A Whiter Shade of Pale

As I sort through the various missed opportunities and regrets in my life, I keep coming back to two things; the time that I absolutely blew my college interview at Stanford (when asked to describe “who I was” to some pompous interviewer, I said, “that’s personal and I don’t wish to discuss it!), and the fact that I never saw the Beatles live.  I was first introduced to the Beatles at Ty Winterbotham’s house.  There was some sort of slumber party going on and she had the 45 of “I Saw Her Standing There” blaring into her living room.  It was a magical moment as everyone danced together and shouted the lyrics “When she crossed that room, my heart went boom and I held her hand in my-eeen!”  Please note that the early Beatle lyrics were nothing but doggerel. 

While I was not a passionate Beatles fan, they did hold an abiding interest.  John was married, Ringo was just too butt ugly to generate any appeal and Paul was of course the cutest.  That left George as the more creative favorite.  As a parent, I kept impressing on my young children that it was very important that they know all the names of the Beatles, and I would periodically spring pop quizzes in the car.  Unfortunately Frances always confused George Harrison with George Bush!  My father initially dismissed the Beatles as freaks, and confidently stated, “They won’t last a year.”  It must have been 1964, because I triumphantly remember buying the album Beatles ’65.

We did manage to go to a few concerts.  The Dave Clark Five stands out, because they were thought to be a knock off of the Beatles.  I remember closing my eyes at the concert and pretending they were the Beatles, but the effort fell short.  Another concert I distinctly remember was the Rolling Stones.  My mother had agreed to drive us down to McCormick place, but announced that she was not going to waste her money on this and would spend the time at a museum instead.  However, when we arrived, she reframed the event as a sociology field trip and decided that she would try and sneak into the concert.  We wished her good luck and scurried to our seats on the main floor. 

At the first chord, probably  “I can’t get no satisfaction,” we started screaming ourselves silly, for no other reason that we were so thrilled to be part of a joyous mass hysteria. 

When I see the black and white footage of the Beatles arriving in the United States, I think how great it would be to one of the teenagers in one of the crowd shots – a teenager with smudged, tear-streaked cheeks, wearing a cute buttoned-up shirt rumpled by the press of the crowd, hanging  over a fence in the remote hopes of spotting one of the Fab Four.  Now that would be something to show the kids.  If only I had gone to Woodstock.  In the middle of the Woodstock sound track, as an illustration of the mayhem, an announcer says, “Allan Fay, come to the blue tent, it’s a bummer, man.”  Just think, it could have been, “Bobbie Brown, come to the tent, it’s a bummer man.” 

 As we limply exited the auditorium, we found my mother totally pleased with herself.    She had indeed managed to sneak in.  She told the usher that she was ticketless because  she had left the auditorium to deal with her splitting headache.  She then produced the bottle of aspirin that she had just bought as a prop.  She feigned a grimace of agony, and as an added touch right out of an Excedrin TV ad, lightly pressed her fingertips to her temples. 

She then said that she had left her young daughter inside, who was probably beside herself with worry at that point.  The overwhelmed usher fell for it, and let her in.  She made her way to the top row of the topmost balcony, “I was in hysteria heaven,” she exulted, “The blond singer looked exactly like Lulu Runnells!”  The blond singer was Brian Jones who would die of a drug overdose the following year, and Lulu Runnells was one of Lake Forest’s most fashionable socialites.

 They say that every generation must have its own music, but the rock and roll of the 60s has transcended generations.  The Beatles and Rolling Stones are all well-represented on my kids’ iPODS, and they are always amazed when I already know the lyrics to “their” music.  I can even introduce them to some new music.  One of them was Procul Harum, who were something of a one hit wonder with their song “A Whiter Shade of Pale,” also known as  AWSoP on the internet fan club site.  

With the exception of Louie, Lou-ay, one of the advantages of early 60s music was that the lyrics could be distinctly heard and understood.  But by the time of the 1967 release AWSoP,  while you could still hear the words, the lyrics had moved far beyond the hand-holding  innocence of the early 60s.  There is much discussion of the meaning of AWSoP.  Two theories are most plausible to me.  One is that the “Whiter Shade of Pale” refers to Marilyn Monroe and her doomed love affair with JFK; the crowd calling out for more refers to her memorable and slutty singing of Happy Birthday, Mr. President, to a sold out crowd in Madison Square Garden.  The other obvious theory is that the “Whiter Shade of Pale” refers to cocaine, and the lyrics are a delusional mess.  I am very literal and linear person, so the following fanagram represents an attempt to tidy up the lyrics.

The missing words in the following poem are anagrams (post, stop, spot) and the number of dashes indicates the number of letters.  One of the missing words will rhyme with either the preceding or following lines.  Your job is to figure out the words from the context of the poem.  Scroll down for the answers.

I hit my head bang bango, while turning cartwheels ‘cross the floor,

 I begin to —— like I’m seasick, but the crowd calls out for more,

The room was humming harder, as my soul did —— away,

When we called out for another drink the waiter brought a tray

And so it was that later as the doctor told his tale

That my face, at first just ghostly, turned a —— shade of pale

Real lyrics:
We skipped the light fandango, turned cartwheels ‘cross the floor
I was feeling kinda seasick, as the crowd calls out for more.
The room was humming harder as the ceiling flew away
When we called out for another drink the waiter brought a tray
And so it was that later as the miller told his tale
That her face, at first just ghostly, turned a whiter shade of pale







Answers:  writhe, wither, whiter

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