Monthly Archives: May 2021

‘One Two Three Four: The Beatles in Time’ by Craig Brown

2020, 628 p.

I am a sucker for anything about the Beatles, even though I’m sure that every interview has been reported and combed over and every possible angle explored. Books, documentaries, podcasts – I’ll consume them all. But, enjoyable enough though it was, I really don’t know if the week that it took me to read this huge tome was really well spent.

The book takes a chronological approach, from the earliest days of playing together and goes through to their last performance on the roof of the building in London. It is written as a series of short chapters – 150 of them – some a few pages in length, some only taking up a page.

There are little vignettes that he repeats throughout the text. For example, he writes present-tense descriptions of various parties held over the years that the Beatles were together, where he names who was there, the drugs consumed, the ‘vibe’. As they accumulate, you sense the increasing lack of control as the Beatles and their hangers-on descend into a vortex of jealousy, unhappiness and irresponsibility.

The references are all at the back, and there are many of them, but what is more interesting is the footnotes which become increasingly florid as the book continues. Many of his anecdotes involve unknown people, whose ‘celebrity’ is only revealed in the footnote, and you do get a sense that this is a little microcosm of people who know people.

Some of the chapters are quite quirky- e.g. the list in Chapter 97 of the figures on the cover of Sgt. Peppers (e.g. Dr David Livingston, Oscar Wilde, Aldous Huxley, Lenny Bruce, Stephen Crane the author) and those who were dropped (Mahatma Ghandhi because of pressure from the head of EMI; Leo Gorcey the actor who wanted $400 for his images; and Hitler and Jesus Christ, both requested by John but dropped because too controversial). There are interviews with people who saw his concerts (the Ruby Wax one is really funny), rehashed interviews with the Beatles themselves, and quirky stories. Black and white photographs appear in the chapter to which they apply, which I much prefer to an insert where all the photographs are grouped together. The ending of the book is interesting. He finishes with Brian Epstein, and tells the story backwards, highlighting the many ‘what-if’ paths that could have been taken along the way.

Some of the chapters are autobiographical, where the author talks about his own experience of the Beatles, and his rather dyspeptic current-day excursions to tourist ‘attractions’ in Liverpool. Some chapters are counterfactuals e.g. a chapter where he posits Gerry and the Pacemakers becoming the big thing of the 1960s, with the Beatles just lowly support acts. Other chapters are about things only tangentially related, that occurred at the same time. I must confess that I was hoping for something a little more analytic and dare I say ‘historical’, but this was not the book to bring me either of those things.

My rating: 7/10

Sourced from: Yarra Plenty Regional Library

I hear with my little ear: Podcasts 16-23 April 2021

The Latin American History Podcast. In The Conquest of Mexico Part 9, Max Sarjeant continues the story beyond the usual end point of the Spanish retaking of Tenochtitlan. Even though they had Tenochtitlan under their control, the Spanish troops did not occupy it immediately, preferring to camp at another location not far away (perhaps all that rampant smallpox turned them off a bit). But eventually they moved into Tenochtitlan, destroying most of the temples in order to construct their own buildings on top of them. They then had to build a stable government, while keeping his own troops and the defeated Aztecs happy, while fending off rival conquistadors.

Big Ideas (ABC) During Trump’s presidency, we saw again the craziness of fear, hysteria, and political grandstanding. In Joe McCarthy and the politics of fear, historian Richard Norton Smith talks about the political rise of Joe McCarthy, his fall and his toxic legacy. It’s an interesting podcast- I learned a lot about Joe McCarthy.

In Our Time: Religion. Arianism was an early form of Christianity that believed that the Son of God was not co-eternal (and therefore equal) with God the Father. (Be careful- it’s not Aryanism, which is the belief in white supremacy.) It was quite a common belief amongst early Christians, but during the Council of Nicea in 325 it was declared to be heresy. However, it continued amongst the Goths and Visi-Goths, and still lingers today amongst Unitarians and (yikes!) the Church of the Latter Day Saints. This episode Arianism has three historians contextualizing Arianism within early Christianity and the Eastern and Western Roman Empires.

Not content with listening to one arcane program, I then listened to a previous 2007 In Our Time episode on The Nicene Creed. It was the Nicene Creed that finally marked the end of my mainstream Christianity, when I found myself unable to say even a single sentence with any conviction. This program covered much the same territory as the Arianism one, albeit with different historians, and I must confess that angels dancing on pin heads did come to mind.

Con subtítulos en español: Después de…

This was quite different from the other films that I have seen screened through the Instituto Cervantes. It’s a two-part documentary about the political rift in Spanish society in the 1980s, in the years after the death of Franco and just before the 1981 military coup. The film makers go into the streets and to political rallies, interviewing people – just ordinary people. Actually, it reminded me a bit of America today: a society completely divided, interpreting events in starkly different ways. No wonder there was a coup just after they had finished filming, because the pro-Franco forces, including the Church, were still very prominent. There’s no real plot to it. Instead, it moves from one group to another in a chapter-like format. Interesting as a piece of social and political history.

