Monday, June 30, 2014

"The Beatles: All These Years: Tune In" by Mark Lewisohn

I love them, yeah, yeah, yeah. ;) 

If you're a longtime reader of my blog, you'll know that I have had an almost lifelong love affair with the Beatles. (I recently did a search of my blog & tagged all the Beatles-related posts I could find with their own "The Beatles" label.) I can't remember a time when they weren't part of my life.

I had just turned 3 when they made their famous North American debut appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show in February 1964;  I think I had just turned 5 when my mother took me to see them in the movie "Help!" in the spring of 1966, thereby setting me up for a lifetime of dreaming about Ringo's ring stuck on my finger and falling through trapdoors into cellars where tigers prowled. I was 9 when they broke up, a teenager as they established their solo careers (my sister & I owned several Wings albums between us), and a university student when John Lennon was murdered outside his Manhattan apartment building.

I've read a number of books about the Fab Four, collectively and individually, including Hunter Davies' 1968 authorized biography, The Beatles;  Shout! by Philip Norman;  and "The Beatles" by Bob Spitz (reviewed here). I am sure there are many Beatles fans who are far more knowledgeable than I -- but at the same time, I think I'm pretty well informed about the group and its history, probably more so than the average Joe or Jane on the street.

You would think there wouldn't be a whole lot more to discover about them that hasn't already been reported. And you might think that, knowing the Beatles story as well as I do, I would find yet another Beatles book a case of "been there, read that."

You would be wrong, on both counts.

"Does the world really need another book on the Beatles?"  their longtime road manager & Apple executive Neil Aspinall asked author Mark Lewisohn, when he was approached about this project. 

Well, yes -- apparently it does. "There's nothing like the Beatles story to legitimately go everywhere and strongly connect everything to everyone,"  Lewisohn says in the book's introduction, explaining why he decided to write the book, and to do so in the way that he has. "It's a blockbuster history with surprises at every turn, many heroes and a few villains, unparalleled triumphs, great joys and genuine tragedies, the ebbs and flows of human lives -- plus an avalanche of fortuitous chances and coincidences that defy probability. From the project's conception, I've seen it as the Beatles in their times -- them in their world and the world right about them."

And the book lives up to Lewisohn's vision for it. Familiar as I was with the contours of the Beatles' story, there was so, so much that I didn't know, or that was presented in a fresh new light, or with new information that questioned or challenged the veracity of old stories. Lewisohn does place the Beatles in the context of their times -- what it was like to grow up in Liverpool in the post-war years, how the British entertainment industry worked, just how unique the Beatles were as a group that was both a vocal group AND an instrumental group. The book is amazingly well researched, drawing on sources new & old, from Aspinall, who ended years of silence by speaking to Lewisohn shortly before his death, to the girls who used to frequent their legendary lunchtime shows at the Cavern Club.  There is much here that's familiar, but also much that's new. So yes, apparently we did need another book about the Beatles. :) 

I loved how Lewisohn pointed out interesting links and coincidences and near-misses of history throughout the book -- that "avalanche of fortuitous chances and coincidences that defy probability." A few examples: 
  • A 1962 photo session to publicize "Love Me Do" took place near the docks of Liverpool -- on the very spot where John Lennon's ancestors had lived when they arrived in Liverpool from Ireland, fleeing the potato famine. 
  • Producer George Martin took oboe lessons from the mother of Jane Asher, who later became Paul's girlfriend.
  • Paul and John's first meeting has long been pegged at a church fete on July 6, 1957 (28 years to the day before my wedding) -- but Lewisohn hints they may have actually met several months earlier, at a newsstand called -- of all things -- Abba (!).
  • And August 17, 1960, the first night the Beatles played in Hamburg, was 20 years to the day from the first Nazi air raids on Liverpool.  “Rock and roll music was taken to Hamburg by the children of the survivors, to be heard in turn by children who’d outlived the Allies’ revenge blitz of 1943,” Lewisohn writes.  
Overall, I think my familiarity with the Beatles story was a plus in reading this book. It took me several months to plow through this book -- but because I was familiar with the overall arc of the story and the main characters, I could pick it up and put it down, dip in & out, without losing the thread of the story. Obviously, I was predisposed to like it, and so it's hard for me to judge how someone new to the Beatles story might receive it. I imagine it could be a tad overwhelming -- but my bet is that you will find it highly entertaining as well as informative.  

