Guest Book Review: “Fab Fools” by Jem Roberts

Thank you Amy McGrath Hughes for taking the time to write another fine book review…

———————————————-

Fab Fools by Jem RobertsThis book is available to pre-order and will be released April 29, 2021.

Right off the top, let me remind everyone that the Beatles were British. From the north of England. With a very different sense of humor.

Plunging into the long-awaited Fab Fools (Candy Jar Books, 2020), I was immediately struck with what can only be described as a ‘new’ take on The Beatles. The term ‘comedians’ doesn’t pop up with regularity when describing their contribution to entertainment, but that is precisely what author Jem Roberts intends to rectify. And I must say, he’s done a very convincing job.

But let me backtrack a bit here: there is a lot of story to cover when going thru the history of The Beatles (hello, Mark Lewisohn). What Roberts has undertaken is an entirely different approach: within the context of their lives, he has placed the band in line with numerous examples (in studious detail) of how their wit and witticisms served them not only during the early years of moptop giddiness and awkward ‘comic’ appearances but gave them a voice – collective and solo – in shaping their character, their travels and their ability to find the silliness in almost every conceivable situation.

(I want to briefly interject that what is referenced in this granular study is heavily reliant on understanding British humor and British comic ancestry. While a casual Beatle fan may know names such as Peter Sellers and Dudley Moore, a more thoroughly invested fan will no doubt appreciate the intricacies of English show biz as Roberts gives over to the voices that shaped ‘Beyond The Fringe,’ the Temperance Seven and the very early noises of members of Monty Python.)

Roberts’ right reading of their producer George Martin (who had his pulse on British comedy long before he began his tenure with The Beatles) is another eye-opener for those only familiar with his steadfast, laidback approach and laconic observations. His ability to not only see the group from a musical perspective but be able to stand back and appreciate their shared humor (see numerous outtakes from any session at EMI Studios), was of course solidified for history when George Harrison responded with the legendary “Well for a start, I don’t like your tie,” in answer to Martin asking if there was anything they didn’t like at their very first recording session.

One must also recall from this far in the future that The Beatles were breaking new ground. As has been said many times, they were making it up as they went along and for the most part, their in-jokes become part of their DNA repartee. One of the first large scale exhibitions (and here we’re treading into the quicksand of 21st century PC-ness) was John Lennon’s ‘cripple’ impersonations. I’m fairly certain that anyone who has seen his claw-hands, tongue-pushing-out-bottom-lip, flailing foot-stomping renditions from the stage (and a few skewered passages from ‘In His Own Write’) knows exactly what I’m talking about. While there is no fair excuse today, suffice to say this was what humor was about back then and farther back to his childhood. And it did indeed become shouted shorthand when they wanted any loathsome individual out of their dressing rooms during the height of Beatlemania: “Crips, Mal!”

If you’re asking how deep can Roberts go and in what direction did comedy take them: the answers are numerous. He ruminates on everything from the band’s early Morecambe & Wise UK appearances, to winning over ‘serious’ journalists in the burgeoning London newspaper scene known as ‘music reporting,’ to ‘Big Night Out,’ ‘Juke Box Jury’ and of course (for those in the know) the king of Scouse humor, Ken Dodd.

As The Beatles moved on to the world at large, so did their witty style in winning over… everybody outside Britain. The JFK press conference, the multi-year Christmas flexi-disc for fan club members, more press conferences and then – ultimately – the highest tribute: a Saturday morning cartoon. Detested (and protested), this indignation to their respective images actually helped launch one of the best-known pieces of (apparent) Liverpool humor: 1968’s ‘Yellow Submarine.’

While not an outright obvious, ‘Yellow Submarine’’s dialogue was brought more into the forefront of in-jokes and Scouse dialect by The Scaffold’s Roger McGough. Being a native Liverpudlian (and 1/3 of the heralded comedy troop with John Gorman and Paul’s brother Mike), the film – with its tale of The Beatles thwarting Blue Meanies in their travels to Pepperland – was filled with the uncredited contributions of McGough, including the oft-used rhyme-y “de do doe don’t de doe?” The Beatles themselves however only appeared in a slightly stilted live epilogue, though none the worse for wear.

