By Dan Dubelman
Watch the VidLit here: Deconstructing The Beatles
Oh yeah, all right, Are you gonna be in my dreams tonight?
Was it Just a Dream?
I was born in New York City at 6:06pm on January 25th, 1965. John Lennon always said 9s had meaning for him and 6 seems to be my number. My ex-girlfriend said that I have undiagnosed dyslexia, and while I’m not sure if she’s right, 6’s and 9s seem related to me, and it always seems like it’s 6:06 or 6:09 or even 9:09. If six were nine, I don’t mind.
My parents figured I would die. Their first son died, but not before they had two or three years to love and bond with him. Out of fear, they didn’t let too many people touch me. It was okay to look, but don’t touch. If people were going to look at me I had to be entertaining. I had early reinforcement that being able to express myself in a manner in which others were amused brought joy and laughter. I craved this feeling the way a normal person feels when they wake up after a long sleep and the smell of fresh blueberry-banana buckwheat pancakes permeates the air. I know you don’t think buckwheat would be tasty, but you haven’t had mine. Just a small amount of really good maple syrup – the expensive shit you have to buy at the hipster store – really complements the flavor.
Seemed so very real…
There are no Beatles, they have become music. Beatles are here, there and everywhere. Beethoven is part of the Beatles.
The day I was born, the Beatles’ “I Feel Fine” was number 4 on the UK charts. “She’s in love with me and I feel fine…”
I would wake up to cartoons as a kid. I was probably the only kid with a color TV in his room, or any TV for that matter. It was the early 1970s and there were only three television networks back then. But I had already acted in an award-winning Cracker jacks commercial with the great Jack Gilford, so I had a TV in my room.
My mother would wake me up with a coffee-flavored Carnation Instant breakfast drink in bed and I would watch Bugs Bunny. There were no remotes so she would flip on the TV for me, and adjust the antenna. One day mom turned on the TV and I heard electric guitars, harmonies, a back beat and an accent – my first exposure to a post-modern sound.
Soon I was hooked on Beatles cartoons and music. It was easy to tell Wile E. Coyote from Bugs Bunny, but as a kid it was hard to tell the difference between the individual Beatles. Each musician wore the same haircut, and although those haircuts symbolized a profound evolution in post-WWII culture, it still made it hard to tell them apart, except for Ringo. Ringo was portrayed to be funny like a clown, there for my amusement. John Lennon did not seem that way even in the cartoon. It was clear he was cynical, and so was I, but John knew how to express it.
The cartoon exposed me to a much deeper catalogue than would be approved for kids today. Of course the cartoon featured songs like “A Hard Day’s Night,” “Can’t Buy Me Love” and “I Want to Hold Your Hand,” but they also played “Tomorrow Never Knows” and had a sing- along with “She Said, She Said.” I was the first person ever to head the online entertainment division at Fox Kids, and I have worked directly with network censors – it’s not as black and white as you may think with regard to that relationship, but I doubt that would work for the sponsors.
I didn’t know a bass from a guitar. Ringo played drums, but I liked the other ones. John and Paul shared a mic and stood up front, and George would move back and then jump up to the mic. I liked the symbol of George. You move around from front to back. My mother and father stood in the front in my family, so I identified with “The Quiet One.” For people who know me, it’s hard to believe I was a quiet kid, but I was. Perhaps partly because I identified with John, I became influenced by a subconscious absorption of his tone, and I grew to feel more inclined to be outspoken about what I thought was right. By fifth grade I staged a protest to the inclusion of the term “one nation under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance. One of my classmates, who became a noted lawyer in his field, recently told me his version. This is my version of his version:
“Please rise for the Pledge of Allegiance.”
As usual the entire class stood up, but I remained quietly seated.
“Stand up,” screamed Mrs. Schepps, like I was her pet dog misbehaving.
“No,” I said, wanting to act cool, but being just a kid in fifth grade, the power of emotion of knowing I was alone in standing up to the teacher was beyond my understanding.
“What?” she said, like fingernails intentionally screeched across a blackboard.
“I can’t stand up for one nation under God because the other nations are under God, too.”
My classmate went on to say that Mrs. Schepps could not present a cogent argument, and that was his first introduction to my position. He also said that, back in the early 1970s, that was not a mainstream concept to consider.
It did not bring me any satisfaction, although when I hear others retell the story, and I have heard many different versions of it, I enjoy the myth. It gave me the blues.
The cartoon played other songs, dark songs. I liked those songs, too: “Baby’s in Black,” “Misery,” “I Call Your Name,” “Strawberry Fields Forever” and “ I’m a Loser,” plus covers of songs by Carl Perkins, Little Richard and Chuck Berry, and Phil Medley and Bert Berns’s great song “Twist and Shout.”
