Saturday, September 26, 2009

In the Slumber of Angels

No-one knows how conversations happen with kids. Subjects blurt out of the blue without context or logic, yet the questions start to require thoughtful answers. By about four or five years old, the innate b.s. detector starts to go off when a topic is sidestepped. Like any good, inquisitive reporter, they press the matter but sometimes are unprepared for the answers which may be given. “Daddy, where’s your grandpa?” Shane asked one late Friday night. He must have overheard my mentioning of my late grandfather, on what would have been his 92nd birthday. “He’s dead, Shane,” I replied. There was no point or logic in lying.
“When’s he going to come back? When can I meet him?”
I took a deep breath. “He’s not coming back.”
“He’s gone away forever?” Shane’s voice sounded sad and scared.
“For a long time…he’s in heaven now.”
“Where’s that?” Too bad the Pope wasn’t around to pontificate. I would have settled for Rick Warren or even Oprah.
“It’s the place people go when they die.” I knew what was coming next.
“Where? Just tell me where!” I tried the fourth dimension analogy.
“It’s a place that’s far away but is right next to you at the same time,” I said using a little of Doctor Who’s sense of the universe. The universe, at least as we know it, does not exist in a child’s eyes, only facts of what is or is not.
“Away?” His eyes swelled with tears. “I don’t want to go away! I don’t want to die! I want to stay alive forever!”

My son began crying and there was little I could do to console him. Death is not a subject many adults are comfortable with, let alone an innocent little boy. About a year ago, I used the Sesame Street episode discussing the death of Mr. Hooper to convince the three year old Shane not to use dying so much in his action play. That wasn’t going to cut it this time. Over the past year, he began to show a love of nature and animals, big and small. He started to notice the change of seasons: plants growing, bearing beautiful fruits and flowers. He wanted to take care of a stray little bird in the garage, hoping it would be his friend forever. Shane held the bird for a few hours and we made it a little home inside a playhouse in the backyard. We checked on his “little birdie” several times before he went to bed. I hoped as much as I could hope, that I would not see what most people see when they try to care for a bird that can’t fly. The next morning arrived not because I wanted it to, but because it had to. Some things like sunrise are just inevitable. Shane was still sleeping on our couch (which he prefers to his bed) as I walked outside to look inside the playhouse. The little bird was gone with no signs, struggle or carnage. In the midst of the night, it must have found a way to fly. It seems many of us grow cynical with age and the conventional wisdom of many still sees the tiny bird meeting an unfortunate fate at the hands of nature’s innate cruelty. I chose the optimistic approach, not just because it was better for Shane, but it is what I wanted to believe as well. Our faith was rewarded a few days later, as I saw the little bird landing on a tree in the yard. I grabbed Shane and showed him that his little friend was ok. It is those little experiences that give you faith in the universe and the forces which control it. Sometimes there is beauty beyond belief.

That experience was a few months removed from the basement incident. Shane had begun to understand what death was and there was nothing I could do to prevent it. There are as many good things as bad when it comes to growing up. We can lie to ourselves and say they don’t exist or we can accept the inevitable. Our children will not always be protected from bad things, no matter how hard we try. Shane dried his tears for a little bit and asked me “What did your Grandpa look like?”
“He was tall, had short hair and wore glasses,” I said, choking up a little.
“What else?”
“He was funny and kind. He smoked a pipe and smelled like leather.” It had been many years since I sat in my Grandpa’s lap but his smell felt like yesterday as I described it.
“What else?”
“He had one leg.”
“How did that happen?”
“A long time ago, he had an accident on the farm and he hurt his leg,” I said, recalling the story told to me many times by my Grandmother. I knew this part was not going to go over well. It’s hard to tell a child farming is something enjoyable when the consequences can be so severe.
“Was he alright?”
“Yes. God took care of him.”
“What did he look like?” Kid conversations take such an immediate and persistent turn.

I took Shane to my computer and brought up pictures I used in a previous essay about my Grandparents. I pointed out Granddad’s wooden leg.
“How did he walk?”
“He had crutches like Mommy had when she broke her ankle. He could walk very fast.” Indeed, he could. His agility had to be seen to be believed. This onslaught of reality combined with being very tired became too much for Shane. The world is a scary place, full of hazards and dangers. There comes a point where looking out for cars while crossing the street becomes real. This was that time. There was nothing I could do to help him process all this, except watch him cry to sleep next to his Mommy. I’d had enough of the circle of life for one night but I was determined to do one thing before I went to bed. I didn’t want him to wake up and be alone. I scrunched into the couch beside him and held him until I slept.

