Reaching Everest: In Memoriam Geoff Emerick

I don’t smoke cigarettes, but if I did, then my brand of choice is Everest. Beatles Recording Engineer smoked Everest cigarettes. I should mention that I am not espousing tobacco usage in any way shape or form. Additionally, I am not some blind follower of my favorite band that I have to emulate certain vices just because they did. The Everest brand is my nod to a recording hero whom we just lost this past week. He was 72.

Next month, I was to meet my hero in person at The White Album International Symposium.  at Monmouth University.  Excited being a speaker at this event along with Mr. Emerick, even though I am below the bottom of the bill, I had this notion of that we would become fast friends. I imagine him listening to my fandom babble with polite respect as he signed my well-worn copy of his memoir, Here, There and Everywhere. He may have discreetly looked at his watch as I attempted to explain my minor footprint in the Beatle Universe as the author of The Pepper Effect.

What do you say to a person who literally sat feet away from The Beatles as they recorded masterpiece after masterpiece? He become more than a 9-5 sound engineer dutifully turning knobs to balance volume. Emerick was a willing participant and collaborator on The Beatles’ quest for innovation in recorded sound.

Geoff Emerick started his tenure as lead sound engineer  with The Beatles and Producer George Martin at the age of 20. He began the quantum leap forward that was the “Revolver” album. On that album, he helped capture the technical and emotional  essence of John Lennon’s image for the song, “Tomorrow Never Knows.” Lennon wanted his voice to sound like a thousand Tibetan monks chanting from a mountain. Emerick delivered request and then some on that track.

Later, a Grammy Award for Best Sound Engineering would grace Geoff Emerick’s hands for his innovative contributions on “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.” That album reached a standard for the band due in part to Emerick’s willingness to experiment and push against the status quo of his industry’s constrictions at the time. Emerick had worked for a large conglomerate that was fixed it traditions of capturing recorded sound. Sound Engineers were supposed to be in the background clocking in their hours and silently turning knobs on a mixing board.

Geoff Emerick did not settle for bargaining with the status quo. He did not settle for it as he entered into EMI Recording Studios with The Beatles for their final studio masterpiece. I imagine this scene:

Gathered around the audio comfort of a sound board on a Spring day in 1969, The Beatles are listening to a playback of “Here Comes the Sun.” Geoff Emerick lights another Everest from his trusty pack. Ringo nods in agreement at the audio pole position of the beautiful hand claps on the song. Paul gives a thumbs up as the vocal harmonies balance just right on the song’s bridge. John sneaks a sly smile of approval to George’s acoustic guitar fretwork. George listens intently to make sure that his song captures the warmth of sunshine. 

Paul notices the sound engineer’s cigarette pack. A simple, serene drawing of Mount Everest is imprinted on the package. A revelation hits him. “We should get the lads to fly to the Himalayas and have our picture taken in front of Mount Everest for the album cover. We could even call the album, ‘Everest!’ It would be a nice nod to our friend, Geoff.”

The idea of calling their final album “Everest” was indeed bandied about by The Beatles. A fitting title for a band that had conquered many peaks along the way to establishing an immortal musical legacy. Here they were about to embark upon a final peak with Geoff Emerick as one of their collaborative sherpas guiding them upward to a new and final pinnacle.

The album that was to be called “Everest” morphed into the title that we now know as “Abbey Road.” The fanciful idea of flying to Mount Everest for a photo shoot was abandoned due to logistical realizations by the band. We now have the iconic image of The Beatles crossing that famous street emblazoned on memory.

Thinking of Everest, I bet Geoff Emerick would have made an amazing sherpa. His calm guidance, solid perseverance and collaborative mindset would have benefitted any mountain top expedition. Pushing the image of sherpa into the classroom, I can see how those attributes would serve Geoff Emerick if he were a teacher. Gently pushing the status quo in service and support of kids and leading them towards the creation of daily masterpieces, I believe that is quite the legacy for an educator.

All of these things come to mind as I ponder this imagined conversation with Geoff Emerick at “The White Album International Symposium.” Arms extended, we shake hands and I realize that thanks to a young sound engineer our world is a better place when you listen to Sound at the top of Mount Everest.

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