Category Archives: Book Review

OT Book Review: “These Five Words Are Mine” by Jennifer Lynne Croneberger

These five words are mine jennifer cronebergerA little over a month ago, I attended a local women’s event called Lifting Your V.O.I.C.E. (don’t ask me what the acronym stands for…I don’t know). I had heard about this event for a couple of years and in fact, I worked through a temp agency as a server at the country club where the event was held in previous years. I had hoped that I would be called up to work the event, but that never happened, so this year, I decided to cough up the money and go it alone. The event is hosted by local news anchor Tracy Davidson and motivational speaker Jennifer Croneberger. I decided to get a copy of Jenn’s book –  These Five Words Are Mine: Conversations With Life. My Journey to Awareness . . . Five Words at a Time after spending the morning listening to her speak.

It’s taken me a couple days of thought to figure out how I want to approach reviewing this book. That’s not a bad thing…and it’s not necessarily a good thing. I can’t even think of what category to put this book in…autobiography? self-help? enlightenment? Let’s just go with ‘all of the above.’

Jen Croneberger knew from a very young age that she wanted to write and publish a book and finally in her 30s she got around to achieving that goal. The book is a collection of 60 posts from her personal blog where she explores and examines her life experiences from the past and present.

Is this a feel good book? Yes, but it also made me angry at times. I’d put it down for days and eventually pick it back up again and only to find another beautiful story from her life’s journey.  The book will make you reflect on your own life choices and how you approach various situations in your own life.

Confused? I can’t find the right words to tell you about Jen and what she stands for, so here is a video of her giving one of her TEDx talks:

These Five Words Are Mine is a book you will read and then want your friends to read and probably like me, you won’t know why…but you’ll just know that more people need to connect with Jennifer Croneberger and her work. And for that reason…

I rate this book, 4 out of 4 Beetles!

 

 

 

 

 

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Book Review: “What They Heard: How The Beatles, Beach Boys and Bob Dylan Listened To Each Other and Changed Music Forever” by Luke Meddings

What They Heard: How The Beatles, Beach Boys and Bob Dylan Listened To Each Other and Changed Music Forever Luke Meddings

An astounding thought crosses the mind when even thinking about the title of Luke Meddings’ book. The metaphorical and analytical analysis of these three entities has been decades in the making.

In What They Heard: How The Beatles, Beach Boys and Bob Dylan Listened To Each Other and Changed Music Forever (Weatherglass Books, 2021), Meddings has unfolded a heartfelt dissertation on how the three B’s (and for contextual purposes, he also includes the fourth B – The Byrds), with minute clarity, couched in appreciation with the subjects at hand.

Each set out on their own path, yet within the circumstances of the ‘60s music and art scene, diverged at various points along the way. This isn’t a highbrow, how-the-stars-and-planets -aligned tome. It points to the inevitable for the times: Dylan breaking the barriers of folk and be damned; The Beach Boys’ Brian Wilson as the troubled genius who saw beyond the accepted musical norms and finally The Beatles whose presence not only affected the aforementioned but occupied a massive, revered space that neither they nor anyone could have foreseen.

The hindsight for this book proves entirely relevant as Meddings intersects the creative influences of that time with the development of his own understanding of musical composition and theory. Translated: he gets us to the core of why we love those unexpected chord changes, why we hear something different every time we listen to every song. And why getting a handle on a note from ‘Mr. Tambourine Man’ to ‘Good Vibrations’  to ‘Paperback Writer’ leaves us more confused than ever.

One overall aspect here are the underdogs in this character study: the members of The Byrds. The scattershot pickings when viewed from afar (covering Dylan, influencing George Harrison, conflicting integrations and genres that were amplified by Wilson) is indeed intriguing. I found entire backstories on the individual members enhanced the merit of their music and needed to be brought forth in the context of this narrative.

But while Meddings sets the needle into the groove of where this all began – the very late 50s to be fair – the crux of this book really centers on Wilson. He is living and breathing music. Not content to play in a band and wear the stereotype facade of the perceived groovy  ‘California lifestyle,’ Wilson reaches for stratospheric goals that as we see moved his mind far beyond what Lennon & Co. were tripping to with recreational drug use.

Wilson and the magnum opus of ‘Pet Sounds’ has of course been acknowledged by McCartney as the trigger for ‘Sgt. Pepper’s’ start. Dylan on the other hand – in an oblique way – had already pushed the buttons and pissed off the folk purists with his jump into electric-land. Meddings gives us a view that while there had to be changes coming, the face of folk’s movement didn’t have to be nice or polite or meek. And if Wilson placed his Moog-minded, choral-vocal beauty out there, musicians like McCartney had to step out or be run over.

Meddings does conclude ‘What They Heard’ on what I would consider a downturn. As he ruefully reminisces that the paths of the book’s subjects did not cross over much past their heyday and obviously with the loss of Lennon in 1980, that was put to pasture. He does however lend a bit of spark for Dylan in recent years. While McCartney and Wilson have in varying degrees struggled vocally as they age, Meddings puts forth the fact (and I agree wholeheartedly) that Dylan is the one who has aged the best; growing into his voice – the nasal growl – and his learned historical and extensive references for 2020’s epic 17-minute ‘Murder Most Foul.’ Dylan with all his work is still a hard act to categorize to this day.

Charting the course from 1961-68 gives the reader a concise snapshot of where they all stood – eyeing each other through music, personal connection and as this book notes, how all of those ingredients combined gave us what we have today, most importantly for the better.

I give this book 4 out of 4 beetles.

