Classic Rock: Dead Letter Office

Quill and paper
Photo: sure2talk

Tryin’ to get to you. Pleading with the postman about news of your boyfriend, so far away. Lonely days are gone, I’m going home. And all because of a venerable social practice and convention of yesteryear; the art of letter-writing (and receiving). But, in this advanced technological age of Skype and IM, how has pop music assimilated these technological anachronisms?

Pop culture critic, writer, and music fan Geoff Moore gets out figurative pen and paper (figurative because otherwise the postage would cost a fortune …) to muse on the state of that key ingredient of pop – the letter  – now a less common experience when checking your mailbox, so much so that the idea of ‘mailbox’ in casual conversations is much more aligned to Google than it is your friendly neighbourhood letter-carrier (or is that department-store-circular carrier?).


In one of his greatest songs, a letter prompts Elvis to travel by night over mountains and through valleys to reach a distant love. The cost to get home was no object to Alex Chilton of the Box Tops when his baby wrote him a letter saying she couldn’t live without him any longer.

What if, in 1971, a mere pizza flyer dropped through the mail slot onto the floor of Burton Cummings’s vestibule instead of a letter sent from Indianapolis, IN zip code 46201?

A series of rotating strikes by Canada Post employees in June countered by management locking out workers and the subsequent announcement that mail delivery in this country will be reduced to just three days a week was met with… Well, the average citizen didn’t notice. The Crown corporation’s 2009 annual report states that Canada Post processed eleven billion pieces of mail and delivered them to fifteen million addresses that year.

These are staggering numbers but they also reflect a decline in volume of some eight percent. Mail is now the realm of marketers and businesses and no longer a crucial link in intimate personal communication.

Since Time Magazine trumpeted the computer as Machine of the Year in 1982, the digital transformation of society has proceeded at a dizzying rate, seemingly too swift to measure. The new and improved normal becomes standard for one generation while the ones behind it may perhaps feel a little wistful about what’s being being lost.

A letter (and the inspiration written correspondence has provided to songwriters and other artists) will soon be as archaic as a record shop or a telephone number that cites the exchange: ‘Beechwood4-5789.’ This is neither to mourn nor moan about the passing of old ways, but to stand by awed by the sheer and shifting wonder of the brave new world.

Two of Rod Stewart’s most charming songs, ‘You Wear It Well’ recorded during his prime and ‘Lost In You,’ a bouncy little gem found along the long slope of his decline, are literally sentimental letters to loved ones from transient workers. While the narrators of Tom Waits’s ‘Christmas Card from a Hooker in Minneapolis’ and John Hiatt’s ‘Tennessee Plates’ have fallen a lot farther and harder than Rod’s characters, the storytelling device is the same although Hiatt’s incorporates an O.Henry-like twist at the song’s end: “Well, this ain’t no hotel I’m writin’ you from…”

Whatever happened to these letters? Were they stored in a trunk in the corner along with bills and demands? Did they make their way back stamped ‘Return to Sender’? Was the recipient waiting at the door begging, ‘Please Mr. Postman’?

Digitization has conferred a type of immortality upon numerous aspects of pop culture (not all progress is necessarily good); recorded music has especially proliferated in cyberspace. It’s a curious thing to consider that some day a new listener who stumbles across one of these tracks may very well be mystified by its context.


Geoff Moore waxes poetic in the city of Calgary, where he is currently reviewing the manuscript of his soon-to-go-to-market second novel, Duke Street Kings. Meanwhile, neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays this courier from the swift completion of his appointed rounds.

A Delete Bin Exclusive: The Classic Rock Interview

Rock ‘n’ roll stories, are just like other tales of questing heroes. They follow a pattern. It’s  just like Joseph Campbell said.

This starts from young enthusiasm, to paying one’s dues in squalor, to rising fame, to the pinnacle of that fame, and moves ever onward around the cycle. And by onward around the cycle, we mean going down through the underworld of rock excess – the women, the drugs, the concept albums – and upward again, after the blaze of glory has long been extinguished for many a grizzled rock ‘n’ roll hero.

