December has barely begun, yet it already feels as though we have been subjected to Christmas music for an entire holiday season. Familiar tunes have permeated retail environments for weeks now, and commercial television has been hijacked by the relentless yuletide promotions of jewelers and department stores. The frenzied songfest will only intensify as the Last Shopping Day approaches.
For those with an insatiable appetite for perennial holiday favorites, it's a golden time. Personally, I find a few Christmas songs in the week leading up to December 25 to be sufficient, but I've usually had more than my fill by then. When it comes to Christmas music, I prefer be selective, which means embracing the recordings I appreciate while avoiding the ones I hate. The latter effort, however, can be quite difficult.
Of the traditional carols and hymns, the one song that I truly loathe is The Little Drummer Boy. What don't I like about it? Everything. Its worst offense is what may be the dullest refrain ever penned: pa rum pum pum pum. This is a fatal flaw, as the annoying phrase is repeated incessantly. All that remains is a monotonous melody with a lyrical narrative that drives me up the wall. All my life, even when I was a child myself, I've wanted to grab that kid by the shoulders and shake some sense into him. "Listen, drummer boy," I'd snarl menacingly, "the newborn king doesn't give two figs whether or not you have a gift for him, and he sure as heck isn't going to be pleased by some ankle-biter beating away on a snare drum!" I don't care if it's meant to be taken metaphorically. It's a stupid analogy.
"You aren't planning on doing this every day, are you?" asked my wife. Well...no, not really. Deep down, I knew that a $3-a-day, six-days-a-week habit was, like current state and national spending schemes, unsustainable. Yet so long as I had money in my wallet, I was finding it hard to resist the siren call of the newspaper rack and coffee machine of our local grocer. After all, what was three dollars on any particular day? Not much. Still, there was no denying that my little indulgence was putting an $18 dent in our weekly budget. No matter how much I enjoyed it, it was absolutely unnecessary.
It all started rather innocently earlier this month. We were heading out to stock up on groceries, but I was feeling uncharacteristically sluggish, as though I might be in danger of swooning over the produce bins and falling into a deep sleep. Caffeine, that wonder drug that I had managed to purge from my daily consumption for months, seemed to be in order. I wondered if there was a way that I might procure a coffee that I could enjoy whilst perusing the aisles. As it happened, there was just such a service in place.
Faster than a stolen base, more powerful than a grand slam, it's...
If there are supermen among us, one of them showed his strengths last night in the ordinary metropolis of Cincinnati. Paul McCartney, age 69, demonstrated extraordinary endurance while plowing through a setlist that mere mortals would sell their souls to have written. While there is no question that the old Beatle is a living legend, Sir Paul surely put to rest any speculation that his talents have waned. He is as captivating as ever, delivering nearly three hours of flawlessly performed classics with as little apparent effort as that which you and I expend sitting on our talentless bums.
So influential is McCartney's catalog that selections from it successfully comprised the entirety of the pre-show music. As concertgoers wandered the breezy concourse of Great American Ball Park and swarmed numerous swag stands, they were treated to a diverse array of cover tunes, from a Hammond organ instrumental of Eight Days A Week to a reggae version of Blackbird. For half an hour before the show began, a scrolling video collage of McCartney memorabilia was accompanied by an infectious remix mashup featuring Coming Up, Twist and Shout, Goodnight Tonight, With A Little Luck, Temporary Secretary, We Can Work It Out, Back in the USSR, and inevitably, The End. Then, with audience anticipation at its zenith and the video screens displaying a sparkling silhouette of the iconic Hofner violin bass, McCartney and his band opened with Hello Goodbye followed by Junior's Farm.
From the Hunt Museum: It was under this dresser, in 1981...
"What...is...this?!" my mother sputtered, and even though my back was turned toward her, I knew what she had found. The blood drained from my face as a nauseating wave of guilt, shame, and fear came crashing down upon my senses. It was the horrible feeling of knowing that one has just arrived at the very beginning of a long and unpleasant ordeal, brought upon by oneself. I was, as I recall, an obedient and honest child with few exceptions (perhaps my memory is selective), and this rare transgression was downright felonious in comparison to anything else I had done. I chastised myself for my stupidity. Emboldened by a successfully executed illicit scheme, I had flown too close to the sun with my wax wings, and now there was nothing to do but plummet helplessly to Earth.
As is the case with many a tale of innocence lost, the path that led to my downfall was a long and circuitous route. It began nearly a year earlier, and it was indirectly set in motion by my freshly developed preoccupation with the Beatles. I turned 12 in the summer of 1980, when Paul McCartney's Coming Up was getting frequent airplay. Having recently realized that a number of tunes that I liked were penned by the lad from Liverpool, I took the plunge and bought a copy of McCartney II. A month later while on vacation, I found discounted picture discs of Sgt. Pepper and Abbey Road. The music was a revelation to me, and as I gained an appreciation for the Fab Four, I began to particularly hold McCartney in high esteem.
The Beatles: indispensable leads, colorful supporting characters, and no extras?
Imagine the public outrage that would ensue if Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr were to announce their intention to reunite and tour as The Beatles. Though they would have no trouble selling tickets, a critical consensus would condemn the endeavor as false advertising, even though the deaths of John Lennon and George Harrison obviously would have prevented them from participating. Yet there is no hue and cry over Roger Daltry and Pete Townsend appearing as The Who in spite of the unavailability of late bandmates Keith Moon and John Entwistle. Why? The answer rests in the peculiarities of rock group dynamics, by which the members of most bands can be subdivided into indispensable leads, colorful supporting characters, and extras.
Now let us entertain an alternative history in which Lennon and McCartney are today's surviving Fab Two. They hold a press conference under a giant Beatles logo and announce a reunion tour. The world rejoices. Everyone laments the losses of Harrison and Starr, but few seem to mind Lennon and McCartney hiring session players and billing themselves as The Beatles. This is because within Beatle group dynamics, Lennon and McCartney were the indispensable leads. You can't have The Beatles without either of them, but you conceivably could have The Beatles with both of them and some hired hands.