Monday, February 27, 2012

The Top Mysteries Surrounding The Beatles


I've long been a fan of The Beatles. And I've long been fascinated by the topic of unexplained historical mysteries. So for this article, I thought I'd combine the two.

As one of the 20th century's biggest pop cultural phenomena, The Beatles have been endless analyzed and discussed in literally thousands of books over the years. But for all the analysis, there remain a few lingering mysteries about this band. And with the passing of the decades, it's unlikely a lot of these mysteries will ever be explained.

So, here, in my opinion, are the top mysteries surrounding The Beatles:

1. What was the origin of the song title, "Eleanor Rigby"? Not long after this 1966 song was released, Paul discussed its origins in an interview. The title, he claimed came from two sources. "Eleanor" was the first name of an actress, Eleanor Bron, who'd worked with the band on the film, Help!. And the name "Rigby" came from a shop sign that Paul once spotted in Bristol. And for many years, that was the accepted explanation for the song's title.

Then, in the 1980s, fans discovered the grave of an "Eleanor Rigby" in the graveyard of St. Peter's Parish Church in Liverpool. Rigby, who'd died in 1939, was buried on a site close to where Paul had first met John in 1957. (In fact, as teen-agers, both Paul and John had spent time sunbathing near the spot). The grave's discovery was an amazing, spooky coincidence, and Paul has since admitted that the name "Eleanor Rigby" may have stuck in his subconsciousness for years and inspired the title of his 1966 song. But if that's the case, then why in 1966 did Paul give interviews specifically citing other sources for the origin of the song's title? A definitive answer on this mystery remains elusive.

2. When The Beatles recorded their swansong album, Abbey Road in 1969, did they know at the time that it'd be their final studio album? This is a mystery that has long divided Beatles historians. The Beatles themselves in interviews over the years have given contradictory answers to this question---the answer to which has been lost in the haze of time. Note that The Beatles did record a few studio sessions in 1970 to put the finishing touches on the Let It Be album, which (although it was released after Abbey Road) was actually mostly recorded in January 1969, before the summer sessions that produced Abbey Road.

3. What was going on with all those wild and crazy studio sessions in 1967?. The year 1967 was a tremendously productive period for The Beatles. The band generated an enormous amount of creativity during the sessions that produced the Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band album. And yet, if you look at the day-by-day studio logs (as has been noted by Beatles historian Mark Lewisohn), there were a number of truly strange sessions in 1967 that never produced anything other than highly disorganized noise. During a number of these sessions, the band spent many hours doing endless takes of "You Know My Name (Look Up the Number)," a true oddity of a song. During other sessions, the band aimlessly jammed in lengthy sessions that produced nothing but unlistenable noise (often played on out-of-tune instruments). One of these sessions was on June 1, the very day the Pepper album was released. (One might have thought that after the exhausting marathon Pepper sessions, The Beatles would have taken a break from the studio).

What was going on at these wacky sessions? And what was the point? Why the strange obsession with the throwaway ditty, "You Know My Name?" It's odd how the band's 1967 sessions alternated between the extremes of tightly focused, disciplined sessions and other sessions that were anarchic, sloppy and totally unproductive.

4. What ever happened to The Beatles' infamous lost recording, Carnival of Light? Long considered the holy grail of unreleased Beatles recordings, Carnival of Light was recorded in 1967 during a session in which the band also worked on "Penny Lane." The existence of Carnival was brought to wide public attention in Lewisohn's Recording Sessions book. Supposedly the song is an experimental piece that lasts around 13 minutes. There have been repeated hints over the years that the piece is on the verge of release. But these never pan out. In 1996, Paul McCartney sought to include the piece on the band's "Anthology" set, but the other band members vetoed this decision. Then, in 2008, McCartney indicated that the piece was nearing release, but nothing further has been heard since.

5. Who was behind the cryptic voice that repeated the words, "Number 9," in John Lennon's "Revolution 9," the musique concrete piece that has baffled many a listener of the band's 1968 album, The Beatles (popularly known as "The White Album"). To get the various sounds used in the recording, Lennon and collaborator George Harrison rummaged through the sound effects vaults at Abbey Road studios. The most prominent sound fragment features a voice repeating the phrase, "Number 9." As Lewisohn noted in his The Complete Beatles Recording Sessions the identity of that mysterious voice has been lost to history.

