Category Archives: Book Review

Book Review: “The Boys Next Door” by Dan Greenberger

This review is written by Amy McGrath Hughes.

The Boys Next Door Dan GreenbergerIn the surroundings that revolve around The Beatles history, none is more fascinating than their time in Hamburg. Setting off that, author Dan Greenberger immerses his narrator and chief character Alan Levy into an alternate universe where Levy delves into the dirty, foul and fascinating period in those all-to-real hard times.

The Boys Next Door (Appian Way Press, 2020) is a coming-of-age story – albeit one that involves copious amounts of booze, drugs and sex. In this situation, Greenberger lets loose the unhinged, rogue-like characters of 1960 Beatles that we’ve come to know – all very un-PC in language, attitude and social interaction. And with Levy, migrating from the comforts of the US, he quickly realizes his standing here is on shaky ground.

Levy sets out as a post-graduate student from Columbia University with hopes for higher education in Hamburg. Nearly immediately we see him set down in that Beatle-y familiar hellhole: living in squalid conditions in the Bambi Kino, arranged by the thoroughly unlikable Bruno Koschmider and being awoken at night constantly by this band he has yet to meet. By casting Levy as an American Jew, we know right off the bat where this is headed in humor: off-color descriptions from Levy’s first-person account on the German people (and vice versa on the anti-Semitism still prevalent in post WWII Germany), the temptations of the Reeperbahn red-light district and through letters back home, we get an idea that he believes he is ‘all that’ as a poet and serious artist. Until he meets Astrid Kirchherr.

As he becomes smitten with the cooler than cool photographer, he manages to finally meet his next-door neighbors: John (all potty-mouth and pusher-of-buttons), Paul (all touchy-feely-huggy), George (all puppy-eyed and young), Pete (all nothing) and most importantly Stuart, who becomes the object of Astrid’s affection and the thorn in the side of Levy’s pursuit of her.

We get an eye-opening sense of the carnal atmosphere and near lethal encounters that The Beatles endured during that first club run. Author Greenberger weaves well-known scenes: Astrid’s photographing the band, the revolutionary haircut and the introduction of Klaus Voormann and Jurgen Vollmer with the fictionalized characters that showcase Levy’s interaction as a student which makes way for a dive down a rather unexpected path.

As posed here Levy works his way into The Beatles inner circle, hanging with them (in and out of the clubs), fantasizing that he and Astrid are a couple and using this time period to showcase the harsh realities of how life can change so dramatically – from promising student and aspiring poet to beer-guzzling, pill-popping hanger-on willing to throw away a pretty good life and become one of them. For good measure, Greenberger exits the story with Levy hastily leaving via the real-life incidents that led to The Beatles deportation and wondering about his and the band’s future; for good or bad is left up to the reader.

I found the writing style alternatingly engaging and repulsive and by repulsive, I mean the transformation that took place in Levy’s character – not the way he visualized but certainly crafted by his involvement with the group and their lifestyle. Not everyone who orbited around The Beatles in real-life at this time escaped without damage and Greenberger’s take was fairly point on without being overly maudlin or drama filled.

I also found his letter-writing to friends and family back home hysterical. Without giving away a spoiler, a near-to-the-end note composed as a bit of farewell to his best friend back in NYC had me howling at the reveal.

Appreciative of the period narrative, the immersion into the seediness that ultimately was The Beatles real growth as a unit and an unusual perspective that involved clever character dialogue…

I give this book 4 out of 4 beetles.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Book Review: “Cornflakes with John Lennon” by Robert Hilburn

Cornflakes with John Lennon Robert HilburnLast month I decided I needed to get out of the house, and while on my adventure, I came across a used bookstore where I stumbled upon a copy of Cornflakes with John Lennon: And other tales from a rock ‘n’ roll life by Robert Hilburn. I kept thinking the author sounded familiar, but it wasn’t until I actually started reading and realized that he was a Los Angeles Times music critic that it occurred to me that I had seen his name while I was doing research on Jim Croce. Hilburn had reviewed a Randy Newman show in 1972 with Jim opening and had given Randy one paragraph and Jim three & a half paragraphs worth of praise. But I digress…