This is actually just the first volume in a planned three-volume set, taking us from the Beatles' family origins in Liverpool, up to the end of 1962 -- with "Love Me Do" still hanging in on the charts, "Please Please Me" waiting in the wings for release in the new year, and the group poised on the verge of something very big. And get this -- what I read -- all 803 pages (plus notes) -- is an ABRIDGED version of the book. There is a longer, deluxe "author's cut" edition, running to 1,700+ pages (!!), but available only (for now, at least) in England.  I bought the hardcover when it first came out last fall/winter, but soon realized it was far too heavy to be lugging back & forth on the commuter train in my briefcase every day. So I got an e-version for my Kobo -- much lighter -- and consulted the notes for each chapter in the hardcover version as I read along.  

As I got closer to the end of the book, I found myself torn -- should I keep plowing on through to the close -- or linger on each page and savour it, before there were no more pages to read?? Sadly, Volume 2 is still being written. While Volume 1 took 10 years to research and write, Lewisohn doesn't think Volume 2 will take quite so long to put together. I've heard estimated delivery dates ranging anywhere from 2016 to 2020. (!!) (Presumably if Volume One was "Tune In," Volume Two will be "Turn On" and Volume Three, "Drop Out"??) 

I can hardly wait. :) 

This was book #5 that I've read so far this year. (Although I'm thinking that, at 800+ pages, maybe it should count as two or three books, lol.) 

Sunday, June 29, 2014

The shadow child

Dh's cousin hosted a big family gathering over the weekend, and we had a lovely time. Lots of little kids running around, a new baby to ooh and ahh over. While such a gathering at one time would have been agonizing for me, I took it all in stride, didn't even give it much thought, really. Progress?

Until.

A., the tall, good-looking teenaged nephew of our hostess (dh's cousin's wife) was there -- and it was his 16th birthday. He'd already been to get his driver's learning permit, and there was much ado being made over him.

I was sitting at a table with my sister-in-law and another of dh's cousins, and they were remarking on how quickly all the kids were growing up. They wondered aloud about another cousin's son, J., and how old he was. They called him over and asked, and he said he would be 16 this fall. 

That set them off:  wow, Grade 11 this fall!! A driver's license!!  Off to university soon!!

I just sat there silently, with a half-smile frozen on my face. I knew very well, all too well, how old J. was. His mom, and A.'s mom and I were all pregnant together at our host & hostess's engagement party, 16 years ago this spring/summer.

Of course, I know how old Katie would be soon -- it's not like I'd forgotten.  But it was still jarring to hear others talking about these boys like that -- to realize all over again what I am missing out on -- and to realize for the umpteenth time that nobody else will ever, ever remember my daughter the way that I will. They know that I was pregnant, that I lost the baby -- but to them, she will only ever be a sad, hazy, shadowy memory of what might have been. The fine details, the fact that my little girl would be the contemporary of these two boys -- also be in high school and getting her driver's license and thinking about university -- are obviously lost on them.  

(I do think that J's mother remembers, since we were pregnant at the same time -- and my baby died, while hers lived. But she wasn't at the table with us then.) 

I stood up and offered to take everyone's paper plates to the garbage, and asked did anyone want anything else to drink, and that changed the subject, thankfully.

It didn't ruin the entire evening for me (as it once surely would have).  But it did sting.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

#Asanonparent, here's what I think....

So, Peter McKay, Canada's federal Minister of Justice and (not insignificantly) new dad, has been having a rough few weeks.

First, he made some comments about why so few women are being appointed federal judges -- namely, that they simply aren't applying because of the "special bond" they have with their children.