While there are several avenues that branch off into the solo years, a large portion of the book has Roberts espousing on the birth of Monty Python – via ‘Magical Mystery Tour’ – and into the 70s with the ultimate tribute/pastiche – The Rutles.

The brainchild of Python’s Eric Idle, the real and long-lasting prankster was ad hoc Python Neil Innes. Innes supplied the music to Idle’s first scripted shorts for the faux group known as the ‘Pre-Fab Four.’ What began as a rudimentary trip down memory lane with a few ‘laffs’ and spot-on impersonations, grew once Idle expanded his vision and Innes formed a band to make the mockumentary what it has become today: a not-serious/hysterical/musical/legendarily quotable/believable/alternate world known as The Rutles. After the 1978 film ‘All You Need Is Cash’ (which tanked in the US despite the inclusion of several ‘Saturday Night Live’ cast members and the heavily disguised cameo of George Harrison), The Rutles took on a life of its’ own. Suffice to say, if you believed in a Beatles afterlife, Innes was your crossing guard into that world. Sadly, he passed in December 2019.

As the book moves to its conclusion (with fascinating passages ranging from Starr’s Mr. Conductor persona in ‘Shining Time Station’ to McCartney’s ill-advised foray into film via ‘Give My Regards To Broad Street,’ Harrison’s work in HandMade Films and Lennon’s last few interviews talking up ‘Fawlty Towers’), The Beatles and the people and industry they inspired along the way is nothing short of fascinating. The education one can absorb from Roberts’ tome and lyrical style of writing is reader-worthy.

For everything above and more, I give this book 4 out of 4 beetles!

 

 

 

 

1 Comment

Filed under Book Review, Guest Review

Book Review: “After Abbey Road: The Solo Hits of The Beatles” by Gary Fearon

I’ve been a little slow these days in getting my books reviewed. Once again, it’s not because I’m not reading. It’s just that I’m mixing in Beatles books with other books as you may have noticed from my last several posts.

I bought this book a little over a month ago and it’s been sitting on the stack of books next to the couch waiting for me to post my praises of it to my audience. Well, today is the day…

After Abbey Road: The Solo Hits of The Beatles by Gary Fearon was published on May 18, 2020. It’s a 240 page reference guide to all the hit songs that were released by the individual members of the Beatles after their breakup in 1970. There are a couple songs that predate the break-up, but you get the gist. There are 220 songs in all up until the November 2019 release of In A Hurry by Paul McCartney.

There are several things I really love about this book. The first being that Fearon lists all the songs in the table of contents in the front of the book. The second thing I love about this book is that the song titles are in chronological order according to their date of release. And last, but not least, is that Fearon is very brief but concise about the history and meaning of each song limiting them to one page that includes: title, which Beatles recorded it, written by, recording date, release date and title of the album it appeared on. Also listed at the bottom of each page are the other musicians who played on the song.

This isn’t a book that you would sit down to read cover to cover (unless you’re caught in lockdown during a pandemic), but it is a great reference book that I think every true Beatles fan should have on their shelf! And for that reason…

I rate this book, 4 out of 4 Beetles!

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Beatles books, Book Review

NEW! I Saw The Beatles – Episode 29 with guest Richard Adler 

Welcome back to Episode 29 of I Saw The Beatles! This week’s special guest is Richard Adler who had the pleasure of his first concert experience being that of seeing the Beatles perform at Carnegie Hall! But that wasn’t all…he went on to see them 3 more times!

Source: I Saw The Beatles – Episode 29 with Richard Adler 03/29 by I Saw The Beatles | Pop Culture

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Guest Book Review: “Joy and Fear: The Beatles, Chicago and The 1960s” by John F. Lyons

Joy and Fear The Beatles Chicago The 1960s John F Lyons

This guest review was written by Amy Hughs.

As a die-hard Beatles fan, I know pretty much a ton of their backstory on a global scale. What I appreciated about author John F. Lyons’ newly published ‘Joy and Fear: The Beatles, Chicago and the 1960s’ (Permuted Press, 2021) were the personal reminiscences of those in the Chicagoland area during the time period they played there in 1964, ’65 and ’66.

