“We’ve been doing this since 1998 and we’re still trying to get it right,” said Will Lee early in the Monday night Book of Paul show at City Winery, which followed Sunday’s opening night’s Book of John and preceded Tuesday night’s Book of Harrison, Wednesday’s Rubber Soul album in its entirety, and New Year’s Eve’s early show of The Beatles at Shea Stadium and late show of mixed Beatles favorites.
After what, 17 years of doing this?, the Fauxs constantly come up with ways to make it fresh. Then again, as anyone who was with me in streaming Beatles albums over Christmas–when they first became available for streaming, finally!—The Beatles always sound fresh, and there’s always something new to learn from listening for the millionth-plus time.
Jimmy Vivino once likened listening to The Beatles to archaeological science, saying something to the effect that there’s always more to learn, always more “information” becoming available. That explains how Fab Faux somehow keep sounding better and better—that, of course, and the fact that they’re some of the top players in the world, who have studied The Beatles catalog like it was the Dead Sea Scrolls.
A few from a full evening of highlights from Monday’s show:
“Paperback Writer” replicated the Beatles’ great layered harmonies, and after an outstanding guitar break from Vivino in which he even threw in a guitar bit-—maybe even the backward solo from the 1966 two-sided single’s flip “Rain”–Lee asked the sold-out audience, “Don’t you just love the versatility, the dependability?”
Indeed, I was thinking the exact same thing. Every time I see Vivino–and I’ve been seeing him in differnt groupings for decades–I’m even more astounded by his versatility and dependability.
“Blackbird” had Lee and electric guitarist Frank Agnello switching to acoustic guitar, drummer Rich Pagano clicking sticks, and keyboardist Jack Petruzzelli coming out dancing and blowing into a bird whistle–with Pagano also whistling along. And when Agnello sang “We Can Work It Out,” I remembered that it really was a McCartney/Beatles song and not Valerie Simpson’s—since she’s made it her own in closing out Thursday Night’s Open Mic events at the Sugar Bar with her own touching take on it.
For “Yesterday,” Lee and Vivino both played keyboards. Petruzzelli wailed so hard on “Oh! Darling” that everyone in the room was on their feet, same with “Get Back,” so thoroughly researched by the Faux that both the lead guitar and piano parts sounded right off the record player–the only difference being vocalist Vivino’s brief cuts to “All Right Now,” “Satisfaction” and “I Can See for Miles” while Lee traipsed around the room while playing bass, returning to the stage in the nick of time for Vivino to get back to “Get Back.”
Lee, by the way, always astounds with his singing, since you never got to hear much of it when he was on Letterman. But as he related after the show (and Valerie Simpson avouched the next night at the Sugar Bar, where Lee’s Letterman band mate Felicia Collins held court), he sang on tons of jingles back in the day (as did Val), including Stroh’s Beer. And while Vivino acquitted himself very well on McCartney fare, he got the night’s biggest laugh by confessing that he always favored Lennon, who was “much closer to the Italian guys we like—Dion and Elvis Presley.”
Incidentally, though he’s not tributed with his own special night during this run, Ringo has been given the encores, Monday night’s being “With a Little Help From My Friends” and “I Wanna Be Your Man.”
But really, it was the show’s opening song that renewed my appreciation for Paul McCartney, as I’ve never forgotten the thrill of opening the White Album in 1968 and putting on Side One of the first disc and hearing, for the first time, “Back in the U.S.S.R.” Even now I think it’s the most revolutionary song in rock ‘n’ roll history, matched maybe by “God Save the Queen.”
When I got home I went straight to Wikipedia. Sure enough, it said how The Beatles had been “officially derided in the USSR as the ‘belch of Western culture,’” while at the same time “Back in the U.S.S.R.” was seen in the U.S. as pro-Soviet, particularly by anti-communist groups.
“It was a mystical land then,” McCartney said when he arrived in Russia to perform in 2003. “It’s nice to see the reality. I always suspected that people had big hearts. Now I know that’s true.”
Even in the darkest days of The Cold War, that’s how I figured it. Sure enough, in the mid-‘80s I met some Russian TASS correspondents based in New York who have remained lifelong friends.
And no surprise, they loved The Beatles as much as we did.
Even at the 2015 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, where inductee Ringo Starr got a big laugh relating how one of the reasons The Beatles stayed friends on the road was living up to the pact that in the van, “if you fart, own up to it–because [otherwise] it will cause hell.”
I’m reminded of this now at Christmastime–and what kind of gift to get that special someone. And mainly because at Toy Fair earlier this year, farts were all the rage. One publicist in particular very much enjoyed showing me several modern variations on a classic theme, the Whoopie Cushion, at the Skyrocket Toys booth, which actually fielded a whole array of fart goods from its Prank Star line in addition to the gold standard cushion (“A Toot by Any Other Sound is Not as Profound!”)
First was the Fart Whistle: “Turn Your Whistles into Farts! Blow into the Handheld Whistle and it Sounds like a Whoopee Cushion.”
