Thursday, March 10, 2011

A Hard Day's Night: Paul & George at Work

How does Beatleology play itself out in the workplace? Here are a few real-life scenarios that I have observed in the past year, interactions between a project manager who is a strong Paul (the Ram), and a software developer who is a strong George (the Dark Horse). Already some obvious traits can be pointed out: Rams are often the ones leading the projects, thinking "big," coordinating efforts and telling other people what to do; Dark Horses are usually the ones focused on the details, more comfortable working within clearly-established guidelines (don't ever put a Dark Horse on a project that lacks a strong blueprint and well-defined dates and deliverables - they'll go nuts).

The Ram checked the project plan and realized that a certain set of deliverables were due that day. Checking in with the Dark Horse on the status of those items, he was given a "realistic" update that those items were running a bit behind, and might not be finished until the next day. At the end of the day, the Dark Horse reported that they were indeed running behind; they were at "close to 60% completion instead of 100%"; the Ram reported back to the client that his team was "making significant progress and should have it wrapped up soon."

Dark Horses are always looking at the risks involved; that's why they aren't overly optimistic. They hope for the best, but they also see the things that might go wrong, and they try to plan for those eventualities. Rams, on the other hand, are rarely deterred by the warnings of the Dark Horse, because Rams keep their eyes fixed on the best possible outcome, and firmly believe that this is the outcome they will see. Where a Dark Horse will be somewhat discouraged that a deadline is being missed, a Ram will cheerfully report that "significant progress" is being made, because that is honestly how the Ram sees it.

The Dark Horse will see the Ram as dangerously un-tethered from reality, behaving recklessly, setting up unrealistic expectations and goals that won't likely be met; the Ram will see the Dark Horse as too pessimistic, lacking vision, too restricted, aiming lower than is necessary. This is why Rams and Dark Horses don't typically work well together; they're coming from opposite ends of the spectrum.

As the project continued along its way, the team came to a holiday weekend, which meant a solid four days out of the office and not working on the project. The Dark Horse left for the holiday and shut off the work cell phone for the duration; the Ram worked 10-hour days from home all through the weekend. Dark Horses are hard workers, but they draw clear boundaries between work and personal life; to burn up large chunks of holiday time working on office projects is to sell your soul for success. Rams, on the other hand, are energized by working on projects; they love the thrill of getting ahead, of making progress, of being able to cross major to-do items off the list. Putting in 10-hour days over a holiday weekend feels like a good weekend to a Ram; a Dark Horse, if forced to do the same thing, would quit his job on the spot.

The project finally came into its final week, and the Dark Horse was finally tying up all the last loose ends before the product would be released. With two days left to go, the Ram came in with a laundry list of "new features" that he wanted to be added, things that would make the product "really, really top-notch." When the Dark Horse strongly objected that now was not the time, two days before "live-launch," to start experimenting with new ideas, the Ram insisted that the changes were "not that difficult" and would "not take that long" to do. Besides, argued the Ram, these changes would take the product to "the next level" of excellence, would really push the product "over the top." The Dark Horse worked frantically to meet the new objectives, but it delayed the launch of the product by several days, and required several long nights of over-time work.

Again, Dark Horses hate risks. When a situation is stable, the risks have been eliminated, and assurance is high, the last thing a Dark Horse wants to do is to start tampering and changing things around, introducing a bunch of unknowns into the mix. For the Ram, however, optimism and professionalism rule the day: if a situation can be made better, then it should be, no matter how many little details need to be sorted out, because that's the professional thing to do; anyway, everything will work out just fine, because nothing is unattainable. Rams don't give as much weight to the risks, because their optimism tells them that risks are just "maybe's," and you can't sacrifice higher quality for a "maybe."

Rams also have a highly optimistic perception of how much effort will be required; in this scenario it was "no big deal" to add changes to the product, but it cost the Dark Horse a lot of extra over-time to make the Ram's vision become reality. In the Ram's mind, the tradeoff between the amount of extra work and the increase in the quality of the product makes the extra work seem insignificant. In other words, the extra work is well worth it, so in the end it's "no big deal."

The Ram and the Dark Horse almost certainly had different appraisals of the project once it was over. The Dark Horse, in all likelihood, will think of that project and have a bad aftertaste, remembering the difficulties, the lack of planning, the extra work required. The Ram, in all likelihood, will look back and happily remember what a great success the project was, because it ended well, the client was happy, and the product was high quality. He will take pride in his accomplishment, and quickly move on to the next big project.

