“This is Your Life” with Ringo Starr and His All Starr Band

June 30, 2010

My ticket along with my daughter Emily's sketches of Ringo that she made during the concert.

I have been a little depressed about the progress of the revisions for my memoir, A Brief History of Sex Education, mainly because I haven’t done much of anything except change the title to My Brief History of Sex Education, and that revision wasn’t even my idea but was instead suggested by a friend of mine who, as an editor, is right in predicting that the old title would cause too many people to think the book is a manual of some sort with ink-drawn diagrams and footnotes. Caught as I am in the malaise of the work I have yet to begin, I headed out to the Hatch Shell in Boston last night to see Ringo Starr and his All Starr Band so as to cheer myself up. I confess Ringo is not my favorite Beatle (and yes I think it’s important to have a favorite Beatle just like I think it’s important to admit which character from Peanuts you most identify with and whether you fall into the creamy peanut butter camp or the crunchy). Though I did play Snoopy in my middle school production of You’re a Good Man Charlie Brown, my brain works more like Linus, I’d rather eat creamed spinach and jam on toast than touch my lips to crunchy pb, and my heart has always belonged to George Harrison.

I could write volumes about why, but what’s more important is that just like some of my best friends have been Lucys and Snoopys and Charlie Browns, of course I have a soft spot for all Beatles, particularly Ringo. Let’s be honest—is there anyone who dislikes Ringo? Is that even possible? And particularly when you’re a little depressed, George “While-My-Guitar-Gently-Weeps” Harrison is not necessarily where you should turn for a pick-me-up. Ringo Starr on the other hand? The perfect natural Prozac.

For those who’ve never seen Ringo in this incarnation, his All Starr Band is an ever-changing hodgepodge collection of musicians and singer-songwriters who all have had some form of a heydey sometime over the past several decades. The concert is made up of a mix of Ringo’s Beatles songs, Ringo’s own songs, and a few of the hit songs pulled from the grab bag each band member brings with him into the mix.

Ringo at the Hatch Shell, June 29, 2010

I saw the concert as a rock and pop memoir of sorts, a mixed-tape of music in which I saw my own life and my own history, a history in which music has played an integral part. And isn’t music the soundtrack for all of us? Everywhere we go—bar, supermarket, home, car—I suspect most of you will connect with this playlist as well, in some form or other.

Ringo Starr and His All Starr Band, Hatch Shell (Bank of America Pavilion),Boston, MA, June 29, 2010

Stage 1: the early years

“Boys” from the Beatles’ first album Please Please Me

When Ringo began singing all I could think was I was seeing a Beatle! And he was singing a Beatles song! The Beatles were the first band I remember hearing on the radio; I was four and my family had just moved into a little house tucked behind Christmas Island Resort on Weirs Boulevard in Laconia, NH. My mother cleaned rooms at Christmas Island to help pay the rent and I spent days with her as she worked either at Christmas Island or at home, listening to WEMJ all day—1490 on your AM dial. It was in the midst of hearing the Beatles sing “Please Mr. Postman” that it clicked—those words they sang were telling me a story, and I began to understand every pop song told a story if you just listened hard enough. Last night, when the band laid into those first jangly chords of “Boys,” and I thought of all those mono AM pop songs mom basically raised me on, I almost burst into tears. If I’d had on a sleeveless Jackie O. dress, my hair teased into a bouffant, I could have fit right into the audience of the Ed Sullivan show way back in ’64.

Stage 2: adolescence

“Rock and Roll Hootchie Coo,” Rick Derringer

“Frankenstein,” Edgar Winter

“Free Ride” Winter and Derringer both

In middle school I owned few record albums and so gave a good part of my adolescent angst over to Manchester’s radio station Rock 101 and their weekend rock blocks. I rarely knew who any of these bands were, but they all provided the essential element of music that adolescence requires—intense and throbbing bass and drums layered beneath a primal scream of vocals and lead guitar—which must, absolutely must, be played so loudly that you feel as if the music is actually coming from inside your body, from the depths of your brain, because your brain and body, like the music, is also thrumming with yearning, confusion, and nameless desire. How do I recall these feelings so clearly? Rick Derringer and Edgar Winter reminded me of them just last night when they ripped into “Frankenstein” “Free Ride” and “Rock and Roll Hootchie Coo” (a song you can sing just from reading this title I’m sure).

Stage 3: high school

“Kyrie” and “Broken Wings,” Richard Page of Mr. Mister

I went to high school in the eighties, and I loved to hate bands like Mr. Mister, I loved to hate Phil Collins, and I loved, loved, loved to hate Madonna. I skipped from classic rock straight to punk and alternative and I was an insufferable snob. . . I have all the record reviews I wrote for the high school newspaper to prove it. But secretly I was a sucker for a good pop song with soaring vocals or at the very least a beat that was easy to dance to—I may have hated Mr. Mister and Madonna but you can be sure I got up to dance whenever I heard them over the sound system during teen nights at the Station in  Meredith and Club 777 in Manchester. (Though to this day I am still amazed I used to drive an hour to Club 777 in Manchester so my friends and I could dance in that tiny, smelly club and ignore getting hit on by boys who were way too old for us—were we having fun? I honestly don’t know). But I give kudos to Richard Page, not only for writing those classic Mr. Mister songs but also for being in excellent voice last night as he sang them with the band. “Kyrie” and “Broken Wings” are not songs that would be kind to any vocalist not on the top of his game, and Page sounded great. I’m sure I sounded almost as good as I sang along, because despite my snobbery I knew every word.

