Friday, November 24, 2006

Liner Notables #8: The Rutles

Why, it seems like only yesterday [cue harp and wavy, out-of-focus visuals] when you could pore over an album's liner notes and not have to squint to garner an embarrassment of riches and a treasure trove of tidbits...

The Clash once sang “Phony Rutle-mania has bitten the dust!” Or something to that effect.

Not so. The only band that doesn't matter may have started out wanting to hold our hands (“yeah yeah!”) and declaring themselves more omniscient and omnipresent than God (thereby giving themselves the power to hold each and every hand in the world at the same time).

But in short order the Prefab Four wrote really important stuff while on acid that no one understood -- unless you played it backwards or happened to be Bob Dylan -- things such as “Bible-Punching heavyweight / Evangelistic boxing Kangaroo / Orang u tang and anaconda / Donald Duck and Mickey Mouse / Even Pluto, too (yeah yeah!).”

And it seems like only yesterday we plopped down in front of the TV for the Ed Sullivan Show to watch that creepy mouse puppet and that plate-spinner guy. Oh yeah... and to see the Rutles perform and get acquainted with them early on in their career. We got to know the cute one, the quiet one, the funny one, and the “sorry girls - he’s homosexual” one.

As the The Rutles' liner notes and interviews look into the glass onion, the commentary in this, um, anthology from 1978 brings back that magic, starting with the group's beginnings at 43 Egg Lane, Liverpool, where Ron Nasty and Dirk McQuickly first bumped into each other: “Ron invited Dirk to help him stand up. Dirk, merely an amateur drinker, agreed and on that spot a legend was created - a legend that will last a lunchtime.” Soon enough they found Stig O’ Hara, “a guitarist of no fixed hairstyle,” but it took a while to discover drummer Barry Wom hiding in their van.

The Silver Rutles, as they were called at the time, learned more musical ropes in Germany, “far from home, and far from talented.” It was also here that they picked up a fifth member, Leppo ("Sorry girls, he's dead"). As the chronicle notes: “For five hungry working class lads there are worse places than prison, and the Rat Keller in Hamburg is one.” But it was here where Dirk, Nasty, Stig, and Barry sharpened up their act and got some silly haircuts that got them booted out of the Reeperbahn and sent back to England.

An interview with Mick Jagger serves to pick up the story from there as the Rolling Stones’ front man notes the first-meeting anxieties:

    Mick: …They were very nice and complimentary, but that was the first time we’d met them. They’d heard about us you know 'cos for a while we were the South’s answer to the Rutles.”

    Question: Were you billed as that?

    Mick: We were billed as that, yes. When we got up to Birmingham it’d say “London’s answer to the Rutles.”

Of course, the Rutles eventually made their way to the United States after finally getting good directions out of Greenland. An interview with Paul Simon gives an American perspective, including his impression of the watershed Sgt. Rutter album:

    Paul: Well of course the main thing that comes to mind with the Sgt. Rutter album is getting stoned and listening to it with earphones, particularly the chord that lasted forever and the backward tapes.

    Question: Did it affect your work at all?

    Paul: No.
Later in the interview, Simon, asserting that “it’s probably easier to place them sociologically as a phenomenon than to judge them at this point musically as to where they’ll stand," expands on the overall historical significance of the Rutles:
    Paul: People say who’ll be the next Rutles you know. I think it will be something else you know, some other entirely new transformation.

    Question: Did the Rutles influence you at all?

    Paul: No.

As an added extra, The Rutles LP comes with a booklet of further commentary and photos. And who knows? Maybe that superfluous glut of minutiae will get its own Liner Notables feature.

Then again, might be more trouble than it’s worth. Oh hey, look - lunchtime's over.


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