Sunday, November 26, 2017

The Beatles

When Ron Howard's "The Beatles: Eight Days a Week - The Touring Years" first came out in theaters a year ago, I had every intention of seeing it.

But for some reason, I never did.

Then a friend on Facebook issued a general alert to make sure not to miss "Eight Days a Week" on PBS last night. I set my DVR, but even in the middle of my college football frenzy, I ended up watching the program in real time as it aired.

Oh my gosh. It was like shedding 50 years. I was suddenly 13 again and back in the seventh grade.

And almost immediately, I was astounded by the footage, much of which I'd never seen before. As a longtime Beatles fanatic, that's not an easy thing for me to say. I've read most of the books. I've seen most of the documentaries. I've got the Beatles on vinyl and on CDs.

But this was different. Much of the footage was in color (colour?). The audio coming out of my TV was surprisingly sensational. The commentary was fresh and new.

If the truth be told, I almost missed the original Beatles party. Yeah (yeah, yeah), our family watched their highly hyped debut on The Ed Sullivan Show that cold February night, and laughed at their hair and wondered what the world was coming to. Dad was into barbershop quartets and mom was into show tunes. I was in transition.

But when I went to school the next day, my world had changed. Girls (I was just discovering them) could talk of nothing else. I think I was jealous. Clearly, the Beatles were a girl thing. I didn't know it yet, but this was a looming paradigm shift in my life.

Then it turned out that a girl I liked liked the Beatles, too. So we listened to them on her record player. My toes kept time. I listened to the lyrics. The seed had been planted. They were all over the (transistor) radio anyway, so I was hearing their new material as it was being released. By high school, I was no longer buying Herb Alpert and Tijuana Brass albums. The first Beatles album I bought for myself was the White Album. I spent the next year or so catching up and hoping that no one would notice.

"Eight Days a Week" made me feel like I was still catching up, but it also brought back some great memories. I think I spent most of the night with a silly smile on my face, keeping time with my toes and listening to the lyrics. Again.

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Here Comes the Sun

This one is just for fun:

The other day I was scrolling through Facebook when I noticed one of my friends had posted a picture of George Harrison's original lyrics for "Here Comes the Sun," which happens to be one of my all time favorite Beatle tunes.

"Cool," I said to myself, having never seen that picture of the lyrics before. It looked like it had been written on personalized stationery — even though I knew full well that it had been written in Eric Clapton's garden — and I was amazed by how few crossed out words there were.

It looks like this:

(Click on picture to enlarge)
 Sometimes inspiration is just nearly perfect, I guess.

I was also surprised by how simple the lyrics were. It's amazing how something so uncomplicated can translate into such a great song.

Anyway, I went ahead and googled "Here Comes the Sun" to find out anything else I could about the tune. I was led to Wikipedia.

Yes, it was written in Clapton's garden. Yes, it was written in April, 1969, after a particularly harsh English winter. Yes, the song helped establish Harrison as an accomplished songwriter, right up there with Lennon and McCartney.

Then I got to the part about the song's musical structure.

Holy smokes.

It read something like this:

"The song is in the key of A major. The main refrain uses a IV (D chord) to V-of-V (B chord) progression (the reverse of that used in "Eight Days a Week" and "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band"). The melody in the verse and refrain basically follows the pentatonic scale from E up to C♯ (scale steps 5, 6, 1, 2, 3).

"One feature is the increasing syncopation in the vocal parts. Another feature is the guitar flat-picking that embellishes the E7 (V7) chord from 2:03 to 2:11, creating tension for resolution on the tonic A chord at "Little darlin' ". The bridge involves a ♭III-♭VII-IV-I-V7 triple descending 4th (or Tri-Plagal) progression (with an extra V7) as the vocals move from "Sun" (♭III or C chord) to "sun" (♭VII or G chord) to "sun" (IV or D chord) to "comes" (I or A chord) and the additional 4th descent to a V7 (E7) chord. The lyric here ("Sun, sun, sun, here it comes") has been described as taking "on the quality of a meditator's mantra". The song also features extreme 4/4 (in the verse) and a sequence of 11/8 + 4/4 + 7/8 (which can also be transcribed as 11/8 + 15/8) in the bridge, phrasing interludes which Harrison drew from Indian music influences. In the second verse (0:59–1:13) the Moog synthesizer doubles the solo guitar line and in the third verse the Moog adds an obbligato line an octave above. The last four bars (2:54–3:04) juxtapose the guitar break with a repeat of the bridge."

Suddenly, I'm wondering if that's what was really running through Harrison's head as he was writing the tune. It reads more like a scientific equation for a trip to Alpha Centauri. I always figured a composer strummed guitars or pounded keyboards to coax the song out of his head until he found what sounded good. What do I know?

Maybe the Beatles really were geniuses after all.

Although I know next to nothing about music except how to listen to it, I've often been fascinated by the songwriting process and how songs are created and arranged. One of these days I may ask one of my songwriter friends about this and how the process works for them. I hope it involves guitar frets and not logarithms.