There’s a lot of parents who long just for a night or weekend to escape the daily venture into “kidland.” Actually, I think that’s all parents, whether we chose to admit it or not. Anyone who packages themselves as “super-parent” is either living a lie or trying to sell a book – Kate Gosselin: THIS IS YOU. Every parent needs a break but most of us do not have the luxury of hiring Nell Carter. The last night I spent away from my kids, I ended up talking about them. Truth be told, that was most of the nights. As much as I wanted to pretend to be a non-parent, my gut ate me up enough where I couldn’t place myself outside of the life I’ve had for almost five years. My son and daughter are a part of me, the biggest part of me that I will give to this world. I understand what it is like to long for a feeling of irresponsibility. Those days are fun but they are best left for those who have yet to feel a part of yourself which you have to love and protect. Little kids don’t fly overnight. Most aren’t ready to fly for twenty years. Every time I’m not there, I constantly think of them and what they are doing, if they are happy and full of love.

Admittedly, parenting is hard. That’s why parenting magazines and books sell better than Mountain Dew or Coca-Cola. I refuse to think or believe that my times without my children are better than the times I spend reading books, building castles or protecting them from kids who want to bury their grasshopper collection with rocks. I feel bad when I lose my train of thought in mid-day. I can list two-thousand records in my collection or every Doctor Who episode made but sometimes I forget to replace coffee lids. But I got the sippy cup in the middle of the night and held my daughter as she fell back to sleep. I can’t showcase the fun times I have without my kids as I’d rather be riding down the waterslide with them. The stress of raising kids is big, bigger than being President of the United States of America (wait – he does both). The worst thing any parent can do is give in when your kids need you most. Note to parents: YOUR KIDS WILL ALWAYS NEED YOU.

There is much talk about “helicopter parents;” parents who choose to supervise their child’s development at a miniscule scale one would think they are MIT students working on a master’s paper. I don’t advocate such intense supervision as much as being there for your kids when they need you. I have many friends who are single parents and have chosen to do what is not just natural, but what is right. They may not get the “second spring” that their exes do, but the reward lasts a lifetime. Just picking up your kid after school, playing a game like “Chutes and Ladders” or helping them with algebra provides a bigger buzz than any Saturday night at the local bar pretends to be. I feel bad for parents who think they’re lonely, for they are forsaking the unconditional love their children give to them every day. Most parents have had one good go-round of being an irresponsible child. Providing your children with a relatively happy, fun and memorable childhood requires giving up certain remnants of your youth. Not the fun parts, but all the stupid ones. If you are thinking “I don’t know what you mean” then you must have merged stupidity with fun a long time ago.

Shane started pre-school this month. I didn’t shed any tears as much as I was proud of him. He cares about people and the world around him, which is something I hope will never be taken away. He gives flowers to strangers because he thinks it will make them a little bit happier. My daughter, Romana, longs to be part of his class but she still likes a nice hug and a good book to keep her company before she destroys Shane’s Lego robot. The happiest times I have now are not at a party, but when I pretend to be asleep and they talk to each other, becoming not just brother and sister but friends. Both of them want to be cuddled with at night and who am I to refuse. There will come a time, as it is the way of things, where they no longer need nor want the comfort of Mommy and Daddy. Until then, I am happy to lie beside angels.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Smells Like Fake Spirit: How the Guitar Hero Franchise Jumped the Shark

When I was an alien, cultures weren’t opinions,” – Kurt Cobain

On September 1st, 2009, the fifth installment of the popular rhythm game franchise, “Guitar Hero” was released to little fanfare, its arrival eclipsed by a similar game featuring a band whose recording career ended forty years ago. While the Beatles were grabbing all the headlines with “Beatles Rock Band” a YouTube user named Corporalgregg2 released a video compilation highlighting some of the new features available in the “Guitar Hero 5” video game. Specifically, the video shows one of its playable characters, the late Kurt Cobain, singing Public Enemy’s “Bring the Noise,” Billy Idol’s “Dancing With Myself” and most disturbing, Bon Jovi’s “You Give Love a Bad Name.” The Guitar Hero 5 shows Cobain rocking out to these songs with mannerisms appropriate to each of the tunes. He jumps around like Flavor Flav during “Bring the Noise” and poses like a poseur during “You Give Love a Bad Name.” Much of the rock community, especially Cobain’s fans, were outraged that his likeness was used in such a disrespectful, humiliating fashion. Blame was mostly laid at the feet of Courtney Love, Cobain’s widow. Love has vehemently denied signing Cobain’s likeness to Activision (the developer of Guitar Hero 5) but has been subjected to countless attacks from all sides since she began making statements regarding the situation on Twitter.

