Category: Music

Straussian Beatles, Paul McCartney solo edition

One thing I’ve always enjoyed about Paul is his willingness to be a plain, flat outright snot about other people.  Did you see lately when he called the Rolling Stones “a blues cover band”?  Not wrong!  Ever listen to the lyrics of “Another Girl“?

Anyway, if you paw through the Ram album you will find some real daggers.  “Dear Boy,” for instance, is Paul mocking Linda’s ex-husband, here are some lyrics:

I guess you never knew, dear boy, what you have found,
I guess you never knew, dear boy,
That she was just the cutest thing around,
I guess you never knew what you have found,
Dear boy.

I guess you never knew, dear boy,
That love was there.
And maybe when you look to hard, dear boy,
You never do become aware,
I guess you never did become aware,
Dear boy.

When i stepped in, my heart was down and out,
But her love came through and brought me ’round,
Got me up and about…

I hope you never know, dear boy,
How much you missed.
And even when you fall in love, dear boy,
It won’t be half as good as this.
I hope you never know how much you missed,
Dear boy, how much you missed

Maybe it’s OK to take public stabs at your new wife’s ex-husband (is it?), but keep in mind Paul was raising the guy’s daughter at the time.  What did she think?  Or maybe up in that Scottish farm she just never listened to Ram, or this song.  Paul himself has admitted the underlying meaning in radio interviews.  The guy, by the way, committed suicide — woe unto him who is attacked by Paul McCartney!

Brian Wilson, by the way, was a big admirer of the voices and harmonies on that one, here is the cut.

Gentler but still cutting is “Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey“.  It’s Paul’s account of why he has not been calling “the rellies” back home, namely because they are too boring and too removed from the reality of his life.  Paul is reporting (sarcastically) that his life is too boring to have anything to say to the guy:

We’re so sorry, uncle Albert
We’re so sorry if we caused you any pain
We’re so sorry, uncle Albert
But there’s no one left at home
And I believe I’m gonna rain

We’re so sorry, but we haven’t heard a thing all day
We’re so sorry, uncle Albert
But if anything should happen
We’ll be sure to give a ring

We’re so sorry, uncle Albert
But we haven’t done a bloody thing all day
We’re so sorry, uncle Albert
But the kettle’s on the boil
And we’re so easily called away

Of course he really did have an Uncle Albert, and I bet he didn’t call much.  Can you blame him?  This interpretation, by the way, comes from Paul himself, many years later on satellite radio.

“Too Many People” — the paradigmatic Macca Straussian song deserves a post of its own.  It has more passive-aggressive references to John Lennon than are usually reported.

And that is all just on one album!  Here are previous installments of Straussian Beatles.  By the way, “Yesterday” may in part be about the early death of Paul’s mother.

What is going on in this Malaysian-Chinese libertarian video of the year?

Blocked on Weibo, by the way.  One major figure in the video is the Malaysian-Chinese rapper Namewee, also Kimberly Chen.  I put up this post, among other reasons, to show just how much there is in the way of cultural codes to crack.  How much of it do you understand?  Do you get the references to this Thai-Chinese internet controversy?  What else?  Here is further excellent commentary from Sabina Knight.  #20 on the YouTube music charts.

Via Stu.

*Let It Be*, the new release

So what did I get for my $117, other than six discs that could have been three or dare I say two?

“I Dig a Pony” was a good composition that never saw an effective release; the Glyn Johns mix rehabilitates the song, though it remains far from perfect in execution.  You can listen to some of McCartney’s even better than usual vocal leaps on the outtakes of “Oh, Darling.”  It is fun to hear outtakes of segments of “Gimme’ Some Truth” and “All Things Must Pass,” done by “The Beatles,” though once probably is enough.  That is pretty much it, I am sorry to report.

