Wednesday, July 07, 2010

Happy Birthday, Ringo!

Got to pay your dues if you wanna sing the blues
And you know it don't come easy

-Richard Starkey, M.B.E

Ringo Starr is seventy-years-old today.

I wrote those words down and stared long and hard at them, scarcely believing it. This just might take a bit of adjusting.

I can remember the moment as if it were yesterday. On a vacant lot in my hometown, where the garage of the Goshen Volunteer Ambulance stands today, there once stood a majestic house that had long since been torn down. By July of 1970, all that remained of the structure was its chimney, which we neighborhood kids liked to climb. On this particular day I was standing triumphant at the chimney's top when I looked down and there stood my cousin Gene Degan. He relayed to me with the awful news:

"Today is Ringo Starr's thirtieth birthday", he said.

What? Thirty??? That is so old, I remember thinking. This will take some getting used to. The great adage of the day was "Never trust anybody over thirty". By and by, I got used to the idea - but seventy? There oughtta be a law!

Seven decades ago today,
on July 7, 1940 Richard Starkey, Jr. was born in Liverpool, England. Of all of his future band mates, he was the one who grew up in real poverty. Ringo would grow into maturity with no memory of the father who abandoned him and his mother when he was still a toddler. If he retained any bitterness as an adult it was never in evidence. John Lennon's emotional scars, on the other hand, were always apparent ("Mother, you had me but I never had you") and yet his boyhood, on the surface anyway, was comfortable and middle class. I once visited his childhood home in the suburb of Liverpool called Woolton, right around the corner from Strawberry Fields. It reminded me of the home of Beaver and Wally Cleaver.

Ringo's early years were a struggle - not only economically but physically. Hospitalized for months at a stretch with peritonitis (among other ailments) for a while it was no
t even certain that the child would live to see his tenth birthday. As a result his schooling suffered terribly. By the time he joined the Beatles in August of 1962, Ringo Starr was barely educated.

They're gonna put me in the movies
They're gonna make a big star out of me
We'll make a film about a man that's sad and lonely
And all I've gotta do is act naturally!

Here is som
ething I've been saying in private for many years so I might as well repeat myself publicly: The Beatles never would have made it without Ringo. While John Lennon may have been the wit of that band, Ringo Starr was the clown prince. As funny as Lennon was, he was not always lovable. It was impossible not to love Ringo. When the Fab Four touched down on America's shores in the late winter of 1964, he was the main focus of the press and fans alike. Being the shortest member of the band he was often referred to as "the runt of the liter". When they made their first two films in 1964 and 1965, it was only natural that poor little Ringo would be the focus of both plots. At the time, many a respected critic were comparing him to Charlie Chaplin.

You may remember back in May I wrote about the trek my brother Pete and I made with our friend Kevin Swanwick to the EMI/Abbey Road Studios in London. Last month Kevin and I journeyed up to Bethel Woods to see Ringo Starr in concert. It was amazing watching him. As Swanwick remarked to me when it was over, he didn't look a day older than the two of us - and we're both eighteen years his junior!

When all four of the Beatles were still alive I used to believe that the heavy smoking, hard drinking Ringo would be the first to go and that the sushi-addicted Lennon would survive them all. How ironic is that
? Who would have believed all those years ago that Ringo would eventually clean his act up and and that John would fall victim to an act of cold-blooded murder? Life is funny that way, you know?

One of th
e annoying myths about Ringo Starr, one that has persisted for almost half a century now, is that he is - at best - a mediocre drummer. What are the roots of this silly notion? Most of the films of Ringo in action were taken when he was performing in concert with the Beatles - in front of an audience of fans screaming at full decibel. What must be remembered is that in this type of venue the band could not even hear themselves. It was all the poor guy could do to keep up a basic back beat with no fills whatsoever. All one has to do is listen to the recordings to understand that he was not only a good drummer, he was one of the best! Just listen to what he does on A Day in the Life. No less an authority than Phil Collins once described his work on that track as some of the greatest drumming in the history of rock music. Just listen to those incredible recordings.

He never was as prolific musically as the other Beatles. While it cannot be denied that he will not be remembered as the greatest composer who ever lived, it is also undeniable that he has written some great songs. It Don't Come Easy, Photograph (co-written with George Harrison) and Oh My My are three of the finest post-Beatles recordings you can name. And while he probably won't be remembered as one of the greatest singers of his era, I have always felt (and I'm not alone here) that he has a beautiful baritone voice. Listen to What Goes On, Honey Don't and With a Little Help from My Friends. Can you imagine anyone else but Ringo Starr singing those tracks?
Not me.

He does indeed get by with a little help from his friends. It should surprise no one that he is one of the most beloved figures in show business history. He was and is the personification of the joy of living, good cheer and plain, old-fashioned silliness. In all these years I've spent Ringo Watching, I have seen him lose control of his emotions only once. It was in 1981, less than a year after Lennon's death. In a televised interview, Barbara Walters asked him to reflect on his beloved friend's life and memory. He started to speak but then the tears came to his eyes and he could not go on. Never was his humanity revealed as much as in this moment. No wonder we love this guy so much.