Then, comes the classic comeback. Some cynics out there might say the classic re-sell. Writer, music fan, and rock ‘n’ roll sceptic Geoff Moore is such a cynic …
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Pop Culture Apocalypse: Gimme Shelter

It seems that a storm may well be threatening our very (quality music-consuming) lives today, good people.In this month’s guest post here at the Delete Bin, pop culture vulture and writer Geoff Moore gazes out on the plain once again, this time with a belief in democracy and in pop greatness held under pressure. Does the age of social media, social sharing, and the democratization of content mean the death of pop artistry too? Is it the end of the world as we know it where pop music chart action that’s unfettered by crossover marketing is concerned?


According to the whack-jobs and nut cases whose URLs constitute the last few dusty pages of the Internet, the Mayan Long Count calendar dictates December 21, 2012 as the end of the world as we know it. Fortunately we’ve some months yet to get our affairs in order and due diligence is the order of the day as the lunatic fringe may be right this time. If you’re not as jittery as the ruler of an Arab police state, you should be. Signs of a pop culture apocalypse are all around us.

Following Mick Jagger’s Solomon Burke tribute on the 53rd edition of the Grammy Awards the Washington Post was compelled to report that the voice of the Stones is not dead, contrary to tweets trending globally. The paper described the social media phenomenon as a hoax.

It wasn’t; because a hoax involves some forethought and planning. It’s simply that twits are unable to express themselves clearly in 140 characters and their twitterpated followers lack the attention spans to read, interpret and comprehend said 140 characters which alluded to Jagger being past his prime, hence a sardonic R.I.P. from a media personality trailed by illiterate electronic acolytes.

Another reason we are no longer able to communicate is because we are deaf. The cast of the television show Glee has racked up 113 entries on the Billboard Hot 100 in less than two execrable years. Elvis Presley slides down to number two with 108. Pour yourself a stiff one and contemplate this state of affairs. Make it a double. Neat. How did it all come to this? The sales of digital music actually declined for the first time ever last year and that’s despite iTunes launching the Beatles catalogue online. Yet people are still purchasing ersatz show tunes by teenage actors. And, dear God, they must be listening to them too.

Who are these people?

We must assume they are subversive agents of the counterculture because after all, the cast of Glee has been featured on the cover Rolling Stone magazine, the Little Red Book of the left. And the people will not be denied.

Rolling Stone, partnering with a shampoo, whose PR flak maintains that music is one of the brand’s core equities(!?), recently announced a contest in which readers will get to vote on whom the publication features on an upcoming cover. Sixteen unsigned bands (including one called the Sheepdogs from Saskatoon, SK) are vying for the honour. RS publisher Matt Mastrangelo told the New York Times that the rag’s staged battle of the bands is “the antithesis of what American Idol is.”

Sure smells like a cheesy talent contest from here.

Perhaps the magazine should return to its area of expertise, like asking Democratic presidents what their favourite Dylan songs are.

When the end comes you just want it to be sudden, over and done with in an incomprehensible, blinding, incinerating flash. But the Four Wild Horsemen seem to be content just cantering along and dragging us behind them through the popular muck of these times.


Geoff Moore lives and works in Calgary, Alberta. His basement is loaded with canned goods, and 45’s.

R(®)ock ‘n’ R(®)oll Brands

Symbols have been a part of civilized society for thousands of years, from tribal insignias, shield emblems, family crests, and flags, to logos for cereal and sportswear. But what of our precious rock ‘n’ roll? The youth of today and of yesteryear have proudly huddled under one symbol or another, whether they be mod, rocker, or mocker.

The impulse to form tribes is very much a part of humanity’s basic make-up, no-less evident in the advent of mass-produced-and-distributed pop music. But, is this really just an exercise in marketing, and in some cases incredibly crass marketing? Well, to answer that question, why not ask an ad man?  Luckily, we here at the ‘Bin have at least one of those on hand; Mr. Geoff Moore.