The Giles Martin remix of the Let It Be album is a step backwards.  He botches “The Long and Winding Road” by keeping the strings orchestration, and “Across the Universe” is worse too.  The good version of “Road,” as approved by its creator, is on the “Naked” Let It Be release from about twenty years ago.  That one is the real contribution, and this release is not nearly as revelatory as the Esher demo tapes from the White Album.  Here is a good Pitchfork review.

I am looking forward to the six-hour movie nonetheless.  And I will (again) recommend the Laibach cover of Let It Be, one of the most underrated albums ever.  In the meantime, the price discrimination shall continue.

Ringo says

“The other side of that is – I was telling someone the other day – if Paul hadn’t been in the band, we’d probably have made two albums because we were lazy boogers.

“But Paul’s a workaholic. John and I would be sitting in the garden taking in the color green from the tree, and the phone would ring, and we would know, ‘Hey lads, you want to come in? Let’s go in the studio!’

“So I’ve told Paul this, he knows this story, we made three times more music than we ever would without him because he’s the workaholic and he loves to get going. Once we got there, we loved it, of course, but, ‘Oh no, not again!'”

There you go, that is a very simple and correct theory of The Beatles.  I don’t care if you like “I am the Walrus” more than “Penny Lane.”

And via Bill Benzon, here is the new The Journal of Beatles Studies.  And here is my earlier post Paul McCartney as Management Study.

How Much Would Bach Make on Spotify?

Bach gets 6.7 million streams a month which pay .0037 per stream or about $25,000 a month or nearly 300k a year. (That is the total payment, however, composer royalties would be lower but he could also sell some T-shirts.) Not superstar earnings but much more than they earned in their lifetimes even after adjusting for inflation.

In other news, an AI working with a group of musicologists is about to release a newly completed Beethoven’s tenth symphony.

Hat tip: Ted Gioia.

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My Conversation with Amia Srinivasan

I am pleased to have had the chance to do this, as in my view she is one of the thinkers today who has a) super smarts, b) breadth and depth of reading, and c) breadth and depth of thinking.  That combination is rare!  That said, I don’t quite agree with her on everything, so this exchange had more disagreements than perhaps what you are used to sampling from CWT.

Here is the transcript and audio.  Here is part of the CWT summary:

Amia joined Tyler to discuss the importance of context in her vision of feminism, what social conservatives are right about, why she’s skeptical about extrapolating from the experience of women in Nordic countries, the feminist critique of the role of consent in sex, whether disabled individuals should be given sex vouchers, how to address falling fertility rates, what women learned about egalitarianism during the pandemic, why progress requires regress, her thoughts on Susan Sontag, the stroke of fate that stopped her from pursuing a law degree, the “profound dialectic” in Walt Whitman’s poetry, how Hinduism has shaped her metaphysics, how Bernard Williams and Derek Parfit influenced her, the anarchic strain in her philosophy, why she calls herself a socialist, her next book on genealogy, and more.

Here is one excerpt:

SRINIVASAN: No, it really wouldn’t. Part of why I find this whole discourse problematic is because I think we should be suspicious when we find ourselves attracted to data — very, very thin and weak data — that seem to justify beliefs that have held great currency in lots of societies throughout history, in a way that is conducive to the oppression of large segments of the population, in this particular case women.

I also think one error that is consistently made in this discourse, in this kind of conversation about what’s innate or what’s natural, is to think about what’s natural in terms of what’s necessary. This is a point that Shulamith Firestone made a very long time ago, but that very few people register, which is that — and it was actually made again to me recently by a philosopher of biology, which is, “Look what’s natural isn’t what’s necessary.”

It’s extraordinary. It’s not even like what’s natural offers a good equilibrium point. Think about how much time you and I spend sitting around. Completely unnatural for humans to sit around, yet we’re in this equilibrium point where vast majority of humans just sit around all day.

So, I think there’s a separate question about what humans — as essentially social, cultured, acculturating creatures — what our world should look like. And that’s distinct from the question of what natural predispositions we might have. It’s not unrelated, but I don’t think any of us think we should just be forming societies that simply allow us to express our most “natural orientations.”

