Book Review: “The Beatles On Screen: From Pop Stars To Musicians” by Stephanie Fremaux

This review is by Amy Hughes

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The lens through which we see The Beatles can be a prismatic collage of idol worship, fan participation, and undying gratitude. For most, the forming of those perspectives – beyond the music – was through the medium of film.

As a scholar and author, Stephanie Fremaux demonstrates in The Beatles On Screen: From Pop Stars To Musicians (Bloomsbury Academic, 2018), how the band portrayed numerous versions of themselves that helped convey their image as witty moptops, groovy guys, psychedelic creators, and gutsy soul-baring artists.

Of course, from a realistic standpoint, most of the above descriptors have a caveat attached. Fremaux brings us through a studied course of their films (including Ron Howard’s ‘Eight Days A Week: The Touring Years’) and illustrates several touchpoints within the media. Most notable is how each fits within a specified genre and timeframe and pointedly, how their film image interacted with the fans.

1964’s ‘A Hard Day’s Night’ was not the success or ground-breaking film it set out to be. Conceived before the group hit big in the US, director Richard Lester shot the film with the idea, as Fremaux notes, of a fictionalized account of what it was like to be The Beatles at that time. The advantage of the big screen brought the devoted as close as possible to their idols, highlighting the close-up, stylistic camerawork (mostly handheld) Lester thought necessary to convey their fast-paced lifestyle.

With the tide of Beatlemania shifting to closer examination of each ‘personality,’ Fremaux dissects the ‘real’ from the ‘fantasy,’ comparing and contrasting several notable scenes including the surrealistic sequence of The Beatles running/cycling alongside the train, taunting an old veteran (“Hey Mister, can we have our ball back?!”) to the film-within-a-television broadcast-within-a-film (‘And I Love Her’), surrounded by schoolgirls intercut with a performance (‘I Should Have Known Better’) and creating general calamity (with broad Liverpool humor) throughout the movie.

As Starr emerged as the film’s protagonist, 1965’s ‘Help!’ further showcased his persona as the centerpiece of the plot. Fremaux correctly points to several problematic aspects with the follow-up: as a mirror of the moment, the premise is non-tangible and moves their fans away from the center of attention. The plot is of the day (James Bond-ish), the locales are removed from the storyline and The Beatles themselves have no other job than to lip-sync to their songs (albeit wonderfully filmed by Lester) to avoid a sacrificial sect bent on killing Ringo.

While Fremaux notes that ‘Help!’ as a whole is weak, the individual songs used as connecting links hold up over time apart from the film. Considered among the first ‘music videos’ the segments were a showcase for what was coming in the next year as The Beatles moved away from live performances and into the studio to craft their future.

There would be no feature film in 1966, however several songs would make their debut for television broadcast as filmed shorts, the most noteworthy being ‘Rain’ and ‘Paperback Writer.’  Insofar as the band appears disenchanted or mocking in other versions (or as in ‘We Can Work It Out’ going off the rails in lip-sync laughter), the two color videos (directed by Micheal Lindsay-Hogg) helped to break the monotony, while furthering the experimentation that was on the horizon.

As The Beatles cartoon series chugged along in the US (much to the disdain of the band), Fremaux exams the seismic shifts happening as 1966 yielded to the iconic year of 1967. The ‘lads’ were morphing into serious musicians and their individualism – first noticed in the Lindsay-Hogg videos – were ignited full force with the release of ‘Strawberry Fields Forever’ and ‘Penny Lane.’

A notable characterization study, both films find the foursome further removed from ‘performing:’ recasting themselves with ‘Swinging London’ apparel, moustaches (!) and no instrumentation, their perceived aloofness mixed with a creative detached air of avant-garde musicianship, gave pause to the young audience they had seized upon only three years hence. That coolness factor – adult, yet child-like in execution – did not serve them well in their next film endeavor.