Attacking Courtney Love is easy for many music fans, who tend to blame her for exploiting Kurt Cobain’s death over the last fifteen years. Much like politics, pointing fingers is easy but doing so represents an ideological short cut in which angry fans find a scapegoat for their frustrations (see Barack Obama and tea parties). Love’s band Hole released a phenomenal record in 1994, “Live Through This” which to many rock fans sounded like a Nirvana record – as if the output of Bush and Stone Temple Pilots didn’t. Hole’s follow-up release in 1998, “Celebrity Skin,” was more polished and produced and drew criticism as being a Smashing Pumpkins style record. The era of grunge had passed by the time of “Celebrity Skin” and many bands were releasing more produced material with less distortion. In retrospect, “Celebrity Skin” was a product of its time, as was “This Is My Truth, Tell Me Yours” by the British band Manic Street Preachers. Music fans didn’t question the Manics’ motives, nor those of David Bowie when they changed their sound. Interestingly, other female rock artists of the time such as Liz Phair were subjected to the slander of “sell-out.” Phair’s 1998 album “Whitechocolatespacegg” was panned for its lack of an edge compared to her earlier releases, “Exile in Guyville” and “Whip-Smart.” This would be considered an outright double-standard except releases by the aforementioned Bush and Stone Temple Pilots were even crappier than their earlier material. The artists who gained fame during the early 90’s grunge era were growing up and evolving, except for Kurt Cobain and Nirvana. His death left a bookmark to the era which no artist could ever attempt to emulate or surpass.

Cobain’s mystique and reputation as an anti-authority, anti-corporate icon would remain intact for the rest of the 1990’s and into the 21st Century. Much like the late John Lennon, music fans tend to remember Cobain with rose-tinted glasses, forgetting that it was Cobain himself who wanted a more polished version of Nirvana’s sound, which was heard initially in the “Sliver” single and was perfected in the classic album “Nevermind.” It is probable Cobain never thought this step would turn the band into the next big thing as much as a production equivalent of the Pixies or Husker Du. His classic liner notes railing against wannabe fans in the album “Incesticide” confirms this. Cobain was not comfortable with being an icon. Had he lived, it would be hard to fathom him in one of those horrid Grammy Awards duets rocking it out with Kanye West. But like John Lennon, this speculation only exists in the form of what did happen or what we perceive our heroes to be. “Tomorrow Never Knows” can be taken both ways. A hardcore Bowie fan in the 1970’s would never have thought the Thin White Duke could release “Let’s Dance” in the 80’s. People are people, so why should it be that everyone is expected to act stereotypically?

Economically, Courtney Love is fine. She has not only the continual revenue from Nirvana material but also her own. There is little reasoning an individual with a lot of money would exploit the legacy of someone she loves for her own gain, if said gain would not significantly alter her way of life. Yoko Ono is insanely rich through being John Lennon’s widow. Many of her marketing choices regarding Lennon’s estate, such as jewelry, are questionable, but maybe she is doing the best she can to bring more of Lennon’s mystique to a new audience. But bashing Yoko is out of vogue, considering she has maintained a cordial business relationship with Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr and the estate of the late George Harrison for quite some time. Hating Courtney Love is still a hobby for many Nirvana fans, which has largely been driven by the antagonism between her and Nirvana members Dave Grohl and Krist Novoselic. Much of this animosity toward Love derives from the publication of Kurt Cobain’s Journals in 2002. The collection of Cobain’s diaries was thought by many to have been in poor taste and motivated by money. However, most material such as this finds its way into release sooner or later. Private letters and recordings of deceased U.S. presidents are widely considered revelations and are seldom condemned. Cobain’s journals would have eventually have been published by somebody, sooner or later. Why is the fact that Courtney Love chose to do it received with such hatred? Nobody cares that the family of Harry S. Truman released his private papers. Maybe Courtney Love should be commended for supervising Cobain’s journals, rather than leaving them to someone else.

The 2004 Nirvana box set, “With the Lights Out,” seemed to convince many fans that Love, Grohl and Novoselic had at least reached a truce of some sort. The release of Guitar Hero 5 has opened up decades old wounds, with Love, Grohl and Novoselic trading insulting barbs, blaming each other rather than focusing on the true culprit in the debacle. Activision has stated repeatedly they consulted the trio regarding the inclusion of the songs “Smells Like Teen Spirit” and “Lithium” in Guitar Hero 5 and gave Love final approval on Kurt Cobain’s likeness in the game. Yet it seems they held something back, legalese or not. The term “avatar” meant having Cobain’s likeness included in the game to Love, not letting him sing the songs of other artists looking like a jackass. I challenge Love’s accusers to think about this. What is an avatar? A new movie by James Cameron? An animated show about an air-bender on Cartoon Network? I sure as hell would have a tough time explaining all this to my Dad. Logically, it seems Activision needed more playable characters for Guitar Hero 5 than Shirley Manson and Carlos Santana. In fact, players can humiliate the late, great Johnny Cash in the same fashion as Cobain, yet nobody is complaining – yet. However cool it may be to have the “man in black” sing “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” it is certain many of his long term fans will consider this a bastardization of his legacy. Yet all focus and blame is focused on Courtney Love, who regardless of what she signed or did not sign, had absolutely no intent or desire to humiliate her husband.

Video games, by their nature, have to get bigger or better. The worst review a game can get is “I like the older one.” Games such as Madden NFL improve yearly but do not allow technological advances to sidestep the concept of football. Many game franchises are not as astute. Adding more features sometimes subtracts from the experience. Capcom’s “Street Fighter” franchise was the biggest game on the planet in 1992, the same time Nirvana was the biggest band in the world. Capcom struggled to advance “Street Fighter II,” arguably the best 2-D platform fighter ever made. They created more characters, invented more moves for players, but the initial feel was lost. The attempted to copy Namco’s Tekken into 3-D combat with little success. Capcom introduced tag-moves which confused players even further. It would be difficult to find modern game players lining up at midnight anticipating a new Street Fighter release. Instead of working on what made Street Fighter II a classic game, they chose to meddle with it and as a result turned off the millions of fans who bought the game in the first place.

Sega’s flagship icon, Sonic the Hedgehog, has suffered a similar fate. After making three games of blink-fast speed and control, Sega chose to enter the 3-D market. The spiky blue rodent no longer sped on all levels but walked around and collected idiotic objects in “Sonic Adventure.” Further attempts at modernization only succeeded in making Sonic suck even further. Like Capcom, Sega forgot what made the initial Sonic the Hedgehog games appealing. Other video game franchises such as Mortal Combat, Pitfall, and WWE pro-wrestling have suffered a similar fate. Improvement is not always advancement, new does not always mean better. The desire for more money, however, remains the same.

Activision knew it had to have something appealing to counteract the onslaught on “Beatles Rock Band.” Playable versions of music icons such as Johnny Cash and Kurt Cobain seemed to be a logical step. The geeks in their cubicles thought “more means better.” Customization of licensed characters had been done in professional sports games and pro-wrestling games. What is the difference? The pathetic reality Activision has realized is there is a big contrast between making Brett Farve as great as he was in the 1990’s with a military-rifle arm or giving John Cena high-flying ability than making music icons sing songs they would never sing. Activision just wanted to make people more excited about the new Guitar Hero, just as ABC thought the Fonz would be super-cool skiing over a shark. But it is a converse equation: we don’t like the more, we want the less. Seeing Kurt Cobain singing songs of artists he hated does not widen the appeal of Guitar Hero, it shrinks it. Interestingly, punk icon Iggy Pop has chosen to let himself be rendered in Lego form for the upcoming “Lego Rock Band.” Players can “block-rock” as “the world’s forgotten boy” as they fake strum their way through his 1977 classic, “The Passenger.” It is quite debatable as to who will shell out fifty bucks for this privilege.