Here’s Geoff’s take on the state of the union when it comes to rock, and to the celebrated and reviled b(r)and logo …

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Happy Birthday Keith Richards: 10 Musical Moments

This coming December 18th is actually the celebration of two birthdays. One, a celebration of the birthday of Rolling Stones songwriter/guitarist, rock n’ roll pirate, and superhuman drug-abuse survivor Keith Richards. And the other, incredibly, is the birthday of this very blog in its present form, which is three years old today. Happy birthday to us!

But, today let’s focus on Keef. He’s  known by many  these days for his ruined visage and onstage tenacity as a rock n’ roll musician. He’s still doing it even on the occasion of his 67th birthday, and also in the year that his biography Keith Richards Life was released.

So, what I’d like to do is to list some musical highlights in a career that offers an embarrassment of riches. Where many of the greatest tracks with the Stones were fronted by Keith’s musical partner, Mick Jagger, Keith himself has often taken the helm, providing lead vocals as well as game-changing touches as a guitar player.

And even when he hasn’t come to the fore as a lead singer, it was established very early on that even if early Stones manager Andrew Loog Oldham was listed as the producer on the band’s early albums, the real musical ear behind their catalogue in the studio was Keith himself. The takes that were used on the records were done so on Keith’s approval.

So, let’s take a look at 10 such moments that best features Keith’s musical signature, which is a cultural contribution unlikely, if not completely impossible, to replace. Read more

Blind Faith Play ‘Can’t Find My Way Home’

Listen to this track by bona fide, albeit short-lived, supergroup Blind Faith, featuring Steve Winwood (vocals, keyboards, guitar), Eric Clapton (guitar), Ginger Baker (drums), and Ric Grech (bass guitar).  It’s “Can’t Find My Way Home” as taken from the band’s 1969 self-titled and sole LP Blind Faith, a folky and atmospheric gem that sits as a centerpiece to the record, and remains to be a celebrated track, covered as it was by acts as disparate as  blues-rock maven Bonnie Raitt to No Wave band Swans.

For many, the era out of which this song and this group came presented new vistas in rock music, particularly those holding the purse strings at the major labels. In this case, it was three – Polydor, Island, and Atantic Records, distributed through the Atco label.

All the while, the name of the band was something of an ironic nod to the fact that for all of the hype and expectations surrounding it, the band members themselves knew that it was a union assembled informally and without much of a plan for world domination.  Despite this, label support would roll out formal preparations for a tour and an album, counting their money as they did so in an act of, you guessed it, blind faith.  I mean, what could possibly go wrong?

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Roger Waters The Wall Live 2010: Riding the Gravy Train

The ‘Classic Album’ tag is something of a double-edged sword, in that careers are often weighted down by them as much as made by them. In recent years, bands have united to perform [insert respective classic album title according to act here] “in it’s entirety” as a way to jump start a comeback, or just plain sell tickets to keep the show on the road.

But, is there a limit to how many times an act can do this before losing credibility? How much will the concert ticket booking, CD extras-seeking, DVD-buying public stand? Well, in this month’s piece by writer, pop music critic, and music fan Geoff Moore, that very question takes center stage, with a giant inflatable pig hanging over it …


Roger Waters was the cover subject of a very recent issue of Rolling Stone magazine. Stop-in-your-tracks stuff because he is neither a television actor nor a starlet, but an actual working musician, albeit one with nothing new to sing to us. But such is the state of what is now referred to as ‘classic’ rock.

Roger Waters has revived (rebuilt?) The Wall, which relates the story of Pink F. Sorrow, a rock star who suffers a breakdown in the Colony of Slippermen where he has been exiled and forced to play pinball.

And he blames his mother. Or something.

Time has not been kind to rock opera plots generally (the drugs wore off), but the vast majority of their songs still hold up either in or outside of their original contexts. Read more

Blue Tuesday: A Requiem For Record Stores

In this month’s piece by former Montrealer and current Calgarian music and sports aficionado, not to mention author, Geoff Moore, we take a look at a dying ember of the 20th century; the local record store. Even the word “record” is something of an oddity in today’s paradigm dominated by digital downloading, where seeking out new sounds is only as far away as the click of a mouse.

