The Rip Post                                Riposte Archive


riposte2.jpg (10253 bytes)

(July 26, 2006)

“Roll up for the mystery tour
Roll up!”

          Look, what can I say? I have no objectivity here. I’m gaga. I was fifteen feet away when Ringo Starr said, “Weren’t we the greatest f---in’ band ever?” to Paul McCartney, and they embraced. Sneer all you want. This was beautiful, and it was history.
          So I am to be forgiven, I hope, for writing with a bit of awe and joy. The events in Las Vegas when the remaining Beatles family gathered for the world premiere of Cirque du Soleil’s “The Beatles’ ‘Love’” touched something unjaded in me---much as they seem to have in everyone there. Consider alone the sight of Paul McCartney and Yoko Ono, just a few seats apart, both on their feet and clapping along to the chorus of “Hey Jude,” with the rest of the crowd. It was that kind of night.
          There at the Mirage Hotel was what in retrospect seems very much a mirage: aging Beatles and associates, merry, hugging one another, listening to 130 Beatles songs reconfigured into a startling 90-minute suite by 80-year-old Beatles producer George Martin (and son Giles), as Cirque actors and acrobats turned it all into a percolating impressionistic kaleidoscopic jumble. Blink. Blink.
          I mean, there was (l to r) Yoko, Dhani and Olivia Harrison, Barbara (Mrs. Ringo) Bach, Ringo, Paul, and Martin all seated in a row, one section away. Blink again. And when it was over, there they were, standing on stage, right in front of me, taking a bow, with Paul exhorting the crowd to. . .
          “Let’s hear it for John and George!”
          The crowd did.
          I confess to brain-freeze at witnessing a cordial gathering of so many often estranged figures who had such an impact on the world---figures who created what I think is the greatest story of the second half of the 20th century. As Seth Swirsky, a writer and longtime Beatles hand, said to me at the post-premiere party, while Paul and Ringo kibitzed and mock-tussled sat a few feet away, “I think The Beatles were the logical answer to Hitler.”
          Well, I’m not sure there is a “logical” answer to Adolf, but if you buy him as the ultimate force of evil in the 20th century, it’s not hard to buy John, Paul, George, and Ringo as the opposite extreme. I mean, what else has given humanity such an inspiring, invigorating shot in the arm? “American Idol?” Megadeth? Sylvester Stallone?
          Though two Beatles are so terribly gone, this truly was a kind of Beatles reunion, or at least an echo of the stuff of their particular magic. A late, if not last, hurrah. As Giles Martin put it, "Sgt. Pepper was done because the Beatles stopped touring. And this was done because the Beatles aren't here." So “The Beatles’ ‘Love’” is, in a way, the new album, the tour that never happened, the follow-up to Abbey Road. (The remarkable soundtrack album is due this fall.)
          And I was, of all things privileged, an invited guest. (Thank you, Ms. Benefactor.)
          The show? It’s a big Vegas spectacle---what do you expect?---with its biggest flaw being that it is. . .big. It so attempts to bowl you over with manic staging and twirling and harum-scarum hallucinogenic Beatles-inspired imagery that it tends to overwhelm and distract from the music. But this is Vegas, where lack of excess is a sin. Americans need their money’s worth in garish, gosh-look-at-that-honey entertainment, and “The Beatles’ ‘Love’” delivers. Not everyone who attends is a Beatles fan, after all.
          Besides, illustrating music is always an iffy proposition. Good music tends to stand on its own without need for image, and visuals can limit and confine rather than define and accentuate. Yes, you expect to see “Lady Madonna,” I suppose, during that particular song, and later Lovely Rita, Lucy in the Sky, and Father McKenzie, etc., but what exactly skate-slaloming does for “Help!” does not reward contemplation.

The moment drives home in 21st century technology just how much things have changed since the mid-20th--- how much has been lost in good will, free-spirited creativity, optimism, and, well, love.

