The Shocking Alternative Universe Where The Beatles Never Hit It Big

11/18/2010 - Leave a Response

Three Die-Hard Beatle Fans found they had the knack for singing and playing early Beatles Songs. The raw stuff. The stuff you never hear on the radio anymore. Come join Patrick O’Leary, Greg Sumner and Mike Wilhelm for an evening of fab. We’re playing for fun and to help support our beloved AJ’s Music Cafe. Five dollars admission. A splendid time is guaranteed for all. (248) 399-3946
Friday, December 17, 2010 at 8:00pm
AJ’s Music Cafe
240 West Nine Mile Road
Ferndale, Mich. 48220

The Legend of The Buntles

When we started playing together all the bands were crap. They sounded like Grandpa’s Beer Hall.  They dressed like waiters at an Ice Cream Parlor.  They had names like “Sarsaparilla” and ‘The Copper tone Four.” And they all featured tubas.

We were from Detroit.  We hated tubas. And the best music on the radio was Motown. Those were our idols. But they never played it south of Ohio. We loved it but we couldn’t really play it. Those cats were Jazz musicians and we didn’t have the chops. And none of us could sing like Marvin Gaye or Smokey Robinson or Diana Ross—We were smart enough to know we couldn’t do it better. So we did it crooked.

We played guitars and sang harmony and wrote love songs that made us happy down to our toes. We strutted a bravado that we hoped to live up to someday. Sometimes we sang like girls because that’s what Motown did. We weren’t good enough to be stars on our own. But together, we had something. Together we shone.

Everybody said: “You need a drummer.” Patrick said “Why? We’re playing Pop Folk music. And none of that Holier-Than-Thou-I’m-Singing-Till-They-End-War Crap. We play Love Songs.”

We spent years together jamming in the basement. We had brooms before we had guitars. Mike taught us how to tune ours.  And we were off. Mike knew all the chords, too.  Greg could sing to make the girls swoon. And Patrick knew how to harmonize and goof leads. It was a blend.

We were also military brats and our  dads all got shipped to guard the Berlin Wall. So we went along, grew up with the Saurkrauts. We played them our version of Motown and they went nuts. They’d never heard nothing like that. Everything was bloody beer hall polka, washboard skiffle and Peter, Paul & Pompous, If-They-Don’t Stop-The-Bomb-I’ll-Sing-Another-Song.

We had fun because we sang what we loved. And we weren’t ashamed to shake our heads and sing girly.

After high school our dads got discharged and shipped home and we stayed on to play our music. We got a good gig on the Reeperbaum. We learned our chops, cut a single and it got some airplay in Hamburg. But we might as well have been on the moon. We couldn’t seem to get over the hump.

We got booked on a Captain and Tennile tour in the early Seventies. But they tossed us after three gigs and we went home with our tails between our legs.

Everyone got dope soft in the Seventies. “John Denver Disease” we called it. Kiss-Me-I’m-Sensitive-And-I-Sing-About-Mountains. We kept on playing our love songs. We never went disco, we skipped new wave, we were too clean for grunge.  Greg wrote our motto: “No drum solos. No synthesizers. No bat-biting. No ass-wagging.”

The stuff we loved never got old. Beat music. Simple love songs with a twist and bit of swing. Motown—you know? That’s what we did.  Why change?

Anyway we saw no reason to stop playing.

Even after we got jobs. “Magnifico” Greg got a teaching gig. Mike was into IT until Fords let him go. Patrick did advertising until Chevy took a dive. But every Thursday, like clockwork, we’d run down our old set in Mike’s basement. And whenever we play in public people love those old songs.

We really believe: In another reality this could be the greatest music ever. Who cares if it never made the Big Time in this one?

We like it. And have you heard the crap they call music these days?  As far as we’re concerned: It’s all Tubas.



08/27/2010 - Leave a Response

Hot summer nights

in the thick close air

on the front porch

Dad listening to

the Tiger Game

after a full day

on the railroad job

his Tareyton glowing

in the dark

orange & off

like a firefly

flirting with Ernie Harwell

as he ran down

the play by play


he’d let me

take it upstairs

to my bedside

& huddle by

the green glow

my head pulsing

all night as

the world split open

like the birthing place

of a woman

& I was born again

in the dark

to the beat

to the miracles

they never sang about in church

or talked about downstairs

& nobody knew

that little boy

burst open

on those nights

& was made new

by heavy music

with skin

& blood

& wild desire

that played my body

& sent a night train


down my spine

& Momma

once I caught it

I never got off

–Patrick O’Leary

08/12/2010 - Leave a Response

The poem you’re most afraid to write

is the poem you should be writing

right now

The Beatles: The Brilliance of Both/And

06/16/2010 - Leave a Response

or Nowhere Man and Koo Koo Kajoo

What hasn’t been said about The Beatles?