After the death of Brian Epstein, The Beatles moved forward with ‘Magical Mystery Tour,’ despite the lack of planning and some say, script. While Paul McCartney loosely directed, the remaining three were given creative license with their ‘characters.’ Fremaux argues that although the end result was much maligned by the press, in hindsight ‘MMT’ brought about certain far-out visuals that predicted the future of music presentation. However the majority of the public, while making the soundtrack a hit, could not understand the psychedelic freeform narrative, resulting in the first major ding in The Beatles armor of commercial value.

In should then come as a slight surprise that 1968 saw a rebirth of their image to the general record-buying public. As their next feature film ‘Yellow Submarine’ was toiling away in the background without their direct supervision or input, the release of ‘Hey Jude/Revolution’ put them squarely back in favor with their fans.

‘Yellow Submarine’ in spite of the perceived lack of support, was a cinematic feast for the eyes. Although they eventually appeared at the end (minus the planned special effects), this animated image of The Beatles has endured, untethered from the real world and pleasantly living as a creative tribute to the men and women who placed their lives on hold because of their love for The Beatles.

Fremaux poses some interesting subjective viewpoints on the ‘Hey Jude’ clip, noting that Lennon, Harrison and Starr seem removed from the proceedings while McCartney (on piano, minus his iconic bass) takes the lead, with only the invited audience streaming in for the coda singalong to enliven the scene. This tendency to read into the tense environment that was slowly evolving, cast the next feature as a 50-year-old conundrum that since the publication of this book, has been turned inside out.

The dirge that ‘Let It Be’became known for, the “visual struggle” as Fremaux describes, is now in 2022 something of a misnomer. While Fremaux can only provide insight for the 1970 chain of events and the version available to critique, it’s exactly where most of the public saw the group at the movie’s release: four grown men, struggling creatively or not participating to the fullest degree, on the precipice of fallout and literally removed from the public who could not see the rooftop performance at 3 Savile Row.

The conclusion showcases the long journey The Beatles travelled from Liverpool favorites to global social influence. ‘Eight Days A Week,’ was their most recent film endeavor (until 2021’s ‘Get Back’) involving the approval of everyone connected. As fans and admirers, the celebrities and notables interviewed onscreen nearly reach the same conclusion: that despite what was going in their personal lives, The Beatles had spoken to them through music and film. Fremaux incidentally notes with no irony, that this film should have been the one between ‘Help!’ and ‘Magical Mystery Tour,’ an idea not too far flung. Director Ron Howard was able to paint a portrait that encapsulated the enormous influence and reach they had during those hectic years criss-crossing the world (not altogether satisfactorily sometimes), while maintaining a connection via concerts and movies for their audience.

“It is interesting to think that some fifty years before social media, before the idea of collective individualism that such platforms encourage, and before the extent to which anyone can be celebrities today, the Beatles used their films to project their ordinariness even at the height of their success.”

Fremaux’s words are in the end, worth a rating of 4 out of 4 beetles.

 

 

 

 

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Book Review: “Forever Young: A Memoir” by Hayley Mills

Forever Young Hayley MillsBefore you discard my review of Forever Young: A Memoir (Sept. 2021) by Hayley Mills as an off-topic book review, try to bear with me for a few minutes before I get to the link between her and the Beatles.

For those of us of a certain age and generation, there will forever be only one real version of the movie ‘The Parent Trap‘ and it will be the one put out by Disney in 1961, starring a young, 14 year old, English actress by the name of Hayley Mills. Maybe some of you will even remember her in her first Disney movie, Pollyanna, in 1960! Truth be told, her movie career was one that was fast and furious, as you will obviously notice while reading her book.

Hayley Mills is the daughter of actor Sir John Mills. Granted, I had no idea who he was until I read this book, but to make a long story short, he played the father in the Disney classic – The Swiss Family Robinson. And though he was a well-known actor and household name in the 50s and 60s, he only got that part because Walt Disney was so determined to sign Hayley to a 6 year, 6 film contract, they offer him the lead in another film project they were developing.

Hayley is also the younger sister of Juliet Mills – the actress who played the nanny in the 1970-1971 television series Nanny and the Professor (I feel  embarrassed that I didn’t know that!). One of the major themes throughout her life (and this book), is how much Hayley adored her sister and at the same time,  the guilt she felt when she shot to fame ahead of Juliet.

