worked in the goal for MBA and had 25 saves. Jacob Anderson had nine saves as the Willmar goalie.
More on UMM coaching
In the wake of UMM's tepid announcement regarding the football coaching situation - the incumbent is out - I tried gathering a little background. The Morris newspaper gave us smoke signals, as it were, forcing us to surmise exactly what happened.
What happened, if you read between the lines, is that this is an involuntary departure. It's very common in college sports. I would have preferred that the newspaper not "tease" us in this manner. If a coach is not going to return, then he either resigned or got fired. There should be some direct indication which it was.
Well, I surmised this was an involuntary departure, so I then tried to glean exactly why this happened. I knew UMM football had a struggling 2014 season, but I didn't realize until doing an online check that the Cougars failed to win a single game.
It is amazing how far UMM football has fallen since its heyday of the 1970s. I remember going to Ithaca NY to cover a playoff game. I remember the atmosphere there wasn't like here. "Minnesota nice" was absent. I remember lots of black-haired people with a southern European complexion who could be loud and rude. But I have also heard it said that those "rude" east coast people would actually be the first to help you if they notice you're in trouble! Cultural relativity.
Today UMM plays a schedule vs. virtual no-names. Even if we win, I'm not sure how impressed I'd be. But we sure didn't win.
What an informed source tells me, is that the UMM coaching staff "gave up" during the season. They seemed to "quit on the team." I do believe this is a pretty serious sin. You have to play the percentages at all times. Reportedly there were lapses in that regard.
Coaching University of Minnesota-Morris football seems to have its discouraging aspects. Well, then just set a minimal goal of "one win," like the Marshall (WV) football team in the movie about that school's recovery after a devastating plane crash. Remember Matthew McConaughey? Coach Hickman should have been a little like Matthew McConaughey.
Whatever the case, jobs at UMM are considered plum jobs. A hard-hosed attitude would be advisable regardless of the wins and losses.
Now what? Wouldn't it be wonderful for UMM to use this opportunity to just cancel its football program, based on the wave of opinion coming down on the sport (due to head injuries etc.). I don't think that will happen. What will happen? I don't know, but I'm not sure I'm going to care. ("I don't care" easily passes the lips of those in my generation: "baby boom cohort No. 2.")
- Brian Williams - morris mn Minnesota - bwilly73@yahoo.com

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

It's "news": coach simply isn't returning

Todd Hickman
I'm seated at the Senior Center and looking at the November 22 edition of the Morris newspaper (a.k.a. Alexandria advertising shopper). There is an article at the bottom of the first sports page that strikes me as rather odd. It's a very short article that is stretched along the width of the page. The article came from "UMM Sports Information."
This six-sentence article tells us that Todd Hickman, UMM football coach, is not returning. That's it. Did he resign? The article doesn't use the word resign. What are his future plans? The article doesn't touch on this at all. It's a tersely-worded piece that simply informs us that we cannot look for Todd along the sidelines anymore.
He is not quoted. An article like this might quote him talking about the joys and challenges of his stint here. But, nothing like that. It is not unusual for college sports coaches to be told, in effect, to mosey on down the road. Sports reporting is one area where you can report that a coach "got fired" and it doesn't come across as cruel or sensational to do so. I don't know the facts in this particular case, other than coach Hickman is simply not returning - something that UMM feels is very important for all of us to know at this time.
I remember Todd as a high school athlete with the Morris Tigers. I remember thinking he might have pro potential in baseball.
UMM football may not be in the most robust state right now. I'm indifferent about that. UMM is a progressive, quite forward-leaning institution that might be expected to watch the sun set on football as a sport. The facts about football's hazards keep pouring out. It seems incongruous for UMM to keep thumping its chest about its football team at a time when science and all learned individuals are rapidly suggesting skepticism about the sport.
UMM is a progressive place that is represented much better by the "University Register" than that other student publication that purports to be conservative but seems really to exist just to have a chip on its shoulder. It is political conservatives who are giving the benefit of the doubt to football today, not progressives.
