Book Review: “Master of Ceremonies: A Memoir” by Joel Grey

While in Philadelphia last week, I dropped into a small independently owned book store to see if I could find anything new and exciting to review for my blog this week. I spied an autographed copy of Master of Ceremonies: A Memoir by Joel Grey and being a sucker for the movie Cabaret, I just crossed by fingers and prayed that I’d find the word “Beatles” in it, or find a way to tie his story to the Fab Four.

Born Joel David Katz in 1932 in Cleveland, OH, Joel Grey knew from a very young age that he wanted to be a theater actor. His father, Micky Katz, was a musician and comedian and his mother was a stage mom! Joel also realized by the age of nine that he was attracted to men, and like Brian Epstein, he would go to great lengths to hide his sexuality. Joel even went to far as to live out his lifelong dream of getting married to a woman and raising a family, all the while having homosexual affairs that, well…he didn’t consider them as affairs. He married Jo Wilder in a friend’s apartment at the Dakota in New York City in 1958. Together they had two children – Jennifer Grey, of Dirty Dancing fame and an adopted son James.

I couldn’t put this book down and if my eyelids would have allowed, I would have finished it within 24 hours of picking it up. Joel tells his story with such honesty that at times I almost felt like a voyeur sneaking peeks into his private life. He talks openly about his marriage, but will leave his readers with an uneasy feeling of, “Do you hear what you’re saying, Joel?”, when he talks about talking care of his wife and family as they lived off HIS fame. There is one rough part in Chapter 8 where he contradicts a couple early statements, but other than that, the book was amazing. I’m so glad I picked it up…

More recently, Joel Grey has taken up photography.  You can see his work on his website: http://www.joelgreyphotographer.com.

I rate this book, 3 out of 4 Beetles!

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Book Review: “The Autobiography of Donovan: The Hurdy Gurdy Man” by Donovan Leitch

Last week, while I was returning my book about Franz Liszt to the local library, I spotted The Autobiography of Donovan: The Hurdy Gurdy Man (2005) by Donovan Leitch on the shelf. Having heard how much so many other Beatles freaks liked his music, I said to my husband, “I’ll give it a shot.”

Donovan Phillips Leitch was born May 10, 1946 in Scotland. He shot to fame in 1965 at the tender age of 19 and is probably best known for his hit single “Mellow Yellow”. By the time he was 24, he dropped out of the music scene all together.

 

 

After getting about halfway through this far out and psychedelic tour of Donovan’s life and his encounters with The Beatles, Rolling Stone, The Who, Dylan, Hendrix, etc., I decided it would be best if I took a new approach to writing this review as compared to my past ones. I’m going to let you, my readers, be the judge.

Here are several quotes from Donovan in this book:

  • Page 88: Talking about being in a suite with Alan Price (The Animals keyboardist) and Dylan – “He (Alan) comments directly to Bob on the Donovan-Dylan comparison. ‘He’s not a fake [Donovan], and he plays better than you.’ Alan was right. My guess is Bobbie would accept that.”
  • Page 98: Talking about other folksingers – “I was the only other big solo success apart from Dylan. His lyrics are without equal in all of popular music, but I think musically I am more creative and influential. I was dynamic, obsessed with developing pop style, creating new combinations, mantras for a questing youth.”
  • Page 102: On this page, Donovan blesses his readers with an entire list of every famous band/artist that has covered his songs.
  • Page 141: Talking of his first use of the drug mescaline – “The trip with mescaline is softer than LSD. Ever so slowly the Paradise appeared before me. I was in the Garden of Eden – no, I was the Garden.”
  • Page 153: When Paul McCartney paid Donovan a visit – “Another song he sang to me was a little ditty with a chorus about a yellow submarine. He was missing a verse for the tune and asked me to get one in there. So I said, give me minute, and left the room. What I came back with was not world-shattering, but he liked it. ‘Sky of blue and sea of green/in our yellow submarine… – Donovan Leitch'”
  • Page 153: Mickie Most was Donovan’s producer – “Mickie Most later said that the music we made in late 1965 and 1966 influenced the Beatles to experiment more adventurously on Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. This may well be. I also stirred the Celtic cauldron and encouraged Led Zeppelin to express himself with images and sounds from our Celto-European roots.”
  • Page 165: Talking about two women that moved into an apartment with him and his friend – “Not that we didn’t love the “little darlings.” How could we not, as they floated in and out of bedrooms and bathroom in no more than a top and panties – bath time would never be the same. Not that we didn’t like the variety of meals that were prepared for us…”

At this point in my reading I was just about halfway through the book and that’s when I started to really think to myself – is this guy for real? He’s nothing more than a misogynist with a Napoleon complex! But his incessant bragging and demeaning of women didn’t end there…I forced myself to read on and finish the book.