COWEN: Should women’s chess, as a segregated activity, continue to exist? We don’t segregate chess tournaments by race or by anything — sometimes by age — but anything other than gender. Yet women’s chess is a whole separate thing. Should that be offensive to us? Or is that great?

Recommended, engaging throughout.  And again, here is Amia Srinivasan’s new and (in the UK, just published yesterday in the U.S.) bestselling book The Right to Sex: Feminism in the 21st Century.

My appearance on the Ezra Klein Show

Talking with Ezra is always both fun and enlightening for me, here is his partial summary of the episode:

So we begin this conversation by discussing the case for and against economic growth, but we also get into lots of other things: why Cowen thinks the great stagnation in technology is coming to an end; the future of technologies like A.I., crypto, fourth-generation nuclear and the Chinese system of government; the problems in how we fund scientific research; what the right has done to make government both ineffective and larger; why Cowen is skeptical of universal pre-K (and why I’m not); whether I overestimate the dangers of polarization; the ways in which we’re getting weirder; the long-term future of human civilization; why reading is overrated and travel is underrated; how to appreciate classical music and much more.

Here is the link, full transcript here, definitely recommended!

Which post-1960 creators built their own sonic worlds?

Of course this question is motivated by the passing of the great Lee Perry.  Who else might make such an exclusive list?  Note here we are not talking about whether you like the style, the melodies, or whatever.  Did the creator come up with a fundamentally new way of organizing our musical universe?  (Rolling Stones, Paul Simon, ABBA, many other notables don’t come close here, despite their considerable merits.)  Here is the list off the top of my head:

Miles Davis

John Coltrane

Ornette Coleman

Sun Ra (Monk I count as pre-1960?)

The Beatles

Brian Wilson

Hendrix and Led Zeppelin?

Rap and electronica, respectively, with arguments as to where the individual credit should go

Funk/JB/Sly/Fela

Brian Eno

Kraftwerk

Velvet Underground

Sex Pistols

Kevin Shields/My Bloody Valentine

Sonic Youth

Philip Glass

Steve Reich

LaMonte Young

Robert Ashley

Xenakis

And of course Lee Perry

Who cares what you like?  I would say study them to learn music!

Who else?  Kurt Cobain?  The Byrds?  Someone from MPB?  Helmut Lachenmann?  Sunn O)))?  Others?  Anyone else from psychedelic music?  Post-1960 Stockhausen and Cage (or did they bloom earlier?)?  Scelsi?  Can?  Bill Evans?  Astral Weeks?  What else?

My Conversation with Zeynep Tufekci

Here is the audio and transcript.  Here is part of the summary:

Zeynep joined Tyler to discuss problems with the media and the scientific establishment, what made the lab-leak hypothesis unacceptable to talk about, how her background in sociology was key to getting so many things right about the pandemic, the pitfalls of academic contrarianism, what Max Weber understood about public health crises, the underrated aspects of Kemel Mustapha’s regime, how Game of Thrones interested her as a sociologist (until the final season), what Americans get wrong about Turkey, why internet-fueled movements like the Gezi protests fizzle out, whether Islamic fundamentalism is on the rise in Turkey, how she’d try to persuade a COVID-19 vaccine skeptic, whether public health authorities should ever lie for the greater good, why she thinks America is actually less racist than Europe, how her background as a programmer affects her work as a sociologist, the subject of her next book, and more.

Here is one excerpt:

COWEN: Max Weber — overrated or underrated as a sociologist?

TUFEKCI: Underrated.

COWEN: Why?

TUFEKCI: Part of the reason he’s underrated is because he writes in that very hard-to-read early 19th-century writing, but if you read Max Weber, 90 percent of what you want to understand about the current public health crisis is there in his sociology. Not just him, but sociology organizations and how that works. He’s good at that. I would say underrated, partly because it’s very hard to read. It’s like Shakespeare. You need the modern English version, conceptually, for more people to read it.

