Book reviewed by Amy Hughes.
Intrepid believer. Not the usual description to hang onto a 16-year-old female fan of The Beatles, circa 1964. But one that aptly fits the life events surrounding author Janice Mitchell who has now come forward with the mind-blowing circumstances surrounding the title of her book.
My Ticket to Ride: How I Ran Away to England to Meet the Beatles and Got Rock and Roll Banned in Cleveland (A True Story from 1964) (Gray & Company Publishers, 2021) hinges on Mitchell’s September 1964 whirlwind account of seeing The Beatles at Cleveland’s Public Auditorium and the very next day, jetting off to the UK with her best friend Marty, nearly all their belongings and holding onto the belief that no one would care where they ended up or if they would be found.
Be that as it may, the sum of the story doesn’t rely on the anecdotes or hard-to-believe storyline. What is documented clear and simple is Mitchell caught in the middle of a life not of her choosing and the desperate attempts to find meaning and reasoning beyond her grim upbringing. While winding the reader through the lifelines that gave her hope, one comes away with an understanding of why she needed to turn this adventure into something real, and travel to somewhere she could be happy for essentially the rest of her life.
Mitchell describes a harrowing childhood in an all-too-brief summary, riveting in it’s narrative and strikingly honest from her viewpoint. Her birth parents’ abandonment of her and her siblings forced her to live singularly with an aunt, uncle and cousin that at first glance seemed a more idyllic setting than anything she could have dreamed. But with the sudden death of uncle Mac, the closed environment of being with aunt “Toots” and older cousin Margie, coupled with a strict Catholic school atmosphere propelled her to seek out avenues of enlightenment.
From the first guitar janglings of The Beatles on Cleveland radio station WHK at Christmastime 1963, Mitchell’s world opened up. In her words, she “had something to live for.” Constructing the framework that would lead to her independence was in some way, more than she bargained for. Her alliance with KYW DJ Harry Martin – innocent on the surface from her perspective, but which proved fortuitous in just a few short months – paved the way for her first meeting with another up-and-coming British band: The Rolling Stones.
The Stones were embarking on their first American tour and were stopping by ‘The Mike Douglas Show’ (then broadcasting from Cleveland) on June 18. Invited remotely by Martin, Mitchell arrived only to be told she couldn’t enter. As was her luck, she managed to enter into The Stones dressing room, watched from the side of the stage and after, was propositioned by bassist Bill Wyman (who kissed her). Little did Mitchell know that this episode in her life would circle back around to highlight her escapade in only three months time.
Mitchell chronicles the hysteria (after she managed to get front row seats with Marty) surrounding the now well-known Beatles gig in Cleveland on September 15: the show was stopped after the third song. The Cleveland police demanded The Beatles leave the stage until the crowd was brought under control. The chaos and screaming abated with the help of DJs Martin and Specs Howard and the Beatles returned and finished the set. For all that, the thought went through Mitchell’s mind as she walked amongst the broken chairs and shredded signs: she and Marty were leaving for London at 8am the next morning for “Beatleland.”
While the ensuing days there were a mix of finding living accommodations (a flat in Notting Hill), possible job opportunities for the two (Mitchell had sent letters to both The Stones’ fan club and Brian Epstein in hopes of finding employment), Mitchell nonetheless spins an air of innocence that to some could seem incomprehensible in its lack of forethought for the future. She had secured money from her savings, as well as Marty’s college fund and the duo appeared to have it all under control, living in Soho, going to clubs nightly and even meeting young musicians – the latter with circumstances that were not wholly explained to them in detail, lest Mitchell and her friend were questioned as to their real motives.
Meanwhile… back in Cleveland Heights, the law enforcement community were actively seeking their whereabouts, circulating flyers with their likenesses and as days wore on, involving the US State Department. The flimsiest thread to their location came back: Mitchell’s letter to the Stones fan club (calling out Wyman) and Epstein had been discovered. Both girls were “somewhere” in England.
Jumping from clubs to Tube stations, roaming the streets of London and even managing to meet with their musician friends and hitchhike to Liverpool,where Mitchell was crushed in not being able to enter the Cavern Club due to time constraints… it all seemed to be working out. There had been no communication with their families back in Ohio and both were oblivious to the havoc they had caused with their departure.
As with all the good things that came of this adventure, it did eventually end. As Mitchell and her musician friend walked along Oxford Street, she was spotted by a bobby. It was over. Mitchell and Marty – handled by her account very well by the British system – were speedily jettisoned back to the US. While Mitchell continually wondered what was going on, Marty in the ensuing timeframe during the transit froze her out. Both were hauled into the county juvenile system rather brutally and Mitchell in her innocence could not comprehend what they had done wrong. Through the harrowing ordeal, she remained stoic but scarred from the experience. Remanded back to her aunt, she felt the isolation suffocating.
While she recovered, rock and roll was moving on. Mitchell’s high profile shenanigans lifted her presence to a level that she didn’t expect: while facing the judicial system in tandem with her London exploits, a judge ruled that her and Marty’s actions directly affected live performances in the Cleveland area. Such music was condemned (including a return appearance of The Rolling Stones) and effectively, rock ‘n’ roll was banned in Cleveland.
As Mitchell stewed over the insanity of the ruling, she coped with daily life. She managed one last phone call to the musician who she befriended in London. But Marty – her Beatle cohort – had moved with her family from Cleveland Heights and their last communication was in 1968.
Mitchell also moved on, married, became a journalist, then a capital case investigator in New York City. She left after the trauma of 9/11 and moved back to her hometown. And while compiling and reliving all the moments of this lifetime ago escapade, Mitchell learned that Paul McCartney had been on the precipice of seeing them off at Heathrow back in October of 1964. However, the US Embassy nixed that plan. She did end up visiting Liverpool more extensively in 2018 and again nearly came in contact with McCartney during his ‘Carpool Karaoke’ segment on the Albert Dock. She was not lost thinking about the ironic twists of her life.
Stories from first generation Beatles fans such as Mitchell’s are very rare and her insightful perceptions, coupled with her 16-year-old gumption make this memoir colorful and poignant.
I’m giving this book 4 out of 4 beetles!
Listen to Jenn’s interview with author Janice Mitchell…