Monday, December 23, 2013

We Need To Talk About Kevin - A Synopsis

As I watched The Perks of Being a Wallflower, I was taken by the performance of Ezra Miller, the guy who played Patrick, one of the main characters in the film.  So taken was I that I wanted to know what else he’d been in.  I did my research and it brought me to We Need to Talk About Kevin.  This movie is a horror/thriller kind of movie, with Ezra Miller playing the title role.  Tilda Swinton plays Kevin’s mother, Eva Katchadourian.  She struggles throughout the movie to deal with not only how Kevin acts throughout his childhood, but also the aftermath of something terrible that Kevin has done in his teen years.  John C. Reilly is Eva’s husband Franklin, who is a successful photographer whose assignments take him away from home a lot.  This is a different role for Reilly, as I usually see him in comedies rather than dramas.

The movie is told in a series of flashbacks from Eva’s point of view.  It starts with her participating in a La Tomatina, a big tomato fight that is part of an annual festival in the town of Buñol, Spain.  I thought it was an odd way to begin a movie, but it establishes Eva as a writer for a travel magazine.  After the tomato fight fades, the film cuts to a high school, where several people are being carried out of the local high school on stretchers.  Something terrible has happened there, but we don’t really know what it is.  Once the tragedy has been established, we see Eva is living alone in a rundown shack.  Her nominally white shack has been covered with red paint, as has her car.  Her neighbors know who she is, and they show their displeasure with vandalism.  She wakes up with plates and wine bottles and various pills scattered all over the place.  She awakens, gets herself together and goes to a strip mall to interview for a secretary position at a travel agency.  The travel agency is close to the prison that houses her son, Kevin.

The first time we see Eva visiting her son is brief.  She’s sitting at a table waiting for him.  Then a guard escorts Kevin into the room.  He sits down opposite his mother and says nothing.  What we do see is him taking bits and pieces of fingernails out of his mouth and setting them on the table.  Okay…Kevin is difficult – he always has been.  Despite all of her best efforts and intentions, Eva does not have seem to have the knack for motherhood.  As a baby, Kevin cries incessantly.  One time we see his crying was so bad, and Eva was so desperate to not hear her son cry anymore, that she takes Kevin out in a stroller and stands next to a construction worker who is using a jackhammer.  She would rather hear the sound of the jackhammer without her using any hearing protection rather than to hear Kevin crying.  Finally, Eva gets Kevin to quit crying and gets him to sleep.  She’s resting on the sofa when Franklin walks in.  As he is a new father, Franklin wants to interact with his new son.  But Eva pleads with him to leave Kevin alone because of the difficulty she had in getting him to sleep.  Eva is exhausted and her nerves are frayed, but Franklin doesn’t have a clue.  So he picks up Kevin and starts talking to him, and pretty much tells Eva that she’s going about getting Kevin to sleep in the wrong way.  The weird thing is, when Franklin picks up the infant Kevin, he doesn’t cry – not a peep.  This adds to Eva’s frustration. 

Besides having her house and car vandalized, Eva endures other indignities.  In one scene, she’s at the store to buy groceries.  After she picked up a carton of eggs and put it in her basket, she spied a woman whose face look familiar.  The woman was one of the concerned parents the night the tragedy happened.  She ducked out of sight so the other woman wouldn’t see her.  But when she went to pay for her groceries, the cashier opens the egg carton and sees all of the eggs are broken.  Eva insists on paying for them any, just so she can get the hell out of the store.  In another scene we see Eva on her lunch break.  As she’s on her way to lunch she crosses paths with two other women.  One of them asks her how her day is going, and before Eva answers she slaps her, wishing that she would go to hell.  Such is life as a parent of a kid who committed a heinous crime.  Meanwhile, in other flashbacks…

As a toddler, Kevin wouldn’t speak.  Eva took him to the doctor to see if anything was wrong with him.  Why doesn’t he talk – is his hearing bad?  The doctor confounds Eva when he tells her that he doesn’t see anything wrong with Kevin.  At home Kevin doesn’t show an interest in anything.  She sits on the floor with him and rolls a ball to him, hoping that he’d roll the ball back to her.  But instead of rolling the ball back to her, Kevin just looks at Eva.  It’s the kind of look that says “fuck you, I’ll slit your throat when you’re asleep.”  Kevin also resists toilet training.  This goes on not for months, but for years.  So, even after his toddler years, Kevin is still in diapers.  In another flashback, we see Eva and Kevin at the prison.  The camera focuses on his arm, where he’s running his finger over a scar.  As he does so we finally get to hear him speak.  He asks Eva if she remembers how he got that scar.  He opines that the reason he got the scar was the “first honest thing” she’d ever done to him.  So how did he get the scar?  Back when he was a kid [not a toddler] in diapers, there was one day Kevin was being especially difficult.  After she changed his diapers [he’s so big he needs more than one], he deliberately takes a crap immediately just to piss her off.  It worked because in a fit of rage she picked him up and threw him across the room into a wall, breaking his left arm.  They return home, and when clueless Franklin asks how he got a cast on his arm, Kevin lied about it.  So now he’s got that hanging over Eva’s head – “if you don’t do what I want I’ll tell Daddy how my arm got broken” – that sort of subtle blackmail kind of thing.

As time rolls on, Kevin doesn’t get any nicer.  He’s an evil kid.  One day Eva was decorating “her” room with a bunch of maps.  That’s what she likes, especially since she writes for a travel magazine.  Kevin doesn’t like the look and says so. Then Eva made a mistake.  She left Kevin alone in “her” room.  When she came back, she found that he had taken a super soaker squirt gun, filled it with paint, and used it all over her maps.  With all of these things happening between Eva and Kevin and all of the evil things that Kevin does, Eva is very concerned about Kevin’s behavior.  She tries to talk about it with clueless Franklin, but he doesn’t want to hear it.  They never really have that “talk about Kevin.”  Then there’s a surprise – Kevin shows an interest in something.  One time when he’s confined to bed with a fever, Eva reads him a book about Robin Hood.  He can’t get enough of it.  When clueless Franklin interrupted Eva’s reading of the story, Kevin told him to leave.  It’s the first real time where Eva and Kevin bonded over something.   Afterwards, clueless Franklin buys Kevin a bow and arrow set and teaches him archery.  Kevin practices his archery a lot and becomes an excellent marksman.  Eventually, as he gets older Kevin graduates from the rubber toy bow and arrow to the real thing.  Hmmm…an antisocial kid who is sociopathic with a weapon – not a good combination…

