I had long associated the Holiday Season with The Beatles, ever since I was a little boy and used to get Beatles albums for my birthday and Christmas every year. But over the last few winters, I have noticed that as a chill gets into the air, a familiar chill goes through my heart.
It’s Beatles Sadness Month.
The Fab Shiva typically begins on November 29th, with the observance of the death of George Harrison, from Cancer, in 2001, although some may argue that the bunting really goes up as early as October 9th, John Lennon’s birthday. The culmination of BSM is the night of sirens, tears and candle light vigils marking the assassination of John Lennon in the cold night air of December 8th, 1980. There follows a two-week period of YouTube clip sending, MOJO article reading and wistful remembrances leading up to Christmas when the cycle begins anew with the arrival of baby’s first Beatles album.
This year’s BSM was arguably made even sadder by a few contrasting events which primed the emotional pump for me. On my birthday this year, November 11, I received the newly repackaged hard back book 4 disc edition of the classic Paul McCartney & Wings album, Band On The Run, which had been released on November 2nd.
I had been in London that week and walked by many of the Beatles landmarks (no Abbey Road this time), as most of London IS a Beatles landmark, (save for the London Eye which was not built in the time of Fabs, which Lennon might have called “that big bike tyre thingy over by the Queen’s house”).
Band On The Run felt like this year’s Beatles Anthology, the nostalgic re-issue event of the Beatle calendar, and as Macca solo albums go, it did approach Fab standards. In its day, back in 1973, Wings’ third album proved the band’s most successful release, going number one in many world markets, and it was massively popular with fans and critics alike.
It really put paid to speculation that Paul couldn’t do it without the other three Beatles, and introduced him to something the Beatles never quite mastered, the huge stadium tour. Considered one of the 100 Greatest British Albums Ever, Rolling Stone critic Jon Landau thinks it’s ‘the finest record yet released by any of the four musicians who were once called the Beatles’.
The deluxe book package is the full-meal celebration of that album, featuring one disc of the original 9-track #1 album, remastered at Abbey Road Studios, and it also includes nine bonus tracks, including ‘Helen Wheels’ (which wasn’t on my original UK vinyl pressing that I bought in Liverpool in 1974!). Then there’s the remastered documentary disc with interviews and alternative versions of the album tracks, and the 120-page hardbound book with a bunch of previously unpublished photos by Linda, and photographer Clive Arrowsmith, along with a full history of the album, and a new interview with Paul and other trivia and minutiae. The DVD has music videos, rare footage from the Lagos sessions (did you read engineer Geoff Emerick‘s book, Here, There And Everywhere?), and B-roll footage from the album cover “prison break” shoot, and the One Hand Clapping TV special from 1974. There’s an audio documentary and a code to get to a digital download of all 18 tracks, audio documentary, and all bonus video material in various high resolution formats. Pretty sweet. Thanks John & Suzie!
And then, on November 16th, the worlds of Apple Records and Apple Computer finally reached a settlement and made The Beatles music available on iTunes. Suddenly, we are seeing big Beatle billboards put up by Jobs and crew to promote Fabs and crew.
They’re here there and everywhere… again.
Next, there was the documentary LENNONYC, which I mentioned a bit in an earlier blog post, but which finally aired this week on PBS. True, it featured a lot of that was in The U.S. vs John Lennon, but this new film by Michael Epstein takes a more personal view. It’s more about a man searching to find himself in the city that came to define, and utimately enshrine, him. Yoko’s in it, and frankly this is the most open I’ve seen her. Maybe 30 years is a long enough time and she can finally talk with perspective. One curiosity, considering Sean was so important to John, I wonder why they have no interviews with him. There are great inclusions also of producer Jack Douglas, photographer pal Bob Gruen, musicians Jim Keltner, Andy Newmark, Earl Slick, and engineer Roy Cicala, and odd choices like activist Tom Hayden. Lots of home movies (well, Warhol home movies at that!) and found audio of John, plus great Cavett and Mike Douglas footage. Best of all, NO images of, or mentions of, Mark David Fuckthatguy.
Which brings us to today, the ninth (number 9) anniversary of the passing of George Harrison, who succumbed (as they say) to that most persistent and steady assassin of all time, Cancer.
The details of his decline are equally depressing. In 1997, George discovered that he had throat cancer, but radiotherapy appeared to have beat it. But by May 2001, he was back at the Mayo Clinic to remove a cancerous growth from one of his lungs. Then, in Switzerland that July, he underwent radiotherapy for a brain tumor. And then there was the sad business of what is often called “The Dr. Lederman affair.” After George flew to Staten Island University Hospital, when the lung cancer had metastasised to his brain, oncologist Dr. Gilbert Lederman, was found to be leaking Harrison’s confidential medical information to the press. But most troubling, he had apparently forced George, in his weakened state, to autograph a guitar. Apparently Dr. Lederman was a fan, and couldn’t see how singing Beatle songs to George, who was meekly insisting that he stop, was bad for his, um, patient. The sick kicker was that after these Misery-style forced concerts, Dr. Lederman guided Harrison’s hand along the guitar to get his “autograph” on it, even though George insisted he didn’t have the energy to sign. Lederman was appropriately sued by Harrison’s family, and the suit was settled out of court under the condition that the guitar be “disposed of”.
Harrison was flown to a mansion in the Hollywood Hills (believed to have once been rented by Paul McCartney, where he died on 29 November from “metastatic non-small cell lung cancer”. His ashes were scattered in the Ganges River. A year after his death, to the day, his friends held The Concert For George at London’s Royal Albert Hall.
Paul played a mournful ukulele version of “Something”.
Button up your overcoats, the cold winds are blowing in and December 8th isn’t far off. Beatles Sadness Month is upon us…