Rush Limbaugh can talk about how "we're becoming a nation of wusses" but his voice is an echo of the past, a past where football was equated with "macho" and the football captain would be expected to date the "cutest cheerleader." Football players could be misogynistic. Limbaugh is a relic representing the regressive set, predictably dissing the enlightenment brought about by science, as with climate change denial.
You see, political progressives base their ideas and opinions on demonstrated truth - science. Conservatives turn to their emotions. UMM is a place celebrating fact, science and reasoned opinion. Therefore, assuming the student body reflects that, we can expect football to have a real uphill battle staying viable here. And it might not matter who the coach is. All the more power to soccer.
Looking at football, I miss the days when we really knew who our opponents were. We all know what a "Moorhead State" is, or "Winona State" et. al. Since joining the UMAC, UMM is matched against teams that seem quite obscure, almost oddball in some cases. Success would mean more if we played the old opponents.
Whatever the case, the death of football seems inevitable, it's just a question of what the pace will be.
UMM has announced a "national search" for a new head coach. Even if we win more, I have to wonder how much the interest can be bumped up. So many colleges are on this carousel of having to try to win to stoke interest and fuel campus pride, as if a bunch of ruffians wearing helmets ought to have anything to do with this anyway.
A perfectly intelligent and capable coach puts in his "hitch" for a few years, and then when the winning percentage isn't quite up to par, he's jettisoned. The whole mode seems regressive. Everyone can not win. Each game has one winner and one loser. There always has to be a loser. Only 50 percent of teams win on a given Saturday.
Yet these colleges set the bar so high for evaluating coaches, as if it's a legitimate expectation imposed on all of them, to win. What a blessing for a son or daughter to be interested in the humanities instead, or some other non-sports field where the criterion is not set in such an unforgiving way.
I have no idea if Mr. Hickman was let go in the way typical of a coach who failed to "cut it." But the article sure makes it sound that way. Maybe the announcement could have waited until the new coach was found (and thrown into the lion's den).
- Brian Williams - morris mn minnesota - bwilly73@yahoo.com

Friday, November 21, 2014

The specter of Phil Spector surrounds "Let It Be"

Maybe it's time for a fresh look at the Beatles' "Let It Be" album. We can strip aside all the background drama. The Fab 4 had conflicts of the type satirized in the movie "This is Spinal Tap."
We know the timeline of production was long, indicating indecision. The four guys recorded most of the material in January of 1969. I was turning 14 years old during that month. The Beatles were this mesmerizing backdrop for my growing-up years.
January of '69 pre-dated the recording and release of the "Abbey Road" album. "Let It Be" and "Abbey Rod" were the end of the road for the mega-famous group. "Let It Be" came out in May of 1970. The news had already passed that the Beatles' era was over.
The creative people went through contortions with "Let It Be." It was supposed to come out in mid-1969 under the name "Get Back." The Fab 4 thought some more tweaking was needed. Thus, postponement.
On comes Phil Spector with his creative input. Discussions about "Let It Be" inevitably revolve around Spector as much as John, Paul, George and Ringo. Hearing his name, you are no doubt prompted to think of criminal notoriety. You're right. He was convicted of second degree murder in 2003. He was sentenced to 19 years to life in prison. He was found guilty in the shooting death of actress Lana Clarkson in California.
Putting that notoriety aside - we'll have to do the same thing with Bill Cosby, it seems - Spector was quite the cog in the music business. He knew what he was doing. He knew the kind of treatment the Beatles' music needed in 1970. That's my opinion.
I didn't get around to listening to this album until 1973. I thought "The Long and Winding Road" was absolutely beautiful. This was a song where Spector had added quite a bit of embroidery. The simple beauty of the song remained. Paul McCartney took exception, to the extent this conflict is cited as a reason the Beatles broke up.
Man, if everyone was getting so uptight and caffeinated over musical quibbles, I guess the time really had come for the Beatles to go their separate ways. They had a wonderful collection of songs for "Let It Be." The guys should have been relaxed and prideful and moved on. Males of that age can get restless. They see greener pastures.