Frustrated Eva and clueless Franklin have another child, Celia.  Unlike Kevin, she’s a happy kid who is fun to be around.  But Celia’s presence only adds to the problem.  Kevin doesn’t like her and is jealous of her.  Years later, Celia’s pet guinea pig disappears.  Then, while Kevin was supposed to be watching her, Celia loses an eye.  She had an “accident” with some cleaning fluid which blinded her eye.  Eva suspected Kevin was involved with both incidents, but clueless Franklin dismisses these incidents as accidents for which Kevin is blameless.  As a teenager, Kevin keeps to himself and his laptop computer.  One day Eva decided to investigate one of the discs from Kevin’s room.  But when she puts the disc in her own laptop, a virus launches which ruins her computer.  Kevin knew she was going to do what she did, and after he came home from school he taunted Eva by asking if her computer was completely trashed.  Kevin is a demon seed.  He knows every which way he can hurt his mother.  He puts on an act of being the doting son where his clueless father is concerned

One night Kevin received a package.  The package contained bicycle locks.  Clueless Franklin asks about the locks.  Kevin tells his dad that he got them cheap on the internet, and that he’s going to see them at school.  But then we find out what the bike locks were really for.  Eva is told by one of her co-workers that something terribly wrong has happened at Kevin’s school.  Like any parent would do, she raced to the school to find out if her son was ok.  When she arrives, she sees many people covered in blood, some of them dead, some of them still alive, but all of them with arrows stuck in them.  Kevin had taken all the bike locks and locked a lot of people inside the school gymnasium.  He also had his archery gear with him, which he used to try to kill as many people as he could.  When he runs out of arrows, he gives himself up to the police after they cut off one of the locks.  But the tragedy isn’t over for Eva.  After Kevin’s arrest, she arrives home to an empty house.  She calls for her husband and her daughter, but nobody answers.  The back door is open, and all one can hear is the sprinklers.  She goes to the backyard to see that clueless Franklin and innocent Celia were also perforated by Kevin’s arrows.  He did it before he committed his crimes at school.

The last scene shows Eva visiting her son.  This time, it’s the last time she’ll see him in juvenile detention because he’s about to turn 18 and go spend some time in real prison.  She asks him “why did you do it?”  For once he didn’t have a snappy or snarky comeback.  He just looks at her and says something to the effect of “I used to know but I don’t anymore.” Before he gets taken away to prison, Eva gives Kevin a hug – the first and last time we see such a thing in this movie.

So was Kevin the sociopath the product of a “bad mother?”  Eva has been tormented by all of these flashbacks, as if each and every one of them is a part of a cause that made Kevin act the way he did.  She definitely feels all-consuming guilt, especially when her neighbors treat her as if she had committed the crime instead of her son.  Or was Kevin really a demon spawn from the beginning, as suggested by his incessant crying and refusal to be potty trained?  I don’t know – the movie keeps you wondering about that very thing.

As mentioned earlier, this is the second movie in which I’ve seen Ezra Miller act.  Every scene he was in for The Perks of Being a Wallflower he stole, and he gives a chilling and mesmerizing performance as Kevin.  Tilda Swinton is amazing as the worn-down, scared shitless mom who is coming apart at the seams.  John C. Reilly is a perfect fit for a clueless dad.

Monday, November 11, 2013

The Perks of Being a Wallflower - A Synopsis

There I was, doing the usual after-dinner routine – sitting on my backside, channel surfing.  As I surfed I came upon this movie where Emma Watson [Hermione Granger from the Harry Potter movies] was talking…like an American!  This immediately grabbed my interest, the surfing stopped, and I watched what was left of the movie.   What I saw was pretty good, so I had the DVR record it so I could see the whole thing.  What I saw was a young adult, coming-of-age movie that was atypical of the genre.  The following is a synopsis of the plot – not a review of the movie. 

Instead of what one would expect from a John Hughes-type movie that played for laughs, this movie goes to some pretty dark places.  The Perks of Being a Wallflower was directed by Stephen Chbosky, who also wrote the novel upon which this movie is based.   Filmed on location in Pittsburgh, the film centers on three high school kids – Charlie [Logan Lerman, the Percy Jackson guy]; Patrick [Ezra Miller]; and Sam [Emma Watson].

The movie starts as Charlie is writing to an anonymous friend [“Dear Friend”].  He tells his “friend” that he is about to start high school. 

“Dear Friend – I am writing to you because she said you listen and understand and didn’t try to sleep with that person at that party even though you could have.  Please don’t try to figure out who I am – I don’t want you to do that.  I just need to know that people like you exist.  Like if you met me you wouldn’t think I was the weird kid who spent time in the hospital – and I wouldn’t make you nervous.  I hope it’s ok for me to think that.  You see, I really haven’t talked to anyone outside of my family all summer.  But tomorrow is my first day of high school ever and I need to turn things around.  So I have a plan.  As I enter the school for the first time, I will visualize what it will be like on the last day of my senior year.  Unfortunately I counted and that’s 1,385 days from now…”

So right away we know that something is amiss with Charlie.  Something happened to him in junior high, but we don’t know what it is [we find out what it is as the movie unfolds].  He was hoping his older sister Candace would let him eat lunch with her Earth Club – that didn’t happen [sorry, seniors only].  Then there’s his old friend Susan from junior high.  She was fun to be around then but know doesn’t want to talk to Charlie now.  There’s Brad Hayes – he’s the quarterback on the football team.  Charlie’s older brother played with him before he went off to Penn State.  But Brad is a senior, and Charlie is Charlie.  Charlie ends up eating his lunches alone.  His day brightens when he goes to freshman shop class.  There’s a senior named Patrick – he’s had to take shop every year because he’s no good at it.  But instead of making fun of the freshmen, Patrick makes fun of the shop teacher, who refers to him as “Patticakes.”  Patrick insists the teacher either call him Patrick or nothing.  So, the teacher calls him “Nothing.”  For the rest of the movie, people address him as Nothing, much to Patrick’s annoyance.

Charlie is bound and determined to come out of his shell and participate in life.  He ends up going to a football game by himself.  While sitting by himself for a while, he goes and says “hi” Patrick [who thanks him for not calling him Nothing], and Patrick invites Charlie to join him.  Sam joins them and Patrick introduces the two.  They go to a place called Kings after the game.   Sam and Charlie talk about music.  Then she asks what Charlie wants to do, to which he says he wants to write, but doesn’t have anything to write about.  Sam suggests he write about Sam and Patrick, whom Patrick dubs “the Slut and the Falcon.”  Charlie comments that Sam and Patrick are very happy together and asks them how long they’ve been boyfriend and girlfriend.  Both Sam and Patrick laugh and she tells Charlie they are step-brother and sister.  She then announces that she is not a bulimic, but a “bulemist.”  She won’t be bulimic, she’s just in favor of it [weird].  After they take him home, he witnesses an argument between his sister and her boyfriend “pony-tail Derek,” who hits Candance.  Then Charlie starts to have flashbacks to when he was seven years old – when his Aunt Helen was still alive.  Candance walks into the house after having kissed Derek.   He’s worried about his sister, and that he might end up like Aunt Helen, whose boyfriends used to beat her.

