The light bulb over your head, The Beatles and Love Trumps Hate (transcript)

Published October 1st, 2016

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Hallo hippies, hi Himalayans, greetings grandmas and gophers. Me is Michael Phillips and thee is NOT A TEST, ya? Your occasional mishmash of dishwater and debauchery, coming to you direct from the yearning, churning hep cat metropolis of Los Angeles, California. Birthplace of Spanish-style architecture, the starlet and the cheeseburger. All probably in the same year. Home to everything weird and wonderful in this vast and great country and, indeed, the world. How can I say that? How do I dare? I am but a common man with truth on my side. Like Joan of Arc without the GOD part. My message is sound. But I wonder sometimes.

Just the other day I saw a subject line on a spam email that asked, “Are you limiting yourself without realizing it?” and I thought, Jesus, I hope not! Am I? And would it take something as vile and reprehensible as a spam email to make me recognize it? This worried me for a few minutes, but then I had a sandwich, ordered a record from Amazon and forgot about it. I also recently ordered LED light bulbs from Amazon. A lot of them. This house we’re in has a million recessed ceiling lights. Well, more accurately, 19. In the kitchen, hallway, bathroom, laundry room. All over the place. The house was built in 1920, so the recessed lighting must have propagated in here later. And on top of those, there are still 16 other light bulb sockets in the joint, for a total of – what is that? 35? 35 god dammed light bulbs this house requires, not to mention the other lamps we have scattered around the place.

You’d think it would be the brightest house on the block with all those light bulbs, wouldn’t you, but it’s not. Well, the spots that have the recessed lighting are bright now, because they’re all rocking some crazy bright LED bulbs. Each one of those ceiling fixtures used to have a 65 watt floodlight in it. The LED replacements use 9.5 watts. So that’s – oh I’ve done enough math for one day, but it’s a lot less wattage we’re using now for the same lighting. Some of those ceiling lights are on dimmers though, and I learned pretty quickly that LED bulbs don’t get along with dimmers designed for incandescent bulbs, so it was back to the Internet to see what had to be done. And how much more money would have to be spent. These things start out so simply – “I’ll just get some LED bulbs!” Sure, go for it. Sounds easy. Um hmm.

Anyway, while I was rooting around trying to find the right dimmers for the lowest price, I came across some Amazon reviews of the LED bulbs I’d bought. Well one of the two kinds I bought. Now you may be familiar with Amazon reviews. You may know that they can be a little…crazy. A little mad, a bit wonky, over the top, whatever kind of linguistic bow you want to wrap the word “insane” in. One of these reviews gave a one star rating to the light bulbs, and it was a long paragraph detailing the buyers disappointment in these bulbs because they didn’t turn on instantly. Now in all fairness, when you hit the switch on an incandescent bulb, the kind we’ve been using for a hundred years, it lights up immediately. Or, you know, what we perceive to be immediately.

But with an LED bulb, you notice a tiny lag. The lag is even a little longer if you have the bulbs on a dimmer, but you can feel it even on the lights that aren’t on a dimmer. But how long is this lag? Oh, maybe – maybe – a tenth of a second. The only reason you even notice it is because old fashioned light bulbs have less of a delay. But yeah, a tenth of a second. Maybe. That’s what that Amazon reviewer spent time typing and complaining about. The horrible, incomprehensible inconvenience of standing around waiting an additional tenth of a second for the lights in his bathroom to come on. Or wherever they were. So incensed was he by this glaring design flaw that he said he returned the bulbs and vowed never to use LEDs again until the “serious design problem” was addressed.

I’m not kidding. This is the world we live in. We’re so god damned coddled and appeased that we can’t wait a tenth of a second for light to come on when we hit a switch. Never mind what kind of fucking miracle that switch and that light are. And how many people in the world still don’t even have them, or have use of them intermittently or unreliably. And here’s Joe Dildo complaining from his five bedroom shit box McMansion house, somewhere in Texas probably, that the brilliant and energy saving LED bulbs that he can buy for only a few dollars are unusable because they waste a tenth of one of his seconds when he has to go to the trouble of turning them on.

That’s what I take away from my switch to LED bulbs in the ceiling here. That as a people, we in this country are quite crazy. That and the fact that after all the hassle and expense of replacing the 19 bulbs I’ll probably save about $3 a year. Well, I know it will be more than that, perhaps I’m exaggerating for dramatic impact. That must be it. But imagine a light bulb that you can buy now, for about $10 that will last 20 years and use 15% of the energy your old bulbs used. It’s really crazy, and these times are really crazy and unbelievable, but it’s still not enough for some people. “Sorry, I had to bail on your website, bro. I waited like three seconds and it wasn’t all there so I clicked over to BuzzFeed.” Okay. Sorry to disappoint you like that. Hope you’re over it.

