Tag Archives: Liverpool

Maybe I’m Amazed

Fab: An Intimate Life of Paul McCartney by Howard Sounes (Da Capo, $20.00, 624 pages)

In Fab, biographer Howard Sounes achieved his self-stated goal of creating “a better balanced, more detailed and more comprehensive life of Paul McCartney than has previously been achieved.”   It surpasses the earlier-recommended Paul McCartney: A Life by Peter Ames Carlin, and provides details that are not found in any of the band bios of The Beatles.   For example, want to know why Paul began wearing a moustache in the 1970s?   (Something the other members of the band quickly copied.)   The answer is found within the pages of Fab.   Want to know why George Martin admitted that he “made the biggest mistake of my professional career” when it came to compiling the songs for the Sgt. Pepper album?

A highly illustrative example of Sounes’s thoroughness is when he explains the many surprising similarities between Linda Eastman McCartney and Yoko Ono.   The “two strong women” both grew up as girls in Scarsdale, New York; and each of them had a very successful, domineering father.   Both attended and withdrew from Sarah Lawrence College.   Both became involved, as young women, in the New York City art scene and both had an initial unsuccessful marriage that produced a daughter.   Linda and Yoko were to each make “a beeline for the The Beatles,” and they each achieved their goal of marrying one of the best known men on the planet.   Sounes even throws in the fact that when John Lennon had a tiff with Yoko in 1973, and left her in Manhattan for a fling in Los Angeles with their assistant May Pang, he was seeing a childhood friend of Linda’s!

Most every other writer who touches the story of the Beatles will tell you that Linda and Yoko were very different women.   Kudos to Sounes for arguing that the exact opposite is true…  Another strength of this account is that Sounes does not give short shrift to McCartney’s time with Wings.   Fab devotes just as many pages covering Paul’s time with Wings, and their tours, as he does to McCartney’s time as a member of the Fab Four.   This is quite fitting as Sounes notes that during the years 1989 through 1991, Paul and Wings played live before 2.8 million people – including this reviewer and Sounes.

Sounes’s weakness is when it comes to Paul’s music.   He makes some huge mistakes, as when he critiques the song Let Me Roll It for sounding too much like John Lennon.   Wrong, it was Paul’s intent to show how “easy” it was for him to write and perform a song that sounded like John and the often-ragged Plastic Ono Band.   And he criticizes Magneto and Titanium Man from Venus and Mars as being “virtually unlistenable” – it’s still a very fresh sounding track – while ignoring the brooding classic Letting Go, where Paul compared Linda to wine and cocaine.

“There is one thing you’ve got to remember about Paul: he’s a very, very private guy.   He doesn’t like to be talking about his family, or anything to do with anything other than music, if he can possibly help it…  He doesn’t like to share things.   He takes them on his own shoulders.”

Speaking of shoulders, Sounes includes several interesting tales about Paul’s songwriting experiences, including one about how when Paul was finishing the song Hey, Jude he was determined to excise the line that reads, “The movement you need is on your shoulders.”   It was John Lennon who convinced him to leave the  line in, and John who realized that the throw-away line was brilliant (many heard it as Paul’s way of encouraging John’s son Julian to use his brain as a means of taking a hard life – a sad song – and making it better).

The Sir Paul McCartney portrayed within the pages of Fab has not led a perfect life, but then no human being does.   He is shown to be a sentimental creature (“Obviously one of my feelings is how proud my mum and dad would have been…  But I won’t go into that because I’ll start crying.”), sometimes harsh, but often generous with those in need.   His career, without a doubt, has been a fine gift to the world of music and the world in general.

This intimate biography is a model for future rock biographers.   Highly recommended.

Joseph Arellano

A review copy was provided by the publisher.   “Fab delivers all you need to know.”   Rolling Stone magazine   “A McCartney bio that intrigues all the way through.”   The Times of London/U.K.

Howard Sounes also wrote Down the Highway: The Life of Bob Dylan.

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Strawberry Fields Forever

The Beatles: The Biography by Bob Spitz, read by Alfred Molina (Simon & Schuster Audio, $39.95, 9 CDs – running time: 10 hours and 13 minutes)

Be careful what you wish for…  Or, in this case, the fellows who would eventually become the iconic rock group, The Beatles, were in for a shock when they got what they worked so hard to achieve – being the Toppermost of the Poppermost.   According to Bob Spitz, the author of this band biography, attempting to perform before an audience of hysterically screaming teenage girls is very tiring and puts one’s best musical efforts aside for the mere fact of being there in person on stage.