John Lennon was in a withdrawn frame of mind. George Harrison had conflicts with both McCartney (the perfectionist) and Lennon, and with Lennon it got so bad, there were reportedly punches thrown. Beatles historian Mark Hertsgaard suggested that one doesn't bother having such intense conflicts with someone you don't care about. Hence the emotional bond was doubtless still there.
My theory is that "fishbowl fatigue" had taken over. Lennon had been right: The Beatles were bigger than Jesus - certainly more popular, which was his whole point. That quote indicated that Lennon was shocked at the sheer immensity of the group's fame. It made him uncomfortable. The Beatles could have had one-third of their popularity and been rich, popular and successful for the rest of their lives. They could be playing casinos today.
The Beatles were more than just popular in the '60s. They were a phenomenon. Who wants to be a phenomenon?
I have written before that Lennon had a hard time handling fame - he disintegrated in some ways - while McCartney seemed to hold together better. Harrison should never have tried to become a solo artist. Ringo? He was lovable Ringo all along, and still today.
What was the Beatles' last album, "Abbey Road" or "Let It Be?" An asterisk or some explanation would have to be attached to each answer. I suggest "Let It Be" because it was the last album released.
Lennon actually suggested Eric Clapton as a permanent replacement for the disgruntled Harrison. McCartney and Starr said no. Harrison wandered back into the fold.
McCartney wanted "The Long and Winding Road" to be a simple piano ballad. Like a mere demo recording? A songwriter may always prefer the simplest treatment of his/her song. Professionals must collaborate. Ah, they can be very passionate. Music is an intensely personal or emotional thing. Professionals in the music business can be at each other's throats.
The perceptive Mr. Spector, with his fine track record, dubbed in orchestral and choral accompaniment with McCartney's "Long and Winding Road." McCartney tried to get the embellishments removed, to no avail.
Was McCartney serious or was he just having a hissy fit to try to show his importance? Man, if someone felt one of my compositions would be enhanced by orchestra and chorus, I'd be flattered beyond words! Lennon, for what it's worth supported Spector. The "Winding Road" song and "Let It Be" both shot to No. 1 in the U.S.
Spector's embellishments did not disrupt the basic structure, lyrics or messages of the songs. He applied all this stuff to three songs on the "Let It Be" album: "The Long and Winding Road," "Across the Universe" and "I Me Mine."
"Across the Universe" is one of my favorite Beatles songs. I think Spector's work enhanced it. The embellishments create a sort of surreal quality, coaxing your mind to a place of solitude. It's therapeutic. Spector was the consummate professional. He would later say that McCartney had no problem accepting the Academy Award for the "Let It Be" soundtrack.
The song "Let It Be" has lyrics that are a classic. "Get Back" is a pleasing, hard-charging rocker.
A "raw" (organic?) version of "The Long and Winding Road" came out on "Anthology Vol. 3." I have mixed feelings about this sort of thing: alternative versions of a song. I feel a firm decision must be made at some point about the intended version. A performer has the latitude to change the interpretation in live performances - that's fine. But alternative recorded versions create ambiguity. Which are we supposed to embrace more?
George Martin agreed with McCartney on his objections. So did engineer Geoff Emerick. John Lennon must have held all the cards because he's the one who called in Spector who then employed the harps, chorus, orchestra and women's choir. Again, I'd be speechless and euphoric if someone felt my compositions could be enhanced this way!
McCartney could be an assertive bastard. I guess he gets his way today. His "Wings" albums included a lot of "filler."
After all the emotional and personal sniping, the Beatles watched the "Long and Winding Road" single top the chart. It had a ten-week-long chart run. It sold 1.2 million copies in the first two days. I guess McCartney should have just taken the attitude of "Let It Be" (LOL).
It's sad how my generation invested so much, got so emotionally devoted, to four guys who were simply gifted at creating the three-minute song. Those times were quite pre-digital. We defined ourselves not by what we ourselves created, but by what artistic material we consumed. We can forget how unsatisfying that was.