While there is a good deal of time spent analyzing their impact on culture and the media across the globe, the more insightful passages are those that detail the incidents and people that surrounded the band’s performances. On September 5, 1964, they played the International Amphitheater to a screaming throng of 15,000. From Lyons’ colorful descriptions of their landing at Midway Airport, driving to the Sahara Inn at O’Hara, their standard set amidst the chaos and their immediate departure thereafter, one would believe that the band was not a welcome sight for those in charge. And to a large degree, that was the truth. Chicago and it’s staunch Midwest Christian beliefs, coupled with an older political generation – held in check by the legendary Mayor Richard J. Daley – kept The Beatles at arms’ length. So far at length that Lyons’ recollections via newspaper and media outlets’ reviews seemed confusingly hostile in hindsight.

Lyons goes on to accurately portray that all-too-real generational gap between teens and their elders. He does pepper throughout various chapters revelatory passages on the negative atmosphere in Chicago towards The Beatles. The joyous occasions that one perceives today in regards to the band’s receptions in the US is juxtaposed with hardline beliefs that The Beatles were to be viewed with disdain and be shown the door as quickly as they entered. Surprisingly, a good portion of these chapters reflect the audience that they were targeting: young females who were the objects of their affection.

1965 was by all Beatle-related accounts, a repeat of the previous year. Live performances for the US tour were scaled back in scope, however Chicago was fortunate to host them again, this time at a much larger outdoor venue – White Sox Park – with 2 shows and a combined audience of 62,000. One of the more amusing and detailed accounts in Lyons’ book are the reminisces of the support acts for the tour, including dancer Denise Mourges (who was part of the Discotheque Dancers with the King Curtis Band) and Sounds Incorporated’s Alan Holmes. However once again the prevalent attitudes – despite accounts of Beatlemania being at fever pitch – were now slipping south.

Although the ‘scene’ was in their favor (and city officials and promoters had gotten hipper in allowing the local DJs from WLS radio to be emcees), the prevailing attitude of negativity continued to spiral downward. However prior to the coverage of the 1966 tour, Lyons does spend a good deal of time focused on the Chicagoland groups that were making names for themselves locally: the New Colony Six, the Shadows of Knight, the Amboy Dukes, the Buckinghams, and all-girl groups including Daughters of Eve and Marie Antoinette & The Cool Heads.

1966 brings The Beatles back to the US and the start of their tour in Chicago. But prior to their August 11 arrival, Lennon’s out-of-context remarks on the group’s popularity eclipsing Jesus Christ had taken hold of media outlets. Chicago became the epicenter of the firestorm, with Lennon (in tears before the press conference) apologizing in every form possible to the assembled gathering at the Astor Tower Hotel. The Chicago press were going for blood, found it and trumpeted it. The numbers only proved in lax ticket sales that their time and popularity were waning, despite the two show outings back at the International Amphitheater. As Lyons writes, the last visit left a mixed impression, mostly conjuring up images of the stockyards, hotels and cars and as George Harrison noted “race riots.”

Whether Harrison’s view was accurate, Chicago’s atmosphere was becoming more politically charged. While Lyons goes on to analyze The Beatles’ influence with the release of ‘Sgt. Pepper,’ it’s worth observing that the group’s influence still had a global stronghold, pop culture-wise, as noted in Chicago with the start-up counterculture newspaper The Seed. Lyons devotes several pages to other timely subjects: free love, drugs, psychedelia and then as 1968 comes into play, transcendental meditation and the arrival of Yoko Ono.

The decline of their popularity thru the remainder of the late sixties (with the assassinations of both Martin Luther King, Jr. and Robert Kennedy), the Manson murders and of course for this book, the Democratic National Convention is recalled vividly with anecdotes from Chicagoland teens, media outlets and political observers. The volatile atmosphere – partially charged by Mayor Daley and his conservative viewpoints – was not without incident for those in the music business. Venues such as The Kinetic Playground (a popular target of police activity) did their best to give the city notoriety – and as the owners of Head Imports discovered, when they were arrested on obscenity charges for selling ‘Two Virgins’ – Chicago and The Beatles were not on the best speaking terms.