  • Page 210: While at the ashram of the Maharishi in India with the Beatles, and after teaching John Lennon a new way of finger-picking on guitar – “In this way John began to write in a whole new way, composing “Dear Prudence” and “Julia” in no time flat. John asked me for some help with the lyrics of “Julia,” a song for his lost mother and the childhood he’d never had.”
  • Page 213: While hanging out with Paul Horn in India – “Paul Horn went on to record an album in both the Taj Mahal and the Great Pyramid of Giza. Between the two of us, we probably invented what is loosely called “New Age Music,” music that induces a meditative state.”
  • Page 219: Describing a recording session for his album Hurdy Gurdy Man on which Jimmy Page, John Paul Jones and John Bonham all played on – “Layers of guitar were added by Page and Hollsworth, and a new kind of metal folk was created. The term metal had not been coined for music yet, but perhaps Jimmy Page, John Paul Jones and John Bonham were inspired by this session to form Led Zeppelin.”
  • Page 239: In 1968 (after Beatlemania was well underway) – “As I toured I endeavored to improve sound and lights production as well as protect the fans from their own excitement, pointing the way to today’s standards.”

Now, seriously readers…is it just me or does Donovan Leitch think very highly of himself? And apparently there was a glitch in the matrix in the 60’s because at two separate concerts at the Hollywood Bowl, a cop tackled a young girl and fell into the lake drawing laughter from the audience. Twice, Donovan made love to his girlfriend Enid for the very last time.

All I can say is…thank god for Donovan Leitch! Without him, the Beatles, Led Zeppelin, Flower Power, metal and new age music would have never become popular! I wouldn’t be at all surprise if Donovan showed Al Gore how to invent the internet too! And for that reason,…

I rate this book, 1 out of 4 Beetles!

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Almost forgot to mention…the winner of the $5 Amazon gift card from last week’s contest is: Linda Sherman!

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Lisztomania vs. Beatlemania

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It’s the battle of all battles…the 19th century vs. the 20th century! It’s Franz Liszt vs. The Beatles! It’s Lisztomania vs. Beatlemania. Who drove more women to fits of passion? Who wore their hair longer? Who caused the biggest mob scene? Well, the truth of the matter is they both did and the similarities are remarkable…

Lisztomania – coined on April 25, 1844 by journalist Heinrich Heine in an article he wrote about the upcoming concert season in Paris. It was actually considered a medical condition!

Beatlemania – the term was coined on October 21, 1963 for a feature story by Vincent Mulchrone in The Daily Mail with the headline “This Beatlemania”.

  • Franz_Liszt_by_Herman_Biow-_1843Franz Liszt was born in Hungary on October 22, 1811, a century before the Beatles were even born.  By age 9, he was said to be a child prodigy. His father withdrew him from school and set out to find the best piano teachers in Europe to take his son as their student. In 1822, at 11 years old, Liszt gave his first public concert in Vienna.  His performance was awarded with a kiss on the forehead by Ludwig Von Beethoven.

