KEEPING YOUR FIRE ENGINE CLEAN
When I was growing up I was a big fan of Mad Magazine. And I fondly recall a very clever cartoon strip in which a little boy is opening his Christmas presents surrounded by his family. He comes across a big box marked "Fire Engine." Excitedly he tells his parents to open the box. As they do so he peers inside and tells them to "take it outta there!" The proud parents rapidly extract a bright shiny new fire engine and set it down on the carpet. The next frame shows the little boy sitting inside the empty cardboard box happily ringing an imaginary bell and yelling out "Ding-ding!"
The moral is simple. Sometimes the simplest pleasures are even more enjoyable than the ritzy ones. I think of that everytime I attend Beatlefest.
I've had the privilege of emceeing about 20 Beatlefests in NY, L.A. S.F. and recently the first at Orlando. And I've been a guest speaker at several conventions in Chicago.
I find them to be well-organized for the most part. There are often fascinating guests to hear. The Battle of the Beatle bands is always interesting. And I enjoy observing most of the events in the big ballroom and the smaller rooms. The karoke room... the puppet show... the trivia contests and I never tire of the rousing performances of Liverpool.
And yet... my fondest memories of Beatlefest are an equivalent to those imaginary fire engine moments. They are the sweet little impromptu singalongs that spring up in hallways and under stairwells in the daytime and especially after hours.
Those singing sessions cost nothing save the time we give to them. They are the present-day equivalent of sing-songs round the campfire. A shared experience where we become part of an extended family.
And as much as I enjoy the fancy events at Beatlefest - it is those 'cardboard box' memories that I cherish the most. I salute all those who start and maintain singalongs - be they at Beatlefests or anywhere in this sometimes unhappy world. By sharing the gift of the Beatles' music with others you are contributing a magic that enriches the poorest among us.
TO BE-ATLES OR NOT TO BE-ATLES
Debbie flung herself down on her bed sobbing. It was a damp Monday night - September '99. She'd just got back from school and she was really upset.
The weekend had been so good - and then at school that morning - the teasing of her classmates was just relentless.
She thought back to the fun of the weekend. It had been the big convention. "B-Fest" as she had become used to calling it. (Even to say the "B" word at school was to invite ridicule.)
The convention had been so cool. It had started off as usual with a Meet The Guests session including several folks who spoke with great knowledge of what it was like to live in the North of England in the 50's. They spoke of the social environment that had been the birthplace of the cultural revolution that sprang from a small provincial English town in the early 60's.
Then there was the auction - with fabulous memorabilia. Debbie bought some great articles - including a rare autograph.
The Saturday had been really special. She'd wandered round the fleamarket and bought a couple of books of lyrics. Then she'd hooked up with some pals she'd met on her last trip to England. They hung around a bar and played trivia for ages.
Sunday afternoon had been the famous "Battle of the..." contest. So many American performers all giving their versions of the English works that were at the very heart of their passion!
And finally the big farewell at 11pm - with all the guests on stage together.
Oh it had been glorious!
Then at school this morning that horrible Jenifer had ripped into her.
"Still into all that old garbage?!" she'd sneered. Come on Debbie! Get a grip. This is the '90's. You're such a retard! You probably think you were born in the 60's!!!!"
The others had joined in mocking her passion for the love of the great "B" and all things British and of the 60's."
Now she was at home.
Maybe she WAS wrong. Maybe they were right. Maybe in three hundred years time no one would even remember the name... the brilliance... the art of that British phenomenon. The mighty 'B' And yet - she believed with all her heart that the magic was timeless.
Fortunately Debbie was right. And three hundred years after that September day in 1699 - people the world over are still fans of "B" - The Bard - aka William Shakespeare.
Ah gentle Daytrippers! Did I mislead you?! Well perhaps I did slightly. But all for a good reason.
First of all - please re-read what I wrote. I wasn't talking about the Beatles and Beatlefest obviously. I was describing a fictional "Bard-fest" !!! A 1699 celebration of England's great playwright William Shakespeare.
If you're anything like me - you occasionally encounter derision from your pals because you're still into the Beatles. It happens a lot to all of us first-generation fans . ("The Beatles were in the 60's. Get over them. We're in the 90's!")
But I suspect it's even worse for second and third generation fans. You have to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous folly (Thanks 'Bill"!) from people who don't 'get' the Beatles - and worst still don't get why you are smart enough to be into them!
They tease you with being obsessed with something from a time before you were born.
Now if you're reading this magazine - you're unlikely to surrender your passionate beliefs because of a few Blue Meanies. But I thought you might draw strength from thinking about all the millions of Shakespeare fans who were told the same thing over the last 383 years.
Once Shakespeare died in 1616 there was no shortage of people belittling him and his work And mocking the fans who held on to their passion for him. They believed in the work. They knew it wasn't about the '60's" (1564 - when Shakespeare was born) or the "90's" (1590's when he first broke through as a playwright.)
It was just about the quality and the universality of the messages.
So next time some idiot castigates you for your love of the Beatles citing the "they were from the 60's" - remind him or her that there were people as stupid as that in the 1700's, 1800's and 1900's etc who kept telling people to think about some new writers rather than that 'ancient' Shakespeare.
Fortunately filmmakers, theater companies and audiences worldwide ignored those siren voices.
The mortal is that if it's good it's good. If it's bad it's bad. And the year it was created has nothing to do with anything.
We rightly aim to stamp out sexism, racism and ageism in our midst. Now it's time to stamp out DATE-ISM. Just tell any Beatle-detractors to stop being so DATE-IST!!!
YELLOW SUB HERO!
As we all enjoy the magnificent "Yellow Submarine Songtrack" - and the film on VHS or DVD (with the 6-channel surround sound if we're lucky enough to have home theater sound systems - I wish I did!) let's remember one little thing.
The Beatles had not seen the point in doing an animated movie. They had never wanted to be involved in it! Several times they all said no to it. It was their manager Brian Epstein who saw the long-term potential benefits of a film which would enshrine them for children of future generations. He persuaded the doubting Beatles to commit to contributing four new songs for the project. Even after they agreed - the film was seen as Brian's folly and the Beatles would joke that if a song wasn't "good enough for Sgt. Pepper" that they should "give it to 'Yellow Submarine.'"
The (erroneous) conventional wisdom about Brian Epstein is that for all his promotional talents and honesty - he was a poor businessman for the Beatles. This judgment is based primarily on one 1964 agreement whereby a poorly-advised Epstein was ripped off by sharks in the brand-new,completely uncharted waters of mass merchandising. It effectively discounts all the other superlative work that Epstein undertook for the Beatles. It also ignores his persistence in getting the Beatles to agree to "Yellow Submarine."
Coinciding with the 1999 re-release of "Yellow Submarine" - Signatures Network (formerly Sony Signatures) has licensed no less than 250 new items of "Yellow Submarine" merchandising - the highest number of licensed items since the heyday of Beatlemania.
With this unprecedented number of merchandising tie-ups the Beatles are confidently expected to gross in excess of one hundred million dollars just from merchandising! With income from the limited theatrical reissue, the CD, home video and DVD - industry experts are projecting a gross approaching HALF A BILLION DOLLARS from the "Yellow Submarine" project - exceeding even the success of the "Anthology."
So Brian's persistence over 30 years ago will gross the Beatles hundreds of millions of dollars this year alone. Not a bad legacy for the man who was supposedly a poor businessman. So perhaps we can now lay that little nonsense about Brian's business acumen to rest for once and for all.
Brian Epstein is the unsung hero of "Yellow Submarine."