George Harrison Hayley MillsSo, where’s the Beatles connection? Well, like all the girls of her generation, Hayley was a huge fan of the Beatles and talks often of it within the context of her life. By the time, she became famous, she would occasionally run into them (and other famous rockstars) at exclusive clubs or parties around London. It was during one such party, in 1964, that a 17 year old Hayley would spy her mother in conversation with George Harrison and watch in horror & surprise as her mother asked (and received) George’s phone number! But if she thought that wasn’t embarrassing enough, when a charity event presented itself where Hayley would need an escort, her mother was so bold as to call up George and ask him to take her daughter! You’ll need to read this book to learn all the juicy details of that night and breakfast in the morning!

There’s cute story Hayley shares of the night she saw the Beatles perform at the Hollywood Bowl and the unbelievable after party in the Hollywood hills! Another great tale for the Beatle fan that absolutely needs to know every detail of the Fab Four’s whereabouts.

Though Hayley spends a lot of time talking about her costars and their personal history in this book, I couldn’t help but get drawn in by her story of a young girl swept up in the Hollywood movie star life, surpassing her father and sister’s stardom and still coming out the other side unscathed and squeaky clean. And at 76, she’s still acting today. And for that reason…

I rate this book, 4 out of 4 Beetles!

 

 

 

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Book Review: “Wham! George and Me: A Memoir” by Andrew Ridgeley

Wham!, George Michael and Me: A Memoir by Andrew Ridgeley released October 2019 was not at all what I was expecting…but in a lot of ways, that’s a good thing!

I’ll let you all in on a little secret as to how I pick some of the books I read – when I see a suggestion for some music related book on Amazon, I’ll click on it to see when it was released. After that, I click on the Kindle version, then click on “See Inside” (above the picture). Usually, there is a search button, so I enter in “Beatles” to see if there is any references to our Fab Four. So before you judge me for reading the story of Wham!, know that “Beatles” was mentioned at least 3 times and Paul McCartney at least once.

If you had asked me to tell you about Wham! before I read this book, I would have gotten the story all wrong. I was in my early 20s when Wham! hit the charts and I was one of the many clubbers dancing to their music. I even have a very distinct memory of sitting at a bar with a friend and watching the video of ‘I Want Your Sex’ playing on a television in the corner. I would have guessed they were just two semi-musically literate, pretty boys from England that were discovered by some A&R person from a record company looking for the next big MTV hit. Not quite…

There was a sudden change in mood in the classroom. Conversations regarding Pan’s People, David Essex and those awkward summer kisses were shushed when our form tutor, Mrs. Parker, entered the room, trailed by a nervous-looking  boy. Dressed in a pristine, box-fresh school uniform, he wore a pair of oversized steel-framed specs. His hair, which looked like a dressing-up wig, appeared to have been made from coarse man-made fibre. And the pressure of facing down a room of new classmates had clearly shaken him.

This was Andrew Ridgeley’s first impression of an awkward and chubby, 13 year old Georgios Panayiotou (aka George Michael). On that day, he would volunteer to show the new kid around and meet his lifelong best friend. The two would become inseparable and later become Wham! despites George’s parents best efforts to keep the Andrew away because they felt he was a bad influence on their straight A son who they dreamed of going on to a university.

Brooke Shields The “Michael” Popstar Groupie (Jackson, George & Bolton) | FeelNumb.comThis book is Andrew Ridgeley’s story of his friendship George Michael and how they created Wham! He respectfully avoids any controversy about George’s sexuality, dating habits or history. He does disclose when George came out to him and his response. Andrew does reference George’s autobiography, Bare, a few times to clear up some varying points of view, but stays true to respecting George’s story and estate.

They were best friends until the end. And for that reason…

I rate this book, 4 out of 4 Beetles!

