One of my close, personal Facebook friends posted this clip on his feed today. I watch this every other year or so, which indicates how often I watch Beatles- and Lennon-related documentaries, not just this clip in particular. But I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t particularly attracted to the cult-worshiping aspects of this scene:
This footage never fails to give me chills – on many levels. What’s really got me going now is the link I followed from the YouTube posting to a Dick Cavett appearance of, possibly, the same guy. If that’s in fact the same guy you’ve got to wonder what was going through his mind when Mark David Chapman completed his twisted act of fandom.
If you’ve clicked these opening links you’ll see that U2 drummer Larry Mullen has been known to wear the sleeveless shirt. I’ll grant that an argument can be made that U2 made some music of merit while Mullen donned such a gun-bearing fashion atrocity, but he’s a drummer. In past style pieces on Rock Town Hall, drummers have gotten a pass for all sorts of questionable fashion choices, including performing in barefeet and wearing shorts. We make some allowances for rock’s driving forces based on matters of comfort. For the purposes of this survey, we’ll give sleeveless drummers a pass. Beside, I want no part of George Hurley.
Granted, as a guy who’s never expressed his vanity through his forearms (as if I could), the whole sleeveless shirt thing mystifies me. It’s to be expected that the poster boy of Rock Town Hall’s Unfulfilled Fashion Ideas series, Alan Vega, would go sleeveless, but the style would spread to some of the coolest of the cool. How much comfort does a man need to be a rock legend? How much do we really need to know about him? Sure, sometimes even the President of the United States has to stand naked, but did Bob Dylan really need to play sleeveless?
Sleeveless shirt, leather pants, two pairs of shorts...Jerry wins this battle of Best Stage Look!
I don’t know when the sleeveless shirt craze took over, but do a search on a number of rock artists with the date “1985” following their name and I’d bet you can come up with as many shots of them sleeveless as I just did with Dylan. (BTW, I didn’t realize he was into the Bare-Chested Vest Look as early as the mid-’70s, for that Renaldo and Clare movie.) You don’t believe me? Try these:
The reasons: the drum sound is horrible and sloppy, like they couldn’t get drums but decided to bang on big cardboard boxes. Lennon’s Elvis-like singing, which is a big smirk. The lame piano playing, as if Billy Preston forgot the soul that made him Billy Preston. Harrison on guitar? Is the guitar plugged in? And the overall production and playing is sloppy — it sounds like a demo, and not a demo tinged with wonder (The Modern Lovers come to mind) but a demo they were obviously too high to do another take on. You can actually hear them lagging behind and trying to catch up. And did I mention the drumming, which has some of the worst — THE WORST — fills in the known musical world.
I know the whole “written for breakfast, put out for dinner” mystique — but it’s bad. And don’t get me started on the song itself: bumper sticker lyrics with no melody. The song goes nowhere except to get to the big chorus — oh wow, the manager is singing along too. And the hand claps — the lame hand claps.
If anyone but Lennon had put this out, it would never have seen the light of day. It’s trite ’70s coked-up crap.
Because of the series in which this post is being framed I run the risk of being perceived as inflammatory for no good reason—or naive or even outright idiotc. I like my share of Phil Spector‘s works; own his box set, Back to Mono; and know more than enough about his influence on The Beach Boys and beyond, including the reach of his studio cats, The Wrecking Crew. That said, I am tempted to call bullshit on Spector and his Wall of Sound, or maybe more accurately the degree to which it’s praised.
I unabashedly like probably a baker’s dozen Phil Spector productions. The Ronettes were the best of the bunch who worked under him. Ronnie Spector has personality out the whazoo. The Crystals had some winners. He cowrote “Spanish Harlem,” which is, as Lenny Bruce put it, “so pretty, man!” His Christmas album is charming, although a couple of years ago I had my fill of it and have done my best to leave the house whenever my wife wants to play it by the yuletide. Like a lot of Spector’s work, it grows cloying over repeated listens.