Saturday, August 29, 2015

The Factory

Robert Bunter and Richard Furnstein, Beatles fans and friends, have run the Let Me Tell You About The Beatles blog since 2011. Their increasingly complicated and sporadic assessments of individual Beatles tracks balance their encyclopedic knowledge of the music and its cultural impact. As part of the promotion for the new psychedelic musical The Lid, playwrite Pat Finnerty reached out to Bunter and Furnstein for an analysis of his 1967-inspired creation and its connection to the myth and magic of that period. Their analysis focuses on “The Factory,” the lead off song from the production. The bright track is laced with many familiar trappings from the psychedelic era, “The Factory” is a perfect representation of the unique world created by Finnerty. The Lid will be presented at Underground Arts in Philadelphia on September 4, 5, and 6.

Richard Furnstein:  Listen, I’ll be honest with you. I’m out of my comfort zone a little bit. I’m used to analyzing the songs of The Beatles in the renowned blog Let Me Tell You About The Beatles. They are a band that has defined every moment of my existence since I first heard their music as a malformed boy child. I spend my nights researching Beatles-centric facts: last night was spent doing exhaustive analysis of the phone harassment experienced by Magical Mystery Tour producer Dennis O’Dell after "You Know My Name (Look Up The Number)" was featured on the “Let It Be” single. Yet, here I am, sipping Bengal Spice from an  Apple Records coffee mug and trying to make sense of “The Factory,” a song from a new musical called The Lid.

Plaintive horns introduce us to the world of The Lid. Seemingly stripped from the well-steeped creations from the abyss between Sgt. Pepper’s and The White Album, the trumpet’s blare connects the listener to the heady days when baroque indulgence and subversion of militaristic concepts were the only way to communicate through the lysergic haze. We are invited by the narrator (Finnerty?) to go “walking through the meadow.” A kind welcome, to be sure. Flowers rhythmically flounce in the gentle wind. The early September dew is thick and milky, creating a flood line of seep and grass clippings on my Beatle boots. Oh dear, should I have just taken my shoes off for this meadow walk? Is that why the hippies left it all behind?

Robert Bunter: It's a matter of leaving it all behind while hanging onto what one already had. The pop artisans of 1967 had already accumulated a formidable bank of skills by the time acid and exploding social/political norms blew the lid off the tidy conventions of hit singles and radio airplay. A generation born into a world of music hall and Tin Pan Alley standards, just in time to witness the violent upending of those traditions when Eddie Cochran first electrified hordes of unintentionally greasy youths on both sides of the churning Atlantic sea. Taking inspiration from Cochran's manic assault and Little Richard's gender-bending experimentation, they churned up a mighty stink in countless provincial nightclubs and sweat hops. Soon enough came the heady rush of worldwide fame, the sickly-sweet odor of cannabis, the shiny snug pressure of too-tight trousers and frilly Edwardian dandy cloaks. These psychedelic pop musicians - the global importance of which cannot possibly be overstated - already had the tools to unleash primitive rock energy, memorable hooks, startling studio flourishes and lyrics of no mean merit. Now (in 1967 that is), fortified by boutique-quality LSD and a seeming army of trumpets, harpsichords and mellotrons, they were free to leave it all behind and roam through electric, erotic meadows. But did they really leave it all behind? Maybe they took off their boots first but they sure didn't forget how to craft appealing hit records (like your friend Mr. Finnerty seems to have done here). Too bad that in another year, Bob Dylan would make them all look foolish and indulgent with a little slab of no-frills Truth that I like to call John Wesley Harding, much as Kurt Cobain and toothsome trapsman Dave Grohl managed to show up the likes of Steven Adler for the prancing trifles that they'd been all along.

Richard Furnstein: Surely, spring has always been the season most associated with love: the tulip pups squeeze out of the thawed ground, peeping at the revelations of lady legs and rump zones and/or the new muscles hiding under gentlemen shirt rolls. What a time to be alive! The hippies wanted to rewrite the book on living, however, so they kept rolling the high past Memorial Day 1967, creating the Summer of Love. 

Finnerty's cloying horns welcome us to the groovy times deep in our minds. Close your eyes and imagine a meadow. Does it look like Max Yasgur’s dairy farm rich with soiled human beings on a mystic trip? Is it the gentle San Francisco park near Haight-Ashbury that George Harrison and Patti Boyd visited in that magical summer (a visit that George said put him off lysergic due to the spotty criminals and drop-outs that dotted his path). Or is it the meadow presented in The Lid, a Frankenstein’s Monster of the technicolor enhanced landscapes in similar half-baked concept albums like Her Satanic Majesty’s Request, Arthur, and Odessey and Oracle? It's a landscape full of croaking frogs, sooty working men, and glow girls with crooked teeth and mangled noses. If The Beatles couldn’t even sustain a concept past the second song of Sgt. Pepper’s, what chance does Finnerty stand? Just how much are we supposed to buy into the tripped-out concept and this garish display of groovy-by-numbers, Robert?

Robert Bunter: We can't fall for this at all. The ultimate '60s psychedelic album wasn't cut by the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, the Beach Boys, the Zombies or Skip Spence. It was the Four Seasons. Yeah that's right, the Four Seasons. Genuine Imitation Life Gazette. Brilliant pop songwriting, masterful vocal and instrumental tracks, experimental studio production techniques, socially-conscious lyrics, freaky sleeve art ... it's all here and nobody even cares. Buy a NM copy for $1.99 on Discogs. There's no room here for me to adequately convey the majesty that is this album. Every attempted psychedelic pop masterpiece (The Lid included) sits it its shadow. Deal with it..

Richard Furnstein: Genuine Imitation Life Gazette is a perfect comparison for The Lid. Both focus on American anglophiles attempting to paint a portrait of common people stepping through the kaleidoscopic raindrops of a new age: the birth of a new race of gentle people. You can tell by the photo of Frankie Valli and company on the cover  of Genuine Imitation Life Gazette that their transformation was well underway. These friendly Newark boys went from high squared off neck lines during the prime “Rag Doll” era to the overgrown softness of Life Gazette in 1969. The world had completely changed and now the Four Seasons were standing on a Rahway street corner in late August in crushed velvet jackets, stoned out of their damned minds and wondering where they had to go next. The Lid, in particular opening number “The Factory,” paints a portrait of shell-shocked factory men in a psychedelic fantasy land. The common people are nothing more than greyscale dots positioned on a field of lime green grass near a bubbling river. Then the trumpet blasts from on high, leading to the resurrection of the working man (for they are already dead). Go into the light, dear children. Dig on this Jack Bruce collection. Sup from the dank free love rivers. Explore barbiturates. 

Robert Bunter: The opening trumpet fanfare on "To Go Walking Through The Meadow" is almost a direct lift from the "The King is dead / Long live the King!" segment on Genuine Imitation Life Gazette's opening track"American Crucifixion Resurrection." Methinks mayhaps Mr. Finnegan has been listening to the 'Seasons a little more closely than he was letting on. I'd hate to come across Frankie Valli in plagiarism court. Is he going to be dressed like the crew-necked street tough of the early Jersey Boys  years or the psychedelic Victorian dandy of the Genuine Imitation Life Gazette sleeve art (the alternate version, of course. There were four different ones). Either way, I'm sorry but the court is ruling in favor of Frankie Valli. Your buddy Finkerty ripped off the whole project from Valli and company. I'm sorry but these are the facts.

Richard Furnstein: I haven't felt this ripped off since I bought the Paul McCartney Archive Collection deluxe box set of Wings Over America for the list price of $179.98.