People fortunate enough to witness a defining moment in human history always say the same thing: you can sense it happening. It’s as if there’s a subtle vibration, a whiff of something special in the air.
If that’s true, no place in the world stank harder than Hollywood this past Monday night, as a majority of the world’s celebrities packed themselves into the venerable Egyptian Theater to pay homage to one of the most important musical groups of our, or anyone’s, lifetime.
Of course you already know who I’m talking about: Ron, Dirk, Stig, and Barry, the four lads who etched themselves onto the unwilling face of eternity as The Rutles. It’s difficult to imagine the Sixties happening the same way, had they instead of instruments decided to pick up tennis rackets, or tire pressure gauges, or even those little metal doohickeys that come with everything you get from Ikea. But instruments it was, and all we can do now is try to make the best of it. Rutlesmania redux.
A Rutles reunion? Some said it couldn’t happen. Most said it shouldn’t happen. All I know is, Kate and I were raring to go from the moment the evening was announced. But being non-celebrities in a celebrity-driven town, it was not as easy as all that. First, tickets sold out almost immediately; second, Kate had to promise not to run up to Jeff Lynne and kick him for overproducing the Threetles.
While the latter problem could be solved by judicious application of pharmaceuticals, the former was a bit tougher, requiring me to loiter around the courtyard of the theater hoping to cadge a pair of passes. At 5’5” and 125 pounds, I have not been well-equipped by nature for strongarm tactics, and my stomping around hooting and inflating my cheeks in an attempt to look larger fooled no one. But luck was with us: I was able to get the necessary stubs after administering only a light beating to a fellow patron.
Ironically, I was well into the process before I realized that the man squirming under my fist was none other than Jeff Lynne! Oh, how Kate laughed! Naturally, I was pretty embarrassed—the rock cello is, I believe, unfairly maligned, and I figure having to live with so many photos of yourself from the Seventies is its own punishment. I apologized to Mr. Lynne profusely, and pledged to replace his half-smoked glasses at the Longs Drugs down the street. But I kept his tickets, figuring that, as a celeb, they’d let him sit with the projectionist or something.
After launching the still-groggy Mr. Lynne in the general direction of the entrance, I turned to see that The Rutles themselves were standing nearby, no more than ten feet as the jelly-baby flies. They were lined up shoulder to shoulder against a nearby wall, like criminals before a firing squad. It couldn’t be! They wouldn’t have gathered them together just to execute them, would they? Is this what happens when Paul and Yoko agree on something?
I had to take action—not to save The Rutles, they were obviously screwed—but to take a picture of it. As first I was concerned about getting through the paparazzi, but as I approached, my Izod dappled with Lynne’s type AB, they parted enough to allow me to snap the following photo.
We didn’t have any trouble finding a seat, either, even though the place was packed. I think it was that old thing where if you get close enough to a celebrity, some of it rubs off. You could hear people whispering, “Jesus Christ, did you see what that little psycho did to Jeff?” and “fucking helicopter kick” and “If only Sting had been here.” For a second, I wondered if I hadn’t gone too far.
Kate read my mind. “All that echo on Ringo? He had it coming.” My wife was proud of me, and she’s the only one that counts.
As we got to our seat, a guy behind me tapped me on the shoulder, then pressed a slip of paper into my hand. “This is Sting’s home address,” he said. “Everyone would really appreciate it.”
I smiled blandly and turned back forward.
“Is that who I think it is?” Kate whispered. “Stewart Copeland!” (She’s a Police fan from ‘way back.)
I nodded, crumpling the paper quietly and sticking it in an old popcorn tub. “His dad was in the CIA, he doesn’t need me to beat anybody up for him.”
The lights went down, and Martin Lewis, the emcee, introduced the four guys, who gave a bow. Then Mr. Lewis said something about a fund to pay for somebody’s medical expenses (I couldn’t hear who) and that slotted cans would be circulating during the movie.
The program started with all the early sketches, stuff from Rutland Weekend Television and SNL, and not for the first time I concluded that Lorne Michaels cannot deliver a joke. “That’s who you should beat up,” the guy next to me whispered. Hollywood’s full of angry, angry people. I pity them.
The hour-long Rutles documentary, “All You Need Is Cash,” was just as funny as I remembered it. Neil Innes’ songs were marvelous—as spot-on as ever—and listenable in their own right. The film is absolutely essential viewing for any Beatles fan; and certainly it’s an interesting jam between the two heavyweights of comedy in the Seventies. I have a theory (exhaustively explicated upon request, or whether you like it or not) that comedy was to the Seventies what music was to the Sixties, and while the Beatles and Stones could never really collaborate on anything, to see elements of Monty Python and the early SNL riffing together on that most Anglo-American of topics, The Beatles—is fascinating and thrilling and holds up.
After the movie was over, Mr. Lewis came back and said what a wonderful evening it was turning out to be, how lucky we all were to have The Rutles here, how unique it was to have them together for the first time since 1978, and what a shame it had been that somebody had stolen all the money out of the slotted cans. Instinctively I looked over at Kate and knew that gas could rise as high as it wanted to, tonight we were getting home.
