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Book Review: “Yoko Ono: An Artful Life” by Donald Brackett

This review is by Amy Hughes

Yoko Ono: An Artful LifeYoko Ono. No two words in the world, past or present, can conjure up such a deep emotional response. No one else in the world of art, music, and literature can rev up enough words to fill a bag as she has always done.

Author Donald Brackett has bravely put together Yoko Ono: An Artful Life (Sutherland House, 2022) by turns refreshing and frustrating (like the subject herself). That the reader will be rewarded with a better understanding of this complex woman is again refreshing and frustrating.

Approaching with an unbiased mind is not its sole purpose. There are enough people on Team Ono in today’s society that will appreciate the balance of life Before Yoko and After Yoko, with regards to the Beatles.

Refreshing: a good first half. Brackett pulls together numerous outside sources – including Ono – to paint her as a rebellious-contained-by-society-privileged-free-thinker who was most certainly ahead of the times. While her father remained distant (physically and literally) with his banking business, Ono’s mother was cold and indifferent in her relationship with her daughter.

These circumstances and her transatlantic family uprooting due to World War II led to the bohemian lifestyle that became her trademark. Brackett’s unflinching narrative, interwoven with Ono’s quotes about these early years is harrowing and dramatic, speaking volumes about her upcoming travails.

New York City became her canvas in the early ‘60s, as she oscillated between a divorce, second marriage, giving birth to her daughter Kyoko and finally involvement in the city’s downtown experimental movement known as Fluxus. Here is where Brackett shines with descriptive and informative details regarding Ono as an outlier, pushing to be accepted by a male-dominated genre.

Her minimalist approach couched with survival instincts brought on by early childhood drama, flung her into a world she felt she had a driven purpose – but denied by the misogynistic environment and with few artistic choices left, she went to London.

Frustrating: second half. As has been written in the last fifty-plus years, the events that brought Ono and John Lennon together are interwoven with well-known stories and numerous anecdotes. Based on this narrative, the point brought home by Brackett is that being with Lennon was the worst thing that happened to Ono’s projected art career and musical endeavors.

The portrait of Ono is one of a domineering witch that ripped a generation’s voice away from the biggest cultural phenomenon of all time. With hindsight (and Brackett being fortunate to include observations from Peter Jackson’s ‘Get Back’), we can now see the role reversal: he needed her more than she needed him and her last recorded work with him – ‘Walking On Thin Ice’ – showed the eerieness of that future soundscape.

However, Lennon was such an undeniable presence that the book suffers in that context. As a reader, one is left to blip in and out of the next 5 decades, save for a few moments of Ono’s artistic leaps, post-1980. Focusing on the facts, figures, and accomplishments since Lennon’s murder can leave the reader wanting more. And that may be how Ono wants it.

Her greatest achievement by far has been her son Sean. And with the re-telling here of Lennon and Ono’s ‘housebound’ years, weighs heavily on the tone of the latter half of the story. As Sean gained a sense of identity and has recently begun representing his mother in business decisions, we may be seeing a shift to only the listings of Ono’s handiwork – sold-out gallery showings, the Imagine Peace Tower, her purchase of Menlove Ave, and donating it to the National Trust, Number One dance hits – in that he will be the gatekeeper of her legacy.

A casual fan of the Beatles may gain some knowledge of the dynamic yet still elusive Ono, especially in the first chapters up until the Lennon years. For that reason, I’ll give this book…

4 out of 4 beetles.

 

 

 

 

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Book Review: “Harry and Me: Memories of Harry Nilsson by the fans and musicians that loved him the most” by David Roberts and Neil Watson

Reviewed by Amy Hughes

Harry and Me

As a casual listener or a dedicated Harryhead, this loving tribute to the man (and the band) known the world over as Nilsson is as seriously put together as one could hope for.

Harry & Me (This Day In Music Books, 2021) brings us into the atmosphere that inhabits any great tribute from a fan perspective: well-designed with attention to detail, numerous interviews, thoughtful analysis and quotes from the subject himself. And for a Nilsson aficionado, I can’t emphasize enough this is a must-add to your collection.