I’m gonna go out on a limb here and say they were The Greatest:)

Just bought the complete Beatles video anthology–very cool. And confirmed what an awesome LIVE band they were. Wow. I still can’t figure HALF the chords they use. And noticed how structurally sophisticated and sturdy their melodies are. Most bands these days seem stuck in Grooveland–nothing wrong with that. But variations on blues however funky and fun, generally don’t grab my cortex and stand up over time. This is why most of the Stone’s stuff since 1982 bores me. The Stones were neck and neck with them. For a while. But the Beatles were rigorously grounded in melody–all their magical harmonies and momentum and just right placement of mood and instruments served the foundation of melody. Moreso than any band I can name. Even when they rocked.

That’s why that one writer said there are so few Beatle covers. Their performances defined the song. (Was it Adam Gopnik in the NEW YORKER (“Carry That Weight,” May 1, 1995??) What more can be said on the subject? Can you imagine a fresh take (that actually brings something new to the party) on, say, NORWEGIAN WOOD, or TOMORROW NEVER KNOWS or SHE’S LEAVING HOME (speaking of Both/And–a heartbreaking runaway from conformity story, or a snide young man’s joke about a “loose” woman?) or you-name-it?

They defined perfection. Why would anyone re-write an Emily Dickinson poem? Or make Citizen Kane a musical? Or refilm “Psycho”?

And I gotta say for the hundredth time: How the FUCK did they do it?

I mean, I can say somewhat honestly that I am a musician. I’ve played the guitar for 47 years. I know a little about music. And I have not a fucking clue at how they arrived at their art. I’m not just talking complexity.  I mean play LET IT BE on the piano. It’s the simplest, almost dumbest thing in the world–A child could figure it. How the fuck did they do it?

The pizzicato intro guitar on I FEEL FINE. Which Lennon continues to play WHILE he sings–Try THAT sometime! I can’t get past “Baby’s good to me you know she…”

The twirling yet tight three leads on YOUR BIRD CAN SING.

The “TIT TIT TIT” on the Pseudo Greek melody (GREEK!!?) GIRL.

The weirdness complete weirdness of NOT A SECOND TIME. Heard that one lately?

The Drum beat on HARD DAYS NIGHT–What the fuck is that? Listen to it! How the fuck???

The astounding change in time on the bridge of SHE SAID SHE SAID (that shouldn’t work but does) and then the heartbreaking, honest “When I was a boy…Everything was right.” Christ.

How do they make a tortured song like HELP sound joyous?

How do they repeat COME ON 8 times in PLEASE PLEASE ME and send chills up the spine? Two fucking words!!!!

Or the stacked harmonies of BECAUSE. Chilling without the instruments. Perhaps even more powerful than the original.

Yer author scratches his head again and thanks the universe we were alive to hear this shit. And he thinks about irony.

I believe part of what made the Beatles great was their irony.

See, The Fabs did it right. Someone in the New Yorker defined their provisional humorous aesthetic as: “If I were to write a song about a girl who had just left me and I was mourning her loss I’d be singing a song like…Yesterday…” This comic distance allowed them to try on any number of musical hats. But that wasn’t what made them great. If they  stuck there they would have become mere novelty artists: Roger Miller, Tom Lehr, Ray Stevens.  But The Beatles were masters of Both/And. Parody and Passion–often in the same song. “Rocky Racoon.” “Honey Pie.” “I’m So Tired.” Hell–Scan the tracks on the White Album (an album named after its absent cover!) and you’ve got a catalog of Postmodern Techniques. But, what made them great was: They Believed this shit. They rocked.

Strip away Lennon’s irony and what have you got? PLASTIC ONO BAND-his first solo album after the breakup. And, though I love it, I wouldn’t want to Live there.

I guess I land in the middle: Somewhere between John’s dopey self-consciousness and Primal Screams. Between Paul’s heavy-handed charm and his irresistible domestic celebrations of romance. Between George’s portentous spirituality and his witty, sane and mellifluous guitar. In that pocket that Ringo happily occupies that serves the song and swings and refuses to solo and can’t believe how lucky he is to be there. That place where John emerges from his necessary word-tripping surrealism and let’s it all hang out: “I’m Crying!”

