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EARLY MORNING BLUES AND GREENS - Starr Dust; A Bird's Eye View of Ringo

  by Lisa Torem

published: 24 / 7 / 2012



EARLY MORNING BLUES AND GREENS - Starr Dust; A Bird's Eye View of Ringo

intro

After winning an online competition, Lisa Torem recently met Ringo Starr. She reflects back on her long history with the Beatles drummer before then


‘Act Naturally,’ a Buck Owens cover, with lyrics by Johnny Russell, became a signature song for former Rory Storm and The Hurricanes/Beatles drummer Richard Starkey when it appeared on the 1965 album, ‘Help’. It also sounds like good advice. In Los Angeles, I would be meeting Ringo Starr, solo recording artist, actor and drummer extraordinaire. (If you still don’t know who he is, you’re obviously a space alien.) I had won the opportunity from an online charity, but I would have some exciting Ringo-rich adventures before my turn. Truthfully I’ve had many encounters with Ringo Starr - it’s just that we were never in the same room. I was struck, like many females, by his youthful, outsider presence early on - just watching him parade around London streets in an oversized raincoat in ‘A Hard Day’s Night’, the film named after one of his expressions, would have made me a fan. He has now released his seventeenth album, ‘Ringo 2012’, a not-so-distant cousin of 1973’s ‘Ringo’ and has completed an American tour with an All-Starr cast. Ringo was the rocker that found me when I wasn’t looking. At one Beatles event, a black and white photograph of the young Starr staring pensively at nobody in particular, while puffing a cigarette captivated me. So low on cash that I couldn’t really justify the expense, I left the gallery empty handed and unsettled only to come back two or three times, worried sick that someone else had taken it. As luck would have it, on the last visit I dug through my purse and found some wadded up twenties. Five minutes later I found myself outside tucking the framed photo under my raincoat before a downpour (This would not be the only time Ringo would join me in the rain.). I got home and placed the picture onto a closet shelf to be hung up later. But “later” I was doubtful. Where should I hang it? In the bedroom, where no one else could enjoy it? But hanging it up in a more trafficked area would invite discussion and I saw no reason why I should use this art piece to inspire casual banter. That would diminish its sense of solitude and calm beauty. And what if, left abandoned on a living room wall, some precocious child coated the pristine surface with sticky hands? Needless to say, the sacred “photograph” still sits on the shelf. And Ringo’s lyric on the 1973 song of the same name (‘Photograph’, Harrison/Starkey) would be prophetic: “Every time I see your face it reminds me of the plaaces we used to go…” Safely swaddled under a stack of wooly sweaters, and there at my beck and call, it remains. It’s like lint in the navel. It’s comfortable. You know it’s there and as Ringo would state, in another signature tune, “I can’t tell you, but I know it’s mine.” The photograph keeps me sane, and so does Ringo’s outlook on life. His wit can disarm a pushy journalist or an excessive fan, and this talent has served him well. Being famous since the early 1960s “don’t come easy.” Without humour, or the ability to let life rock and roll off the hide, fame can suck an artist dry, and leave little room for digression, but that’s not been Ringo’s karma. Though his trajectory has included eight physical years with the Beatles, a wild, unbelievable ride that began in 1962, life before and after has hardly been snow on a second hand TV. Ringo and his sticks drum up excitement wherever he goes, I had seen Ringo perform several times after he had broken up with “that other band,” in Chicago, Nashville and finally, Los Angeles. In each show he had come onstage to do hits from the Beatles and his own solo work, while offering up the other time slots to colleagues such as Edgar Winter, Todd Rundgren, Richard Page, new guy Steve “Luke” Lukather, Gregg Rolie and Gregg Bissonette. At Chicago’s Northerly Island, Ringo attracted an international audience. I know this because an Italian journalist taking copious notes on fan behaviour found female hysteria a research subject worth the price of a first-class air ticket. “Why are you screaming?” he asked me slowly, the way a customs official probably spoke to my immigrant ancestors at Ellis Island as the stage lights flickered. Thankfully he and his note pad were absent from Nashville’s Ryman, where tweens and septarians in Stetson hats sang in tandem. Seeing an entertainer perform in another city can be trying though. After hearing indigenous praises: “Alright, Chicago, I love being here,” you inflate your chest, knowing full well your town is the only one that rocks. But sitting amongst people who think their city rocks, you feel betrayed and green. Yet you’re bloody stuck. “Hello, Nashville!” your cheatin’ Starr screams. What do you do? “Boo”, crouch behind the seat or blend? You can determine a celeb’s butterfly effect by the fans. Sheets of rain that cut through a dark Nashville sky like blunt razors couldn’t keep away a loyal group of fans huddled in the alley after the Ryman concert. I overheard some comments. One visiting British woman had to see Ringo, just once so that she could understand her mother’s youthful brush with “Beatlemania.” Crouching behind a stage door and racing through the streets was definitely a great idea, but… “Why here?” I asked her, thinking she’d be more likely to find Ringo on the coast. She clucked something about it being his birthday, and looked at me like I was really stupid She covered her black hair with a large, cardboard poster as the sky cracked open. Coloured ink from the Sharpie-penned letters dripped to the ground as she squatted. If you’re a Druid, this stage door is your sundial. The fan and the star have a complicated relationship. Validate me, the former might say. Make all these years of loving you, buying your albums and posters real. Notice me from the crowd because I love you more…I love you the best. Sheets of cruel rain become explosive so I duck into the back entrance of Tootsies, the famous honky tonk. Soaked as a gutter rat, I catch my breath and take stock of my oasis. Above my head on a dowel rod are rolls of industrial strength trash bags. I speak tongues to a man. From my babble, he deciphers the word, ‘Ringo.’ “Put your arms up and don’t move,” he says, mysteriously. There’s nobody else around. It’s pitch dark. He’s going to kill me, I think. Squeezing my exhausted eyes shut, I pray to no one in particular. Rip! The stranger unfurls a large bag from the dispenser, pulls it over my entire frame, past my shoes. Then he pokes two eyeholes through it with a blunt instrument. Hey! I’m ready for action! Back in the alley, high-heeled drunk debutantes shout,“What are y’all waiting for?” “Ringo,” whispers a short man, hugging his digital camera, “Ringo Starr.” “Ringo Starr?” shouts the beauty wrapped in taffeta. She elbows her friend and giggles. The rain mercifully subsides as a shadow creeps down the stairs. The chant “Ringo” amplifies until it dissolves into a waiting vehicle and flashes a sign. I am wondering what I will say to this man when we meet. I’m a fan, but a rock writer too. So confusing! Hi, I’m Lois Lane. Nice to meet you, Superman. Outside LA’s immaculate Greek Theater, an intimate way station, glam icons gather. Rock culture meets the forest-in-the-city flora of Griffith Park. Tall-cool Edgar Winter, his deep blue eyes twinkling, sprints then skids to a stop when his date waves over shy fans that want his autograph. With a wide smile she indicates that this larger-than-life keytarist with cloud-white hair always makes time. When he circles the Sharpie through the air in invisible circles before landing the point on the album cover, he looks like Seiji Ozawa. Matt Sorum’s glistening blonde spikes are attention grabbing to those who recognize him (and even to those who don’t), but the fact that the Guns N’ Roses/Velvet Revolver drummer is there to support another accomplished drummer fares well with both camps. While other concerts invite competition a Ringo concert encourages community. “Peace and Love” is one way that Ringo might sum it up and on the stage later, as his head bobs from side to side as he commands his sticks, this Lord of the Ludwig divides his smile equally between performing friends and the audience. Peace and Love? On Ringo’s birthday when he flashed the peace sign at high noon to kids, moms, Nashville musicians and hundreds of well wishers in the scorching heat, who stood outside the music capital’s Hard Rock Café, we resonated. Ringo’s fans would be great mates on a sinking ship. My throat parched, and I felt faint until one angel-woman poured half of the contents of her water bottle into mine. And another fan swore that if only Ringo would sign his name, right there (he pointed to his shoulder blade), he would high tail himself to the local tattoo parlor and make it permanent. If only. And, being a local, he knew exactly where to go. In times like these, Ringo’s symbolic gesture takes on more and more significance. He is more than a seasoned performer and equal opportunity bandleader. Since 1989, he has spearheaded 13 successful All-Starr tours. His philanthropic legacy includes active participation in many charitable events and foundations: Artists United Against Apartheid, David Lynch Foundation, Make a Wish Foundation, Concert for Bangladesh and the Romanian Angel Appeal, to skim the surface. The flash of that peace sign literally stands for something. I look forward to our meeting and this LA concert with killer guitarists, dueling drummers; men borrowed from Toto, Santana and Mr. Mister, Richard Page’s heartfelt hypnotic ‘Kyrie’ and Rundgren’s telepathic ‘Love is the Answer’, Starr’s grinding baritone, customary bling, easygoing mannerisms and zeal for comradeship. “Love you like no other, baby, like no other can,” Starr sings, early on, as only a former Beatle can. Later he makes several self-deprecating comments regarding the few people that he projects will purchase his new album and about some of the lyrics he wrote early on in his career, that perhaps, he reveals, weren’t as clever as those couplets Lennon--McCartney devised, and we can’t help but see ourselves as part of an exclusive club – people who relate well unconditionally, despite the slings and arrows that life perpetrates. When ‘Luke’ stretches out a guitar solo or saxophonist Mark Rivera puffs one more chromatic passage out of his horn or when Rundgren hits an uncharacteristically high note or a famous Santana riff screeches from the keys, Ringo Starr, who we gathered here for, is the most appreciative audience member. He looks so grateful that you feel like someone had planned a surprise birthday for him, and somehow we got on the list. Casting the microphone past the first rows like a fly fisherman, Ringo encourages us to finish his sentences the way old married couples do - on ‘Yellow Submarine.’” If you don’t know the words, you’re in the wrong place,” he jibes. “We all live” he begins, and we half laugh/half sing “in a yellow submarine.” At this moment, we are all in love with whatever memories from the vault brought us together. In Nashville, a twelve-year-old sat closely to her dad and impressed him by knowing all the verses. In LA, the woman in floral print and sandals next to me apologizes for dancing in my sightlines. “I’m too old…” she sighs. I want to whisper in her ear the Ringoism, “Time Takes Time”… For all the press this rock star has garnered since the 1960s, and despite stories, which were published out of context (No, Ringo does not dislike Liverpool!), the story is simple. Ringo loves to play, but he is generous when sharing the limelight. While enjoying the friendly onstage interaction and renditions of ‘Black Magic Woman’, ‘I Wanna Be Your Man’, ‘Africa’ and ‘With A Little Help From My Friends,’ my mind spun around those fifteen or so minutes. Ringo never said a word about himself. He asked about my life and thanked me for taking part in something he believed in. That he’s a great hugger is beside the point. My part was easy, a piece of cake. All I had to do was…act naturally.




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