So I’m reading yet another Beatles book, this one is called, “Tune In: The Beatles: All These Years” by Mark Lewisohn. It’s the first in a massive trilogy of books, this one covering from the childhood of each of the Beatles on through 1962, when they were primed and ready to blast off. Actually it starts before the childhood of The Beatles – in 1845, if you can believe it, and includes things like a three page description of the pre-1971 British monetary system, so you’ll know what the author is talking about when he says something cost three “bob.” I read that, but I still don’t know what the hell a bob is. But I think a quid and a pound are the same thing? Or they used to be? Who knows. You guys need to get that shit straightened out, since I won’t be able to use my Euros there soon.

Anyway, I say “massive trilogy” because this first volume is 944 pages. And there are two more volumes to come, at some point. If those 944 pages aren’t enough for you, there’s also a 1728 page version. How there could be twice as much information is beyond me, but it’s out there, so I guess people are reading it. The long version isn’t for sale in the U.S. though, so even if I wanted to read it, I can’t. Not on the Kindle anyway, and that’s where I read all my books now. All of them that are published for Kindle, anyway. The first time I read a book on a Kindle I thought, what is this shit?, but I got used to it, and now I can’t imagine buying a paper book if there’s an elctronic version available. I mean, imagine buying and reading a 944 page book then storing it and looking at it there on a shelf as it gathers dust. It’s just sad, and life doesn’t have to be that way.

I know that the Kindle is the very pinnacle of the impermanence I just talked about recently, as it applies to photos, but man, I just got tired of going through the bookshelves every five years and throwing out a hundred books. Well, I didn’t throw them out, I usually donated them to some book donation place, which is the same as throwing them out. Only someone else gets to make a dollar off them. You can’t sell most old books, it isn’t worth the trouble. Last year Carol and I went through the shelves and filled seven big boxes with books, and the thought of lugging all those to some used book place and standing there for an hour while some angry literary prick goes through them judging every title and giving you the side eye, and then offering you $50 for half and expecting you to drag the other half back home. Well, that never feels like it would be a good use of my precious time.

Not that we’re devoid of paper books around here. I’m looking at three bookshelves right now here in this room, that are about 7 feet tall and almost 3 feet wide, and they’re all full. Thing is, I have some books here on the shelf that I’ve had for more than 30 years – some I’ve had since I was a teenager – and I know I probably won’t have these Kindle books in 30 years. Even though I “bought” them. So that’s one of the trade-offs. But I spend half my life trying to get rid of things, so I’m not going to cry about some books. I rarely read a book twice anyway. They just sit there. Again, being dust magnets and space taker-uppers. But, you know, it looks cool, I guess. Having a million books sitting there. Like you’re smart or something. Most people don’t read books you know. And they think you’re a little weird for reading them.

But this Beatles book – Jesus man, it’s good. I know if you’ve read a Beatles book (or 20) you are probably thinking, “Yeah, whatever, I already know everything there is to know about those wrinkly old fops.” That’s what I thought too, but I was wrong. This book just makes the story come alive man…at the risk of sounding like a public relations person for the publisher. Some surprising things in there. Like, for instance, I kind of knew somehow in the back of my mind, but maybe never really fully parsed the fact that The Beatles became famous strictly as a cover band. I knew that Lennon and McCartney started writing songs when they were just kids in the late 50s, but did you know they only did that for a year or two and then they stopped? It’s true. All that Hamburg and Cavern club shit – they were playing covers. They were a bar band. Their first time in a recording studio, in a “test” recording session for Decca, they played 15 songs and they were almost all covers. And some really corny covers at that.

I’m up to the beginning of 1962 in the book, and they are the biggest band in Liverpool, they play 350 nights a year, and top the polls of music papers, and they’re a god damned bar band. They aren’t even playing original songs. Okay, they are playing exactly three original songs, that they wrote five years earlier. Think about that for a minute. They are about to become the biggest rock and roll band on the planet, the biggest pop group in the history of the world, and they have not written one of the songs they became known for. Not one. It’s amazing. You may not care for The Beatles and you may be wondering when I’ll stop talking about them, but you have to respect anyone who can just start writing songs because, oh, I don’t know, seems like the time is right now, and then go on to write hundreds of songs, many of them truly great. Like it was nothing.

But then their entire history was one of really good timing and luck, especially when it came to who wanted to work with them, or for them – the book makes that very clear – but when it came time for them to put up or shut up, they put up in a way that has yet to be equaled. And may never be equaled. You have to respect that. You have to be in awe of that. It’s not something that happens very often. If it weren’t for them you’d have to say it’s never happened in the history of the human race. Okay, Mozart wrote 600 songs – we can call them songs for the sake of this discussion, can’t we? Without you yelling at me? But he wrote those over a lifetime. And he didn’t have groupies and psychedelics to distract him. Anyway, yeah – Beatles, Beatles, Beatles. Jesus Christ, they broke up 46 years ago, mjp. Get over it. Okay, I’m over it.