The usual biographical story line follows the lads from their early efforts at becoming popular and famous.   It’s well known that diligent practice, some songwriting and struggles to get gigs led them from Liverpool, England to Hamburg, Germany and back to Liverpool.   Eventually, they played to the USA audience via television on the Ed Sullivan Show.

Well, as an ancient radio show host would say, “Now, you’re gonna hear the rest of the story.”   Spitz invested countless hours of research and sleuthing to come up with a more in-depth and, in some situations, gut-wrenching back story of The Beatles life cycle, from unknowns to way-too-famous performers.   This reviewer listened to the audio version of the book narrated by Alfred Molina, who is himself a well-known actor in films and on stage.   Molina’s confident depiction of the various voices and accents is a real listening pleasure.   It also helps to have a well-written narrative which Spitz delivers chapter after chapter.

The saga comes to life with frequent quotes from the people who populated The Beatles’ world (e.g., Brian Epstein, Sir George Martin, Stuart Sutcliffe and his wife, etc.).   To his credit, Spitz did not include any of the band’s music in the audio book.   Whether this was due to the cost of the needle-drop or a conscious choice, it kept this listener focused on the interactions and emotions felt by all involved.

Honestly, it’s easy to jump on one’s laptop, go to You Tube and enjoy their  music.   It’s more of a challenge to stay with the biography and learn that these adorable fellows had plenty of emotional baggage and personal interactions that did not always bode well for the group.   Also, the rock scene in England and the USA was fueled by a wide array of illegal drug use.   The Beatles enjoyed their share of drugs, girls and fame.   Donovan was a pal as were other famous British rockers.   In the end it all fell apart and they were a group – a band – for less than a decade.

As the final track of  the CD closed out, this reviewer felt the enormous loss of something magical, something heard for the first time over a Ford Falcon station wagon radio as Martha drove the carpool group to our northern California high school.   It was love at first listen and it still is…

Highly recommended.

Ruta Arellano

This audiobook was purchased by the reviewer’s husband.   It is available via Audible.com .

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Life Is What Happens

“Life is what happens while you’re busy making other plans.”   John Lennon (“Beautiful Boy”)

This is an interview with John M. Borack, author of John Lennon: Life Is What Happens: Music, Memories & Memorabilia (Krause Publications; $26.99; 256 pages).   The book was released in late October of this year.

1.  Tell us a bit about your own background and what led you to write a book about John Lennon.

I’ve been a Beatles fan since the tender age of five, when my dad bought me my first Beatles record (the “All You Need is Love”/”Baby, You’re a Rich Man” 45).   Their output is what helped to shape my musical tastes, and when I first began writing about music in 1985 (for Goldmine Magazine), I was somewhat fixated on songs and artists that took their cues from the sound and spirit of the Fab Four.

Fast forward 25 years, and I received a call from the former editor of Goldmine, Peter Lindblad, asking if I’d be interested in being considered to write a book on John Lennon for Krause Publications, which is the same company that publishes Goldmine.   I practically jumped through the phone, I was so excited.   A few weeks later, Krause made me an offer I couldn’t refuse, and the rest is history!

2.  What will readers find in John Lennon: Life Is What Happens that they haven’t seen in the myriad of other tomes about Lennon?

Well, the account of rare/previously unpublished photos in the book is pretty impressive, for starters.   Also, I tried to keep the focus of the book on John and his music, and tell a relatively straightforward story of a complicated mans’ life, steering clear of most of the unnecessary drama that surrounded him.   To me, it’s a very nice-looking, coffee-table-style book, and one that can serve as not only a biography but also a critical look at Lennon’s music.   And did I mention that the photos are pretty cool, too?

3.  The amount of memorabilia and photos in this book is staggering.   Any personal faves?

As far as memorabilia, I love the shot of the Beatles pinball machine from 1966.   I’ve loved to play pinball since I was a kid, so this is one item I wish I had in my rec room – if I had a rec room.   I also like the personal letters and notes from Lennon that we included; I think they give an insight into John as a person and also showcase his awesome sense of humor.

4.  There was a photo of John and George Harrison on the banks of the Ganges in 1968 that stood out for me.   It’s so personal…  and tranquil.

That’s one of my favorites, too; I had never seen that one before.   I think it captures the two of them at a moment in time when they were coming out of the psychedelic scene and searching for something more in their lives.   It’s really a beautiful shot.

5.  What are some of the kookier things you came across?

I think the wax heads of John and Paul (from The Beatles Story Museum in Liverpool) are pretty wacky, as is the John Lennon Halloween mask from 1964.   It’s still fun to look at, though.

