Here, There and Everywhere

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Wednesday, February 07, 2007
by Geoff Emerick and Howard Massey
I enjoyed this book very much -- so much so that it is difficult to articulate exactly what about it was so great beyond "everything," but I'll try (although the answer really is "everything").

First, this is not a tell-all biography from some lame scenester ( Revolution Number 9 Grain: My Month as The Beatles Macrobiotic Baker by Lamia Scenester). No, no, no! This is the story of Geoff Emerick -- a recording engineer for EMI's Abbey Road studios -- and of the music. The book is ordered chronologically, starting with young Geoff's obsessive record-listening and early attempts at improving sound. The writing is clear, unaffected and full of the JOY of music. Here's an example: (this passage follows a section where he has unearthed his grandmother's gramophone records) "Instantly, rapturously, I was in love.

I spent the next several months playing those records endlessly .... And the more I played them, the more I got out of them. The music would not only evoke emotions in me -- joy, sadness, longing, excitement -- but also conjure up images in my mind."
What I love about this is how he was able to take his musical joy and perpetuate it for a new generation of music fans. What an accomplishment!

Emerick was right around the same age as the Beatles (a little bit younger, I think, but not by much). It was something like his second day when they came to cut their first record -- he happened to be the assistant "button pusher" (engineer) for their session. He continued to work with them through the end (with a few exceptions, such as the Phil Spector "Let it Be" sessions).

He doesn't spend time engaging in idle Beatle gossip, but he does provide some shading to their public personas. I was fascinated to read about Beatle artistic negotiations with each other (they did a lot of composing in the studio), the George Martin factor and how they interacted with the professional staff at EMI. Emerick got on best with Paul (who had the most technical understanding of what was required to achieve desired results), and probably least well with pre-India George (who struggled a lot with his guitar parts). None of this really changed the impressions I had of any particular Beatle, but it deepened them and added another layer of understanding. Paul: diplomatic but stubborn as hell. John: many ideas, little patience. George: frustration time bomb. Ringo: anxious and largely disengaged.

I have tremendous respect for Emerick's resourcefulness and creativity. To think of what they did, with what they had... When (brilliant, fussy, non-technical, impatient) John Lennon says he wants it to sound like he's "singing from the moon," it had better sound like he's singing from the moon! This meant Emerick had to figure out not only what the hell he meant (because pressing Lennon further would only make him frustrated and angry), but how to make it happen. And he did, time after time!

Emerick and Massey have a great knack for setting the reader in that time and place, delivering just enough information to put you right in the EMI canteen or give subtle hints that it was getting wild out there in post-war Swinging London (orange ties! long hair! "incense!") without getting Austin Powers "yeah, baby" crazy. I loved the details about the studio and the processes involved to actually MAKE A RECORD. (which probably solidifies my position as a giant dork, if there was ever any doubt.) I am amazed at what they accomplished with 8 tracks, string, gum, and an exacto knife. (okay, 8 tracks, a knife, a lot of recording tape and creative thinking.) [unrelated side story: reading the Sgt. Pepper section I had a visceral flashback to sitting silently in the middle of the family van with my dad listening to Sgt. Pepper on 8 Track (it was our only 8 track player!!) and recording it on my little hand held tape-recorder so I could listen to it everywhere.]

I probably wouldn't have responded to this book as strongly if I didn't love the Beatles' music already, but I don't think being a fan is necessary for enjoyment -- it's just really good. I found myself racing through it, only to slow down with dread when I knew I was coming up to the rough patch that was The White Album... but I couldn't put it down! It was as exciting to read as any thriller.
3 comments on "Here, There and Everywhere"
  1. Hi Jen,

    Loved your review! It's really gratifying to read such a thoughtful, well-composed critique from someone who enjoyed our book so much. I don't know much about your background -- just the little bit I've gleaned from surfing through your blog -- but you definitely have what it takes to be a professional writer yourself. I hope it's an avenue you're considering.

    I'll make a point of passing along your URL to Geoff; I'm quite sure he'll be as appreciative of your kind words as I am.

    Best of luck to ya!

    Howard Massey

  2. Nothing can be added to Massey's summation of your work. Loved the image of you recording from your Dad's 8 track...

  3. Thank you so much, both of you. I really did enjoy the book and have been talking it up to people to what I am sure has become a wearisome degree. (it's so goooood, you should read it NOW. etc.)

    thanks for your kind words about my writing. That pretty much made my entire week!


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