Tag Archives: Paul McCartney

Images Of England Through Popular Music

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Images Of England Through Popular Music –
Class,Youth and Rock’n’Roll, 1955-1976
By Keith Gildart
Palgrave Macmillan – £15.99

[…] the Sex Pistols themselves were the personification of particular aspects of Englishness that could be found in working-class radicalism, humour and populism. They shared Orwell’s view that England remained ‘a land of snobbery and privilege, ruled largely by the old and the silly.’

The tension of class, authenticity, stardom and recognition were a constant source of tension between Lennon and McCartney in their formative years and throughout their subsequent career.

And so it came to pass that popular music as we once knew it turned into huge, regular dollops, of mere money-spinning horse manure.

Where once upon a time England actually had exciting, rebellious, inventive artists and rock’n’roll bands (The Beatles, The Who, The Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin and David Bowie among many others), we now have far too many wailing tarts with microphones of whom all rather fancy themselves as Etta James; but are in fact, pure hogwash of the first degree (the ghastly Pixie Lott of whom, surely wails at the vanguard).

In essence, the country no longer has a music industry any more.

That there are but three main record companies left in London (Universal, Sony and Warner) should come as no surprise. They all subscribe subscribe to the ideology of Satan himself, Simon Cowell – which is to say, here today, gone tomorrow, who gives a toss about what it sounds like, so long as it generates money – and they all behave in such a way that is detrimental to music as we once knew. As depicted in this very readable book by Keith Gildart.

Its eight chapters capture something of a magical, bygone period in British music, a time when artists and bands weren’t being groomed by accountants, but by musical instinct (and in some instances, intellect).

Indeed, Images Of England Through Popular Music – Class,Youth and Rock’n’Roll, 1955-1976, not only traverses the musicality of said time period, but also the degree to which class and geography played a part: ”In the post-war period, North West England in particular became closely associated with popular music and produced a multiplicity of groups and solo artists. Some performers retained particularly northern traits in terms of accent, style, humour and an identification with the broader working-class that purchased their records and danced to their rhythms (‘Coal, Cotton and Rock’n’Roll’).

In three parts (‘Teddy Boy England,’ ‘Mod England’ and Glam/Punk England’), the book as a whole casts an intrinsically ideological net, which goes some way in deciphering how and why things came about the way they did.

A good example being John Lennon’s position within all of this, as addressed in the chapter ‘Liverpool, The Beatles and Cultural Politics: ”Lennon’s ambiguous position within the class structure of Liverpool was familiar to a generation of working and lower-middle class children who experienced social mobility through eduction, but retained an affiliation to aspects of working-class structure. His rebelliousness was rooted in his negative reaction to formal schooling and the class nature of the English education system […]. The division between rock’n’roll and jazz was demarcated through class lines in Liverpool and other English towns and cities. Some writers have tended to focus on Lennon’s art school experiences as his entry point into the more esoteric elements of American rock’n’roll […]. Yet they underestimate the resilience of class and locality in the roots of English popular music. Lennon personified the complexity of class identity with his bridging of both working and middle-class cultures.”

To say the above is a mere tip of the literary dissertation that this most worthy critique of (English) youth culture has to offer, is an understatement.

The more it unfolds, the more one is compelled to both read and investigate ever further.

David Marx

Paul McCartney – The Biography

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Paul McCartney – The Biography
By Philip Norman
Weidenfeld & Nicolson – £25.00

Having attended the premiere of The Beatles’ Eight Days A Week last Thursday, I couldn’t help but come away with a feeling of re-invigorated, inspired awe.

First off, there’s the relentless number of terrific songs, closely followed by the contagious sense of the fun and all encompassing, teenage induced mayhem. Then there’s the unavoidable sense of energy with which the four members of The Beatles performed – who, need we remind ourselves, were the same age as the all but manufactured, One Direction, during Beatlemania.

Indeed, there really is so much one could continue to write about Ron Howard’s documentation of the band’s period of live performance(s); most notably, the unquestionable abundance of high-octane, astonishing material.

But then there are the four individual Beatles themselves, each one of whom, to varying degrees admittedly, was responsible for making the Fab Four who and what they essentially were: the greatest band in the history of popular music. Period.