6.  As you accumulated the mass of material in this book, what did you learn about the man?   Did your research alter your impression of Lennon in any way?

What impressed me most during my research was the reinforcement of the fact that John Lennon was a true renaissance man.   Singer, songwriter, rhythm guitarist, poet, peacenik, author, social activist, husband, father – John was all of those and more.   He packed a lot of life into his 40 years, and he poured his whole heart and soul into everything he did.

7.   There’s a quote in Life Is What Happens taken from The Philadelphia Inquirer in 1980 where Lennon says, “I really thought that love would save us all.”   For a guy so famously cynical, that seems rather beautifully naive.   I don’t mean that in a bad sense of the word.   But do you think he really believed it?

John was a paradox; one minute he was singing about “Revolution” and “Power to the People,” and the next he was proclaiming, “All You Need is Love,” and imploring us to “Give Peace a Chance.”   I think John really believed in what he was singing (and saying) at the time he was singing (and saying) it.   The contradictions were part of who he was, but he wasn’t the type to say things he didn’t mean.

8.  This year has marked the 30th anniversary of John Lennon’s death.   What are your reflections on the man and his career?

John Lennon was a true original, the likes of which we’ll probably never see again.   The rock music world, and the world in general, is a bit less interesting without him.   Like many others, I really wish he was still here to lead us in new directions, flash his rapier wit and sing us some new songs.   Imagine…

Copyright 2010 John M. Borack, author of John Lennon: Life is What Happens.   John M. Borack is a Beatles collector and a Southern California-based music journalist whose reviews, columns and feature articles have appeared in periodicals such as Goldmine and Amplifier.   Courtesy of FSB Media.

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All My Loving

mccartney-a-life

Paul McCartney: A Life by Peter Ames Carlin (Touchstone, $16.99, 384 pages)

“Take a sad song and make it better…”

Peter Ames Carlin wrote what was likely the second-best biography of Brian Wilson, Catch a Wave: The Rise, Fall and Redemption of the Beach Boys’ Brian Wilson.   It was very good but a bit dry in places, especially when compared to The Nearest Faraway Place by Timothy White.   White’s earlier biography masterfully blended the migration of the Wilson family from the Midwest to Torrance with the history of Southern California itself.   (The title referenced the phrase used by Brian’s mother whenever she wanted to escape to the not-so-close and not-too-far-away community of Ventura.)

This time Carlin has come closer to fashioning a definitive, lively and warmly human account of the man they call Macca in Great Britain.   More than half of this bio covers the story of the Fab Four, which seemed to have had its last good moment with John Lennon and Paul – just the two – recording The Ballad of John and Yoko.   Said Paul, “It always surprised me how with just the two of  us on it, it ended up sounding like the Beatles.”

This is far from a totally fawning tale of Sir Paul, and Carlin does well in picturing the band as a dysfunctional family.   In Carlin’s eyes, John was the wild husband, Paul the responsible mother figure trying to keep the family on track, George the often brooding and secretly rebellious son, and Ringo the “What, me worry?” older brother.   And yet…  Yet they all came to realize – in one way or another – that they had destroyed the household too soon.   The break-up came too early.

Carlin illustrates several times how much Paul came to miss John once he was suddenly gone:  “I really loved you and was glad you came along/and you were here today, for you were in my song.”   This is the Paul who was subsequently again destroyed by George Harrison’s untimely death:  “To me he’s just my little baby brother.   I loved him dearly.”

The one caution with Carlin is that you should certainly feel free to disagree with his musical judgments, as when he praises the disastrous – to this listener’s ears – remixes of the Beatles songs on albums like Yellow Submarine, 1s (Ones) and Love.   They’re louder and brasher, but not better nor true to the original recordings.   He also fails to understand the simple genius of the album called McCartney – which contained Maybe I’m Amazed, Every Night (the alternate version of You Never Give Me Your Money) and That Would Be Something.

But in the end, we see here a musician who carried on quite, quite well even after the loss of his two quasi-brothers and two wives (one by death, one through a bitter divorce).   If you love Paul McCartney, you will feel the same way about him once you’ve finished A Life.   If you’ve never much liked Beatle Paul, you may grudgingly make your way through this bio and find that he’s earned a bit of your respect.   “Take it away…”

Well recommended.

Joseph Arellano

A review copy was provided by the publisher.

