On the other hand, if you have access to alternative dimensions where parallel fates can be studied for comparison and contrast–and thus, the aforementioned “proof”–should you be wasting valuable time on the fate of hicks, actual or theoretical, successful or otherwise?
Greil Marcus (on the response in his college dorm following the Beatles’ first appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show).
I’ve probably seen I Wanna Hold Your Hand at least a dozen times and it’s never failed to make me laugh as hard as I did when I was evidently one of about six people to see it in a theater on its initial 1978 release.
Start with the key performances by Wendie Jo Sperber (who careens through this like a bowling ball which has sprouted legs and a dazed smile, skipped its lane and is now determined to knock down every pin in the alley–especially any that are standing between her and anything that looks remotely like Paul McCartney), Nancy Allen, Theresa Saldana and Eddie Deezen, all proving they were capable of much, much more than modern Hollywood would have to give. Then add the most effective use of the Beatles’ music on film this side of A Hard Day’s Night. Then add the beautiful ambience of sixties-era settings you rarely see even in actual sixties’ movies–the inside of the Sullivan theater in all its pastel glory, a barber-shop with gleaming red leather chairs and a gum-ball machine, a record store with actual teenagers in it!
And don’t leave out those moments near the climax of the film when the various parties are finally making their way from the darkened streets to the beacon light of the theater’s famous entrance, filmed in such a way that the pure exhiliration of the moment and the dark uncertainty of the future are both present and accounted for (Allen’s flight from her prig-thuggish fiance’s car is especially striking). Or Deezen and Sperber’s escape from a stalled elevator, which nearly choked me to death on the floor of a Dothan, Alabama multiplex the first time I saw it and still floors me. So now all that’s left is to ask myself why something this good has been virtually forgotten–considered hardly worth mentioning in the careers of Gale and Zemeckis, let alone the history of seventies’ Hollywood.
Granted, finally, that most of the movies made in what will likely turn out to be American film’s last really great decade took on what were presumed to be far weightier subjects.
I Wanna Hold Your Hand is every bit as good as those films and can bear the same kind of scrutiny.
It never really occurred to me that I was missing a vital link in the crit-illuminati’s logic-chain until I began reading Sheila O’Malley’s voluminous (and extremely enlightening) blog posts on Elvis Presley and his complex relationship with both his audience and what passes for our intelligentsia. Not the serious-minded souls biding their time, waiting for Sergeant Pepper (or at least Rubber Soul) to arrive so they would really have something to talk about. Plenty of love exists for those movies and their subjects–love that will probably be reiterated in future posts in this category. But they aren’t better than I Wanna Hold Your Hand, which is about those other fans–perhaps even more despised and marginalized in the Beatles’ story than they are in Elvis’ (where they’ve been deeply scorned at every turn but at least never quite made invisible).
For all that intellectuals are forever insisting they prefer the company of such women, a wall sure does seem to come down way more often than not when it comes all the way down to giving them their cultural due. This movie–oddly enough written and directed by men who have spent the best parts of their careers helping prop up that very wall–gives them that due in spades. However accidentally, it posits the powerfully insidious notion that, without them–without them very specifically–you don’t have any Elvis or any Beatles or any of the good things those words have come to imply, musically, politically, culturally and every other way. The banner for the site is Brenda Lee from 1960, my favorite photograph of a rock and roll performer.
If a tree falls in the forest and there’s no one there to hear it, does it really make a sound?
This blog may go off in any number of directions, but the core will always be a celebration of rock and roll vocalists.


