INHERIT THE WIND INSIDE A LETTERBOX
The Asbo/Everybody’s Got Something to Hide Except For Me and My Monkey Trial
NB: This is an edited transcript.
The scene: a harshly lit Columbus, Ohio courtroom. Dark plywood panelling lines the wall. A twelve person representative sampling of the population sits in the jury box. The courtroom’s pew style bench gallery is filled to capacity with interested parties and newspaper men festooned with “PRESS” tabs tucked in their hatbands. In the dock: Thrifty Vinyl’s Prince Asbo.
Bailiff: All rise (snigger) for the right honorable Judge Blake.
A hush sweeps through the courtroom as a corpulent, bewhiskered Judge Blake limps purposefully to the bench, hauls himself up and sits astride it like a toad with sideburns.
Judge Blake: (clears throat) Bailiff, will you please read out the charges.
Bailiff: With pleasure (he winks). Prince Asbo, you stand accused of purchasing an Out of the Blue Lp at Wincheap bootfair and disseminating information likely to cause the reconsideration of the artistic merit of the Electric Light Orchestra in direct contradiction of received critical wisdom. Further, and most damning, that of all the albums you could have blogged, there are approximately 10,000 more deserving of the accolade of a Thrifty Vinyl Beatles Related post.
Judge Blake: Mr. Asbo, how plead you to the charge?
Asbo: (with a voice as clear and pure as the dew dripping from a mountain fern) Not guilty.
Judge Blake: May we hear opening arguments.
Chief Prosecutor Lane: (Lane pauses while he struggles to find his suspenders [remember, this is in America] under which he may insert his thumbs and rock back and forth on his heels as he speaks) Judge Blake, respected fellows of the jury, members of the press, curious gallery occupants, idle passers-by, and not forgetting our brave men and women fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan: Lord knows I’m no Dave Marsh or Greil Marcus, hell I ain’t even Ian MacDonald (God rest ‘im), but I know critical reappraisments (sic) when I see ’em and I submit that the man who calls himself Prince Asbo has not only paid money in exchange for Jeff Lynne’s 1977 opus (with the accent on pus), but that through foul means has contrived to convince those less knowledgable that said double Lp is valuable even unto 50 pennies as Beatles Related. That means Descended From Beatles! (there are guffaws from the gallery). Mr Asbo here seems to think all modern pop music is Descended From Beatles. He uses phrases like “state of the art pop”, “betrays the yearning of the best pop” and “thinking man’s turbo-charged, overdriven Beach Boys pop” to describe the album. Well I say our friend is missing an “O” ’cause this record ain’t nothin’ but poop!
Does Out of the Blue belong in Thrifty Vinyl? The ignorant and the mountebank among us would argue we need look no further than Ekolad’s Face The Music post. As founder member of the TV family, do we not look to him for guidance and precedent. Yes, of course. But I think you’ll find, if you actually read the article, Eko was ambivalent about posting on ELO and only did so precisely because it wasn’t Out of the Blue. (Defence council is seen crossing something of a list, shaking his head and muttering)
Now I’m not sayin’ that Mr. Asbo shouldn’t be allowed to publish his Robert Flack or Diane Warwicke or even his disco 12″ single posts. He’s not hurtin’ anyone. But when Thrifty Vinyl starts becoming home to Out of the Blue, I say: Whatever Next? Shirley Bassey albums? James Frickin’ Last?! Jim Fuggin’ Reeves?!! Johnny Freekin’ Mathis?!!! Andy Whore Lovin’ Williams?!!!! (voice rises to a crescendo) Don’t stop there Mr. Asbo, please let us have your thoughts on No Jacket Required, Alf and No Parlez!!!!!
Such is the excitement caused by Prosecution’s opening argument that the people in the courtroom are now barking like seals, rolling on the floor as if self immolating or trying to gnaw their hands off. Judge Blake bangs his little hammer and the courtroom becomes silent with everyone resuming mentally undressing each other and spending imaginary lottery winnings.
Judge Blake: May we have the opening statement from the Defence.
Court Appointed Defence Council Clarence Chittenden: Friends, Mr. Asbo is actually in line with critical thought. He tells us that when Punk didn’t change everything, didn’t show everything to be black or white, everything was back on the table–including ELO. He calls it is a false dichotomy perpetuated by people with their own agendas, usually ones involving them being ‘cooler’ than someone else. He goes on: “even [Out of the Blue]’s worst songs have appealing aspects.”
To the uninitiated, yes, this sounds like, in the butchered language of the prosecution, “critical reappraisment”. In fact, there is a deeper existential point to be made and one only has to look at the Yin Yang symbol to understand it. (Take a breath, there is a fairly long silence here to allow the audience to appreciate this profound, yet ultimately meaningless point) Yes, “Across the Border”‘s cod-Tijuana arrangement and thoroughly confused lyric is an insult of Diplomatic proportions; true, ELO’s production tics (helium-filled, answer-style backing vocals, those strings) become wearisome over four sides; no, ELO can’t do anything approaching “roots” music; and it’s a fact, too, that “searchin'”, “waitin'”, “walkin'” and “runnin'” etc. seem to crop up in nearly every song. But there is also an ineffable yearning, a longing that pop music is so adept at creating, also much in evidence here (during the choruses of “Sweet Is the Night” and “Summer and Lightning”, for example) that tells us: this is no accident, (pause, then whispering) this is worthy of consideration. This is not relativism, this is open-mindedness.
The women in the gallery are seen to weep openly, while their men, jaws hardened, look skyward, straining not to betray their emotion.
Opening statements were followed by three full days of procedural arguments—none of which were the slightest bit relevant, things like how much shirt cuff could be shown when wearing a jacket, the correct pronunciation of “hegemony”, exactly how sucky it was for the Dodgers to leave Brooklyn, did Harvey Kurtzman do his best satire at Mad, Trump, Humbug or Help! and, while there was no disagreement about including the excised Kevin Costner character’s harsh denouement at the end of The Big Chill, the question as to whether it should be incorporated on a deluxe DVD as an extra or an actual recut was never resolved. We leave these arguments out in the interest of brevity.
Judge Blake: (with alacrity) Call the first witness.
Bailiff: Call Jeff Lynne.
He enters, slightly shorter than you’d expect (he’s 5’10”), inevitably wearing sunglasses.
Defence Council Summit: Mr. Lynne, what do you think gives Prince Asbo the right to classify ELO as Beatles Related?
Jeff Lynne: (in a Brummie accent as thick as John Holmes’ generative member when fully engorged with blood) Well…
Defence Council Summit: Objection your Honor! I will not have the relative broadness of a Defence Witness’s speech metaphorically compared to the erect penis of a deceased porn star.
Judge Blake: Objection sustained. Mr. Lynne’s accent’s thickness will henceforth be compared to that of the girth of a giant Sequoia.
Jeff Lynne: (in a Brummie accent as thick as the girth of a giant Sequoia) Well, I produced Cloud Nine and Brainwashed by George Harrison, some of Flaming Pie by Paul McCartney, some of Time Takes Time by Ringo and took a couple John Lennon demos and turned them into Beatles songs with the surviving members of the band for the Anthology albums. In addition, I was in a band with George–Traveling Wilburys. My music sounds a lot like the Beatles and I wrote a [currently unreleased] song called “Beatles Forever.” [Editor’s note: there’s a blog called ELOBF (i.e. Electric Light Orchestra Beatles Forever) whose mission is to quote: “campaign for the release of the original, full 18-track version of ELO’s ‘seminal’ (my quotes) 1983 album Secret Messages including that long-lost gem ‘Beatles Forever'” end quote–I seriously shit you not.]
Bailiff: Call expert witness, Brian Medary to the stand.
Defence Council Summit: Is ELO Beatles Related, or what?
Brian Medary, expert witness: Well, at times Lynne sounds a lot like John Lennon or George; the “Blue Sky” rhythmic cop from “A Day In the Life” including the heavy breathing and the “fireman rushes in” bell is pretty blatant; uh, some of the strings are reminiscent of Imagine’s Flux Fiddlers arrangements; and, oh yeah, there’s another rip-off on side four, something from “The End” I think, a turnaround at the end of one of those songs. I can’t remember where is was.
Defence Council Summit: Can’t remember? But you’re an expert witness.
Medary: It doesn’t really matter—you get the idea.
Summit: Fair enough.
