Friday, September 30, 2016

Beatles Redux

The day that I took down the horse posters in my bedroom and put up pictures of Paul McCartney, my mother had a conniption. "What's happened to my little girl?" she cried.

When I begged my dad to give me 10 bucks to buy a black leather cap like John Lennon's, he went berserk. "No daughter of mine is walking around in a man's cap, let alone something those hooligans wear!" he roared.

And, shopping one day with my parents, I should have known better than to purchase my very first Beatles LP in their presence. I nearly died of embarrassment at the comments they made to the sales clerk: "Yeah, yeah, yeah. What kind of song is that?" "Can you even understand the words they're singing anyway?" That's the day I became a teenager. Something changed. And it was because of the Beatles. 

Those magical years, between 1963 and 1970, came back to me in a flash flood of memories this week when we watched Ron Howard's new documentary, "Eight Days a Week." The movie contains concert and studio footage, hysterical fans, press conferences, and still images we've all seen before, songs we've heard a hundred times. Yet somehow it is entirely fresh and engaging. It carries an emotional punch that is part nostalgia, part joy and tons of fun. Certainly there have been other films about the Beatles, but this one made me feel like I had time-traveled back to junior high. 

February 9, 1964 was one of those, "Where were you when?" moments. I was sitting on the floor, in front of a black and white television, in a friend's living room getting ready to watch history being made on the Ed Sullivan Show — the Beatles' first North American appearance on TV. The adults present made it almost impossible to concentrate, what with all their inane chatter: "I don't mind that long hair provided it's clean!" "Look at those girls. Screaming like that! Where are their parents?" Somehow I managed to tune those old fogies out. I was swept away in the wonder and excitement of seeing four totally SUPER cute guys who were singing crazy, rowdy songs to us; yes, US! Us KIDS! It was beyond exciting — all the way to exhilarating.

I fell head over heels in love. I lined my room with posters and pictures. I scribbled devotion all over my record album covers: "I LUV Paul! The Beatles 4-EVER! Long live the Fab Four!"  I got every fan magazine I could get my hands on and stared at each photo as if I could somehow magically make Paul, Ringo, George and John emerge from the pages. I adopted the Twiggy look, bought tights by Mary Quant, and started talking like a Brit: "Cheers mate!" "Watching the telly," and "Where's the loo?" I began corresponding with a pen pal in England, who sadly, never met the Beatles and had nothing of interest to report. 

My best friend and I spent hour upon hour making up stories about how we would meet our favorite Beatle. The circumstances varied in each scenario, me meeting Paul, and she, John, but the outcome was always the same: love at first sight, a kiss, and then happily ever after. She and I saw "A Hard Day's Night" three times at a movie theatre downtown. I was insanely happy to see the four guys actually being real live human beings! Running, sitting, talking! It was all too FAB for words! My friend and I recited lines afterward in our best Liverpudlian accents.

At bedtime I slipped a transistor radio under my pillow so my parents couldn't tell that I was listening late into the night for the latest song.The songs! How could they have been more perfect? From imagining a kiss with Paul, "If I fell in love with you, would you promise to be true?" to slow dancing with a boy at a basement rec room party with Rubber Soul on the record player, "In my life, I loved you more," to doing homework in my room puzzling over "Lucy in the Sky" on the Sgt. Pepper album, and "I am the Walrus" from Magical Mystery Tour. The years of my youth played on accompanied by the White Album and then Abbey Road. In grade twelve, our school's choir director chose ballads like, "Michelle" and "Yesterday" for us to sing. We loved him for it.

My parents even came around in time and admitted that some of the songs were "very nice," especially when they heard some lame orchestral version of a Beatles melody on their easy-listening radio station. As we know now, those wonderful songs have stood the test of time. 

The final LP, Let it Be, was released in May of 1970. In June of that year, I graduated high school. The soundtrack of my youth was done; like in a film written just for me, the Beatles music had underscored the emotional arc of my teenage storyline.

My generation must certainly be the luckiest ever, of all time, to have been teenagers growing up accompanied by the Beatles —the music, the hair, the clothes, the peace and love sensibilities, all the amazing bands that followed, all the kids we knew who picked up guitars and got drum sets and learned  to make their own music because they were so blown away by the Beatles — it was everything that shaped us. Ron Howard's lovely documentary film just gets it. I hope you see it. If you are my age, I hope it brings back wonderful memories for you. This is OUR story. 

Monday, September 12, 2016

Speak! Good dog!

Dogs all over town are talking about a brand new scientific study that claims they understand what we say to them. They're worried — and with good reason. They've been trying to keep this secret from humankind for thousands of years. The last thing they need is for us to find out that the whole muttly crew nailed human language eons ago — and they've been having us on ever since.

A group of researchers tested 13 canine volunteers who could be trusted to maintain a "Down. Stay. Don't move!" long enough to get MRI images of their brains. The data showed that the happy parts of their cerebra lit up like glow-in-the-dark collars when they heard their owners' voices — but only when they used positive words and spoke in fun, upbeat tones of voice, such as, "Good Dog!" or, "Who's a boo? Ooo are! Yes, oo are!" They determined that the average family pet recognizes up to 150 words. The brain scans, however, did NOT register much activity at all when the same words were delivered with a dull voice or when negative messages were delivered. The scientists concluded that the dogs did not understand those particular communications.

I say, Baloney! Do we honestly believe that creatures as smart as our canine companions have only picked up 150 "fun" words? They know doggone well what we are saying, and it doesn't depend on a happy voice. Here's my theory: the clever rascals PERFECTED the art of selective listening generations ago.

And there are good reasons for this doggie deception. Up until the publication of this research, pooches everywhere have been getting away with all manner of shenanigans simply by employing their patented three point procedure for feigning innocence: 1. perk up their ears, 2. tilt their heads to one side, 3. pull the comical, quizzical face. Or they might unleash the ultimate emergency tactic: the guilt-ridden big cow eyes with hang-dog expression. They'll be all like, "I don't understand you. I wasn't supposed to flush the gerbil?" We've been programmed to find this gambit endearing. Our hearts melt and before we know it, we're forgiving them for everything from barfing on the carpet to stashing the cat in the dryer to depositing mouse carcasses on the linoleum.

"Bad dog! Didn't I TELL you to leave that thing outside?"

("Yes. Yes, you did. But, as you aptly point out, I am a Dog. I don't speak Human, remember? I thought you said INSIDE. Yeah, that's it. Inside. Now, watch this! Here comes the ear perk, the head tilt and the funny face! We're good, right? Okay. I'll be going for my nap now. Call me for lunch.")

Sure, they respond with slobbery glee when we toss out oft-repeated, playful suggestions, like, "Find your ball!" Or food-related phrases, such as, "Want your din-dins?" Or when we urge them into a merry chase with words like, "PUSS-PUSS!" They know how to work the system — and how to get what they want: the aforementioned ball, din-dins, or feline.

But just try phrases like, "Will you PLEASE quit drooling on my SHOES!" Or, "That's not YOUR pizza!" Or, "I DO NOT need help loading the dishwasher!" Or, "Get your furry butt OUT of those Hostas!" You've said these things a million times! Just cow eyes. You know what? They're simply ignoring you!

Yes, I'm on to their little caper. Have been for some time. But I've decided that it's best to keep it to myself. After all, it only makes ME look bad if my dog ignores my commands; "RIL-EEEY! Don't sniff that lady's crotch!!" 

"Really, Mom?" 

"Yes. Really, Riley. You heard me!"

"Hm. Maybe. Call me for lunch."