Saturday, August 03, 2013

The Great Beatles Blast Disaster...

I am in great physical pain as I write this. It has to do with the picture at left. Remember it well, for it will become important later on.

Before I get to the cause of this incredible agony, I must make it quite clear just how tough and resilient I normally am, just to give you some sort of idea as to just how bad the events of this evening had to have been in order to get me to complain about physical pain.

As an 8-year old, I  suffered with an inflamed, on-the-point-of-bursting appendix for a week, and barely whimpered.

As a teenager, I was involved in a fistfight that was so vicious that it resulted in a nose so bloodied that it actually soaked through my clothes to cake upon my skin, and a severe concussion from which I passed out....but only AFTER I had kicked the bejesus out of the other kid, breaking his arm in two places, and fracturing one of his ribs.

In my early 20's, I once tried to ride a bicycle down an extremely steep hill at a high rate of speed. Just as I was about to reach the foot of the hill, I noticed the road ahead was full of gravel which might make control a bit of a problem. Attempting to (stupidly) stop my forward motion by putting the bike into a skid while simultaneously applying the brakes, I was propelled over the handlebars, skidded some 30' over that gravel road on the back of my head, and smashed said coconut upon a very inconveniently-placed rock. I was unconscious for nearly 30 minutes, and had lacerations deep enough for stitches running around the entire crown of my head. I went to work the next day, and put in a 12-hour shift.

In my 30's, I had extreme dental surgery after being whacked in the mouth with the baseball bat that I had just given my then-4-year-old nephew for his birthday. This required seven (7) bone implants over 4 below-the-gum-line operations, and left me with somewhere between 200 and 300 stitches in my mouth. This was followed by the removal of five teeth, and the filing down of two others in order to fit a permanent bridge.

I won't even start talking about the number of minor broken bones, fractures, etc. I have suffered playing soccer, baseball or hockey, including the one time when I was pitching and had a ball hit right back and hit me slap-dab in the ear.

Since then, only three other events have caused me pain of the type I'm about to explain to you. They are:

1) Any Barack Obama speech.

2) Any assertion that Hillary Clinton is "The Smartest Woman in the World".

3) The customary attack of hemorrhoids after I do something stupid, but oh-so-good, like eat a dozen whole jalapeno peppers, seeds and all, right out of the jar.

I like hot, spicy food. The hotter it is, the more I like it, Dammit! But, I digress...

Tess and I attended Beatles Blast 2013 at the Richmond County Stadium this evening. This is a yearly concert, in which local bands pay tribute to John, Paul, George and Ringo. It is organized by the Borough President's office, has a bit of corporate sponsorship, and usually benefits a local charity. In this case, this year's charity was an Autism Awareness campaign in need of cash.

What could go wrong? You have great weather, a nice venue which affords an excellent view of New York Harbor, the entire Lennon-McCartney songbook to look forward to, and a worthy cause to support. Not to mention beer. It's always a perfect evening when you can get an ice-cold Stella Artois on tap, right?

One would think that nothing could make such a wonderful-sounding evening go wrong, except perhaps an unexpected thunderstorm, or perhaps an Al Qaeda attack, but there was nary a hint of a cloud in the sky, and the Muzzbags around here know enough to stay home when large numbers of drunken Infidels gather for any reason.

The first two bands were rather bad. Poor musicianship, and no one seems able to sing, or if they can sing a bit, they all sound the same. What is it with today's generation of singers (I've noticed this especially in female singers) that they all have to try and put some R&B into whatever they do, and fail mightily? I guess this is because modern musical tastes trend that way, but it's impossible to listen to a skinny, keening, 20-something skank try to sing like Mariah or Whitney during a performance of "Good Day Sunshine" with a backing trio that misses every fifth or so note, and think there's talent there.