  • The Beatles were not quite as young as Liszt when they got their start.  The original Fab Four, as they joined the band, were teenagers when they started out.  John Lennon was 16 when he created his band The Quarrymen in Liverpool, John met Paul in July 1957 when Paul was 15 and George Harrison joined the band in a year later after having just turned 15.
  • The American music critic, James Huneker has been quoted as  in the 1880’s saying that he could inspect the chairs after a Liszt concert and be able to tell where the women sat!
  • Comparatively, in 1963, The Beatles concert in the town of Kingston upon Hull, the manger of the Regal theater was quoted as saying, “they’d cleared away 40 pairs of abandoned knickers at the cinema” after the show.
  • Franz Liszt was one of the first famed musicians to wear his hair longer than was considered acceptable in the mid-1800’s.  It was customary during his time for composers/musicians such as Bach, Beethoven and Mozart to wear wigs. Instead, Liszt just wore his natural blond hair at shoulder length.  This didn’t go unnoticed by the press at the time, with such quotes as “But what struck the Russians most was his great mane of blond hair, reaching almost down to his shoulders.  No Russian would have dared to wear his hair in such a style…” by composer Vladimir Stasov, and The Musical World wrote in 1867 – “Even the unmistakably grizzling, though still thick, long flowing hair, which the scissors of the Tonsure have not dared to touch, detract but little from the heart-entrancing charm of his unusual individuality”  in the Musical Opinion & Music Trade Review (April 1, 1886) “...His head is crowned by exceptionally luxuriant, long gray hairs, now well nigh white.” In 2011, on Liszt’s 200th birthday, the Toronto Star described Franz Liszt as “…a dashing Hungarian pianist with long, flowing hair who could make his audiences swoon before he had played a single note.”
  • Though The Beatles’ long hair was never questioned in Europe, during their first American press conference in the U.S. at JFK airport, the Beatles were asked five questions concerning their long hair: “Does all that hair help you sing?”, “You feel like Sampson? If you lost your hair, you’d lose what you have? ‘It’?”, “How many of you are bald, that you have to wear those wigs?”, “Aren’t you afraid of what the American Barbers Association is going to think of you?”, and “Listen, I got a question here. Are you going to get a haircut at all while you’re here?” The gained the nickname MopTops and Beatles wigs were soon on the shelves for all the fans that wanted to look like them.
  • Liszt’s valet, Spiridion, is rumored to have sold the hairs he combed from his master’s head to female admirers.
  • The Beatles fan club secretary, Freda Kelly, mailed locks of the Fab Four’s hair clippings to fans that would make such a request.
  • On January 4, 1840, after performing at the National Theatre in Pest, Hungary, Liszt exited the venue and found a crowd of young fans with flaming torches filling  the square and shouting “Eljen! Eljen!” (Hurrah! Hurrah!).  After sitting in his horse-drawn coach for several minutes, but unable to move through the crowd, Franz said, “I can’t stand this any longer.  Let’s get out and stop behaving like aristocrats in our coach!” He then walked among his fans to his hotel, but they would not disperse until well after midnight after he had appeared twice on his balcony.limo
  • Due to the crushing mobs of fans, The Beatles rarely ever exited their limousines without large amounts of security, as seen here in 1964 at the Futurist Theatre in Scarborough, UK.
  • Franz Liszt’s fan collected his half-smoked cigar butts and one fan was even to have said to have worn one in a small locket around her neck. Another Lisztomaniac excitedly picked up and proceeded to finish smoking a still burning cigar butt that Liszt had thrown to the ground, wallowing in every puff. At another recital, “When he asked for a glass of water and put it down without draining it, the delirious beauties in the hall rushed forward at the end of the recital, picked up the glass and pressed it to their lips so as to quell their passion by taking a sip of the water he had left.”
  • Beatles fans clamored to clippings from the shirts of the Fab Four that they gave to Freda Kelly to distribute to fan club members. They also collected clippings from the hotel bed linens that JPGR had slept upon while touring.
  • Liszt was quite the rebel in his day when it came to playing and composing music. He refused to follow the rules and customs of the time when it came to writing and performing. At one performance, he said, they needed to bring in a second and third piano because his raucous playing would quickly cause the pianos to go out of tune.
  • When George Martin first took on the job as the producer for the Beatles, he was astonished at their technique when it came to playing and creating their sound. Because none of them were formally trained in music, they developed new and unheard of styles of creating the sound they wanted. At first, Martin wanted to correct them, but he soon realized that it was their lack of musical education that made them so unique.
  • Liszt fan’s wore cameos with his portrait. After one concert, he bragged that 50 portraits of himself had been sold in 24 hours!
  • Beatles fans wore “I Love The Beatles” buttons and no one can ever imagine how many pictures of the Beatles have been sold.
  • In June 1863, Liszt moved into the monastery of Madonna del Rosario at Monte Mario. The Vatican took advantage of having a celebrity living among them and frequently asked Franz to play charity concerts to raise money for their various events.
  • In February 1968, the Fab Four went to Rishikesh, India, to study  Transcendental Meditation  at the ashram of Maharishi Mahesh Yogi.  They were soon to find out that the Yogi wanted 25% of their next album’s profits to be tithed into his Swiss bank account.