Lyons goes on to chronicle their break-up and gives mention to the post-Beatles visits in Chicago, most shockingly how a frozen Lake Michigan influenced Yoko Ono’s ‘Walking On Thin Ice’ (the last recording of John Lennon) and McCartney’s several shows since 1976. Lyons gives a great overview of the time period covered and Chicago in detail. His global Beatles history (while known to someone who has details galore would find more of a retread), I found to be helpful for those who need a refresh to contextualize the time period. For these reasons and more…

I rate this book 4 out of 4 beetles!

 

 

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Beatles books, Book Review, Guest Review

More off-topic book reviews: The Handmaid’s Tale and F. Scott Fitzgerald

Yeah, I’m a little behind…The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood was published in February 1986! I had downloaded this book to my iPad over a year ago because I so desperately wanted to understand what all the hubbub was about (several women were dressed as handmaid’s at the Women’s March in Washington when I attended in 2020) and I wanted to watch the series on TV (but I’m a stickler about reading the book first). And it’s not like I don’t have many other books to read as you may have noticed by my last post…and the pile of unread books has only gotten higher with more books arriving tomorrow. Phew!

So, back to the review. Everyone who’s read this blog knows I don’t care for eBooks. I like the actually paper pages in my hands and the ability to use anything I want as a bookmark, so that may have contributed to this unread book being on my iPad for over a year. But the itch to watch the tv series arose again, so I tried for a third time to read it. This time it stuck and once I got a few pages in, this book was simply amazing! I was 21 years old when it was released and am truly surprised at how I had never heard of it until the last 5 years. I couldn’t put it down…and kudos to Ms. Atwood for the unique way she ended it. But as it turns out, Atwood has been hounded over the decades about what happened to her main character, Offred, and the Republic of Gilead, where women are very much controlled and used as baby factories. And I too was left wanting after tearing through this 300+ page book in 2 days. So, what did I do? I logged into my local library’s website and download book 2 in the series – The Testaments. This 381 page book was published in September 2019 and was Atwood’s way of answering all the questions she had been asked over the decades about what became of the characters and their republic. Not quite as enthralling as Handmaid’s Tale, and the writing is lacking the certain umph, but that could be attributed to the fact that this book is in three separate voices belonging to other characters from the first book as they tell their own tales of living in Gilead. Still…zipped through it in 2 days!

I rate The Handmaid’s Tale 4 out of 4 Beetles!

I rate The Testaments 3 out of 4 Beetles!

I have no idea when I got in the habit of trying to read more than one book at a time, but I’ve been skimming through F. Scott Fitzgerald: A Life in Letters for months now. I decided I needed to clear some books off my end table so I set out to finish this off this week. My interest in this book was aroused while I was reading the series The Letters of Ernest Hemingway which currently stands at 4 volumes in length with more books to come. It’s disappointing that Fitzgerald’s letters fit into one 500 page book. Still, it was great to get into his mind beyond the stories he’s written and see the workings of a trouble man who fought for the people he loved, could never seem to get out of debt and died a tragic death at the age of 42. Like Hemingway, it brings the author into a whole new light away from the rumors of drinking and carousing that we’ve all heard and were taught in high school. I just wish this book had been more complete. I may have to find a biography or two on Scott and Zelda to help me fill in some blanks left by this book. And for that reason…

I rate this book – 3 out of 4 Beetles!

**You may be happy to hear that I, personally, will be returning to reading Beatles related books, but in the meantime, expect another Guest review of a new Beatles book sometime this week.

Leave a comment

Filed under Book Review, Ernest Hemingway

(Virtual) Fab4Con Jam – Feb. 20 & 21

 

If you are in need of some entertainment this snowy, cold weekend, checkout the virtual Fab4Con Jam. They said ticket sales ended last night, but I was still able to buy a basic $35 ticket to join in the festivities tomorrow.

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Beatles conference, Events

Guest Review: “A Women’s History of The Beatles” by Christine Feldman-Barrett

This is a guest review by Amy McGrath Hughes for a new Beatles book that is being released today – February 11, 2021.

