The Blue Soup

Posted in Read it in books, Something about the Beatles on September 9th, 2009 by bill


I was at the Red Cross today, feeling a little lightheaded as the blood ran out of my right arm, when I read the following passage in Kurt Vonnegut’s Happy Birthday, Wanda June:

HAROLD: America’s days of greatness are over. It has drunk the blue soup.

PENELOPE: Blue soup?

HAROLD: An Indian narcotic we were forced to drink. It put us in a haze — a honey-colored haze which was lavender around the edge. We laughed, we sang, we snoozed. When a bird called, we answered back. Every living thing was our brother or sister, we thought. Looseleaf stepped on a cockroach six inches long, and we cried. We had a funeral that went on for five days — for the cockroach. I sang “Oh Promise Me.” Can you imagine? Where the hell did I ever learn the words to “Oh Promise Me”? Looseleaf delivered a lecture on maintenance procedures for the hydraulic system of a B-36. All the time we were drinking more blue soup, more blue soup! Never stopped drinking blue soup. Blue soup all the time. We’d go out after food in that honey-colored haze, and everything that was edible had a penumbra of lavender.

PENELOPE: Sounds quite beautiful.

HAROLD: [Angered] Beautiful, you say? It wasn’t life, it wasn’t death, it wasn’t anything! Beautiful? Seven years gone — like that, like that! Seven years of silliness and random dreams! Seven years of nothingness, when there could have been so much!

And because one corner of my brain is devoted to the Beatles 24-7 these days, I thought immediately of Mr. Lennon:

Everybody seems to think I’m lazy
I don’t mind, I think they’re crazy
Running everywhere at such a speed
Till they find, there’s no need

Please don’t spoil my day
I’m miles away
And after all
I’m only sleeping

Yes, yes, the eternal question…drink the blue soup or face reality head-on. Lennon was a blue soup guy; Vonnegut’s character Harold Ryan is not, though it must be noted that he is more or less the villain of the piece. It’s a question most of us face every day, save those courageous few who have sworn off the stuff for good. The blue soup, mind you, isn’t necessarily a substance; it could be a comforting delusion or an unquestioned ideology. To see with clarity and deal with the consequences, this is no easy thing. In the future, I’d like to do more of it; at the moment, however, dreamland beckons.

Mind Bender

Posted in Audio transmissions, Something about the Beatles on September 8th, 2009 by bill

Today’s treat is a music mix I’m calling “Mind Bender,” which is what you’ll hear John Lennon say in the sample from the Beatles Anthology at the beginning. The playlist is after the jump, but here’s a hint: every other song is by the Beatles.


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The Girl with Collide-o-scope Eyes

Posted in Something about the Beatles on September 7th, 2009 by bill

Posting stuff off YouTube is the lazy blogger’s way out, I know. But lazy is my natural state, and anyway, it’s Labor Day—it would be against the spirit of the day to try too hard.

In the course of my research I came across this mashup-tastic version of “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds,” which combines the Beatles’ original with William Shatner’s cover, which is of course the definitive version. The results can only be described as essential. Thank you, “indastrol,” whoever you are.


Hey Bulldog

Posted in Something about the Beatles on September 6th, 2009 by bill

Really enjoyed seeing the below clip on the VH1 Beatles hypefest (hosted by original MTVer Mark Goodman…what, Martha Quinn wasn’t available?). I had heard this song so little that it was almost like discovering a new Beatles track, which is a rare experience anymore. It’s a rockin’ little tune, and I really dig the footage, especially the way the editing makes it appear that several sets of Beatles are playing in the studio at the same time.

Johnny Too Bad

Posted in Something about the Beatles on September 5th, 2009 by bill


An important, if tragic, milestone in Beatles history—the last day of the existence of all four Beatles on planet Earth—came on December 8, 1980, when John Lennon was gunned down by a wackjob named Mark David Chapman. There are a lot of things about that day that don’t make sense, but one in particular stands out in my mind: Chapman walks up behind John and Yoko with a gun. He has the drop on them, the element of surprise is on his side. And he chooses to shoot John?

Had he chosen differently, Chapman today could be a folk hero instead of the least popular man in Attica State Prison. The penalty for taking out Yoko would have been a slap on the wrist, at worst, and he would have gained the adulation of Beatles fans the world over. John would have been out from under Yoko’s evil spell, free to reunite with the Beatles, start a new band, or do whatever the hell he wanted to.

Mark David Chapman, you did a bad thing.

The Arena of the Unwell

Posted in Moving pictures, Something about the Beatles on September 4th, 2009 by bill
"I am a trained actor reduced to the status of a bum!"

"I am a trained actor reduced to the status of a bum!"

This is only tangentially Beatle-related, but last night marked my n-teenth viewing of Withnail and I, one of the great cult films of all time. The Beatles connections are that:

  • George Harrison was the executive producer of the movie, which was financed by his company, Handmade Films.
  • “Richard Starkey, M.B.E.” is credited as “Special Production Consultant.”
  • “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” is on the soundtrack when the main characters return home to find the drug dealer Danny occupying their flat and Presuming Ed in the bathtub.

I’m proud to say that I saw Withnail in the theater back in 86 with my friend Tom. I think I understood about a quarter of it the first time around, but that was enough to let me know that something special was going on. Richard E. Grant’s performance as Withnail — vain, flamboyant, self-absorbed, and utterly charming, the sort of man who stands in his living room shouting “I demand to have some booze” as if that should be enough to make it so — is the stuff of legend. But he is nearly upstaged by Ralph Brown as Danny, the philosophical drug dealer with sunken eyes, an unidentifiable accent, and a babydoll possessed of “voodoo qualities.” The “I” character played by Paul McGann, a very thinly disguised version of writer/director Bruce Robinson, mainly serves as comic foil, but does get some good lines:

Withnail: I dislike relatives in general and in particular mine.