The Beatles were in a fishbowl. I suggest Lennon had problems with this. Consider how Lennon looked in 1970 compared to how he looked in "A Hard Day's Night." He was ragged and depleted.
"Let It Be" is a terrific album, getting through the turmoil just fine. Let's strip away the extracurricular concerns and appreciate it. It is an underrated album.
I haven't even mentioned (yet) the "rooftop performance" in this post. No matter what the Beatles did, it would bring fawning attention far and wide. They could have strolled over to a coffee shop and sung some a cappella, and the result would be the same: an iconic image! What unbelievable power. Beyond reasonable bounds, I would say, but in pure musical terms, there were volumes of great stuff to appreciate.
The breakup seemed like a Shakespearean tragedy. We weren't ready. Really, though, the four guys bequeathed tremendous musical enjoyment for us to sift through.
- Brian Williams - morris mn minnesota - bwilly73@yahoo.com

Monday, November 17, 2014

Time has been kind to Beatles' "Abbey Road"

How iconic they were
The power of the three-minute song was incredible in the 1960s and '70s. Perhaps this music was like an opiate helping us get through our day. This was done listening to the radio.
As kids we listened to KDWB Radio out of the Twin Cities. "Tac" Hammer was a favorite deejay. Remember their jingle? "KDWB, Channel 63." Certain hit songs just got seared into our consciousness, like the Association's "Windy." Or, the Association's "Cherish."
I continue to be fascinated trying to understand what separates hit songs from non-hit songs. I am fascinated that science cannot explain this. This in an age when science purports to be able to explain everything. Maybe the creationists and climate change deniers are right after all. Just kidding.
The Beatles were the masters of all that developed in pop music in the 1960s. These four guys mesmerized us. My generation suggests that the Beatles' "run" was too short. The breakup of the Beatles is presented as some sort of earthshaking tragedy. Actually the Fab 4 put out a tremendous amount of music. After the breakup, they gave us plenty of music even though much of it seemed watered down.
At their best, all four - OK, all three - were capable of mesmerizing us, even post-breakup.
"Abbey Road" was the Fab 4's eleventh album. It was released in the fall of 1969 in the U.S. These sessions were the last where all four members participated together. It's confusing because the "Let It Be" album (initially titled "Get Back") came out later. Most of the "Let It Be" material was recorded before "Abbey Road."
The Beatles were at their zenith when in October of 1969, the double-A sided singled with "Something" and "Come Together" came out. This was when Billy Martin was getting fired as manager of the Minnesota Twins baseball team. The Twins had won the Western Division title in the first year of the divisional system. We did it with dominance, but we just didn't have a prayer against the Baltimore Orioles, in 1969 or in '70. We ought to remember those seasons better than we do. Being a division winner is special. It sure would be today.
In '69 Jerry Koosman climbed to the heights of glory with the New York Mets. He's a West Central School of Agriculture graduate, from here in Morris! So, maybe my baseball references give you a little frame of reference for understanding the Beatles' twilight time.
The Fab 4 went out in a blaze of glory. They left my generation wanting more. 
"Abbey Road" gave us a mixture of blues, pop and progressive rock. We got lots of Moog synthesizer. It would be easier to appreciate a lot of the Beatles' music today without a lot of the studio gimmicks. Eventually the "unplugged" wave came forward in music, as a way of saying "enough!" regarding the amplifiers, gimmicks etc. Just give us good music! Amen.
I have recently played some of the Beatles' CDs of the 1960s. I now realize, lest there was ever any doubt, this was John's group. John Lennon seemed truly the foundation. His energy and consistency were a backbone for the sound.
Paul McCartney was arguably brilliant. His best songs rank with the best, obviously. But he could be kind of a pain. What was truly accomplished by "Maxwell's Silver Hammer?" This was one of four tracks on "Abbey Road" where Lennon didn't perform. John privately left the band before the album was released. McCartney quit publicly the following year. All us boomers were left disconsolate, I guess.