But speaking of The Beatles, did you see the new documentary that Ron Howard made? “Eight Days a Week: The Touring Years”? It’s on Hulu right now. Hulu is one of those annoying Internet TV things that they kids use instead of cable of satellite. That documentary wasn’t anywhere near as good as the book I just told you about, but it was cool. You know, I tell people all the time that The Beatles played arenas and stadiums with nothing more than a few Shure Vocal Masters as a PA system and they think I’m making that shit up, but you can see it in this movie. They are at Shea Stadium, a 56,000 seat venue, and there are two clusters of 6 or 8 Vocal Master speakers standing all kattywumpus at either side of the stage. And on stage they had a few 100 watt amps and zero monitors. No monitors. Monitors are the big speaker boxes you see at the front of the stage pointing toward the band so they can hear what they’re doing. Well, The Beatles didn’t have those.

In the 60s nobody had monitors, and they all used the Vocal Masters, which were made to be used in like a high school gymnasium or something. Not for a 3000 seat theater or a god damned baseball stadium. But all the bands used them. The Who came to America for their first tour with one Vocal Master PA system. They played a few dates and then hooked up with a guy named Bob Heil who sort of created the modern concert PA system. But that’s how primitive things were. At Shea Stadium the Beatles vocals were piped through the stadium PA system. Those tinny horns that the announcers used to tell you who was at bat or sing “take me out to the ballgame.” Incredible. It must have sounded like shit, both in the audience and from the stage. Not that the audience could hear the music over all the screaming anyway.

They did that kind of large scale international touring for a year and a half, then they hung it up. Retired from live performing. Forever. If they had happened five years later, or the technology had happened five years earlier, everything would have been different. Mainly because they could have toured every year. The girls would have stopped screaming eventually, and they could have toured like a normal band. But if that had happened, they wouldn’t have had all that time in the studio to make all of those albums that changed the face of rock or pop music. Would they have done some of it? Sure, but not all of it. And other bands would have had more time to catch up and The Beatles may not have been that special, in the scheme of things, or in the long run. So again, timing is everything. Never underestimate the dynamic duo of timing and luck.

Also, John deciding to break up the band when they were at their peak also helped maintain their status as the best ever. After that they didn’t have a chance to fail in front of the world. Well, unless you consider “Let It Be” to be a failure. It wasn’t, but it was the sound of them hitting the wall, so I guess we did get a tiny taste of their mortality. Oh, and I might have more on “Let It Be” next time we get together. But their early solo records proved they still had a lot of great songs in them. They weren’t finished. They were just finished as The Beatles. Which is as it should be. Everyone should stop at their peak. I guess the trick is knowing when you’re at that peak. For most bands it’s way before that 10th album. For most bands it’s right around the third album.

Maybe that’s why they limit the president in America to two terms. So if a president does anything noteworthy, they can go out on top. Not that politicians do much that’s noteworthy. Not in the past 50 years or so anyway. When was the last great thing a president did? Social Security? Establishing the National Park system? Those things happened a long time ago. And really, politicians shouldn’t be compared to pop music groups. Only one of them has any cultural value. And it isn’t the politicians.

A lot of people seem very worried that Trump will win the presidential election. I don’t worry about that, because A) I don’t think Trump even really wants to be president, and B) because the career politicians will never let him be president. No mainstream politician – on either side – wants Trump to be president. It’s bad for their profession. They learned that lesson when they opened the door to the tea party kooks and a lot of them lost their jobs. But think about it – if the powers that be can “nudge” a state toward one candidate in a presidential election like they did in Florida not too long ago, they can certainly “nudge” a lot of states against a candidate. And if that kind of underhanded chicanery fails, there’s always the electoral college. They’re the ones that actually elect the president, not you, so they can decide they don’t want Trump and that’s the end of that.

Trump’s army of deplorables would be up in arms if that happened, and they would shout and bluster and wave their guns around, then in a couple of weeks they’d forget about the whole thing. As we tend to do. As you might know, I don’t think it matters who sits in that office. Not anymore. So if by some cosmic joke of a satanic miracle Trump did manage to get himself elected, there would be nothing to fear anyway. He wouldn’t be able to accomplish anything he says he wants to accomplish – assuming he really wants to accomplish anything he is saying. I mean really, does anyone with even a tiny scrap of common sense or the most tenuous grip on reality actually believe they can build a two thousand mile long wall along the border of a country? As president Trump would be blocked and stymied at every step. Just like Obama was, and probably just like Hillary will be when she is elected.