So there you have it, a few of the many of the similarities of a 19th century classical composer and that of the greatest rock band of the 20th century. Can anyone say who had a greater impact on their fans? Given the limited media available to Franz Liszt (no TV or radio), he did quite well making the women of Europe swoon at the very mention of his name.  And the very mention of the Beatles or the showing or their image, can still make both young and older women’s hearts beat a little faster.

I’m going to call this contest a draw! Both are winners…

And speaking of winners, if you’ve made it this far, leave a comment in this post and you’ll be entered to win a $5 Amazon gift card! The winner will be announced in my next blog post on July 17th.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Exhibit Review: “The Sixties: The Age of Aquarius” at West Chester Historical Society, West Chester, PA

WP_20160702_019[1]Currently running at my local historical society is an exhibit called The Sixties: The Age of Aquarius in Chester County. This exhibit opened in November 2015 and will run through August 27, 2016.

Don’t be fooled by the name of this exhibit, it stretches well beyond just Chester County and is a feast for the eyes and mind of any 60’s enthusiast! This small, but powerful exhibit is filled with pictures, fashions and all types of memorabilia from the decade that was a turning point for so many of us and continues to influence generation after generation.

From their website:

This installation will include fashion, civil rights, computers and business equipment, women’s rights, music, helicopters, the Viet Nam War, and historic preservation.  For some, life was a struggle to move beyond the status quo.  Opportunity was not always equal. For others, life was good and getting better.

 

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If you can’t make it out to Chester County, PA, local gal-pal Mod Betty (aka Beth Lennon (no relation to John)), of Retro Roadmap fame, was interviewed by WHYY-TV (PBS) in Philadelphia while touring the exhibit! Check it out: The Age of Aquarius in Chester County

If your inner hippie feels inclined to visit Chester County, PA or suburban Philadelphia this summer, this is a must see exhibit in the heart of West Chester.  And for that reason…

I rate this exhibit, 4 out of 4 Beetles!

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Movie Review: “Lisztomania” (1975)

Several months ago, I went to a lecture that compared the Beatles to classical composer Franz Liszt.  It would seem that Mr. Liszt (b. 1811 – d. 1886) was the rock star of his day!  In April 1844, while reviewing the European music scene that season, writer Heinrich Heine coined the term ‘Lisztomania‘ to describe the frenzy and fainting that occurred when Liszt performed.

I’ve always enjoyed the music of Franz Liszt and you’ve probably heard it yourself.  Here is a video of Liebestraum:

Or, if you prefer, here is a video of Bugs Bunny playing Liszt’s Hungarian Rhapsody:

Lisztomania, was written and directed by Ken Russell, the same guy who had already directed The Who’s classic – Tommy.  The posters for Lisztomania even promoted this movies as ‘Tommy’s Tommy‘!  Unfortunately, even with Roger Daltrey as the star in this film too, this movie doesn’t even come close to the genius of Tommy and makes one think that Russell should have quit while he was ahead.  Even Ringo Starr, who plays the part of The Pope and who had been praised for many of his previous acting roles is mediocre at best.

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Both the acting and the music in this film are terrible.  The only redeeming quality is seeing a naked, young Roger Daltrey!  I can also say that all of Liszt’s women/lovers in the film actually existed in real life and that his daughter really married composer Richard Wagner.  But where Ken Russell came up with idea to put Nazis and Hitler in the film…I’ll never understand.  And for that reason…

I rate this movie, 1 out of 4 Beetles!

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I rate Roger Daltrey’s naked boday, 4 out of 4 Beetles!

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Book Review: “John Lennon: In My Life” by Pete Shotton

John Lennon: In My Life was written by John Lennon‘s childhood friend and original Quarrymen member Pete Shotton.  They met in 1946, when they were the tender age of 6 years old while John was living at his Aunt Mimi and Uncle George’s.  John and Pete would remain closed friends and confidants up until John’s death in 1980.  And anyone that knows anything about John Lennon, knows that long relationships of any kind were something very rare for Lennon, making this story unusual.