Stage 4: college

“What I Like About You” Wally Palmer of the Romantics

“Dream Weaver” Gary Wright

In college I worked four years as a DJ for my school’s radio station where I lost a great deal of the snobbery mentioned above, if only because playing for (and pleasing) a crowd larger than the one in your own bedroom involved a bit of give and take, especially if the radio station encourages the granting of requests. This also helped when I became the roommate responsible for making mixed tapes for parties. My favorite tape included “What I Like About You,” and it never failed to produce an instantaneous (and only slightly alcohol-fueled) cheer as well as spontaneous pogo-dancing, especially during Palmer’s knock-yer-socks-off harmonica solo, which he admirably performed last night. And yes, last night I did do the pogo. . .

All I can say about “Dream Weaver” is that every time I hear it, I think “Wayne’s World, Wayne’s World,” because “Dream Weaver” is what Garth hears in his head when he sees the beautiful waitress at Stan Mikita’s donut shop. That probably sounds kind of mean, but I bet it doesn’t bother Gary Wright at all. It’s still a beautiful song and whenever Gary Wright hears “Wayne’s World, Wayne’s World,” I bet the next thing he thinks is “Ka-ching, Ka-ching.”

Gary Wright, we are not worthy, but you are welcome anyway.

Stage 5:  the here and now of singing out of tune, dancing out of time, living life as it is

“Photograph”

“With a Little Help from My Friends”

When Ringo came down to center stage to sing “A Little Help from My Friends” and “Photograph” (one of my absolute favorite Beatle songs, and not just because he cowrote it with my favorite Mr. Harrison) what can I say that I haven’t already said? Music is stronger at triggering memories than even the taste of Proust’s madeleines, the scent of the ocean, a picture posted on Facebook of an old grade school friend. The musicians themselves—Ringo and his charmingly out-of-tune vocals and that strange inability to dance that is the curse of all rock n’ roll drummers, plus all of those hitmakers he assembled whose sunglasses could only hide so much how slightly aged and bedraggled they were—still could speak to us and speak for us, or rather sing in a most delightful way. It’s a day later, and I’m still stymied by my manuscript—work is hard, especially the kind that involves a very delayed gratification—but  even though George remains my favorite Beatle, I’ll take some inspiration from Ringo. I too plan to spend more time singing just a little out of tune and dancing with complete abandon to my own random and haphazard beat, because I believe, like he does, that you can get by with all that help from your friends.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3MubU8qHutY&feature=related

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2 Responses to ““This is Your Life” with Ringo Starr and His All Starr Band”

  1. Sandy Yannone said

    Okay, so I loved Paul, particularly during his actual career with Wings. I remember buying the “Wings Over America” double-album tape the same day I bought Stevie Wonder’s “Songs In the Key of Life.” More importantly, though, if you love one Beatle, you really like them all! I, of course, aspire to be Lucy, but know in my heart that I’m really Charlie Brown in so many ways — with my own history of pining for a string of Little Red-Haired Girls. “The Romantics” played an outdoor concert during the spring of 1984 at Wheaton during Soccer Weekend – don’t ask — just imagine inviting all the men’s soccer teams from the Ivys and Ivy wanna-be schools in New England to a women’s college and you have the complete picture. Your description of “What I Like About You” is 100% accurate. The song never fails to bring out the drunken joy in a crowd of inebriated people, apparently, now of all ages! “Photograph” according to my less-than-perfect memory is actually one of Ringo’s solo songs, like “You’re Sixteen”; I don’t think he recorded it with the Beatles or ever had occasion to sing it with them, unless it was a post mini-reunion which I also think never really happened, at least in the way everyone hoped it would. In fact, when I was about sixteen, I asked my mom to promise me that she would buy a ticket for me if the Beatles ever had a reunion. I have a paper signed by her, but not notarized, saying that she would pay up to $100 for a ticket for me to attend a Beatles reunion. Finally, I am here to say that my dear friend Kate Flaherty makes the best mixed tapes, and I still have everyone that you’ve ever given me. I cherish the one with Paul Simon and Hothouse Flowers in particular. Thanks for all the musical memories. Reading your blog makes me wish we were sitting at the Mill writing this book together.

    • Oh Sandy, Sandy, Sandy–would you believe that when I wrote that yesterday I was beginning to understand that this is my postcard from the Mill summer? Only I guess my postcards are to everyone. . . such is the nature of the world we presently live in. So when I wrote this I was thinking of you in more ways than one, but I honestly could never have predicted you were a Paul girl! You are still full of surprises. And of course I was thinking of you when I made my statement regarding Peanuts–and I agree that we often misinterpret ourselves in youth–after years of trying to believe I was Snoopy, I’ve realized I’m a Linus at heart. I guess that’s wisdom at play. So do you still have that Beatles contract? I’d love nothing better than to see it scanned and posted on Facebook (or on your own blog should you choose to begin one–you know I’d be your first fan). But check the tour site–Ringo’s last stop is the West Coast–I pray he’ll be in the Olympia area (just as I pray to see you when you’re on tour in New England this summer–maybe we’ll write that book together then, Jack Kerouac style, okay?).

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