6. Why, exactly, did The Beatles break up? Nobody seems to be able to fully agree on why the most popular and successful musical act of the 20th century broke up at the height of their commercial and creative success. Ask any Beatles expert (or member of the band, for that matter) and you'll get conflicting and contradictory answers. Was it because of Yoko? Or was it the usual "musical differences" clash that has driven many bands to split? Was it a desire to simply move on and do something different? Or was it money disputes? A case could be made for any and/or all of these reasons. But the definitive answer remains elusive.

Whatever the reason for the breakup was, though, it was such a powerful reason that the band remained split forever. To get an idea of just how decisive the band's breakup was, consider this: not only did The Beatles never record together again, it's possible that all four members of the band never even met up once in all the years after 1970. The band's final photos were taken at Lennon's Tittenhurst Park estate on Aug. 22, 1969 and not one single photo has ever emerged that show the band members together after that date. In the years since the split, two or three members would occasionally meet here and there, but never all four together at the same time. Band members collaborated on a few of Ringo's solo albums, but it appears unlikely that all four were ever together in the same spot at the same time. At around noon, on Aug. 22, 1969, a photographer snapped a photo of the band standing on the southern balcony at Tittenhurst, not knowing that this was literally the final photo that would be ever taken of The Beatles together.

The answer to some of these mysteries may be cleared up in Lewisohn's upcoming official biography of the band, a book that Lewisohn has been working on for decades. This massive work will be released in three volumes, starting in October 2013. In a recent interview, Lewisohn promised that the book will offer many new revelations and insights. The signs are good that Lewisohn can deliver on this promise. After all, his Recording Sessions book is one of the definitive works on The Beatles and itself was a fascinating source of new insights about the world's most famous band.

One thing Lewisohn's past work has revealed is that The Beatles' story is so rich that, the closer you look at their work, the more fascinating it becomes. It's the total opposite of the old saying, "If you like sausage, you should never watch how it is made." With The Beatles, the closer you look, the more intriguing their story is. Virtually every song has a fascinating behind-the-scenes story. But for all the books written about the band over the decades, Lewisohn has noted that The Beatles' story "has been told often, but rarely very well." Here's hoping that Lewisohn's labors will finally produce a biography worthy of the band.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Rick Santorum At Odds With Catholic Church On Many Major Issues


If you Google "Rick Santorum Devout Catholic," you'll get over 130,000 results. Indeed, the MSM routinely refers to Santorum as a "devout Catholic."

But is he?

In reality, Santorum is at odds with the Catholic Church on many major issues.

On Saturday, Santorum challenged President Obama's Christian beliefs and claimed White House policies were motivated by a "different theology."

All of this was reported by a straight-faced MSM, which has in turn given Santorum a free pass on the fact that many of his positions are in direct conflict with the Catholic Church.

The brilliant Juan Cole at Informed Comment recently rounded up the Top Ten Catholic Teachings Santorum Rejects while Obsessing about Birth Control:

1. "So for instance, Pope John Paul II was against anyone going to war against Iraq I think you'll find that Rick Santorum managed to ignore that Catholic teaching.

2. The Conference of Catholic Bishops requires that health care be provided to all Americans. I.e., Rick Santorum’s opposition to universal health care is a betrayal of the Catholic faith he is always trumpeting.

3. The Catholic Church opposes the death penalty for criminals in almost all situations. (Santorum largely supports executions.)

4. The US Conference of Bishops has urged that the federal minimum wage be increased, for the working poor. Santorum in the Senate repeatedly voted against the minimum wage.

5. The bishops want welfare for all needy families, saying "We reiterate our call for a minimum national welfare benefit that will permit children and their parents to live in dignity. A decent society will not balance its budget on the backs of poor children." Santorum is a critic of welfare.

6. The US bishops say that "the basic rights of workers must be respected–the right to productive work, to decent and fair wages, to the organization and joining of unions...". Santorum, who used to be supportive of unions in the 1990s, has now, predictably, turned against them.

7. Catholic bishops demand the withdrawal of Israel from Palestinian territories occupied in 1967. Rick Santorum denies that there are any Palestinians, so I guess he doesn't agree with the bishops on that one.

8. The US Conference of Catholic Bishops ripped into Arizona's law on treatment of immigrants, Cardinal Roger Mahony characterized Arizona's S.B. 1070 as "the country’s most retrogressive, mean-spirited, and useless anti-immigrant law," saying it is based on "totally flawed reasoning: that immigrants come to our country to rob, plunder, and consume public resources." He even suggested that the law is a harbinger of an American Nazism! Santorum attacks 'anchor babies' or the provision of any services to children of illegal immigrants born and brought up in the US.