Then came the iFart Shuffle: “Who needs iTunes?!? The iFart Shuffle lets you Scroll through All of Your Favorite Farts with the Push of a Button. Additionally, it is the Ultimate High-Tech Whoopee Cushion. The Built-In Motion Sensor causes a Fart to Release when Someone Sits Down or Moves. Includes 1 AAA Battery.”
But wait! There’s more! The RC Mega Fart allows you to “Cut the Cheese at up to 20 Feet Away. Press the Button on the Remote and Trigger an Array of Farts on the Fart Box–Even Through Walls. Requires 3 AAA Batteries.”
And for the truly talented, the Fart Piano lets you “Discover your True Inner Talent. [by]Creating Musical Masterpieces with [keyboard-triggered] Gaseous Body Sounds! Cough, Sneeze, and Belch your way to the Top of the Charts. Includes 6 Different Sound Libraries and ‘Try Me’ Packaging to Play Songs in the Store. Includes 3 AAA Batteries.”
Then in May, Prank Star introduced two new Spring 2015 fart items: Fart Bubbles, “for those looking to blow out ‘lightly-scented’ fart bubbles with a unique bubble wand that features a gas mask topper,” and the motorized Fart Bubble Gun, which “blasts out a strong stream of cherry-scented fart bubbles, accompanied by real farting sounds that bring out the giggles in anyone!”
“There’s no denying that farts are always funny, for all ages,” quoth the publicist, Lindsay Edwards. “And what’s not to love about bubbles? So when you combine the two, you really get the best of both worlds–the fun of a bubble maker with the silliness of a fart. Fortunately though, these farts won’t clear a room.”
But really, I don’t give a shit about any of this (or, for that matter, Prank Star’s brown Poo-Dough take on Play-Dough (“Looks like the real thing…smells much better!”). I didn’t even ask for samples. But I was more than happy to return the “favor” in sending Lindsay something she’d never heard of, the legendary recording of The Great Crepitation Contest of 1946, more popularly known as “The Farting Contest,” since crepitation concerns a number of obscure and unpleasant medical anomalies (for example, “noise or vibration produced by rubbing bone or irregular degenerated cartilage surfaces together as in arthritis and other conditions”), in addition to the comparatively innocuous “a dry, crackling sound or sensation.” The closest we can get to our purposes would be: “‘Crunching’ of tissue caused by presence of gas, which may occur in lung disease.”
Now if you’ve never heard The Great Crepitation Contest of 1946, then, I hope this doesn’t spoil it for you. The best version I’ve found is Trillblow Records’ recording Battle at Thunderblow, Windesmear vs. Bloomer, Part 1. That would be England’s Lord Windesmear, “Champion of the British Empire,” opposite challenger Paul Boomer, a commoner from Australia (“I remember I used to make me mother and father laugh their bleeding head off when I let one go in church….”
The disc takes on the guise of a live sporting event, complete with pre-game interviews of the competitors, detailed descriptions—in all its rich pageantry—of all aspects of the competition as it unfolds, including the rules and traditions associated with the ancient sport, play-by-play reporting and analysis, and the noise of the many thousand spectators in the venue as they react to the proceedings and the the scoring announced by the field referee.
It’s as real as it gets without being real.
Back in 1946, of course, the word “fart” was no doubt shunned in commercial undertakings. That it’s pretty commonly accepted now is obvious, not just from Skyrocket and Prank Star’s catalog or Ringo Starr’s tale, but by the frequently used (though never by me) excuse, “brain fart.”
Whether or not The Great Crepitation Contest of 1946 actually originated in 1946 is one of many things about the recording open to question, as I’ve seen claims on the Internet that it was produced and played for World War II soldiers as a morale-boosting “V-Disc” (“V” for Victory) recording. One excellent source was this blog, rand’s esoteric otr, which hails it as “the granddaddy of all ‘party records’ and a recording surrounded by much rumor and misinformation.”
Rand relates that the recording was apparently produced, in the late ’40s, as an in-house joke by Canadian Broadcasting Crop. (though it may have surfaced as a V-Disc), making the purported late ’40s production a little late. The many fun-to-read comments on his post and on YouTube indicate that most people today who have heard it either did so from an old copy their fathers–or grandfathers–had, or more frequently, an uncle, or else novelty radio shows, especially the great Dr. Demento’s.
One guy noted how his dad had it on a 78 r.p.m. vinyl disc, and that he hadn’t heard it in 40 years. Another boasted of having an original aluminum acetate recording purchased in 1946, that he might sell, since it had “bothered my wife for 58 years.” For others it brought back memories of hearing it in college in the ’60s, or on family road trips when a father played it on cassette. Often it was the stuff of legend: “One of my uncles had this record when I was a child. Since he lived far away, his nieces and nephews heard him talk about it, but never actually heard it. I’m finally hearing it some 50 years after first becoming aware of it.”
Confessed another, “Some kid told me about this record on the school bus over 20 years ago. I thought he was making it up. Guess not.”
So extraordinary is the broadcast, in fact, that one commenter asked the obvious: Why is this not a sporting event that we can go see at an arena?”
Another played along–as you’ll better understand shortly: “I routinely scorn the use of the farting post.” Of course I particularly related to “Someone recorded it on a cassette in the early ’70s and left it in my car, it went great with a couple joints!”