Time has been kind to "Abbey Road." Initially the critical reviews were mixed. Today there is more of a unison approval of the work.
One of the greatest albums ever? Just think if I as an amateur songwriter wrote "Maxwell's Silver Hammer" and submitted the demo to a publisher. I would have the door slammed on me so hard, my nose would be broken. Same with "Strawberry Fields Forever" and numerous others. But, once you've been allowed past the "velvet rope" and are considered a success, you can perform idiosyncratic material (or stupid material) and get by with it.
George Harrison was an enigma. Long ago I formed the theory that some of Harrison's best stuff may have been written in concert with Lennon, or actually "slid under the table" from Lennon to Harrison. How do we know the truth behind how all these songs get written? Why would Lennon do this? He was such a prolific creator of great music, he had some to spare, probably, and by helping out Harrison some, he'd be helping the Beatles' image as a group with multiple talents.
Yes, my thinking comes across as conspiratorial! But hey, my recent research shows I'm not exactly out in left field. Regarding the classic song "Something," which is attributed to Harrison, I read: "John Lennon gave George Harrison songwriting advice during the composition."
Songwriting advice! Maybe a few actual phrases, right? I have to wonder because once Harrison got out on his own, especially after his first solo album, he struggled so much trying to produce consistently appealing material. A fan of his wrote that he put out "treadmill albums" - in other words, going through the motions with pretty pedestrian stuff.
Lennon played piano for "Something" but most of that got removed. Traces remain in the song's "middle 8."
Frank Sinatra said of "Something" that it's the greatest long song ever. How much of this song is Lennon's? We'll never know. You don't just give "advice" without making concrete contributions.
"Oh! Darling" is kind of nice, in my view, because it resonates with a doo-wop quality, a music genre I have always felt was under-appreciated.
What if I wrote "Octopus' Garden" and submitted it to a publisher? Another broken nose scenario. But we all loved Ringo Starr.
"Because" was inspired by a piano rendition of "Moonlight Sonata." Ah, then we come to the famous "medley" on side 2. "Jethro Tull" milked the medley approach to the maximum extent. "Thick as a Brick" was a Tull classic with this "concept" approach, while "Passion Play" was quite forgettable.
Ringo has his only drum solo ever in the side 2 medley of "Abbey Road." It's heard in "the End."
"And in the end, the love you take is equal to the love you make." Genius? I don't know, but it came from the Beatles so we assume it's profound. I might suggest it's just a phrase that could be written on a napkin in an idle moment. Really.
Lennon had an IP (intellectual property) issue come up in his career, but it's not well-remembered today, if it ever was. This is in connection to "Come Together." I never really cared for that song. We learn it's an expansion of "Let's Get It Together," a song Lennon wrote for Timothy Leary's California gubernatorial campaign vs. Ronald Reagan. Morris Levy sued, based on the opening line "Here Come Old Flat-top." It's lifted from a line in Chuck Berry's "You Can't Catch Me."
A settlement was reached in 1973 with Lennon promising to record three songs from Levy's catalog. I have heard that many songwriters are discouraged from the profession today by a fear of inadvertently repeating something previously written. This problem is easy to understand.
Belly Preston played Hammond organ for "I Want You (She's so Heavy)." Recording went into hiatus for Ringo's commitment to the movie "The Magic Christian."
August 20, 1969, was the last time all four Beatles were in the studio together. Yoko Ono was a chafing presence of course. Lennon seemed sullen as the project got released. He described the medley as "junk, just bits of songs thrown together."
Lennon was known to not exactly fawn over much of the group's work. Due to being a perfectionist? Or, just having a sullen streak? What kind of person would he be today? It's so fascinating to speculate. We have no clue.
I will state one thing very firmly: It was totally unethical and mean for the three surviving Beatles to re-work and release "Free as a Bird." This song had never been released before, which means Lennon never intended it for release. For a reason. Not only that, his voice was recorded in a crude way which was embarrassing for him. He would be indescribably angry if he were still around.
