Thinking Of George

November 29, 2009

Years ago, half dozen or so of us who worked together at a record store would often go for a drink – “the odd one” – after (or sometimes during) our shift.

The odd one was never one and hours would pass with the conversation equally divided between music and nonsense.

For the musical portion, The Drunken Frenchman was usually the tour guide and, nearly twenty years later, I don’t believe I’ve known another soul possessing more knowledge of rock music (or pop culture) prior to 1980.

It was an education.

And, like many folks of his age, those who had actually watched the Ed Sullivan Show performances live, The Beatles were the touchstone for almost everything that had occurred during his life. So, the discussion of favorite Beatle was a fairly regular topic.

There was no debate as far as The Drunken Frenchman was concerned.

It was The Quiet One.

Although there was a time when I would have reflexively answered “John Lennon” as my favorite of The Fabs, having heard The Frenchman offer up innumerable reasons as to why George Harrison was his guy, that’s no longer the case.

I vividly recall waking on this date eight years ago and opening the paper. George had passed away.

I immediately thought of The Frenchman. Our clan from the record store had scattered in various directions several years earlier. Had we not, we would have likely been together that night. And, as we often would do on significant dates in music history, we certainly would have hoisted a few toasts to The Quiet One.

So, today, eight years later, here are a few favorites from George Harrison…

The Beatles – While My Guitar Gently Weeps
from The White Album

The Beatles – Here Comes The Sun
from Abbey Road

George Harrison – All Those Years Ago
from Somewhere In England

Traveling Wilburys – Handle With Care
from Traveling Wilburys Vol. 1

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Withnail & I (And Us)

August 1, 2008

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If you’ve clicked on this entry, perhaps you’re familiar with the first two characters which makes you one of us. If you’re one of us, you might advise me not to threaten you with a dead fish, demand to know what’s in my tool box, and/or be prone to go on holiday by mistake. And if you’re not one of us, you are now extended an invitation to a delightful weekend in the country with…

Withnail And I – one of the great cult movies of all time.

So, you haven’t seen it, perhaps haven’t even heard of it. So what the hell is it all about? Set in the final months of the ’60s, Withnail And I is the story of two out-of-work actors living in a dilapidated flat in Camden Town. Possessing “nothing that reasonable members of society demand as their rights,” the pair – Withnail and the unnamed “I” (although some of us know him to be Marwood) – spend their time collecting their government assistance checks, consuming copious amounts of alcohol, and getting turned down for cigar commercials. Everything changes when they take their well-worn Jag to the country to “rejuvenate” at the Crow Crag, a ramshackle cottage belonging to Withnail’s Uncle Monty.

Written and directed by Bruce Robinson (who had earned an Oscar nomination for his screenplay for the movie The Killing Fields), Withnail And I was produced by Handmade Films, a production company owned by the late George Harrison. The cast is little more than Richard E. Grant and Paul McGann who play the title characters, and Richard Griffiths as Uncle Monty. Ralph Brown plays a smaller, but no less important role, as Danny the drug dealer (a character he reprised in Wayne’s World 2)

How has this small movie garnered such a following? Perhaps it is because it rings so true. Most people, particularly those just entering the “adult world” are likely to relate to the dire predicament in which Withnail and Marwood find themselves: no money, no women, and no prospects. Their banter, often – at least in Withnail’s case – drunken, is wittily scathing, slyly profound and surprisingly poignant, and never cliché. There’s also a wonderful soundtrack featuring music of the period as well as a heartbreakingly lovely original score.

At heart, it’s a movie of friendship and those moments in life where friendships change. Perhaps the best review I have ever read regarding Withnail And I described it “as deep as you want it to be and as shallow as you need it to be.”

So, you’ve been invited. If you care to join us, seek it out. You might soon find yourself yelling “Scrubbers!” at schoolgirls, pondering Jeff Wode stepping back into society and tossing his orb about, demanding cake and fine wine, or rolling a “Camberwell Carrot” (provided you have enough paper).

Now, I must leave. My thumbs have gone weird and I have to eat some sugar.

King Curtis – A Whiter Shade Of Pale
Would it be inaccurate to describe Procol Harum’s A Whiter Shade Of Pale as the Stairway To Heaven of the ’60s. This version by saxophonist King Curtis plays over the opening of the movie and sets the tone. Curtis, who was once bandleader for Aretha Franklin has an amazing list of credits as a session player. Sadly, he was stabbed to death with singer Sam Moore and Aretha Franklin witnessing the murder. I’m not sure if it’s true, but I’ve read that the murder took place following the show from which this recording was taken.

Jimi Hendrix – Voodoo Child (Slight Return)
The soundtrack to Withnail & I has long been out of print. It’s said that one reason is due to pressure from the family of Jimi Hendrix who refuse to allow the guitar legend’s music to be used in any way that glamorizes alcohol or drug abuse. Whatever the case, it’s impossible for me to hear Voodoo Child and not think of it’s use in the film.

The Beatles – While My Guitar Gently Weeps
Harrison said that he was inspired to write While My Guitar Gently Weeps by the I Ching. The Beatles have rarely authorized the use of their music for films, but Harrison’s connection to Withnail & I made it’s appearance on the soundtrack possible.

David Dundas & Rick Wentworth – Withnail’s Theme
Dundas, as I recall, was a friend of Bruce Robinson’s and had scored a hit song in 1976 with Jeans On (if I know it, I don’t know that I do). Withnail’s Theme plays over the closing credits and as the movie has one of the most heartbreaking endings I know, this instrumental is melancholic perfection.