In the meantime:

Sunday, November 12, 2017

LSB reunion

The best thing about any reunion is seeing the people that you interacted with all those X number of years ago.

Ahh, there's Martha. My goodness, how her hair has changed. And there's George. He's put on a few pounds over the years. And remember Paul? He was always so quiet, but he sure tore the place up last night. Didn't know he could dance like that.

That's how most reunions go, it seems.

But last night was a little different when nearly 100 former employees of Lexington State Bank gathered upstairs in the main dining hall of Yarborough's Restaurant for no other reason than to get together again.

Some reminders of what once was.*
 The primary focus was to celebrate and remember the LSB years (1949 to 2007), when the local business was truly a local institution, helping to drive and grow a predominantly blue collar community. So mostly former LSB employees, like my wife, who worked there 31 years, filled the hall. A few NewBridge Bankers like me — I worked there six years as a part-timer — managed to sneak in for some beef tenderloin and fried mushrooms, as well as the memories. (LSB became NewBridge Bank after a merger with Greensboro-based FNB Southeast in 2007).

So for an hour or so, people mingled and reminisced, laughed and cried, hugged and embraced. It was pretty cool.

Bob Lowe, the longtime chairman and CEO (for whom my wife was the administrative assistant), then gave a few opening remarks. He pointed out that very few people could have foreseen how much banking has changed in the last five years compared to the previous 50 years, and it was a point well taken.

Then former bank president Frank Sherron followed with a few remarks, highlighting what it was that made LSB so special to the local furniture-making community.

"Some people say LSB is gone," said Sherron, whose father, Haynes, was the well-respected chairman and CEO prior to Lowe. "But I take exception to that."

Sherron then went on not only to recall some of the highlights of the good ol' days, but to suggest that LSB's legacy still lingers. He reached deep into the past, pointing out the bank, founded by Dr. J. A. Smith, was first located on the square next to Conrad & Hinkle. Dr. Smith, it turned out, gave away Life Savers to children as a way to promote "saving" money.

The LSB reunion brought a large turnout of former employees.*
 Then there were the stair steps at the teller line for children to climb so they could conduct their banking. The memories started to cascade: all those joyful Christmas parades; creating Christmas club savings accounts "which allowed many people to have Christmas," said Sherron; or equity lines, "which helped people start businesses, or buy homes or cars or put their children through school." Sherron also noted that LSB was the pacesetter in several United Way campaigns and that the bank also contributed to the J. Smith Young YMCA as well as other organizations for the benefit of the community.

He hit the nail on the head. Yes, LSB is long gone. What exists now is a corporate entity that has virtually consumed itself in identity-stealing mergers and loss of connection.

What remains — as evident last night — is a sense of self. A sense of family.

*Photos by Angela Sams.

Sunday, November 5, 2017

Help me, I'm shrinkingggg

I had my annual physical examination on Friday, and I'm happy to report that everything checked out A-OK.

(A-OK? Who says that anymore? I guess that's a time-warp burp there. Excuse me).

Pulse? Check.

Weight? Yep.

Temperature? I'm still cool after all these years. Or hot. Depends on your point of view.

A-fib?  Constantly.

There was one disconcerting moment, though, as the assistant was putting me through my pre-physical paces. She had me step on the scale, not only to weigh me, but to measure me.

I'm 65 inches tall. That translates to 5-foot-5.


Apparently, I'm shrinking. I clearly remember that back in high school, when I was 18 years old, I was 5-7.

Look, being under the national height average for men (which I think was around 5-8 or so back in 1969) never bothered me. A non-issue. The only time I can remember being short as a liability was during my sports writing days while conducting post-game interviews in cramped ACC locker rooms. I tended to be squeezed out of the way by the shuffling gaggle of burly cameramen from local news stations, who needed to get those up close and personal shots.

Being 5-7 also kept me about three inches taller than my wife — not that it means anything. I just happen to think the difference in height is good eye appeal for a married couple. But I am an inch shorter now. Maybe that just means we're closer to seeing things eye to eye.

I asked my doctor if losing two inches in height from 18 years old to 66 years old is normal, and he suggested that it's within the realm of acceptance.

But I figure I'm doomed to shrinkage by my very DNA. My grandmother on my father's side — Charlotte — lived to be 98 years old. Over the last 10 years of her life or so, she lived in the Phoebe Home (an assisted care facility) in Allentown, PA. Every time we headed north on vacation, Kim and I would stop to pay her a visit.

And every year, she seemed to get shorter. It was an amazing thing to see.

I'm aware of the effects of gravity over the course of time, and spinal compression and any other factors that might be out there acting like a trash compactor on us, but I swear to you just as I (barely) stand here, she was less than five feet tall the last time we saw here. I bet she lost three or four inches over time.

I once kidded her that she was never going to die. Instead, one day she would just simply disappear. I think it really was a close call at the end.

So I'll just accept the cards dealt to me. There are no plans for spinal inversion therapy or hanging from my ankles in the closet. I'll just sit back, relax, and let the world come to me.

It'll be a shorter trip these days.