Another "new" song was released at that time: "Real Love." My friend Del Sarlette of Sarlettes Music said he thought "Real Love" was better than "Free as a Bird." A critic, trying to be generous, said "Free as a Bird" was like an ELO song. No musician wants his work to be praised simply on the basis of being like someone else's.
Truth be told, both of these "new" releases were a waste of time and embarrassing, although they may have helped some cash registers ring. It's sad because my generation was so starved and desperate to hear some new Beatles music, as if the guys were still together.
Let's all slap ourselves over this. "Abbey Road" was the Beatles' final recording effort, and history books aren't going to be changed on this. "You can't go home again," Thomas Wolfe wrote. And, you can't go back in time. You can't replay the 1969 American League divisional playoffs!
- Brian Williams - morris mn Minnesota - bwilly73@yahoo.com

Monday, November 10, 2014

The right beliefs can have collateral damage

The famous "Sgt. Pepper" cover
I recently wrote that the Beatles had a rather odious effect with their values. I saluted them on their sheer talent. Talent can be a dangerous thing. The people who entertain us don't necessarily show the best discretion with how they live. This certainly applies to sports heroes too.
I'm not sure the Beatles even lived day-to-day in a manner reflecting their espoused drug use. I observed that Dean Martin was known to be at "cocktail parties" with a glass of apple juice. And, that Hunter S. Thompson made a name for himself from days when he lived very straight-laced. These people learn that the wild and irreverent traits captivate their young fans.
John Lennon said the Beatles were like a "Trojan horse." They got to the top by being reasonably clean-cut. Yes, their "long hair" was a little edgy. But outside of that they were pretty well-scrubbed. However, nothing stayed placid or predictable for very long in the 1960s. I say this with no real sense of nostalgia.
The movie "Almost Famous" tried to get us feeling nostalgia about the 1960s. Nice try. We can always pull some positive memories from any era. But the 1960s were fundamentally disturbing. It's true that the young pushed forward with some very positive values. However, the need for that was due to the Viet Nam War. It was also due to the need to crush Jim Crow. The female gender needed uplifting. There was a time when women's obituaries in newspapers reviewed not the accomplishments of the women, but rather their husbands.
There was a time when women's names in newspapers were preceded by "Mrs." or "Miss," and if it was "Mrs." the husband's name would be used. "Mrs. Bill Dripps."
The 1960s were a time of eradicating lots of bad things. The youth who were at the fore had to adhere to different values. It went beyond promoting new models for living. It went in dysfunctional or destructive directions. Collateral damage? On a cultural level, well yes.
The Fab 4 became household names. At that point, they seized on the opportunity to sing about drugs and sex. Sex? Every generation thinks it's the first to discover sex.
A turning point in the cultural tumult was when John made his comment about Jesus. Katy bar the door! You remember that, don't you? John observed that the Beatles were "more popular than Jesus." A Monty Python satire would report years later that the iconic Beatle was misheard, and that what he really said was "the Beatles are more popular than cheeses."
If you want to cause everyone's hair to stand up, just make a comment about Jesus. I believed John when he said his comment was misunderstood. But such a comment was guaranteed to bring a tempest, as anyone with savvy in the media would readily say. I remember when a letter to the editor writer in our Morris Sun Tribune posed the question "Who would Jesus vote for?" Katy bar the door! There were countless letters to the editor following that, while the "instigator," in effect, crawled out from under the pile.
Poor John Lennon. He was a tremendous musician who was ahead of his time. As fame escalated, I think he got a little crazy being in the fishbowl. I think Paul McCartney understood much better what this was all about. Paul adjusted and continued to see the big picture. John was probably thinking "jeez, all I do is create these catchy and clever songs, and I have the world at my feet."
So, John said the Beatles were "bigger than Jesus." The quote first appeared inconspicuously in a lengthy profile article in the London Evening Standard. The excrement hit the fan when a U.S. teen magazine used the quote out of context, five months later. Christian fundamentalists got all in a dander. We saw public burnings of Beatles records. Yeah, like that will accomplish anything. The Beatles got death threats.
