Throughout his long career, Allen Ginsberg was keenly aware of the power of music—and an association with generationally key musicians, like Bob Dylan and The Clash—as the candy-coated bullet to see his poetry and ideas for social and political transformation reach the younger generation.
“The Ballad Of The Skeletons” with Philip Glass, Lenny Kaye, session guitarist David Mansfield, Marc Ribot and Paul McCartney (on organ, maracas and drums) was Ginsberg’s final 1996 release and in many ways, it’s probably the best of his recorded work. Even at nearly 8-minutes in length, the number never never gets dull—well with a backing band like that one...—as Ginsberg voices the lines of 66 skeletons representing American culture and hegemony. The poem was first published in the pages of The Nation in 1995.
Gus Van Sant directed a video for “The Ballad of the Skeletons” with a visually arresting Día de Muertos-style that saw the clip become an MTV “buzz clip.” Ginsberg told Steve Silberman:
“He went back to old Pathé, Satan skeletons, and mixed them up with Rush Limbaugh, and Dole, and the local politicians, Newt Gingrich, and the President. And mixed those up with the atom bomb, when I talk about the electric chair– ‘Hey, what’s cookin?’–you got Satan setting off an atom bomb, and I’m trembling with a USA hat on, the Uncle Sam hat on. So it’s quite a production, it’s fun.”
The Beat bard and Sir Paul perform “The Ballad of the Skeletons” at the Royal Albert Hall, October 16, 1995. During a visit with McCartney, Ginsberg mentioned that he was looking for a guitarist to back him during this performance. Macca said “What about me?” and below we can see the closest Allen Ginsberg ever got to being a Beatle. There’s more information about the song at The Allen Ginsberg Project.
“Hello mate, can I have me trousers back? It’s Paul.”
Roger McGough, one of the cool “Liverpool Poets” of the 1960s deeply influenced by the Beats, was in the band, The Scaffold, with Paul McCartney’s brother Mike from 1964-1973. Mike went by the stage name Mike McGear to avoid being too obviously associated with Paul. He is the Mike mentioned in the poem below, “To Macca’s Trousers.”
McGough recalled that he owned a pair of McCartney’s old pants (“They were part of a blue mohair suit and they’ve got quite a sweaty waistband. They’ve obviously been worn a bit.”) when a museum exhibit about the “Mersey Beat”—and Mersey Beats, to make that distinction—scene(s) of the 1960s was staged in Liverpool in 2009.
McGough wrote the poem about having them framed and then got the idea for pairing the pants and poem together as a work of art. He told Laura Davis of the Liverpool Post: “I didn’t want to put them on eBay, just because of knowing the family, it would be a tacky thing to do.”
“Paul used to give Mike some of his old cast-offs and the trousers were too short for Mike so he gave them to me. I never wore them, forgot I had them and then I realised ‘oh I’ve got a pair of Paul McCartney’s trousers’.
“Then, as the trousers unfolded, so did the story.”
In 1973, McGough and Mike McGear joined GRIMMS, a merger of The Bonzo Dog Band, The Scaffold and Andy Roberts from Liverpool Scene. McGough is the author of more than 50 books and plays. He also worked on the script for The Beatles’s Yellow Submarine cartoon.
You’ve definitely heard her play guitar and bass. Statistically, you’re likely to own albums she played on. Your parents almost certainly did. According to her, she is responsible for many of the famous Motown bass lines usually attributed to James Jamerson, including “Bernadette,” “Reach Out,” “I Can’t Help Myself” and “I Was Made to Love Her.” She influenced The Beatles’ musical direction from Revolver onward. And it’s quite probable that you’ve never even heard her name.