 

 

 

 

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Documentary Review – The Lost Weekend: A Love Story

The Lost Weekend A Love Story May Pang John LennonFriday night (June 10th) was the premiere of The Lost Weekend: A Love Story at the Tribeca Film Festival. The film is a documentary about the love affair between John Lennon and his (and Yoko Ono’s) 22 year old personal assistant – May Pang. The tickets to the online screening event sold out weeks in advance. If you didn’t get a chance to see it, I would recommend that you follow May Pang on Facebook, since she will be letting her followers know when the movie will be available to the public.

So…I’ve started, stopped, cut, pasted, typed and deleted this review several times over the past 24 hours. I’ve finally realized I need to be honest and just say what I need to say about this film. To whitewash any of the flaws would be dishonest. And let’s be honest here, no one is sitting around waiting for the Beatles Freak Review opinion of this documentary. That being said…

Every Beatle and Lennon fan should see this film. Yeah, it’s that good. If you’ve read May’s 1983 book – Loving John, even better because you’ll already know most of her story, but there will still be some surprises to be found in the film. But…you’re also going to find some things missing. Like Sid Bernstein.

Loving John May Pang 1983The film opens with a shaky clip of John Lennon from a home video…and I admit that my first thoughts was, “Oh, please don’t let the rest of the film be shaky!” Rest assured…it’s not. It’s filled with so many photos and videos of John, May, Yoko, Julian, Cynthia, Elton, Alice Cooper, etc. and some wonderful animation sequences inspired by John’s drawings.

The next thing you’re going to notice (if you know May or have heard her interviewed in the past), is that her heavy New York accent is toned down. I have to say, I was okay with that. What I didn’t care for was the way her narration some times came off as if she were reading directly from a script or times when her inflection/tone would go higher like a younger version of herself. I don’t think it added anything to the power of her story.

Instamatic Karma May Pang 2008So what did I love? As I said, I loved the animation…I loved the never ending pictures (a lot of which came from her book Instamatic Karma) and videos of her, John and Julian. And of course, I loved seeing Julian talking about his experiences growing up with May and his father.

And the most touching part…the tear that rolled down her cheek at the end. And for that reason…

 

I rate this film, 4 out of 4 Beetles!

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Book Review: “Take A Sad Song: The Emotional Currency of ‘Hey Jude'” by James Campion

This review is by Amy Hughes

Take A Sad Song Hey JudeIn the Beatles canon, there is one composition, one performance that stands up and takes notice of the world. Since 1968, that song has been ‘Hey Jude.’

Author James Campion elongates the timeline from then to now with Take A Sad Song: The Emotional Currency of “Hey Jude” (Backbeat Books, 2022). If one questions why this song has come to define how we feel – deeply – about ourselves and globally, each other, he details those passages to great effect and empathy.

Campion brings together several noted musicologists, journalists, and musicians whose love for and knowledge of The Beatles helps to describe the far-flung reasons and reactions that bind ‘Hey Jude’  to our collective DNA and the shared elements of the individual who miraculously brought it all together.

Paul McCartney’s childhood is well documented with the loss of his mother to cancer and the hardships that followed. The ensuing years saw the rise of The Beatles with not only their popularity as a band, but as songwriters, Lennon and McCartney ascended to the top of the charts with their catchy memorable tunes and distinctive sound.

But what really happened went far deeper. While the struggle to maintain a normal life was in fact an everyday occurrence for those involved, McCartney processed his soul into a song. As early-to-mid 1968 has shown, his personal life started to unravel: the trip to Rishikesh proved insightful but fractured his relationship with Lennon, and his longtime girlfriend Jane Asher broke off their engagement. What else could he do but pour all this into an elegy?

Campion’s book is not so much a studious laundry list of how ‘Hey Jude’ came to be and where it went. The uniqueness of the times, as many interviewees noted, demanded to be heard and then have it propelled forward. The mechanics of the composition are unmatchable. McCartney – as has been noted in a previous blog entry – was surrounded and imbibed with music. His mind was constantly spinning, never slowing down in absorbing breath and emotion coming from his environment. Whether he intended to construct what has become an epic, relatable anthem is only up for reflection by McCartney himself.