But, in days of yore, a visit to the record store, especially on Tuesdays when records have been traditionally released to an eager public, was more than just one step in the process of music distribution.  It was a religious act, an act of sheer devotion, and never to be replaced in exactly the same way …


Yes, there used to be a record store right here (with apologies to Ol’ Blue Eyes.)

HMV Canada, the last chain standing because it has so far negotiated the transition from music retailer to entertainment retailer, last week launched, a frostback alternative to iTunes. The site is unique in that MP3 fans can pay for their song selections via debit card, great news for the earbud set. You have to suspect that the shrinking square footage devoted to CDs in HMV’s steel and glass stores will get additional Preparation H treatments.

Image courtesy of Click through to their original article.

Last week CBC Calgary reported that Megatunes, a landmark independent music store on the once infamous 17th Avenue SW Red Mile, will close its doors when summer’s lease expires. Its sister location on Edmonton’s happening Whyte Avenue near the legendary Commercial Hotel (Blues on Whyte) will shut too. A colleague allowed that a little part of him died when he heard the news even though he eventually got fed up with paying too much for albums “with just one good song.”

Three weeks ago I pulled the trigger on a banked gift certificate. For $103 and change and free shipping I got: Bruce Springsteen: London Calling (2 DVDs), Stones in Exile (DVD), Cadillac Records (DVD), Hot Chocolate’s Every 1’s a Winner and remasters of Beggars Banquet, John Wesley Harding and Roxy Music’s Flesh + Blood. If I’d taken a century note into HMV I could probably have scooped the more recent releases at prices that may or may not have been competitive with Amazon, but I could not have spent all of my allotted money. On the other hand, Megatunes might possibly have had everything I wanted in stock but I would have needed much more than a picture of Sir Robert Borden to purchase all seven items.

The only goal for fans like us is the acquisition of music at a fair price. These days it’s more efficient to shop without leaving your house as retail inventory is hideously limited. (In June I swooped on three HMVs before I found the discounted Exile remaster. One store manager told me: “Complain, e-mail Toronto, the accountants. They sent us 12 copies.”)

As a cost-conscious consumer of soon to be obsolete media I made out like a bandit trawling Amazon, but clicking a mouse, especially a cleft PC one for a lefty, is no fun. There’s no tactile experience. You can’t pick a disc up, turn it over and examine it, linger over the track listings while you mull over your purchasing decision. Browse is the wrong freaking verb to describe looking at a web site.

The intelligent software that helpfully suggests complementary artists and products makes me feel like a character in a Philip K. Dick story. And when you proceed to checkout, there’s nothing under your arm or in your hand, no instant gratification (although you can offset this crushing disappointment somewhat by selecting the cheapest shipping option, thereby inaugurating a game of mailbox lottery in the days to come).

There was a time, long before Tuesdays were designated new release day, when record buying just wasn’t mere shopping; it was a ritual that was part and parcel of being a rock devotee. Haunting record stores was like staying out all night to buy concert tickets, the music was always the end but the means, the preliminary legwork, somehow enhanced and became part of the overall listening experience. Record shopping was my primary social activity and while it’s much more of a challenge now (or an unsatisfying cinch sitting in front of a computer), it’s never gotten old.

So forgive me while I remember. If you think I’m a sad sack crank now, meet me at age 20:

Montreal, July 1980: I am drinking a quart of Molson ale and smoking a cigarette in Toe Blake’s (legendary Montreal Canadiens player and coach) Tavern on rue Ste-Catherine priming for a serious record jaunt. My part-time job in the produce department of the nearby A&P store nets me $135 a week. The rent on my one and a half room apartment near the Montreal Forum is $135 a month plus telephone. Tuition for the upcoming year at Concordia University will run me some $750 plus books. I’ve have never been so flush with cash in my life and never will be again.

Image courtesy of Click image to view original post.

