On Being A Beatles Fan That Doesn’t Like John Lennon’s Music

The other night the episode  of The Simpsons Ringo Starr guest-starred in was shown on British television. Although I’ve seen it several times, I found myself watching it again, partly because I love Ringo Starr’s voice. This is easily explained; when I was growing up in the 1980s, Ringo was the narrator of the children’s TV series Thomas the Tank Engine. As my grandfather’s love of trains had already rubbed of me, I quickly became an avid fan of the show, and Ringo’s narration became a hallmark of my childhood.

At the same time, my father would often take me on photography jobs with him, or on other journeys in the car, and we would listen to his tapes of Paul McCartney’s early 80s solo albums, Tug of War and the soundtrack to the vanity film Give My Regards To Broad Street. I’m not sure when I worked out that the man with the strange accent and gruff voice I enjoyed listening to on TV was the same man that played drums on several of the songs I had begun to enjoy listening to on the Capri’s tape cassette player. It was almost certainly after I’d recognised his voice reciting a line of dialogue immediately before ‘Yesterday’ commenced.

It would later transpire that Thomas the Tank Engine’s biographer and the man that sang silly love songs had been in a band together, a hundred years previously. This piece of information didn’t take on any real significance until 1995 when the Beatles’ Anthology project was released. I couldn’t afford the tapes/CDs, but I watched the five-part TV series out of curiosity as I knew Paul McCartney, who had by then become my musical hero, had been a member.

(The reason for my ignorance of the Beatles is a little hard to explain; I was aware of Macca’s career, and the songs on …Broad Street that were covers of his own Beatles compositions, but I had never heard a single Beatles LP. My father simply didn’t have any, at least not on tape. He did have a book of sheet music though, full of the most wondrous illustrations.)

Watching the programme though, the scales of ignorance fell from my eyes, and my ears, and I saw (and heard) just how many of the classic songs I had grown up listening to had been written by one of those four young men from Liverpool. I soon began a quest to buy as many of the band’s albums on CDs (no small feat when you were an unemployed teenager and not entirely blessed with money) and read almost every book written about them. They were soon installed as my favourite band, a position that has only seriously, though regularly, been challenged by the Manic Street Preachers. I love listening to their music. Well, most of them. You see, there’s something of a problem.

John Lennon’s music does almost nothing for me.

This is generally the point at which most people seem to take it upon themselves to make some obscene remark about Paul McCartney, after of course they’ve stopped spluttering in disbelief. How can I not enjoy the music of the greatest human/poet/visionary this world have ever known, they ask?

The simpler answer is that due to the vagaries of musical taste and sensibilities, John Lennon’s compositions do not win my favour. As subjective as that. I couldn’t form an objective explanation until I read Ian MacDonald’s masterful dissertation on the Beatles’ work, Revolution in the Head. In the introduction to the book, he defines Lennon and McCartney’s differing styles thus;

While the tunes of both are marked by an unusual incidence of non-chordal notes, McCartney’s method is, in terms of intervals, ‘vertical’ (melodic, consonant), and Lennon’s ‘horizontal’ (harmonic, dissonant).

This doesn’t so much explain why I prefer McCartney’s songs as note there is a marked difference between his compositions and Lennon’s. Evidently I am inclined to enjoy melodic songs rather than harmonic. There are other reasons however; as I’ve battled over the last 12 years to teach myself guitar, bass and piano with limited success, I’ve come to admire McCartney’s formidable musicianship. By his mid-20s, he was already a fluent guitarist and pianist and was already on his way to becoming an iconic bass player. His voice, both in terms of range and power, was the best in the band (objective), and had the nicest timbre (subjective).

I came to appreciate Harrison and Starr as I grew and matured; the former’s quietly virtuosic guitar playing and bitter-sweet song-writing, and the latter’s off-beat drumming and deadpan singing. But as I write this, on the eve of the 30th anniversary of John Lennon’s murder, I still don’t feel any particular connection to the man or his music. That’s not to say there are no songs by his hand I enjoy listening to; ‘Nobody Told Me’, and ‘I’m So Tired’ in particular. There are others, but while I enjoy the tunes, I more often than not find myself coveting the musicianship of his three band mates. For example…

Help! – McCartney’s bass and harmony vocal
Rain – McCartney’s bass and Starr’s drums
A Day in the Life – Starr’s drums
Strawberry Fields Forever – Harrison’s guitar

You could argue that this is simply the sign of a gifted ensemble, but I would counter that it doesn’t happen nearly as much when listening to McCartney or Harrison songs. There’s also the case of ‘In My Life’, one of Lennon’s best known songs. He claims he wrote most of it, McCartney says he did. MacDonald seems to side with the latter in this case, noting the song shows “…more of his touch than Lennon’s, despite fitting the latter’s voice snugly”.