Bailiff: Call surprise witness Richard Tandy from ELO II and The Orchestra. On second thought, don’t. Call Prince Asbo, himself to the stand.
Prince Asbo betrays no emotion as he walks to the stand. He is handsome, yes, but he is no pretty boy; indeed, lines of experience and wisdom crease his face, at once young and old. More than one female watching blushes as she allows her eyes to travel up and down the length of his physique. He sits, poised and ready to defend his honor.
Defence Council Summit: Describe your take on the Electric Light Orchestra with particular attention to Out of the Blue.
Asbo: At this point in his career, Lynne seemed unable to resist adding too much—how rich could he make that cake? Certainly, the various orchestral bits are ham-fisted, obvious and bombastic which, given the high level of melody, now seem totally unnecessary. Really, I think it’s designed simply to bulk up two Lp’s worth of material. Each song has been arranged within an inch of its life, but so catchy and contrived do things become, that it’s hard not to admire the chutzpah of someone so bent on making audience pleasing music. Triteness is, I’m afraid, a hazard of this.
There follows a series of pontifications each more pretentious than the last until finally the prosecution is given a shot.
Chief Prosecutor Lane: You like the Beatles?
Chief Prosecutor Lane: I understand that you, Mr. Asbo, met Sir Paul McCartney in 2000 at Cineworld in Ashford. And that on this evening you both saw Monsters Inc. and engaged in what might accurately be described as conversation. (Here Lane pauses and gives a sly wink in the direction of the jury to signal his punch line) Does that mean any music you make is “Beatle Related”?
Asbo: (Oblivious) Since you asked, I did feel at our meeting that, yes, a torch was passed. And I do play a 1978 Rickenbacker bass. However, I would let my fans judge that question.
Chief Prosecutor Lane: (casually) Did you or did you not once own the four compact disc Electric Light Orchestra box set Afterglow?
Asbo: (caught off guard, then mumbling) Axsumoz.
Chief Prosecutor Lane: I’m afraid the court couldn’t hear that Mr. Asbo. Allow me to repeat in italics. Did you or did you not once own the four compact disc Electric Light Orchestra box set Afterglow?
There is the silence and stillness of the grave as the court holds its collective breath.
Asbo: (suddenly and emphatically) I got it at an Outlet Mall south of Columbus in the early 90s and sold it a couple of weeks later! (desperately) I didn’t really like it–that’s why I waited so long to buy Out of the Blue! It was only 50p at the Wincheap bootfair! 50p! Isn’t that whatchacallit, a mitigating thingy!
Judge Blake: (banging gavel in a way not unreminiscent of a young Bev Bevan) Any further outbursts like that and I will ban you from my courtroom. Answer the question Mr. Asbo: Did you buy Afterglow?
Asbo: (knowing he’s beat, quietly) Yes.
Newspapermen rush to the bank of payphones lining one wall of the courtroom shouting out the next day’s headlines.
Reporter 1: ELO-BELLIED ASBO ADMITS GUILT!
Reporter 2: ASBO BOXES HIMSELF IN!
Reporter 3: (more obscurely) ASBO TO COURT: MOVE OVER! MAKE WAY FOR ELO!
Judge Blake: Members of the jury: There’s no doubt that, subsequent to this record, Jeff Lynne had a fair amount to do with the Beatles, but jury, even if we agree that a pre-Wings Denny Laine single would probably constitute Beatles Related, you must ask yourselves, would a Denny Laine-era Moody Blues record merit B-R? For that is the level of tangentially we are scraping here. And even that’s not quite analogous since Denny Laine’s most famous for being in Wings whereas Jeff Lynne’s more famous for ELO. So, a toughie there.
After, we’ll say two and a half hours of deliberation, the jury returns.
Jury Foreman James Calumet: Your Honor, we find the defendant very silly and probably technically stretching it to characterise Out of the Blue as Beatles Related. However, as an absolute charity shop staple, we believe Mr. Asbo is perfectly within his Thrifty Vinyl remit to post his semi-coherent opinions about it.
Judge Blake: Mr. Asbo, I sentence you to cease and desist from the posting of Beatles Related music for not less than 30 days (not counting that McCartney II you’ve got lined up, especially as it’s being re-issued next month).