 

 

 

 

 

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Book Review: “The Most Famous Musician You’ve Never Heard Of” by Andy Cahan

The most famous musician youve never heard of Andy CahanThe title of this book couldn’t be more appropriate! How many of you have actually heard of Andy Cahan? I know he’s been making the rounds on social media this past year promoting his book The Most Famous Musician You’ve Never Hear Of, which he wrote and self-published in 2020, but prior to that…did any fans know him? And does it matter if the fans knew who he was when he was known to everyone in the rock n roll industry in the 60s and 70s?

Andy “Panda” Cahan has worked with everyone…I wouldn’t even know where to start naming names…and he does such a great job of it on his own throughout this 344 page autobiography that reads like a Who’s Who directory of the rock n’ roll industry! Just look at the list on the cover (Hendrix, Ringo, Nilsson, The Turtles, Little Richard, Dr. John, Ray Bolger, Grace Slick) or page through the 10 page index in the back of the book. And the stories…oh, the stories. He tells them with such enthusiasm as if they just happened last week and also provides a pictorial history to go with them It’s as if he had a photographer following him around for 3 decades! If you want to read a more extensive, but still not complete, list of who he’s worked with, go to his Amazon page and click on the book cover to preview the first 10 pages of the book.

This isn’t a deep book. This is a fun book to read. Published in a softcover 8.5″ x 11″ format, it’s large enough to be a coffee table book, but a bit awkward for reading in a bar (yeah, I took it into a cigar bar to read!). This is a book you’ll want to just kick back and read while slouched in a comfy chair with a cup of coffee. The print is rather on the large size, but I believe the book was packaged to help enhance the photos that go along with the short but sweet stories on every page. As the cover says, “A Rock and Roll Scrapbook…”

For those diehard Beatles fans who are wondering why I haven’t listed this book as OT (off-topic), every Beatle gets a nod in Andy’s book and he even had the pleasure of working with Ringo Starr and Paul McCartney. You’ll even read his tale of spending the evening at May Pang’s apartment. Always the gentleman (well, 90% of the time), Andy doesn’t kiss and tell, so it’s up to us guess what happened. Oh la la…

So, here’s the not so good news about this book: Andy Cahan really should have had a professional editor and formatter go over this book before self-publishing it. Though, I honestly believe he could have gotten an actual publisher behind it. Still, you’re going to come away from this book feeling like you know “Panda” and he’s an old friend that you can’t wait to meet up with again and hear more stories! And for that reason…

I rate this book, 3 out of 4 Beatles!

 

 

 

P.S. – If Andy hasn’t friended you on Facebook yet to sell you an autographed copy of his book, you can find him at www.facebook.com/andy.cahan. You just simply send him $60 through FB or PayPal and he’ll mail you a copy. It’s all on the up & up and cheaper than Amazon!

 

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Book Review: “Hold On World: The Lasting Impact of John Lennon & Yoko Ono’s Plastic Ono Band – 50 Years On” by John Kruth

Hold On World: The Lasting Impact of John Lennon & Yoko Ono’s Plastic Ono Band – 50 Years On John Kruth

If for no other reason to obtain this book, I will say with enthusiasm that author John Kruth has given the most extensive read on Yoko Ono and HER version/release of 1970’s ‘Plastic Ono Band.’

The preview of Hold On World: The Lasting Impact of John Lennon & Yoko Ono’s Plastic Ono Band – 50 Years On (Backbeat Books, 2021) had my eyesight focused on the recording, release and retrospective narrative of Lennon’s ‘Plastic Ono Band,’ released in 1970. The cathartic nature, stark production and legacy of this watershed album cannot be lost on those who know Lennon and this soul-baring work.

However, I cannot tread too heavily on how Kruth chose to structure the chapters in regards to context and explanation of influences – past and present. While showcasing a view of Lennon and Ono in that time period, he also dives around in many corners, explaining and expanding on various historical incidents – both in The Beatles and solo Lennon that defies sequencing – and also wades into a good portion of the times that propelled ‘POB,’ some political and some personal. It makes for a challenging, non-chronological read.

Kruth’s own voice is quite unique in that he opines on how various family, ‘characters’ and associates influenced the Lennons’ life story and how and why it drove them to extremes, most notably the time spent with Arthur Janov with his Primal Scream therapy. The narrative here is primitive and raw but what most benefits the reader in “Hold On World”’ is not John Lennon’s transformation from his years in one of the most influential bands of the 1960s to stomach-churning, searing early-70s provocateur. It’s the insightful and haunting life of Ono and how her version of ‘POB’ came to fruition.

Most listeners know that an album takes months to conceive and record. Ono’s ‘POB’ was done in one day. You read it right. Recorded and mixed with the same musicians – Lennon, Ringo Starr, Klaus Voorman and George Harrison – Ono’s shrieking “like a giant radioactive insect from a 1950s horror movie” had the desired effect: it one fell swoop she was able to stand alongside Lennon as both a collaborator and artist… and also managed to sustain the pure energy needed to keep up with Lennon as a musical supernova.

Ono’s unconventional upbringing – bookended by World War II and her meeting with Lennon – is ripe for dissertation within these pages. As Lennon was channeling his painful past (the abandonment issues brought on by his parents’ separation) into a commercially-acceptable package, Ono was dealing with her private demons, most notably the miscarriages she suffered which were couched in the standout song from ‘POB,’ ‘Greenfield Morning I Pushed An Empty Baby Carriage All Over The City.’

