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Book Review: “On the Road with Janis Joplin” by John Byrne Cooke

Several months ago, I embarked on a project that involves writing about several well-known rock stars. Not too many people know about my project, but one of my friends that I’ve been consulting and sharing with suggested I include Janis Joplin (along with a couple other women rockers). “UGH!” I thought. “I hate Janis Joplin. Why would I want to include HER of all people in my work?” Well, I couldn’t seem to shake the idea from my mind, so I did a little investigating to find out if there was a link  between Janis and my project…and lo and behold, there was! But I needed to find out more about her….

For the past several weeks, I’ve been reading On the Road with Janis Joplin by author, musician and Janis Joplin’s road manager John Byrne Cooke (son of Alistair Cooke). There are several other books about her: One by her sister and one by her lover/roommate, but I decided this one would probably be the most unbiased look at her life.

Reading this book was slow going at first because, well…she’s not one of my favorite people! I was happy to see a couple Beatles references in the early part of the book as the author tried to put her early development into perspective with what was going on in the music world at the time. Janis was originally from Texas, but moved up to the Haight Ashbury section of San Francisco in the mid 60’s to join the band Big Brother and the Holding Company. She would end up having two more bands before her death in 1970, and would tour extensively with all of them. It wasn’t until her final album (that would have to be finished without her after her sudden death) that everyone would feel that she had finally learned to control her vocals to put out her very best album.

Interesting trivia from UtimateClassicRock.com:

The last recordings Joplin completed were ‘Mercedes-Benz’ and a birthday greeting for John Lennon. On Oct. 1, 1970, Joplin recorded the old Dale Evans cowboy tune ‘Happy Trails’ for the former Beatle, which is sort of spooky given the lyrics are “Happy trails to you, ’till we meet again.” The tune was titled ‘Happy Birthday, John (Happy Trails)’ and released on the Janis box set in 1993. Lennon told talk show host Dick Cavett that her taped greeting arrived at his home after her passing.

But a strange thing happened as I read further and further into Janis’ story. I came to love and respect her for who she was. This is a young woman who was voted “The Ugliest Man on Campus” at the University of Texas at Austin in her freshman year (I was told I was the ugliest girl in the 7th grade), and it would seem that she carried the scars from her unpopularity in high school and college with her into her career. To put it bluntly…she was lonely. Very lonely…and her drug use was to comfort herself through the pain. My heart aches for her now.

If you don’t know about Janis Joplin, but want to learn more about her, this book is a good place to start (I’ll probably end up reading the books by her sister and the one by her lover/roommate). I did get a little frustrated with the author going off on his own story a little too much for my liking, but all in all, this was a fine book. And for that reason…

I rate this book, 3 out of 4 Beetles!

 

 

 

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FREE Beatles college course & Upcoming Beatles Symposium

So…you think you know the Beatles? Or, you want to learn more about the Beatles? Well, there is an online course called, “The Music of The Beatles” and it’s FREE! The course is offered through the website Coursera where you can take all types of free college courses. In fact, I encourage you to do a search on any topic in their search engine! The Music of The Beatles is offered on the site by the University of Rochester and the instructor is Dr. John Covach. It’s a seven week course, but if you can spare 2 hours a day, you can actually get through an entire week in just one day. I’ll be finishing up this course as you’re reading this on Sunday morning when I publish it. In the meantime, head on over to the site and check it out. If you’d like more than just a warm fuzzy feeling for finishing the course, you can pay the $49 to get a certificate for having completed it..but you’ll have to download and print it out at home.

John Covach University of Rochester Beatles Symposium

Professor John Covach

Speaking of John Covach, he’s also the Program Chair for the upcoming Beatles symposium to be held September 27-29, 2019 at the University of Rochester. This three day event is titled, Come Together: Fifty Years of Abbey Road, and obviously will have presentations, interviews, etc. based on the Beatles’ album Abbey Road that was released in 1969. According to the website, the featured speakers include John Kurlander (engineer on Abbey Road), Andy BabiukWalter Everett, and Kenneth Womack …just to name a few. Currently, the symposium is still in the Call For Papers stage of being set up, so there are not many details on the website, but I would advice you keep up to date on it and check back often: Come Together: Fifty Years of Abbey Road

In the meantime, why not pick up a copy of Covach’s book, What’s That Sound?: An Introductory to Rock and It’s History

 

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The Beatles Tarot

A month ago, I received an email from someone named Russ asking me about a tarot card review on my website. He said that he had done a Google search and found my website, but when he looked on my site, he didn’t see it. He went on to say that his son has created a set of Beatles Tarot cards and a companion book and asked if I had reviewed it. Uh….no! The reason he found my site was because of my review of the book by Yoko’s tarot card reader, but hey…I love tarot cards…and asked about his son’s website.

So here’s my back story…I’ve always had decks of tarot cards since I was a teenager (over 35 years). At one point in my early 20’s, I actually became quite good at reading them until a really spooky incident on New Year’s Day 1986  happened and I stopped. I picked it back up in my 30’s and then life got too busy to be bothered with reading. I still have my favorite deck…Legend: The Arthurian Tarot. The deck was given to me by a friend and they say that the best decks are ones given to you by a friend. I’ve had other decks, but never warmed up to them.