A Women's History of the beatles Christine Feldman-Barrett

For all the terminology associated with being a female fan of The Beatles, I’m happy to say that “aca-fan” is one I believe needs more press. Accordingly, Dr. Christine Feldman-Barrett’s newly published ‘A Women’s History of The Beatles’ (Bloomsbury, 2021) seeks to inform a wide, multi-generational audience that may not wholly understand the role of women in ‘Beatlefandom.’

The definition of “aca-fan” or academic fan stems from Feldman-Barrett’s research into how we define the span of women (either first generation or beyond) who were deeply affected by The Beatles impact on their lives. Through countless interviews that range from women who saw the band during their brief lifespan or who discovered them through recordings and film or from family members, Feldman-Barrett brings into focus the multi-layered emotions felt by each discovery and life-changing course of action.

However, Feldman-Barrett begins by discussing The Beatles unique understanding of the female fan, especially those they befriended in Liverpool. These girls were their stalwart supporters at a time when ‘young women’ were still expected to finish school, get married and raise a family. Although many did go down that avenue, so too did many seek to break out of the norm, establish an identity and pursue a career. The Beatles in many respects, through their performances or correspondences, helped them to achieve what was considered a fairly lofty, nearly unattainable goal. In return, these working girls from Liverpool (who the group considered friends) set the pattern for years to come: whether they were fan club secretaries (like Liverpudlian Freda Kelly) or journalists (such as the Evening Standard’s Maureen Cleave), these smart women were there from the start and stayed the course helping to spread The Word.

The Beatles also broke rank with how they chose to interact with an audience and the choices of songs they played. While there is considerable knowledge about their upbringing and how their generation viewed women’s role in society (as noted above), the stage presence they achieved through showcasing ‘girl group’ songs (The Shirelles, The Cookies, The Marvelettes) gave them a devoted female following amidst the perception of the rough and tumble atmosphere of club-going, heretofore thought to be a taboo ritual. Although these perceptions proved to be barrier-breaking, Feldman-Barrett ironically notes that although The Beatles showcased these songs to a wide audience, their eventual stratospheric rise in effect caused the demise of this genre.

Another interesting angle that Feldman-Barrett explores is the internal relationships of The Beatles: most notably with Astrid Kirchherr in Hamburg and then their early pairings (Cynthia Powell, Maureen Cox, Pattie Boyd, Jane Asher) and consequently as the band starts to disintegrate, the rise of the two most prominent partners: Yoko Ono and Linda Eastman. How these two strong female personalities become inextricably tied to their spouses’ outlook on women’s role in society as the 70s begin is examined in detail. Ono in particular was and has been unfairly portrayed in the media and Feldman-Barrett seeks to rectify that trope in these pages.

The dominant narrative that permeates this history though, are the multi-generational women who Feldman-Barrett interviewed; as either a first generation fan (one who was there during The Beatles lifespan) or into later years and even past the death of John Lennon, what comes across is the same passionate involvement they all have: whether they became professional musicians during the 60s (such as the all-girl Nursery Rhymes and The Pleasure Seekers who fought against stereotypical male-dominated ‘rock bands’) or parlayed their interest in The Beatles into a professional vocation (as tour guides in Hamburg, Liverpool and New York City) or as Feldman-Barrett points out, pursued higher education in the actual study of The Beatles, via university courses devoted to their cultural impact on society, and pop culture in particular.

These women gained tremendous insight into what had been up to that time (and even into the 70s, 80s and 90s) a love of The Beatles that moved past the mislabeling of ‘hysterical screaming teenager’ or ‘obsessed fan’ and have turned it into their life’s work. ‘A Women’s History of The Beatles’ is a deep dive scholarly approach that is informative, thought-provoking and should create more open dialogue not only for academia-minded individuals, but also for those who seek unique perspectives on how The Beatles shaped their (and our) generation.

I rate this book: 4 out of 4 beetles!

 

 

 

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Beatles books, Book Review

Pandemic Perusal: Books I’ve been reading…

Letters of Ernest HemingwayIt’s been a while since I wrote a review for this site. It’s not that I haven’t been reading! How can anyone not be doing more reading with a pandemic right outside our doors? It’s just that I haven’t been reading books about the Beatles. So, until I feel inspired to pick up a book about our boys from Liverpool, here’s what’s come and gone on my end table over the past 5 months.