What also came across loud and exceedingly clear throughout the film, was the devastating song-writing prowess of John Lennon and Paul McCartney. They were the ones who were fundamentally responsible for separating The Beatles from the nine-hundred-thousand-million other (mighty average) bands of the day; which is just one of many, many reasons why Paul McCartney – The Biography, is as idiosyncratically important as it is.

Important for a number of very qualified and varied reasons, one of the most pertinent of which is how the book substantiates the fact that The Beatles were not an overnight success. This is something Sir Paul McCartney made very clear before Thursday’s screening of Eight Days A Week, when interviewed by fellow Liverpudlian, John Bishop.

To be sure, The Beatles honed their craft by having played every superfluous, stinking dive and toilet in Liverpool and Hamburg; before their eventual manager, Brain Epstein, even set eyes on them. A fact which partially accounts for their brilliance, but most definitely accounts for most of today’s artists being pointless and puerile, lacklustre and in truth, fucking awful in comparison.

Then of course, there’s the book’s actual writing itself.

With this being the first actual biography written with McCartney’s approval, and with access to family members and friends closest to him, it ought hardly be surprising that it is as good and quintessentially un-put-downable as it is. There again, it was written by Philip Norman, who, along with having written Fiction and a number of Plays and Musicals, previous books include Shout! The True Story of The Beatles, The Stones, Elton, Days in the Life: John Lennon Remembered, The Age of Parody, Buddy: the Biography, John Lennon: The Life and Mick Jagger.

So, a fine pedigree of a writer, but perhaps of more substantiation, one to be clearly be trusted.

Might it be said that at 816 pages – excluding Acknowledgements, Picture Credits and Index – trust and truth will endeavour to go a very long way; especially given all four Beatles’ penchant for having never held back and for having always told it as it truly was.

So as one can probably imagine, the five parts of this veritable tomb of information (‘Stairway to Paradise,’ ‘The Barnum & Bailey Beatle,’ ‘Home, Family, Love,’ ‘Carrying That Wait’ and ‘Back in the World’), covers nigh every aspect and period of McCartney’s rich and varied life. This also includes the good, the bad and the ugly. The latter of which is traversed amid chapter 53, ‘Even by British tabloid standards, the nastiness has been extraordinary’ – which is an overview of the degree to which the British tabloids had sunk whilst covering McCartney’s divorce from the vile Heather Mills.

But for me, and, I suspect many others, it’s the earlier sections of the book that covers and somewhat analyses the heady days of The Beatles, that invariably makes for the most compelling reading.

For instance, in chapter twelve (‘Did you know he sleeps with his eyes open?’), Norman writes: ”[…] Their innovative presentation, not as lead vocalist and sidemen but four (almost) equals, gave them a wholly unforeseen extra power. On top of their collective charm, each had a distinct character appealing to different sections of their audience: there was the ‘clever’ one, the ‘cute’ one, the ‘quiet’ one and what film producer Walter Shenson called ‘the adorable runt of the litter.’

Together they were more articulate, charming and intelligent – above all funnier – than any pop artistes before, but this alone doesn’t explain the British media’s fixation on them during that rainy summer of 1963. It was a season of unremitting hard news, including the Profumo scandal, the biggest train robbery in history, the thwarting of Britain’s attempt to join the European Economic Community, the resignation of Prime minister Harold Macmillan and the resulting turmoil within the Tory government. Fleet Street initially turned to ‘Beatlemania’ (a term coined by The Daily Mirror) for a bit of light relief, thereby discovering to its surprise that pop-obsessed teenagers read newspapers, too. From then on, there was no surer way to shift copies.

Today, the ‘-mania’ tag is attached to any pop star, or other sort of star, who draws an ardent crowd: ‘Justin Bieber-mania,’ Leonardo DiCaprio-mania,’ One Direction-mania,’ Prince Harry-mania,’ etc., etc. But in the sleepy, orderly Britain of the mid-twentieth century, Beatlemania truly did seem to verge on the psychotic. And it wasn’t just the Mach-speed rise of the band’s records in the charts, the multitudes who queued for their shows, the incessant shrieks that drowned out every song they played, the volleys of jelly babies that were flung at the stage or the rows of seats left drenched in female urine.”