The next few bands, including one of the more popular local cover bands, came up next, and things looked as if they would improve. Although, I would have to say that everyone was tending to perform more obscure (for the majority of listeners) Beatles tunes, rather than the old standards that everyone came out to hear. I'm a fan of songs like "If I Needed Someone" or "Doctor Robert", but to tell the truth (and I found this shocking) no one so much as attempted to play "I Want to Hold Your Hand", "She Loves You", "Help!", or any of the songs you might expect to hear at such an event. It was mostly solo, after-Beatles stuff (George Harrison seems to be in vogue among the younger musical set, and good for them for discovering how good he really was!), and songs that Lennon-McCartney wrote for other British Invasion bands (of which I happen to be a huge fan. The bands, not necessarily the songs).

Which is why what happened next was such a tragedy that may require that I refuse solid food for a fortnight, at least. And now we get back to that picture.

That handsome devil up there is one Billy J. Kramer. Formerly of Billy J. Kramer and the Dakotas.

Yeah, that's what I thought. I must be one of the very few people (I figure about five) in the stadium tonight who actually knew who he was. For those of you who don't, I'll fill you in.

Billy J. Kramer is one of those people who have far more luck in life than they probably deserve. To give you some example of what I mean, I'll compile a short list of the luckiest individuals I've ever seen in my lifetime:

Barack Obama
Either Clinton
Alex Rodriguez
Anyone from Jersey Shore
Steve Gutenberg

I guess you get the idea. Actually, I would add Ringo Starr to that list, for while he was one of my 'drum idols' growing up, if it hadn't had been for the Beatles needing to kick out their cuter-than-Paul drummer, Pete Best, Ringo would probably be a hairdresser in Liverpool. Instead, he found himself a Beatle and has enjoyed a wealth, fame, and lifestyle which his own talents would probably otherwise never have afforded him. Sometimes, being in the right place at the right time is all you need.

Anyways, Billy J. Kramer...

See, Billy J. was one of those lucky bastards in that he was born extremely good-looking, and he was additionally blessed with the ability to sing just enough to be dangerous. In the 1960's, this was often good enough to make you a One-Hit Wonder, but Billy J. had another extraordinary stroke of good fortune. He knew John Lennon.

And then he was 'discovered' by Brian Epstein, who was the mastermind behind the Beatles. Epstein had a lucrative sideline going in which Lennon-McCartney would write songs for other acts that Epstein managed. Some of these the reader might or might not know, or even have heard off, for example; Cilla Black, or Peter and Gordon. In those days, back in Merry Olde England, it seemed that you could take anyone, give them a Lennon-McCartney ditty, and they would soon top the charts. Eventually, Epstein was curious to know whether it was the talent, or the songs, figuring that in the heady days of Beatlemania, everything written my John and Paul would be Midas-touched by virtue of putting their name on it, so he asked both to start writing songs under pseudonyms for his other acts so that no one would know.

The hits kept coming, anyway. It's not difficult to listen to a song like "A World Without Love" and not figure out that Paul McCartney wrote it. So, it wasn't the talent, it was the songs. And that's where the luck of one Billy J. Kramer finally ran out.

Once he stopped getting songs from the mid-20th century's greatest songwriting duo, his career hit the skids, and he was soon forgotten.

And perhaps he should have stayed that way.

For Billy J. Kramer made an appearance at Beatles Blast this evening to do his part to pay homage to the men who had given him so much. Just in case, this is what Billy J. Kramer looks like now (see: right).

He is now 70 years old, and no amount of plastic surgery, no hair plugs, no rose-embroidered, rhinestone-bedecked-Neil-Diamond-reject-shirt can cover for the fact that he can no longer sing, and is about as entertaining as a prostate exam given by an amputee doctor with a hook. The only saving grace, I thought, was that Billy was backed by at least ONE good musician, Liberty DeVito, who was once Billy Joel's drummer, and another of my faves. Even the energy given by Liberty could not save this Titanic of a set.

For a start, Kramer decided to open with the little tidbit that he was recording another album. Album? Do people still "record albums" in the 21st Century? Do people even buy albums, anymore? And by the way, just in case you think there's no such thing as an "album" anymore, there were hundreds of Billy J. Kramer albums (CD's, really) for sale on the concourse. The guy really did make an album, recently.