I would say almost all of sociology is underrated in how dramatically useful it is. Just ask me any time. Early on, I knew we were going to have a pandemic, completely based on sociology of the moment in early January, before I knew anything about the virus because they weren’t telling us, but you could just use sociological concepts to put things together. Max Weber is great at most of them and underrated.

COWEN: Kemal Mustafa — overrated or underrated?

TUFEKCI: Underrated.

COWEN: Why?

TUFEKCI: Why? My grandmother — she was 12 or 13 when she was in the Mediterranean region — Central Asia, but Mediterranean region, very close to the Mediterranean. She was born the year the Turkish Republic had been founded, 1923, and she was 13 or so. She was just about to be married off, but the republic was a little over a decade — same age as her. They created a national exam to pick talented girls like her. The ones that won the exam got taken to Istanbul to this elite, one of the very few boarding high schools for girls.

The underrated part isn’t just that such a mechanism existed. The underrated part is that the country changed so much in 13 years that her teacher was able to prevail upon the family to let her go. To have a 13-year-old be sent off to Istanbul, completely opposite side of the country, to a boarding school for education — that kind of flourishing of liberation.

I’m not going to deny it was an authoritarian period, and minorities, like Kurds, during that period were brutally suppressed. I can’t make it sound like there was nothing else going on, but in terms of creating a republic out of the ashes of a crumbling empire — I think it’s one of the very striking stories of national transformation, globally, within one generation, so underrated.

There are numerous interesting segments, on varied topics, to be found throughout the dialog.

The cultural life extension query

Rebecca Makkai asks:

You have the power to grant fifty more productive years to an artist of any discipline (writer, musician, painter, etc.) who died too young. Who do you pick?

My answer was Schubert, and here is why:

1. Schubert was just starting to peak, but we already have a significant amount of top-tier Mozart.  And I take Mozart to be the number one contender for the designation.  Schubert composed nine symphonies, and number seven still wasn’t that great.  Some people think number eight was unfinished.  Number nine is incredible.  Furthermore, I believe the nature of his genius would have aged well with the man.

2. John Keats is a reasonable contender, but perhaps his extant peak output is sufficient to capture the nature of his genius?

3. After the 1982-1984 period, there was decline in the quality of Basquiat’s output.  His was the genius of a young man, and drugs would have interfered with his further achievement in any case.

4. Buddy Holly had already peaked, and he didn’t quite have the skills or ambition to have morphed into something significantly more.  No one from popular music in that time period did.

5. Frank Ramsey is a reasonable choice, but I am more excited about Schubert.  We still would have ended up with the same neoclassical economics.

6. Perhaps Kurt Cobain’s genius was that of a young man as well?  Nonetheless he is in my top ten, if only for curiosity reasons.  Hank Williams and Hendrix are competitors too.

7. Carel Fabritius anyone?

Who else?  Caravaggio?  Egon Schiele?  Eva Hesse?  I feel they all have styles that would have aged well, unlike say with Jim Morrison.  Seurat?  Thomas Chatterton I can pass on, maybe Stephen Crane or Sylvia Plath from the side of the writers?

My Conversation with Andrew Sullivan

Here is the audio, video, and transcript.  Here is part of the overview:

Andrew joined Tyler to discuss the role of the AIDs epidemic in achieving marriage equality, the difficulty of devoutness in everyday life, why public intellectuals often lack courage, how being a gay man helps him access perspectives he otherwise wouldn’t, how drugs influence his ideas, the reasons why he’s a passionate defender of SATs and IQ tests, what Niall Ferguson and Boris Johnson were like as fellow undergraduates, what Americans get wrong about British politics, why so few people share his admiration for Margaret Thatcher, why Bowie was so special, why Airplane! is his favorite movie, what Oakeshottian conservatism offers us today, whether wokeism has a positive influence globally, why he someday hopes to glower at the sea from in the west of Ireland, and more.