No reason to beat around the bush, this book rocks from beginning to end. Published in October 2009, this 270 page tribute to rock ‘n’ roll is a real page turner. Hilburn spent over 30 years as the Los Angeles Times rock critic, so he knows what the rock and roll public want and doesn’t let them down with the stories in this book. He starts off immediately with a story about John Lennon, then fills the rest of the books with personal, inside stories and encounters with the likes of Bono, Bruce Springsteen, Bob Dylan, Elton John, Johnny Cash, Waylon Jennings, Janis Joplin, Ice Cube, etc. (Hell, even I liked Bob Dylan after reading this book!) And Robert lets us get a peak into the world of Curt Cobain, or so it appears…

Robert Hilburn becomes with friends with almost every rock, country and folk star he reviews and interviews along the way, even admitting to giving them advice on their shows which he seems surprised to find they take to heart the next time they hit the stage. He gets phone calls and invitations from rock gods around the world…he had the job we all dreamed of having! There were a few hiccups along the way…George Harrison got miffed and stopped taking his calls and requests for interviews. But all-in-all, Hilburn sure makes it all sound like the ultimate joy ride for the last 3 decades.

I don’t know why I’m still talking. If you’re like me and somehow missed this book when it came out, take my advice and go to Amazon.com where you’ll find plenty of used copies for under $5 and add this book to your collection. The stories about Lennon alone are worth $2! And for that reason…

I rate this book, 4 out of 4 Beetles!

 

 

 

 

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Book Review: “The Last Days of John Lennon” by James Patterson

The Last Days of John Lennon by James Patterson The Last Days of John Lennon by James Patterson

Does that title and the author sound familiar? The title you might recognize because it’s the same as the book written by Frederic Seaman in 1991…but I’ll discuss more about him later.

The author of this book, James Patterson, is the world famous author who has written over 200 mostly fiction books since 1976 and sold in excess of 375 million copies. I’m not sure why he chose to write a book about John Lennon. Maybe because he’s a hardcore Beatle fan like the rest of us? I could probably look it up somewhere, but in the end, it’s not really important as to why he wrote this book. He’s a talented writer and maybe he just wanted to break up the monotony of writing all that fiction.

The other thing I can’t explain is why it’s taken me a month and a half to read this book. From the get-go I just couldn’t seem to get into it. You’d think with the subject matter and the author this would be a no brainer that anyone would read in one sitting. It could have been me that was the problem because I knew the ending and didn’t want to deal with reading the (bloody) details again. But, there were a couple other things that didn’t sit right with me.

This book is not the “last days” of John Lennon’s life. In fact, Patterson starts at the very beginning of the Beatles creation when John Lennon met Paul McCartney. Intermixed with the Beatles story is the story of Lennon’s killer starting 2 days before he actually shot Lennon. Maybe that’s what the title is about, but it’s not what 80% of this book is about. And for Beatles fans who know the story of their rise to fame, it’s a bit much to have to rehash the whole thing again. There really are no surprises there.

As for the story of John’s killer’s, it’s a little too detailed..to the point of wondering where Patterson got all this inside information into the killer’s psyche. There are over 90 pages of “Notes” in the back of this book, detailing the sources for every page of the book, but sometimes even the notes don’t explain some of the ‘thoughts’ Patterson includes. I have to wonder if he was slipping in some of that fiction he’s famous for into his text.

And while I’m talking about Patterson’s notes, let’s bring back the subject of Frederic Seaman and James Patterson borrowing(?) the title from his book. Coincidence? Accident? I don’t know if we’ll ever know the truth about that one, but what I can tell you is that Fred Seaman is mentioned three times in this book as having conversations with John Lennon, but not one of those conversations is sourced back to Fred’s book. For those who are heavily into the story of John Lennon, his assistant Fred Seaman, and Yoko Ono, this might leave you scratching your head. Or maybe it’s just me…

All in all, this book is really well written (as to be expected), but I think the title may be a little misleading and the content a little redundant for diehard Beatles fans, but maybe we weren’t the target audience. And for that reason…

I rate this book, 3 out of 4 Beetles!

 

 

 

 

 

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Book Review: “The Beatles Era – A Quest For The Secret of The Beatles” by Peter Eijgenhuijsen

This review is written by Amy McGrath Hughes

TheBeatlesEra_Peter Eijgenhuijsen

Dutch author Peter Eijgenhuijsen has independently published an intriguingly titled book on The Beatles. As he states, “This book is not about what happened, but about why it happened.”