It was exactly 5 months ago today that I posted about the link between Ernest Hemingway and John Lennon, along with a review of The Letters of Ernest Hemingway: Volume 4. Well, since then, I have gone back and read Volumes 1, 2 and 3 of The Letters of Ernest Hemingway. I believe Amazon calculates it at a total of 1800+ pages, but that’s deceiving because of the indexes in the books. Still, these books have been a great way to pass the time while trying to stay home. Ernest’s parents were avid savers all of the letters they received from their oldest son from when he was a very young boy…when he could barely spell. And one of the funny things is, that he mentions often in his letters to friends, family and colleagues (well into his adulthood) that he is still a lousy speller, as is his good friend F. Scott Fitzgerald, whom he exchanges letters with often. I’ve become so enamored with reading Ernest’s letters to Fitzgerald, that I just recently bought a used copy of F. Scott Fitzgerald: A Life in Letters so I can read both sides of their story. And, not only have these books given me an interest in Hemingway’s life, I also ordered a copy of The Complete Short Stories of Ernest Hemingway so that I can be more familiar with the stories that he’s writing throughout these first 4 volumes of letters (which only takes the reader up to Hemingway being just 32 years old and him having just published A Farewell To Arms (required reading when I was in high school)). Eventually, I’ll pick up a copy of Volume 5 to read while the world awaits volumes 6, 7, 8, etc. No telling how many will be published since each book is only covering 2-3 years (in 500+ pages each), but I am truly looking forward to reading them all. Not just for the letters to Fitzgerald, but the letters to other famous writers and letters to family about his daily life.

Last week on January 27th, it was Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart‘s 265th birthday. I wouldn’t say he’s my favorite classical composer (that honor would probably go to Franz Liszt), but I’ve had a strange fascination with him ever since the movie Amadeus came out in 1984. But anyone that has seen the movie has to be left wondering, “Was this musical genius really that erratic?”. And because I won’t be happy until I find out the true story, I just picked up a copy of Mozart: The Reign of Love…an 800+ page biography.

I’m really looking forward to reading all three of the above books, but not quite sure when (or in what order), I’ll get to them. I refuse to allow myself the privilege of buying volume 5 of the Hemingway letters until I finish what’s piled on my end table.

There was one other book that I read in January. I had bought a copy of the novel – A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness back when it was first published in 2011, but it has sat, unread by me, on my bookshelf every since. Needless to say, my boredom from sitting around during this pandemic, combined with the cold weather outside, finally inspired me to read it. I hate to say it, but it probably would have been best if I just left it on my shelf to look good! I found it rather disappointing. Not only because the author covers the span of just 2 months in the lives of a witch and a vampire, but for some reason, I was not aware that the book was part of a trilogy and that I would have to read two more volumes to find out what happens. Hmmm…she covered 2 months in 500+ pages in the first book…do I really want to read another 500 pages to find out what happens in the next 2 weeks of these fictional characters? The answer is NO! I know some people find fiction and fantasy books an escape from the strife of real life, but I’m not one of them. You can figure out from all my talk early in this post, that I’m a fan of non-fiction and biographies. I need to come away from a book feeling like I’ve learned something. I’m not going to rate this book because of my own bias and knowing that some people really love these types of seires. I believe I told one friend that this book seems like an adult version of Twilight meets Harry Potter. But what would I know…I’ve never read either of those either!

 

 

2 Comments

Filed under Book Review, Ernest Hemingway

I Saw The Beatles – Episode 28 with James Morin 

Welcome back to Episode 28 of I Saw The Beatles! This week’s guest is Jim Morin who saw the Beatles on Saturday, September 12, 1964 at Boston Garden.

Source: I Saw The Beatles – Episode 28 with James Morin 01/24 by I Saw The Beatles | Pop Culture

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Free Online Beatles Lecture – Sunday, January 17, 2021 @ 2 pm (et)

Click image for more information…

Leave a comment

Filed under Events