Carol Kaye was one of the most prolific session musicians in American music in the ‘60s and ‘70s. In the male-dominated world of Los Angeles session players (sneered at in The Kinks’ song “Session Man”), Kaye was a rarity and a powerhouse. She began playing music professionally at 14 in 1949, playing guitar in big bands and bebop jazz groups, playing in clubs and giving lessons around Los Angeles. Her first recording sessions, beginning in 1957, were on guitar for Sam Cooke, Richie Valens, and the Righteous Brothers. From 1964-1973 she primarily played bass and appeared on over 10,000 recordings of pop songs, jazz standards, television show themes, and movie scores. She was one of the few female members of “The Wrecking Crew,” the name given by drummer Hal Blaine to the mostly anonymous first-call L.A. session players in the ‘60s.
Some of the best known songs featuring Carol Kaye’s work are Richie Valens’ “La Bamba” (on guitar), Simon and Garfunkel’s “Scarborough Fair,” Lalo Shifrin’s themes to Mission: Impossible and Mannix, The Monkees’ “I’m A Believer,” Ike and Tina Turner’s “River Deep, Mountain High,” The Lettermen’s “Going Out of My Head/Can’t Take My Eyes Off of You,” Tennessee Ernie Ford’s “Sixteen Tons,” Nancy Sinatra’s “These Boots Are Made for Walkin’,” the Righteous Brothers’ “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’,” Sonny and Cher’s “The Beat Goes On,” and The Beach Boys’ “California Girls,” “Sloop John B,” “Help Me, Rhonda,” and “Heroes and Villains.” She also played on Frank Zappa and The Mothers of Invention’s Freak Out and Absolutely Free albums. All this while raising a family.
Carol Kaye was confident, reliable, and able to keep up a rough studio schedule that sometimes stretched into 12-hour days. She was also very opinionated and known for refusing to take any shit from her male colleagues. When session guitarist Tommy Tedesco once insulted her in the studio, she verbally ripped him a new orifice.
Note Carol Kaye in background during this mid-Sixties Beach Boys session
Even today, there are those who simply refuse to believe some of Carol’s assertions, such as her claim to have played on Motown songs credited to James Jamerson and on Beach Boys songs like “Good Vibrations,” where a different bassist’s work may have been used on the final version. Detractors claim that she is either a bitter, jealous liar or a senile old lady with a failing memory. Whether that is misogyny/sexism or a blinkered refusal to admit that the sun did not always shine out of Jamerson’s ass alone is an ongoing matter for debate.
“Smile was originally conceived as an extension of the experimentation of the Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds, the album that Paul McCartney acknowledges as having transformed his approach to the bass, in addition to prodding The Beatles to employ the studio more adventurously. McCartney has repeatedly cited Wilson’s bass playing in the era of Pet Sounds and Smile as the inspiration for the lyrical, contrapuntal bass style that he developed around the time of Revolver and Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. The problem is, the bass player on nearly all of both Pet Sounds and Smile was not Brian Wilson. It was a jazz musician and studio pro in Los Angeles named Carol Kaye.”
And so Paul McCartney once said of Carol Kaye’s bass technique (without, apparently, knowing that it was her talents he was admiring):
“It was Pet Sounds that blew me out of the water. I love the album so much. I’ve just bought my kids each a copy of it for their education in life ... I figure no one is educated musically ‘til they’ve heard that album ... I love the orchestra, the arrangements ... it may be going overboard to say it’s the classic of the century ... but to me, it certainly is a total, classic record that is unbeatable in many ways ... I’ve often played Pet Sounds and cried. I played it to John so much that it would be difficult for him to escape the influence ... it was the record of the time. The thing that really made me sit up and take notice was the bass lines ... and also, putting melodies in the bass line. That I think was probably the big influence that set me thinking when we recorded Pepper, it set me off on a period I had then for a couple of years of nearly always writing quite melodic bass lines. ‘God Only Knows’ is a big favorite of mine ... very emotional, always a bit of a choker for me, that one. On ‘You Still Believe in Me,’ I love that melody - that kills me ... that’s my favorite, I think ... it’s so beautiful right at the end ... comes surging back in these multi-colored harmonies ... sends shivers up my spine.”