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I’m Down

You Never Give Me Your Money: The Beatles After the Breakup by Peter Doggett (Harper, 400 pages, $24.99)

“We were four guys in a band, that’s all.”   John Lennon

Rock ‘n roll writer Doggett provides the reader with a Magical Misery Tour in this inexplicable rehashing of the Beatles story, especially its sad ending (Hey Jude).   Now really, what’s the point of retelling a story that’s already been told in at least 75 other versions, and by the Beatles themselves in Anthology?   Well intended or not, Doggett appears to want to make the point that these were four not really very nice young men; except for the fact that the author is clearly partial to The Legend of John Lennon.

And yet even Mr. Lennon comes off as a crass ruffian in this account.   For example, here is Lennon talking about the band members’ treatment of George Harrison:  “It’s only this year that (George) has realized who he is.   And all the f—— s–t we’ve done to him.”   Positively charming.

John Lennon, however, is treated with virtual kid gloves compared to Doggett’s agenda-driven need to attack Sir Paul McCartney (probably the most commercially successful musician of our lifetime), George Harrison (who wrote what Frank Sinatra called the most beautiful love song of the last century), and Ringo Starr (whose upbeat personality and drumming literally bound the band together).   It is all very, very tiresome.

The point of this exercise is further called into question when one realizes that there’s nothing in this account that one has not read about before.   Even if you’ve read no more than two or three or a handful of books about the Beatles’ storied if marred career, you’ll be bored by the same old stories here.   The author seems to admit as such as he often quotes multiple earlier accounts of the same material.   For example, when he writes about the evil manager Allen Klein he quotes six other sources before providing his own perspective.   Yawn.

There are far better alternatives out there.   If you want to read a true story of a highly talented band’s sad demise consider reading the excellent account, Without You: The Tragic Story of Badfinger by Peter Matovia about Badfinger, the Beatles’ alter-egos band (sometimes referred to as The Junior Beatles).   Each of the four members of Badfinger worked with each of the Beatles at some point – and each of them looked like one of the Beatles – and two of their members died by their own hand.

If you wish to read an account of a band that will succeed in making you hate all of the band members, there’s Bad Moon Rising: The Unauthorized History of Creedence Clearwater Revival by Hank Berdowitz.   After reading this unofficial history, I lost my aural appetite for listening to the music of John Fogerty and/or CCR.

One final advisory, and it’s an appropriate one.   I recently discussed this book with a music-loving friend and he asked me what the complete title of the book was.   When I told him that it was supposedly about the Beatles “after the breakup,” he wisely responded:  “Well, after they broke up they weren’t the Beatles anymore, were they?”   No, and it’s a point well taken.   We stand adjourned.

This review was written by Joseph Arellano.   A review copy was provided by the publisher.

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Imagine: A Review of The Dream

There seem to be two types of memoirs.   In the first, the writer tells us things about his and his parent’s lives, about his children and his pets, about his view of the world, and so on and so on.   These stories can be so overblown that we’re reluctantly dragged along, winding up being the worse for wear when we reach the end.

Then, there are memoirs like The Dream by nonagenarian Harry Bernstein.   While this is the story of his life and his family, it feels more like listening to someone from our own family.   His relatives’ stories all seem so true and so familiar that no time at all goes by before we’re at page 279.

Bernstein’s tale is that of a young Jewish male whose family leaves England via steamer from Liverpool in 1922, bound for America – a journey that was the dream of Bernstein’s mother.   The virtually penniless family received the tickets for their trip from an unknown benefactor and arrived in Quebec before making their way by train to Chicago, which was then a growing, dirty, busy city where the smell of the well-known stockyards was constant – not quite the heaven on earth that Ma Bernstein expected to find.

No, the past was not perfect, but the Bernstein family is beginning to acquire some money when the Great Depression hits in 1929.   Harry searches for a job for a year before finding one as a “clerk” for a company engaging in dubious activities.

The young Bernstein thinks he wants to be an architect, but after multiple years of study, he finds he has no skills.   He also fails at jobs he really doesn’t want – one of the many experiences common to the young.   Eventually, he moves to New York City where he meets the love of his life, Ruby, to whom he is married for sixty-seven years.   There, he falls into the career of a fledgling writer. 

What happens to his beloved mother, his father, his paternal grandparents, and his siblings is what the remainder of this book is about.   It never fails to keep the reader’s interest.   The world lost an architect but found an extremely talented writer in Mr. Bernstein.   His newly released memoir, The Golden Willow, is all about his life with Ruby Bernstein, and I can hardly wait to read it.  

(Note:  The Invisible Wall by Harry Bernstein was a Target Bookmarked Club Summer ’08 Pick.)

Ballantine Books, $14.00, 279 pages

This review was written by Joseph Arellano.   Reprinted courtesy of Sacramento Book Review.The Dream

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