The Beatles

Colin Blunstone is the lead singer of The Zombies. Known for their psychedelic sound. The Zombies were the second U.K. band — the first being The Beatles — to have a No. 1 hit in the United States, helping lead the “British Invasion” in the mid-1960s. The Zombies will perform at Stubb’s on Thursday.

The Daily Texan: In 1964, you came to the United States. What was it like being one of the first pioneering groups?

Colin Blunstone: For us, it was a culture shock. Whereas now a lot of the cultural elements are very similar to the U.K., people didn’t travel back then like they do now. To get on a plane and go across the Atlantic was quite a big deal. We were just 19 years old, and to come to America, the land of rock ‘n’ roll. It was amazing. All of our heroes came from America: Elvis, Buddy Holly, Chuck Berry, Little Richard. These are the people we grew up listening to, and it was the place we always wanted to come to.

DT: What did you use as inspiration to find your sound in the early days of The Zombies?

CB: We took our inspiration from a very wide spectrum of music. There’s jazz influences, rhythm and blues, rock ‘n’ roll and pop music all there in our music. That’s one of the things that made our music so different. To give your band individuality can be a great advantage, but, in the beginning, it was a disadvantage as well. People get confused when they can’t mentally connect the music to something they’ve heard before.

DT: A lot of people consider the The Zombie’s early career as frustrating because of poor management. Do you think that with a different record company or manager, you guys could have been as big as The Beatles or The Rolling Stones?

CB: I wouldn’t want to compare us to any of those bigger bands of the time, but yes, if we had been looked after properly. This is true for nearly every British band of the ’60s. The bands weren’t looked after; they were exploited and used. That’s what frustrates me. If some of the people in management had a bit more vision, they could have been involved in creating lifetime careers. But they just didn’t have the vision.

DT: There were rumors when you guys broke up in late 1967 that John Lennon, himself, offered to manage your band. Is any of that true?

CB: Well, he never spoke to me about it. What I am told is that he was interested in producing the band, not necessarily managing. But I have to say that I heard it in the same way you have — never from him.

DT: In your most recent album and presumably your upcoming one, there’s a slightly different style than that of your earlier works. What should listeners be looking out for?

CB: We could play something similar to Odessey and Oracle, but we were 20 years old when we played that. What I would say is that people should look out for fine songwriting in the album we’re just starting to record now. Everyone in the band is incredibly skilled, so I would also pay attention to the musicianship. I just sit back and watch them play as a fan of sorts. It’s a thrill for me to be up on stage, being part of a group with such wonderful players.

DT: Where do you see your influence in bands today?

CB: When they, themselves, cite us as an influence in how they’ve come to be playing their music and how they’ve developed, our influence is clear, but I can rarely hear it myself. It’s definitely one of the highest compliments you can receive. When people like Tom Petty and Dave Grohl have all said how much they enjoyed our music and cite us as an influence, it’s wonderful.

DT: What are you guys looking forward to most at SXSW?

CB: I love the madness. It’s just crazy. Last year, we were playing three or four times a day, and, when we weren’t playing, we were moving the gear, going to do radio shows, live sets [and] acoustic duos. It’s just all these different things all the time. It is truly the most full-on festival in the world, and it is a little crazy, but incredibly good fun.

There was a time when The Beatles were just a bunch of starry-eyed teens staying up past their bedtime to play a gig for whoever would hire them. And although they eventually became a worldwide sensation, there’s something humbling about “Baby’s in Black,” a new graphic novel by Arne Bellstorf that uses the early years of The Beatles as a backdrop for a sweet true-life love story between bassist Stuart Sutcliffe and his muse Astrid Kirchherr.

Fans of The Beatles are likely already familiar with the facts surrounding the relationship of Sutcliffe and Kirchherr as well as their significance in the band’s early years. Sutcliffe was the original bassist for the band until he left The Beatles to pursue his artistic career. Kirchherr took several early pictures of the band and is also said to have invented their original moptop hairstyle, although she still argues about how much credit she really deserves for that.

What this graphic novel provides, rather than the dry facts, is the raw emotion surrounding both young love and being surrounded by talented musicians who haven’t yet risen from obscurity. The original meeting of Kirchherr and The Beatles wasn’t any sort of professional connection — she just went up and talked to them after a show. Contrast that with images from the movie “A Hard Day’s Night” (filmed only a few years after the events of this book), which parodies the obsession of Beatlemaniacs by showing the Fab Four continually on the run from their fans.

The story here is very simple and never has a strong sense of urgency, but much of what happens has a kind of unforced irony, because we know how everything turns out. Although the boys knew that they were going to be huge (in the same naive way that every teenage band “knows” that they’ll make it big), they got a thrill out of performing at rowdy, live, hole-in-the-wall venues. That same kind of energy that was eventually captured on tape for the Please Please Me album flows through this novel, particularly in the scenes showing the band playing.

Still, The Beatles aren’t the focus of the story, nor are any of the members that actually ended up becoming The Beatles as the rest of the world came to know them. This is really about Kirchherr and Sutcliffe. If anything, the band got in the way of their love rather than the other way around. In many ways, Sutcliffe’s departure from the band was a blessing in disguise. Though they all loved him (especially John), he didn’t have the musical chops to keep up with the rest of the members.

“Baby’s in Black” is a bittersweet love story that would have been effective even if it involved a band that fizzled into obscurity before hitting it big. But, the fact that it’s about The Beatles gives it some additional appeal. The artwork is black and white, evoking the feeling of an old documentary on the subject as well as a sense of nostalgia, adding to the story in a way that’s special to the format. It’s unlikely that either a traditional novel or even filmic adaptation would provide the same feel as what Bellstorf has created here.