In that context, I was introduced to The Beatles Era – A Quest For The Secret of The Beatles (2021). Coming from a historical standpoint, much of this book draws on familiar anecdotes and facts that Eijgenhuijsen cites thoroughly. His reasoning for this publication was a conversation with a friend who made a point of dissecting the band’s career into several distinct sections, which is analyzed in detail in these pages.

Most of the publication is taken with the discussion of how the band revolved around these sections/eras. There are several chronological off-shoots that Eijgenhuijsen heads down and that makes for a somewhat disjointed rendering. The tone is skewed with personal recollections that have a more European slant (and granted, it is coming from his upbringing in the Netherlands), which doesn’t get a lot of attention in say, a global Beatles biography.

While I found this aspect interesting, what I have come away with would be more suited as a ‘primer’ in Beatles lore. While he is very thorough in speaking to his personal likes of particular songs or periods in any given point in their history (which does include the solo years), I would have expected more factual passages instead of a re-tread of well-known stories.

Two entries that felt off-kilter were the introduction of a fictional interview (where The Beatles had not made the impact they did) and another conversational story spinning in an alternate universe Beatles. While well-written, I honestly felt it didn’t have a place within the context of this book.

One standout chapter however holds some weight: The Reduced Solo Years. Here Eijgenhuijsen takes on each Beatle in more recent times (with Lennon referenced since 1980 by the other three). Being able to ascertain each of the three’s ‘later’ musical contributions is always a tricky outing in any Beatles landscape: comparisons are inevitable. But I appreciated Eijgenhuijsen’s dive into Harrison/McCartney/Starr releases/collaborations that critique releases right up the present day. I admit: it’s tough in an epilogue to sum up ‘McCartney III’ so that a reader understands it’s place in history. But he gives it the best summations for a generation that may not be familiar with say, ‘Chaos and Creation In The Backyard.’

‘The Beatles Era’ is certainly not a hefty tome and I would likely recommend this to someone who would want a brief read-through with a sprinkling of symbolistic fandom. I definitely think that Eijgenhuijsen could have a second career in the fictionalized world of The Beatles… perhaps that will be a second book! In the meantime…

I will give this book 3 out of 4 beetles.

 

 

 

 

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Guest Book Review: “Fab Fools” by Jem Roberts

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

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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!

 

 

 

 

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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!

 

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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!

 

 

 

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Book Review: “30 Minutes in Memphis: A Beatles Story” by Paul Ferrante

30 Minutes in Memphis Paul FerranteMy followers all know how much I don’t like fan-fiction when it comes to my Beatles books, so it takes a pretty special book to safely make it to my review blog without getting ripped to shreds. Lucky for author/writer Paul Ferrante, he’s written just such a book!

I met Paul online a couple weeks ago through a Beatles book group on Facebook. I had never heard of him or his books, but he had seen one of my posts and was inquiring about my PR serves for another book he’s writing that is not Beatles related. That’s when I saw this book – 30 Minutes in Memphis: A Beatles Story listed on his page. I questioned him extensively about it, reiterating over and over again about my dislike for fan fiction and authors who claim their fan fiction is just an ‘alternative history’. HA! Paul promised that it is fiction, but…it’s not fan fiction.

30 Minutes in Memphis is the story of 15 year old Beatles fan Marnie Culpepper. Marnie finds herself in possession of a ticket to see the Beatles in her hometown of Memphis, Tennessee with her best friend Myles in 1966. Unfortunately, John Lennon’s comments about being more popular than Jesus has the city in an uproar with boycotts, album burnings and protests planned for the day of concert. Not to mention, Marnie has been grounded for two weeks and prohibited to attend the concert by her former marine dad who is a sergeant with the city police force. So, what’s Marnie to do when she finds out there may be attempt to snuff out the Beatles? Read the book and find out…

Paul Ferrante did a great job in telling his fictitious story while staying true to the Beatles story. Writing most of the book with alternating chapters between his story of Marnie Culpepper and the story of the Beatles’ 1966 tour, this 257 page book is not only fun to read, but educational. And rumor has it…that John Lennon’s sister Julia Baird read it in one sitting and called the author all the way from Liverpool to tell him so! And for that reason…

I rate this book, 4 out of 4 Beatles!

 

 

 

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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.

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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!

 

 

 

 

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