The frequently told and legendary story surrounding ‘Hey Jude’ is not hard to fathom: as Lennon became involved with Yoko Ono and left behind his wife Cynthia and young son Julian, McCartney traveled out to see them. During the car trip, the germination of the song came to him and while the conversation with Cynthia was lighthearted, he knew immediately the sense of loss and abandonment that was coming soon, especially for a boy whose circumstances mirrored his own.

Instead, the implied autobiographical details infused in ‘Hey Jude’ elicited personal empathy from Lennon. While also losing his mother months after McCartney’s mother’s passing, Lennon refused to live with the scenario that she was gone. Hence his blocked emotion at explicitly revealing this in song… until ‘Hey Jude.’ It was his comment to McCartney about leaving in the placeholder sentence ‘the movement you need is on your shoulder’ that gave his junior partner the confidence that this song was relatable to not only him… but anyone.

Two areas that are especially interesting are the recording of the song and the filming of the video. While noting that the band switched over to the then-new Trident Studios (with the intention of using their 8-track recording system), once completed and taken back to EMI Studios, the dissimilar operational logistics and control settings between the two seemed insurmountable. Campion explains those defeating circumstances and the fixes utilized by the team at EMI (including the brief return of engineer Geoff Emerick) to the great relief of everyone who had believed it was a lost cause.

With humor, the story behind the filming of the video is decidedly more intriguing. In fact, there are two filmings that Campion covers. The first was the rehearsals of the song at EMI. Filmed by the National Music Council of Great Britain for the documentary ‘Music!,’ this footage is notable for the fact of George Harrison’s presence in the control room with George Martin and Ken Scott. McCartney’s specific demands led to a spat and Harrison exited the studio below. The bassist’s attitude toward perfection was an open secret that would lead to further friction in the coming months.

Another surprising revelation (to this reviewer) was the Michael Lindsay-Hogg-directed version of ‘Hey Jude.’ As presented to the UK public, one surmised it was specifically done for exclusivity for David Frost – hence his introduction. However, Campion unearths the hysterical reasons why Frost shouldn’t have been there and then delves into the unspoken visual nuances of the performance, the band’s interaction with the invited audience, and the “cosmic kinship’ as described by Campion between Lennon and McCartney.

But what really drives this narrative along are the numerous observations from Campion’s interviewees and his own personal examination of the crucial four-plus minute coda. Initially, told that ‘it just wasn’t done,’ what does one think if you’re The Beatles? You go ahead – and do it.

Na… na… na… na na na na will in fact, become more than an ending to a long song. At the time, it is a rule-breaking, non-conformist leader that disrupts the leftover hippy-dippy AM sounds of summer and reaches out in a soul-searching, personal call-to-arms as 1968 explodes in domestic and worldwide chaos. Several scholars note that where McCartney succeeded was reaching back from childhood and leaning on the Christian hymn ‘Te Deum.’ And to add: a fourth-century canticle that he subconsciously meshed with The Drifters’ 1962 soulful ‘Save The Last Dance For Me’ (a Beatle favorite) is not an unreal possibility.

As Campion notes several times (and with the comments and remarks from his respondents), ‘Hey Jude’ is not just about Paul McCartney inheriting a character (one of his songwriting traits) and offering a manufactured tale. This was a Paul McCartney who passionately cared that this creation succeeds on the ‘everyman’ level: from a TV audience in 1968 to the countless world tours to young non-English speaking musicians such as Korean pop band BTS who when asked what their favorite Beatles song was, jumped up and began Na… na… na… na na na na.

The impact of ‘Hey Jude’ from a song to an event is incalculable. By definition or perhaps default, this milestone in music has come to define the personal and professional attainments one feels – whether it be a comforting lyric in a time of mourning or a place that thousands of artists aspire to reach every time they compose. Campion has fashioned a unique testament to the power of one song to countless individuals.

This book rates 4 out of 4 beetles.

 

 

 

 

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Book Review: “Shake it up, Beverley” by Suzan Holder

You know that beach book you’ve been looking for this summer? Well, I think I found it thanks to Roag Best and The Liverpool Beatles Museum!