Then there is the homecoming dance.  Charlie goes by himself and watches what happens at the party from the corner.  He’s watching everybody dance until the Dexy’s Midnight Runners song Come On Eileen comes on.  Sam and Patrick hear it and take over the dance floor with their “living room routine.”  After a couple of minutes of watching Sam and Patrick go crazy on the dance floor Charlie gets up enough courage to join them.  I think this is the moment Charlie falls for Sam.  Before the song ends, the scene cuts to the three of them going to an after-dance party.  So they walk into the party to the strains of a Cracker song, when Patrick tells Charlie “this…is a party.  This is what fun looks like.  Are you ready to meet some desperate women?”  Here Charlie meets Mary Elizabeth [a Buddhist and a punk] and Alice, whose parents are rich but she shoplifts blue jeans.  She wants to get into NYU Film School.  Before Charlie knows it, he has a reefer brownie.  It was his first.  Then the THC kicked in…

Mary Elizabeth:  Charlie, what do you think about high school?
Charlie:  High school?  Bullshit.  The cafeteria is called the nutrition center,  people wear their letter jackets even when it’s 90 degrees out, and why do they give out letter jackets to Marching Band?  It’s not a sport.  We all know it.  Mary Elizabeth, I think you’re really gonna regret that [buzz] haircut when you look back at old photographs.  I’m really sorry…that sounded like a complement in my head…
Sam:  Bob, did you get him stoned?
Bob:  C’mon Sam, he likes it.  Just look at him…
Sam:  How do you feel, Charlie?
Charlie:  I just really want a milkshake…

Sam takes Charlie to the kitchen and makes him a milkshake.

Charlie:  Sam, you have such pretty brown eyes.  The kind of pretty that deserves to make a big deal about itself, you know what I mean?
Sam:  Ok, Charlie, let me make the milkshake.
Charlie:  Hmmm, what a great word, “milkshake.”  It’s like when you say your name over and over again in the mirror and after awhile it sounds crazy…
Sam:  So I’m guessing you’ve never been high before…
Charlie:  No, no no no…my best friend Michael, his dad was a big drinker so he hated all that stuff.  Parties, too.
Sam:  Where is Michael tonight?
Charlie:  Oh, he shot himself last May.  Kinda wished he left a note, you know what I mean?  Where’s the bathroom?
Sam:  It’s up the stairs.
Charlie:  Thanks Sam.  You’re so nice…

After Charlie uses the bathroom, he walks around upstairs and accidently enters a bedroom, where he finds Patrick and Brad kissing.  Oops…

Patrick:  Listen, Brad doesn’t want anybody to know.  Are you baked?
Charlie:  Like a cake.  That’s what Bob said…
Patrick:  Charlie, listen, I need you to promise that you’re not going to say anything to anyone about me and Brad.  Ok?  This has to be our little secret.
Charlie:  Our little secret – agreed.
Patrick:  Ok, thank you.  We’ll talk later…

Later in the kitchen…

Sam:  Charlie just told me that his best friend shot himself.  I don’t think he has any friends.
Patrick: [sighs] Hey everyone!  Everybody!  Everyone, raise your glasses to Charlie.
Charlie:  What did I do?
Patrick: You didn’t do anything.  We just want to toast our new friend.  You see things and you understand.  You’re a wallflower….What is it?  What’s wrong?
Charlie:  I didn’t think anyone noticed me.
Patrick:  Well, we didn’t think there was anyone cool left to meet.  So go on, everyone…to Charlie.
Everyone:  To Charlie!
Sam:  Welcome to the Island of Misfit Toys.

This group of seniors took a freshman under their wing.

Neil Young once wrote in song "I fell in love with the actress, she was playing a part that I could understand."  So the moment in the film after Sam says "welcome to the island of misfit toys,"   I got a tad misty-eyed.  High school is full of misfits because it's also full of cliques.  There are the jocks, the cheerleaders, the 'thespian' types, the choir people, the band people, all of whom would be right at home in Bruce Springsteen's Glory Days.  On the other hand you have the 'grits' - the people who get into fights if you look at them the wrong way, the kids you see in the smoking area, the tough guys you know who had their first beer before they were teenagers, and in some cases they had fathers who beat the shit out of them just because they could.   And somewhere in amongst all of these groups of people are those that just don't quite fit in anywhere.  They know people from every side, yet they don't belong to any of them.  They just do their own thing.  They’re the people that go to parties, hide in the corner and watch other people.  That was me in high school [and college too, for that matter], and that's Sam, Patrick, Mary Elizabeth, Alice, and Charlie, too.  So when Sam made the crack about 'misfit toys,' I was hooked – I understood.  I fell in love with these characters because they were playing parts that I could understand all too well.  I knew those people…

On their way home from the party, a song comes on the radio.  Sam is mesmerized by it.  She doesn’t know it, and neither does Patrick or Charlie.  Sam insists to Patrick that they have to drive through the Fort Pitt tunnel.  Once they get to the tunnel she crawls out of the pickup cab and into the bed, stands up and acts as if she’s flying through the tunnel.  What was that song anyway?  Charlie looks at Sam, then looks at Patrick and tells him he feels “infinite.”

Things start to look up for Charlie.  He no longer eats lunch by himself.  He and his new friends help Mary Elizabeth edit her magazine about music and the Rocky Horror Picture Show.  He makes music mix tapes for Sam, and she does the same for him.  They not only go see the Rocky Horror Picture Show, they act it out live.  After one such performance there’s a party afterwards.  The talk was about SAT scores.  Sam got her scores but they weren’t good enough for Penn State.  She said that she should have studied more during her freshman year - that it was “a bit of a mess.”  Charlie tells her she can take it again and that he’ll help her study.  Then he hands her a mix tape.  He tells her it’s all about that “night in the tunnel.”  She’s impressed by his taste in music.

Then it was Christmastime.  Charlie’s new friends have a “Secret Santa” tradition.  Charlie played along but then one-upped everyone.  He gave something to everybody.  He gave Sam the a 45 record – The Beatles’ Something -  and a card.  I don’t know what he wrote in the card but whatever it was it made her speechless.  When that was all finished she took Charlie to her room to give him a present for helping her with her SAT studies – a typewriter.  Sam asked Charlie if he ever kissed a girl.  He hadn’t, and he asked Sam the same question.  She said her first kiss came when she was 11, and it was from her father’s boss.  Earlier in the movie we found out that when Sam was a freshman the upperclassmen used to get her drunk at parties.  She said she used to sleep with guys who treated her like shit, and got wasted at parties.  She had a “reputation,” but Charlie didn’t care.  He didn’t want anybody to care about his own emotional baggage, so he wasn’t going to judge Sam for hers.  After she tells Charlie that she’s with a college guy named Craig, she tells Charlie that his first kiss ought to come from someone who loves him, and then she kisses him and tells him that she loves him.  He loves Sam, but Craig had already beaten him to the punch [so to speak…].

