Attracts Me Like a Cauliflower?

Mike Lawson • December 2021Perspective • December 18, 2021

Musician/Publisher Mike Lawson photographed by Michael Weintrob for the Instrument Head collection

I eagerly sat through all eight hours of “Get Back,” the Peter Jackson Beatles documentary, I walked away having witnessed first-hand the creation of perfection through the messy processes of molding clay. It was enthralling. My teacher’s aide in 4th grade gave me “The White Album,” soon after I got my first guitar. In an age of three TV channels, no Internet or video games, a phone on the wall, a transistor radio, and a record player, vinyl albums were enchanting. It was a life-altering gesture on her part, and she had no idea. Nor did I, really. 

Hearing (and seeing) the crafting of “Old Brown Shoe,” and “Something” by George Harrison, was, to me, like watching Michelangelo carve David from marble. Seeing McCartney banging out the ideas for “Get Back” and having Lennon come in and help refine it into what it became, was inspiring. So many other songs from the two final albums, “Abbey Road” and “Let It Be” came from that fewer than four-week period of time. Hearing and seeing, for the first time, the band briefly singing “All Things Must Pass” made my face involuntarily wet, thinking about what might have been. McCartney experimenting with lyrical and musical phrasing for “The Long and Winding Road,” even watching Ringo’s rudimentary piano playing as he shares his new song idea “Octopus’s Garden,” was riveting.

As a musician, I didn’t find a moment of the three-part series to be boring or tedious as some did. I was watching the conjuring of magical moments that will stay with mankind as long as it listens to music, no different than if I had heard and seen Mozart write “The Marriage of Figaro.” The latter was certainly a form of “pop” music of its day, drawing inspiration from the three Figaro written comedies, transformed into a live stage production, that drew vast crowds to packed theaters, and generated princely sums of money at the box offices. Mozart, no doubt, was somebody’s “Beatles” two-plus centuries prior.

What we did not have the privilege of during Mozart’s day, was the 40+ hours of film and hundreds of hours of audio. We had lore, commentary, biographies, second hand accounts. And even two-hundred years later, it took a massive project editing together an eight-hour epic documentary to show us that a great deal of what we were told, or thought we knew about the ending of The Beatles, was probably wrong. 

If you’re not a musician, if you have no appreciation (somehow) for The Beatles and the songs that were crafted by them, you too may find the documentary tedious. I imagine somebody with no love for Mozart wouldn’t be interested in his biographies, either. I guess I’m lucky to have enough musical curiosity to enjoy an array of genres and appreciate not only the end result of the work, but the fantastic process it takes to get from an idea to the point of finishing a composition, writing a song, committing it to a fixed medium that allows it to be reproduced, either live on stage or in our modern age, through visual and audio formats. 

One of the greatest takeaways for me was hearing Harrison tell Lennon how he was stuck on a lyric, and that he was always pushing himself to follow John’s advice from years earlier where John had said, and I’m paraphrasing here, “When you start a song keep going until it’s finished.” John laughs it off saying something to the effect of, “well, I don’t even follow my own advice on that.” George was pulling all-nighters writing what ended up being massive contributions to the group, and hit songs. He lamented that for months he was stuck on the words to “Something” and all he had in his head was “attracts me like a pomegranate,” which of course, makes no sense. John reiterates, “Well, then change it to attracts me like a cauliflower” just so you can keep going until it comes to you. 

Isn’t this often what you tell music students in so many words? If you’re stuck on a difficult passage, keep practicing? Compose past it? You may even tell them that when you don’t always follow your own advice. You expose them to processes and ideas, and yes, music that may have a lifelong positive (or negative) impact by your repertoire selections. Are you forever inspiring to them as potential lifelong music makers, be it by your advice, or sharing your influences, and going into personal detail on why the music moved you in a particular way. Are your repertoire choices made by tradition, or fed by your inspirations? Your students can tell. Do they know what inspired you to become a musician?

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