9. The Bishops have urged that illegal immigrants not be treated as criminals and that their contribution to this country be recognized.

10. The US Conference of Bishops has denounced, as has the Pope, the Bush idea of 'preventive war', and has come out against an attack on Iran in the absence of a real and present threat of an Iranian assault on the US. In contrast, Santorum wants to play Slim Pickens in Dr. Strangelove and ride the rocket down on Isfahan himself."

Go here to read Cole's full piece. As always, he nails it with a precision that is utterly absent from the misleading and dishonest MSM reporting about Santorum's "devout" Catholic faith.

John Gehring, who is Senior Writer and Catholic Outreach Coordinator at Faith in Public Life, has also written an excellent piece that sums up: The Catholic Case Against Rick Santorum.

With his bizarre fixation on homosexuality and birth control, Santorum has seemingly given the Catholic Church a bad name for many people. However, if one actually takes a look at the Catholic Church's positions on many social issues, one finds that the Catholic Church actually has more in common with progressives on many social issues than it does with Santorum's creepy, hypocritical, and twisted beliefs.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Progressive Music Classics. "No More Auction Block" by Paul Robeson



Welcome to another edition of Progressive Music Classics.

In 1963, Bob Dylan released the song, "Blowin' in the Wind," on his album, The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan. Not longer after, Peter Seeger identified the song's melody as having come from the old Negro spiritual, "No More Auction Block," (a song that was sung by former slaves in Canada after Britain abolished slavery throughout most of the British empire in 1833).

In this version of "No More Auction Block," the great Paul Robeson performs a moving version of this classic song.

A true American musical giant, Robeson was persecuted throughout his career and he was often taken to task for his attacks on U.S. racism and his perceived refusal to condemn Communism during the era of McCarthyism hysteria.

It's ironic that Robeson himself was blacklisted and persecuted in his own country and has since been essentially scrubbed out of U.S. musical history, Stalin-style. But then, the U.S. has always enjoyed lecturing other nations about "human rights" while abusing the rights of its own citizens.

If you're a talented African-American musician in the U.S., it is, of course, possible to find fame and fortune---but it helps greatly if you keep your political opinions to yourself.

Hence, apolitical mediocrities like Michael Jackson can enjoy vast success and riches, while true musical giants like Robeson languish in obscurity. (Of course, it didn't help that Robeson was persecuted by the FBI, the CIA, and the House Un-American Activities Committee, or that he was blacklisted from performing or even from traveling overseas).

Robeson's big "crime" was that he refused to keep his mouth shut and he dared to speak uncomfortable truths that White America would prefer not hear.

Thursday, February 09, 2012

How Ronald Reagan Unwittingly Laid the Groundwork for the Death of Capitalism


Thanks to tireless efforts by historical revisionists over the past two decades, Ronald Reagan has gotten a lot of credit for achievements that he had nothing to do with. "Winning" the Cold War is a good example.

In reality, Reagan's policies had little or nothing to do with the collapse of the Soviet Union. In fact, the last thing the Military Industrial Complex ever wanted was to see the Cold War's end (and with it the trillion-dollar gravy train of "defense" contractor funding).

On the other hand, Reagan should get credit for something that he actually did achieve: laying the groundwork for the death of capitalism as we know it.

Capitalism had its first near-death experience during the Great Depression. Ironically, it was saved by the most progressive president that the U.S. ever had: Franklin D. Roosevelt. Although attacked by the business community at the time, FDR's New Deal in fact resurrected capitalism and gave it new life. The New Deal created the Great American Middle Class: tens of millions of well-paid workers that actually had the money to buy the products that the system produced.

It was a wonderful arrangement that made America a superpower and the most envied nation on the planet for decades to come.

However, America's wealthy never got over their hatred of FDR and the New Deal---despite the fact the latter saved capitalism from itself. The Rich & Powerful constantly plotted to abolish the New Deal. And in 1980, with Reagan's election, the wealthy class finally saw its chance to begin the attack on the New Deal---a process that continues to this day.