Across the street is a massive A&A Records, aisles of bins and warped, creaky wooden floors. I’m a regular, in there about three or four times a week. One of the cashiers will give me a $2 discount from time to time because she once admired the Clash London Calling button on my jean jacket so I removed it and gave it to her; I had two of them anyway. I suppose the next logical step would’ve been to ask her out but my fear of public rejection is more powerful than my hormones. Beside A&A is a tiny Discus Warehouse outlet; most of the albums for sale have the corners of their sleeves clipped off making the store one giant, er, delete bin. Who is Clifford T. Ward?

Eastbound along Ste-Catherine to Bishop, Cheap Thrills is located on the second floor of what would have been a lovely greystone residence 100 years ago. Cheap Thrills is where I dump my mistakes and where I keep hoping some fool will unload the “Brown Sugar” maxi single with both “Bitch” and “Let It Rock” on the B-side. The next stop is Rock en Stock on Crescent Street, a store that has embraced punk and also specializes in European imports. Here is where I scooped a French pressing of the eight minute version of “Miss You” on pink vinyl. Around the corner, back on Ste-Catherine is Dutchy’s Record Cave: bootlegs and another fruitless search for the Stones’ Garden State ’78.

2000 Plus is one of those unique Montreal commercial names that works well in either French or English. The store’s address is 2000 Mansfield but despite its proximity to the McGill campus it’s a little pricey. The shop made local news a year or two previously when its graphic and gory window display promoting the Battered Wives’ first album was vandalized by protesters.

Continuing along Ste-Catherine I pass Eaton’s and The Bay. There is a morass of malls connecting the two department stores to the Metro system and there are a couple of Discus stores within but they’re geared to the weekday lunch crowd and not worth checking out. East of The Bay at the corner of Bleury is Discomanie, a retailer specializing in homegrown artists and English art rock – it remains an unfathomable mystery to me as to why Quebecers so whole-heartedly embraced prog. And Shawn Phillips. Discomanie is where I stock up on clear plastic sleeves to protect my album covers.

There is another A&A Records further east. Although it’s not quite as large as the one near Guy where I started my trip, it’s always worth a look because of its proximity to Sam the Record Man; competition is good.  Sam’s is the biggest store in town. Smaller than its Yonge Street parent, but still three glorious floors of music. I’ll be here a while. Hang tough, you can find me in the blues or the reggae sections.

For the final store on the route I head north from Ste-Catherine to Park Avenue, Phantasmagoria beckons. There are no bins in Phantasmagoria. All of the albums for sale are displayed in angled wire racks or in wire baskets hooked into the pegboard walls. All trim and finishing in the store is polished blonde wood. It is simply a really nice store, my favourite in town. I bought two copies of the first Clash album here, the olive drab U.K. version and the blue American release.

What really makes Phantasmagoria special is actually across the street. Brasserie Henri Richard with its giant exterior wall mural of the Pocket Rocket and his older brother in action is a heavenly place to regroup before the long walk home. Five years retired from the Montreal Canadiens he sits in a rocking chair by the beer taps puffing on a giant stogie holding court with his customers. He wears one of his 11 Stanley Cup rings. I peel the cellophane from my purchases and examine the artwork and the inner sleeves. The beer’s delicious. Although I’m too shy to speak to him, me and Henri, we’re like this! And I’ve got an armload of new albums to listen to tonight. The world is a perfect place.

Home for a visit last May. I retraced my steps of 30 years ago. Amazingly, Cheap Thrills ( is still in business although the store is now located few blocks east of Bishop on Metcalfe. Everything else, the hockey beer parlours and all of the other record stores are long gone. There’s a massive HMV at the corner of Peel and Ste-Catherine now.

Nothing inside grabbed me.

The Band Featuring Richard Manuel Performs “Whispering Pines”

the-band-brown-albumListen to this track by Americana architects The Band, featuring “rhythm pianist”, vocalist, and sometime songwriter Richard Manuel singing lead.  It’s “Whispering Pines”, his song that he co-wrote with guitarist Robbie Robertson as featured on the Band’s 1969 self-titled album The Band, sometimes called The Brown Album.