Over the past week or so, Roag has been posting on Facebook about the first ever book to be launched held at the Beatles Museum in Liverpool. I don’t know why it took me a week to look it up on Amazon, but when I finally did, I immediately ordered myself the Kindle version of Shake it up, Beverley by Suzan Holder. It’s only $2.99 and I didn’t feel like waiting for the paperback edition that’s not deliverable until June 10th (not sure why that is).

I know I should be reading more non-fiction Beatles related books for this blog, put for the past week or so, I’ve really needed a distraction…something I could enjoy without having to actually think about it. It was then that the posts started popping up on Facebook about this book. I knew then that it was meant to be reviewed for my site.

What a fun, relaxing read this was! How could I not love a novel where the protagonist, Beverley Wilson, is a fifty-something year old, mother of three, like myself? I think every middle-aged, female Beatles fan will be able to relate to her mild-manner, ordinary, ‘careful’ life that gets turned upside down when she decides to re-enter the dating world after the death of her husband. Her kids are all grown…what could possibly go wrong?

One of the fantastic elements about this book is that the author mixed in so much Beatles history and plenty of the Fab Four’s Liverpool landmarks into the story, including the McCartney’s home in Speke. And no wonder the book launch party was held at The Liverpool Beatles Museum, when the main character not only visits the museum, but also spends an evening at the Casbah Coffee Club!

I read this book in less than 2 days and the only bad part about it was that it had to end. I thoroughly enjoyed Beverley Wilson’s exploits, adventures and mishaps. Just when you thought you figured out one mystery in this book another one pops up to keep you entertained throughout. And for that reason…

I rate this book, 4 out of 4 Beetles!

 

 

 

 

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Book Review: “Words, Music and the Popular: Global Perspectives on Intermedial Relations” Edited by Thomas Gurke and Susan Winnett

This review is written by Amy Hughes

Words, Music and the Popular: Global Perspectives on Intermedial Relations Edited by Thomas Gurke & Susan Winnett

Words, Music and the Popular: Global Perspectives on Intermedial Relations’ (Palgrave Studies in Music and Literature, 2021) is a collection of essays disseminating ‘the popular’ as it pertains to the environment surrounding words and music and how comparing and contrasting these studies contribute to our personal interactions within those disciplines.

Specifically, in the context of this review, the focus on popular forms and pop aesthetics is the essay “Which Side Is This Ex-Beatle On? A Reassessment of the 1970s Rock Press’ Framing, Interpretation, and Consideration of Paul McCartney and Wings” by Allison Bumsted, Ph.D.

Bumsted, as with many of the new generation of Beatles scholars, has stepped back in time with the explicit intention to re-examine an argumentative skewed mindset: how did the male-dominated music clique subjugate a performer with such overwhelming force that we have to nearly re-write history today?

More to the point, Bumsted has undertaken the collective of Wings’ releases (and of course, McCartney) with the corrective reconsideration and contextualization that present times offer and also with the advantage of the band’s re-releases in the past few years, now able to move the imbalance to a more equitable position.

Intriguingly, Bumsted speaks to the “belief system” that was inherent in most rock critics’ assessments from that time period. As male writers dominated the columns of reviews in music papers and magazines, the persistent bias of this select circle had a profound and lasting influence on the readership of that generation. With McCartney and Wings portrayed as “flaccid” and “impotent,” their terminology pulled no punches with this privileged position: Wings were nothing more than a lightweight pop band whose leader – once part of a band that changed music forever – was now reduced to a Muzak elevator charlatan.

No one genre such as rock had come to fruition so quickly thru the roots of the politically-charged, counter-culture campfire known as folk and protest music. After the amplification of Dylan and the emergence of songwriters as poets, rock music became the dominant definition of’ important’ while pop was buried in the pages of teen idol zines. Wings came along, as Bumsted points out, at a fortuitous moment in the ‘70s. But where would they land?