Outside of her years in the studio Carol worked as a music teacher, including a seven-year stint as on-staff Bass and Jazz Educator at the Henry Mancini Institute at UCLA and teaching courses at other universities as well. She’s written over thirty bass education books (Sting told talk show host Arsenio Hall that he had learned how to play bass from one of her books), made instructional DVDs, wrote a column for Bassics magazine and given hundreds of bass seminars. Carol continues to teach and offers bass lessons via Skype.
Next week marks the first release on DVD and Blu-ray of Rockshow , the two-hour plus 35mm concert documention of Paul McCartney and Wings’ 1976 American tour.
It’s a corker.
The “Wings Over America” tour (or “Wing Over The World” if you saw them elsewhere) was the largest tour that McCartney had mounted to that point (there were two small scale UK college tours in 1972) and based on the evidence of Rockshow (filmed in front of 67,000 fans at the gigantic Kingdome in Seattle and at smaller shows at The Forum in Los Angeles and New York’s Madison Square Garden), it must’ve been the very, very best time to have seen him perform other than during his Beatles days. (In any case, it was the first time North American fans had a chance to see McCartney perform since the final Beatles show at San Francisco’s Candlestick Park in 1966.)
The set list is a motherfucker (song for song, the same as on the Wings Over America album) incorporating Macca’s very best solo material (“Band on the Run,” “Live and Let Die,” “Venus and Mars/Rockshow,” “Jet,” a magnificent “Bluebird”), five well-chosen Beatles numbers (“Blackbird,” “Lady Madonna,” “The Long and Winding Road,” “Yesterday” and “I’ve Just Seen A Face”) along with an excellent cover of Simon and Garfunkel’s “Richard Cory.” (I kept waiting for Denny to sing “Wish that I could be… John Denver” but that never occurs in this version, sadly.)
The incarnation of Wings seen and heard in Rockshow are Paul and Linda McCartney, drummer Joe English, and guitarists Denny Laine and Jimmy McCulloch. Brass and woodwind players Howie Casey, Steve Howard, Thaddeus Richard and Tony Dorsey were also along for the tour and again, other than the Fab Four, this was the very best band McCartney ever worked with. Rockshow captures him at a time when he was on a creative, personal and commercial peak and he’s obviously having a grand fucking time, grinning from ear to ear. (Not to damn the great man with faint praise, but this WAS his post-Beatles career peak. The indifferent London Town came next and it was all quickly downhill from there…)
If you owned the triple LP Wings Over America set, you probably recall its distinctively murky, hissy sound quality. Here, the restored audio has been expertly realized and the super-clean 5.1 HD DTS surround mix can rattle the walls (I’ve been playing it a lot these past few days, I sure hope my neighbors like Paul McCartney!)
The camera work in Rockshow is solid enough (no allowances were made for the movie crew, so it’s often shot from the side or through mic-stands)) and since this was pre-MTV, the editing isn’t hyper-kinetic and you actually have a chance to see the musicians playing their instruments for at least several seconds at a time. Picture quality is kinda “eh” for 35mm on Blu-Ray (to my eye it appears to be 16mm blown up to 35mm and it’s more than a little grainy in the darker parts). Frankly, although I’d put this on and play it all the way through, it’s not like I’m ever going to sit there and watch it all anyway. Like most people, I just dip in and out of concert DVDs, so the picture quality (which isn’t bad, mind you, not in the least, it’s just not great either) doesn’t really bother me. It’s all about the audio quality in my book, and this sucker is the tits in the high fidelity department (I would never listen to Wings Over America again owning this one)
Occasionally there are continuity problems, as the group wasn’t all wearing the same clothes for each concert that was filmed, and at one point Denny Laine’s bass magically changes from a black Precision Bass into a blonde Telecaster. Something else that I found slightly amusing was during “Magneto and Titanium Man” when a huge Jack Kirby-drawn mural drops (after a little coaxing) then sits there, unmoving for the length of the song. Today that would be an animated 3-D CGI HD video spectacular, but I suppose that stadium rock was still in its infancy then. Another smile comes during “Live and Let Die” where it looks like the smoke bombs and pyrotechnics weren’t all that much fun for the band to experience from the stage.