I: Why?

Withnail: I’ve told you why. We’re incompatible. They don’t like me being on stage.

I: Then they must be delighted with your career.

Well, I don’t want to get into reciting favorite quotes from this movie, because we’ll be here all day. After languishing for years in a poorly mastered, inexplicably incomplete VHS version, Withnail and I is now available on a lovely Criterion Collection DVD. If you haven’t seen it lately, why not have a viewing? And if perchance you’ve never seen it, well, you are living in a world of dangerous ignorance, and I suggest you do something about it.

The Essence of Certain Orchids

Posted in Something about the Beatles on September 3rd, 2009 by bill


I sat down last night to watch Help! on the TV, and about two minutes in I realized…I’ve never seen this movie before. I don’t know how that’s possible, but in searching my memory banks for data on this film, all I could come up with were some vague images of the lads cavorting in the snow, which I think were put there by the Beatles Anthology.

Help! is a truly odd piece of work, a combination of old-fashioned slapstick and a mid-60s proto-psychedelic sensibility. A little research revealed that it was originally written as a vehicle for Peter Sellers, whose life intersected the Beatles’ in a strange number of ways. Sellers chose to make What’s New, Pussycat? instead, and Help! was hastily rewritten for the Beatles. This is one reason why, though engagingly good-natured, it is so incoherent; another is that the Beatles were apparently stoned to the bejeezus throughout its making. Quoth John:

We were smoking marijuana for breakfast during that period. Nobody could communicate with us, it was all glazed eyes and giggling all the time. In our own world. It’s like doing nothing most of the time, but still having to rise at 7 am, so we became bored.

And quoth Ringo:

A hell of a lot of pot was being smoked while we were making the film. It was great. That helped make it a lot of fun…In one of the scenes, Victor Spinetti and Roy Kinnear are playing curling: sliding along those big stones. One of the stones has a bomb in it and we find out that it’s going to blow up, and have to run away. Well, Paul and I ran about seven miles, we ran and ran, just so we could stop and have a joint before we came back. We could have run all the way to Switzerland. If you look at pictures of us you can see a lot of red-eyed shots; they were red from the dope we were smoking. And these were those clean-cut boys! Dick Lester knew that very little would get done after lunch. In the afternoon we very seldom got past the first line of the script. We had such hysterics that no one could do anything. Dick Lester would say, ‘No, boys, could we do it again?’ It was just that we had a lot of fun — a lot of fun in those days.

That doesn’t hurt the music, which is really quite stupendous. At this time the Beatles were under the influence (in more ways than one) of Bob Dylan, whose artistic ambition inspired them to want to be more than just a pop band. Songs like “Ticket to Ride” and “You’ve Got to Hide Your Love Away” display a tastefulness and depth that seems at odds with the goofy triviality of the movie; but then that’s the Beatles for you, innit?

(By the way, the essence of certain orchids will make you small…see also Steve Martin and the Jefferson Airplane.)

Beatlemania 2.0

Posted in Something about the Beatles on September 1st, 2009 by bill

Don’t look now, but the Beatles—or at least the Beatles franchise—will soon be joining us here in the 21st century. Even as we speak an unprecedented marketing shitstorm is being unleashed to ensure that the release of the Beatles Rock Band game, in conjunction with a completely remastered catalog, on 9/9/09 does not escape the attention of any intelligent or semi-intelligent primate on the planet.

And who am I to resist? Not only do I enjoy writing about the Beatles, but I’ve noticed that my Beatles-related posts tend to garner more attention than any others. It’s one subject that people just never seem to tire of. So I am challenging myself to post something about the Beatles every day for the next nine days.

At the moment, though, time is tight, so let’s start with this photograph I took in Vegas. In one of the casinos there’s a Beatles-themed bar where the word “REVOLUTION” appears in 10-foot-high letters with a dancing girl in each “O.” I’m crapping you negative:


Genius Is Pain

Posted in Something about the Beatles on August 12th, 2009 by bill

Happened to think today of an old favorite: “Magical Misery Tour,” Tony Hendra and Michael O’Donaghue’s take on John Lennon, circa 1970. It originally appeared on the National Lampoon’s Radio Dinner album, but I am linking here to a YouTube video created by one Rick Moore, which adds somewhat to the entertainment value:

What I didn’t know until today, or had forgotten until today, was that all (or almost all) the lyrics are things that John actually said in interviews. For a fairly lengthy dissection, go here.

This song is itself a work of genius — I love the way they rhyme “fuck you” with “the sky is blue” — and therefore of pain; so do your career a favor and put on your headphones before turning it up to 11.

The Acid Camera and the Beatles’ Pleasuredome

Posted in Read it in books, Something about the Beatles on July 30th, 2009 by admin
Magic Alex in his laboratory.

Magic Alex in his laboratory.

With a lovely Bay Area summer in full flower, I am determined — determined, I tell you — to finally polish off Bob Spitz’s gigantic Beatles book, which has been languishing around my apartment with a slowly advancing bookmark in it for something like a year and a half.

It’s difficult, though, because periodically some little detail or reference will cause me to go rent a movie, or listen to one of the albums, or just drift off into a reverie that impedes my progress. Consider the following, which recounts events from 1967:
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