Indeed, I may well have heard it originally under similar circumstances in my teens, perhaps, but for sure, long after I and my friends, unknowingly on my part, used some of the fart terminology in it, presumably, in categorizing our own farts, especially “flutterblast.” I say presumably because with us it kind of took on an open-ended French pronunciation, I would think, flattabla, the “a” sound in all three cases more like the “eah” in yeah.
Flattabla was then reduced to just plain flatta, and further taking on the verb form of fla (“fleah”), as in, “He fla”–which worked for both present and past tense, none of us being cunning linguists. I’m sure there’s a pronunciation symbol for it somewhere.
According to Wikipedia, the “clandestine” recording was produced in the ’40s “allegedly by Canadian Broadcast Corporation staff” and “in the manner of a seemingly real radio broadcast” with narration by sportscaster Sidney S. Brown (whom I’ve seen identified elsewhere as a DJ), with “sound effects” credited to his producer Jules Lipton. The event takes place at the “Great Maple Leaf Auditorium,” and showcases the understated brilliance of the sportscaster as compared with, if I must say, the stench of today’s coverage of actual sports.
I’m thinking of the great BBC golf commentator Peter Aliss, the only one who comes to mind who’s comparable in terms of vocabulary and respect for the competition, as it were. Brown, in fact, is so good it’s like you really are there–like you can actually sense the “breeze,” so to speak, if not smell the effects, that is, of course, if you’re not laughing too hard to hear his descriptions of such unique-to-the-contest items as the removable “zephyr window” of the challenger’s trunks (“literally translated from the French”), the “simple eloquence” of the Farting Post (“about four feet high and decorated with red, white and blue bunting up to about nine inches from the top, “the bare top section worn smooth by the grip of many hands in previous contests,” and everything else–of which there is plenty–relating to this “centuries-old sport.”
Best, though, is its scoring system, and Brown’s extraordinary command-and application-of it. He makes note of the first fleeber delivered since 1750, how the challenger opened with “a beauty! a beauty…I think that was a triple flutterblast, yes, that’s what the judge signals…and another of the same, and another 25 points, followed by one, no two, I beg your pardon, three fuzzy farts in rapid succession! It’s amazing how this man can change pace in style of offering by a slight simple shifting of his buttock area.”
And then, “a flooper, a flooper, a perfectly executed flooper” and then a follow-up flooper–“a very difficult maneuver” and only “the second time in the history of this sport that a follow-up flooper has been achieved in open competition.”
Then there was “a little freep–a very hazardous fart because of the danger of flotching,” and Boomer went on to score an unprecedented 123 points, beatng Windesmear’s record by four points. Yet the great champion was “not in the least disconcerted by the brilliant performance of the challenger.” He even gave in to Boomer’s (and his seconds’) protest and removing the gold-tasseled “Zephyr Window” fringe of his bottom attire, since it might add a “whistle” or some other sound and thereby increase the value of his efforts, “and after all, in a closely fought contest like this, every little advantage must be jealously watched.”
His Lordship then proceeded to disdainfully blow a freep right in the challenger’s face, and while it was a mere two-pointer, “to throw one away is a gesture of defiance [and] demonstrates the spirit of dash and recklessness [that] has made the Englishmen the champion that he is.” And in a “final gesture of contempt,” the champion scorned the use of the farting post, the awestruck Brown reported.
Yet after opening officially with “three sislers in a row” (I’m laughing again out loud just writing this!) followed by “one, two, three—four fragrant fuzzies in rapid succession! It’s a pleasure to see the ease and comfort with which His Lordship releases his farts. Perfect technique–80 points in the first 30 seconds of the post.”
And then, “something’s wrong!” The judges signaled a plotcher—“a very bad plotcher”—and penalized Windesmear 15 points. But Windesmear recovers with “a beautiful thundersbreak…a beautiful bit of windbreaking virtuosity…a most difficult fart to perform without plotching,” and worth 30 points. A 10-point trillblow followed by a “resounding single flutterblast…a lovely change of pace” left him three points short of a tie.
“The excitement is going unbearable,” said a palpably tense Brown, before Lord Windesmear’s “final bid.” “One more fuzzy or two small freeps [and] it’s all over but the shouting.”
And for sure, His Lordship had heroically come from behind, so to speak.
“Just one more of those little two-point freeps and the contest will be over,” Brown reiterated.
And then, one of the great shocking finales in Crepitation Contest history, or that of any sport: “Oh, he shit!” a breathless Brown exclaimed. “The champion is disqualified!”
A few moments of stunned crowd noise and Brown returned.
“Ladies and gentlemen, as a special service feature we have brought you direct from the ringside of the Maple Leaf Auditorium a blow-by-blow description of the first Crepitation Contest held under international auspices. This broadcast replaced midweek meditations usually heard at this time.”
But honestly, this written description, while quite good, hardly does The Great Crepitation Contest of 1946 recording justice. Simply put, it’s the best piece of sports broadcast journalism ever, real nor not, and it gets better every time you hear it.