Under Reagan, middle class entitlements were slashed, as were programs to assist the poor. And sweeping changes in tax policy began to favor the very wealthy, at the expense of the middle class and the poor. Also, labor unions and labor laws were gutted. Lastly, under Reagan's disastrous "free trade" policies, America started shipping all its good-paying manufacturing jobs overseas.

The result of all this was that, under Reagan, the Great American Middle Class began to shrink---a process that continues to this day. And with a much-weakened middle class, U.S. capitalism has hit a major crisis in that fewer and fewer consumers are able to buy the products that the system produces.

The latter is a crucial component of capitalism that has long been curiously overlooked by the "free market" Chicago School zealots who've long championed a completely deregulated economy. I find it interesting how these zealots are always so concerned about the plight of the "over-taxed, over-regulated" rich (who they claim are the only necessary ingredient for successful capitalism).

Of course, what these ivory tower zealots overlook is that capitalism as we know it simply can't function unless there is a strong, prosperous middle class around to buy the products created by the system.

Although Reagan's policies gutted the U.S. middle class, the resulting devastation to capitalism didn't become readily apparent until much later on. This was because the whole crisis was masked by America's increasing embrace of credit-fueled consumption, which created the mirage of prosperity.

Under Reagan, America simply stopped paying its bills. The government started borrowing hundreds of billions of dollars from the likes of Japan. And consumers increasingly started pulling out their credit cards to pay for purchases, rather than using cash.

Finally, a series of bubbles came along to further create the illusion that the American economy was much more prosperous that it really was. These included the Dot Com bubble and the more recent housing bubble.

Of course, the whole Ponzi scheme all came crashing down in 2008. Since then, the U.S. economy has remained on life support. The nation continues to plunge further into debt, even as the U.S. dollar continues to hit new all-time lows. The middle class is all but extinct these days, as are the good-paying jobs that once help make the American economy the mightiest on earth.

Virtually all of this is a legacy of Reagan's policies. And unlike capitalism's first near-death experience, in the 1930s, it's extremely unlikely that we'll see another FDR ever come along to give the whole system a new lease on life. In our Citizens United era, that's simply not ever going to happen.

Reagan (or more specifically, his wealthy backers) originally aimed to crush the New Deal and return the U.S. to an unregulated 19th century dog-eat-dog form of capitalism. They hoped that this would propel capitalism to new heights. But by ignoring the key role of middle class consumption in their calculations, they unwittingly severely damaged capitalism itself and turned America into a second-rate power.

We continue to see the corrosive effects of the Reagan legacy to this day. The serious problems that began to emerge during his presidency (out-of-control fiscal and trade deficits, a shrinking middle class, the loss of good manufacturing jobs, and a plummeting dollar) continue to this day.

Of course, the wealthy class to this day continues to live in denial that the whole capitalist party is now over. They continue to cling to the hope that the crisis caused by the 2008 economic collapse will eventually be fixed and the capitalism will somehow continue.

The problem is that the good-paying manufacturing jobs are gone for good. And the much-hyped service economy jobs that were supposed to replace the latter have in fact been poor substitutes, offering vastly lower pay and benefits, for the most part. In fact, to this day, America continues to bleed what few good manufacturing jobs it has left, thanks to the utter absence of any kind of intelligence trade policy.

What's more, given the ever-weakening dollar and the ever-growing trade and fiscal deficits it faces, America has less and less clout on the world stage. For the entire post-World War II era, America could simply print more dollars to bail itself out of fiscal crises, given that the dollar was the world's international reserve currency. That era, clearly, is near an end.

With the demise of the dollar, America will be a much weaker and less wealthy nation. For the entire post-World War II era, America has been the standard-bearer for capitalism. With the latter now discredited, it's clear that the rest of the world is increasingly rejecting the U.S. model of economics and is instead turning to the regulated, technocrat-led economies of China and Singapore as the new role model.

Not only did Reagan's era doom capitalism, but his toxic legacy ensured that America will find it extremely difficult to remedy the crises that resulted from his administration. These range from the deterioration of public education that resulted from Reagan's budget cuts to America's crumbling infrastructure. These two factors alone will make it increasingly difficult for America to compete globally in the years to come.

But perhaps the most toxic legacy of all was Reagan's abolishment of the Fairness Doctrine. This ensured that America's mainstream media would increasingly do little more than parrot the official corporate line. Americans today are hopelessly misinformed on the issues these days. And a nation that is misinformed is going to find it difficult to ever take the necessary steps needed to fix the crises unleashed by Reagan's policies.