          Remember “Magical Mystery Tour?” The film, not the album. This was The Beatles’ infamous attempt at a dada-esque magic busride a la Kesey’s Merry Pranksters, critically panned for (gasp) not making sense. (As opposed to the today’s average music video, eh?) Well, “Love” is sort of a frenzied, high-tech 3-D Mystery Tour of Beatleland, making just about as much sense as MMT. Yes, there is a sort of Beatle-bio chronology to it, and Cirque CEO Guy Laliberte can undoubtedly explain the “story arc,” but this is really just a series of crazy music videos done live.
          The music is another story entirely. Casual fans will be bowled over, hard-core appreciators will be immersed, riveted. The Martins have, as is now well known, created a series of “mash-ups” of Beatles songs, and they are serious achievements in their own right. For random example: the drum beat from “Why Don’t We Do It In the Road” morphs into “Lady Madonna,” which weaves “Hey Bulldog” into the proceedings, overlaid with the guitar solo from “Helter Skelter,” then somehow transmogrifies back to “Lady Madonna.” If it seems like a so-what novelty, it is just smashing to hear. The chopped-up, multi-tiering of Beatles music is not only good fun (Martin has challenged listeners to identify all the song bits), but a real revelation, in that the music retains its power. This is not cheesy medley-making. Even the vocals from “Here Comes the Sun King” played backwards are somehow beguiling, transporting.
          You can’t kill this stuff.
          Most amazing, ‘Love’ sounds like the band is playing live, nothing less. All the music has been mixed anew from the original session tapes, for starters, and each seat in the specially built new theater has speakers that were custom balanced, one-by-one, by Giles Martin. To hear the interplay of Lennon and Harrison’s guitars for the first time ever on “Revolution,” for instance, or McCartney’s pervasive extensive harmony vocals on “Come Together” is just a shocker, a real thrill.
          But not all of the show is madcap choreography and Beatles song puzzle. “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” is not only a welcome, gentle departure from antic acrobatics, but for me, the high point of the evening. Here was the lovely solo acoustic version of the George song from the “white album” sessions of 1968, with a Debussy-recalling string arrangement specially composed by George Martin. Think: Harrison’s “Yesterday.” (Sorry, George.) In other words, miracle of miracles, this is effectively a new Beatles song. It should have been released in ’68.
          And the Cirque conceit for “Guitar” was spare, elegant. All was black and white; the theater dark except for silently moving, white, star-like points of light. Then came the voices of John and George in newly concocted patter (created out of studio chatter by the Martins.) Floating above it all were two graceful, elongated figures made entirely of torn white paper, revolving slowly. John and George’s exchange was mystical, cryptic, with John at one point observing that “people look smaller from here.” The implication was clear: Beatles from Beyond. As the song played, countless black and white letters somehow tumbled slowly from above, spilling throughout the theater. One could not help but think of Lennon’s “Across the Universe” line, "words are flowing out like endless rain into a paper cup/ they slither wildly as they slip away across the universe. . .”
          Another arguably “new” song was Ringo’s “Octopus’s Garden.” Here Martin took the orchestral part from the “white album”-closing “Good Night,” and overlaid the first verse from “Garden,” making the song dreamy, lullabye-like---before segueing into the full band version, which somehow ends with The Beatles, entirely a cappella. (One hopes that more new mixes and “Martinized” versions of songs are in the works; I think he should re-make the entire “Abbey Road” album into the non-stop orchestral Beatles “symphony” that he originally had in mind. Abbey Road---the George Martin symphonic version. It could be done.)
          As if all this was not astonishing enough, the Cirque pulled off something ingenious, almost miraculous. The four Beatles were not merely present in song and staging---they made several whimsical guest appearances, and I don’t mean on film. The Cirque/Martins team have dared to conjure the Fabs, as Harrison liked to call them, anew. Picture it: four spotlights with silhouettes walking across the stage, gesturing, trading repartee. I don’t know how it’s done, but the actors behind the shadows have the physiques and mannerisms down. The banter was again assembled by the Martins from studio yacking through the years, and it amounts to nothing less than a new dialogue that would have been plenty good for “Help!” or “A Hard Day’s Night.” Better, really, because it’s them---not a writer “doing” them. Meet the Virtual Beatles.