The point of telling you about me and my decks is to let you know that I’m no stranger to tarot decks, so when I went to look at this new Beatles Tarot site, I went in with my eyes wide open. (Note: If I really wanted to dig into the HTML code of this guy’s website, I could probably put a pic or two of his deck, but since he coded it so that it’s not easily accessible, I’ll assume he wouldn’t appreciate me posting any).

Several things caught my eye (and ear) after looking through the cards, which he displays every card he created in the 78 card deck. First off, he has music and interviews playing on each page, which I found terribly distracting. My next thought as I looked through the minor arcana cards was that I couldn’t find a real link between the images he created and the meaning of the cards (remember, I know how to read cards). His major arcana is pretty decent. My third thought was, “I hope Apple doesn’t see this, because he’s going to get a cease and desist letter from them!” I expressed these last two thoughts to Russ, the creators father and never heard from him again. I could have asked for a complimentary deck to review since I have no idea what the quality of the actual deck is, but I knew from what I had seen that I would never use it and I’m not into getting something for nothing just because I’m a reviewer.

So there is my story about this deck. My advice is to go to the website and check it out for yourself. Hopefully, you won’t find the background noise as annoying as I did. If you’re really into tarot decks or really into collecting all things Beatles, then by all means, buy a set! My guess is that after word gets out, Apple is going to put the kibosh on this and it will be a collector’s item!

Wouldn’t it be interesting to ask John Green what he thinks of this deck?

No review…no rating!

 

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Book Review: “The Meaning of Contentment” by Mary McGuinness

The Meaning of Contentment by Mary McGuinnessSome of you may remember me NOT reviewing a book called Mary’s Prayer several years ago because of my rule not to review books of people I do PR work for. Well, The Meaning of Contentment by Mary McGuinness is the follow-up book that was just released this past December 2018…And since Mary has been doing such a swell job of promoting her own books, she hasn’t needed my help in any way…so here’s a review of her latest book.

For those that haven’t read Mary’s Prayer yet, Mary McGuinness wrote the book to tell the story about her struggles when she developed depression and panic attacks in her mid 30s while working as an accountant in Glasgow, Scotland. She talks of being forced to drop out of the workforce and her need to make peace with the fact that things will never be the same for her. Mary talked a lot about how music, especially that of the Beatles and John Lennon, really spoke to her during this difficult time and helped her to understand what she was going through.

Now, Mary McGuinness has continued her personal story in The Meaning of Contentment. In this 256 page memoir, McGuinness continues the story of how despite her best efforts to return to the workforce after getting an Honors Degree in Psychology, the universe led her in another direction. It was though helping her elderly uncle John with his daily needs that Mary learned that sometimes life isn’t about working 9 to 5 and bringing home a paycheck and that maybe her focus should be about helping others who also struggle with the hardships of life. She learns that contentment is found in some of the most unlikely places.

It takes a brave soul to be as open as Mary McGuinness is in this new book (and in Mary’s Prayer). Combined, the books cover 20 years of her personal battle with depression and panic attacks. She also continues to tell the story of her love of The Beatles and John Lennon and how her trips to Liverpool and The Peace Tower in Iceland brought so much joy back into her life. And for that reason…

I rate this book, 3 out of 4 Beetles!

 

 

 

 

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Book Review: “Burning Down The Haus: Punk Rock, Revolution, and the Fall of the Berlin Wall” by Tim Mohr

burning down the haus punk rock revolution and the fall of the berlin wall tim mohr

Burning Down the Haus: Punk Rock, Revolution, and the Fall of the Berlin Wall by Tim Mohr was released on September 11, 2018. I’m not into punk rock, but my friend Jim Breslin is and he had posted on Facebook that this was a good book, so I thought I’d take the plunge and bought a used copy on Amazon.com

From the Introduction:

“The craze surrounding the Beatles – as well as demonstrations and a near-riot by hundreds of kids in Leipzig in October 1965 after authorities there banned almost all the local Beat bands – elicited commentary directly from head of state Walter Ulbricht during a meeting of the Central Committee of the Communist Party: 

‘I am of the opinion, comrades, that we should put an end to the monotony of the Yeah Yeah Yeah and whatever else it’s called. Must we really copy every piece of garbage that comes from the West?'”

And so it began, a crackdown on music in the Eastern Bloc. But that wouldn’t stop the kids in East Germany, where everything about their lives was controlled by the government, including their schooling, housing and professions. 

In 1977, Britta Bergmann saw a picture of the Sex Pistols from pictures in a magazine that had been given to her sister by someone who had visited West Germany. Immediately, she could relate to someone…anything! She began changing her look and attitude to punk. As time passed, she would find other punks (they stood out!) and they would form bands denouncing the government and their own personal lack of freedom.

