i6B--The-Michigan Daily Weekend Maga Ie-TtTursday, -Septeber25, 1997
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Tfirli~inDaiy-A e agaiMti
L Music Feature
* McCartneymakes new classic'
21Weekend, etc. Column
PITY THE INFLUENCE OF MODERN T(
LOS ANGELES - When the
Beatles used to record in the Abbey
Road studios, their loud rocking and
rolling would often annoy EMI's classi-
cal artists in neighboring studios.
Daniel Barenboim was one of the com-
plainers who got the Beatles to pipe
down. But last summer Paul
McCartney told a London newspaper
that he and his mates had felt a certain
righteous indignation. After all, their
sales were subsidizing the company's
Times have changed. The classical
side these days is expected to pay its
own way. So what's a label to do, espe-
Paul McCartney (top left), shown here with his Beatle buds in 1964, recently
released a classical composition for EMI classics entitled, "Standing Stone."
cially with classical sales sagging? For
EMI Classics, the answer has been to
co-opt its cash cow. As a celebration of
the label's 100th anniversary this year, it
commissioned McCartney to write a
symphony. And now "Standing Stone,"
a 75-minute epic-tone poem for orches-
tra and chorus, is released, in a perfor-
mance by the London Symphony
Orchestra and Chorus led by American
conductor Lawrence Foster.
"Standing Stone" is McCartney's sec-
ond classical composition, and at least
as ambitious as his "Liverpool
Oratorio" of five years ago. Not reading
music and not having had much experi-
ence in large-scale musical form -
although "Sgt. Pepper" and the White
Album argue somewhat against the lat-
ter - McCartney relied upon help from
his friends with the oratorio. With con-
siderable hand-holding from film com-
poser Carl Davis, a Beatle fashioned out
of songs the nostalgic oratorio about his
working-class origins in Liverpool.
If the result was perhaps artificial
and overblown, the musical material
was not charm. sincerity and genuine
inspiration. The real problem seemed to
be that McCartney, insecure at such an
undertaking, had chosen his collabora-
tor too conservatively.
The Beatles' greatness had always
come from both their restless experi-
mentalism and a lot of help from their
producer and arranger George Martin,
who knew how to realize their often
inchoate musical concepts. And, of
course, there was the frisson between
the Beatles themselves, particularly
McCartney and John Lennon egging
each other on with a continual stream of
McCartnev may be too old, too secure
in his lifelong success, and too senti-
mental now to be as good a collaborator
as he was in his Beatles days. He also
may be too intimidatingly rich, famous
and powerful -- his colleagues are noxN
more like hired hands. But he hasn't lost
his vision or his talent. "Standing
Stone" can seem painfully hokey both in
some of its music and certainly in its
poetic program. But it also can stop a
listener short with its sheer musicality.
McCartney has taken pains to
explain how "Standing Stone" is a more
independently made work than
"Liverpool Oratorio." Instead of dictat-
ing ideas to another composer, he com-
posed alone at the computer, which can
print out music played upon it. The
computer, happily, also proved to be a
kind of virtual John Lennon - elec-
tronic mistakes crept in, mucking about
with McCartney's sentimental side.
Wisely, McCartney recognized the
interest in such dissonances and wild
effects and kept them. Only later did he
turn to others, including the saxophon-
ist John Harle, to advise on structure,
and the versatile composer Richard
Rodney Bennett to orchestrate.
Mc~artney's problem, though, is that
he does not have the compositional
means to develop material, especially at
an epic length. And so he falls back on
cliches to keep the programmatic ball
rolling. Without development,
McCartney can only expand through
orchestral weight, and that means the
soupiest of strings and the kind of harp
glissandi that even hacks have long
since tired of.
But these are times when a large
symphony doesn't have to sound like
that. It can be anything. McCartney can
bring in his guitar and play with an
orchestra. He can be as eclectic as he
likes. Form doesn't mean what it used to
collages can be messy. This is a
moment in history when it is actually
interesting to let the rock n' roll in the
studio next door bleed into Beethoven.
McCartney has become a knight and
respectable, and with "Standing Stone"
he is writing respectable music. But
respectable symphonic knights happen
to be a dime a dozen in Britain.
There is. however, only one Paul
McCartney. and classical music could
really use a Beatle right now.
Forget about getting our asses kicked
in the trade war with Japan. Forget
about the destruction of family values,
Forget about our waning work-ethic and
the loss of manufacturing jobs.
The perilous state of American soci-
ety can be summed up in two words.