While this isn’t a straight up biography, what it does fulfill is the outpouring of positive vibes (truly no other phrase fits) that are brought forward about Nilsson. What is especially eye-opening is the diversity in fans, colleagues and contributors’ passages: from those that played with him, helped his career musically, cared about his work and his family and ultimately after his passing, continue to spread the word and not let his legacy stall at his death.

After John Lennon and Paul McCartney gave an official endorsement in 1968, Nilsson’s profile rose stratospherically. While making notices for his songwriting (The Monkees ‘Cuddly Toy’ and Three Dog Night’s ‘One’), his voice became his calling card, rapturously recalled by dozens of fans in these pages. Chief among the highlights was his interpretation of ‘Without You,’ written by Badfinger’s Pete Ham and Tom Evans. Not one single person in this book comes away not untouched by Nilsson’s emotive, soaring delivery and the tragic sad story associated with it’s writers.

Nilsson also gained notice with his cover of Fred Neil’s ‘Everybody’s Talkin’ from ‘Midnight Cowboy.’ While these songs could have cemented his reputation early on, Nilsson continued to deliver (and as Roberts and Watson gathered for the book) either in collaboration (with Randy Newman) or the revelation on how rock legends Aerosmith got their name.

An informative and recurring feature is Watson and contributor Mark Richardson’s amusing and helpful analysis of Nilsson releases: from ‘Nilsson – Early Years’ to ‘Losst and Founnd,’ both bring their personal memories and picks for tracks… measured in pints of beer!

Another feature is ‘Harry On’ sprinkled throughout in Nilsson’s own words from various interviews given over his career. One can see his laidback, self-deprecating humor, his utter lack of celebrity-ism even when fans who in their own words describe meeting Nilsson at any given time in his life: his home, the recording studio and at fan gatherings. These sorts of insights serve as a reinforcement that despite the sound bite culture of today, we should appreciate Nilsson and soak in at length the down-to-earth person he was.

More than a few fans and colleagues recall his tireless perfection in production and his notorious aversion to live performances. Most of these interviews focus on the ‘what ifs’ had Nilsson thought it worth his while and many fans were overjoyed if they happened to see him in at an informal function or private party where he felt comfortable singing and playing the piano for a small audience.

As far as the ‘discovery’ of Nilsson, the stories that are woven in ‘Harry & Me’ are almost nearly the same: fans and industry insiders speaking in the book found Nilsson on their own and genuinely felt (and continue to feel) an almost cosmic connection. Many were also able to come upon his work through older siblings, chance meetings in record stores with like-minded listeners, pen pals or simply from buying anything and everything they could find. Whether it was ‘The Point!’ (beautifully narrated by Nilsson), ‘Nilsson Schmilsson’ (an undeniable classic) or ‘A Little Touch of Schmilsson In The Night,’ he affected many demographics and geographics throughout his career.

One could argue though that his career into the mainstream sense suffered greatly with his well-known alcohol consumption. Too many stories abound with the negativity surrounding his drunken escapades and the nadir that became ‘Pussy Cats.’ While there was some good that came from his friendship with Lennon, the direction of his life and music changed after this release. There were several outstanding career moments (stage adaptations of ‘The Point!,’ the ‘Popeye’ movie soundtrack and attendance at fan fests), as Lennon’s death re-charged him as an anti-gun advocate.

Nilsson continued off and on with releases that Roberts and Watson duly note while also bringing in the downturn in his life after a trusted advisor embezzled his production company funds. Many close friends and fans attempted to help him during this part of his life and it’s noted with great sadness that this may have been the long goodbye that Nilsson never fully acknowledged to the public.

As the book winds down and touches with great emotion on his death in 1994, the collective of fans began a push to get Nilsson inducted in the Rock ‘N’ Roll Hall Of Fame. While this movement has been an ongoing, heartfelt love letter, it has yet to happen and it’s worth noting that many of his musician friends and collaborators keep the message alive and ongoing.

The overall arc of Nilsson’s contribution to pop music is never without question. ‘Harry & Me’ has brought together the people who truly serve the greater purpose. Someone who had much to deliver on behalf of Nilsson was his son Zak. With a poignancy that can only be seen from the date of publication, this book is dedicated by Roberts to him after his passing from cancer in March of 2021.

