“The Idiot in Question”

I came across a slim book from 2007 in the Bangor library the other day, The Beatles’ Second Album, by Dave Marsh, and read it pretty quickly. It tells the story of, well, the Beatles’ second album – in America that is, because as you might remember, the British and American versions of those records were quite different.

An interesting part of the book explains the reasons – mostly financial – just why that was. In England you needed 14 songs for a record, and they never included the hit singles, while in America you had to include the hits, plus you only needed 11 songs. The first seven Beatles albums in England therefore turned into the first 10 Beatles albums in the U.S., each additional one being worth – thanks to the popularity of the group – an extra quarter- to a half-million dollars (in 1960s dollars) to Capitol Records.

The most interesting part of the book, chapter 7, “The Man Who Hated the Beatles,” describes Dave Dexter Jr., the man picked by the record company to pick which songs, in which order, went on the American Beatles LPs. As it turns out, Dexter (1915–1990) not only was around 50 at the time, he was a fan of big band jazz from before WW II, and hated rock and roll (not to mention teenagers in general). He also had an aversion to the harmonica being used in pop music, one reason he bad-mouthed the Beatles from the time he heard the opening bars of their first hit “Love Me Do.”

As Marsh says, “Dave Dexter Jr. passed on the Beatles at least three separate times, rejecting ‘Love Me Do,’ ‘Please, Please Me,’ and ‘She Loves You’ as having no potential to become hit singles in the United States.” That’s why the earliest Beatles records in the U.S. appeared on obscure labels like Vee-Jay and Swan, because Dexter – “the idiot in question,” Marsh calls him – refused to deal with them. It wasn’t until his bosses at EMI gave him an ultimatum that the Beatles ended up on Capitol Records, and ‘I Want to Hold Your Hand’ became a giant hit… whereupon Dexter took a lot of the credit for their success.

Among to his Wikipedia page, other groups Dexter said would never make it in America included The Hollies, Billy J. Kramer and the Dakotas, Manfred Mann, Gerry and the Pacemakers, The Animals, The Yardbirds, Herman’s Hermits, and The Dave Clark Five. Marsh adds, “The British act he boasted about signing is Freddie and the Dreamers. (I did not make this up.)”

It’s pretty incredible to learn that the records we listened to so avidly back in those days were put together in such a sloppy manner by a guy who apparently hated the job, and who, incidentally, also changed the sound mixes George Martin had worked on so carefully, across the Atlantic. And they still became wildly successful. “Only the fact that the conceptual integrity of the material on Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band was its main selling point (and Brian Epstein’s finally negotiating a better recording contract for the band) stopped Capitol from continuing the practice of putting together hodgepodge LPs,” Marsh writes.

By that point, The Beatles had gotten so fed up that they tried releasing their 9th Capitol album, ‘Yesterday’… and Today, with Robert Whitaker’s famous cover photo showing the group “dressed as butchers, surrounded by raw meat and dismembered baby dolls.” At the time, they claimed this was an allusion to the violence of the Vietnam War, and, as Marsh notes, “didn’t have a thing to do with sending a message to Capitol about their hatred of the company’s practice of chopping up their records.”

Maybe Dave Dexter – the man who in Marsh’s words “loathed rock ‘n’ roll beyond reason,” and who in his own writing “comes across as a nasty, vindictive son of a bitch” – knew better.

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He Could Be Your Twin Brother

Standing in the aisle next to the baked beans in the grocery store this afternoon, I heard an older woman calling, “Brian! Brian!” Then turned and found she was talking to me.

“I don’t think so,” I said as she wheeled her cart over my way. “Oh,” she said, realizing her mistake as she got close. “You’re not Brian.” Then, feeling a need to explain, she said, “He worked on the eaves of our house, did good work, too, but you’re not him. Though you really do look just like Brian.”

“He must be a good-looking fellow,” I said, smiling, obviously trying to make light of her confusion, to which she simply said, “No,” and walked away.

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Jack Kerouac, Still Dead

I told Colin I’d had an interesting time visiting Jack Kerouac’s grave, and he – Colin – said he’d been born in Connecticut on October 26, 1969, one week to the day after Kerouac died in St. Petersburg, Florida.

“For awhile,” he told me, “I had it in my head that maybe Kerouac’s soul had lingered around on the earth for exactly a week, and now I had it.”

“You never know,” I said.

Colin said that around the time he hit age 16, he decided — or his soul convinced him? — to hitchhike to Kerouac’s hometown of Lowell, Massachusetts, on a pilgrimage to the writer’s grave.

“But the city was just so depressing I never made it to the cemetery,” he said. “Instead, I keep going on to Vermont, to visit friends at Middlebury College. I lay around there for a few days, but I don’t remember the specifics of what happened. I think drugs and alcohol were involved.”

p.s. Later, I looked over my notes from Kerouac’s grave and realized he actually had died on October 21, five days before Colin was born. Which probably didn’t change what happened to his soul.

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QFT, Pollution

– Does it make you angry the way man has polluted this planet?

“What makes me angry is people planning to do things that will pollute the planet… I look at the planet and all you see is proof that we need to change.”

Neil Young, quoted in Jimmy McDonough’s biography Shakey (2002, page 341)

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1166 (And All That)

I came across something that interested me the other day: the year 1666 is the one you get when you list all seven Roman numerals in order, from highest to lowest: MDCLXVI.