It's a well-known fact that Paul and George had some trouble getting along within the Beatles. Paul was a kind of "project manager," writing his songs and overseeing their arrangements to the last detail; he had a vision of how it ought to sound, and he worked at it until he got it exactly right, and that meant telling everyone else how to play their instruments. George played a subservient role in these recordings, taking orders from Paul on what to play and not play, even if that meant working for hours and hours re-recording the takes until Paul was happy with it.

Much like the Ram and the Dark Horse in this scenario, when the Beatles went on vacation to India to get some rest and relaxation, Paul couldn't stop working - he kept writing songs and planning for the next album, much to George's extreme irritation:

"George actually once got quite annoyed and told me off because I was trying to think of the next album. He said, 'We're not fucking here to do the next album, we're here to meditate!' It was like, 'Ohh, excuse me for breathing!'" (Paul, quoted in Many Years from Now)

What George probably didn't realize was that planning for the next album was Paul's way of relaxing and meditating; what Paul probably didn't realize is that George saw The Beatles as a job, and needed some time to get away from all the work. Paul was muddying up George's vacation with work; George was expecting Paul to give up something in India (working on music) that truly helped him relax and feel good.

Rams and Dark Horses can work together, but it takes a lot of patience and trying to see the other person's point of view, because both are coming from such polar opposite viewpoints.

Book Review: While My Guitar Gently Weeps - The Music of George Harrison

While My Guitar Gently Weeps: The Music of George Harrison
Simon Leng
Hal Leonard Publishing

Beatleologically, I am a George. I relate to his outlook on life, his quiet personality, his contemplative nature, his musical approach. So when, on George's birthday this past February 25, my fiancée gave me a copy of While My Guitar Gently Weeps along with George's best-of collection, Let It Roll, I was ecstatic. (Yes, she's the most amazing woman in the world. Obviously). Simon Leng's masterful analysis of George's music is an absolute pleasure to read, especially if the reader is a) already a Beatles fan, and b) a musician. I am both, and so I devoured Leng's 300-page book in a matter of a few days, thoroughly enjoying the combination of Leng's easy style, evocative vocabulary, and insightful comments on George's music growth and spiritual journey.

Although Leng clearly respects the Lennon-McCartney songwriting powerhouse, he doesn't idolize the duo, and he doesn't shrink at putting them in their place when necessary (he calls the McCartney-driven Magical Mystery Tour "wretched," and is astounded that Lennon's "Ballad of John and Yoko," a "self-serving travelogue," trumped George's "Old Brown Shoe" as the A-side to the single). Leng is entirely sympathetic to George, and frankly, it's about time someone dedicated this kind of attention to George's vital musical influence within the band.

Leng notes that George did not merely play a filler role, lobbing in the occasional riff to fill up some blank space in a song; on the contrary, his lead guitar work often played a crucial role in giving those songs their final shape (it was George who worked out the riff that bridged the gap between the first and second parts of "Happiness is a Warm Gun" when Lennon was struggling to stitch them together).

George's solos are hardly ever throwaway noodlings, as Leng points out multiple times; as a rule, his riffs are miniature compositions in their own right, little songs-within-the-song, and as such they carry a high degree of quality of complexity. Rarely flashy, but always memorable, George's guitar work is subservient to the song and not his own ego. More often than not, his contributions to the Lennon-McCartney compositions are what make those songs shimmer and shine: just try to imagine "A Hard Day's Night" without the jarring opening chord or the closing arpeggio fade-out; imagine "Eight Days a Week" without the sweetly ringing introduction; imagine "I Want to Hold Your Hand" without the chromatic, bluesy hook that breaks up the verses, "Nowhere Man" without its chord-based solo, or "She Said She Said" without the clever, weaving riff that echoes and serves as a counterpoint to the vocal.

Leng's analysis of the group's cohesion (or disintegration, depending on how you look at it) is also spot-on. McCartney started to "go solo" long before Magical Mystery Tour; he was already wiping George's guitar parts and re-doing them himself as far back as the Help! LP (witness "Another Girl"), and by the time of Revolver, he was writing and arranging the bulk of his songs in such a way that the rest of the group became largely unnecessary: "Eleanor Rigby" is Paul and the orchestra, "For No One" is Paul and a horn player, "Good Day Sunshine" is Paul and his piano, "Got to Get You into My Life" is Paul and the brass (George's two-bar allowance at the end of the song notwithstanding).