At first John seemed strange at times, and I did not understand Yoko until much later, but it was clear that John’s was a voice that spoke to me. I love the sound of Paul McCartney’s voice, and it was Paul’s melodies that first replaced the nursery rhymes. The song “Yesterday” or the Na Nahs in “Hey Jude” sounded so much better than the little kid’s music I was forced to listen to over and over.
George was cool. He played guitar, and didn’t say much. I didn’t know how to play guitar, but I had a sense that I was a guitar player. I had already been writing songs, however. It started when I was about four years old and I wanted to communicate something about the beauty of the winter: the smell of fresh air after a big snow, the joy of walking in untouched soft, white snow, and the freedom I associated with a general emotion of the love a little boy feels for a girl. The song was called “Walking through The Woods.” I wrote it because I could not find a way to communicate my feelings. Eventually I would learn to play guitar and use that instrument, along with the words I needed to communicate these thoughts. The music and the words worked together to convey this concept that was in my head. I had an image in my head, but it was more than an image. It had different dimensions. It’s like how a fresh pizza has a smell, a taste and a look that all work together. You might even allow yourself to burn the roof of your mouth, if the combination of those senses hit you right.
George only wrote a few songs but they were some of my favorites. And when it came time for a guitar solo, like the one on “Something,” it gave me a visceral feeling. It was like: the warmth of the sun on a hot day, being in love, freedom.
In their cartoon gray suits that had a vague quality of being military uniforms, and with their long hair, holding guitars and acting “cartoon witty,” it quickly became an addiction. There was even a Brian Epstein character, so it was obvious that the fifth Beatle was the manager.
Here was a new concept: a band had a manager. There was a caring, smart person who didn’t play the music but protected the musicians from bad guys.
My father loved the song “Money.” The best things are free but I want money.
I had learned enough tricks by the time I was ten to be able to understand Bobby Riggs by the time I met him. Bobby was a buffoon. He was an unhappy man thrown out of Pancho Segura’s La Costa , where the family had private tennis camp with the best coaches in the world. It’s more like an audition in reality. You are expected to be like an object, evaluated on your speed, strength, size, height, and of course that intangible quality that all great champions have that only these coaches can spot at a young age. It was not unusual for billionaires to be betting on or against the “kid.” I once played Eddy Dibbs lefty when he was top five in the world, at some billionaire’s house in Florida. He was so fast and the betting put enormous pressure on me as a kid. I met Eddie through my tennis coach, Steve Ross, who was the kid who hustled the hustler, according to Playboy magazine describing how Steve had hustled Bobby Riggs. Steve Ross was a six-time Jersey State champion who kids loved. He had an unusual style in which he controlled the game by taking pace off the ball, and gently placing the ball about the court. Steve was not a pusher, he just had great control. Nobody played like Steve. You’d look at him and think you could kill him and he’d beat you 6-0. You didn’t know what happened. Balls would seem to float over your head and land on the line, or accidently drop over the net. I have never seen anybody with that much control. It’s almost as if he played a different sport. He gave me his backhand and that has taken me far in tennis and paddle tennis. He also introduced me to many different great albums. He brought me the albums and if I taped them I could keep them! From Blonde on Blonde to the Dave Clark Five to the Animals, Steve exposed me to music!
My father was a producer-director so the house was always full of production supplies. It was fun to make tapes of Dylan, the Rolling Stones and the Kinks. Dylan and Ray Davies were telling stories that felt like part of my life. I love the sound of the drums on the Dave Clark Five records. Decades late Dave Clark finally admitted that the great Bobby Graham played the drum parts.
At times I was very close to my father, but then this happened:
I enunciated each word as though it was my last bullet: “You grabbed my girlfriend’s ass.”
“I’ll do whatever I want,” said my father, his nervous eyes darting about until they fixated on a piece of equipment we use in the film industry to plug in a heavy light – a thick cable and a piece of metal attached. It would be a nice weapon, but I was doubtful my father could get to it before me.
My father liked the philosophy espoused in the Kenny Rogers song “The Gambler.” As I watched his mind calculate his chances I saw the fear come across him. When I realized what he was thinking, I let out a hearty laugh. I went from pure anger to a sick kind of humor. We were totally alone in my father’s Manhattan movie studio – no one could help either of us. I could sense the animal’s fear, as he started towards the weapon.
“Don’t ever come at me again,” I laughed, as I pushed him with two fingers in his chest.
And in the end, the love you take, Is equal to the love you make