There have been many, many books written about The Beatles over the past 50 or so years. The most remarkable thing about “Baby’s in Black” is that, despite this, it still provides a fresh and distinct look at the band that both die-hard and casual fans alike should enjoy.

The 20th anniversary edition of Nirvana’s Nevermind was released last week with 35 previously unreleased tracks. (Photo courtesy of Sub Pop Records)

Nirvana’s Nevermind, the album that catapulted the grunge movement into the mainstream and steamrolled pop music in 1991, turned 20 this weekend. To commemorate the album’s legacy, Universal Music Enterprises has issued a deluxe edition that promises to delve deeper into the mythology of Nevermind, an album that Rolling Stone Magazine has regarded as one of the “greatest albums of all time.”

Why is this though? Why do Dave Grohl’s roaring drums, Krist Noveselic’s punk-laced riffs and Kurt Cobain’s lyrics of alienation, angst and animosity towards the “rock star” aesthetic still linger on well after Generation X has faded away?

Jon Stewart, in his discussion with former Nirvana bandmates Grohl and Noveselic and Nevermind producer Butch Vig, sums it up perfectly. “It had everything — sonic menace, melody, urgency, irony. It was like The Beatles had swallowed Black Flag.” Those who know that The Beatles and Black Flag are at completely different sides of the music spectrum would probably denounce this statement as foolish, but if you look back at Nirvana before the days of “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” you can see that Cobain was the medium between the two.”

Cobain had always been into pop. His aunt Mari would give him Beatles records, and even in his posthumously-released journals, he called John Lennon his “idol.” So it comes as no surprise that “About a Girl” was the result of listening to Meet The Beatles! for three hours. “But I can see you every night, for free,” sang Cobain over jangly pop chords that, as producer Butch Vig states was “the first hint that there was more to Nirvana than grunge.” Although “About a Girl” was the diamond in the rough off of Nirvana’s debut album Bleach, songs such as “Negative Creep” were the crusty, punk jewels that would reflect Cobain’s desire to channel the inner rebel in himself.

Behind chugging riffs and dark tones was Cobain’s distorted voice as he yelled “I’m a negative creep,” the anger and frustration behind the lyrics leaving your head spinning. “Negative Creep” was the demented, rebellious counterpart to the melodic and sweet “About a Girl.” Cobain’s journey was barely beginning and it would be this challenge to
combine both sides of the spectrum that would ultimately lead to Cobain’s success and demise.

Fast forward to 1991 when Nirvana’s Nevermind is released, featuring the hit single, teen revolution anthem “Smells Like Teen Spirit.” Due to the success of the song and its video, “Smells Like Teen Spirit” became an instant hit on MTV and contributed to Nirvana’s breaking out into the mainstream. Say goodbye to Michael Jackson’s Dangerous and hello to Nirvana’s Nevermind.

“It was shocking to be famous,” said Noveselic in a recent interview with the Associated Press. “Then, of course, there was Kurt, who was thrust into being the spokesman of a generation.”

Three nobodies triumphed over the King of Pop. How were the underdogs of the grunge movement able to pull the rug from under one of music’s biggest artist? The answer is not that simple, but we can look to Cobain’s constant battle with pop sensibilities and the punk aesthetic as the means of an answer.

Looking towards influences like Pixies and label mates Sonic Youth as sources of inspiration, Cobain was slowly drifting away from his past influences, intrigued by bands that incorporated dynamic contrast and were more melodic. Along with Pixies and Sonic Youth, R.E.M. became a large contributor to Cobain’s growth as a musician.

“I don’t know how that band does what they do. God, they’re the greatest,” said Cobain in an interview with Rolling Stone, months before his death in 1994. R.E.M.’s influence on Cobain can be heard in Nevermind’s “Come as You Are” and “Lithium.” Fluid and enticing, each song was a beautiful display of dynamic manipulation as they would start off quiet and subtle, only to end with resonance and power.

You can see this same formula in mainstream music today. Kings of Leon’s “Use Somebody” starts with a soft verse, only to grow into a powerful wave of guitar and drums. Even hip-hop prince Lil’ Wayne, who was a Nirvana fan growing up, follows a similar routine in “Lollipop,” where his rhymes are backed by minimal electronic sounds that grow into explosive, pulsating beats. Dynamics and volume would become a huge part of Nevermind’s success, especially with “Smells Like Teen Spirit.”

The soft melodies and Cobain’s guttural, low vocals clashing against Grohl’s roaring drums and Noveselic’s piercing bass lines formed to create something that was ahead of its time. It managed to bring together Cobain’s growing taste in music with that of his past influences. You still get The Beatles’ verse-chorus-verse pop formula, but you also get the dynamic manipulations of Pixies and the hard, anarchic sound of Black Flag. “I was basically trying to rip off the Pixies,” said Cobain in the Rolling Stone interview.

Nevermind did what no other album was able to do during the 1990s: bring in both sides of the rock music spectrum. Most of the songs on the album are written in a way to where each melody can be hummed and easily memorized.

“I remember being in the sixth grade and Nevermind was a really popular album,” said UT History of Rock professor Benjamin Krakauer. “Kurt Cobain was a pop icon. A lot of kids wanted to look like him, dress like him and play guitar like him.”

The battle that Cobain faced wanting to encompass his pop and punk sides fueled the album into what it is known as today. From the lyrical content to the musicianship, you can hear, see and feel Cobain’s desire to master that middle ground. Nevermind bridged the gap between pop and punk, resulting in a masterpiece that still resonates with people today.

“I think Nevermind made disillusioned young people feel empowered, even heroic in the angst of their teenage experience,” Krakauer said. “The music was really fresh and clear, and that is why people have continued to enjoy it.”

Printed on September 29, 2011 as: "Nevermind" celebrates 20 years with re-release