I recently finished reading Million Dollar Bash, by Sid Griffin, the story of how the band became the Band out of the ashes of the R&B backing band for Ronnie Hawkins and then Bob Dylan that they once were. It was during a 1967-68 recording stint , when four, and later all five, members of the Hawks rented a house and rehearsal space they named Big Pink in rural upstate New York.  It was here that they delved into the folk music  of decades and centuries past, with Bob Dylan on hand to serve as a catalyst, while also rehearsing new songs by Dylan, fresh off of Bob’s typewriter in the very house and in the very hour that they were being recorded. They in turn kept Bob on the straight and narrow in how to play in a band, after years of  his playing solo.

Soon, the set-up at Big Pink (and at Dylan’s house, and later Rick Danko’s house) came to represent an alternate way of making music that eschewed the constraints of the studio. This is a practice which is now commonplace, even if Dylan and the Hawks were pioneering spirits in its development. From The Cowboy Junkies recording their Trinity Sessions album at Holy Trinity Church in Toronto, to Bruce Springsteen releasing his 1982 Nebraska album based on homemade demo tapes, to Bon Iver recording a debut album in a hunting shed, the approach can be laid at the feet of the group which would eventually emerge two years later as The Band.

Richard Manuel of the Band; pianist, sometime drummer, and considered to be the group’s lead singer even by Levon Helm and Rick Danko, both of whom took lead vocals on many of the Band’s most celebrated material.

And this approach was how this song, and the others that accompanied it, were ushered into the world, this time in a rented guesthouse as owned by Sammy Davis, Jr. of all people.  The clubhouse approach brought out possibilities for this group that, arguably, might not have been accessible while under normal studio-bound conditions.  For instance, the melody lines in “Whispering Pines” suggest a choral piece more so than a rock n’ roll ballad, helped along by Manuel’s gospel-tinged lead, and organist Garth Hudson’s churchy sonic colour palette.  This is clearly a mix that would have taken time and the right environment to render properly.  And Manuel, a troubled soul with what bandmate Robbie Robertson described as having a ‘hurt in his voice’, is in a league of his own at being able to achieve the subtleties.

Manuel as a vocalist was compared to Ray Charles even by his own bandmates, and later by many others.  Indeed, Manuel was a huge Ray Charles fan, and his ability to hit a similar soulful chord in everything he sang  was an element that got him hired into the Hawks to begin with.  And Manuel’s ability to bring this into what the Band was creating, that is, a musical stew that was far removed from the trends of the times, was considered to be his untouchable strength.

Manuel had a number of personal problems which sprung from his prodigious intake of alcohol and drugs.  While the Band was a growing concern from the late 60s to the mid-70s, it was this which stunted his ambitions as a songwriter, and even later as a vocalist.  The hints of spiritual turbulence to be found here in “Whispering Pines” is something of a window into Manuel’s soul. Like many , perhaps if he’d been born at a later time, when these kinds of problems were more recognized as such, he might have overcome.

But, sadly even after the Band reformed without Robertson in 1983 and when Manuel seemed to be making progress away from his own destruction, the darkness which seemed to plague him overtook him in March of 1986.  Richard Manuel hung himself in his Florida hotel room while on tour with his old bandmates.

One of his many professional and personal admirers was Eric Clapton, who had this to say about Manuel:

“I was madly in love with Richard… At the time, [1975] we had the same troubles. I felt insecure and he was clearly insecure, and yet he was so incredibly gifted….For me he [Richard] was the true light of the Band. The other guys were fantastic talents, of course, but there was something of the holy madman about Richard. He was raw. When he sang in that high falsetto the hair on my neck would stand on end. Not many people can do that.”

Read more about Richard Manuel on the official The Band website.


China, the Church, Bob Dylan, and the Beatles

If many no longer consider the rock acts of yesteryear, or at least the ones who had their heyday many years ago, to be culturally vital, then the Vatican and the Chinese Ministry of Culture disagree.  It seems that the aura of rock ‘n’ roll danger is alive and well from the perspective of these venerable institutions, with Dylan being denied a live audience in Beijing, and with the generous forgiveness for past sins recently bestowed upon the erstwhile Fab Four by the Catholic Church.  But, what does this mean for the rest of us?  Social observer and music enthusiast Geoff Moore,  you’re on …


Most peculiar, Mama.