For its minor faults, Rockshow is a delight, even the cutaways to the young audience members are charming. In his liner notes, BBC radio’s Paul Gambaccini describes them as “not baby boomers overcome by emotion as they recall the music of their childhood, these are young people hearing the music when it was still fresh”:
“When the camera focuses on individual faces during “Blackbird,” we see persons who are alive in the moment, completely engaged by the experience. They do not realize that, in 2013, they will be tearful with joy to have such beautiful memories.”
But don’t think this can only be enjoyed as a nostalgia trip, it rocks like a motherfucker.
Frankly, I get sent a lot of DVDs, but after I watch something once, I usually just toss it, give it to a friend or trade it in. Most DVDs are disposable to me, but I’m keeping this one. Rockshow is actually worth buying and making a part of your collection. Had a free review copy not arrived in the post last week, I’d have bought my own copy anyway. I’d rate Rockshow five stars out of five. If it sounds like something you think you might like, you probably will like it. A lot.
Rockshow came out on Betamax and laserdisc in the early 1980s, but it has not been available (legally) for over 30 years. EagleRock’s DVD and Blu-ray release makes the full concert available for the very first time ever. The excerpt below, from The McCartney Years DVD should whet your appetite for the full thing.
Due to the release of what is supposed to be the final final unheard cache of Jimi Hendrix recordings, People, Hell & Angels, worldwide interest has been stirred in a tantalizing bit of memorabilia currently residing in the collection of the Hard Rock Cafe in Prague: A 1969 telegram from Jimi Hendrix inviting Paul McCartney to record with him, Miles Davis and jazz drummer Tony Williams in New York.
The telegram, seen below, was sent to the Apple offices in London on October 21, 1969:
“We are recording and LP together this weekend in New York STOP How about coming in to play bass STOP call Alan Douglas 212-581 2212.
Peace Jimi Hendrix Miles Davis Tony Williams.”
Beatles aide Peter Brown replied on Macca’s behalf, informing Hendrix that McCartney was on vacation and would not return for another two weeks (This was around the height of the “Paul is dead” rumor and a pissed-off McCartney was holed up with his family on his farm in Scotland trying to escape that mess).
Below, The Jimi Hendrix Experience covers “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Heart’s Club Band”(I think just two days after it was released and with more than one Beatle in attendance)—this is probably as close as we’ll ever get to knowing what this supergroup might’ve sounded like:
Extended 1968 interview with John Lennon and Paul McCartney. The pair discuss touring (and why The Beatles stopped), their time in India, McCartney’s LSD media flap, and the then-new Apple Corps and what the group were trying to achieve with the company.
There’s a question referring to Enoch Powell’s then recent anti-immigrant “Rivers of Blood” speech (not mentioned by name here, but this is what he’s talking about) that sees the interviewer go on to ask them about racial politics in England and the assassinations of JFK and Martin Luther King in America.
This month marks the 33rd anniversary of Paul McCartney getting busted for 7.7 ounces of pot in Japan. A half pound of pot! What was he planning to do? Have a smoke-in with Godzilla and Gamera?
I was out in New York and I had all this really good grass. We were about to fly to Japan and I knew I wouldn’t be able to get anything to smoke over there. This stuff was too good to flush down the toilet, so I thought I’d take it with me.
I didn’t try to hide [the pot]. I had just come from America and still had the American attitude that marijuana isn’t that bad. I didn’t realize just how strict the Japanese attitude is.”
Perhaps Paul’s bag of pot wasn’t the real issue with the Japanese. Maybe they just wanted to fuck with the guy who did this:
After spending nine days in jail, McCartney was released on January 25th.
Johnny Carson had a bit of fun at McCartney’s expense in one of his monologues which aired on January 17, 1980.