And here is one excerpt:

SULLIVAN: Well, and so you get used to real conversations about people, and you don’t mistake credentials for intelligence. You realize that people outside of the system may be more perceptive about what’s going wrong with it than people buried within it. I honestly find life more interesting the more variety of people you get to know and meet. And that means from all sorts of different ways of life.

The good thing about being gay, I will tell you, is that that happens more often than if you’re straight — because it’s a great equalizer. You are more likely to come across someone who really is from a totally different socioeconomic group than you are through sexual and romantic attraction, and indeed the existence of this subterranean world that is taken from every other particular class and structure, than you would if you just grew up in a straight world where you didn’t have to question these things and where your social life was bound up with your work or with your professional peers.

The idea for me of dating someone in my office would be absolutely bizarre, for example. I can’t believe all these straight people that just look around them and say, “Oh, let’s get married.” Whereas gay people have this immense social system that can throw up anybody from any way of life into your social circle.

Interesting throughout.  And again, here is Andrew’s new book Out on a Limb: Selected Writing, 1989-2021.

Straussian Beatles cofounders — We Can’t Work It Out

The Beatles 1965 song “We Can Work It Out” typically is taken as a tale of harmonious cooperation, a kind of precursor to “All You Need is Love,” but expressing the ability of the Beatles to work together toward productive outcomes and furthermore to stay united as friends.  (All before the bitter split of course.)  Well, if you know a bit about the Beatles (and Strauss) that isn’t exactly how it is presented in the actual tune.  There are plenty of esoteric references in Beatle songs and solo Beatle songs, and I don’t just mean drug lingo or “Paul is dead” clues.

As background, you do need to know that Paul was the group’s workaholic, and John, while an immense talent, was, um…not the group’s workaholic.  Paul also was renowned as a master of passive-aggressive threats, all the way keeping up the smile and charm and the perfect demeanor.  The song reflects this dynamic.  It is basically Paul singing that we really have to do things his way, and John singing back “complaints of surrender.”  Let’s now turn to the song, with my annotations throughout in brackets:

Paul singing cheerily:

Try to see it my way
Do I have to keep on talking ’til I can’t go on? [I’m going to keep on bugging you until you give in]
While you see it your way
Run the risk of knowing that our love may soon be gone [Escalation: I am willing to threaten you over this one and go to the mat]
We can work it out [You’re going to give in to me]
We can work it out [You really are going to give in, believe me on this one]
Think of what you’re saying
You can get it wrong and still you think that it’s alright [You don’t know what you are doing in the studio the way I do]
Think of what I’m saying
We can work it out and get it straight, or say good night [we really do need to put more time in on this one]
We can work it out
We can work it out [my way]

John singing in plaintive minor key:

Life is very short, and there’s no time [Can we just go home now?]
For fussing and fighting, my friend [I’m tired of all this, aren’t you supposed to be on my side?]
I have always thought that it’s a crime [The bickering is mainly your fault, and yes it is really terrible]
So, I will ask you once again…

Paul interrupts, again singing cheerily:

Try to see it my way [I’m really not giving up on this one]
Only time will tell if I am right or I am wrong [Last time you did it my way the song was a big hit, in fact every time…]
While you see it your way
There’s a chance that we might fall apart before too long [more passive-aggressive threats]
We can work it out
We can work it out

An excellent song, both musically and lyrically, but not always appreciated for its full subtleties.  It is clear that Paul ends up getting his way, and that is how they “work it out.”  Paul increasingly exerted his will in the studio, leading the Beatles to produce such classics as Sgt. Pepper and Abbey Road, whereas John had been the more dominant influence on earlier albums such as Hard Day’s Night.  The Beatles, of course, split up five years later and were in tatters well before that.