In the hopes that ‘Harry & Me’ generates continued beloved insight into Nilsson – with it’s dozens of little-seen images, thought-provoking interviews with supporters and volumes of Nilsson narrative…

I give this book 5 out of 4 beetles (as Nilsson is unofficially a ‘Fifth Beatle!’)

 

 

 

 

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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: “A Band With Built-In Hate: The Who From Pop Art To Punk” by Peter Stanfield

(Book reviewed by Amy Hughes)

Historically speaking, crystallizing the behemoth known as The Who – band, music, movies – involves flying over their career (decades in the making) and analyzing the history and events that influenced not only their impact as a unit but the generation that gave them a voice to erupt volcanically, spewing forth high-volume lava that for many right now, has become hard black coal, dense and cold of meaning.

Author Peter Stanfield writes with academic-minded insight that A Band With Built-Hate: The Who From Pop Art To Punk (Reaktion Books, 2021) should be soaked up with as much history as possible, just in understanding the environment and history of their times (and before). He makes us – the reader – get inside the genesis of prepubescent swinging Britain, move around it, throw it far and attempt to retrieve it back, encapsulated in that era’s urgent pop sensibilities.

For purposes of this review, the book is not a straight-up bio nor is it an extended diatribe framing The Who as hooligans bent on disarming the norm of rock, trashing instruments and hotel rooms (thanks, Keith Moon). What Stanfield does with extensive historical detail is frame the band as overall antagonists, armed with the windmill angst and intelligence of Pete Townshend – who I generally regard as a genius beyond compare – to smash and break the mundane lives of post-war Britain into a compact unit that pushes boundaries unheard of in late 50s and early 60s England.

The band’s ‘built-in hate’ stems directly from a Townshend quote and not far from the kernel truth of The Who’s beginnings in London. The pop scene itself blew up around art, art that had an immediacy and therefore an intelligence that couldn’t be described adequately for the masses. As the band germinated in the early days, the ‘Mods’ that were The Who’s (known as The High Numbers) audience were a fixated young mass that didn’t idolize them onstage or off. Dancing, drinking, clothes-styling, and amphetamines galore kept the message on a speed course that figuratively had them exploding all comfort conventions.

With the advent of pop, the term barreled on through with a notorious edge. Among the writers to expound and define this new wave was critic Nik Cohn. From the initial heady days of reigning in what the sound of pop was (as Townshend relayed the noise as “jet planes, Morse Code, howling wind effects”), Cohn sent forth an undefined, pointed, yet beautiful agenda: first writing in ‘Queen’ then throughout The Who’s career in this reading, giving (or maybe not) Townshend a critical mouthpiece. Cohn was there to hear ‘Tommy’ and later ‘Quadrophenia’ and as an overall arc to this book, provides the blueprint for understanding how the operation of pop culture machines on, whether it made sense then and by way of Stanfield, where to accentuate the importance of all these ground-breaking events in Who history.

Cohn was a pop descriptor extraordinaire and his writings and quotations are sprinkled liberally throughout this book. While there was no preconceived notion as to what ‘pop’ was supposed to be, it’s avenues continually splintered, while Hendrix was setting fire to his guitar: was he upstaging Townshend or paying homage? When ‘The Who Sell Out’ (and just previous to that ‘A Quick One’), Cohn was questioning and embracing it’s humor. Yes, sometimes it was pretentious – who in their right mind wanted to listen to this ten-minute ‘mini opera’ with vocals that shouted ‘clang’ and ‘cello’ in places The Who couldn’t half afford – as the subject matter made light (and dark) notions of a young girl’s naïve awakenings to wanted (or unwanted) sexual advances?

Stanfield also has a great appreciation for the media and artwork that surrounded The Who – from the advert-styled ‘Sell Out’ (among the conceived jingles and spoken word fillers), while at the same time, pointing out the conservatism in alternate, bland sleeve artwork for the European market with point-on results. The former was all part of The Who’s DNA marketing and salesmanship (now handled by filmmakers turned managers/producers Chris Stamp and Kit Lambert). The band with hatred was in essence becoming ‘pop’ to be consumed – albeit via a juggernaut of feedback and screeching.