Question: Would it be as wrenching, though, without the setup of the”Koo Koo Ka Joo”?

Note: I wrote most of this circa 1995 when the original Beatle’s Anthology was released.

The only thing I can think to add is this: Does everybody remember and get how FUNNY The Beatles were? Before them pop groups were pretty stiff and inarticulate. (I’ll give you Elvis/Jerry Lee/Little Richard) The Fab Four bought Joy everywhere they went. They were always winking, joking, making fun of everything. They weren’t a star and his band. They were a team. A Band of brothers, They modeled an alternative reality of equals. They exercised mental and emotional muscles we didn’t even know existed. Of Course, that much money, fame, power, and that big of a megaphone–no wonder they got a little pompous near the end.

But, in a time when our hero/president had been shot dead before our eyes. When you could get expelled for long hair. When you could literally be drafted and killed overseas before you even got laid. When black people still used separate public lavatories–I saw one when I was a boy. When the Cold War came this close to annihilating the planet…(Truly, people. It almost happened.) Suddenly there were these four jesters with ridiculous haircuts–does anyone else remember how Outrageous they were? They sang beautiful harmonies, and played weird guitar chords, and wrote their own songs. They made you feel  fantastic for two and a half minutes at a time.

They were sexy as hell.

And they seemed to be saying to all of us: “The emperor is naked. Let’s play as if there were no rules.”

And, by the way. Dude. She fucking loves you.

By Patrick O’Leary



05/14/2010 - Leave a Response

Prepping their father’s body for the passage

his daughters gathered his




but not his underwear

–Having spent his last years in diapers

he had none

so they made a pilgrimage to Walmart

& bought him seven pair of XXX white jockies

You know something women might think of

His widow sat beside me at the funeral home

viewing the casket

They gave him a smile she said

& worried that his 6-foot-6 frame looked a little cramped




& then she told me his last words before he fell into the coma

He spoke of preparing for a camping trip

making reservations hitching up the trailer




& then he said

“I’m thinking of signing myself out”


04/10/2010 - Leave a Response

Edvard Munch, "The Sick Child" Lithograph, 1896

The little boy won’t stop coughing

All night it wracks his tiny body

like a drummer rehearsing

in a small room

& now as if by magic

it splits into

two coughs

You who have had children

know one

You who spend their lives on high alert

for any chirp of distress

whose body is attuned to those alarms

& feels them almost as if they were

happening to you & even when your child

calls long distance you do not miss

that careful little catch that means

someone has gotten inside them

& is turning something sharp

How do we stop this dread

this looking over edges

This knowledge we cannot spare them

& finally this listening

That is one cough

The rest of you will only hear

a memory

You may think Poor Kid

What did he have?

Upper respiratory?


But you will never follow that

hook sound into the dark

sit on the small bed

hold the soggy hot child

like a ticking bomb

who coughs & sees your face

& croaks Don’t worry

It will stop


03/28/2010 - Leave a Response

I live in a world where names
are disposable
I have no choice in the matter
I am nameblind
It is as if I am surrounded by people
with familiar faces & no names
Like a huge convention
& all the nametags are blank
That place your brain reserves for names
is a slippery black hole in mine
I will be on an elevator
& someone I’ve known for years gets on
& I’m sweating because I have no idea
what they are called–none
So I’ve learned to tell people upfront
that I’m terrible at names
But they always say “Me too”
No I want to say You’re an amateur
Have you forgotten family members at a funeral?
Have your forgotten your lover’s name
when you were making love?
Have your children called you long distance
& do you find yourself thinking:
The younger one The blonde
The boy who kept running into walls
Then there is the complication of books
If you read Science Fiction—good luck
You cannot recall or pronounce
the alien names no matter how you try
The Lord of The Rings is an epic tale of
a brave hobbit named kerfgeuirayabvr
guided by the wizard rgdasgsrgpwrhv
who must fight the black sorcerer asrvijairdvpdav
& his evil overlord lsdfkgadufgvaip
to return Strider to the throne
Strider—I remember
That’s not a name it’s something you do
But now I sense skepticism
in the audience Some of you
have gone to college
Some of you are tempted to
raise your hands & say but I’ve
never heard of this ailment before
May I ask your name? Jules?
Well John neither have I
In fact Jack I’ve never met another human
who shares this handicap
So imagine James going through your whole life
with this little corner of shame
this tiny bit of No Can Do
which nobody believes
nobody shares
& nobody understands
Not even you Judy


03/16/2010 - Leave a Response

In Or Out
In Or Out
That’s What Doors Are All About

Take The Cup
Drink It Up
You’re A Kid
You’re Not A Pup

Up Or Down
Up Or Down
There’s The Sky
There’s The Ground

Go And Stop
Go And Stop
There’s The Bottom
There’s The Top

Inside Cool
Outside Storm
Outside Cold
Inside Warm

Day Or Night
Day Or Night
Stars Are Gone
Sun Is Bright

I Stand Up
I Sit Down
I Am Running All A Round

Puppies Bark
Kitties Mew
I Can Sing
How About You?