John was just saying that while young people were largely quiet and indifferent toward established religions, they were gaga over the Fab 4.
Hostile reporters tried to get John to apologize. He did deliver a tepid apology. But he had hardly drawn a breath when he moved on to another hot-button topic. It's hard to believe in 2014 that being against the Viet Nam war could get you in trouble. But hoo boy, it sure could in the mid to late 1960s. Brian Epstein had tried keeping the Beatles from making comments about the war. Elvis famously said, when posed the question, "Hey, I'm just an entertainer."
Yeah, and Mitch McConnell says "I'm not a scientist" in regard to global warming.
Impartial about war? No
Lennon and George Harrison got uncomfortable with their silence. They would say they felt "ashamed" staying silent. They finally warned Epstein that they were going to start commenting freely. The Beatles began speaking freely, at least John and George.
"Moreover, they went beyond condemnation of the war to a critique of the larger social and economic structures that lay behind it," Mark Hertsgaard wrote.
Lennon commented in 1968 that the war was "another piece of the insane scene."
The Beatles had power with their music. Even so, they were never as incisive as Bob Dylan in his formative years. The Beatles made statements but in a more subtle way. By being subtle, they might connect with listeners who otherwise might tune them out in a knee-jerk way. They showed a sensibility that left no doubt as to their ideas and opinions.
"Sergeant Pepper" was a prime example. I was late in gaining appreciation of that album. It was in the summer of 1973, through a roommate, that I borrowed his headphones and really began delving in.
First and foremost, I thought "Sergeant Pepper" had a surreal quality. I actually thought the quality of the music was rather uneven. "For the Benefit of Mr. Kite." I thought it was hokey, just like the later "When I'm Sixty-Four." But hey, this was the Beatles.
The musicians constantly prodded us to try to envision a kinder, more peaceful reality. Popular music could break through to the mass psyche. The sad part is that the Beatles were never truly deep thinkers or philosophers. They were tremendous cutting-edge musicians who used simple seat-of-the-pants judgment to try to tell us what was right. They were like the boy saying the emperor has no clothes.
Today the media report as fact and not opinion, that the Viet Nam War was a mistake and that the U.S. lost. Yes, Wolf Blitzer has said this. And, the anchorman at NBC news who has the same name as me.
The Beatles' story is also sad because of the embrace of drugs. Long hair and colorful clothing built the iconoclast image further. You could see them as heroes or outlaws. But truly they were socially relevant.
In later years the Beatles would actually pooh-pooh their role. They would say they simply reflected larger forces. Poor John would say it was like the Beatles were "just in the crow's nest." I say "poor John" because I think he never properly understood his position in the world. It was an important position as music composer extraordinaire. As philosopher or political leader? It was a mirage. John was simply a highly talented song man. He got his raw material from the macro picture of what was happening around the world. But he was not truly a part of that.
Paul was more realistic and prescient. Paul probably wanted to grab John by the shoulders and shake him. John was insecure. He felt he had to lose weight after a columnist described him as "the fat Beatle." Losing weight may not have been good for him.
Those were the days when "fat people" invited a sort of stigma, whereas today many such people are among us, and no one thinks anything of it, at least in the general population. We may not appreciate how people in entertainment, all those "talking heads" on TV for example, feel pressure to keep weight down, even today. Candy Crowley has to fight the stigma.
How cruel we are, demanding that the people we see on TV and in the movies be borderline anorexic. An example is Frances McDormand (from "Fargo") who I've read is just tiny. John Lennon was unnerved being called "the fat Beatle." It stuck in his craw. If he was that sensitive, heaven knows how disrupting the other stimuli around him could be.
It would be so wonderful to see John today and how his values would project themselves. Would he finally be happy just being himself? Would he insist to kids that drugs are wrong? He ingested heroin. Why?
Maybe he'd just say "All You Need is Love." I'd be happy with that.
- Brian Williams - morris mn minnesota - bwilly73@yahoo.com