Then, he got into a Twitter war with Liberal leader Justin Trudeau, objecting to Trudeau's mention of legalizing marijuana to a group of students with a tweeted protest that began, "As a parent..."  This prompted a flurry of sarcastic responses under the hashtag #asaparent. (As I commented to Pamela at Silent Sorority, it reminded me of how she used to take articles that used the phrase "as a mom…” and then change them to “as an infertile…” -- sometimes with hilarious results.)

Then, some of McKay's messages to his staff members to mark Mother's Day & Father's Day were compared and contrasted -- and found wanting.  As reported in the Globe & Mail
Mr. MacKay’s Mother’s Day message to Justice Department staff, in recognizing those who hold “two full-time jobs” as colleagues and as mothers and caregivers, said that by the time many of them reach the office, they have “already changed diapers, packed lunches, run after school buses, dropped kids off at daycare, taken care of an aging loved one and maybe even thought about dinner.”

By contrast, the Father’s Day message spoke of “dedicated fathers, shaping the minds and futures of the next generation of leaders.” In both the Mother’s and Father’s Day messages, and in his meeting with the Ontario lawyers, he cited what he’d learned from his own experience as the married father of a toddler.
The more I thought about it (#asanonparent), the more I wondered about two things that nobody else seemed to be mentioning or asking: 

(a)  Since when have bosses started issuing workplace messages to their employees related to Mother's Day & Father's Day?  (The only holiday I can ever remember where the higher-ups issued some kind of message or commentary was Christmas/New Year's/"the holidays" -- and that was abandoned quite some time ago.) 

And,

(b)  How many of the minister's staff members don't have children (quite a few, I would guess) -- and what words of praise & wisdom & recognition did he have to offer them?

McKay is still in his 40s, newly married to a highly accomplished woman and, as noted, a new dad.  Presumably, he should know better.  On the other hand, consider the party he belongs to and the company he keeps...

On the plus side, these events have inspired some great comment & opinion pieces in the press.
There's Tabitha Southey's wry commentary in the Globe & Mail:  
Compound all that with the self-righteous “As a parent...” and we have Russian nesting dolls of wrongness! As if people without children have no desire to see the country run well. Were all the minister’s opinions suspect before the birth of his son a year ago?...

But in general, and I say this as a parent, lots of us are morons, and those who sling our children about like moral cudgels are in the wrong – and what a vast land Mr. MacKay is proving the wrong to be!

...Basically, to hear Minister MacKay explain it, our Federal Courts are run by dozens of baby-eating Greek Titans – it’s all Kronoses over there with the occasional Joan Crawford thrown in.
And (needless to say) I adored this piece by Susan Delacourt in the Toronto Star, with insights such as:
...perhaps we should be asking how parenthood has become some kind of blanket assurance of noble motives in politics. Or why we assume that the mere fact of having children — not exactly a unique condition in human experience — gives a person a heightened capacity for compassion.

For parents or non-parents, isn’t the true test of empathy your ability to see yourself in someone else’s shoes — someone who doesn’t look or act or live like you? On this score, we have no reason to believe that Canadian parents are more, or less, caring than any other kind of people in the population.

...Being a parent is without a doubt something to celebrate, but it shouldn’t be a stick to whack political opponents. Nor should it be the price of admission to a conversation about what’s best for Canadian families — with kids or without them.
Amen!

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Office odds & ends

I stopped at the department store counter of a well-known cosmetics brand this week at lunchtime.  My favourite swivel-up eye pencil broke off/ran out, mid-makeup, as I was rushing to get ready & out the door for work that morning -- thereby setting the tone for the rest of my day :p -- and I wanted to pick up another. I'm one of the counter manager's best and longest-running customers.  How long? I have a business card from her with an appointment written on it that dates back to 1991 (!!).  

"I'm thinking about retiring," she said to me quietly, as she wrapped up my purchase and looked around to see if any of her coworkers were listening. "I'm 60 now, and I've been here 25 years. Most of the girls these days don't stay more than two or three. I hate to say it, but I'm not as young as I used to be. It's hard spending all day on my feet, and I want to spend more time with my granddaughter." 