He has said that the proudest moment of his life was in June of 1967 when he, John, Paul and George made the recording All You Need Is Love
, which was simulcast to a worldwide audience of almost a billion people. "We were doing it for love and bloody peace, man!", he said many years later, "It was a fantastic time to be alive." To this very day "Peace and Love" is Ringo's trademark salutation.

Happy birthday, Ringo! Peace and Love to you, too, mate!

Tom Degan
Goshen, NY


It Don't Come Easy
by Ringo Starr:


The Beatles
by Bob Spitz

For more recent postings on this positively subversive collection of LEFT WING propaganda, please go to the link below:

"The Rant" by Tom Degan



At 7:19 AM, Anonymous Crucian by Choice said...

IS this really the ending?

You're only as old as you feel

Beatlemaniac from 1963

At 2:37 PM, Blogger Ronni said...

Of course you know that the first job John and Paul had for Brian Epstein was to fire Pete. They already had Ringo lined up...

I saw George and Ringo in Chicago, back in the day, with everyone from Eric Clapton to Ravi Shankar and his full Indian orchestra. Chicagoans didn't really like the concert, but I still think it was one of the best I ever saw.

Of all the Beatles, I always thought Ringo would be the easiest and most fun to hang out with.

At 6:05 PM, Blogger Darlene said...

Happy Birthday, Ringo. I can't comment on your drumming, but will take Tom's word for it that you are the best.

I am of an older (much older) vintage and my drummer will always be Gene Kruppa. If you can find a copy just listen to his recording of 'Indian Love Call'. Now that's drumming!

At 3:23 PM, Blogger alison fox said...

I really enjoyed this Tom as I have basically zero knowledge of Ringo Star. At this moment I am playing the Beatles and focusing on Ringo's drumming. Great stuff!


At 8:26 PM, Blogger Carson Lee said...

Nice tribute.

At 10:45 PM, Blogger P M Prescott said...

I believe it was John Lennon's interview in Playboy magazine that he was asked about switching from Peter Best to Ringo. Lennon said that Ringo would have been a huge star whether he joined them or not.

At 9:15 AM, Anonymous Ringo Starr said...

I don't ask for much, I only want your trust
And you know it don't come easy
And this love of mine keeps growing all the time
And you know it just ain't easy

Ringo Starr

At 9:18 AM, Blogger Tom Degan said...


I am in complete agreement with you in your assessment of the great Gene Krupa. Listen to his 1937 recording with the Benny Goodman orchestra of Christopher Columbus/Sing Sing Sing. His drumming on that recording is nothing short of hypnotic!


At 11:00 AM, Blogger Cirze said...

"And in the end, the love you take

Is equal to the love

You make."

Ringo made a lot of love.

I'll never forget seeing him in the "This Boy" clip from "A Hard Day's Night" (which he named, by the way!) or was it "Help!"?

I can't remember. I just loved them all. And especially Ringo. What a sweetheart he was, and he absorbed all the talk of him being a lousy drummer without a murmur.

I remember him addressing how difficult it was for him to write something original as he was constantly told by the others how derivative it was. Let's face it. He was an angel in this creatively aggressive group of greats.

And he never quits.

Thanks for the tribute, Tom.

Love you,


As funny as Lennon was, he was not always lovable. It was impossible not to love Ringo.

At 10:01 PM, Anonymous Bennett said...

A wonderful piece, Tom. This is the quality of writing that keeps me coming back.

I caught The Who doing a concert out in Cali ('05 I think) and his son Zack Starkey was on drums, and is nothing short of amazing. His performance on "Eminence Front" brought tingles to my spine and war-whoops from my mouth.

Ringo has been good for the world.

At 4:16 AM, Blogger Rhiannon said...

I am new to your blog..just dropped by. I made a "peace and love" post dedicated to Ringo's request for us to at try to say "peace and love" to one or two people a day, or give the peace sign. I am so "on it" and will try my best on my blog to make a difference.

"people let's stop the wars"..

I will drop by your blog looks pretty interesting and a good perspective to me.

"Peace and love for the whole world"...

With Blessings,


At 6:35 AM, Blogger Kevin said...

I think Ringo was a great drummer - his role was just understated. I have everyone of his albums and there are plenty of excellent of tracks - I'm particularly found of "Coochy Coochy" and "Blind Man."

Even his newer stuff is pretty interesting. I loved his Ringo-Rama album, and even his last CD had some good tracks.

It surprised me to read that he was 70, considering he has looked the same for so long!

At 6:05 AM, Blogger Lydia said...

What a wonderful post!

At 12:11 PM, Anonymous Will Shirley said...

My sister was the President of the Beatles Fan Club in Phoenix, so she got all the latest albums before her friends, even the racy ones. I, for my part, certainly loved the music and the young girls 2-3 years older than me coming over for parties. Ringo's drumming was great, very talented and his singing is something I can hear any day of the week, always makes me smile. Sadly, my sister's collection of Beatles stuff burned down a couple days after one Christmas! Hummm. 70 years old, like John Mayall still great. I have ten years to get great at something.

At 10:31 PM, Anonymous Raymond Bally Jr. said...

Really nice. Ringo is a great drummer and musician. There is no question. And remember all of the incredible solo albums Ringo played on - John's seminal Plastic Ono Band and most of George's All Things Must Pass. That's Ringo.

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