McCartney’s standing as the breaker-upper of The Beatles was not lost on the “hyper-masculine” rock press, as Bumsted states. Many encouraged a new McCartney musical venture (such as Wings) in a backhanded way, using The Beatles as their yardstick and John Lennon in particular as the one Beatle to emerge with something meaningful and challenging to say.

It wasn’t until 1973’s ‘Band On The Run’ that Wings as a musical entity drew critical notice and acceptance, despite the continued barrage of subjective opinions from critics up to and including the venerable truth-teller Lester Bangs, whom Bumsted uses in an examination of Wings in 1976 and in particular, the oft-told perspective of whether this was Paul (and Linda) McCartney with hired musicians or an imaginary, democratic gathering known as Wings.

Bumsted, in her detailed conclusion, notes many diametric aspects in accepting Wings within a pre-defined environment, driven by the rock press. While a significant portion of the public embraced the band wholeheartedly as ‘pop’ and acknowledged that time-worn analogy that The Beatles were his ‘old’ group, reviewers and critics did in some way want McCartney to succeed apart from his old bandmates. Contemporary viewpoints do not hold the same “social and political connotations” as Bumsted points out from that timeframe, and while those critiques can still sway a reader, Wings has evolved to a place within the popular.

This essay (and book) rate

4 out of 4 beetles.

 

 

 

 

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Book Review: “Yoko Ono: An Artful Life” by Donald Brackett

This review is by Amy Hughes

Yoko Ono: An Artful LifeYoko Ono. No two words in the world, past or present, can conjure up such a deep emotional response. No one else in the world of art, music, and literature can rev up enough words to fill a bag as she has always done.

Author Donald Brackett has bravely put together Yoko Ono: An Artful Life (Sutherland House, 2022) by turns refreshing and frustrating (like the subject herself). That the reader will be rewarded with a better understanding of this complex woman is again refreshing and frustrating.

Approaching with an unbiased mind is not its sole purpose. There are enough people on Team Ono in today’s society that will appreciate the balance of life Before Yoko and After Yoko, with regards to the Beatles.

Refreshing: a good first half. Brackett pulls together numerous outside sources – including Ono – to paint her as a rebellious-contained-by-society-privileged-free-thinker who was most certainly ahead of the times. While her father remained distant (physically and literally) with his banking business, Ono’s mother was cold and indifferent in her relationship with her daughter.

These circumstances and her transatlantic family uprooting due to World War II led to the bohemian lifestyle that became her trademark. Brackett’s unflinching narrative, interwoven with Ono’s quotes about these early years is harrowing and dramatic, speaking volumes about her upcoming travails.

New York City became her canvas in the early ‘60s, as she oscillated between a divorce, second marriage, giving birth to her daughter Kyoko and finally involvement in the city’s downtown experimental movement known as Fluxus. Here is where Brackett shines with descriptive and informative details regarding Ono as an outlier, pushing to be accepted by a male-dominated genre.

Her minimalist approach couched with survival instincts brought on by early childhood drama, flung her into a world she felt she had a driven purpose – but denied by the misogynistic environment and with few artistic choices left, she went to London.

Frustrating: second half. As has been written in the last fifty-plus years, the events that brought Ono and John Lennon together are interwoven with well-known stories and numerous anecdotes. Based on this narrative, the point brought home by Brackett is that being with Lennon was the worst thing that happened to Ono’s projected art career and musical endeavors.

The portrait of Ono is one of a domineering witch that ripped a generation’s voice away from the biggest cultural phenomenon of all time. With hindsight (and Brackett being fortunate to include observations from Peter Jackson’s ‘Get Back’), we can now see the role reversal: he needed her more than she needed him and her last recorded work with him – ‘Walking On Thin Ice’ – showed the eerieness of that future soundscape.

However, Lennon was such an undeniable presence that the book suffers in that context. As a reader, one is left to blip in and out of the next 5 decades, save for a few moments of Ono’s artistic leaps, post-1980. Focusing on the facts, figures, and accomplishments since Lennon’s murder can leave the reader wanting more. And that may be how Ono wants it.