Two of the most notorious, insular, and autocratic (and perhaps rotten) institutions on the planet, the Chinese government and the Vatican, remain bemused by rock ‘n’ roll almost 60 years after its birth. Everybody plays the fool in April, but usually just for an hour or two on the first of the month.

News last week that the Chinese ministry of culture has barred Bob Dylan from performing in Beijing and Shanghai and that the Roman Catholic Church has granted the Beatles absolution was confounding, bordering on the bizarre. Had you ever doubted or dismissed the cultural impact of rock ‘n’ roll, here is living -albeit ludicrous- proof that it all mattered and it still does. Amazingly, two giants of the genre, of 20th century music, who hit their heights in the 60s are still provoking certain powers that be. For very different reasons.

In ‘Culture and Art,’ chapter 32 of Mao’s little red book, the Chairman pontificates strictly on literature and art and their places within the “revolutionary machine.” The quotations date from 1942, years before the release of ‘Rocket 88’.  So it comes as no surprise that Beijing’s policy on rock ‘n’ roll is ad hoc: Wham!, yes; the Rolling Stones excepting certain songs, okay; Oasis, no. The Central Committee of the Communist Party of China is working without a manual when it’s forced to address the devil’s music.

At this stage of The Never Ending Tour Dylan is no threat to anybody, the troubadour will turn 69 on May 24th. English-speaking audiences have enough difficulty decoding his lyrics as it is and he never addresses the crowd anyway. And yet, a regime backed by the utterly massive People’s Liberation Army and one which has not hesitated to aim the PLA’s tanks at its own citizens is apparently frightened of Dylan, at least the idea of him and what he and his canon represent.

For some (and still far too many in this day and age) ‘The Chimes of Freedom’ continue to be perceived as a death knell.

A man many consider the founding father of modern science, an astronomer, a physicist and a mathematician, was tried for heresy in 1633, convicted and lived out the last 11 years of his life under house arrest. A sentence considered quite merciful. It took the Church nearly 400 years to come to terms with its relationship with Galileo Galilei and his belief in Copernicanism – a heliocentric solar system.

By Vatican standards, the conundrum of the Beatles’ existence and beliefs was dealt with swiftly. Just 40 years after their snippy dissolution, L’Osservatore Romano, the official organ of the Holy See -think the Chinese Communist Party’s People’s Daily except with content more in line with Pope Benedict XVI’s views- wrote, “It’s true they took drugs, lived life to excess because of their success, even said they were bigger than Jesus and put out mysterious messages, that were possibly Satanic.”

Burn them! No! Forgive them!

“They may not have been the best example for the youth of the day but they were by no means the worst*. Their beautiful melodies changed music and continue to give pleasure.” You cannot help but wonder if this pronouncement prompted most of the 826 citizens of Vatican City to liberate their Beatles remasters from their caches of forbidden materials. And while it’s amusing to imagine a conclave of dusty Cardinals sitting around, inhaling incense and discussing the Beatles (They’re just like us here at the ‘Bin!), who really cares what a gang of cloistered old men think.

The article in L’Osservatore Romano stinks of calculated manipulation and desperation. A hackneyed PR-positive spin on the embattled Holy See for the world’s press; after all, who doesn’t love the four lads from Liverpool? And why not somehow piggyback on that near universal affection?

There are far more urgent and pressing issues on the Vatican’s plate other than the absurd doctrinal rehabilitation of a rock band. Issues that are bigger than the Beatles. Which means, if you mash up the arguments of John Lennon and Saint Anselm of Canterbury, the continuing exposure of institutionalized and ritualized sexual abuse within the Catholic Church is, right now, bigger than Jesus in the minds of us all.

Strange days, indeed.

(*This means you, Keith Richards…)


Geoff Moore is an author of books – real ones that you can buy in a store. He resides in Calgary Alberta where he observes culture and then writes about it.  He would stand in front of a tank, if called upon –  provided there was beer after.