Then Mr. Lewis led a Q and A session with the four guys, which I found really neat. Idle said that this evening marked “the first time anyone’s ever reunited before they’ve united.” His take on The Rutles seemed to be somewhat narrower than everyone else’s—“it was a movie, we weren’t a group”—and as the impetus behind the whole project, he’s got a right. But as with so much stuff Beatle-related, The Rutles has a life of its own that’s gotta be respected.
The film is funny, but people love The Rutles thanks to Neil Innes’ wonderful music, probably the best parodic/pastiche music I’ve ever encountered. He talked about the process of writing it. “I couldn’t listen to Beatle music while I was doing it. I knew that the second I heard one of their songs, it would be stuck in my head and that would be it.” Instead, he said he had to go back into his own life, and think about the same mileposts that the Beatles were referencing in their own songs. For example, Innes said, “What did it feel like the first time you got your hand inside a girl’s bra?” (He was clearly speaking to the males in the audience; for everybody else I assume that moment was nothing special.)
The reminiscing flew thickly for at least a half hour, fun but not particularly juicy—unless you count Idle’s talking about spending a weekend at George Harrison’s estate at Henley-on-Thames smoking “thick, black stuff from Lebanon” and ending up in the hospital with a near-terminal case of bloating. Paul Simon called and made him fart. The fart continued for four minutes and probably saved Idle from a life in politics.
But if you were patient, there were some particularly tasty Beatle factoids dispensed. I knew, as many of us do, that Idle was allowed to see George Harrison’s print of the doomed documentary “The Long and Winding Road,” created in-house by Neil Aspinall but never released. The reason it remained in the vault? None of the four ex-Beatles could agree on what parts to cut.
As far as the reaction to “All You Need Is Cash,” George was of course a big fan, saying that “The Rutles liberated me from The Beatles, in a way.” Lennon never commented publicly on the spoof, but refused to return his screener copy of the video and LP. On Monday, Innes told a story that I found charming and sad; he said that a fan had run into John Lennon on the street in New York, and asked him what he thought of The Rutles. Lennon didn’t say anything, just sang “Cheese and Onions.”
If that weren’t cool enough, Innes spoke of being at a party and having George and Ringo pick up guitars and serenading he and Idle with a rendition of “Ouch!” Idle quipped at the time that the four of them should form a group called “The Brutles.”
This being Hollywood, only glancing mention was made of the long period of time when Innes and Idle were not very friendly; but this being Hollywood, no hatchet was too big that it couldn’t be buried under a large-ish pile of money. Innes quipped, “You can’t keep bickering over who killed who…” (Which was exactly my point later with the cops!)
By then the evening was winding down. As Kate and I stood for the ovation, I noticed Jeff Lynne at the end of the aisle, pointing at me, and saying something no doubt incredibly one-sided to the cop standing next to him. There was only one thing I could do, which was point at Emo Phillips and yell “It was him.” That didn’t work, so I lead them all on a chase through the theater, climbing over Stewart Copeland, holding them off however I could. I love those old movie palaces, full of nooks and crannies and narrow aisles with no handicapped access. Give me one of them over your sterile suburban multiplex any day—especially when it comes to eluding capture by the police.
“I’m going to go get the parking validated,” Kate yelled.
“Okay,” I yelled back, ducking behind a pregnant woman.
My goal was to stay free long enough for Kate to get the Honda. We’ve gotten so she doesn’t even have to slow down much, just open the door for me to leap in. We haven’t paid for a movie, a meal, or a medical procedure in years. As I dodged and weaved, I attempted to explain to the officers that Eric Idle was the one that they should be hassling, since he was a confirmed drug user. But as usual, there’s one set of laws for celebrities, and one for everybody else.
I would’ve gotten away if I hadn’t stopped to buy a Rutles t-shirt. Call me stupid, but how many opportunities do you get to snag one of those, even with eBay? And the guys in the cell gave me lots of compliments. Here I was thinking I had to puff and stomp just to keep unviolated, when all it took was a Rutlemania t-shirt. “Sing ‘Cheese and Onions’ again, dude.” The three hours went by quickly, and I think even made a few friends.
I notice that none of this made it into the newspapers, which I can only assume was a calculated attempt to prevent copycat incidents, like how they never show streakers on TV. I don’t care; I wasn’t trying to become famous, just enjoy a typical evening out with my wife. Well, mission accomplished, Mr. Jeff “I’m pressing charges” Lynne. You know, people are all down on public displays of physical violence—“assault” they call it—but I have never had a problem with it. Whenever the cops get involved, I just give them Ed’s son’s name and address. “It’s Duncan Park, yes. D-U-N-C…”
Hope you don’t mind, Ed. I think you’ll like meeting Jeff Lynne, or at least his attorney. And don’t worry—juries are suckers for a cute newborn.