 

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From the get go, the team of Shotton and Lennon (or as John would call them Shennon and Lotton) spelled mayhem wherever they went.  Two young boys with very strong personalities, blood brothers, came together, both encouraging each other antics…they were to keep both their parents and teachers on their toes.  Throughout their early years in Liverpool, both would be blamed for leading the other astray, all the while, pushing the limits and laughing their way through their childhood and teenage years.

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I loved the honesty in this book.  Pete tells all the wildest and craziest stories from his and John’s days growing up in Liverpool.  Anyone that wants to know the very dirtiest of details about John, needs to own a copy.  This isn’t to say that the book is without it’s problems, especially when Pete seems to take exception to John’s dad and Cynthia’s mom both being supported by John.  I do believe this is what is widely known as the pot calling the kettle black and any good Beatles fans could tell you that the whole staff (which included Pete Shotton) at Apple Corps in 1968 were living the ‘high’ life off of John, Paul, George and Ringo!  Then again, the team of Shennon and Lotton were never known for the respect of parents or authority figures.

Kudos to Pete for telling the world when John whacked off for the first time and for telling us what John said REALLY happened in Spain with Brian!  And for that reason…

I rate this book, 3 out of 4 Beatles!

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You can purchase a used paperback copy of In My Life for under $10 on Amazon or Half.com.

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Concert Review: James McCartney at World Cafè Live in Wilmington, DE

JamesMcCartney June 10 2016 World Cafe Live WilimingtonLast Friday, June 10th, my husband (CigarCraig) and I made our way down to Wilmington, DE to see James McCartney perform at the World Cafè Live at the Queen.  This was our second time seeing James live at this venue and we were really looking forward to this show after being so impressed the first time!  He’s touring in support of his new album, The Blackberry Train.

Let me preface this review by saying that my initial plan was to review this show for my usual Sunday review post earlier this week, but I had to go with a book review instead because I couldn’t decide whether or not I really wanted to voice my opinion on this show or not.  James McCartney fans…you’ve been warned!

This venue is a cafè/restaurant that accommodates 100 seated or 200 standing patrons.  From the looks of it, I don’t believe it was even half full with seated patrons.  And, wanting to know if he was just having an off night, the next day, I  looked into seeing James perform again  at The Saint  in Asbury Park and there were still tickets available for that show at a venue that holds 175 patrons. I decided not to go…IMG_3252

James was running late, so the opening act was delayed 30 minutes.  Not a problem, as most people were still enjoying their dinners and it’s most annoying to have to deal with wait staff while trying to watch a show.  When James finally appeared, he seemed rushed, as one might assume, as he hurried about the stage setting up his own amp, pedals and 3 guitars.  Kudos to him for doing this.  One would think that the son of one of the most recognizable and riches men on earth would insist on a road crew.

About 2-3 songs into the show, I took a piece of paper and a pen out of my purse and wrote, “He’s phoning this in!” on a note to my husband.  In his usual stoic manner, James seemed to rush through each song as he read his playlist off the back of his CD!  Honestly, the guitars were too loud and overpowering for his vocals (yet he asked the guy as the sound board several times to turn up the monitors, mic and reverb).  I just couldn’t understand why he was giving such a disappointing performance.  My answer came by way of a friend after the show when she said, “I think this is therapy for him.”  With this, I decided to hold off on my judgment of this show until after listening to the new CD.

James and Me June 10 2016 WCL WilmingtonThe CD turned out to be so much better than the live performance.  As was stated by my friend, it seems to be James’ way of dealing with his demons, as there are at least 3 or more drug references that I heard in the songs.  Still, the songs are good and I did let it spin three times on the CD player in my car before finally putting it away.

But this brings up the question: Does an artist dealing with his own personal issues need to be given a pass on a bad performance?  After finishing his last song, there was no encore…he just threw on his backpack and left the stage, only to return a couple minutes later and say he had CDs and t-shirts for sale.  I asked if he would be staying in town for the night or going on to Asbury Park.  He said he was staying and I said, “Wilmington’s not very exciting, you’d have a better time in Asbury Park.”  His response was a very serious, “Do I not look excited?”  Uh…then my husband took the picture.  Does he look excited to you?

And for that reason…

I give this concert: 1 out of 4 Beetles!

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