“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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