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Life Through the Lens: Divide between employment and enjoyment

“A world without the Beatles would be an infinitely worse place.”

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On Jan. 27, 1756, the world shifted. In the small town of Salzburg, a baby was born to Leopold and Anna Maria. That in and of itself is not world-shifting… although try telling that to a mother who had birthed six children in six years, only one of whom lived to see their first birthday. You can imagine this seventh birth would be so emotional: the joy, the pain, the desire to get excited but the experience to know that heartbreak is always but moments away. Luckily for all of us, this seventh child lived…

Do you know who it is yet? No, silly — Arnold Schwarzenegger wasn’t born in the 18th century. It is Johannes Chrisostomus Wolfgangus Theophilus Mozart… “Wolferl” if you were tight.

Although almost always sickly, always small, he showed a special “something” from early on. Coming from a musical family, this was welcomed and nurtured and a smidgeon-exploited. Leopold himself was a career musician with reputation and rank — this was both a blessing and a curse on young Wolferl (I can call him that because, as stated early, “we tiiiiight!”). Wolfgang received no schooling, no normal childhood, no “chillin’ with the neighborhood boyz”; instead, he was practiced and taught by his strict and uncompromising father.

In 1762, father, son, and older sister (known as Nannerl and also a gifted young musician) went on tour. Forget playing with trucks, wearing Ninja Turtles jammies, and scrappin’ on the playground – Wolfgang, at the tender age of 6, was the family’s now-champion bread winner. His talent was received by royalty, was applauded by the aristocracy, and worshipped by all who witnessed it. He was an itty-bitty genius.

Playing beautifully was one thing (which he did exquisitely), but he was also known for his parlor tricks. Young Mozart could improvise on command, could accompany by ear, could memorize in one hearing, could play perfectly with the keyboard covered, and, a new passion of his, could compose. Composition was the thing that quickly proved lasting and rare.

Most of Mozart’s life was spent pursuing money. As he learned from his father, a musician is meant for employment. As he learned from his father, a musician isn’t meant to be happy and average; it is a hard life and one that comes through monumental effort and exertion. Sadly for Mozart, it was this lifestyle that took his life at only 35. The rigors of travel and the tolls of constant-composition drained him dry… but left the world with hundreds of unparalleled pieces. Thanks for taking one for the team, Wolferl!

In the book “Mozart: The Man Revealed,” particular interest is paid to the summer of 1787. Now 31 years old, Mozart has a strange moment of clarity. He has spent a lifetime chasing commissions, paying the bills… but, for once in his life, he writes for the joy of it. Out of inspiration. Purely because it needs to be heard. Among other pieces, he writes symphonies 39-41… for free! For no one but himself. For the music itself, perhaps. He received no money for what most call his greatest symphonies. That is my point in all of this: sometimes art is just that: PURE. The money convolutes it, the fame muddies it, the pressure dilutes it; factor upon factor taint the art and turn it into something unrecognizable. But sometimes it is pure and unadulterated. Sometimes it is created for no one… which, in some ways, makes it for everyone.

The movie Yesterday has a simple and silly plot: what if you woke up one day and the Beatles didn’t exist? Well, that happened for struggling musician Jack (Himesh Patel). After another embarrassing concert, he has decided to hang up his acoustic. On his way home from the gig, he is hit by a car at the exact same moment as a world-wide electrical short. Upon awaking in the hospital with no beard and short two front teeth, he is slowly awakened to another strange fact: no one has heard of the Beatles. What begins as something sadly unexplainable quickly becomes something sickeningly exploitable.

Any fears or misgivings disappear when he sits at an outdoor table with his friends. They have thrown him a “welcome back from being smashed by a van and getting your teeth (and beard) knocked off” party. At the party, a new guitar is gifted by his manager/best friend Ellie (Lily James) to replace the totaled one. As he holds this new instrument, the request floats across the table, “Come on, play something.” He begins to play “Yesterday” by the Beatles to a stunned audience. They are speechless and in tears, hearing this masterpiece for the first time.

What if he could play and record nothing but Beatles songs? The only chore now… what are those blasted lyrics? Who is darning the socks and who is picking up the rice?

The same idea surfaces in this movie as with Mozart: is art created for monetary gain the same as art gifted? Is it better when it is for enjoyment and not employment? Sometimes… it is simply so the world can see what I see through my eyes, can hear what I hear in my head.

As I reflect on the movie Yesterday, I feel an appreciation for this imperfect movie. I am a tad biased: I love The Beatles and loved hearing their music through the picture. Their music, when stacked on itself, creates an amazing balance and breadth — it is a constant reminder that this group is prolific and unparalleled.

Director Danny Boyle was capable in his vision, not pushing bounds but, instead, working within them. Writers Richard Curtis and Jack Barth presented a wonderful idea and filled it with warmth and humor… although the story did fizzle at points and ended a bit “RomCom” for me.

Himesh Patel was fine as Jack Malik, nailing the comedy bits but always falling a tad short on the singing. Granted, John and Paul aren’t famous for their voices (as much as their song-writing)… but they are pretty darn good. Patel is just… not that great. Why director Boyle didn’t cast a better singer is a mystery to me.

I also have a slight disagreement with the music by Daniel Pemberton: when presented with such amazing source material… just don’t mess it up! There were a few arrangements that felt crude and unskilled. Unlike the 2007’s “Across the Universe” (where the soundtrack is unique and worthy of The Beatles), this soundtrack does not inspire a purchase. I’ll just put my Beatles albums on shuffle and call it a day.

One of my favorite movie-moments in a long time happened at the end of this film. As the movie ended, the credits began to roll. Normal, right? Then this strange, freak occurrence began: no one moved. This was not a “let’s sit on our phones and kill time until Samuel L. Jackson comes out and gives us a disappointing 24 seconds into the next sequel” kind of thing. This was just text with no real promise of another scene. Instead, it was the song; “Hey Jude” filled the theater and no one moved. No one spoke. As I looked around the theater, I saw every still body accompanied with lips moving to the lyrics. In spite of the movie’s flaws, it did this one thing for each of us: it reminded us of the beauty buried in these songs. It was all we could do, collectively, to just sit and enjoy the art.

A world without the Beatles (and Mozart) would be an infinitely worse place.

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Grade: B+ – Far from perfect but alive with appreciation

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