Moved at a 180-degree angle from her accepted distorted keening, ‘Greenfield’ has a haunting, mesmerizing backbeat (enhanced by Harrison’s sitar contribution), while Ono’s mono-symbolic vocals give way to iridescent bird calls – not unlike Lennon’s ‘Across The Universe.’ Kruth also gives over several pages to the performance of trumpeter Ornette Coleman and Ono’s collaboration ‘AOS,’ recorded in 1968. While Coleman had already embraced free-form jazz, the inclusion of Ono’s vocals helped propel this style beyond what would be musically and culturally ‘acceptable.’

What remains is a final critique on the “Lennon Remembers” interview, first published in Rolling Stone in 1971. The caustic wit, the deep-seated pain he levied against McCartney and producer George Martin and the circus atmosphere known as The Beatles came down like a sledgehammer. While Wenner published the interview in book form (costing him his friendship with the Lennons), the myth-busting conversation contained contradictions that Lennon later regretted. The dovetailing into more political ground with the release of ‘Sometime In New York City,’ a loose collaboration with Frank Zappa, the continuing paranoia and battles with immigration effectively eroded the Lennons high profile prophesying.

Lennon/Ono shared a great love and however their messages came across to the public during Lennon’s lifetime was both unifying and divisive. Kruth has painted a rich mural, which can be a little demanding on the senses, given the textural background that this complex couple projected. While I highly recommend this read for those who would appreciate a deeper delve into Ono, I will say that overall it can be a tricky read.

I tentatively give this book 4 out of 4 beetles.

 

 

 

 

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Book Review: “The Beatles and Fandom: Sex, Death and Progressive Nostalgia” by Richard Mills

This review is written by Amy Hughes…

The Beatles and Fandom: Sex, Death and Progressive Nostalgia Richard Mills

The Beatles and academia may not appear mutually connected, but be that as it may, I have in my casual research of reading material on the band, found a treasure trove of essays, papers and with scholars, their ability to take an in-depth analysis into what is loosely defined as fandom.

Author Richard Mills is the Programme Director and a Senior Lecturer at St. Mary’s University in Twickenham, UK. In The Beatles and Fandom: Sex, Death and Progressive Nostalgia (Bloomsbury, 2019 & 2021), Mills has delivered an intrinsic study on how the stages of fandom move and progress, using diverse categories to illustrate essentially the title of his book.

I want to add a few words here: this book is primarily an academic study and is a globally researched project that reflects how the band’s influence imparts nostalgia not from a whimsical standpoint, but as a deep-seated thought-provoking exposition that leans on the reader to get underneath the superficial.

Having noted that, I was taken with Mills’ observation on the beginnings of The Beatles’ sexual attraction to their first fans: the ‘Beatles Monthly.’ As it was the authorized inside track to ‘the boys’ at their start, Mills details the fan letters, the photos and the (mostly, early on) young girl obsession with them. Whether it was their clothes, their hair, their humor, their ‘British-ness,’ young fans were given a packaged version of their ‘lads,’ while letting loose the repressed feelings that were a staple of the times: they screamed and cried at their concerts. As has been noted in more recent books, these girls were the first real supporters of The Beatles and their reaction(s) reported by a (mostly) older, male press did not help to explain the deep-seated attraction and calling they felt in wholly and explicit terms.

While those girls grew up and began careers (with a little help from their friends, The Beatles), Mills moves onto the next phase: fan conventions. The gut-wrenching hysteria was left behind for a next gen communal gathering, a positive environment (as with The Fest For Beatles Fans and International Beatles Week) and more to the point, a place where fans (male and female) have a shared understanding of each others’ love for the band. The atmosphere most notably was one of indifference in the 1970s, until John Lennon’s murder in 1980. Nearly immediately after, the psychological understanding of fan ‘obsession’ changed. Mills goes into detail his reasons for who Mark Chapman was (a mentally disturbed individual) and also into the background of Michael Abram, the schizophrenic person who nearly killed George Harrison in 1999.

Mills correctly identifies that both of these men were not ‘fans’ or could even intellectually connect the dots to their victims. They could not break the cycle of singular isolation and became fixated with an alternative mindset. Fan conventions are diametrically opposite in their group atmosphere and jovial celebration of life. The clear demarcation of the two worlds is one that Mills gives great attention to.

One group of people that can cause a divisive issue are what Mills terms the ‘super-fan journalist.’ He takes to task the most prominent authors of Beatles non-fiction (Hunter Davies, Philip Norman and Ian MacDonald) and proceeds to dissect the apparent and not-so-apparent bias that permeates their writings. Davies (the author of The Beatles authorized biography, 1968) and Norman (author of Shout! from 1981) are given the harshest criticism and not without merit: each has had blatant prejudice against certain Beatles and both have heavily revised their opinions in the intervening years. MacDonald on the other hand did not pretend to write a history of the group per se, but offered his stylistic, one-of-a-kind prose that has grown in favor since first published in 1994 (MacDonald died by suicide in 2003). Mills offers up MacDonald as someone who did not pretend to understand The Beatles’ lives, but instead retrospected their work, thereby creating progressive nostalgia for a new generation of fans.

The next chapters concern more modern practices of coercing the well-known entity of The Beatles by wrapping them into new technology and writing: as YouTube has allowed 21st century manipulation of their image via audio and visual mashups and next gen bloggers have re-imagined real-life events by inserting The Beatles (and their associates) into slash & tribute fiction, i.e. time-travel, McLennon and the like. Mills also analyzes award-winning ‘fanfic’ couched in the love for re-writing history vis-a-vis Kevin Barry’s 2015 novel ‘Beatlebone. Be that as the written word allows critical examination of an alternate universe, we have witnessed in this progressive nostalgia, the ultimate immersion experience come to fruition: tribute bands. Every stylistic angle – from the mop-top era to Sgt. Pepper and even painstakingly recreated classics such as The Analogues’ note-for-note live recreations of the ‘White Album’ – are given due credit. The respect that fans have fostered onto excursions and tours in cities like Liverpool, London and Hamburg fold into the reverence and outwardly devoted atmosphere when it’s shared with family and friends. These are the multiple incidents and ideas that Mills has encapsulated and demonstrated for students and practitioners of Beatle fandom.

Transformative nostalgia when applied to The Beatles universe is continually expanding and moving ahead. As recognized in these pages and acknowledged by so many, Mills has detailed the changes and moves into the unexpected areas of ‘Beatledom.’ With a caveat noted at the start of my review that this publication is more likely appreciated by the scholarly among us…

I give this 4 out of 4 beetles.

 

 

 

 

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Book Review: “The Beatles 100: One Hundred Pivotal Moments in Beatles History” by John M. Borack

This review is by Amy Hughes…

The Beatles 100: One Hundred Pivotal Moments in Beatles History John M. Borack

One of the first 100 things you’ll ask about John Borack’s book The Beatles 100: One Hundred Pivotal Moments in Beatles History (Rarebird Books, 2021): are they actually pivotal? Do they carry that weight, to coin a lyric.

On one hand, any narrative that hinges on The Beatles’ most important moments can be considered subjective. I’m more than sure that while perusing each chapter, you as the reader/Beatles factoid gatherer/historian could compile your own list and match it to author Borack’s condensed history.

What I considered relevant were that the moments were not in chronological order, nor was the book confined to The Beatles’ inner orbit. Several passages at length called out the solo years and in that context, how each contributed to the canon of post-Beatles history.

Borack addresses the better known episodes in Beatledom: Hamburg, Love Me Do, Pete Best, Ed Sullivan, Shea Stadium, MBE’s, the Paul Is Dead hoax and even the Mono LP Box Set release. However, he also ruminates over numerous chapters concerning their solo careers and lives: Paul losing Linda tying into Run Devil Run; John and Yoko’s Double Fantasy leading into John’s death; George’s marital issues with first wife Pattie running into his 1974 Dark Horse album and subsequent tour and Ringo forming his All-Starr Band. Each chapter is headed by a quotation from a random Beatle or associate applicable to the subject matter.

While the events showcased are familiar, the narrative is casual and readable. I would not consider this a “list” so to speak, nor is it a perfunctory bulleted style treatise, pointing the reader in any certain direction. Choosing what moments to delve into is probably the most important note for anyone engaged in learning something more than superficial facts.

I will state that Borack does spend considerable time and effort in stating where most of the stories come from: mostly interviews with the press and such. A good load of quotes are coming directly from The Beatles Anthology and from Paul, his book by Barry Miles. There are also a number of rock press quotes as well, especially in context to the time of album releases from the group or in the solo years.

Overall, I found the book a good reference read and for a nice epilogue, Borack gives us his opinion on solo tracks, cover versions, and soundalikes. With all that said and sung…

I’m giving this book 4 out of 4 beetles

 

 

 

 

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Book Review and Interview: “My Ticket to Ride: How I Ran Away to England to Meet the Beatles and Got Rock and Roll Banned in Cleveland (A True Story from 1964)” by Janice Mitchell

Book reviewed by Amy Hughes.

My Ticket to Ride Janice Mitchell

Intrepid believer. Not the usual description to hang onto a 16-year-old female fan of The Beatles, circa 1964. But one that aptly fits the life events surrounding author Janice Mitchell who has now come forward with the mind-blowing circumstances surrounding the title of her book.

My Ticket to Ride: How I Ran Away to England to Meet the Beatles and Got Rock and Roll Banned in Cleveland (A True Story from 1964) (Gray & Company Publishers, 2021) hinges on Mitchell’s September 1964 whirlwind account of seeing The Beatles at Cleveland’s Public Auditorium and the very next day, jetting off to the UK with her best friend Marty, nearly all their belongings and holding onto the belief that no one would care where they ended up or if they would be found.

Be that as it may, the sum of the story doesn’t rely on the anecdotes or hard-to-believe storyline. What is documented clear and simple is Mitchell caught in the middle of a life not of her choosing and the desperate attempts to find meaning and reasoning beyond her grim upbringing. While winding the reader through the lifelines that gave her hope, one comes away with an understanding of why she needed to turn this adventure into something real, and travel to somewhere she could be happy for essentially the rest of her life.

Mitchell describes a harrowing childhood in an all-too-brief summary, riveting in it’s narrative and strikingly honest from her viewpoint. Her birth parents’ abandonment of her and her siblings forced her to live singularly with an aunt, uncle and cousin that at first glance seemed a more idyllic setting than anything she could have dreamed. But with the sudden death of uncle Mac, the closed environment of being with aunt “Toots” and older cousin Margie, coupled with a strict Catholic school atmosphere propelled her to seek out avenues of enlightenment.

From the first guitar janglings of The Beatles on Cleveland radio station WHK at Christmastime 1963, Mitchell’s world opened up. In her words, she “had something to live for.” Constructing the framework that would lead to her independence was in some way, more than she bargained for. Her alliance with KYW DJ Harry Martin – innocent on the surface from her perspective, but which proved fortuitous in just a few short months – paved the way for her first meeting with another up-and-coming British band: The Rolling Stones.

The Stones were embarking on their first American tour and were stopping by ‘The Mike Douglas Show’ (then broadcasting from Cleveland) on June 18. Invited remotely by Martin, Mitchell arrived only to be told she couldn’t enter. As was her luck, she managed to enter into The Stones dressing room, watched from the side of the stage and after, was propositioned by bassist Bill Wyman (who kissed her). Little did Mitchell know that this episode in her life would circle back around to highlight her escapade in only three months time.

Mitchell chronicles the hysteria (after she managed to get front row seats with Marty) surrounding the now well-known Beatles gig in Cleveland on September 15: the show was stopped after the third song. The Cleveland police demanded The Beatles leave the stage until the crowd was brought under control. The chaos and screaming abated with the help of DJs Martin and Specs Howard and the Beatles returned and finished the set. For all that, the thought went through Mitchell’s mind as she walked amongst the broken chairs and shredded signs: she and Marty were leaving for London at 8am the next morning for “Beatleland.”

While the ensuing days there were a mix of finding living accommodations (a flat in Notting Hill), possible job opportunities for the two (Mitchell had sent letters to both The Stones’ fan club and Brian Epstein in hopes of finding employment), Mitchell nonetheless spins an air of innocence that to some could seem incomprehensible in its lack of forethought for the future. She had secured money from her savings, as well as Marty’s college fund and the duo appeared to have it all under control, living in Soho, going to clubs nightly and even meeting young musicians – the latter with circumstances that were not wholly explained to them in detail, lest Mitchell and her friend were questioned as to their real motives.

Meanwhile… back in Cleveland Heights, the law enforcement community were actively seeking their whereabouts, circulating flyers with their likenesses and as days wore on, involving the US State Department. The flimsiest thread to their location came back: Mitchell’s letter to the Stones fan club (calling out Wyman) and Epstein had been discovered. Both girls were “somewhere” in England.

Jumping from clubs to Tube stations, roaming the streets of London and even managing to meet with their musician friends and hitchhike to Liverpool,where Mitchell was crushed in not being able to enter the Cavern Club due to time constraints… it all seemed to be working out. There had been no communication with their families back in Ohio and both were oblivious to the havoc they had caused with their departure.

As with all the good things that came of this adventure, it did eventually end. As Mitchell and her musician friend walked along Oxford Street, she was spotted by a bobby. It was over. Mitchell and Marty – handled by her account very well by the British system – were speedily jettisoned back to the US. While Mitchell continually wondered what was going on, Marty in the ensuing timeframe during the transit froze her out. Both were hauled into the county juvenile system rather brutally and Mitchell in her innocence could not comprehend what they had done wrong. Through the harrowing ordeal, she remained stoic but scarred from the experience. Remanded back to her aunt, she felt the isolation suffocating.

While she recovered, rock and roll was moving on. Mitchell’s high profile shenanigans lifted her presence to a level that she didn’t expect: while facing the judicial system in tandem with her London exploits, a judge ruled that her and Marty’s actions directly affected live performances in the Cleveland area. Such music was condemned (including a return appearance of The Rolling Stones) and effectively, rock ‘n’ roll was banned in Cleveland.

As Mitchell stewed over the insanity of the ruling, she coped with daily life. She managed one last phone call to the musician who she befriended in London. But Marty – her Beatle cohort – had moved with her family from Cleveland Heights and their last communication was in 1968.

Mitchell also moved on, married, became a journalist, then a capital case investigator in New York City. She left after the trauma of 9/11 and moved back to her hometown. And while compiling and reliving all the moments of this lifetime ago escapade, Mitchell learned that Paul McCartney had been on the precipice of seeing them off at Heathrow back in October of 1964. However, the US Embassy nixed that plan. She did end up visiting Liverpool more extensively in 2018 and again nearly came in contact with McCartney during his ‘Carpool Karaoke’ segment on the Albert Dock. She was not lost thinking about the ironic twists of her life.

Stories from first generation Beatles fans such as Mitchell’s are very rare and her insightful perceptions, coupled with her 16-year-old gumption make this memoir colorful and poignant.

I’m giving this book 4 out of 4 beetles!

 

 

 

Listen to Jenn’s interview with author Janice Mitchell…

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Book Review: “Indian Sun: The Life and Music of Ravi Shankar” by Oliver Craske

This review is by Amy Hughes

Indian Sun: The Life and Music of Ravi Shankar Oliver CraskeRavi Shankar feels like a forever presence. For the ones he touched with his music, that feeling of immortality is an apt descriptor. For the man – the human being – that roamed this earth for 92 years, the state of existing is hard to describe.

With author Oliver Craske, Shankar’s official biography Indian Sun: The Life and Music of Ravi Shankar (Hachette Books, 2020) paints a portrait rich in colors: the muted tones that inhabit his childhood to the neon tapestry of the Swinging Sixties to the earthy, husky embers inhabiting his later years, all brought together in an extensive and complex tome.

Craske is well-versed in Indian culture and music and his extremely helpful notations on Indian instrumental and musical terminology are sprinkled throughout the chapters, bringing into focus how Shankar rose from his dysfunctional, distant family and embraced a worldwide audience with his masterful techniques that helped bring not only Indian music but Indian culture to the forefront like never before.

Having said this, a review that merely lists his chronological accomplishments is a disservice to his legacy (Shankar passed in 2012). Herein are my thoughts and impressions of a full and rich life.

Shankar’s connection to George Harrison is well-documented in Beatledom history. However, Craske paints a more nuanced portrait of these two souls, with varying degrees of master & student, “father” and “son.” What one should come away with is a deeper appreciation of Harrison’s love in helping Shankar overcome the tragedies of his cultural homeland (“The Concerts for Bangladesh”) and bringing Shankar and his support for his 1974 Dark Horse tour.

Harrison continued his love and devotion for Shankar throughout his life, helping produce his music and taking great concern and care for his daughter Anoushka (herself an accomplished sitarist) when the weight of her father’s legendary status would come to bear on her own career.

Shankar’s musical abilities were not first and foremost in his youth. That he was a dancer in his older brother Uday’s troupe as a youngster is revelatory to a reader not fully immersed in his story. His childhood revolved around dance, traveling and performing throughout India, Europe and the United States. But while he was engaged in this creative aspect, his personal life was torn apart numerous times. Craske reveals the painful memories of Shankar’s sexual abuse as a child, his detachment from his father (a prominent figure who was assassinated), the death of a brother and ultimately the passing of his beloved mother.

His relentless work ethic in these pages is unmatched. Moving from dance to sitar (an alliance with Allauddin Khan started his official training), the dedication to not only the instrument that came to define him, but also his innate ability to focus and move ahead with passion (which included training with Khan’s daughter Annapurna, who he married in 1941) and by extension his love for country (beginning work as the music director at All India Radio in 1949). He composed continually: ballet, orchestration, film (working closely with director Satyajit Ray) and music director for several Hindi movies.

It came as a surprise then to delve deep into Shankar’s personal history of love. One would surmise that Shankar embraced love to fill the gaping hole left by his father. In as much as he tried to be a “parent” to his son Shubho (born in 1942), the father-son bond was tied primarily by long distances. As Shankar began (and continued) an arduous touring schedule, coupled with the demands of composing, he was constantly away from ‘home.’ Craske (as his official biographer) was able to extract Shankar’s deepest feelings towards not only his family issues but also how he felt a deep bond with his extended family: the audiences he performed for.

As Shankar’s popularity grew worldwide, he hopped, skipped and jumped across the globe. Several world-shattering moments though fueled depression and thoughts of suicide in 1940, namely the assassination of Gandhi. His father’s murder (unsolved) and increasing detachment from his wife & son led him to what would now be considered a promiscuous lifestyle. He admitted as much to the many liaisons – public and private – two of which resulted in the births of daughters Norah and Anoushka. Norah’s upbringing (unconventional as her mother Sue Jones decided to stay in the US and raise Norah as a single parent). She remained mostly under the radar until her late teens and then at age 23, she exploded onto the music scene with her album ‘Come Away With Me.’ Shankar grew in his admiration for Jones (and with a family bond that obviously was hard to fathom), she also found a way to connect with not only Shankar, but also with Sukanya Rajan, his second wife and Anoushka.

Craske also notates to great extent throughout the chapters Indian terminology, with regards to composing, instrumentation and how to understand the differences between East and West musicianship. While Harrison went to extraordinary lengths to incorporate Shankar into modern music, Shankar had already accomplished this and more with his indescribable sets at both Monterey Pop in 1967 and Woodstock in 1969. Several iconic musicians had already lent their lives (as it were) to Shankar including saxophonist John Coltrane and violinist Yehudi Menuhin. While Shankar struggled with the concept of merging his beloved Indian music with ‘the West,’ his collaboration with composer Philip Glass starting in 1965 was beneficial and lifelong. While Glass to most ears is considered experimental and minimalist, Shankar’s work gave him a life-altering course in composition and performing. Their 1990 album “Passages” is the hybrid of their brilliant philosophies.

While Shankar appeared content with his masterful work – performing, teaching, mentoring, building study centers, composing – he nonetheless became a member of India’s Parliament for six years and then in 1992… his son Shubho (in his adult life had become an accomplished sitarist thru his mother’s strict teaching) succumbed to pneumonia, leaving behind a wife and son. Shankar was devastated – a “cruel blow” as he described it and threw himself into work. Whatever his misgivings about his role as a parent, he knew that as time went on, his ill health which began in childhood would catch up with him in some fashion.

Craske entered his world in 1994 as an editor and assistant in procuring his life’s work into his 1997 autobiography ‘Raga Mala.’ His friendship with Shankar permeates ‘Indian Sun’ in ways that only someone who has spent decades with could understand. As it is meticulously researched, the openness and trust between the two help illustrate, as noted in this review, the complex, multi-faceted cultural figure who was more at home in front of an audience than anywhere else in his lifetime. He was blessed to perform one last time in November 2012 with Anoushka and as his heart was failing, had surgery in December which he did not recover from. He died December 11, 2012.

While I can’t fully expound on this mammoth medium to the extent it deserves, I fully and wholeheartedly recommend it as required reading for everyone who thinks they know “Pandit” Shankar merely as a great musician. He was so much more.

I give this book 5 out of 4 beetles (one extra!)

 

 

 

 

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Book Review: “Little Wing: The Jimmy McCulloch Story” by Paul Salley

Little Wing Jimmy McCulloch Paul Salley

Another fine review written by Amy Hughes

Rock guitarists have the unenviable task of comparison, either as mass media idols or underrated geniuses who didn’t get peer recognition during their lifetime. A handful thankfully straddle both hemispheres and if needed, get that extra push by someone who will deep dive into their life & career and emerge with an appreciation that wasn’t there before.

Author (and fan) Paul Salley has brought forth the heart in Little Wing: The Jimmy McCulloch Story (Lotown Publishing, 2021). No one reading this blog should not know McCulloch’s time with Paul McCartney: he was Wings’ lead guitarist from 1974 to 1977 and contributed several defining moments to songs in that time period, most notably the soaring interludes and name-dropped solo in “Junior’s Farm” and the highlight breaks in the live version of “Maybe I’m Amazed” from ‘Wings Over America.’ However, what overshadows all his accomplishments was his sudden death in 1979 at age 26.