Guitar Hero’s CEO Dan Rosensweig states "We care about the artists more than anyone else and we would like to make artists happy in every circumstance.” It is doubtful Rosenswieg cares more about the artists in Guitar Hero than he does about his financial bottom line. It does not seem he cares about the fans of many of the artists included in the game either To many Nirvana fans, the gift Kurt Cobain gave to the world is not a joke, a game or an avatar for amusement. He was a hero to many who grew up listening to his music while they played video games. Regardless of complaints or compliments, the fake music games will fade into history like the “Macarena.” Kurt Cobain would quite possibly be amused by all this silliness, as he often made fun of Nirvana’s stature as a stadium act by doing deliberately horrid covers of “The End” and “Baba O’ Reilly.” He’d want everyone to stop taking everything so damn seriously. We should remember his advice: “Stop your crying – go outside and ride your bike.”

Monday, September 7, 2009

I'm Sick and Tired of Getting Ripped Off by the Beatles!

I don’t care too much for money,
Money can’t buy me love – Lennon/McCartney

What a crock. By the time “Can’t Buy Me Love” was released in early 1964, The Beatles were well on their way to fame and fortune. Their film “A Hard Days Night” would be released later that year to universal acclaim as the Fab Four laid claim to pop culture dominance in a way that has never been equaled since. At their commercial peak, there was no way a civilized person could escape Beatlemania except by possibly checking themselves into an asylum. There were magazines, lunchboxes, toys and incredibly great music. The music created by John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr is as loved and appreciated now just as it was in the sixties. One can make the argument it is the strength of the songs and band, which has made the Beatles continually popular long after almost all their contemporaries have faded away, burned out or went to the great gig in the sky.

However, the Beatles and their managers were masters of self-promotion, possessing an uncanny ability to convince their legions of fans that every new Beatles product is amazing, indispensable and further evidence of their greatness. On September 8th, 2009, the Beatles will release remastered versions of their albums and September 9th, the hotly anticipated “Beatles Rock Band,” a video game which allows players to grab a facsimile instrument of their choice achieve a semblance of “inner Fab-ness.” Before the game has even hit store shelves, it has already received a plethora of accolades from the music press, which has universally proclaimed “Beatles Rock Band” will confirm the Fab Four’s status as the greatest band ever. Sorry. My needle’s stuck somewhere in the middle of “The Long and Winding Road.” It’s stuck on an instrumental bridge which just keeps repeating itself, over and over.

My version of the song is from the often-bootlegged “Get Back” sessions, the majority of songs were re-imagined by uber-producer and now convicted killer Phil Spector. The “Get Back” sessions were once some of the most sought after unreleased Beatle material. I purchased by copy fifteen years ago and was anxious to hear the original versions songs on what is widely considered the weakest of Beatles albums. To say that I was disappointed in the material contained in the “Get Back” record would be an understatement. Without the discipline of their longtime producer and mentor, Sir George Martin, the Beatles were revealed to be just another band who managed to get the best of breaks throughout their career. However, being a big Beatle fan, I relished having this sacred material, and have the album (with apple-green vinyl) on display at my house. The Beatles were still the greatest ever, and it never for once occurred to me to stop my pursuit of more Beatle product. After fifteen years of seeing continual yet sub-par merchandise, I’ve decided I’m done. I don’t care if anyone wants to pretend they are John Lennon with a plastic Les Paul guitar, make up various excuses as to why it is worth shelling out a week’s pay for music people already have or listen to baby-boomers attempt once again to make their geriatric generation relevant. I have the majority of Beatle-related crap issued since their breakup in 1970 and understand what tomorrow does not know: the Beatles love money more than they love you – Yeah, yeah yeah.