Which was a problem, because while everyone came to hear some Fab Four, especially the songs they had written that made Billy J. Kramer, he was rather more interested in regaling the audience with his own original songs -- from the album! -- which, quite frankly, sucked harder than a Dominican whore with a spastic diaphragm. The first one, entitled "I Won the Fight" was, I guess, Billy's homage to himself, although I think it better if he had not bothered at all. I think it was a narcissistic tune, and it set the tone for the rest of the set. One wonders just what fight Billy had won; against the bottle or needle? Rehab? To keep Brian Epstein out of his pants? Against reality?

He then sang a song which he says he and John Lennon began to write together, but never finished, so Billy decided to finish it himself. I now know why John Lennon never finished that song. Come to think of it, not even Yoko Ono would have attempted to finish that song, and she'll do anything that potentially earns her a penny from Lennon's corpse. It was godawful. I would use it to torture Gitmo detainees into spilling their guts. Who needs waterboarding?

All 45 minutes of his set went on and on like this. Forty-five minutes of Billy J. Kramer saying "my friend John Lennon" after every song; forty-five minutes of making sure everyone knew that Brian Epstein was NOT in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, but deserved to be there (he has a point, but he belabored it). Forty-five minutes of Billy J. Kramer basically torturing every tune, straining to hit every note, boring the fucking shit out of everyone in that stadium. I was surprised that the crowd -- it started out at some 5,000 souls -- was patient and polite enough not to charge the stage and remove him bodily. They were getting hostile; they came to hear the local bands cover Beatles tunes, not listen to some aging D-list rock-and-roller try to recapture the glory days of 1963 sans either the looks or the chops.

The stadium emptied. Perhaps half the crowd left. Many were complaining that they hadn't come to see this sort of shit, especially from some old bastard they had never heard of. By the time that Billy J. -- belatedly -- left the stage, the crowd has noticeably thinned, the crickets could be heard chirping, and at least three people had committed suicide by slitting their own wrists with the edges of the Billy J. Kramer CD's they had just purchased in a fit of misguided nostalgia.

There were two bands that followed Kramer, and the very next one is a local favorite. They happen to be extraordinarily good. It was for them that the majority of the crowd had shown up to see in the first place. Now they had to play to a half-empty stadium to a crowd that had been bored to tears and was now in foul humor, and that was hardly fair to them.

And now we get to the pain part of this tirade.

There are few things more painful in this life than to watch someone make an ass of themselves, especially when they do so in such a pathetic fashion, probably under the illusion that they are reliving some moment of greatness from a past that is long gone. I have seen this phenomenon in music before, as Tess drags me off to see all the old Doo-Wop groups that she loves so much. Only there the effect is even more pronounced as half those acts come out in wheelchairs, dragging oxygen bottles behind them, great gaps torn in their line-ups by death, illness and feeble-mindedness, the replacements typically half the average age of the rest of the group and looking (and sounding) completely out-of-place. They give it their best, they try to recapture the magic that was their youth, but they typically fail spectacularly.

But, for a few minutes, at least, they have the idea that they have connected with an audience again, or perhaps in their loonier moments, imagine that they have begun on the long road to a "comeback", neglecting to realize -- or perhaps not caring -- that no one cares that they were gone in the first place, so that there's nothing to come back to.

There was a time, I guess, when Billy J. had the world by the short-and-curlies; girls falling out of trees into his lap or bed, money, a measure of fame and success, and then, too bad for him!, musical tastes changed and he was relegated to second-, then third- and eventually, eleventeenth-tier status in the unforgiving world of show business. This doesn't mean that Billy J. Kramer was a bad person, or untalented, just that his luck had finally run out.

Apparently, he can't live with that thought, and so he continues to fight a fight he thinks he's winning, continuing to earn a living, one would assume, on the now-quickly-dimming reflected afterglow of an association with the Epstein-Lennon-McCartney-George Martin empire of genius, believing that he's still got "it" and realizing that no, he doesn't. In fact, it's quite possible that he never did.

Denial can a bitch that way.

Personally, I would have preferred if the autistic kids choir that sang the National Anthem had performed for that 45 minutes. They did a pretty good "Here Comes the Sun" to open the show!

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