Sleepy Sleep
Wakey Wake
Givey Give
Takey Take


03/15/2010 - 2 Responses

In a little old house lived a little wild girl.
She stayed all alone in her own little world.
She ran and she jumped and she danced and she played
Alone in the house all night and all day.

Now the little old house was a friendly old house.
It had many big windows and one little white mouse.
The sofa was fluffy and so were the chairs.
There was a big warm fire at the bottom of the stairs.
And the freezer was full of chocolate bars.
And the house had no roof, she slept under the stars.

But the best place of all in the little old house
Was the white white bathroom where the little white mouse
Would sail on the soap in the old white tub.
And the soap made bubbles that went Bubbly Bub Bub.
And the tub grabbed the floor with four terrible paws.
And each paw had four toes and the toes were called Claws.

And the tub was magic. The tub had a knack:
If you told it your name it would say it right back!
You could say Jimmy! and the tub would say Jimmy!
You could say Timmy! and the tub would say Timmy!
You could say Suzi or Peter or Ted
And the tub would repeat whatever you said.

But that was a problem. This was a fact.
For a name was something that the little girl lacked.
For try as she might with a whisper or shout
It was stuck on her tongue and it wouldn’t come out.
If she had a name then why couldn’t she say it?
If a name was a game then surely she’d play it.
If a name was a ball then surely she’d throw it.
Maybe the problem was she didn’t know it!

“WHAT’S MY NAME?” said the girl and she got no answer
she was stuck like a dance on the floor with no dancer.
“What’s my name?” said girl, and she knew it was missing
like a song about lovers that never got kissing.
“Where is everybody? Where’d everyone go?
Does anyone love me? Why don’t they say so?”

The fire wouldn’t say so, the bed wouldn’t speak.
The tub couldn’t talk and the mouse wouldn’t squeak.
The chair and the sofa were fluffin and puffin
But none of them helped. Nobody said nothing!
So the little girl cried. She cried and she cried.
She cried until both of her eyes were dried.

“Nobody loves me,” the little girl said.
“Not the mouse or the fire or the tub or the bed.”
So the little girl lay and she looked at the stars
And she thought, “How lucky some people are.
Somebody loves them, somebody who
Will hug them and kiss them and tuck them in, too.”

Then the little girl slept and she dreamed a strange dream.
She lived in a house that was somewhere between
The stars and the moon and though it was home
There was no one else there and she was alone.
Then the most wonderful, wonderful, wonderful thing
Happened so quickly it changed everything!
The whole house was different though it all looked the same
The little girl woke and remembered her name!

“My name is MAGGIE,” she told the old bed.
“My name is MAGGIE!” the little girl said.
“My name is Maggie and I’m not alone.
Somebody loves me and Now I Am Home!”

“Somebody loves me,” she said to the mouse.
“Somebody loves me,” she said to the house.
“My name is MAGGIE! I know what I knew!”
And the tub said it back. It remembered her, too!

And finally the little girl knew where to go.
She had to go fast, she couldn’t go slow.
So she ran down the hall to where the babies’ room was
Where the twins slept all night in their twin pajamas.
Noah’s was blue and Emma’s was pink.
And sometimes the twins’ pajamas would stink.

But Maggie didn’t care. She was happy and wild.
And the twins were awake and they both had a smile.
They were so glad to see her; they’d been waiting a while.
And she kissed them and told him that she missed them, too.
She said, “Somebody loves you! Somebody loves you!
Somebody loves you! It’s me and I DO!”

—Patrick O’Leary
For Maggie, and Noah and Emma

Fingerpainting by Stephanie Metz “Girl in a Nightgown”
(For more of her work click on the picture)


03/09/2010 - Leave a Response

upon the round black momma

on the cell-phone

pushing her red-capped toddler

in the stroller

on a sunny morning

beside the strip club