Granted, by 1974 novelists–even white novelists–had got further down this road than Twain or Mrs. And in any case, Van Zant and Collins were writing about the pre-civil rights south of their youth–about 1954 more than 1974. About the world that hadn’t yet undergone the changes of the Civil Rights movement and about the stand you might have been forced to take inside that world–within your own community, even your own family–if the rules you were supposed to live by couldn’t be reconciled with something that struck an impossibly deep chord in what a ten-year-old might just have been beginning to define as his soul (a stand which Huck Finn, incidentally, could only take when he was safe on the river, away from his community–and which, when the community reimposed itself, he slid away from as neatly as a hundred and thirty years of lit-crit has slid away from him).
Ripping something from life–three verses and a chorus say–hardly precludes romantic or even sentimental conclusions. What I can say is nobody who was carrying around even a faint residue of either the racial condescension a fellow southern white man can assure you Ronnie Van Zant and Allen Collins had been inundated with from birth or any subsequent reactionary tinge of false liberal piety, could ever have conceived or written this song, let alone turned it into a pure blues every bit as haunting and convincing as anything that came from the Mississippi Delta in the thirties.
By the time the song ends, the narrative has gone forward and back–shifted the combination of  tones and tenses–a dozen times in four minutes without drawing undue attention to a single one of those shifts.
Not only do I firmly believe that Cyndi had this dream, I do not have the slightest doubt that Fats Waller was making a personal appearance. Surely, he, of all people, knows that underappreciated populist geniuses should stick together, be it in this world or the next. Logan was the guiding light of the Hayride, a Saturday night radio program that kick-started numerous country music careers–including those of Hank Williams, Kitty Wells, Johnny Cash and Elvis Presley–between 1948 and 1958.
Along about now I should probably mention that this public bathroom was in a public elementary school and the average age of all present–two participants, one bystander–was seven. I’m guessing AC didn’t–else he would have known to keep his mouth shut about the Monkees while we were shaking our seven-year-old peckers.
As for me, it was my introduction to the concept of  hipness and a very strange introduction it was.
And let’s just say that in 1978 if you had told anyone I went to school with in the second grade or the twelfth–in two parts of the same state which might as well be on different planets–that a member of the Monkees would die of a heart attack in the year 2012 without ever having had anything resembling a major pop moment past the few years when they ruled the charts–and that his death would warrant a segment on the nightly news of every major broadcast network–we would have assumed you had smoked an awful lot of the stuff DO, CS and SS sold out of their hall lockers. Somewhere along the way, I also shook free and learned to trust what I cared about over what others told me to think.
Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email. Four girls from Jersey enlist some questionable male companionship and take a ride to New York city on a Saturday night in February of 1964 and–each for her own reasons–spend Sunday scheming how to get into the Sullivan show for the first American television appearance of the Beatles. But they’ve never come close to matching the speed and fluidity they showed here in their first outing. But the heavy-makes-for-worthy mindset hasn’t prevented flame-keepers from esteeming Duck Soup or His Girl Friday on a level with the great dramas and crime films of the thirties and forties.
More really, because while those wondrous creations–and others I could mention, starting with the name Preston Sturges–are pure confections, this one rings true to something very much like life. While the straight story of this very wonderful movie is ostensibly about Beatlemania–which might be something that the usual assortment of bemused egg-heads would be prepared to get excited about, especially if the public has been seen rejecting it!–its real subject is not the Beatles’ part of the equation, but the other part.
There’s no need to even speculate about this because those fans have in fact had great movies made about them–principally American Graffiti and Diner (the time frame is slightly shifted I know, but I can imagine nearly all the male protagonists of either film milling about Greil Marcus’ dormitory, making–or nodding along to, or sneering while privately admitting there just might be something to all this–just the sort of comments he reports).


Part of that celebration will involve an alternative world view of disco’s importance to rock and roll and the importance of great singers to disco. Perhaps most of all a man who is no one’s idea of respectable–black or white–and has nothing whatsoever to recommend him except his dobro-picking over a slave character who is–with far less ready excuse–every bit as romanticized as Uncle Tom. Stowe could have been expected to go (a progression which owed no small part to their efforts, lest we forget). Despite later protestations that the whole concept of a Confederate flag backdrop for their live shows was entirely the record company’s idea, I’m not convinced the band fought very hard against it in the moment.
If African-Americans and others remain suspicious of the original intent, I can’t offer any hard proof to refute the notion (though I will say Lee Ballinger’s excellent oral history of the band convincingly dispels most of the easy accusations).
Van Zant’s deceptively round tone–pure one moment, rasping the next–always gave him access to a sly, cutting duality that came through with special resonance on ballads.
And few things are more certain or common than our relentless desire to run back to the tribe.
I lived in a house where the television did not work, the hymnal was Baptist, the few records ran to show tunes and the radio was seldom if ever tuned to the pop station. I mean for all I know looking back, he may have already outgrown Herman’s Hermits by the fall of ’67.
But let’s make a note that, in matters of reputation, similar objections have been overcome before. And for a couple of people who are never going to be taught in modern poetry class, Van Zant and Collins did a remarkable job of walking straight up to those boundaries and drawing them so starkly that it was clear from the very beginning not everyone could step across and join them on the far side of the racial briar patch.
I also can’t say what blame, if any, Van Zant and Collins and the rest of their band should bear for not being able to bring all of their audience into a better place–whether they should have preached what they practiced. But a great bathroom book, nonetheless, and with an added value of being a first-rate work of film criticism. Like her namesake, she is a dumpy tower of strength who holds her family together and gets them through every imaginable crisis.
It’s an as-told-to, so hardly long on stylistic mastery, but it’s an important story, swiftly and insightfully told. I only vaguely knew who the Beatles or the Monkees were and if I had ever heard their music I didn’t recognize it as such. Though she thinks nothing of slitting a pig’s throat and removing its still-pulsating organs, she has the innate sensitivity that was so equisitely expressed by Jane Darwell in The Grapes of Wrath, in the silent scene in which Ma takes a last look at the precious mementos that she must leave behind.



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