Recently I caught the famous Let It Be Beatles’ movie for the first time. Throughout, the individual Beatles are fascinating to observe – particularly George, who continually eyeballs Paul with an expression suggesting (Hare Krishna notwithstanding) he’d like to bury an axe between his old friend’s eyes. Paul, meanwhile, goes on obliviously (and perhaps pathologically) craning his neck in the direction of the nearest camera, John and Yoko seem (shall we say) rather distant, and Ringo, in the words of one witty YouTube commenter, looks on “like a kid whose parents are splitting up.”
I ain’t too keen on McCartney myself. A paradoxical chap, he managed to be both an admittedly essential component of the greatest band of all time, and one of the most vapid songwriters ever, with all the emotional sincerity of a greeting card.
That McCartney apparently “woke up” in possession of “Yesterday”– an incident singled out by others as proof of his genius –only bolsters my suspicion that some external entity was cooking up his trite little slices of whimsy before tossing them ready-made into Paul’s rubber soul. How else explain the truly perverse cause-and-effect of Paul getting into acid and shortly afterwards writing “When I’m Sixty-four” (perhaps the first installment of that grand McCartney song sequence the rest of the group christened “Paul’s granny music”)?
Yup, if the grim reaper’s visiting the Fab Four in order of talent, I’m inclined to hope Ringo’s getting his house in order…
But Paul got on no-one’s tits like he did George’s. If you go through every scrap of Beatle stuff on YoutTube (as I have these recent weeks), you can’t help but be struck by Harrison’s consistent drollery on the subject of his former band-mate. The following snippet, from Harrison’s appearance on The Dick Cavett Show, is an excellent example, and brilliantly captures Paul’s aforementioned camera addiction.
Love that little shimmy! Another fave–before I leave the topic and Sir McCartney alone–occurs during episode six of the excellent Anthology series, and concerns Paul’s “confession” to the media about his taking LSD. Paul – who staved off trying the drug for months after the rest of the band (cos he’s a pussy) – tries to make out that he was cornered by the media. In fact, he blatantly did it to look cool, which is so Paul. And also, for the record, impossible. Cue George with another zinger…
I never knew this existed until now, and I wonder what Ron Mael thinks of it?
I assume McCartney is a Sparks fan if he is willing to spoof Mael in his own video, or maybe it was just an easy impression, even if he does it well. He also does Hank Marvin, but not so well, and I assume some of the other “band” members—they’re called The Plastic Macs, geddit?—are spoofs of other musicians from the period, too.
I’m not a McCartney fan really, but this IS a cracking tune:
It’s been a good week to be Paul McCartney. His hook-up with former members of Nirvana re-kindled his rock ‘n’ roll cred in the minds of many people, young and old, who had written him off as an irrelevant old fart. Suddenly we were re-meeting the Beatle all over again and I think he may have been doing the same.
Here’s some McCartney history from 40 years ago: Broadcast in the US April 16th, 1973 on ABC and a month later on May 10th on the BBC, the “James Paul McCartney” television special is a mostly fun mix of live music, variety show shtick and man-on-the street, cinema verite goofiness (Liverpool pub scene).
Featuring the original Wings line-up:
Paul McCartney – vocals, bass, keyboards, guitar
Linda McCartney – vocals, keyboards
Denny Laine – vocals, guitar, bass, piano
Henry McCullough – guitar, vocals
Denny Seiwell – drums, percussion
Big Barn Bed, Medley: Blackbird / Bluebird / Michelle / Heart Of The Country, Mary Had A Little Lamb, Little Woman Love / C-Moon, My Love, Uncle Albert / Admiral Halsey, Gotta Sing Gotta Dance, Live And Let Die, Beatles Medley, The Mess, Maybe I’m Amazed, Long Tall Sally, At The End Of Another Day, Yesterday, Hi Hi Hi
Some bits are silly, some are sublime. Overall, if you’re a fan, you’ll probably dig it. Always the showman, here’s Paul McCartney and Wings (with Linda looking like David Bowie):
“Mull Of Kintyre” was written by Paul McCartney (with Denny Laine) about his farm at the eponymous Scottish headland. McCartney bought the 183 acre High Park Farm in 1966 as an investment to foil the British tax man, and the song’s lyrics are about traveling and longing to return to his remote, beautiful home. The song was performed by Wings (well, if by Wings you mean Paul, Linda and Denny along with local bagpipe players from Kintyre’s Campbeltown Pipe Band, as by this time the rest of the group had left) and released as a double A-side Christmas single in 1977 along with “Girls School” (which was the hit in the US).
