Mania

     Remember Beatlemania?
     Most people in the United States can’t possibly remember it, because they weren’t born yet.
     The median age of U.S. citizens today is 36.9, if you can believe the U.S. Geological Survey.
     Ha! Just a little joke on our old people!
     I’m kidding about the Geological Survey. The information really came from the Republican Party Commissariat’s Youth Division.
     Ha ha! Just a little joke on our Illustrious Rulers!
     Don’t hold it against me next year!
     No, really, more than half of our citizens were born after December 1974 – 4 years after the Beatles broke up, and 8 years after their last concert, if you can believe the CIA Yearbook.
     And I do believe it.
     Really, CIA guys! I believe you! Anything you say is all right with me!
     What with this column being posted on the Internet and all!
     The median age of a U.S. male today is 35.6 years, which means he was born in June 1976.
     I remember it well. I was a jazz musician in New York. I was … never mind what I was doing.
     The median age of a U.S. female is 38.2 years, which means she was born in November 1973. I was playing baritone sax then for The Clouds of Joy, a funk band in Portland, Oregon.
     No rabid fans ever ripped my clothes off, or demanded to have sex with me, as they did to the Beatles. Maybe I was doing something wrong.
     But this column is not about The Beatles, it’s about a guy who suffered from Beatlemania long before the Beatles were born – and what happened to him, and why.
     Artie Shaw and Benny Goodman were Kings of Swing back in the 1930s and ’40s. Partly, they both would admit, this was because they were white, but mainly it was because they had tremendous talent.
     Back in the Swing era, when clarinet was king, you had to choose between Shaw or Goodman, just as 30 years later you had to choose between the Beatles or the Stones.
     Artie Shaw retired from the music business several times. Once it was because fans in Boston tore his hair out and ripped his clothes trying to get a piece of him – just to touch him.
     Artie told the newspapers that his fans were “morons.” This made him as many fans as John Lennon made a generation later when he said that the Beatles were bigger than Jesus.
     The Beatles gave their last public concert, in Candlestick Stadium, on Aug. 29, 1966 – Charlie Parker’s birthday.
     Then The Beatles quit because it had become insane. Their screaming audiences could no longer hear them – they could no longer hear themselves – in the cavernous stadiums.
     Artie Shaw quit the music business to write books.
     I read one of them the other day.
     It’s really bad.
     It’s not even as good as the guys who wrote stories for “True Confessions.”
     Artie Shaw had no talent for writing.
     This interests me.
     I’m a clarinet player. Artie Shaw was one of the greatest clarinet players who ever lived. He could do anything on the horn. His Gramercy 5 recordings, which introduced the harpsichord to popular music long before “Eleanor Rigby,” are still knockouts 70 years later. He wrote most of the tunes.
     John, Paul, George and Ringo broke up their band and went on to make music in their own bands. I think we all can understand why they would do that.
     But Artie Shaw broke up his bands, from which he was earning $1 million a year, back in the days when $1 million was a lot of money, to try his hand at an art at which he had no talent.
     Why would a guy do that?
     Most people who remember Artie Shaw today remember him as the husband of Ava Gardner and Lana Turner – and of six other wives. After he retired from music he built himself a castle in Spain, finished fourth in a national rifle competition, became a movie promoter and producer, with hit-and-miss results, and died on Dec. 30, 2004, at 92. His exploits are recounted in an excellent new biography, “Artie Shaw: King of the Clarinet,” by Tom Nolan.
     What I’d like to know is why a guy with such immense talent would abandon it to spend the rest of his life doing something at which he had no talent at all.

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