A sanctified, pop-induced image of a bygone era, does the above most accurately depict – just like that of Ron Howard’s just released docu-epic, Eight Days A Week. But where Philip Norman’s Paul McCartney – The Biography differs, apart from the fact that it’s a book, is its overall appreciation and analysis of the Beatles, followed by a more than considered continuation of McCartney’s life since.

Other than being a read that is cool and commendable, analytical and ambitious, it’s simply breath-taking on scope.

Fantabulous. Yeah Yeah Yeah.

David Marx

The Beatles in 100 Objects

100 objects

The Beatles in 100 Objects
By Brian Southall
Carlton Books – £25.00

Having already written about Brian Southall’s Abbey Road and Beatles Memorabilia – The Julian Lennon Collection, I have to confess to being somewhat intrigued by this relatively new book on the greatest band on the planet, which comes courtesy of a completely different angle.

Other than Andy Babiuk’s excellent 2002 publication of Beatles Gear – All the Fab Four’s Instruments from Stage to Studio and the aforementioned Julian Lennon collection, I can’t really think of a book that concentrates purely on Beatles stuff, things and objects. Admittedly, there was Ringo’s 2005 Postcards from the Boys, but not only was that compiled by an actual Beatle, it was more literary and highlighted the somewhat idiosyncratic insight into the band’s zany, personal and at times, rather affectionate communication.

The Beatles in 100 Objects has been put together from the premise of a more than fascinating compilation of things, many of us might already know and/or be familiar with. Like John Lennon’s Rolls-Royce (a hippy car with all the mod cons) and George Harrison’s painted guitar ‘Rocky’ (a paint and nail varnish job). Althjough more than that, Southall was lucky enough to dig deeper and stumble upon an array of interesting, Beatles related memorabilia – much of which sheds new light.

On page seventy for instance, there’s a replica of a signed Star Club menu, which apart giving early sixties, German drinks prices, clearly marked the end of an era: ””We outlived the Hamburg stage and wanted to pack that up,” said John Lennon. ”We hated going back to Hamburg those last two times.”” While on page 174, there’s a reproduction of Liverpool Airport’s Overcrowding Notice of Friday 10th July 1964 – which again, has been signed by all four members of the band: ”Over 200,000 loyal Beatles fans lined the route from the airport to the city centre and Paul McCartney observed, ”We landed at the airport and found there were crowds everywhere” and went on to say, ”It was incredible because people were lining the streets that we’d known as children, that we’d taken the bus down or walked down. And here we were now with thousands of people – for us” […]. In 1986, ten years after the airport had been privatized, the original terminal at Liverpool airport was replaced with a new building and in March 2002 Liverpool Airport was officially renamed John Lennon Airport.”

From McCartney’s handwritten recording notes for ‘Hey Jude,’ to yet another signed item, the Parlophone promo card (A label for life);’ from Ringo Starr’s Abbey Road ashtray (which he kept beside his drum kit), to the four personalized luggage tags The Beatles were given by Trans World Airlines (during their 1965 Back in the USA tour), The Beatles in 100 Objects is made up of exactly what it says on the cover.

As a result, the book makes for fascinating reading and is as such, nigh un-put-down-able.

The one-hundred objects themselves, have been reproduced in full quality colour on the right, while on the left, Southall depicts the details as well as the story behind each and everyone. So other than being a mighty fun read, it also acts as a great reminder – as the author writes in the book’s Introduction: ”So here we have a book which doesn’t just bring together for the first time a unique collection of objects which illustrate and highlight the life and times of The Beatles in a new and informative way but also reminds at least one senior citizen – and everybody else who is remotely interested in the most golden years of pop music – of how it was back then… when The Beatles ruled the world.”

David Marx

The Complete Beatles Songs

beatles

The Complete Beatles Songs
The stories behind every track written by the Fab Four
By Steve Turner
Carlton Books – £30.00

As a huge Beatles fan for as long as I can remember, I’m still learning varying, mighty interesting things about the band as the years hurtle by. This is oft aided and abetted by articles in the quality newspapers every now then, along with yet another book release written from yet another perspective. But in the ultimately B-I-G scheme of things, it’s the astoundingly brilliant music they wrote that traverses all things, which is where this absolutely wonderful book comes into play.