On Christmas Eve [Charlie’s birthday], Charlie’s big brother Chris comes home.  After Charlie blows out the candles on his birthday cake, he has a flashback about his Aunt Helen.  It was about the last time he saw her alive.  They were looking at luminaries, which Helen said was a landing strip for Santa.  Then she said she was going to get his birthday present.  Then the scene cut to his brother eating dinner.  They have a talk.  Chris asks Charlie how he’s feeling, especially it being Christmas Eve, the day Aunt Helen died.  Charlie said he’s not seeing things, but when he does he can just shut it off. Charlie tells Chris about Sam and that he’s going to ask her out for New Year’s Eve.  Then the whole family goes to Midnight Mass.  In a clever piece of editing, Charlie is about to get a Communion wafer, but the film cuts to him getting a LSD tab on his tongue instead.  We’re transported to a New Year’s Eve Party.  Everybody is there, including Craig.  So he decides to go shovel snow off the driveway, but he only manages a small circle.  He told Sam about a tree that turned into a dragon, and then back to a tree again.  He also tells her he’s glad she’s happy with Craig, but we know better.  Right after the stroke of midnight, Charlie leaves the party.  On his way home he lays down in the snow.  He has another flashback of Helen.  She got in her car and left.  She never came back.  Charlie and his siblings were waiting for her return, dressed all nice and at the top of the stairs.  Instead of her walking through the door, there was a policeman there to tell the family about Helen dying in a car accident.  Charlie wasn’t having a good day…

One time Craig didn’t show up to play Rocky so Mary Elizabeth drafted Charlie to play the part instead. She liked what she saw and asked Charlie out for the Sadie Hawkins Dance.  After the dance Mary Elizabeth and Charlie went back to her place.  Before he knew it, she proclaimed him as her boyfriend.  But Charlie quickly got annoyed with her.  She called him all the time and did all the talking.  She always criticized the books that he read.  Then one night they all got together to play Truth or Dare.  Patrick dared Charlie to kiss the prettiest girl in the room.  Instead of kissing Mary Elizabeth, he kissed Sam.  Mary Elizabeth runs off, and Sam asks him “what’s wrong with you!”  Patrick advises Charlie to stay away from them for a while.  Once again Charlie is eating lunches by himself.

Charlie has more flashbacks about his Aunt Helen.  His birthday is on Christmas Eve.  On that night, she was on her way to pick up a birthday present for Charlie - the Something 45 record.    In his mind’s eye, Charlie sees the accident that killed his aunt.

Things start to change.  Brad’s dad caught him with Patrick and he beat the crap out of Brad.  Later in the cafeteria, one of Brad’s football buddies trips Patrick.  Brad calls him a faggot.  Patrick punches Brad, but then he’s jumped by Brad’s teammates who hold his arms back while another one beats the crap out of him.  Charlie takes action, but he blacks out.  When he comes around, all is quiet.  The jocks are all sprawled on the floor, and Charlie has bruised knuckles.  Charlie picks Patrick off the floor, and tells the jocks “touch my friends again and I’ll blind you.”  The scene cuts to the principal’s office, where Charlie waits outside and Brad is inside.  Brad comes out and says “Charlie, thanks for stopping them.”  Charlie still has no idea what he did until he found Sam outside.  He asks her what he did and she tells him “you saved my brother – that’s what you did.” 

Charlie:  So you’re not scared of me?
Sam:  No
Charlie:  Can we be friends again?
Sam:  Of course.  C’mon – let’s go be psychos together.

Patrick and Charlie go to this park overlooking Pittsburgh.  “Oh my God!  My life is officially an After School Special.  Son of a bitch!”  So says Patrick…  The two swap stories about “suburban legends.”  When it’s Patrick’s turn again, he tells Charlie the following –

“There’s this one guy – queer as a $3 bill.  The guy’s father doesn’t know about his son.  So he comes into the basement one night when he’s supposed to be out of town.  Catches his son with another boy.  So he starts beating him, but not like the ‘slap’ kind, the ‘real’ kind.  And the boyfriend says ‘Stop – you’re killing him!’  But the son just yells ‘Get Out!’  And eventually, the boyfriend just…did.” 

Patrick talks about things being easier, that he may meet the love of his life, that he just needs to meet a ‘good guy.’  Then he leaned over and kissed Charlie.  After he realized what he did, he cried on Charlie’s shoulder and apologized.  Charlie understood and reassured Patrick that ‘it’s all right.’  Charlie spent a lot of time with Patrick.  Patrick needed the company after what happened between him and Brad.  I thought it was a strange role reversal for Charlie, where he was the therapist and Patrick was the patient.  The two friends bonded.

Sam got her acceptance letter to Penn State.  Alice got into NYU Film School.  Patrick said he was going to the University of Washington so he could be near the cool music scene in Seattle.  And he pulled a neat senior prank.  He painted all of the shop teacher’s tools pink.  Charlie was excited for his senior friends.  He just wished that it was happening for him too.  Ever since he blacked out in the cafeteria, “it” has been getting worse, and he can’t turn “it” off.

The night before Sam leaves for the summer session at Penn State, there’s a party.  Everybody in the group gives Sam a present.  Charlie’s present included some of the many books he’s read over the past year.  There’s one more thing – that 45 he got from his Aunt Helen.  Sam had broken up with Craig because he cheated on her.  She talked with Charlie about her break-up and asked Charlie “why do I and everyone I love pick people who treat us like we’re nothing?”  Charlie told her something he’d learned from his English teacher – “we accept the love we think we deserve.” Sam asked Charlie why he never asked her out.  He said he didn’t think that was what she wanted.  She scolded him to put such foolishness out of his head.  They start to kiss, and as Sam puts her hand on Charlie’s thigh, he pulls back.  She asks him what’s wrong, he tells her ‘nothing.’  They start kissing again, then the scene cuts to the next morning, the day Sam leaves for Penn State. 

After they say goodbye and she drives off, he has two flashbacks to the night before.  Then he starts to walk home.  While he’s walking, we see one Charlie, then two, then three.  He’s coming apart.  Then there are more flashbacks.   The next flashback is to his Aunt Helen rubbing his thigh.  She tells him not to wake his sister.  Then there’s another one of Aunt Helen telling him “it’ll be our little secret, ok?”  Then again he visualizes Helen getting killed in the car crash.  He blames himself for his aunt’s death.  He has flashbacks about Pony Tail Derek hitting Candance, and of the fight in the cafeteria.  And of the night the police came to their house when he was 7 to tell them about Helen getting killed.  By the time he gets home, he bangs his head on the front door, he goes upstairs and starts to cry.  He keeps telling himself not to cry, but he can’t help himself.  Then he calls Candace, who is at a friend’s house.  Sam and Patrick have left and there’s something he can’t stop thinking about.  “I killed Aunt Helen, didn’t I? She died getting my birthday present so I killed her, right?  I tried to stop thinking that but I can’t…What if I wanted her to die, Candace?”  Candace tells her friend to call the police and for them to go to her house before Charlie harms himself.   Charlie has another flashback of Helen.  They’re in the kitchen, he takes her hand and sees the scars from where she’s slashed her wrists before.  Back to the present he sees a knife, but before he can do anything with it, the police break down the door.  The next thing we know Charlie is in a hospital room.  His psychiatrist comes in and starts to ask some questions.  Charlie wants to know how he can stop sensing the pain of other people.  The doctor gets to the heart of the matter – Helen.  What did he think of Helen?  After the doctor told him he said some “things” about Helen while he was blacked out, she asked him what he thought of Helen.  Charlie said she was “insane.”  Then we finally get to the crux of what bothers Charlie – Aunt Helen molested him as a child.  Between that, Helen getting killed on his birthday, and his best friend committing suicide the year before, no wonder Charlie is a basket case.  But having made the breakthrough about Helen, Charlie is discharged from the hospital.  He’s supposed to be in weekly therapy.

On his first night home from the hospital, Patrick and Sam stop by Charlie’s house.  Patrick asks if Charlie can “come out to play.”  While she was away at Penn State, Sam finally found out what “The Tunnel Song” was – David Bowie’s “Heroes.”  Patrick, Sam and Charlie go for a drive.  They go through the tunnel, but this time it’s Charlie who is flying.  He leans down and kisses Sam through the window.  All is well for now.  As he felt the last time, he is “infinite.”  And there the story ends.

What a damn fine movie this was…

Friday, October 25, 2013

Tony's Picks - The Beatles

A little while ago I wrote a blog about Beatles songs that suck.  So having done that, where were they at their best?  What’s the other side of the coin?  That’s hard to say since there’s so much for a Beatles obsessive like me to like.  So I set a limit – the songs have to fit on two 80-minute CDs.  By the numbers, it looks like 1965, 1967, and 1969 were very good years for Beatles music.  Here’s my list…I borrowed very liberally from previous blogs.

CD 1:
I Saw Her Standing There [B-side, 1963] – This is the flip side to I Want to Hold Your Hand.  IMO, this is a much better song.  By Beatles standards this is a long solo from George.  Fifty years after this track was cut, you can still feel the excitement bursting from your stereo speakers.

All My Loving [With the Beatles, 1963] – The Beatles opened their first appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show in February 1964 – a wise choice.  My favorite bit is John’s rhythm guitar.  I still haven’t figured it out.  When I do I’ll be very happy.

She Loves You [Single, 1963] – Yeah Yeah Yeah!!!

A Hard Day’s Night [A Hard Day’s Night, 1964] – This is what Beatlemania sounds like.  The opening chord is like the “Big Bang” of the British Invasion.  George proves it is possible to play a solo on a twelve-string.  There’s a piano matching the twelve-string note for note on the solo, giving the sound a very unique character.

Can’t Buy Me Love [A Hard Day’s Night, 1964] - Like She Loves You, this one starts with the chorus.  George's solo is pretty sick [in a good way].

Help! [Help! 1965] – After two years of love songs John wrote this, which he said this was written during his “fat Elvis period.”  He was miserable and this was how he chose to let the world know about it.

Norwegian Wood (This Bird Has Flown) [Rubber Soul, 1965] – John wrote a song about an affair that he didn’t want his wife to know about.  Paul suggested the character burn down the girl’s house after she made John sleep in the bathtub.  Cool sitar, George… J  The first version of the song was recorded a couple of steps lower than what appeared on Rubber Soul.  This version can be found on Anthology 2.  John didn’t like the result, but when he put a capo on his guitar at the second fret, presto! 

Ticket To Ride [Help! 1965] – John once claimed this as the “first heavy metal song.”, John.  That’s George’s twelve-string riff.

I Feel Fine [Single, 1964] – The feedback effect at the beginning was a happy accident.  When the band heard it and found they could do it again, they left it in the song.

Paperback Writer [Single, 1966] - Paperback Writer is notable because this is the first Beatles song where you don’t have to strain to hear the bass. Credit John Lennon for demanding why American records had far more bass than their own records. At that time, British producers were loathe to record the bass at a high volume for fear that it would make the needle jump off the record during playback. According to Geoff Emerick [the guy responsible for getting the sounds the Beatles wanted], several things factored into the louder bass sound. First, Paul McCartney switched from his Hofner violin-shaped bass to a Rickenbacker. Emerick also used a loudspeaker placed directly in front of Paul McCartney’s amp as a microphone. Emerick stated that the Paperback Writer/Rain single was cut louder than any other Beatles record up to that time, due to a new piece of equipment used in the mastering process, referred to as "Automatic Transient Overload Control." Unlike Tomorrow Never Knows, the instrumentation on Paperback Writer is the standard two guitars/bass/drums. As such, it was the only new song from 1966 to be performed on the Beatles final tour. John Lennon described Paperback Writer thusly: “It's sort of Paul's version of Day Tripper, meaning a rock 'n' roll song with a guitar lick on a fuzzy, loud guitar - but it is Paul's song.” Indeed. It’s also their first single in the UK that wasn’t a “boy/girl” song [in the US, that honor went to Nowhere Man]. Paul McCartney’s reputation as very melodic bass player started with this song. One could make the case that he plays “lead bass” on the song.

Taxman [Revolver, 1966] - George’s ode to Britain’s Inland Revenue [our version of the IRS]. In the Anthology series, George explained his motivation for writing Taxman:

“It was in April 1966 that we started recording Revolver. Taxman was on Revolver. I had discovered I was paying a huge amount of money to the taxman. You are so happy that you’ve finally started earning money – and then you find out about tax. In those days we paid nineteen shillings and sixpence out of every pound (there were twenty shillings in the pound), and with the supertax and surtax and tax-tax it was ridiculous – a heavy penalty for making money. That was the big turn-off for Britain. Anybody who ever made any money moved to America or somewhere else.”

A couple of notes - John came up with the lines “And my advice for those who die/Declare the pennies on your eye” and suggested adding the names of Harold Wilson and Edward Heath when George sings “Don't ask me what I want it for (ah-ah, Mister Wilson)/If you don't want to pay some more (ah-ah, Mister Heath).” Guitar solos courtesy of Paul McCartney, rhythm guitar by George.