The Beatles and their management have orchestrated their posthumous releases in a fashion that has no comparisons in terms of marketing. Their only interest has been financial, to keep as many original fans buying crap but still holding enough in the vaults to keep the mystique alive. The 1970’s saw the Beatles splinter apart. The initial solo releases were excellent but by 1975, the well had run dry. The albums still sold well, but can anyone honestly state the last time they played McCartney’s “Band on the Run,” Lennon’s “Walls and Bridges,” Harrison’s “Dark Horse” or Ringo’s “Goodnight Vienna?” All of these albums were still big sellers but as I look through them, where did they go? Sadly, none of these releases are worth remembering except for those who ran to their local store in anticipation of hearing some resemblance to the band’s glory days. Even though there are a handful of decent songs, most copies are gathering dust on fan’s shelves, evidence of devotion, completion and a desire to get back to a time where all you needed was love. The Beatles were in danger on becoming irrelevant in an era where disco and punk rock were beginning to dominate radio waves. However, the band’s unreleased recordings were among the most sought after by rock and roll fans. Their live recordings and studio outtakes jump-started the bootleg industry. Beatle fanatics flocked to record stores which carried the material, forking over money for super-secret access to their heroes. As their seventies output entered a commercial and critical nadir, the Beatles chose to capitalize on the burgeoning bootleg industry. The 1977 release of “Live at the Hollywood Bowl” hit number one in Britain and number two in the United States. Upon listening to the material, originally recorded in 1964 and 1965, shows a heavily remixed concerts which brought back to many fans the feeling of Beatlemania. Interestingly, this best-selling record has yet to see a CD release. The following year saw the release of “Rarities,” an album that culled a few of the best bootleg tracks along with a lot of trivial material. Care to hear “I Want to Hold Your Hand” sang in German? Sure, I bet you do. Care to put it on your Ipod? Anyone, anyone?

Despite the fluff, “Beatles Rarities” succeeded in grabbing the attention of music fans. This was largely due to the opening track, the original version of “Across the Universe,” a song which was butchered by Phil Spector on the “Let It Be” album. This song was (and is) worth the price of the whole LP. Also included was “Rain,” the b-side to “Paperback Writer.” “Rain” had a cult following due to the band making a promotional video for the song. The Beatles were very savvy and were the first rock group to promote a 45 as two great songs, not just a designated hit as the a-side and a throwaway song on the flip. To buy a Beatles single from 1966-1969 meant getting two new Beatles songs, the majority of which would not end up on a full-length album release. The songs which did not end up on the “1964-1966” or “1967-1970” double albums were widely circulated among fans. Although the George Harrison B-side to “Lady Madonna,” “The Inner Light” was included, the Beatles chose to make their fans wanting the rest of the b-side material. There is no concise argument that can be made as to why the Beatles did not do this in 1978. None. I challenge the Nowhere Man to think for himself. Ironically, Neil Innes and Eric Idle released the Rutles film and album in 1978, appropriately titled “All You Need is Cash.”

In 1987, the Beatles entered the newest sonic medium of the eighties, the compact disc. The surviving Three-tles (Lennon was assassinated in 1980) stuck to their marketing mantra and gave themselves yet another financial ticket to ride. To ensure Beatle fans across the world would purchase the newly remastered catalog, all forms of album releases would be deleted from their catalog in favor of the British releases. This is why you can’t find your parents’ or grandparents’ copy of “Meet the Beatles!” on CD. Switching to the British catalog of album releases changed up song orders on all Beatle albums until 1967’s “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band,” after which all album tracks were uniform. Most of the American releases contained the Beatles’ hit singles but the British versions tended to be stand-alone releases, with few singles contained therein. Fans who wanted songs such as “I Want to Hold Your Hand,” I Feel Fine” or “Day Tripper” were forced to buy two new compilations, “Past Masters Volumes One and Two” to complete their Beatle catalog. American fans who grew up listening to “Beatles 65”, “Something New” or “Yesterday and Today” were just plain out of luck…for now.

As the eighties drew to a close, a new type of music was emerging, grunge. Seattle bands like Nirvana and Pearl Jam were quick to drop names of the many rock acts which had influenced them such as Husker Du, The Vaselines, The Who and Neil Young. Rarely, if ever, were the lads from Liverpool mentioned. The Beatles were once again finding themselves floating outside the river of mainstream tastes. It was once again time to consult the massive vault of unreleased but still widely bootlegged Beatle songs to propel the band back into the spotlight – and sell a few more million records. The Beatles performed live on BBC radio fifty-two times in their career. These live recordings represented some of the hottest bootleg material available, as there were several songs recorded for the “Beeb” which never saw release. Out of the hundreds of tracks available, sixty-nine were selected for this double disc compilation. Fans once again flew en masse to record stores in December 1994 to pick up this glossy, expensive and sadly overrated album. At arguable grunge and alternative music’s peak, the Beatles garnered themselves yet another top ten album. Although there are several gems included in the set, including a blistering version of “The Hippy Hippy Shake,” much of the collection was from the band’s early years where without the expertise of Sir George Martin production skills, the Fabs sounded like a bar-band version of their polished selves. My copy of “Live at the BBC” has remained largely unplayed in the last fifteen years. Upon retrieving it from my collection to research of this piece, it actually still smelled new.