I’ve previously reviewed a couple of Steve Turner’s books on The Beatles, although I have to say, this altogether majestic 340 pages (excluding Discography, Bibliography, Index of Song Titles, Credits & Acknowledgements and Song Credits), really is going to take some beating.

Along with Ian MacDonald’s superlative Revolution in the Head: The Beatles’ Records and the Sixties (1994), Turner’s  The Complete Beatles – the stories behind every track written by the Fab Four will probably set the literary/musical bench mark really high so far as its explanation is concerned.

Compiled in inevitable chronological order and compartmentalised by album (including Live at The BBC and Anthology I – III), this is a publication which traverses nigh every aspect of The Beatles song-writing prowess, written by someone who is clearly a fan, clearly in love with their musical output.

In the book’s Preface for instance, Steve Turner immediately writes: ”In another sense, every time I hear a Beatles song feels like the first time I’ve ever heard it. The elements of surprise in the tunes that made them so captivating when they were first released still sound unexpected. They have a magical capacity for retaining their freshness, and they seem to have been able to do the same for succeeding generations. They are songs very much of the era and culture they were created in but also able to transcend that era and that culture. I feel enormously privileged to have my work printed alongside the work of The Beatles but I’m under no illusions. They did their bit without me. I couldn’t have done my bit without them.”

I’m compelled to write that most bands and (serious) singer/songwriters, couldn’t have done their bit without The Beatles. From The Rolling Stones (who back in the sixties, emulated their every move) right through to Radiohead, the band remain responsible for a menagerie of musical influence to this very day; although it started with that of a rather simplistic approach – which the author substantiates in the very first chapter, Please Please Me: ”Although they naturally drew on their own experiences as they wrote lyrics, they did not at this time feel any compulsion to reveal their hidden selves, write words that could be judged as poetry or compose messages for alienated youth. Their keen concern was to emulate those songs that had proved their worth by becoming hits. They stuck to conventional subject matter, used variations of phrases that had worked in past pop songs and deliberately targeted the emotions of their young female followers. The words of a song were deemed to ”work” not simply because of what they said but because of the pleasing and appropriate sounds they made when sung. Words had to contain their own music.”

As mentioned at the outset of this review, it’s always a pleasant surprise, if not a joy, to stumble upon some musical or personal revelation: ”’Tell Me Why’ was written to provide an ”upbeat” number for the concert sequence in A Hard Day’s Night. John thought of something the Chiffons or the Shirelles might do and ”knocked it off.” It’s a typical John scenario. He has been lied to and deserted. He’s crying. He appeals to his girl to let him know what he’d done wrong so that he can put it right. Children whose parents either leave them or die suddenly are often left with a feeling that they must in some way be responsible. ”If there’s something I have said or done, Tell me what and I’ll apologize,” John sang. Paul later assumed that there was an element of autobiography to it.

It was only when he underwent Primal Therapy in 1970 that John came to terms with these subconscious fears. Therapist Arthur Janov set him the exercise of looking back through all his Beatles’ songs to see what they revealed of his anxieties. On his first post-therapy album, John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band, he was able to sing about these traumas in their original context in songs such as ‘Mother,’ ‘Hold On,’ ‘Isolation’ and ‘My Mummy’s Dead.”’

Suffice to say, many Beatles fans might already know about the stories behind many of the songs, but for me personally, I still find it interesting and more than compelling to re-read, re-learn or be reminded of where and how, so many of these great songs came into being: ”Two events during 1964 had a profound effect on John’s writing. The first was hearing Bob Dylan’s music in Paris during January, when Paul acquired The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan from an interviewer at a local radio station. Paul had heard Dylan’s music before through his student friends in Liverpool but it was the first time John had heard it. After hearing Freewheelin’, Dylan’s second album, they bought his debut album Bob Dylan and, according to John, ”for the rest of our three weeks [in Paris] we didn’t stop playing them. We all went potty on Dylan (Beatles For Sale).

As well as being something of a hefty tomb of a book – reproduced with some terrific colour and black and white photographs – The Complete Beatles Songs is a terrific read, simply jam-packed with quotable quotations.

To say it’s almost un-put-downable, is a colossal understatement; what isn’t though, is the fact that every Beatles fan should own a copy.