As a young child, McCulloch showed himself as a guitar prodigy that belied his stature, literally. Born in Scotland, he was a ‘wee lad’ and many remembrances of him from those much older (including brother Jack) are often laced with warm humor: that he could even hold a guitar are among the repeated stories from his youth.

Coming from a musical family, McCulloch began his vocation with Jack in the local band The Jaygars. Rising in popularity across the UK, they were astonished at the reception and attention that McCulloch (at age 11 in 1964) was receiving. He caught the ear of The Who’s Pete Townshend, which would prove fortuitous in a few short years.

Moving onto another band configuration (One In A Million), the McCulloch brothers were soon on the rise as recording artists with a move to London in 1967. After their band split in early 1968, Jimmy McCulloch the guitarist transformed into Jimmy McCulloch the guitarist with a Number 1 hit. Townshend brought together McCulloch, singer-drummer-songwriter Speedy Keen and pianist Andy Newman to form Thunderclap Newman. The Who’s guitarist wanted to foster a creative environment with musicians he found favor with (Keen had written “Armenia City In The Sky” for ‘The Who Sell Out’) and this quirky ensemble fit the bill. With Townshend as producer, the trio recorded a Keen original “Something In The Air.” The song was released in July 1969 and McCulloch became the youngest person (at 16) to top the UK charts.

While Thunderclap Newman wrestled with the notion of becoming a performing band (and eventually added Jack McCulloch on drums and Jim Avery on bass), the pressures of living up to the newly minted status of rock stars began to take its toll. A 1970 album did emerge (‘Hollywood Dream’), gigs on the road brought notice and television appearances helped elevate McCulloch’s presence, but his commitment to the group began to falter. A summer 1971 US tour with The Who would have brought them high recognition; instead, Thunderclap Newman quietly disbanded.

McCulloch was finding his feet within the world of UK rock, however his next big move – working and touring with John Mayall – had an enormous impact on his post as a guitarist. Within three days of a phone call, McCulloch was on stage in Germany playing the blues next to the legendary statesman, who remarked later that McCulloch “had a lot of potential as an individual stylist.”

A short-lived namesake group was a time-filler for McCulloch’s next spotlight gig: Stone The Crows. Having tragically lost guitarist Les Harvey in a freak on-stage electrocution, the band were seeking out a replacement. McCulloch came to an audition and impressed everyone, especially vocalist Maggie Bell. His debut in May 1972 and his work on their album-in-progress further showcased his ability to interpret a back catalog on tour (the band’s forte) and break out from the cage of ‘teen idol.’ His position ended in 1973… however there were better days ahead.

McCulloch’s tenure in Wings began with a serendipitous invite from McCartney to attend a recording session in Paris to work on solo tracks for Linda McCartney (which were released on her posthumous ‘Wide Prairie’). This friendly venture set off the chain of events that saw McCulloch work with the band on Mike McCartney’s 1974 release ‘McGear’ (now acknowledged as a ‘lost’ Wings album), which morphed into the new lineup that included drummer Geoff Britton, the McCartneys and Denny Laine.

The group relocated to Nashville in June of 1974 to begin rehearsals, find their chemistry and jell musically. While there was plenty of time to play and relax, McCulloch did catch some trouble with the law with a bit of arrogance that wasn’t appreciated by the local authorities. Although proving himself worthy of a callout in the hard rocking “Junior’s Farm,” the cracks were already showing. During a brief respite, McCulloch nearly left, tempted by an offer to join The James Gang. His reasoning (no official tour plans akin to a lifestyle he enjoyed) nearly spelled the end of his tenure with McCartney. However, when Linda McCartney stepped in (and the offer of a wage arose), McCulloch felt secure enough to stay aboard for the foreseeable future.

The public’s first viewing of the new line-up in November 1974 with the release of “Junior’s Farm/Sally G” and the ensuing sleeve photoshoot, (with McCulloch dressed as a gambler) garnered strong notices in the rock press. His addition to the group reinforced McCartney’s new direction: take this band seriously and by the way, we’re kicking ass as well. Unfortunately, by the time the group were setting up for the ‘Venus and Mars’ sessions, Britton was out.

His replacement – Joe English – slotted in on a recommendation from Wings’ horn player Tony Dorsey. With the group in formation, they alighted in New Orleans during Mardi Gras for the recordings at Sea Saint Studio. ‘Venus and Mars’ dropped in May 1975, shooting to the top of the charts in both the UK and US on the strength of “Listen To What The Man Said.” McCulloch’s contribution “Medicine Jar” (not autobiographical, but inspired but a close friend’s drug addiction) was a hard-rock number and his understated blues-tinged licks on the closing tracks “Treat Her Gently/Lonely Old People” were highlights as was Wings’ reinterpretation of the theme to the popular UK series ‘Crossroads’ with McCulloch’s lone voice signing off: “That’s basically it.”

With a solid line-up in place, Wings started rehearsals in the summer, with the intention of hitting the road. The official launch of what would become ‘Wings Over The World’ started in September and met with fan and critical acclaim, including much McCulloch family love when the band hit his hometown of Glasgow, an indication that life was very good for ‘the boy down the road.’ The break over Christmastime and subsequent reconvening in January 1976 for the next album ‘At The Speed Of Sound,’ with McCulloch’s anti-drug composition ‘Wino Junko’ (with it’s ethereal almost wistful melody) wound its way into and around a concepted ‘showcase’ album for each member. The subsequent European dates came off without a hitch, but the US leg was delayed after McCulloch slipped in his Paris hotel bathroom and broke his hand.