Rain [B-side, 1966] - another favorite of mine from John, which was the B-side of Paperback Writer. According to John, Rain is “about people moaning about the weather all the time.” Like its A-side, Rain had the two guitars/bass/drums. The bass is very loud. It also is not a love song. That’s where the similarities with Paperback Writer end. During the recording of Tomorrow Never Knows, the Beatles discovered they could get different tonal qualities of their sounds if they sped up or slowed down the tape they recorded on. In this instance, they played the song at a fast tempo then slowed the tape to the tempo they wanted. This gave the song a hazy, murky kind of drugged-out quality. The vocals were recorded at a slower speed and sped up [go figure!]. The other feature of Rain is the backwards vocal. According to John Lennon, this innovation was discovered by accident. After a long recording session, John took home a tape of that day’s session. He was a bit stoned at the time and he threaded the tape on his machine backwards. He liked what he heard and wanted it on the record. During the outro, you can hear the words “rain,” “sunshine,” and "If the rain comes they run and hide their heads” all backwards.

Tomorrow Never Knows [Revolver, 1966] - – the first song recorded for Revolver, and due to its highly experimental nature, the only place it could go on the album was last. This was as if the Beatles were saying goodbye to the “moptops” and hello to mind expansion, Eastern mysticism, and music one could not possibly play live. This one from John is my favorite from Revolver. The production of the music is the “everything including the kitchen sink” approach. The first half of the vocal track utilizes Automatic Double Tracking, known as ADT. John Lennon hated the process of singing overdubs to his own voice, so he prodded the Abbey Road staff to come up with a technical solution. John told producer George Martin that he wanted to sound like a hundred monks chanting from the Himilayas. He suggested to Martin that he be suspended from a rope and [with a good push] sing into the microphone as he spun around it. George Martin thought that idea was unworkable, but recording engineer Geoff Emerick came up with an idea. He figured out how to route John’s vocal through a Hammond organ’s rotating Leslie speaker. You can hear the effect starting at 1:27 into the song […Love is all and love is everyone…], the second half of the vocal track. That’s just the vocals…

The music itself was an Indian drone in C. Usually Western music has several chord changes, but not Tomorrow Never Knows. George Harrison plays a sitar and a tambura droning over the bass and drums. Then there are all the sound effects. These effects were created by utilizing tape loops. Paul McCartney had been listening to Karlheinz Stockhausen’s electronic music, and thus inspired during this time he experimented on a home tape recorder. He discovered that by removing the erasure head from his tape recorder, he could keep recording over the same piece of tape, saturating it with sound. He brought a bag full of these tape loops for the session for Tomorrow Never Knows. During the session, the Beatles had about five of these loops playing at the same time while George Martin and Geoff Emerick moved the faders of each tape machine up and down at random. Since all the tapes were going at the same time, it was a “live” performance of the mix, which prompted George Martin to state that the finished mix of the song could never be duplicated. The effects ranged from a “seagull” [which is really Paul McCartney laughing, or so I've read], a Mellotron playing on the flute setting, another Mellotron playing on a ‘violin” setting, and an orchestral chord recorded from a Sibelius symphony. They mixed those with a tape of the guitar solo from Taxman, which was cut up, reversed and overdubbed onto Tomorrow Never Knows at a later date.

Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band [Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, 1967] – This is one of Paul’s best vocals.  He plays lead guitar too.

With a Little Help From My Friends [Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, 1967] – Paul wrote this one, with a little help from John.  John contributed What do you see when you turn out the light/I can’t tell you but I know it’s mine.

I Am the Walrus [Magical Mystery Tour, 1967] - . One day while reading some of his fan mail, he came across one letter that told the tale of some music teacher trying to explain the meaning of Beatles songs. Thus inspired, he wrote a song that strung lots of nonsensical words together, accompanied by a string section written by George Martin that sounds as if he was tripping on acid. “Yellow matter custard dripping from a dead dog’s eye” always grossed out my friend Brian when we were kids. The bit that always got me was “elementary penguins singing Hare Krisha/Man you should have seen them kicking Edgar Allan Poe.” To go along with the music, there’s a boy-girl choir adding “ho ho ho hee hee hee ha ha ha,” “oompa-oompa stick it in your joompa” in the background. While mixing the song, John plugged a radio into the mixing board and changed the station until he found a BBC production of Hamlet. This is probably one of the first examples of what’s known as “music concrete”, the introduction of non-musical elements into songs. This is a technique that Pink Floyd later used to great effect. The result is all very surreal. As for the song as a whole - go ahead, figure that one out – I dare you. It’ll give you an aneurism if you try. When he finished the song, John told one of his friends “there, let the fuckers try and figure that one out.” The result – another very cool "headphone" song. For the record, John WAS the Walrus, and it’s “goo goo ga joob”, not “koo koo ka choo.” While Paul came up with such songs as “Hello Goodbye” and “Penny Lane”, John was coming up with stuff like this. Any wonder why the Beatles broke up? Don’t blame Yoko – John and Paul just weren’t on the same page anymore.

Here Comes the Sun [Abbey Road, 1969] – After the doom of I Want You [She’s So Heavy], Here Comes the Sun provides the proverbial breath of fresh air. John doesn’t appear on this song. He was in the hospital recovering from injuries sustained in a car accident in Scotland. George wrote this one in Eric Clapton’s garden. He was playing hooky from Apple. Said George:
Here Comes the Sun was written at the time when Apple was getting like school, where we had to go and be businessmen: 'Sign this' and 'sign that'. Anyway, it seems as if winter in England goes on forever, by the time spring comes you really deserve it. So one day I decided I was going to sag off Apple and I went over to Eric Clapton's house. The relief of not having to go see all those dopey accountants was wonderful, and I walked around the garden with one of Eric's acoustic guitars and wrote Here Comes the Sun.”

Get Back [Single, 1969] - In 1970, when Jann Wenner interviewed John Lennon for Lennon Remembers, John stated that if George was the “invisible vocalist” in the Beatles, then he was the “invisible guitarist.” John didn’t play lead too many times, but he did on Get Back. In addition to John’s two solos, Billy Preston got to play an electric piano solo in the middle. Such was his contribution that Get Back was credited to The Beatles with Billy Preston, as was the flip side Don’t Let Me Down. Let It Be should also have been so credited [].

Let It Be [Single, 1970 – actually recorded in 1969] – Paul had a dream about his mother, Mary.  The words are autobiographical.  There are three versions of this song – the single [which I prefer], the album version [given the Phil Spector “Wall of Sound” treatment], and one from Let It Be...Naked.  Billy Preston plays the church-sounding Hammond organ on the song.  It should have been credited to The Beatles with Billy Preston like Get Back – it was recorded the same week.