David Marx

The Beatles – The BBC Archives

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The Beatles – The BBC Archives: 1962 – 1970

By Kevin Howlett

BBC Books – £45.00

I’m still partly amazed that it’s taken the BBC this long to release The Beatles double album On Air – Live at the BBC Volume 2. The quintessential reason being, there’s an abundance of far lesser artists who have unfortunately released everything they have ever recorded; and by everything, I do mean literally everything.

Apart from the fact that so-called ‘greatest hits’ are simply re-packaged, there are studio out-takes, alternate versions of studio out-takes, pointless re-mixes of alternate-versions of studio out-takes, not to mention an array of (quite often squalid and appalling) live material. I mean, who in their right mind would ever want to listen to a double live album by the appalling likes of McFly, Michael Bublé or Marillion? Let alone re-mixed renditions of yet more un-listenable shite by the likes of the pole-dancing hyenna that is Rihanna or the equally ghastly Scorpions et al?

Other than being repeatedly hit over the head with a rusty mallet of sorts, I really can’t think of anything worse.

To be sure, you can bet your monthly mortgage re-payment that most instantly forgettable artists and their labels will invariably ensure that everything they’ve ever recorded, will not only be be made available, it’ll be made readily availalbe in nigh every single format ever devised. Such has never been the case with The Beatles. Yet if any band or label were ever in a prime position to do the very same, it was and surely still is, The Beatles and EMI.

This is somewhat reinforced by what the author of this stunningly fantabulous book, Kevin Howlett – the BBC producer who has already written three books on the band, not to mention the booklet essays that accompanied the re-release of all fourteen Beatles albums in 2009 – has written in the Introduction: ”Counting a highlights programme for the 1963 Royal Variety Performance, the group played music on 53 radio shows between March 1962 and June 1965. No fewer than 275 unique musical performances by The Beatles were broadcast by the BBC in the UK. The group played 88 different songs on radio – some recorded many times; others performed just once. Remarkably, 36 of those songs were never issued on record while the group was in existence.”

I can’t imagine Scouting For Girls even having 36 songs.

Moreover, it might go without saying that nigh everyone and their third uncle removed might well have written a book on their (tenuous) association with the band; but even here, there are absolutely no-where near as many bad books written on The Beatles as there are on Elvis – although he’s a different kettle of trickle-down-economics altogether.

When it comes to recording(s), you’d think there’d be a regular plethora of dubious recordings released in the name of The Beatles – but there really isn’t. None of late that is, other than the Love album (released in November 2006) sanctioned and overseen by the band’s producer George Martin for the Cirque de Soleil stage show of the same name, and The Beatles (released in November 2000) which was basically a compilation of all their number-one singles.

On Air – Live at the BBC Volume 2 is only the third (official) Beatles release this century. So it’s only right that to accompany it, the BBC have also published what can only be described as a bumper package of a stunning new hardback book called The Beatles – The BBC Archives 1962 – 1970.

As the title suggests, these 331 magnificant pages (excluding Musical Discovery, Bibliography and Index) are a chronological overview of everything the band recorded at the BBC. As Howlett already makes clear on page 24: ”POP GO THE BEATLES. The group did not choose the title for their fifteen-part series broadcast during the summer of 1963 and they had reluctantly recorded the corny theme tune simply because they had to. After all, some compromise was acceptable to make their way in the show business world. Yet what made The Beatles so irresistable in their breakthrough year was how quickly they were changing the game. Aside from the energy of the music they created, their BBC broadcasts are characterised by send-ups, laughs, cheeky irreverence. This was new.”

Indeed it was new, as is the tonality of this well-researched, in-depth, new book. I say as much because there’s not much in the lives of The Beatles and Beatlemania as a whole, that hasn’t already been written, pondered over and re-stated, time and time and yet time again. What makes this book different though – which comes replete in a replica of an old scuffed, BBC tape box – is the fact that it wholeheartedly and refreshingly bows down to the subject matter. So much so, that it’s nine chapters are almost submerged in the showing- rather than dense (and questionable) analysis.

In other words, there’s an undercurrent of innocence throughout.