          The show ends with a gigantic projected montage of the band performing through the years, as “All You Need is Love” fills the air. "Love, love love" go those deathless harmonies. Call it tear-jerking if you must, but I doubt there was a dry eye in the house. Pools of sorrow, waves of joy, as Lennon sang. It isn’t merely the heart-breaking absence of John and George that overwhelms here. The moment drives home in 21st century technology just how much things have changed since the mid-20th--- how much has been lost in kindness, free-spirited creativity, optimism, and, well, love. These are very nasty days, with---it’s hard to even type these words---another world war looming. Say what you will about “the sixties” or The Beatles, there was a real effort to promote cooperation and understanding that just no longer seems present. It’s as though humanity experienced a brief period of attempted enlightenment before plunging into rapacious greed, environmental catastrophe, killing. Love might not be all you need, but it’s always in short supply. Who knows? Placing this show in the world capital of lust might prove more subversive than ironic. Maybe they should open one in the Middle East.
          As the first round of applause broke out, I noted a touching sight unreported in the media: Yoko graciously reached over immediately to shake hands with Dhani Harrison. The whole “Love” idea grew out of a meeting between LaLiberte and Dhani’s father, and it was Dhani who shepherded the vision to this rather glorious reality.
          Then came the party.
          Recall the scene in “Magical Mystery Tour” where everyone files inside of a tiny tent, only to find a big nightclub inside, with the Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band and a stripper? I felt like I had walked into that tent, to the tenth power, as I strolled into the Mirage convention center. . .
          Lovely Rita (Meter Maid) had ushered the show (really---lots of her, complete with fake British accents), and now Polythene Pam was hosting the post-show revelry, replete with red plastic eyeballs (see pic with unknown partygoer), serving endless flutes of champagne. Mermaids lounged in the Octopus’s Garden pool at the center of the hall, and some occasionally gyrated to techno-trance pop piped in from everywhere. Fifteen-foot-tall Apple Bonkers straight out of the “Yellow Submarine” movie strutted about, mantis-like, dropping enormous inflated green apples on heads. Ginger slings, cream tangerines (“Savoy Truffle”) and marshmallow pies (“Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds”) were everywhere for the taking.
          In the mobbed VIP section adjoining the Octopus’s Garden (or was it “the banks of her own lagoon?”), an astoundingly youthful looking Paul hugged Julian Lennon, and later Ringo---about thirty feet away from Yoko, who sat at the opposite end in jaunty top hat (it's a cirque, after all), chatting with friends. The great Ravi Shankar was wheeled in after a while, and took a seat next to Paul, Ringo, Olivia, Barbara, and various McCartney relatives. Projected on the walls all around: faces from the crowd fragmented into Warhol/Peter-Maxish collages. . .
          “It’s like Carnaby Street in Swinging London! This is how it must have been,” yelled “Breakfast With The Beatles” host Chris Carter, in my ear, above the din. I nodded. He was right that this was a direct descendent of that giddy stripe-and-paisley scene, where the Beatles were incense-reeking rajas, but this was. . .Vegas. Artifice Central. A long way from “tune in, turn on, drop out.” When the satirical theme from “Austin Powers” came on the sound system, all seemed suddenly right with the world. The tongue-in-cheek “swinging” music went well with carefully rehearsed hippie-dippy girlies hired to stamp “Love” and other ‘60’s mottos on available arms and foreheads.
          I wandered around with my co-conspirator, Annie (who occasionally abandoned me on impromptu gustatory impulse), gabbing amiably with the aforementioned Swirsky (about the meaning of Lennon’s “Imagine,” among other things), discussing the propriety of sneaking Ringo and Paul photos with Beatles author Bruce Spizer (he said no, but we snapped anyhow), exchanging critiques of the show with Tetsuo Hamada, the longtime head of the Beatles fan club in Japan (courtesy of translation by the estimable Simon Prentis, sometime consultant to McCartney and Ono), musing to myself about the absence---and presence---of George and John. . .
          With a little champagne, it all started to feel as logical, inevitable as a Lennon-McCartney chord change: the remaining players in the Beatles story, various celebs, and just plain Beatle folk mingling happily, munching decadently on all manner of delectables in booths spread around the hall (including old Ravi, who was wheeled from one booth to the next, very keen on the munchables) jabbering on until 1, 2, 3 a.m.. Smiling. Laughing. We all belonged there, or at least it felt that way. And our friends are all aboard, as Ringo once sang. For all the sad and tragic and acrimonious history of The Beatles, there was nothing but good will in the air that night.
          Good will, of course, being a kind of love.

                                             BACK TO PAGE ONE

© 2006 Rip Rense. All rights reserved.