Come Together [Abbey Road, 1969] - as I was growing up I thought each one of the verses was about a member of the Beatles. Now that I’m an adult I really don’t know what this one is about, not that it matters. Maybe John didn’t know either. I’ve written before that John Lennon had a batch of songs that I dubbed “the Seinfeld songs.” Jerry Seinfeld often said his TV show was a “show about nothing.” So it is that John Lennon wrote some “songs about nothing.” Come Together is one of them. It started out as a song for Timothy Leary. He wanted to run for governor of California in 1970 and he asked John Lennon to write him a campaign song. Leary was subsequently busted for marijuana possession [back then such a thing was a very big deal], and so ended any thoughts of a political campaign. But John still had this song. All I know is this is one very cool song. When John originally conceived the song he thought it should be like an up-tempo Chuck Berry-type of song. He even pinched the words here come old flat-top from a Chuck Berry song. Paul suggested they slow it down, make it “swampy.” Kudos to Paul for making the suggestion – kudos to John for taking it. What makes Come Together cool - Paul’s bass playing? Ringo’s drumming? John’s non-sensical lyrics? John’s electric piano playing? George’s guitar solo? The answer – yes.

Something [Abbey Road, 1969] - After six years of hits from the pens of Lennon and McCartney, George finally got the A-side of a Beatles single. Technically, it was a double A-side as John’s Come Together was the flip side. Both John & Paul agreed this one was the best song on the whole album. Paul plays this on the ukulele during his live shows as a tribute to George. Frank Sinatra said it was the best love song ever written. Recording engineer Geoff Emerick wrote plenty about the recording of Abbey Road in his book Here, There and Everywhere. Aside from the medley on Side 2 he paid particular attention to this song. What struck him was George’s new-found confidence as a guitar player. When it came time to overdub George’s solo, he was told there was only one track left on the tape, and they were saving that for the orchestra. George replied [and I’m paraphrasing here] “no problem, I’ll cut it live with the orchestra.” And wouldn’t you know George nailed the solo in only one pass. Having learned to play it myself years ago, I can appreciate what it took to just walk in the studio, plug in and play without making a single mistake.

Revolution [B-side, 1968] – This one is as loud and nasty as Paul’s Helter Skelter.

While My Guitar Gently Weeps [The Beatles, 1968] – That’s Eric Clapton on lead guitar.  This has one of Slowhand’s best solos on one of George’s best songs.

Strawberry Fields Forever [Magical Mystery Tour, 1967] – The Beatles did two versions of this song.  John liked part of one version and part of the other version.  He wanted George Martin to put them together.  But the two versions were in different keys and tempo, but George Martin slowed down on version and somehow they fit together.

A Day in the Life [Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, 1967] –This is the Beatles’ best song – period.

CD 2:
I Want You [She’s So Heavy] [Abbey Road, 1969] - a lyrically simple song from John. If you don’t count Revolution #9 as a song (most people don’t, including me), this one is the longest song in the Beatles canon.  The lyrics are the only thing about this song that one could call “simple.” The song repeatedly switches back and forth between 4/4 time and 6/8 time. The boys make the transitions effortlessly. Unlike most Beatles songs, John plays the lead guitar. His solo mimics his vocal. I like it because I can play it without messing it up. Billy Preston plays the Hammond organ. Paul’s bass lines are especially fun to play once you learn them, but it takes a lot of concentration for me not to screw it up. In one respect I Want You [She’s So Heavy] is like Hey Jude in that after the main part of the song, there’s a long finale. But there the similarity ends. Hey Jude’s finale is a long sing-along, whereas I Want You [She’s So Heavy] has a long instrumental finale. John and George recorded track after track of the same riff hammering away for what seems like an eternity. The guitar sound is massive. On top of the massive riffage, John added white noise from a Moog synthesizer. Usually recording artists want to avoid white noise like the Plague, but here John Lennon deliberately introduced it. At first it sounds like the wind, but as the song goes on the “wind” gets louder until it almost smothers the song in noise. Then suddenly, at the 7:44 mark, complete silence. The very first time you hear the song the silence is quite unexpected. It’s as if the repeating riff for the last three minutes puts you in a trance, then the silence hits you and you feel like huh? what? I always thought John’s songs were the most interesting and I Want You [She’s So Heavy] is just another example.

I’ve Got a Feeling [Let It Be, 1970 – actually recorded in 1969] - taken from the rooftop concert on January 30th, this song sees the Beatles rediscovering their inner rock stars. If anybody ever has any doubts about whether the Beatles could cut it live, one needs to look no further than this song. In my opinion it’s one of their most underrated songs. The guitar intro is John’s. Paul is in full-throated tonsil-shredding form in places. George’s playing is flawless. His entrance kicks in like a mule. This is really two songs put together. Paul’s I’ve Got a Feeling is another song for Linda, the girl he’s been looking for all along. The other is John’s Everybody Had a Hard Year. This rooftop performance is flawless.

Oh! Darling [Abbey Road, 1969] - This is Paul McCartney at his tonsil-shredding best. I wish I could sing like Paul does on Oh! Darling. John thought it was an outstanding piece of work but thought he could sing it better. I disagree – I don’t think John could touch this one. Paul wanted his voice to sound like he had been singing the song on-stage all week and would try to do the vocal one time daily until he was satisfied with the result. He once remarked that five years prior he could have nailed the vocal take in one pass, but now he had to break his voice in to get the desired effect. John is the piano player, George provides more excellent guitar. I don’t think Paul ever played this one live which is a shame. If he had trouble nailing the vocal when he was 27, I’m sure he couldn’t come close now that he’s 71. Oh! Darling is very, very good.
Octopus’s Garden [Abbey Road, 1969] - a Richard Starkey original. It’s a happy song that had its origins during an unhappy time for Ringo Starr. During the recording of the White Album, Ringo lost all confidence in his abilities and quit the band for a couple of weeks. Paul ended up playing the drums on Back in the USSR and Dear Prudence. Meanwhile, Ringo took his family on a holiday in Sardinia. While there he heard stories of how octopi gather up stones and shiny objects to build their own underwater gardens, and thus a song was born. The finger-picked electric guitar playing is John’s while all the tasty solos and fills are George’s. George’s playing on this song is what first grabbed my attention. The honky-tonk piano from Paul also quickly grabbed my attention. While George plays the solo you can hear George and Paul singing harmony that sounds like they’re underwater. This one is fun.

Old Brown Shoe [B-side, 1969] – One of George’s songs, this is the flip side of The Ballad of John and Yoko.  IMO, it’s a much better song.  John played rhythm guitar, but the guitar part was erased and replaced by George playing the Hammond organ.

Back in the USSR [The Beatles, 1968] – Paul played lead guitar, piano and drums.  John played a six-string bass while George played a four-string bass.  It was during the recording of this song that Ringo quit for two weeks.

Dear Prudence [The Beatles, 1968] – This one was recorded around the same time as Back in the USSR.  Paul is the drummer here as well.  The subject of the song is Mia Farrow’s sister, Prudence.  She was in India at the same time as the Beatles, but she was more hardcore when it came to meditation.  Hence the plea won’t you come out to play.  John’s fingerpicking on the song is something he learned from Donovan while in India.  Note:  Prudence lives here in Northwest Florida and runs a Transcendental Meditation center in Destin, about 15 miles from my house.

Helter Skelter [The Beatles, 1968] – Paul wanted to make something loud and raunchy.  Hard rock and heavy metal bands have tried this song [Aerosmith, Motley Crue, etc] have tried to be this heavy and failed miserably.  Paul and George played the guitars, John played bass.  That’s Ringo shouting “I got blisters on my fingers.”

Lady Madonna [Single, 1968] – After the experimentations of Sgt. Pepper and Magical Mystery Tour, this one is a no frills, back-to-basics track that foreshadows things to come on the White Album.

Hey Bulldog [Yellow Submarine, 1969 – actually recorded in 1968] - is from the Yellow Submarine soundtrack, but instead of using weird sound effects, surreal strings and the boy-girl choir, this is a straight ahead rocker (and it DOES rock). Recorded five months after I Am the Walrus, Hey Bulldog uses the same lyrical approach, but the musical approach was just straight-ahead rock and roll. When I burn CDs of Beatles songs I put these two one after another because lyrically they are similar in that they don’t mean a damn thing – just bits of words strung together.  This song has the nastiest solo George recorded with the Beatles.

Across the Universe [Let It Be, 1970 – actually recorded in 1968] - this one is a Lennon original that was originally recorded in February 1968 before the Beatles went on holiday with the Maharishi in India. It was done during the same sessions as Lady Madonna, Hey Bulldog, and George’s vocal for The Inner Light [Lady Madonna’s flip side]. It was the first song he wrote since I Am the Walrus. This song appeared first on a charity album for the World Wildlife Fund called No One's Gonna Change Our World. Joe Satriani once cited this as one of his favorite songs like this – when the clown says something serious, you notice, or something along those lines. For the longest time I had no idea what Jai Guru Deva Om [जय गुरुदेव ] meant, so I looked it up. In Sanskrit, it’s loosely translated as “Praise to the teacher.” It was one of John’s favorite songs.

Penny Lane [Magical Mystery Tour, 1967] – Paul’s character study of strange people who visit a barbershop on a street in Liverpool is the flip side to Strawberry Fields Forever.  He got the idea of the Bach trumpet from hearing Bach’s Brandenburg Concertos on the BBC.

All You Need Is Love [Magical Mystery Tour, 1967] – John wrote this one especially for a TV show to be broadcast live via satellite all around the world.   The vocals, Paul’s bass and George’s guitar were done live.

Eleanor Rigby [Revolver, 1966] - no Beatle plays an instrument on this tale of an elderly spinster. It’s just the voices of John, Paul and George with a string octet. Paul started the song, but others put bits in as well. George came up with the hook "Ah, look at all the lonely people," Ringo suggested Father McKenzie be "darning his socks in the night". John Lennon’s friend Pete Shotton suggested Eleanor Rigby and Father McKenzie be united at her funeral, then Paul finished the words.

Got To Get You Into My Life [Revolver, 1966] - for the first time on a Beatles record…brass, Motown-style. I’m not sure who came up with the horn arrangement, but it’s a good one. For those who think this is another Paul song about a girl, it isn’t – it’s about marijuana. Imagine that – a drug song from Paul McCartney. Paul loved it [pot] then, and still loves it 47 years later. John thought it was about LSD.

Drive My Car [Rubber Soul, 1965] - Paul and John sang the lead vocals together.  George played the same lines on guitar and the six-string bass in unison.  One can’t tell where the guitar ends and where the bass begins – it sounds like one instrument.  George got his inspiration for that after hearing Otis Redding’s Respect.  Paul played the lead guitar track.

Nowhere Man [Rubber Soul, 1965] - George played one of his most recognizable solos on Nowhere Man.  I still have no idea how he got that “ping” at the end of the solo.  If you want to know what a Fender Stratocaster without any effects sounds like, play this song.  The three-part harmonies of John, Paul and George are exquisite.  John was trying to write a song, but inspiration was lacking.   When he stopped thinking about it so hard, he said this song came to him, words, tune, everything all at once as he was drifting off to sleep.  Here’s an example of what happens when you try to “force it” and when you don’t try to “force it.” After two or three years of writing love songs, he came up with this.  Who was this Nowhere Man?  John Lennon, of course…

Day Tripper [Single, 1965] - John came up with the riff and most of the words.  Paul sang lead on the verses while John harmonized.  This went against type as for almost all Beatles songs, the main writer sang lead.  John played the guitar solo, too.  Apparently the “she’s a big teaser” line was originally written as “she’s a prick teaser.” 

Girl [Rubber Soul, 1965] - John’s song about a not-very-nice girl with whom he can’t help but fall in love.  She’s the kind of girl who puts you down when friends are there, you feel a fool/When you say she’s looking good she acts as if it’s understood, she’s cool… Listen closely and you can hear tit tit tit tit in the background vocals.  Somehow the censors missed that one…

In My Life [Rubber Soul, 1965] - This is one of the best songs John Lennon ever wrote.  A British reporter once challenged him to write a song about his childhood.  John did, but didn’t like what he came up with, so he made changes from very specific things, places and people to more general things [There are places I remember/Some have gone and some remain…Lovers and friends I still can recall/Some are dead and some are living …].  George Martin recorded the piano solo at half speed.  The harpsichord sound comes from playing the tape at regular speed.

No Reply [Beatles For Sale, 1964] – I can’t put my finger on it, but I’ve always liked this one.  This tale of stalking predates Every Breath You Take by 19 years.

She’s a Woman [B-side, 1964] – The flip side to I Feel Fine.  It has a great McCartney vocal, and I love the interplay of John and George’s guitars during the solo section.

Things We Said Today [A Hard Day’s Night, 1964] – I just like this one.

You Can’t Do That [A Hard Day’s Night, 1964] – This has a nifty twelve-string riff from George, and John takes the solo.

Twist and Shout [Please Please Me, 1963] – The Beatles recorded their first album Please Please Me in a single night.  John had a cold – they saved this song for last because John could do the vocal only once.  If you listen closely, as the final chord fades you can hear John cough.

Tripped Up at the Finish Line -
Hey Jude [Single, 1968] – Killed by Sir Paul himself.  The coda is about two minutes too long.  I had one long Beatles song to choose, and this one didn’t make it.

The Abbey Road Medley – aka “The Long One.”  If I included this, there would be sixteen minutes of other Beatles music that wouldn’t make the cut.

Please Please Me [Please Please Me, 1963] – The harmonica is a little annoying.

Julia [The Beatles, 1968] – John’s ode to his late mother is the only Beatles song on which John plays by himself.

We Can Work It Out [Single, 1965] - I had enough songs from 1965 as it is, and I like Day Tripper better.

The Ballad of John and Yoko [Single, 1969] – I had enough songs from 1969, and its flip-side [Old Brown Shoe] is a better song.