In 1974, my dad won a radio contest. (My dad loves contests. He organises the lottery pool in every office where he’s worked. In 1997, he won tickets on the radio to see Counting Crows and The Wallflowers at The Gorge in Washington—the former, 15-year-old Jessica’s absolute favourite band. He drove 4 hours south, just the two of us, and we slept in the family minivan before driving back home the next day.) In 1974, my dad lost the grand prize (a VW Sun Bug), but he won every single Beatles album on vinyl, even the odd 1960s compilations with interview clips. These are the records I grew up with.
I know it’s cool now to say you hate The Beatles and that they were never that great, but I still love their music. I still believe that handful of albums they managed to complete are important to the evolution of rock ‘n’ roll. It was “Octopus’s Garden” and “Yellow Submarine” when I was a kid, “Let It Be” and “Hey Jude” as a teen, then the pretension of the white album in my 20s. If you asked me then to name my favourite Beatle, I’d answer George, because he was the quiet one, and so was I.
1989 was the year I turned 8, and the year my friends loved New Kids on the Block, so I loved them, too. When they asked me my favourite—a very important question amongst a group of girls—I answered Jonathan. He was the quiet one, too (though we didn’t know then why). My friends told me it wasn’t cool to like Jonathan. He’s the oldest, the big brother. He only sings backup. I should like Jordan instead. He’s the cute one, the one with the voice. So, because I was 8 and because I wanted my friends to like me, I changed my favourite New Kid.
I’ve stopped caring whether or not people like me. (I stopped caring so long ago that sometimes I wonder if that’s why I struggle to make friends today.) My favourite New Kid was and will always be Jonathan. Stevie Nicks is my favourite Fleetwood Mac front-person (though Lindsey writes my favourite songs!). My favourite from One Direction is Harry Styles. And my favourite Beatle was and will always be Ringo.
Compare my favourite band as a teenager: Sloan, a four-piece who all take turns at the microphone. They took the Beatles concept to the next level—four voices, four songwriters, four musicians who could have easily gone solo, but Sloan never did. They’re still together in 2020, still making albums and still crediting every song as “Sloan” and nothing more. We only know who might’ve written a song because the writer usually sings the lead.
“The Lines You Amend” is a Jay song on the album, One Chord to Another. The lyric in the subject line of this letter continues: “the one about photographs / sung by Ringo Starr / especially in the chorus part.” The first time I heard “Lines,” I hadn’t heard “Photograph.” This was before you could hear any song you wanted at anytime, before iTunes, before Napster, before YouTube. For years, I wondered about this Ringo song. Was it a novelty, like his “Yellow Submarine,” or more like “Don’t Pass Me By,” arguably his best solo composition?
“Photograph” was written by Ringo and George, then recorded for Ringo’s 1973 self-titled album, an album featuring an all-starr cast (sorry). Ringo wasn’t the best writer or the best singer in The Beatles, but Ringo was (is!) the best personality. He knows his limits, and he knows how best to play to them. There’s a reason his solo career isn’t strictly a solo career, but a touring band of his friends, playing a setlist of their collective hits. Most of the songs on his 1973 solo album aren’t his own, but the performance is.
You’ll remember that buying Stevie Nicks’s debut album, Bella Donna, on gorgeous night blue vinyl was the reason I bought a record player earlier this year. And how I commandeered by parents’s record collection—wherein I found the Ringo album and Robbie Robertson’s first album post-The Band.
The latter is my most recent obsession. I adore The Band, ever since the first time I watched The Last Waltz, which the Knowledge Network here airs each New Year’s Eve. Though the members of The Band are connected to nearly every other artist my parents like (they’re all on the Ringo album! even on the cover!), my parents own none of their albums. But they had Robbie Robertson, the self-titled solo debut from 1986, 10 years after The Band’s last concert that was The Last Waltz. In 1986, Daniel Lanois produced So by Peter Gabriel, Joshua Tree by U2, and then got both Gabriel and Bono to appear on Robertson’s record the same year. The three albums go together like an unofficial trilogy.
It makes sense that I’d use this quarantine year to explore solo careers. So many of us are doing our work alone, even if you’re spending hours in video meetings. Parents and roommates are looking for any corner of silent space they can find in the house. Me, I’m playing podcasts and music—to bring other voices into my house—and I’m spending most days in multiple Slacks, searching for any human connection to keep me going.
We had an XOXO Zoom meetup instead of a real XOXO in Portland, OR, this year. That shirt I’m wearing is from the 2019 Vancouver Art Book Fair, also going digital this year. I’ll be selling my zines at Canzine at the end of October—online, of course. I’ve always been a solo artist, but even still, we need to find other solo artists with whom we can commiserate, collaborate, and celebrate, too. I spent years—especially those many years I attended numerous universities—searching for a community, only to find my people online, not on campus, and far-flung IRL. XOXO is a far-flung collection of my people, feeling flung farther in 2020 because of border closures and physical distancing. So I cherish every time we can connect, even through that tiny frame up there (and muted).
Like the times Ringo tours with his All-Starrs, when Stevie agrees to rejoin Fleetwood Mac, or that distant possibility we’re holding onto that one day, One Direction might reunite—solo artists don’t stay solo forever. Sometimes it’s nice to make a record with the band.