The Twelve Blogs of Christmas: Ten

I was in the supermarket with the first rush of trolleys this morning, expecting it to be stressful, but in the end, we all just seemed pleased with how surreal it was to have gridlock in front of the marmalade, and everyone was kind to each other, although the staff cleaner did seem to be called out quite often. It was actually a pleasure to do, to be with so many people doing the same thing. More proof positive that it’s the work of Christmas that gets a lot of the mystical job done. Exhausting oneself in a productive way has been part of all sorts of belief systems, and it applies just as well to Christmas shopping.

It applies to this blog, too. When I was doing my column for SFX, I got tired at having to have an epiphany every four weeks, and this is like that speeded up.

Yesterday I realised I was exhausted, and ran thump into a wall and slid down it, with trombones going wawp wawp wawp on the soundtrack. There’s always a point during Christmas that I get really sad (no, I mean, you know, sad), and that’s always to do with working too hard. (Although I’m also lazy, as Elastica once said.) My inner Writer’s Guild finally walks out, demanding better conditions from my brain, and enforces a physical picket line that leaves me flat out on the sofa, and moping in a dull way.

See? I told you my inner Writer’s Guild weren’t at their desks. Don’t expect first class metaphors. And in terms of my Daily Telegraph story, you shouldn’t have expected a chap with one arm to have both his hands grasped by the Doctor, should you? But that’s what you got. As an observant sort on the Outpost Gallifrey forum spotted. Damn it.

But I woke up relieved, and feeling, and I think it was necessary to get that far out to start feeling it, the start of the joy. The Christmas sensation I seek every year is here for me today. It’s hard to describe, but it’s definitely about the proximity of the numinous. Tiredness, cold, a full belly, dark beer, and little twinkly lights in the very deep dark all help. I’m sorry if that sounds pretentious. I don’t go on about my spirituality very much, because doing so in public terrifies both oneself and others (I’m a sort of anti-evangelist, I always want to say to people, no, don’t ask about it, you wouldn’t like it). But at Christmas, I like to note when my inner processes have got where I’d like them to be.

And now, thanks to shopping, I have a chocolate orange. And some luxury biscuits. Yes.

So today, knocking off another of the things on my list of festive blog topics, I’d like to talk about the Beatles.

For all of my adolescence, and a couple of decades of adult life, I thought they were too obvious, too twee, too pretty. Every single I heard made me think, well, okay, but. Then, one Christmas (ah, relevance, there we go), I was given Abbey Road. My reactions on playing it were: that seems to have a shocking number of tracks on it. And there’s lots of really short ones. Oh this is a real mess, just fragments of stuff. I heard they were disintegrating at the time. This is the leftovers. But there’s a pattern here, isn’t there? A couple of themes pop in and out. And there’s some surprising musical and lyrical stuff in here, that’s only slowly unpacking itself. And then on about the fifth listen, George Martin leaps out of the speakers with ‘and in the end…’ and that huge orchestral swoop, and sudden fractal fireworks occur, and I get why the same sort of people who claim mystical powers for Wagner (and, erm, Charles Manson) also go nuts over John and Paul.

And after that, I’m hooked, and ask for everything else every birthday and Christmas. In context, my opinion of Abbey Road still includes that it’s a very loose collection of fragments, held together by the genius of Paul and George Martin in the face of John and heroin. But some of their fragments are better than whole careers elsewhere.

Things about the Beatles I don’t like:

John’s cheap cynicism, his bitter urge to wreck the train. You put that against a strong and loving Paul, and you get great art. You put that in a movie, and you get a star who should have been the next Peter Sellers. You put it in charge and you get bile, bilge and portentousness. You put it on heroin and you make me want to break up the Beatles.

Schoolboy humour (every other time). ‘What do you see when you turn out the light? I can’t tell you, but I know that it’s mine.’ Joe Cocker, did you listen to those lyrics before performing them like they’re profound? (Except: when the schoolboy humour is also profound. Terms and conditions apply.)

Nonsense. Mostly a John thing. ‘I am the egg man.’ Like, whatever. Although the music wrapped around that is great. But I’m a lyrics sort of person.

How played out a lot of it us. If I hear ‘Come Together’ once more I’ll scream. Especially because it contains a few of the other things I don’t like.

