One of the things I DO like about Portland is the trendy neighborhood along NW 23rd Avenue, and my favorite part of that neighborhood is a shop called Moonstruck Chocolate and Cafe. Three chocolate truffle things and a cup of coffee can fend off even the dreariest of Portland days…
So, I spent a few days up in Portland, Oregon over this past weekend. It was a bit of a “guerrilla strike” – one day of travel, three days there, another day of travel back to Nashville.
The weather was mostly… like this. Which, according to rumor and/or legend, is fairly typical of Portland (and the Pacific Northwest in general) for most of the fall, winter, and spring.
Those of you familiar with my… ummm… unique domestic situation will know why the visit – which is about as much as I’ll say about it here.
She was 17 years old and was fading fast… last time I took her to the vet they told me there was a 70% likelihood she was suffering from liver cancer. It was pretty much downhill from there, and I finally put her down about two weeks ago.
And no, I did not put it all over Facebook etc., but this is my personal space on the web so I’m mentioning it here.
Ann found her at the gas station down the street not long after we moved into our house in 1999. Seems oddly apropos that she’d leave us about the same time as my wife (who moved to Portland, Oregon back in July).
I’m a ‘cat person,’ and Rags was ‘my’ cat. I named her for ‘Rags The Tiger,’ a character in the first animated cartoon series on television, “Crusader Rabbit” – which was created by Jay Ward and was something of a prototype for “Rocky and Bullwinkle.” You have to be old (i.e. my age, 65) to remember “Crusader Rabbit.”
Rags was a cranky, whiny cat. She’d cry for some attention, but when I picked her up to pet her, she’d lie in my arms for about 30 seconds and then start whining again. Hissing was a pretty regular part of her repertoire, too.
I took some photos of her about a year ago… I guess I knew then that she wasn’t going to be with us much longer. It wasn’t until I looked at these photos, just before I took her to the vet, that I realized what a beautiful cat she was.
Just more evidence that everything is permanent only so long as it lasts.
This past Thursday night I attended the sold-out opening screening of “Eight Days A Week” – director Ron Howard’s ode to The Beatles that focuses primarily on their touring years, from 1962-1966.
It is hard now not to think of The Beatles as anything other than a phenomenon – Beatlemania! – and an iconic force of musical nature. They were all of those things, but what this movie so effectively reminds us – as John Lennon famously said somewhere in the “Beatles Anthology” – is that they were “just a band.”
But oh my, what a band…
With vintage photos and film clips from the late 1950s and early 60s, “Eight Days A Week” shows us four guys who grew up together (OK, maybe not so much Ringo, who joined The Beatles just as they started their recording career, but he shared their scrappy Liverpool origins). It was essentially John’s band from the beginning, but part of his gift was his ability to recognize in Paul and George talent and ambition equal to his own.
The mission of the documentary is to trace the full arc of their years as a touring band: from the clubs of Hamburg were their sound was forged, to the Cavern Club in Liverpool where they found their audience, and eventually around the world, where their concerts were drowned out by screaming fans. Throughout the arc we are watch as the role “pop music” in the cultural firmament is transformed in front of our eyes and ears.
But the full power and sheer artistry of The Beatles is more fully conveyed in the 30 minutes of concert footage that follows the documentary.
Here are The Beatles in a truly epic setting: Shea Stadium in New York – the first performance of their final tour in 1966. They dash out on the field and climb atop a stage that looks like a boxing ring erected over second base, in the middle of the vast expanse of a baseball field, 50 yards away from the nearest fan, some 56,000 of whom are screaming their heads off through the entire show.
Still, you can’t help but be impressed with the quality of the performance. The set includes both covers and originals, opening with “Twist and Shout” and ending with “A Hard Day’s Night” and “Help.” Showing the complete concert after the documentary is its own tour-de-force; it reminds us what the phenomenon was really about: the sheer power of skilled musicianship, the intensity of accomplished artistry.
The documentary is a 90 minute setup; the concert footage is a 30 minutes payoff – the undeniable proof of everything postulated in the film.
Ron Howard’s film also reminds us just how much “Beatlemania” was a reflection of the times. In America especially, The Beatles arrival in February 1964 was the medicine a grieving nation needed after the shock of the Kennedy assassination. Their appearances on The Ed Sullivan Show carved the opening cracks in what would eventually become the “Generation Gap.” We are reminded of the tumultuous history that The Beatles were part of, from the conflagration in Vietnam to the Civil Rights movement.
One detail in the documentary that surprised me addressed the matter of race as it is uniquely experienced in America: The Beatles had a clause in their contracts that declared that they would not play for segregated audiences. A voice over from Paul McCartney explains how foreign the whole idea of segregation and Jim Crow was to their experience in England.
Howard deftly gives all four Beatles nearly equal screen time for retrospective commentaries. The surviving Beatles, Paul and Ringo, appear on screen several times in their current incarnations; There are equal amounts of archival footage of John and George looking back on their years as Beatles. Their commentaries lend a “Rashomon” like perspective to the whole experience.
The Beatles 1966 tour ushered in the era of the stadium concert – despite technology woefully suited for the purpose; George explains how Vox built amplifiers especially for this tour: “I think they were a hundred watts…” – and much of the audio was piped through the crackly stadium PA system: “Now playing at second base… The Beatles!”
I think it was Ringo who described the aftermath of what would history would record as The Beatles final live performance, the last concert of the 1966 tour at Candlestick Park in San Francisco: After the show the band was raced out of the stadium grounds in what Ringo describes as “a meat wagon” – a bare metal armored police wagon, the kind that ferries convicts to prisons. It was pretty much within those lurching steel confines that all four Beatles decided “we’re not going to do this any more…”
Freed from the demands of a touring schedule, The Beatles dedicate themselves to the studio. There is footage from the EMI studio at Abbey Road of audio tape loops strung between tape machines… and then there is “Sergeant Pepper.”
From there the documentary quickly traces the remainder of The Beatles recording career: 5 albums in three years, from “Magical Mystery Tour” to the “White Album,” “Abbey Road” and the “posthumously” released “Let It Be” (which was released after the band announced its demise early in 1970).
The movie ends with the most footage I have ever seen from The Beatles last-ever ‘concert’ – that day in January 1969 when they set up on the roof of the Apple Corps headquarters in London and played to the people on the street below. It’s more than three years since the last time they performed “live” together, and the footage proves, once and for all that The Beatles were still, and always were, a great fucking band.
“Eight Days A Week Is” playing at The Belcourt. Info and tickets here. It will also be released to streaming video via Hulu next week. A subscription will be required. So go see it in a theater with good surround sound.
Seems like as good a day as any to start a new job.
Yes, I have a day job now.
I was hired by Apple to work in their Green Hills… well, they don’t want to call it a “store” any more. So I just work at “Apple Green Hills.
Please come by and say hello. I will be happy to direct you to the people who can resolve your issue (it ain’t me, babe…)
I went to one of the last regular-season games at the Nashville Sounds new ballpark last week.
I always park well outside the periphery of the park grounds, in a lot at the corner of Charlotte and 10th. From there it’s a 10-minute walk to the entrance to the ball park.
That gives me a chance to wander through the Bicentennial Park. The setting sun was shining on the Carillon…
FYI, I spent the last week of September up in Portland, Oregon.
My wife lives there now.
Read into that whatever you will.
Then explain it to me.