This book is amazing. It tells the story of the creation of punk rockers in East Germany and their fight for freedom…freedom of speech and freedom to live their lives the way they wanted (it was against the law not to work in East German). It tells the story of the harassment and abuse by not only the Stasi, but by the ordinary people who would tell them Hitler should have killed them. And how Stasi snitches would infiltrate their illegal bands and organizations and report back (only government licensed bands could play in public). For over 12 years they fought with lyrics, with protests and their bodies when they would be arrested, interrogated, beaten and locked up. 

This is the book that they should have as required reading for high school students. If you want to know what was really going on before the fall of the Berlin Wall, this book will not only tell you through the eyes of the punk rock movement, but also through the environmental and peace movements that would eventually join them in fighting for change. And for that reason…

I rate this book, 4 out of 4 Beetles!

 

 

 

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Book Review: “Maharishi and Me: Seeking Enlightenment with the Beatles’ Guru” by Susan Shumsky

On September 3rd, I received an email asking if I’d be interesting in being part of a Blog Tour for a new book. The subject line of the email was “NEW BOOK: The Beatles’ India – sex scandals & mental breakdowns (Inside Story)”. As a publicist who works with authors, a book that was released seven months earlier is not considered a new book…but what the hell. Also, I had the pleasure of meeting the author, Susan Shumsky, last week at the Beatles’ White Album Symposium at Monmouth University in New Jersey. I introduced myself and told her I would be reviewing her book. We had a brief conversation, I attended one of her talks and then said our goodbyes at the end of the seminar.

Maharishi & Me: Seeking Enlightenment with the Beatles’ Guru by Susan Shumsky was released on February 13, 2018.  It’s a 300+ page book about the author’s experience with the same Maharishi that the Beatles spent time with in 1968. The book is very well written and an easy read. Of course, you may get tripped up on all the Hindu terminology, but not enough to distract too much from her personal story of following and living at the ashram of the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi and practicing transcendental meditation for over 20 years.

Now for the more personal side of this review…and strictly my opinion: There are many times throughout Susan’s story that the word ‘cult’ would come to my mind. Even the author herself brings up the topic along the way, but easily finds ways of dismissing it at times. It can become almost disturbing to the reader and I still haven’t come to terms with her justification of some of the things that she brings to light about the Maharishi’s organization. Even after being kicked out of the TM organization, she still supports the Maharishi to the very end.

But was John Lennon correct when he called the Maharishi a fraud? Well, this is also left open to interpretation. Ms. Shumsky spends several chapters in the middle of her book discussing the Beatles involvement and visit to India to meet with Maharishi at his ashram. She draws the stories from other sources since she wasn’t there to obtain any first hand knowledge. She also draws upon stories from people she knows who were there. In a court of law, a lot of this would all be considered hearsay. My thought is to take what she says, along with any other sources you may have read and develop your own opinion. Or…maybe not, because in the end, does any of it really matter? I think it’s up to the reader to decide what’s right for them when it comes to their personal religious beliefs and not be influenced by celebrity endorsements…or condemnations. Even Susan says in her book that you have to find the right guru for you, so you’ll either find her story about TM impressive or disturbing.

Susan Shumsky does a great job of opening the readers eyes to the making (and life) of a guru by someone who was actually there to witness it. She tells both the good and bad. The stories of her experiences are heartwarming, funny, disturbing and told with a lot of strength. Yes, I would highly recommend that you read this book if you’re a true Beatles fans or just someone considering TM or just wants a first hand experience of what it’s like inside the ashram. It’s a book that can create a lot of discussions about gurus, religion and God. And for that reason…

I rate this book, 3 out of 4 Beetles!

 

 

 

 

***For more information on Susan Shumsky, go to www.DivineRevelations.org

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Book Review: “Flower Power Fatality” by Sally Carpenter

Flower Power Fatality Psychodelic Spy Mystery Sally CarpenterFlower Power Fatality: A Psychedelic Spy Mystery is the third book I’ve read by Sally Carpenter and reviewed on this blog. Sandy writes the Sandy Fairfax Teen Idol series of mysteries and now she’s branched out with a new series. She’s a huge Beatles fan and whenever possible, she’ll mention them in her books. In fact, her first novel, The Baffled Beatlemaniac Caper is about a mysterious murder at a Beatles convention.

Flower Power Fatality is based in 1967. The lead character Noelle McNabb finds herself knee deep in helping to solve the mysterious murder of a man who knocks at her door on a cold rainy night and falls to her floor from a gunshot wound when she answers. It isn’t long before a secret spy organization shows up looking for information about the dead man that she doesn’t have. Or does she?

I love the way Sally can write a great story that’s so easy to sit back and relax to. These are the books that are true beach books or books for when you just need to escape into another world. There’s not a lot of gore, swearing, sex or nudity. Just simply good writing in a whodunit. Throughout this book, she names some of the chapters after Beatles songs and at least twice, the Beatles are mentioned, whether it’s Noelle putting their album on her turntable to chill out to or some other small incident. No matter where you go, there’s always room for more Beatles. And for that reason…

I rate this book, 4 out of 4 Beetles!

 

 

 

 

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