We, my friends, are in the middle of an onrushing Renaissance trembling on the brink of a chaotically crashing wave, and if we do not succeed by evolving into what should properly follow, then blame the politicians, not the artists, 'cause the creatives are doing all they can…and they always have, though to what immediate degrees of success is too often difficult to assess. A case in point is this gentleman, P.F. Sloan (true name: Philip Gary Schlein), with whose work you're familiar but whom you likely do not recognize in the least. That, I'm afraid, has been a regrettable salient in the meeting of commerce and the arts for far too long, only lately showing any signs of slightest cessation amid a number of retrospective recoveries.
'Member The Little Old Lady from Pasadena by Jan and Dean? Well, despite what my music writer 'comrades' may otherwise assert, that was Sloan's lead falsetto on the single, not Dean Torrence's. Recall the theme song for the T.A.M.I. Show? Sloan co-wrote that. Have ya heard the immortal Eve of Destruction made most famous by Barry 'Sing for Jesus' Maguire? That's Sloan's song. Here are a few others: You Baby and Let Me Be (The Turtles), Hold On! (Herman's Hermits), Secret Agent Man (Johnny Rivers, and later the theme song for Britain's 'Danger Man' TV series with good ol' Patrick McGoohan), and so many more that it'd stagger you to read of them all. More, Sloan usually played the lead guitar tracks for the groups on his penned oeuvre, including the famed riff in Secret Agent Man. So…………howz cum no one knew his name?
I won't get started on the inexhaustable capitalist depredations the music industry is infamous for, you should already be more than familiar with the 5,286-volume encyclopedia of that, but Sloan has many times asserted that ABC Dunhill went so far as to gravely threaten him in order to pilfer the rights to his valuable catalogue (hm, looks like Tommy James and the Mafia weren' the only cases in point). Then came battles with mental and physical illnesses—think of Brian Wilson—and decades of almost nothing in terms of artistic creativity. That long siege appears to be over, and My Beethoven is its marker, a fascinating exercise in reversing historic revisionisms upon one of music's most famous hallmarks: Ludwig van Beethoven. Sloan, y'see, decided one day to research Lud's true back story and came away astonished at what he discovered. What we've been told, and also not told, isn't the real deal, and Sloan's setting the record straight.
The first cut, Black Robed Spaniard (Beautifully Blue) establishes the ages-old race problem in Ludwig Van's Black / Spaniard / Whatever 'mulatto' estate, still a controversial issue. It also impinges on what's lately of such crucial importance, the true bane of his and our existence: the problems of class. Myths Unbuttoned and other tracks also enter upon that, revealing an earthy character who loved to drink in taverns, was passionate about folk music (his famed 9th Symphony is grounded in antecedent folk airs), played guitar (then considered a gutter instrument by the classicalist establishment), and not only wrote hundreds of folk tunes but re-arranged many Hungarian and Russian classics, transforming them into the forms heard today, including the world-known Auld Langs Ayne (Old Lang Syne).
My Beethoven is most definitely a concept album, a unified narrative wedding the compositions to fact rather than past bourgeois fantasies. It is, however, a very personal creation, the product of a kindred soul ruminating upon the eternal questions in a candle-lit garret, angst mixing with hope and a relief not untinged by regret. The modus, though, is as symphonic as Beethoven's work, and, to ensure the cycle of opuses survived intact, Sloan sings lead and backing vocals, plays piano, plays guitar, wrote, arranged, and scored everything, and then co-mixed and co-mastered the lot…with one small exception: In Celebration Of was co-written by a guy we've not heard from in far too many years, Procol Harum's Keith Reid.
I think the closest comparative to My Beethoven would be the Zombies' Odessey & Oracle (that misspelt 'odyssey', by the way, was an accident, not a neologism, wrought by the guy who designed the cover art: the ironically named Terry Quirk…a teacher), a magnum LP that fared not terribly well in its day but is now lauded as #100 in Rolling Stone's top 500 rock LPs of all time. The atmospherics, flowline compositional methods, and orchestral tones in Beethoven are unmistakably kindred. In fact, this disc would make for a highly unusual tapestristic stage play performed as documentarian saturnalia, composer singing, playing a Bosendorfer in the foreground, actors pantomiming scenarios downstage, dancing through the story line.
The East West Orchestra tackles the symphonic elements with colorative aplomb, but the main character is Sloan himself, always front and center in a blend of folk, very light rock, classicalism, Romantic cabaret, and various other elements. As with Odessey, full attention is demanded; this isn't radio music by any faintest measure, as personal as your own inner dialogue but as universal as Greek philosophy leavened by the Everyman, by we the proletariat. I'll predict, however, and also hope I'm dead wrong, that the disc will not do well in the market. It's too sophisticated for commercial success, too individualistic…though it just may be that the latest generation or two might very well take to it enthusiastically. A gratifying percentage is, on whole, a good deal more sophisticated and appreciative of the full spectrum of music than we Baby Boomers were, and My Beethoven presents an unusual re-evocation of the interim between Tin Pan Alley and rock and roll that could very well bloom again in the hands of new hybridizing composers forever ranging the notational wilds for inspiration and material. One can only hope that's the case, but, in the meantime, you, dear reader, needn't follow the crass radio banalities of our times regardless. Start here.
Edited by: David N. Pyles
Copyright 2014, Peterborough Folk Music Society.
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