The superb collection of black and white as well as colour photographs do much to substantiate this. Whether it’s a shot of the band eating breakfast at a flat in London’s Green Street, visibly larking around at The Dorchester Hotel to accepty their awards for ‘Show Business Personalities of 1963,’ or the cololur photograph of them used by the BBC to promote its General Overseas Service.

Also scattered throughout the book are a number of pertinent quotes (some of which are on the recording) that again, do much to underline the aforementioned innocence, as well as the band’s all round chutzpah and inadvertent penchant for forever pushing the parameters: ”I do not believe any of us had any idea of the disorganised frenzy that could take place during such a performance” (Tom Sloan – Head of Light Entertainlment, Television), ”Well thank you Paul and you’ll receive your three shilling fee at a later date!” (George Harrison), ”After you write something, a song or anything, you get the sadness and then you perform it or you put it on paper and then that’s gone” (John Lennon), ”We can turn around to Brian and say, ”Could we do such-and-such a thing… like a film?”” (Paul McCartney).

This lavish account of all The Beatles BBC appearances also features transcripts of broadcast interviews and an assortment of fascinating documents from the archives. Suffice to say, from the unprecedented excitement of what was Beatlemania to the more mature reflective nature of the band’s final interviews, it’s all (exquisitely) captured herein.

Apart from being the perfect, and I do mean perfect Christmas gift, The Beatles – The BBC Archives 1962 – 1970 is without doubt, an absolute MUST for any serious, self-repecting Beatles fan.

Fab Fab Fab.

David Marx

Jimi Hendrix London

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Jimi Hendrix London

By William Saunders

Roaring Forties Press – $14.95

Jimi Hendrix London, is, as its title suggests, another throw of the dice by way of re-tracing the arrival of Jimi Hendrix in London; the city that was to propel him to gargantuous worldwide fame in a mere matter of months.

From his arrival in England’s capital in September 1966 – replete with forty dollars and a guitar supposedly stolen from The Rolling Stones – to the open verdict that was decided at the inquest into his death at 34 Westminster Coronor’s Court, 65 Horseferry Road (”a squat little building a few hundred yards from Westminster Abbey”), everything the singer/songwriter/guitarist extraordinaire did in London, is herein meticulously recorded.

As the synopsis on the back cover makes clear: ”Journalist and poet William Saunders retraces Jimi’s London odyssey, weaving the story of his public and private life around the studios and clubs, hotels and apartments, back streets and concert halls where he lived and played.”

Written in a manner that is both attractive and easy to read, most of the chapters consist of bite-size chunks of information, that traverse the dense and extremely productive period of one of the finest musicians ever to have graced the world – let alone London.

Is it any wonder that even The Beatles were mighty taken, as Suanders makes by clear with regards Hendrix’s rendition of ‘Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band,’ a mere three days after it’s release (in the chapter ‘rise and shine’): ”It was during a Sunday evening concert at the Saville Theatre that Jimi pulled off one of his great coups de theatre. On the first Sunday of June; the Experience were top of the bill, and the 1,200-seat threatre was full […]. Paul McCartney, who was in the audience, was deeply impressed […]. ‘To think that the album meant so much to him as to actually do it by the Sunday night, three days after the release. He must have been so into it, because normally it might take a day for rehearsal and then you might wonder whether you’d put it in, but he just opened with it. It’s a pretty major compliment in any one’s book. I put that down as one of the great honours of my career, I’m sure he wouldn’t have thought of it as an honour, I’m sure he thought it was the other way round, but to me that was like a great boost.”

As a major fan of Hendrix, I was surprised to learn of his penchant for mimicking a variety of English accents, which ‘why can’t the english teach their children how to speak’ interestingly touches on: ”Even the orthodox usage of the BBC could take Jimi by surprise and stimulate his imagination. ”I heard big impressive words spoken on telly,” he told his friend the American journalist Sharon Lawrence. ”I’ll never forget watching the news and a reporter speaking of ‘uncharted waters.’ Ever since I have wanted to use ‘uncharted waters’ in a song. That’s life in a nutshell. Hearing English spoken in England was like opening a door.”

All nineteen chapters of Jimi Hendrix London has something of idiosyncrantic interest to offer; to such a degree in fact, that it will invariably entice even the most devout of Hendrix fans – myself included.

David Marx