You know I am a Beatles geek – but last night, that geekiness went to a whole new level at a two and a half hour lecture on the album “Revolver.” Yes, a lengthy power-packed presentation on a few songs, and how fascinating it was. The biggest auditorium at TIFF was completely sold out, lines of people outside waiting for return tickets, and we the lucky ones inside, listening to one of the great musical sagas of the 20th century.
Scott Freiman has spent his life, it seems, digging up arcane facts and bits of audio and videotape for our edification. He’s a music engineer too, so it’s not a surprise that one of the heroes of the tale is Geoff Emerick, the 19-year old at EMI who became the Beatles’ record engineer because he was the only guy willing to work their ridiculously long hours and accede to their rule-breaking demands. Complicated avant-garde tape loops for “Tomorrow never knows”, with its lines from the Tibetan Book of the Dead and Timothy Leary? A fatter bass line like in Motown for Paul, though the Abbey Road bosses disapproved? Ridiculous sound effects for a children’s song about a yellow submarine? Done and done. All sorts of innovations with the most primitive of equipment – by today’s standards, laughable.
I’ve heard that record countless times but have never really listened to it before. Scott’s premise is that it is the greatest rock album ever, greater even than “Pepper” because “Revolver” was the last time the Beatles were truly a family still, working in intense collaboration in every way. Not long after, they were drifting much more clearly into their own spheres. (He was speaking, incidentally, of the British version of the record which has a more interesting assortment of songs. Over here we got a watered-down version. Did you know that? Now you do.)
There were all ages there, many grey heads like mine of course but lots of younger people too, including a 9-year old in a Beatles t-shirt in the front row. Listening to how the band was influenced by John Cage, Bing Crosby, Stockhausen, Brian Wilson, Stevie Wonder – how would the kid know who these people are? Well, let him learn. A brand new geek is born.
Scott is coming back to deconstruct “Rubber Soul.” Can’t wait. At the end, I gave him my book, the story of how one girl’s life, way back then, was changed forever by the music. Last night, what a treat to be in a huge roomful of people with the same story.
Outside, more snow. Inside, we have water after John spent an hour aiming a hairdryer at the pipes, and now there’s a small heater aimed at them going non-stop. A quiet Saturday dawns. I sent a very flawed, hideously dull and skeletal draft of the memoir to my editor Rosemary yesterday. Time to get out my old records and listen anew.