A year ago. I had the pleasure of
working in a summer day camp for
younger kids in grade school. Many
things about them shocked me. These
little children, as harmless and innocent
as they seemed. would get into vicious
fights with each other. They would
curse, they would spit, they would taunt
and they would scratch.
On really bad days, they would crap
But rather than disdain them, I felt
sorry for them. During their more sane
moments, when we could actually com-
municate on a normal level, they would
beg me for stories about the toys and
heroes of my youth.
They sucked up stories of Mr. T, He-
Man, G.I. Joe and Transformers as
quickly as they sucked up animal crack-
ers that had fallen on the filthy carpet
during snack time.
One small lad, in particular, had me
repeat over and over again my imper-
sonation of Mr. T's voice, dialect and
unique phrases - so familiar to us chil-
dren of the '80s. And although my
impression is as good as that of any
scrawny white guy who possesses no
earrings. no jewelry and all his hair, I
m no Mr.I.
I pitied the little fool for his lack of a
decent role model.
Where w\ould I be -- where would
any of us be - without the influence of
Mr. T and his action figure friends?
The thought is a scary one indeed.
Mr. I w-ho was nothing less than a
cultural icon, with his own toys, TV
show, cartoon show and even cereal -
and others like Optimus Prime and He-
Man taught us how to be strong. They
taught us stuff like the value of honor
and decency. and how to live like
upstanding Americans. The kind of stuff
you need to hear when you're a kid.
What do the toys and cartoons of
today teach nS?
i" ilashamedly admit that I have
watched one or two episodes of the
Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers. (I
will point out in my defense, however,
that I was desperately trying to procras-
tinate - something to which most stu-
dents can relate.)
The Power Rangers - who are really
nothing more than bastardized versions
of Voltron -- seem to be telling viewers
one simple thing: You are stupid.
In fact, you are so stupid that you will
not only watch but enjoy the ridiculous
effects. moronic dialogue and rudimen-
"Kids of the '90s" the Power Rangers
seem to enthusiastically proclaim, "you
are dumb now, and we hope you stay that
way for the rest of your lives. Here, allow
us to help keep you dumb."
G.I. Joe and Transformers may not
have had the highest production stan-
dards, but they featured some surps-
ingly intricate plots. One G.I. Joe
episode. in wfhih obra creates ab0 s-
alternate reality in an attempt to procure
information from a Joe, is complicated
and twisted enough to be in a fantastic
lit class I'm currently taking.
One thing the Power Rangers actually
have, which many of today's heroes do
not, is a clear distinction between good
guys and bad guys. This is a quality that
almost all the toys
of the '80s shared.
I understand that
the idea of straight-
forward good and
bad is simplistic,
f but kids need
heroes they can
actually admire and
try to exemplify.
Imagine the shock
CHRIS parents must face
FARAH when they ask their
FARAD'S 10-year-old about
FAUCET his latest role
model, the Spawn.
"What's that you're playing with,
Tommy." dear, old Dad might ask,
thinking back to the days of the eternal-
ly righteous Superman.
"This is Spawn, Daddy. He's one of
hell's minions sent to Earth to do Satan's
bidding. I want to be just like him when
I grow up!" replies Tommy with a beam-
ing look on his face, as horns begin to
mysteriously grow out of his head.
Transformers, ironically and tragical-
ly, helped mark the initial decline in the
state of toys - a decline that has turned
recently into a freefall. How shocked I
has w hen I saw rTransformers, the
Mo% ie," in the theater as a youth. only to
hear Optimus Prime, leader of the
Autobots (the wood guvs). use nrofanity!
At the time, I was old enough to
sweair myself every now and then but
Optimus Prime? Cursing on the big
After Transformers lowered the stan-
dards of the cartoon world, it wasn't
long before the television airwaves were
polluted with the animated garbage of
shows like "New Kids On the Block"
Perhaps you think I'm overreacting.
Toys and cartoons don't impact culture
that much, you may say.
I offer up as evidence a particularly
vile type of toy; a toy which, due to its
longevity and popularity, is usually
deemed a classic by the deceived mass-
For years Barbie's long, blonde hair
and perfectly molded plastic figure
have provided ridiculous standards for
the average woman to struggle to
achieve. Now, of course, Barbie is more
than a housewife. She can be a doctor or
Meet Dick V
a lawyer - something professional
besides just cleaning dishes.
So you see, it's okay to be smar
long as you're gorgeous at the same ti
At an alarming rate, women all c
the country have been replacing ti
noses, breasts and faces with pla
substitutes, ala Barbie herself. M
coincidence? I think not.
But there's still time.
Something can be done about our t
before American men and women t
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