With a good understanding of Indian music, Leng is able to explain the profound nature of what happened when George began to study the sitar. Far from simply learning a new instrument, George was absorbing the Indian philosophy/spirituality of music: music is prayer, is worship, is a way of communicating with God. In contrast to this, the Western World tends to view music as entertainment, as fluff, as sound-clips and accessories.

Just as George was embracing a philosophy of music as way of finding one's own identity in God, Paul was architecting an entire album of music-as-performance, a staged, theatrical show wrapped in shiny costumes and alter-egos - Sgt. Pepper. Leng insightfully comments that the Beatles and George couldn't have been further apart, ideologically speaking, and it shows on the album: George's "Within You, Without You" contribution is a bomb-shell that spins the album on its head, and his involvement on the rest of the album is fairly minimal. On an epic song like the ground-breaking "A Day in the Life," he did no more than shake the maracas.

With George finding a new musical identity and a new musical purpose that no longer required the support of Lennon-McCartney, with McCartney increasingly becoming a solo artist with a very famous back-up band, and with Lennon drowning in his new, self-absorbed, co-dependent relationship with Yoko, the unraveling of the Beatles was a foregone conclusion. Thanks to Leng's analysis, it can be seen more clearly that the strands of disintegration were present already in Help!, and only become more pronounced with each successive album.

The majority of Leng's book, however, is dedicated to George's solo career, taking each album and breaking it down song-by-song, complete with notes on instrumentation and play-length. Each song is given at least a few paragraphs of musical and lyrical analysis, and Leng's treatments are so well-written that he manages to breathe a new kind of life into George's songs. My experience of reading the book was that I immediately wanted to dust off my collection of George's solo albums and give them a fresh listen - and that, in itself, is a sure sign that the author did his job, and did it well.

If I Fell: Best Beatle-Sign Romances

Every Inner Beatle personality type has its pros and cons.  Some Beatle-Sign couplings are better than others.  Here are the matches that have the most going for them.  If you don't know your Inner Beatle personality type yet, take the test and find out where you fit in!

John & George

George65.jpg George Harrison and John Lennon image by MissBeatles

The pros: John is a natural leader and can bring George out of his shell.  George is more easy-going and calm, and can bring much-needed balance to John's extremist tendencies.  John needs lots of love and affirmation, and George is perceptive enough to be able to follow those cues, and will want to follow those cues, because George is a people-pleaser.  They both share the same sense of humor and can have a lot of laughs together.  All in all, a John & George connection can make for a very affectionate and firmly-grounded relationship.

The cons: both John and George can be moody and withdrawn at times, and neither type is naturally very good at opening up and expressing their feelings.  This pitfall can be avoided if both John and George are deliberate about communication and checking in on each other.

Paul & Ringo

The pros: both Paul and Ringo need to know they are loved, and both are naturally good at showing love (Paul will be better at it, but Ringo will easily be able to go with the flow).  Paul will show Ringo love and affection in the form of constant attention, romantic gestures, frequent gifts, regular phone-calls, and dinner dates, and Ringo will show Paul love and affection with lots of sex (which Paul sees as loving affirmation).  Both Paul and Ringo are optimists who don't like complication, and both are strongly drawn to the stability of family life.

The cons: the sex life can be tricky.  Paul needs the sex for personal affirmation, and Ringo can sometimes be too flippant about sex.  Conversely, Ringo needs the sex as part of a balanced life of recreation, and a too-controlling Paul can manipulate this need as a way to keep the upper hand.

George & Ringo

The pros: both George and Ringo are very easy-going, which makes for minimal conflict and low drama.  Where there is conflict, Ringo's expressiveness and George's ability to analyze a situation objectively can make for quick resolutions, and neither type tends to hold grudges.  Both the Ringo type and the George type are very sexual, and this couple will have no problem expressing their affection in physical ways, which both types view as affirming.  Because George is good at following someone else's lead, Ringo should have little difficulty, with a bit of time and patience, getting George to open up and communicate (once George feels safe in the relationship).  George's contemplative nature can balance out Ringo's casual attitude, and Ringo's ability to have fun in any situation can balance out George's serious side.

The cons: Ringo likes to keep things light, and George tends towards heavy philosophy and introspection.  George may view Ringo as too shallow to think about the deeper things, and Ringo may view George as unable to loosen up and have some fun.  Ringo is quicker to express feelings, and George takes more time to think things through.  George may view Ringo's openness as invasive, and Ringo may view George's guardedness as apathy.