Ringo Yacks It Up on New HBO Special

Ringo -- the handsome Beatle -- is featured in a new HBO special airing May 2. Here's my review: By Dave Shiflett (Bloomberg)— Ringo Starr has a ready explanation for the “music explosion” of the 1960s that produced, among other things, the Beatles. “We were the first generation that didn’t go into the army,” he says on “Ringo Starr: Off the Record,” which airs on HBO May 2 at 11 p.m. New York time. He missed “the call-up” by “about ten months.” As a result, members of his generation were able to follow their own drummers, who would turn out to include Ringo himself. He’s looking pretty good at 67, though his hair is much shorter and thinner than in his heyday and he long ago traded his colorful psychedelic regalia for undertaker’s basic black. His pleasant hour-long conversation with rocker Dave Stewart – who looks as if he could be Ringo’s brother, though Ringo has him beat in the earring competition – will delight old Beatles fans and perhaps even viewers who hold rock music in less esteem. Ringo never appears to have confused himself, or his musical peers, with Mozart. In the beginning, he tells Stewart and a studio audience, musicians “didn’t have to be able to play” an instrument to join a band. He says he had “no sense of timing.” Nor were they aware they were living in the Age of Aquarius. He tells of an early gig during which George Harrison got into a fistfight. George, he cracks, “wasn’t always a guru.” Ringo, who continues to write and perform, often reminds viewers he’s a maestro of the self-deprecating riff, pointing out he only knows three chords on the guitar and that when he’d present a song to his band mates their likely response was to laugh. He also tells an amusing story of how he came up with “Octopus’ Garden,” one of his better-known tunes. While vacationing on Peter Sellers’ yacht he was baffled by a lunchtime entre. The captain explained that the mystery meat was octopus and further explained that the creatures make gardens on the sea floor for their apparent amusement. Ringo says the information nearly caused his head to explode, admitting his intense enthusiasm might have been fueled by “medication,” which we presume was not the type prescribed by a doctor. He wasn’t alone in seeing a great deal in the mundane and has great fun at the expense of those who saw genius in everything the Beatles did. The deeply analyzed cover of “Abbey Road” was not the result of deep thinking, he assures us. After considering shooting the cover in Egypt or another exotic location, someone in the band said “Sod it, let’s just go out and walk across the road.” Nonetheless, he says, critics swooned, saying “Oh! look at what they thought of.” His drumming technique received similar treatment, which continues to amuse him. He notes that while left handed, he plays a right-handed drum kit, which led some observers to proclaim “he’s a genius.” The real explanation, he says, is that his grandmother made him learn to do everything as if he were right handed, including playing the drums. Ringo’s reflections as one of rock’s elder statesman are sprinkled throughout the program. While many contemporary bands expect penthouse suites, limo service and other extravagant perks, he says the Beatles “were lucky if we got a cup of tea.” “Even after Shea Stadium we were sharing a room,” he says. He also wonders if extensive multi-track recording is a good thing. While “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” was made on a four-track recorder new technology offers dozens of tracks and encourages a fragmented recording process. Many musicians “don’t play as a band” but record “one chord, then come back a week later and play another one.” He closes with a new song, sung in a voice that, while hardly golden, is a very solid brass: “I had to follow my heart and I never missed a beat.” Or, if he did, he no doubt meant to. www.homeboxoffice.com Dave Shiflett is a critic for Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are his own. To contact the writer of this story: Dave Shiflett at dshifl@aol.com.