Her greatest achievement by far has been her son Sean. And with the re-telling here of Lennon and Ono’s ‘housebound’ years, weighs heavily on the tone of the latter half of the story. As Sean gained a sense of identity and has recently begun representing his mother in business decisions, we may be seeing a shift to only the listings of Ono’s handiwork – sold-out gallery showings, the Imagine Peace Tower, her purchase of Menlove Ave, and donating it to the National Trust, Number One dance hits – in that he will be the gatekeeper of her legacy.

A casual fan of the Beatles may gain some knowledge of the dynamic yet still elusive Ono, especially in the first chapters up until the Lennon years. For that reason, I’ll give this book…

4 out of 4 beetles.

 

 

 

 

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Album Review: “Songs From the Green Couch” by Seth Swirsky

I got an email from Seth Swirsky‘s people asking if I’d be interested in reviewing his latest album – Songs From the Green Couch. For those who have been reading my blog for awhile, you may remember me reviewing his book – 21 Ways to a Happier Depression in 2018 and his album Now It’s All This by The Red Button in 2017. For those who don’t following along, Seth wrote the Grammy nominated song “Tell it to My Heart” for Taylor Dane. He is also a painter, so he’s quite the talented fellow!

There’s no denying Seth Swirsky’s talent for writing great songs with nostalgic melodies. Songs from the Green Couch will invoke memories of tunes from the 50s through modern day. You can hear the Beatles influence in several songs. Cashmere Sweaters is a beautiful (though a bit corny) song with an undeniable Beatles imprint. What Was I Thinking feels very McCartney/Wings-ish, and Dead has that dark John Lennon feel to it.

If you’re a fan of The Monkees, you’ll probably dig the first track – Sunny Day. And for the 70s soft rock fans there is the sweet sound of Every Time…that reminded me of Gilbert O’Sullivan.

Don’t let the early rock influences fool you…this is a great 15 original song album for putting on shuffle to mellow out with it’s really sweet love song – You Kind of Mood or what I like to call Seth’s laundry list of chores – New Painting! And then there is the power pop song I Don’t Wanna Lose You

I rate this album, 4 out of 4 Beetles!

 

 

 

 

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Book Review: “Fab4 Mania: A Beatles obsession and the concert of a lifetime” by Carol Tyler

Fab4 Mania Carol TylerAnother Amazon suggested book that I bought back in February is Fab4 Mania: A Beatles obsession and the concert of a lifetime (Fantagraphics Books, 2018) by Carol Tyler. Don’t know why it took me so long to read…are my readers as tired of my excuses as I am of making them? 😉

It almost seems to go without saying that one of the major trends in Beatles books over the last decade is for mostly women to write their memoirs about their love for the Fab Four. A Date with a Beatle by Judith Kristen, Confessions of a Beatlemaniac by Dee Elias, Diary of a Beatlemaniac by Patricia Gallo-Steadman, Do You Want to Know a Secret by Pat Mancuso, and My Ticket to Ride by Janice Mitchell are just a few of the books that have passed over my desk or been reviewed here on this blog.

And that’s just fine with me…keep them coming!

So what makes Fab4 Mania any different than the rest? Why should you want to read another teenage diary obsessing over John, Paul, George and Ringo? Well…for one reason, it’s filled with fabulous drawings and artwork by the author herself, Carol Tyler, who grew up to be a well known cartoonist. Carol’s work has graced the pages of such publications as: Weirdo, Wimmen’s Comix, Street Music, Zero Zero, Mineshaft Magazine, Prime Cuts, LA Weekly, Drawn & Quarterly, and Tower Records’ Pulse!

Like most memoirs by Beatles fans, Carol’s story comes straight from the pages of the diaries she kept as a teenage girl. The pages are fill with her bubbly stories of her friends and love for the Beatles, and also, teenage angst at the antics of her parents, siblings and teachers. The whole story culminates to her finally attending her first Beatles concert! The whole book is just wonderfully fun! And for that reason…

I rate this book, 4 out of 4 Beetles!

 

 

 

 

 

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