(As Captain Jerry said when I told him this, it’s too bad the Romans all had declined and fallen by then, so none of them still was around to appreciate that fact.)

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“Look for the enemies…”

We were talking today about the great American myth that it’s all about the individual, the self-made man who overcomes all obstacles and rises to prominence (perhaps thanks to his pliable bootstraps).

The powers that be pretend it has nothing to do with community, with helping each other out; it’s all – as the saying goes – about ‘pluck and luck.’ At the same time, I’ve been reading about the organizing done by A. Philip Randolph, “the leading black figure in the labor movement,” and came across the speech he gave at the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom in August, 1963.

The way the story of the March on Washington usually is told, it’s all about one prominent individual, who had a dream. That myth again. Who knew anyone other than Martin Luther King, Jr., even spoke that afternoon? Which is too bad, because Randolph’s talk, ten quick paragraphs, was right to the point. And this part of it, 50+ years later, couldn’t be more topical: “Look for the enemies of Medicare, of higher minimum wages, of Social Security, of federal aid to education and there you will find the enemy of the Negro, the coalition of Dixiecrats and reactionary Republicans that seek to dominate the Congress.”

What’s needed, Randolph added, is “a new beginning not only for the Negro but for all Americans who thirst for freedom and a better life.”

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The More Things Change

“The area of government is as confused as anything we can identify. And one need only look at TV coverage of either House or Senate to see that we do not have a government at all but merely a group of fat cats who spend their time, and our money, being nasty to each other.”

Red Earth, White Lies
Vine Deloria, Jr., 1995, page 28

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Thought for the Day

“The very beginning of Genesis tells us that God created man in order to give him dominion over fish and fowl and all creatures. Of course, Genesis was written by a man, not a horse. There is no certainty that God actually did grant man dominion over other creatures. What seems more likely, in fact, is that man invented God to sanctify the dominion that he had usurped for himself over the cow and the horse.”

The Unbearable Lightness of Being
Milan Kundera, 1984, page 286
[translated from the Czech by Michael Henry Heim]

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A Cut Above: RIP Gunnar Hansen

I just learned, via MetaFilter, that Gunnar Hansen – the legendary Leatherface from the original version of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre – has died. I am not much of a horror film fan, but I did admire that movie, which I saw one Halloween, 36 years ago now, at the University of Washington, part of a triple feature that included Night of the Living Dead and Freaks. (As Roger Ebert wrote, “I can’t imagine why anyone would want to make a movie like this, and yet it’s well-made, well acted, and all too effective.”)

Six years later, when I moved to this island in Maine, I actually met Leatherface, who, it goes without saying, was nothing like his famous film creation. He was, rather, a low-key, bearded poet from Iceland, who had gotten his role, he told me, solely because he was the largest person the filmmakers happened to know. And over the last 25+ years we remained friendly – not friends, but always happy to run into each other from time to time.

(e) Gunnar @ Jesup

On one such occasion, in October 2013, he spoke at the Bar Harbor library about his new book Chain Saw Confidential, which makes entertaining reading. As I sat listening to him, I realized I should have brought my copy of his earlier, also well-written Islands at the Edge of Time (1993) for him to sign; filed under Travel/Natural History, it’s a look at American’s barrier islands around the curve of the coast from Texas to North Carolina.

Gunnar lived next-door to the library in Northeast Harbor, where in October 2011 – at a party for the retiring librarian, who had worked there almost 40 years – he and I were hanging out when a woman, saying, “Look, it’s two local celebrities,” asked us to pose for her camera. “I don’t know about me, but definitely him,” I said.
(e) Gunnar’s house
As I drove away from the library, I passed his house, whose appearance made me laugh because, with no one home, it looked much like a place where a chainsaw murderer might live. But as Gunnar writes in Chain Saw Confidential: “I certainly did not want to be Leatherface, or even feel his emotions. For me he was a shell, a set of behaviors and postures.”

The real man, sadly no longer with us, was nothing like his image. But happily, I have the photo to back me up if I ever want to say to some lesser imitator: “Sir, I knew Leatherface. I was friendly with Leatherface. And you are no Leatherface.”

(e) Gunnar Hansen & RPS, 10-26-11

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Newspeak about the Tacos of the Tex-Mex, Sexist, Maoist, R&B, Hot-Rodding, NATO, Zydeco Jet Set

Here’s an interesting thought: what words entered the English language the same year you entered the world? The Oxford English Dictionary (aka OED) has a ‘Birthday Word Generator’ that provides you with at least one answer. A more complete selection is available only to subscribers, but thanks to Dave at wordorigins.org I found a long list from my birth year, no charge. Insert your year into that second URL to discover your own results.

OED’s site adds, “Please note that the dates given for these words refer to the current first known usage of the word… [It’s] possible that we will find an earlier sense of the words during our research.”

The 451 new words the OED records as coming into use around the same time I arrived include all those capitalized in the headline above. (Tex-Mex, back then, referred to a dialect of Spanish, not a category of food or music.)

Some other newcomers from 1949: aromatherapy, cortisone (discovered that year), lidocaine (marketed that year), Wild Turkey bourbon (trademarked that year), hologram, home schooling, genetic engineering, and the Emmy and telethon. No, its host wasn’t Jerry Lewis – his first marathon for the MDA was three years in the future.

America’s first telethon, hosted by the nation’s top TV star at the time, Mendel Berlinger (aka Milton Berle), raised $1.1 million for the Damon Runyon Cancer Research Foundation.

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