Sometime during my 8th year of life, I discovered that my parents had a collection of Beatles albums. They were Rubber Soul, Magical Mystery Tour, Sgt. Pepper's, Abbey Road
, and the two collections with the cover of the band looking down over the railing ("Red Album" 1962-66
, and "Blue Album" 1967-1970
). I remember every detail of these records, the condition of the jackets, which songs had scratches, which song marked the point of flipping the album over, etc. During that year, I learned every song on them, and in so doing, learned a lot about the guitar and music in general. I generally think about this as the point in my life of discovering real music. But there was a missing link in the collection, a mysterious recording I had heard about called "The White Album." The unattainability of this record (remember, this is pre-internet, and also in small-town Pacific Northwest) made it even more desirable, and the idea that there were more Beatles songs out there to hear was driving me crazy. Throughout that year, I dropped hints, then asked for, then begged my parents for a copy of this record. On my birthday, it finally arrived, mysterious as I expected with its blank cover and title "The Beatles" at a slightly skewed angle. I immediately went to the record player and listened through the first three sides, in total amazement, with the feeling of hearing a great storynot wanting it to end, but at the same time wanting to know the final outcome. Then, at the end of the fourth side, a strange voice began chanting "number nine, number nine, number nine..." panning left and right, followed by the strangest and most beautiful collection of sounds I had ever heard. It was my ninth birthday, and the appearance of this chanting voice was confirmation to me that The Beatles were not only the greatest thing in the entire world, but also that they were speaking to me personally, that there was some convergence of the fates that led me to hear that song on that particular day.
I've always been a creative musician. Even as a teen I could always conjure up some pretty interesting music even though my experience was narrow and my chops limited.
For awhile I studied with a great composition teacher who surprised me with a question when I was mired down in the middle of a piece. "What are you trying to say?" he asked. I was sort of dumbstruck. I guess I was just trying to solve musical problems... you know, establish an intro, get a tempo going, state a main idea, and then...? Well I didn't have an answer for him and it took awhile to even figure out the question.
Finally, in a few years, I began to understand that solving composing issues, one measure at a time was OK, but after awhile all the pieces can start to sound the same! It really helps to have a scene, an imaginary movie or a personal feeling to act as a springboard. With those in mind, you can actually write many different pieces, not just one piece many times!
During those years of musical soul searching, the Beatles came along and I was awed that so much of their music not only portrayed vivid emotional landscapes but that the breadth and scope and variety seemed limitless. They were just kids! It was almost like people were mailing them weird little movies and they would just set them to music. In just a few years they created a little universe of scenes that one could never visit in real life. To this day, so much of what they created was so personal that I don't think many singers can touch it. I speak of course about "Lucy in the Sky" or "Strawberry Fields" or "She's Leaving Home." That stuff is the musical equivalent of Salvador Dali or Rene Magritte!
Even the great songwriters like Gershwin, Kern and Porter merely wrote an awful lot of love songs... they fell into the categories of "me," "you" or "us." But the Beatles tapped into the first generation where youth split away into their own pot filled, rebellious "baby boom" universe, turned culture on its head and were there with a correspondingly original soundtrack.
All these years, the Fab Four have been acting as a silent tribunal, inspiring me and making me aware of the importance of breaking rules, being bizarre, taking chances and leaving no doubt about what I'm setting out to "say." Nobody was ever better at that- not Duke Ellington, nor John Williams or even Stevie Wonder.