“They were driven by a passion to create, not a desire to be ‘Idols’.
And their appeal was the passion, not ‘The Voice’.”
It’s hard to describe the emotions that filled me, while watching the 50th anniversary of The Beatles début in America, back in 2014. A flood of memories from my childhood? Yes, like thousands of other ageing fans, but far, far more than that: Immense joy, immense pain and the overwhelming realisation that those four naïve English boys shaped the course of my life.
Of course die-hard fans know that by the time America discovered The Beatles, the band had already been together six years but it wasn’t until their first appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show, in 1964, that America knew they existed at all. Mind you, most Yanks aren’t very aware of anything outside their own little ‘centre of the Universe’.
As a kid growing up in Australia, on the frontier edge of that Universe, in the wild, wild western Sydney suburbs, near Liverpool, the power of Beatlemania was no less than it was in England’s Liverpool, where The Beatles originated. The whole World felt it and saw the black suited, mop-topped images, long before they heard the first ‘Yeah, yeah, yeah’. Profiteers cashed in on it quickly but, more importantly, millions of musically repressed souls were exhilarated by it. And music generators, like me, were forever blessed… and cursed by it.
I was already creating music from the age of eight, tinkering on our old family piano. When I was eleven, after seeing The Beatles on TV, I saved all my pocket money for three months, mowed lawns, cooked family dinners and did a multitude of chores to earn extra cash to buy my first guitar. Within weeks of struggling to learn chords, I wrote my first song. It was called ‘Velvet and Lace’ and suspiciously resembled The Beatles’ ‘Hide Your Love Away’
My whole life was an unavoidable, clumsy sequence of events resulting from the push of that momentous time in history, all revolving around ‘the band’: First attempt to form a band at twelve, second attempt at fourteen, then at seventeen – my first real band. There were twelve more bands after that, hundreds of rehearsals, party gigs, then supports and finally headline shows.
Every decision I made, every relationship I bumbled into, every day-job I grudgingly took on, was subject to the almighty purpose of my life. But the purpose wasn’t to be rich and famous. True artists don’t give a tinker’s cuss about money or even what others think of them. Yes, of course we want approval and we want people to love our work but we’re not the same as those would-be ‘stars’ who want adulation and accolades. They are a different species from those who just want to create magic.
Imagine Bob Dylan had never been heard of and was just starting out now. If he had gone on American Idol or The Voice, he wouldn’t have got past the audition. Neither would Johnny Cash, John Lennon or Neil Young because the most amazing singer/songwriters weren’t great singers. They were driven by a passion to create, not a desire to be ‘Idols’. And their appeal was the passion, not ‘The Voice’.
As a composer, who has written, perhaps, a thousand songs or tunes, I can honestly tell you it’s a bittersweet journey. On one hand the creative process of germinating a new song is exhilarating and delightful but the desperate need for your work to be loved by millions is agonisingly painful. For half a century I have felt that agony. Yet I still write. Nearly every day a new tune comes into my head. Many mornings I wake up from a dream, hearing a song which is famous… until I’m awake when I realise it’s never been heard.
I couldn’t give a fart about the latest pop tune. And when people play me a recent ‘hit’ they’ve discovered, inevitably, it’s rarely really new. I’ve heard it, sung it or written it before. Nothing’s new to me. In fact, most ‘new’ music is sadly clichéd: The curse of having a phonographic memory, I guess, and of disassembling and reassembling music for five decades. I don’t want to hear the newest arrival on the scene because, despite the occasional, enviable talent, their naïvety annoys me. Yes, I suppose I’m bitter but I’m still making sweet music.
My task now, in my ‘mature’ years, is to re-assess what I want and what I have to do. It’s way too late for me to be ‘discovered’. The music industry was always a hard nut to crack, even as a young spunk with a good style and a swag of good songs. The ‘industry is now desperately trying to survive in a world where technology allows anyone to record and promote their music, no matter how bad it is. The only successful older artists who are ‘discovered’ are those who made it young, were buried by innovation, then dug up by next generation fans who dusted off their parents’ LPs. Clever entrepreneurs organise tours of reformed bands from yesteryear and clean up with two or three generations of fans paying idiotic amounts to see these museum relics one last time before they’re wheeled out into retirement villages.
No matter how old you become, if you have something worth sharing within you, it must be shared. Too many brilliant people have just lain down and died or, at least slipped out the back door, unnoticed. Often, because they were told they were too old, and usually by stupid younger people or music pimps, who sell sex not songs.
Well, I ain’t layin’ down and dyin’ any time soon. This old dog’s learnt some new tricks. I didn’t stop learning after I’d mastered guitar and bass. I learnt how to produce what I’d written, how to use software to create artwork, how to build myself a website, how to make music videos. Now, I need to learn new ways to market my craft to the over-stimulated and incredibly spoilt masses who think music should be free to download. Free? Sure, I’ll give away songs sometimes. I’ve given away cd albums before. But don’t you dare expect it to be free.
When the parents of today’s music thieves bought an album, they weren’t paying for a flat piece of plastic in a cardboard cover. That’d be worth about 20 cents! They were paying for the copyrighted music that was carved into the surface of the plastic, or later, magnetically stored on tape and later still, burnt with a laser into the foil within the plastic disc. And it’s no different now. Songs may not need a physical disc or tape to store them but the digital information, the copyright value of those creations still has the same worth. Writing, rehearsing and recording music costs time, money and life!
How do you put a value on half a century of Post-Beatles life and labour? You can’t.
But, you know what, folks? In a way, I’ve already been paid.
Explore my website for music samples, photos and philosophy: www.paulseymour.com.au
And buy my music directly from my website or, if you prefer, from iTunes: