Gimme Skelter

Battle royale at Sweetwater this week

At long last, one of the most divisive issues of our time will be resolved this week at the Sweetwater Music Hall in Mill Valley. No, it’s not a forum on gun control, and no, Sammy Hagar won’t be there to give a TED Talk about how he’s the superior Van Halen frontman.

It’s a musical showdown for the ages, folks. It’s the Beatles vs. the Stones. It’s like the invasion of Iraq all over again, with drums instead of drones. Two cover bands will be on hand to make their rocking case about the relative merits of both bands. The beer will flow, the blood will spill, and the ghost of the great Phil Lynott will stand in judgment.

So where does this writer stand on this most provocative of showdowns, as backed-by-the- U.S.S.R. troll-bots flood North Bay social media sites with outrageous slurs against both bands, to sow divisiveness among susceptible Americans?

This long-running Beatles vs. Stones debate has always seemed a little forced and silly, and reminds me of that old saying that “hugs are better than drugs.” Maybe so, but hugs and drugs together can be kind of cool, too. Why can’t we have both, in reasonable and healthy doses?

Over the years I’ve come to appreciate the idea of the Beatles—what they represented, how they helped shape and shift the culture—more than the music of the Beatles. I love the music of the Stones, even as they rode in on the British invasion inspired by the Beatles and stole half their ideas.

However silly the conceit of an either-or dynamic between the two bands, the debate has managed to prompt some serious cognitive dissonance when I’ve put any thought to it.

The Beatles were working-class lads from Liverpool who, by the time of Sgt. Pepper, had evolved into a group of art-rock shoegazers. The Rolling Stones, meanwhile, were middle-class art-school poseurs who made some of the greatest workingman’s rock music ever (and continue to do so, having nabbed a Grammy this year for their killer throwback platter, Blue and Lonesome).

So it’s a tough call in the end, this Beatles vs. Stones deal. “Gimme Shelter” or “Within You Without You”? Do we really have to pick one over the other? The former is the greatest rock song ever written; the latter is considered the first piece of psychedelic music ever recorded.

I’m so glad to report that the divisiveness has ended! The all-ages show will conclude with the bands, Abbey Road and Satisfaction, playing together in a moment of joyful unity under the Flag of Rock. It’s not exactly Ted Nugent linking arms with Eminem, but it’s something.

Beatles vs. Stones: A Musical Showdown, Thursday, Feb. 22, 8pm (7pm door). $22–$27. Sweetwater Music Hall, 19 Corte Madera Ave.,
Mill Valley. 415.388.3850.

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