I was in either 7th or 8th grade, and I went to a record store to buy a Beatles album. It was also the very first time I would ever buy a record.
I didn’t know much about The Beatles other than any song I heard I liked. One summer I went to day camp at The Thomas School of Horsemanship. Whenever it rained they’d set up chairs in a big barn space and show Help. I think it was the only movie the camp had, and I saw the first 40 minutes of it five times that summer. I loved the in the floor bed John Lennon had.
My aunt had two cats named George and Ringo. I knew the other two Beatles were named Paul and John.
And that was the extent of my Beatles knowledge.
And armed with that scant knowledge I flipped through a bunch of twelve inch 33 1/3 Beatles albums, with their always interesting covers and names. Help. Hard Days Night. Meet the Beatles (in the US it was Meet the Beatles, not With the Beatles). Sgt Peppers. Magical Mystery Tour. The white one. One with no name on it but a picture of four guys with beards and long hair walking in a neighborhood across the road. And there was this weird one with a mostly white cover and line drawings of the four of them.
I flipped the various albums over and looked at song titles, figuring I’d buy whatever one had the most songs I actually knew. There were crazy titles! Being For the Benefit of Mr Kite! Polyethylene Pam! Dear Prudence! The Word! I didn’t know these songs. There were so many songs I didn’t know. I couldn’t imagine what they all might sound like.
On the mostly white one with the weird cover drawings I knew two songs, Eleanor Rigby and Yellow Submarine, so that was the album I bought.
We had a cheap shit stereo at home and a good stereo at home. The cheap shit one was a Panasonic all-in-one with Thruster Speakers… I played the first album I ever bought on the Panasonic in the kids room downstairs in our house.
We all have expectations. I knew Eleanor Rigby and Yellow Submarine, so that was what I expected Revolver to sound like.
Revolver side one song one begins with some noise — some squirps and chatter, and then a voice: “One Two Three…”
Suddenly, a guitar chord slams like someone dropping a metal garbage can lid, a huge bass rolls in and a weird, nasal voice announces, “Let me tell you how it will be…”
“What the fuck is this?” I thought. Taxman. Good god. From there it went all around the planet and into the stars. I’d never heard anything like it.
Side one ended with a short, fireball of a song called She Said She Said. It was the coolest guitar playing I’d ever heard. The drumming — there’s no words for it. It’s perfect and at the same time it sounds like someone falling down the stairs. The voice trails off at the end, overlapping and repeating, “I know what it’s like to be dead I know what it is to be sad I know what it’s like to be dead I know what it is to be sad….”
She Said She Said became my official favorite Beatles song. Side one… I flipped the record over and played side two…
There is nothing that can possibly… I mean… how do you even begin to talk about the last song on side 2, the last song on Revolver? How do you talk about Tomorrow Never Knows? It starts with a whine, kick ass drums, and then what sounds like a rampant army of angry lemmings fade in. Throughout it are jags of violins and orchestras, more lemmings, what sounds like a radio message from outer space that I later discovered was a backwards guitar solo, impenetrable lyrics, a bass that was one note over and over again until the whole thing spun apart into a player piano and a last violin line sucked up into a hole in the sky.
It was like the world sounded different after that song. There’s STILL nothing like it. Tomorrow Never Knows is a singularly. It’s the weirdest catchy beautiful cacophony ever made. Who know what the hell it is. Heaven, hell, all places in between. Up down, left right, in out.
I had sat there, my chin perched on the back of a couch with my head stuck between the speakers for 35 minutes, and I was exhausted. I laid on the floor and looked at the album jacket, the drawn and collaged front, and the photo of the band on the back.
I knew this was my favorite album, and that that would never change. And I knew… I knew that I wanted to do something that I didn’t have a name for. I wanted to be in a band and play guitar and write songs — I knew all that, but there was something else. I wanted to… be part of something like Revolver. To build something like that. To make records. Records that weren’t just music.
At the top back cover, above the list of songs, there was a sentence I didn’t quite understand. It said, “Recording produced by GEORGE MARTIN.” I didn’t know what it meant, but I was pretty sure it was the job description for me.
I went on to produce records. Revolver was the standard and the inspiration. After my tinnitus ended thoughts of working in music I went on to direct plays, and again Revolver was there somehow. Somehow the sense of humor, experimentation, the delight, the oddness, the gorgeousness, the memorability of Revolver is always with me.
After 40+ years, Revolver still clues me into the power of art, the power of music, and what it means to manifest the invisible — to do the work of the artist.