Few days seem to me as compelling as those summer days when storms breed in the great sagelands to our south.
The coming of a thunderstorm creates an aura of anticipation unique among weather phenomena, a curious mixture of dread, lest the storm unleash a deadly lightning bolt, and optimism, that it might cool the fetid air and water the garden besides.
I track the cells in the most modern of ways, by checking the latest Doppler radar on my smartphone.
And yet I also brace for storms the way humans have done for millennia.
I wait. And watch. And listen.
I like nothing so much as sitting in a chair in my yard, watching the clouds clog the southern horizon, starting as individual cottony puffs that coalesce into a curtain of steel gray, like the bow of a battleship.
I’m fascinated by how the air becomes still and somehow heavy in the minutes before the storm breaks, a sort of pregnant pause when the light turns a peculiar shade of pale yellow-green and the thunder, still distant, echoes with the malevolence of an unseen artillery battle.
I wonder about the precise spot, probably in Harney or Lake County, where the sun heated the dusty ground enough to cause the air to begin rising, the birthplace of a storm that might, 100 miles or more away, spawn 200 lightning bolts and sluice down an inch of rain in 15 minutes.
And I wait for the first drop to give my arm a cool kiss, a traveler brought here by a coincidence of factors beyond the ability of our most powerful computers to predict, to end its long journey on my sweltering forearm.
0 0 0
When I bought the Beatles’ remastered CD box set in the fall of 2009, I figured I’d never spend another dollar for the group’s music.
I had, after all, acquired every song they officially released as a band, and in a high-fidelity format. Better still, the albums were the original English versions, rather than the ransacked abominations the Beatles’ U.S. distributor, Capitol, inflicted on heedless American consumers. We wouldn’t learn until years later how thoroughly Capitol executives had eviscerated multiple albums, doing the most egregious damage to “Rubber Soul” from 1965 and to the following year’s “Revolver.”
My certainty that I had no further need for Beatles product lasted for almost eight years.
What happened is that I heard excerpts from the remixed stereo version of “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.”
This most famous album in rock history — and, fortunately, the first in which the English and American versions had identical content — turned 50 years old in early June. Apple, the record company the Beatles started, did not ignore this milestone.
Apple is selling several versions of Sgt. Pepper, ranging from the single stereo CD, which is what I bought, to a 6-disc package that includes early takes of several tracks, a DVD and Blu-ray, as well as a 144-page book.
I listen occasionally to several podcasts about music history, and naturally the 50th anniversary of Sgt. Pepper’s was a common topic over the past two months. A few podcasts played parts of each song from the remixed stereo album, preceded by the same segments from the 2009 version. These podcasts ought to get a share of the 14 bucks I shelled out for the remixed CD.
I was amazed by the difference.
Even though I was listening to an mp3 podcast through $10 headphones with drivers the size of hearing aid batteries, I was taken aback by how much more vivid the latest version of these intensely familiar songs sounded.
Muscular is not an adjective frequently applied to pop music, but it strikes me as the most appropriate in this case.
The heavily distorted electric guitars that are one of the signature sounds of Sgt. Pepper are much more prominent on the new remix. Listening to the transition from the 2009 to the 2017 version it was as though my ears had suddenly popped while I was rapidly ascending a highway pass.
Many music critics who have reviewed the remixed album emphasize the newfound sonic authority of Paul McCartney’s bass and Ringo Starr’s drums. I hear the difference in those instruments, too — in fact I have to turn off the subwoofer in my home theater system when I listen to the CD, lest the low notes twist my intestines and crack the sheetrock.
But to my ears it’s the guitars that really flex in a way I’ve never before heard.
I don’t mean to imply that any of the songs on Sgt. Pepper seems in any way unfamiliar. Rather, the remixed version polishes to a perfect glossy finish these tunes that were already close to flawless.
Sgt. Pepper is famous for a host of reasons, among them that it’s the first album the group recorded after deciding, in August 1966, to stop performing in concert.
Yet the remixed stereo album proves, in a way that no previous version did, how much power and proficiency these four musicians had even after they ceased playing in front of audiences.
Remix producer Giles Martin — son of the late George Martin, who produced the 1967 album — used the original, unaltered master tapes. This allowed him to incorporate individual instruments in the remixed songs so that they sound, as close as it’s possible to get, precisely as they did when John, Paul, George and Ringo were playing them.
The Beatles felt liberated when they stopped touring. And they embraced the idea that by recording songs they would never have to try to reproduce in concert, they could indulge their immense appetites for unusual sonic textures.
But aside from the studio wizardry that adorns, say, “Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite!,” these guys, as the saying goes, could really rock out.
The pure power of the Beatles as instrumentalists is for me the greatest of the many revelations in Giles Martin’s remix.
I could cite examples from every song, but the two most prominent for me are Paul’s guitar leads on the title track, and Lennon’s rhythm guitar on “Good Morning Good Morning.”
Both blaze from the speakers in a way that I expect even Jimi Hendrix would have marveled at.
(Indeed Hendrix, in perhaps the most renowned homage in rock history, performed the title song from Sgt. Pepper during a London concert just a few days after the album was released. McCartney and George Harrison were in the audience.)
I will keep the 2009 version of Sgt. Pepper in its cardboard case with all the other albums from the box set, if only to preserve its integrity.
But I expect the only reason I’ll ever slide that CD into a player again will be for comparative purposes, when I show another fan why the 2009 stereo version is no longer the definitive version of the most acclaimed album by the greatest rock group in history.
Jayson Jacoby is editor
of the Baker City Herald.