The record spent six weeks at the #1 spot on the British pop charts that year, was the first single to sell over two million copies in the UK and is still a perennial holiday favorite.
GRIMMS was a like a collision between a busload of musicians, a van full of comics and a mobile library. As Supergroups go, GRIMMS was certainly the most original, literary and possibly hirsute, with their mix of poetry, music, comedy and theater.
“I don’t know what attracted the Scaffold to the Bonzos; we were incredibly anarchic, which was probably something shared by the Scaffold as well. Hence Grimms, this leap in the dark.”
We all know about the genius of The Bonzos, so let’s jump to The Scaffold, that strange hybrid pop band made up from John Gorman (who would go onto star in the children’s show Tiswas, and its adult counterpart OTT with Chris Tarrant and Alexei Sayle in the 1980s), Mike McGear (Paul McCartney’s brother), and poet Roger McGough, who had been one of the 3 Mersey Poets, and was a member of The Liverpool Scene. The Scaffold had chart success with their novelty records “Thank U Very Much”, “Lily the PInk” and “Liverpool Lou”, the last recorded with Paul McCartney and Wings
Liverpool Scene was the Liverpool Poets: McGough (works include Summer With Monika, After The Merrymaking), Brian Patten (works include Little Johnny’s Confession and Notes to the Hurrying Man) and Adrian Henri (The Mersey Sound), and musician Andy Roberts.
GRIMMS changed shape over the years as band members left, moved on or lost hair. These were quickly replaced by hats, wigs and some very special talents, including Keith Moon (The Who), Jon Hiseman (Colosseum), Michael Giles (King Crimson), John Megginson, Gerry Conway, David Richards, Zoot Money, and future Rutles John Halsey and Peter “Ollie” Halsall.
Their first album Grimms was a lucky bag of comedy, poetry and music released in 1973, which included Innes’ songs “Humanoid Boogie”, “Short Blues” and “Twyfords Vitromant”, which was followed later the same year with Rockin’ Duck and in 1975 their final album the 5 star Sleepers.
Unlike most list documentaries today (which miss out on such diamonds as GRIMMS), the seventies was an incredible time of experimentation and risk-taking. In 1975, around the release of Sleepers, the BBC (gawd bless her and all who fail in her) produced a strange series called The Camera and The Song. It was like a collection of early pop promos, with a film-maker interpreting songs by different artists - some good, some bloody awful. Into this mix came GRIMMS, and here are 2 clips from the show (opening titles and songs) featuring the genius talents of Neil Innes and co. Lovely!
More from GRIMMS plus bonus track ‘Backbreaker’, after the jump…
On March 8th, 1973, Paul McCartney was fined $240 for growing cannabis on his farm in Campbelltown, Scotland. Outside the court house, McCartney gave a short, amusing interview to BBC journalist, David Scott - a man known for his assiduous reporting and wry sense of humor.
McCartney told Scott that he was glad he didn’t receive a gaol sentence, although that “...would have been okay if I could have taken my guitar in with me and, you know, write a few songs, and stuff, but I wasn’t looking forward to it.”
“It was said in court,” probed Scott, “That you have considerable interest in horticulture. Now this might surprise some of your friends, when did this start?”
“A couple of years ago, you know.”
“And where have you been doing your gardening, et cetera?” asked Scott, with the emphasis on et cetera.
“On the farm. My dad’s a keen gardener, you know, I think it’s rubbed off.”
“It was said that those seeds had been sent to you, how did you come to grow them?”
“Well, we got a load of seeds, you know, kind of in the post, and we didn’t know what they were you know, and we kind of planted them all, and five of them came up like - five of them came up illegal.”