Getting our marching orders from Sgt. Pepper and the boys

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Wouldn't it be great if life really did come with a soundtrack?

Every time things got a little tense or scary, you'd hear that ominous "Jaws" theme bubbling up over your shoulder as a warning. Two simple, alternating notes punctuating the air with enough alarm to send chills down your spine.

Life pushing you into a corner?

Cue up Hugo Montenegro and that haunting "The Good, the Bad and the Ugly" instrumental and the bully would be on the run.

Things going great in your life?

Then almost anything from the Beach Boys or Mellencamp's "Hurts So Good" or Cheap Trick's "I Want You to Want Me" will put your pedal to the metal and the wind in your hair as you automatically drive just a little faster with a good rock 'n' roll back beat.

This musical state of mind is easy to come by today after reading Monday morning how a new book by a former Indianapolis disc jockey (Dick Summer) labels us Baby Boomers the "Louie, Louie generation."

OK, maybe every night at 10 we might do it again, but all the mumbled Kingsmen lyrics in the world can't put that label on us.

After all, other than the gyrating John Belushi "Animal House" scene, the only "Louie, Louie" moment that sticks out in my mind was the night my buddies and I cruised my Chicago suburb, driving past the house of the girl I had a huge crush on but could not talk to.

As I stopped my desert rose-colored 1966 Mustang at the stopsign a couple of doors south of her house, "Louie, Louie" came on WLS and Chuck Willis, Rick Kline and I burst from the car to jump around and literally dance in the street. Call it a Chinese fire drill with soundtrack.

OK, I'll give credit where credit is due. "Louie, Louie," is No. 54 on the Rolling Stone top 500 rock songs of all time. But while "Louie, Louie" may have fueled mumbling and stumbling over unintelligible lyrics and ill-conceived dance "moves," it was The Beatles and "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band" that really gave my generation its marching orders.

Greencastle native and Indiana University Professor Glenn Gass reinforced that notion for us Monday night during a lively 2.5-hour lecture program at DePauw about the rock album Rolling Stone ranked as the No. 1 of all time. (Look for a story on that appearance in a later edition of the Banner Graphic.)

"A Day in the Life," the last cut on that album has always been one of my favorite songs. Probably the Beatles' offering I've most enjoyed.

After all, it includes the quite-appropriate lyric, "I read the news today, oh boy ..." And not once, but twice.

And the "4,000 holes in Blackburn, Lancashire" that were actually counted and tallied against the size of famed Albert Hall -- according to a news story that inspired the lyric -- go a long way toward summing up the absurdity in life and what passes for news (not only in 1967 but 2012).

Gass addressed the 45th anniversary of the release of the "Sgt. Pepper" album with terrific stories, great insight and audio and visual clips that have now made it impossible for me to ever listen to the song or the whole album the same way again.

For example, that one, final singular sensation of a chord (created by several pianos dubbed on top of each other) at the end of the song. As the last note of the album, it fades away into the crackling of the vinyl album experience to "gently put you back into your world," as Gass sees it.

He had also detailed how Paul McCartney had created the concept of Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band being an alter ego of The Beatles, allowing them to go musical places they had not gone before without the constraints of performing live with a stage at second base in some giant stadium.

Of course, when I bought the "Sgt. Peppers'" album as a teenager, I was too na*ve or too out of the loop to realize that many were calling it The Beatles' "drug album."

"Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds," many insisted, was just code for LSD. Heck, they might as well have been singing about Lake Shore Drive in Chicago for all I knew. (Incidentally, Gass played a video clip of John Lennon explaining that the song actually came to him from a fanciful drawing his son had created in school that inspired Lennon to write lyrics about a place where "rocking horse people eat marshmallow pies").

Yep, "A Day in the Life" is my soundtrack, even as I can still hear my late mother reacting to the seemingly dazed Ringo, drumming away and bobbing his head to the beat during the Beatles' famed "Ed Sullivan Show" appearance.

"He's on drugs! I know he's on drugs," she insisted that night.

Ya, ya, ya ... but until someone deciphers those muddled "Louie, Louie" lyrics, I'm marching to the Sgt. Pepper beat.

I'm a Pepper, you're a Pepper ... wouldn't you like to be a Pepper too? Now those are lyrics even I can understand.