So many people will tell me, flat out, that I’m wrong for thinking that Paul McCartney was the most talented musician in the Beatles. There’s no room for debate, for the discussion of two opposing viewpoints. I’m just wrong, and I perhaps have a mental illness of some type. Perhaps they’re right?  50,000,000 Lennon Fans Can’t Be Wrong after all. Obviously John Lennon was a hero and an icon to many, and I’m paraphrasing Chuck D here, he never meant nothing to me. Perhaps I am wrong, but I’ll bear that in mind when I listen to the McCartney and Lennon and Starr songs that give me so much visceral joy and pleasure. I know I’m right.

(Incidentally, the Simpsons episode I referred to earlier featured a snatch of Ringo’s solo single ‘It Don’t Come Easy’. Apparently co-written by George, if you haven’t heard it, I advocate you give it a spin. It’s great fun.

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Wonko the Sane

My name is Jay and I’m a Rangers fan. Ok, now we’ve got that out of the way, I’m going to talk about Scottish football. Again. I blogged on the issue of Scottish Grade 1 referees’ competence at the start of November, yet little did I expect the fallout from Dougie McDonald’s decision to rescind a penalty he’d awarded against Celtic at Dundee United would still be ongoing. I’m not going to go into the whole bunfight in great detail, but instead I’m going to make some observations.

Hate is endemic in our game. Rangers fans hate Celtic and everything they stand for. Celtic fans hate Rangers fans and everything they stand for. Celtic fans take the Palestinian flag to games to show their empathy with that people’s struggle; Rangers fans take Israeli flags to Ibrox. Rangers fans strike up a relationship with Hamburg’s support, Celtic do the same with St. Pauli. It’s tit-for-tat, childish, unbecoming and it’s been going on for over a century. But wait; there’s a third way.

If you don’t support Rangers or Celtic, then you might well support one of the other senior teams in Scotland (of which there are 40), or a junior or amateur team of which there are, at last count, several hundred. These teams draw their support from a wide range of religions, creeds, colours and both genders, and as such aren’t blighted by the mindless bigotry that so characterise the ‘ugly sisters’ of Rangers and Celtic. Or that’s how the theory is supposed to go, anyway.

I grew up in a small town on the outskirts of Glasgow. My father, despite being a skilled sports photographer had no interest in football, or religion as far as I can tell. Neither did my mother, and so I was raised tiwhout two of the most powerful influences in Scottish culture. I attended a non-denominational primary school where I had my first playground kickabout and was belatedly hooked on football. Most of my class-mates supported Rangers or St. Mirren, the situation was similar at secondary school. On the council housing estate I grew up on, there were many more Celtic fans, almost all of whom attended the local Catholic schools. Regardless of these divisions, the number of children of my generation growing up ten miles from Glasgow supporting Scottish football teams that weren’t the Old Firm were few.

Even up to my mid-20s, I hadn’t met many football fans from the west of Scotland that weren’t supporters of Rangers and Celtic. Then I started work at my current employer, and met John, a St. Mirren supporter in his early 60s. Old Firm fans are ridiculed for their bigoted views, but I don’t think I’ve ever met anyone as close-minded and prejudiced as John. You couldn’t mention the words ‘Rangers’ or ‘Celtic’ in his presence without his visage souring instantly before being subjected to an extended rant about how anyone that supported either team was glory-hunting, sub-human scum. John isn’t unique; many supporters of St. Mirren, Partick Thistle, Kilmarnock, Hearts, etc. seem to spend a good deal of time on messageboards and newspaper comment sections expressing views similar to those they profess to finding unpalatable if someone wearing a blue or green-and-white hooped jersey were to utter them.

As an example, I noticed a thread on the Pie and Bovril forum Monday night entitled ‘whats goes through your minds?’ (sic). In it, the original poster queried how people from Scotland’s small towns could support the Old Firm at the expense of their local sides. Before long, supporters of other non-Old Firm teams were recounting their reasons for supporting their teams, and some common themes started to emerge. Firstly, many of the posters observed they were taken to their first games by family members, and so they ended up supporting that team. Secondly, there were few posts that didn’t have some dig at Old Firm fans for being bigoted.

This is my experience of Scottish football. If you asked most people in Scotland to describe a Rangers fan, they would probably use the words knuckle-dragging bigoted violent huns. However, I like to think of myself as a fairly well read, moderately intelligent and cultured atheist republican. Much of my family and many of my friends have a similar outlook. Michelle has recently qualified as a solicitor, and Jacqueline now lives in Dublin. This is not to say that a section of Rangers support don’t drag their knuckles along the ground, but it does suggest the knee-jerk reaction of ‘bigot!’ emanating from the mouth of every Hamilton and Morton fan, seemingly involuntarily, when faced with a supporter of an Old Firm side isn’t exactly enlightened. Indeed, sometimes I suspect that supporters of non-Old Firm fans feel they have impunity to say anything to supporters of other teams as long as religion isn’t invoked; this implies a misunderstanding of the behaviour the terms ‘sectarian’ and ‘bigoted’ actually describe.

These are just my feelings on the matter, based on my impressions from watching Scottish football. They may not be accurate impressions. Having said that, when Richard Dawkins gets involved in what started as a dubious penalty decision in a run-of-the-mill game, you have to wonder if everyone else has lost their mind and you’re the only sane person left in the country.