We have quite successfully built a magnificent, unbreakable, lowest-common-denominator political system, so I’m not sure why anyone expects any kind of different outcome for any of this. Trump and the people who support Trump are not a surprise. They shouldn’t be shocking anyone who has been conscious here in this country. There have always been people who are afraid of everyone who’s different from them, and who want things to go back to how they think things once were, when they were kids. But the reality is things were never like you remember in some idealized nostalgic fog. Things have always been crazy, and politicians have always pulled strings to get what they want, the hell with you. Always.

As for the likelihood of a republican president ushering in a conservative supreme court, so what? Supreme Court justices die and retire, just like the rest of us. It’s that damn, pesky pendulum of society again. It swings back and forth and you can’t avoid it and you can’t stop it. But the Supreme Court is a big fear for a lot of liberal types, and I get that, I just don’t care. Look around, man, find me something that’s illegal that you can’t get your hands on within the next 48 hours, wherever you happen to be. I can’t think of anything. So go ahead, make abortions illegal, or make corporations worth more than people. Pass all the crazy laws you want. If the last eight years have taught us anything, it’s that laws don’t matter. People do whatever the hell they want to do.

I know, all of that is terribly simplistic and probably terribly stupid. I should care who is president or a Supreme Court justice. I should. And I know reproductive rights are important. Don’t write me to let me know. I’m on your side. But this country – most countries – are self-healing. If they go too hard in the wrong direction, they get pulled back. Anyone who’s been alive in the world for more than 20 years has seen plenty of evidence of that. It’s the history of everyone, everywhere. If it weren’t, we’d all be bowing to Hitler’s successor right now, or Pol Pot’s. Or Kim Il Sung, Saddam Hussein, Lenin, Hirohito, Stalin or Chairman Mao. But we’re not bowing to them, because they all got the hook, didn’t they.

And Trump is no Stalin, that’s for sure. Though I will admit that he does have the hair to be a notable dictator. Most dictators have crazy hair, on their head or face. Or back. I’ll bet Stalin had a hairy fucking back. Don’t you think? And before I hang up my atheist, apolitical pundit’s hat here, I just want to say that I don’t think Trump’s supporters are stupid, and I won’t call them stupid. I know it can seem that they might be when you look at who Trump is, what he is. Or isn’t. But a lot of people are kind of isolated in their lives. A shocking number of people are still born, live their entire lives and die in the same small area, just like we did before the industrial revolution. And that’s really crippling in a way, because you don’t get the benefit of rubbing elbows with different kinds of people. But now with television and the Internet they get to hear what’s going on out in the rest of the world, and it scares the shit out of some of them. I’m not sure it’s their fault.

Those people who only back Trump because they say he’s not a politician – I get that too. But that I will call stupid. I have to throw the stupid flag at you there. Anyone who calls a billionaire an “outsider” is looking through the wrong end of the binoculars. Trump never gave a shit about people like you. You are a disposable commodity to him. Just some things that are needed to polish the brass and clean the toilets in his hotels. The ones that are still open anyway. The ones that haven’t gone bankrupt yet. A billionaire is never going to support or pass a law that benefits you while taking money out of their pocket. Never. So good luck with your president Trump. You’re going to need it.

Not that it matters. America’s been in a hole since 2008. And look at us, we’re all still here. We might not have any money in the bank, or five new cars, but we’re alive. And we’ll still be alive four years from November. Or a lot of us will be, anyway. And we’ll survive whoever becomes president then, and the one after that and the one after that. Our lives will go on every day, more of the same, and the billionaires will keep billionaire-ing and the politicians will keep lying and some people will keep looking around for a savior to take them away from all of it. Well you’re the savior, partner. Sorry.

I can give you a little real world example of why you are the savior and why the whole of politics is nothing but divisive idiocy. Have you ever seen a really bad car wreck? Like been right behind it, or even involved in it? What happened when that car flipped over onto it’s top, or hit a wall and crumpled up like a snotty Kleenex? A bunch of people jumped out of their cars, didn’t they, and ran like hell toward the people who were injured or needed help. They didn’t ask the bleeding person who they supported in the election. They just did what they could to help or comfort them. Human to human. They did that because that’s what we do. And because we all have so much more in common than we might want to admit. On that basic human level we can always get along. As long as we leave other things like politics or professional sports out of the picture.

We’ll see. It won’t be long now. Americans will shuffle into the little booths and cast a vote for someone, and sometimes those votes will get to where they need to go to be counted, and some people and machines will count them, maybe accurately, and then a couple months later we’ll have a new president. I won’t be shuffling into that booth, but I understand that a lot of you will. Bless you. A lot rides on the outcome, or nothing does, take your pick. Both statements are correct, so you can’t lose. So, not shuffling in the polling place, but still shuffling off here, now. For the time being, time being what it is. When will I see you again? When will you be back? I’ll be waiting here for you. Bye.