The following year saw the Beatles reunite through studio magic (although there are unsubstantiated rumors the Maharishi was involved) to utilize a previously unreleased (but familiar to collectors) John Lennon recording, “Free as a Bird” and re-imagine it with performances from the surviving three band members. Producer, former ELO member, Traveling Wilbury and wannabe Beatle Jeff Lynne produced this track, which sounded like a mash-up before mash-ups were invented. Lennon’s vocals do not match the rest of the production, which sounded like a bizarre Beatle-compilation, with vocals from everyone but Ringo (some things never change). The song sounded like producer Lynne forgot everything he had copied from George Martin over the past two decades. At times it sounded like a Traveling Wilbury song, a McCartney song or a Harrison song but one would be hard pressed (even after a trip to Dr. Robert) to consider it a Beatles song. Fans still could not resist the appeal of any new Beatles material as “Free as a Bird” still charted in the top ten.

The Beatles once again were the apple of the music fan’s eye as the “Beatles Anthology” documentary aired during November of 1995. Designed to accompany “Free as a Bird” and three upcoming “Anthology” CD’s, the documentary succeeded in re-establishing the Fab Four as the top music act of the rock and roll era. However, much of the new interview footage (especially Paul McCartney’s) did not reveal much about the band the average fan did not already know. Many of the band’s live performances and promotional films (precursors to music videos) were chopped up or worse yet, overdubbed from the original recordings. The performances of “Hey Jude” and “Revolution” were among the last live appearances the band ever made, both of which were butchered worse than the baby dolls for the “Yesterday and Today” album cover. The Beatles had several live concerts professionally filmed over their careers including their landmark Shea Stadium concert and two Tokyo concerts which were some of their last gigs as a touring act. For some bizarro reason, little of this footage was used in its entirety. The Beatles’ promotional films are both original and fantastic, yet few of these were used for the documentary in their original forms. The live performance of “Revolution” remains one of my all-time favorite Beatle clips, yet the majority of the performance shown in the documentary overdubs the studio vocals over the live ones. Fans were left alone, the elusive Beatle bird had flown again.

1999 saw the release of the “Yellow Submarine Songtrack,” a quasi-replacement CD for the animated 1968 film. The Beatles had little involvement with the initial film, providing only a handful of new material to accompany it and a cute, cheeky cameo at the film’s end. The 1999 CD, along with the movie’s video release, and a buttload of “Yellow Submarine” merchandise, attempted to cement the film as an essential part of Beatle canon. By and large, it succeeded. I bought the new soundtrack, along with the “Yellow Submarine” toys. They were pretty darn cool but even a big Beatle fan like yours truly couldn’t quick fork over the money for the “Yellow Submarine” lunchbox. If enough unnecessary and irrelevant merchandise is for sale, even the hardcore fans tend to rebel (see KISS). The CD was the first time since 1987 Beatles songs had been remastered and they never sounded better, if better just means louder. As recording technology advanced, newer CD’s began to sound substantially louder than ones recorded ten years earlier. Most music fans love to make mix-CD’s but if the sound radically goes up and down between songs the experience of a mix becomes bothersome, if not annoying if the volume has to be adjusted constantly. The “Yellow Submarine Songtrack” put the Beatles right back at the sonic front. There was no obvious tinkering with Martin’s original mixes and the amplification made one appreciate the band’s talent even more than ever other release. Fans waited for the eventual remastering of the rest of the group’s material. They would have to wait another ten years.

In 2000, “The Beatles:1” showcasing 27 of the group’s biggest hits remastered in the fashion of “Yellow Submarine.” It seems obvious these songs were part of the same project as no other Beatle remasters were issued until September 9th of 2009. In 2006, “Love,” a remix project by Sir George Martin and his son Giles was released to accompany the Cirque De Soleil performance act celebrating the music of the Beatles. The Martins’ remix of “Come Together” was astounding, the rest of the material interesting yet fun curiosities. DJ’s had been mashing the Beatles with other artists for a decade at this point, one of the best being a mash-up of the “Revolver” album called “Revolved” and a mash album of the Beatles and Beastie Boys. Unlike artists such as Prince, Dave Matthews or Metallica, the Beatles never chose to take any legal action against those who used their music without copyright authority. In fact, it seems after forty years of Beatles bootlegs, the Fabs encourage the proliferation of their material as much as possible. The refuse to license their music to Steve Job’s iTunes empire, yet one can easily find many Beatle fanatics who have every BBC Radio session track, rare live performances, outtakes and videos. Before there was any idea of file-sharing, the Beatles understood more than any other rock act except for Bruce Springsteen, that there is no such thing as bad publicity.