Escape from Melbourne….

During lockdown, we planned all sorts of little trips. Lockdown finished, but we felt a bit reluctant. Then the BIG lockdown was imposed and that was the end of that. I had some trips back and forth to the Mornington Peninsula in January, then ANOTHER short lockdown. Jeez- you wouldn’t want to book tickets anywhere, we thought.

So when a couple of beautiful days were forecast for the end of April, we decided on the spur of the moment, to desert the cat and go to Mt Macedon to look at the autumn leaves. Most of the places we looked out were booked out, so we spread our net further afield and ended up at Cleveland Winery, in Lancefield.

Beautiful place. We didn’t stay in the old 1880s house (unfortunately) but in the guest suites nearby. We woke up to the sun rising over the mist that clung to the vineyards. Quite beautiful

The sun rising over the vineyards

We were on the hunt for autumn colour, and Forest Glade gardens delivered in spades. I wasn’t aware of using a filter on the photos- I think that they really were this colour. Absolutely spectacular

There was going to be a wedding that afternoon.
The Japanese Garden
The Maple Walk
More of the Japanese Garden
I do like a bit of topiary
The gazebo

It was lovely to get out of Melbourne. And who would have thought that you could get so much pleasure from the paper strap over the toilet suite assuring you that it is sanitized, pillows that are too plump to sleep on, and little dobs of Vegemite in plastic sachets?

The cat wasn’t too happy though.

Six Degrees of Separation: From ‘Beezus and Ramona’ to ‘Another Brooklyn’

First of May; First Saturday in the month, and so Six Degrees of Separation Day. This meme, hosted on BooksaremyFavouriteandBest involves Kate choosing a book and then participants suggest other books that they have read that spring to mind. You can learn more about it and join in here.

As usual, I haven’t read the starting book which this month is Beezus and Ramona by Beverly Cleary. Haven’t read it: haven’t even heard of it.

But I do know Beverly Cleary from her book Fifteen. When I was probably thirteen or fourteen myself, I borrowed this book again and again from the school library. This is the paperback edition that the school library held. I was surprised to see that it was published in 1956, and so the book itself would have been about 15 years old when I read it. It was a very American boy-meets-girl story, with cheer squads and soda fountains as I remember it. For the purposes of this Six Degrees, it set me off thinking about similar coming-of-age books about adolescent girls that I loved either at the time, or have come to love as an adult. So that’s the theme I’m going to follow

Another book that I loved and reborrowed continually was Dodie Smith´s I Capture the Castle. I really can´t work out why my parents didn´t actually buy the book, given that I had it on almost continual loan! I now have two copies of it, although I haven’t got round to re-reading it. There´s a young girl narrating this story, too, set in England in a decaying castle where she and her older sister become obsessed with the American family who move in next door. (That’s interesting- these were the front covers that I remember, and they’re both Peacock Books, the Penguin Young Adult imprint).

Another book- or rather, series of books – that I became obsessed with probably forty years later was the Neapolitan Quarter, by Elena Ferrante (my review here). I think that Ferrante captures so well the ambivalence of girl-on-girl friendship and the pain of infatuation. I’m not particularly obsessed with who the actual author is, but I really cannot believe that it would be anyone other than a woman. I’ve really enjoyed the television series as well.

Janet Frame’s Owls Do Cry (my review here) was her first, highly autobiographical book, with many parallels with her later autobiography that was filmed by Jane Campion as ‘An Angel at My Table.’ This fictional account has an interesting narrative structure, starting off with a description of the Withers family’s straightened circumstances and the tragedy that defined them, then splitting off into three very different narrative threads tracing through the lives of the three children. I read it while I was over in New Zealand a few years back, when I visited Janet Frame’s home town Oamaru, which she fictionalized as Waimaru in this book.

A more recent coming-of-age book is Emily Bitto’s The Strays (my review here). It reminded me a bit of L.P. Hartley’s The Go-Between or Ian McEwan’s Atonement in that you have an adult narrator, looking back to their adolescence, when they became embroiled in adult betrayal that they didn’t understand at the time. In this case, young Lily, an only child of very quiet, middle class parents, is fascinated by her friend Eva’s artistic family, very reminiscent of the real-life Heide group of artists. I loved the exuberance of the Trentham family- their loudness and transgressiveness- and the mounting tension as you realized that things were not going to end well.

August, the African-American narrator of Another Brooklyn (my review here) has been taken to Brooklyn by her increasingly-religious father, after her mother’s death. At first she is forbidden to leave their flat, and she observes, and later joins, a group of girls. Each of the girls in this group of four friends has to negotiate her own way through parental demands and inadequacies and each has to find her way into adulthood.

So- all fiction this month, and each one of them a coming-of-age story from a young girl’s perspective.