Things about the Beatles I love:

Paul’s concern for the domestic, for everyday people, for melody. I’ve never taken Oasis seriously, because they can write the nonsense, they even have an ear for John’s Zen contradictions (‘I can’t believe that anybody feels the way I do about you now’/’Nothing you can do that can’t be done’), but they could never write ‘She’s Leaving Home’ or ‘Eleanor Rigby’ or the extraordinary hymn to human life that is ‘When I’m Sixty Four’. No, seriously. Listen to those chords under ‘you’ll be older too’ and ‘we will scrimp and save’, and you hear something that’s Vaughan Williams cosmic. I pick Paul over John every time. I think John’s for the kids, Paul’s for the adults. Paul has doubt and love. John has anger and bite.

The cosmic wonder. Both Paul and John can write an incredible tune (‘Strawberry Fields’ has a great little classical knot in it), but I do wonder if John had some small jealousy eating away at him, if he knew Paul was better. Fooling the world into thinking that he was probably wouldn’t comfort John. (I swear, if John had written ‘Maxwell’s Silver Hammer’, people would think it was ‘dark’ and a masterpiece.) George Martin is of the opinion that they would have worked together again. Just for once in this world, I think that would have been amazing. Because Paul’s kindness and John’s fury can each force the other into something the making of which they can’t predict. It’s like an emergent property. And that interaction counts for all four of the group.

That they’re aware of their public images, and mock them. Like Paul walking out of that room adjusting his tie in Yellow Submarine. That mockery forms a kind of feedback loop that also contributes to the group dynamic. If one of them is becoming too much anything, then they suddenly swerve away from it. They never become caricatures of themselves.

That they packed in so many changes, so much experience, so many fashions, in such a short career. To get into and deal with the Maharishi in what amounts to a couple of weeks, to change the culture of the world in a few years, to embrace fashion, eat it and change it on the run, all out of their own clashing personalities, the strength of the unit, the way the banter seemed to create art on its own and out of the need to keep it going, the competition that arose between the different styles and points of view… it could be said that history was waiting for them to arise, but they made it their own way. And even afterwards it looks impossible. I love the fact that none of them have ever been able to explain it. How could Paul explain waking up with ‘Yesterday’ in his head, and thinking that he was humming something someone else had wrote, when actually he was humming something he was about to write?

I love George, for being also, incredibly, a third genius, at yet another angle. I love Ringo, for being not just the best drummer in the Beatles, but also one of the best who ever lived, while allowing people to believe the opposite.

I love the fact that George Martin is there throughout, an establishment figure who’s always ready to take on their technical experiments and facilitate them. The Beatles never lost sight of the masses, never made their ‘concept album’, always thought of the man whistling on the Clapham omnibus. I think a lot of that is down to having Dad in the studio.

The best album? I like the ‘white album’. All those different musical forms. Albeit with a heroin tinge. Rubber Soul is also pretty beautiful. I’m not keen on Sergeant Pepper’s.

And after all this time, I still keep hearing new things. Love delighted me, because it was made by George Martin, who still understood. But the old tracks still reveal folded dimensions, every time. I think that may be why it took me so long to get there.

Phew, there we go, bit of a shapeless rant, but at least I remember how many hands everyone had. And at least now I’m in shape for Christmas. I hope you are too, and I will be delighted to see you again tomorrow. Thank you for playing your part in this. Cheerio!

16 Response to "The Twelve Blogs of Christmas: Ten"

  • Anonymous Says:

    For me, George was always the unsung genius. His music, "Something", "While My Guitar Gently Weeps" and "Here Comes the Sun" to name a few, were far superior to lots of John/Paul songs. And his solo album "All Things Must Pass" is just amazing - and is still the best selling solo album by a Beatle.

    I like John's nonsense, because I think he was making fun of the people who try to find meaning in everything.Like all of the "Paul is Dead" stuff. It's like there was this Andy Kaufman-esque humor going on that was very funny if you were in on the joke. My main problem with John is that he abandoned his son, Julian. Being a single father, and having fought for that, I can't imagine ever giving that up. And he did.

    -Erik E.

  • LynnS Says:

    Thank you for liking Paul as much as me. :) In my music criticism days I was always getting ragged on for liking Paul better; I was "sentimental." I think one's appreciation of Paul increases with age, you are right about that, but then I think we become more sentimental with age as well. And what's wrong with that, I ask you!