At first glance, these were the baby steps, the rudimentary blueprint for what The Who were to become because of their association with art, consumerism and as it began to unfold in the US and the UK in the late 60s, the rock press: Townshend became the expert in his own Who history, divulging pages and pages of onion-peeling and partial proposals on what pop music was, where he had been (art school auto-destruct), where it was going (read: Tommy 1968 interviews) and later, how were these approaching 30 years of age (the doomed living out their own ‘My Generation’) supposed to bring their gatherings along with them (and did it really matter to the audience anymore).

I know for certain that as a high-schooler that was raised on The Who, there was a complete embrace of songs, especially ‘Baba O’Riley’ for whom the faux hip cigarette-smoking, corduroy-wearing, hanging-outside-the-cafeteria-at-lunch crowd was so off point, so brought up on FM radio to it’s real meaning, that the entity of The Who presented in this academic-leaning dissertation will have zero impact akin to understanding of what Townshend & Co. are all (or were about). I know I missed it, somewhere in-between ‘The Kids Are Alright’ film and ‘It’s Hard.’

Another stop-gap moment if I may: punk rock. As addressed in this title, how has The Who aged these 40 years since the release of ‘Who Are You’ with the bull crap stance of Daltrey dropping the f-bomb amongst synthesizers or ‘Sister Disco’ or Townshend’s footstep backbeat in ‘Music Must Change?’ Townshend at the time thought it was all over with the second coming of The Sex Pistols and The Clash and punk. But punk was already there, simmering and bubbling. It was merely a label. Lydon & Co. did skewer the inflated senses of Britain at the time, but Townshend’s alcoholic-fueled pissy-ness while being talked up by the Pistols’ Steve Jones and Paul Cook only added gasoline to the pyre. The band’s volcanic eruption (best shown at the end of ‘The Kids Are Alright’s’ ‘Won’t Get Fooled Again’ – due to director Jeff Stein asking them to go out and perform an encore they didn’t want to do) pretty much summed up the end of The Who as we knew them. On the edge, yet high up on the precipice waiting to be pushed off.

While the death of Keith Moon effectively put to bed the essential meaning of their opposition, the push-back of their music and lives, ‘Built-In Hate’ can now address with minute clarity and put-right connections how it all started and for the others that followed in their tidal-wave wake, and for the lows and the highs of the cultural innovators that are collectively engraved as The Who.

I give this book 4 out of 4 beetles!

 

 

 

 

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Book Review: “It’s All In The Mind: Inside The Beatles’ Yellow Submarine Vol. 2” by Robert R. Hieronimus, Ph.D., and Laura Cortner

This review is by Amy HughesIt's all in the mind yellow submarine 2

More often than not, understanding the impact of The Beatles is first formed by our personal experiences and then interactions and collaborations with like-minded individuals. Whether through music or books or films, new and improved impressions help to see what wasn’t available ‘back in the day.’ And as an archaeologist of Beatle-knowledge, I welcome those finds as a breath of fresh air.

Created as a supplemental companion, It’s All In The Mind (Hieronimus & Co., Inc. Publications, 2021) is another deep dive (Volume 1 – ‘Inside The Yellow Submarine’ – having been published in 2002) into one of The Beatles most storied movies: how the animated ‘Yellow Submarine’ was concepted, created and put together in a blindingly fast, short period of time.

Although not known to the general public at the time, there was no finished script, no complete narrative in the timeline for ‘normal’ animation. While those around them struggled to find ways to keep the film on track (chronicled here by impossible deadlines and diminishing budgets), the animators and artists furiously working at their desks at London’s TV Cartoons (TVC) would have little to no idea if a sequence was coherent or how it fit into the grand scheme of the movie. That the film was finished at all (read the passages on the ‘kidnapping’ of the almost-completed footage) is testament to everyone’s emotional commitment to the feature and unwavering dedication to The Beatles.

Historians Robert Hieronimus (affectionately known as “Dr. Bob”) and Laura Cortner have continued the narrative from Vol. 1 and found the people, traveled the avenues and asked the questions that so many of us take for granted when it comes to ‘Yellow Submarine:’ detailing the lives of the creators, animators, their families, the hard-nosed business aspects and the free-wheeling comradery that helped to keep this sub afloat for the 11-month engagement (and for some, beyond). To that end, many of the stories coming from the crew were alternately hysterical (read: “The Distasteful Floating Poop Sign” entry) and touching (an entire chapter devoted to art director Heinz Edelmann from Dr. Bob is revelatory and personal).