The US audiences that experienced those gigs in 1976 saw a band on fire. However, as was the case with alot of what was going on in the rock world of the ‘70s, McCulloch seemed to have a hard time adjusting. To many, he was the whiz kid from Glasgow that had superstardom thrust upon him. Some close friends acknowledged he was a “complex soul” who had a quiet introverted side that juxtaposed with the stroppy Scotsman who’s drinking brought out a gregarious, immature personality. However the overall sentiment from those who had noticed his immense talent was akin to being a parent. As Pete Townshend said, “I was so proud of him.”

McCulloch’s time with Wings now appears to be pre-ordained to end as quickly as it started. While he never seemed comfortable with downtime, his orbit of musician-friends and family had him in gatherings such as White Line and sessions with Roger Daltrey. While there was rampant speculation he was on the outs with McCartney, the 1976 triple album ‘Wings Over America’ (which showcased McCulloch’s standout work on “Maybe I’m Amazed”) dovetailed into the next scheduled Wings project in February 1977. The recording of ‘London Town’ on boats in the Virgin Islands proved precarious at times and when the sessions moved back to the McCartney farm in Scotland in August, McCulloch’s (and English’s) tenure with Wings would soon be over.

The accounts vary from source to source on why and how the split came, but most agree that McCulloch was growing restless and felt that his position should be one of peer recognition and fair compensation. As there would be no touring in the foreseeable future (due to Linda McCartney’s pregnancy), McCulloch took this as note and while he played on several of the farm sessions (one of which resulted in “Mull of Kintyre”), he and English were not part of the ensuing promotion for ‘London Town’s’ release in March 1978. McCulloch had flown Wings.

He was not without a band for long. McCulloch joined the reunited Small Faces and with Steve Marriott, he slotted in beside the fiery guitarist/vocalist. Alongside drummer Kenney Jones, bassist Rick Wills and keyboardist Ian McLagan, they hopped onto gigs in September 1977 and cranked out ‘78 In The Shade.’ Yet with no real original contributions forthcoming, McCulloch once again bade farewell to a band setting.

Most of 1978 and 1979 saw McCulloch moving between projects he either contributed to (charity gigs, testing new guitar technology) or joining up with old colleagues in the hopes of moving on from the shadow of Wings. With The Dukes, that prospect seemed positive and after a spate of gigs in the summer and an album release, the fall of ‘79 was a time to look forward with a Dukes tour.

But that was not to be. McCulloch was found motionless in his London apartment by his brother Jack on September 27. He was 26 years old. Although he had been prescribed medications for various issues, the official cause of death was morphine poisoning. While Jack and close friends believe it was accidental, the circumstances up to and surrounding his death have and will remain a tragedy that can’t be fully explained.

For a large majority of this biography, Salley has remained focused on McCulloch’s brief, but enormous contributions as a guitarist, bandmate, friend and brother. He has included dozens of unseen photos, memorabilia, clippings, interviews, discography, gear gallery and tributes exclusive to this book and with the addition of editor/designer Mark Cunningham, they have put together a visual and tonal layout that elevates this above the run-of-the-mill term ‘self-published.’

For the hard work and details that show throughout and lovingly dedicated to ‘Jimmy Mac,’…

I give this biography 4 out 4 beetles.

 

 

 

 

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Book Review: “The Beatles 101: A Pocket Guide in 101 Moments, Songs, People and Places” by Vikki Reilly

Beatles 101 Vikki Reilly

This review is by Amy Hughes

What a primer book on The Beatles should be is a concise, informative chronicle (with natural branching off) that gives a reader the very essence of its subject. Author Vikki Reilly has stumbled upon that magic formula in her book The Beatles 101: A Pocket Guide in 101 Moments, Songs, People and Places (Polaris Publishing, 2020)

Reilly has delved into what is considered a complex web of music history that requires extricating the wheat from the chaff: to that end, the best thing about her tome are the examples put forth of the band in chronological sequence: from origins and upbringing, the band’s embryonic beginnings onto Hamburg and Beatlemania and into the studio years, their companions and cohorts, tons of well-placed facts and beautifully sprinkled with a dose of rarely-seen photos (one showing Ringo, George and John in Wales upon hearing of Brian Epstein’s death was especially stunning) which gives the book a higher edge than most of the paint-by-numbers (read: inaccurate) quickies that attempt this same style.

By all means, this is not a dry reference manual or a zippy thumb-thru that skips the details. In fact, Reilly has portioned out the writing in a factual, easy-to-understand language that by turns has much humor (her enthusiasm and infectious laugh poured forth in a recent podcast with presenter Chris Shaw that only heightens her presence in this book) and a deep understanding of The Beatles that will have ‘serious’ fans appreciative of her studious research. I also took note of her witticisms and use of vernacular that may not be familiar to US readers (the word ‘quicksmart’ for example) and having interspersed the chapter entitled ‘The Fifth Beatle’ throughout, assigning it to inner-circle people from Neil Aspinall to Yoko Ono to Phil Spector.

There are plenty of well-known stories here for readers to digest and a good number of pages are dedicated to ‘Fab Facts’ in regards to their singles and albums (which are handy to have if you’re caught blank in a trivia quiz!). And as a pleasant diversion, Reilly presents a chapter on the always-debatable ‘Beatles vs. Stones’ in a Friends-Rivals breakdown.

The conclusion takes on several chapters of post-Beatles history, the deaths of Lennon & Harrison, ‘Anthology,’ and the digital/streaming era of their music. While there is nothing earth-shattering in these passages, I was happy to see the inclusion of relevant material that completes the story and frames the narrative more wholly.

With the title that pretty much lives up to its’ subject matter and presented in down-to-earth dialogue…

I give this book 4 out of 4 beetles!

 

 

 

 

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