Some astute readers may have noticed that Elvis Presley has been left out of this essay. The simple reason the “King of Rock and Roll” is not experiencing the same popular resurgences as the Beatles is the majority of Presley’s recorded material has been released. They are contained in gigantic box sets released by RCA Records. Elvis’ complete recordings, outtakes and live have been available for a decade. Bear in mind Elvis was largely a studio singer after he returned from the army and he never wrote his own material, making fifteen takes of any song kinda redundant. Elvis was the singer, other people (Leiber and Stoller in the early years) wrote his material. Session musicians performed it. Session musicians, by their occupation, are paid to play a song as presented to them. There is no “working it out” in the studio. Elvis Presley’s Complete 50’s, 60’s and 70’s box sets are well worth looking into and purchasing. To do the same with the Beatles would require a truckload of CD’s or a massive hard drive. Many of the Beatles’ songs changed drastically during recordings whereas Presley’s did not. His Sun recordings and the 50’s box set show an artist involved with his material. After that, hidden gems are hard to find. From their onset of superstardom, the Beatles kept a close lid on their mystique, knowing as long as your name is mentioned in the media, general interest is rises and so will sales of the music.

September 9th will see the release of “Beatles Rock Band” and the long anticipated remastering of their British albums. The hype has been massive and by all inspection the game looks great. It even has new unreleased “Beatle-chatter” from Abbey Road Studio. Why should any Beatlemanic forgo this new – yet not so new release? I have several reasons for my apathy and angst towards the Fab Four’s new invasion into my wallet. In my life, I have purchase four copies of the “White Album:” the original, numbered press and a reissue on vinyl, the cassette and the CD. I’ve forked over my cash for “Sgt. Pepper,”, “ Magical Mystery Tour,” and “Abbey Road” three times: vinyl, cassette and CD. “Rubber Soul” and “Revolver” twice: cassette and CD. I think I’ve paid to what amounts to a lifetime subscription for these recordings. Yet the Beatles 2009 remasters will be issued in two separate sets: one stereo, one mono, adding two more to the ever-expanding Beatle empire. Add “Beatles Rock Band” to the equation, which in addition to the 45 songs included in the game, promises to offer complete album downloads after its release. If I buy all the new “White Albums” in addition to the ones I already own, my “White Album” purchases would amount to seven. I really think this is all too much. Beatles, I’m not a rich man. Won’t you please, please help me understand why you need so much of my cash?

There is no doubt the release of the video game and the CD’s will generate interest in the Beatles, especially for those who are younger and have not heard the music in the same way previous generations have. They can take their ticket to ride to an era which may never be equaled in terms of ability, evolution and success. Enjoy it, please. Buy the game and search for your own Yoko Ono. For me and many other Beatles fans, we’re just waiting for the next revelation. No artist in history, be it poets, playwrights, novelists, filmmakers or musicians, have given so much yet held so much back within them. “Magical Mystery Tour” and “Let It Be” have yet to be released on DVD. The “Get Back” album, along with the complete rooftop performance, the last live concert the Beatles performed, has not been released in its entirety. The original Beatles U.S. records are still longed for by those who grew up with the band, yet this longing to recapture a significant portion of their youth has gone unfulfilled. The complete Shea Stadium and Tokyo concerts are still in the vaults, waiting for new fans to see the live phenomenon of the Beatles. The great promo films still sit there, too, marking a band aware of their impact of a T.V. audience and a means of making a song much more than just a song. The kiddie animated cartoon is still guarded by top Liverpool men, wanting to tell you why the psychedelic songs don’t fit the black suits and bowl haircuts. The Beatles leave us their loving, but scatter our desires of understanding them across their universe. They may have given us the love they made, but they continue to want us to spend our money so bad. As the 21st Century unfolds, Beatlemania, no matter how phony, will never bite the dust.