In addition, Dr. Bob and Cortner have also included their personal thoughts about the film’s (possible?) hidden messages – were there any and if so, what was the meaning we as an audience should glean from it? Dovetailing into that, there are also passages that showcase alternate storylines and characters that never saw the light of day, providing thought-provoking, what-might-have-been’s had events turned out differently.

Helming all this organized chaos were a group of dedicated visionaries that at the time had no plan or purpose where their ground-breaking work would lead: director George Dunning (unassuming by nature, but determined to push boundaries), animation directors Robert Balser (the creative glue that kept everyone together) and Jack Stokes (a beloved character and one of the few that connected with all four Beatles), special sequences director Charlie Jenkins (his ‘Eleanor Rigby’ segment and the ending scene for ‘It’s All Too Much’ are legendary) and art director Heinz Edelmann (“astonishingly creative” a superlative not uncommon in describing his work.) Among the points to be made crystal clear: Edelmann was the one responsible for the style and feel of the film – from character development to backgrounds – his unique vision and distinctive color palette shaped the flow for all involved. And to be blunt: artist Peter Max (world-renowned in his own right) had ZERO to do with ‘Yellow Submarine.’ The authors make no bones in their opinions about Max’s decades-long fabrications that he invented the ‘look’ or was instrumental in the film’s making. To quote the book “‘Yellow Submarine’ was not his design.”

As mentioned, great lengths are taken to include a dozen or so personnel in Vol. 2 who were involved in the day-to-day creation of the film. Most did not receive screen credit in 1968, yet their contributions were key: Cam Ford (who gives the book added weight from his concise personal recollections and photos from inside TVC), Chris Caunter, Malcolm Draper, Lawrence Moorcroft, Diana Ford, Norm Drew and Ramon Modiano. Their memories – day-to-day activities, inspiration from the co-creators, hijinks, familial gatherings at the local pub The Dog and Duck, visits from notorious producer Al Brodax and their deep love for Edelmann –  are invaluable and insightful, giving new meaning to “hard work” and “fun” over the course of what Drew called “this wonderful graphic banquet.”

As a side note: one group of men who need attention: the voice actors for The Beatles. Despite the Beatles live-action inclusion at the very end, it was John Clive, Paul Angelis, Geoffrey Hughes and Peter Batten (who was later arrested for being AWOL and had his work finished by Angelis) who went almost uncredited for their work. Cleverly disguised for recognition by higher-ups, their talents were “Blue-Meanie-d” at the time and have only become more prominent since anniversary screenings now give them the recognition they deserve.

The film has gained more mileage in the years since it’s release due to the accelerated interest in animation, pre-CGI. To wit: ‘Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds’ with it’s contributions from animator extraordinaire Bill Sewell’s visuals to Diana Ford’s detailing how she drove the rotoscoping ‘bicycle,’ to the Trace and Paint department’s literal hands-on input is fascinating from a making-of standpoint. With that history, the book makes the argument that a remake or why the almost-happened Robert Zemeckis 3-D motion capture version (which was deep-sixed in 2012) cannot occupy the same space as the original.

Quite honestly, it’s hard to encapsulate in this review all the personalities that saw ‘Yellow Submarine’ through from beginning to end. What is most appreciated from a reader who goes through ‘It’s All In The Mind’ (and Vol 1. ‘Inside The Yellow Submarine’) is the resolve of the talented, global team in making this film something they would be proud of, knowing it was a labor of love for The Beatles first and foremost. Dr. Bob and Cortner should also be given major credit for undertaking this logistical journey, championing the behind-the-scenes innovators, chronicling the imaginative environment and dispelling myths while letting the crewmembers impart their fascinating anecdotes that gave ‘Yellow Submarine’ it’s unmistakable character.

With the appreciation that has grown for ‘Yellow Submarine’ over the past 50 years, plentiful inclusions of color sketches from Edelmann, private snaps from the lens of Cam Ford, stories aplenty in the behind-the-scenes battles (and wins!) and the details of how particular scenes were created…

I’m giving this book: 4 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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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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