    As for the Doctor clasping handS with a one-armed chap, well! Maybe he had a fake arm, ever think of that, critics? huh? huh? I thought not.

  • martin Says:

    I agree that Paul is underrated, but just as John's fans think that he is the rocker and forget McCartney's Helter Skelter, don't forget Lennon wrote All You Need id* Love and Merry Xmas (War is Over) - two songs you could accuse of alot of things, but never cheap cynisism.

    And if you think that xmas shopping is stressful, spare a thought for the people who work in retail over xmas! I'm looking forward to a few days off, and hoping santa will bring me Doctor Who season 3 boxset.

    Merry Xmas!

    *typo left in, cos John would have liked it that way!

  • Paul Cornell Says:

    All good thoughts, chaps. Maybe the Doctor picked up Tom's other arm from the ground? And indeed, Lynns, what's wrong with that, I'd like to know?

  • ruth Says:

    The hands thing is easily explained. The Doctor always carries a spare. Well, always post S3 anyway.

  • Lego Princess Leia Says:

    The other wonderful thing about the Beatles is how good their tracks are as pure instrumentals. I love the chord structure of Eleanor Rigby, which made Em6 my all time favourite chord!

    The official word is "diminished", btu I prefer the term "scrunchy". Gotta love a scrunchy chord delivered at a key moment.

  • Paul Cornell Says:

    Good thought, Ruth! And yes, despite speaking music, which I can't do but my wife can, I think that's a good point well made, Lego.

  • funnyerik9 Says:

    "Maybe the Doctor picked up Tom's other arm from the ground?"

    So you're saying the Doctor should have given him a helping hand?

    Sorry. The joke was there. Had to take it.

    -Erik E.

  • Paul Cornell Says:

    Ah, how apt is your net name? No, that's not a rhetorical question.

  • funnyerik9 Says:

    I chose this name for my Instant Messenger years ago, and it overflowed to my e-mails and my MySpace/facebook/LiveJournal accounts. Lots of other names were taken so I settled on this because: 1. I study/write/perform sketch comedy and improv and am working on my first comedy screenplays. 2. My name is Erik and 3. I had to chose a number as "funnyerik" was taken, so I went with #9 for the Beatles Revolution #9.

    And I just learned how to put my LiveJournal name in the comments so I'm no longer under anonymous. Though my accounts are usually blocked so no nasty Ex-Wives can get into them.

    -Erik E.

  • Mik Says:

    I have to say I was enjoying the story so much that I totally missed that Tom shook the Doctor's hand with two hands! See, if you would have just kept quiet on your blog most of the consumers who don't go to the Outpost Gallifrey forums wouldn't have known! :) (I signed up for them once but there are so many people on there and so many topics of discussion that I became overwhelmed).

    Props to Erik for fighting for the right to be a dad to his kids. I wish my ex-husband (almost) would have been as upstanding instead of moving halfway across the country to be with his mistress. Ah, well, life goes on.

    Keep up the brilliant work, Paul---and a very Happy New Year to you.

  • Paul Cornell Says:

    Thanks for your origin story, Erik, I now know who you are and how you came to be. And thanks, Mik, but I'm a perfectionist like that. And maybe you and Erik should have a chat! Outpost Gallifrey's warmer when you get to know it, and he's throughly moderated, which is always a good thing.

  • funnyerik9 Says:

    Thanks, Mik! The hard work is totally worth it. Your Ex made the wrong decision.

    And Paul, I'll see you at Gally with my kids in tow. I'm working OPS again and (I think) hosting the karaoke as well. We'll see if I can do that with the kids this time.

    -Erik E.

  • Paul Cornell Says:

    Look forward to seeing you, Erik. Cheers.

  • Karen Funk Blocher Says:

    I really enjoyed reading this. Thing is, although Paul had sweet tendencies and John harsh ones, it's never really been that cut and dried. Paul can be an all-out rocker (Helter Skelter), and he can do wordplay and odd imagery (Monkberry Moon Delight); and John can do sweet and melodic. But it's true that they fed off each other wonderfully, and were generally better together than apart. It's sad that, aside from the two Anthology singles as approximations, we never got that collaboration again.

    (And I never would have caught the hand gaffe in your Christmas story had I not seen it mentioned on OG.)

  • Paul Cornell Says:

    If only they'd got George Martin back in for those singles! And thanks, Karen.