I told her I could relate. (Well, not to the granddaughter part, obviously, but generally.) 

Without going into all the gory details, there has been much change afoot at my workplace. (Again.) We've all been told we have to "step up our game."  And while I have been trying to adapt, and have never been rated a less than satisfactory performer before this point, I fear that, lately, I am not stepping high nor fast enough to suit some of the powers that be. :(   As another "older" coworker noted at a recent meeting where we were discussing the prospect of yet more changes, "we all know that change is a given these days, but over time, it does take a toll." 

Yes. Yes, it does. 

(Which is a long & roundabout explanation/excuse, at least in part, as to why I haven't been writing (or reading, or commenting) much lately. Apologies.)

*** *** ***

Also on the work-related front, pg coworker is off work again. She is actually "working from home," although I'm sure her dr would have done the paperwork to put her on short-term disability.  Even so, it's been a bit lonely at the office. And busy, especially with vacation season kicking in.

We're hoping to lure her into the office next week for a surprise baby shower.  It's actually a joint baby shower -- two of the guys in our office are also about to become new dads. Would you believe I'm on the planning committee?? (As one of just three people on our immediate team, including our mutual senior manager, I figured I would be conspicuous by my absence.)  I was secretly hoping the shower would take place while I was away on vacation, but no such luck...

One of the managers, about my age, actually wondered whether we should wait to have the shower until the baby is born. A few people said, "Why??" in puzzlement and there was an awkward pause as some of us, who are old enough to know that not all babies come home, particularly from a high risk pregnancy, exchanged glances.

I weighed in by saying, in a light-hearted way, that having a shower later was fun because we might  get to see the baby -- but it was nice at any time to know that your friends want to wish you well and celebrate with you.

I still think about my own baby shower sometimes -- planned, but never held. All I have is an invitation. I would have liked to have had, if not the presents (they would never have been used anyway), definitely the memories...

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Thanks, Doc

We said goodbye to our family dr this week. He's retiring at the end of the month -- winding down his practice & selling the building where his office is located, not too far from where we lived when we were first married. The company that a friend worked for (headquartered in the area at the time) used to refer its employees to him;  as newlyweds, some (gulp) 29 years ago, when we asked the friend if they could recommend a family dr, they sent us to him, and we've been there ever since. 

Doc is older than my father (!) -- in his mid-70s.  We knew this was coming, sooner rather than later, but it's one of those things you push out of your mind (like the cartoon:  fingers in ears, "lalalala...") because you just don't want to think about it, and it was a shock when we finally got the call to start looking for a new dr.

That, of course, is easier said than done.  Family drs -- who are taking new patients (let alone GOOD ones) -- are like gold these days, it seems -- both in small towns, where my parents live, and in big cities & suburbs like ours. Fortunately, a few new clinics have opened recently to meet the needs of the rapidly growing suburbs where we live. There's one near us that is expanding its practice with several new drs, and we have a "meet & greet" scheduled later this week with one of them. Fingers crossed...!

While I do wish Family Dr. had taken my concerns about not getting pregnant sooner more seriously, I cannot hold that against him, because on balance, he's been a damned good doctor in so many other ways. When I did get pg, he was delighted (in his own quiet way).  He referred me to my excellent Dr. Ob-gyn  -- who had delivered his own three sons (and referred us to other excellent specialists for other assorted issues over the years). When I called him, concerned about spotting, he called me at home to check on how I was doing;  when I lost Katie, he also called me at home -- not the first time he called us at home to check in on us when we weren't feeling well. When I showed up at his office out of the blue in the throes of a post-failed-IUI panic attack (13 years ago tomorrow, as matter of fact...), he got his receptionist to give me one of her own Ativan pills on the spot, wrote me a prescription for more, & told me it was no wonder, I'd been through one major life disappointment after another lately.

It's not just him -- he's had the same receptionist and nurse -- his wife! -- for years;  we're going to miss them too. His wife hugged us both;  I got all teary and I think she did too, a little. It must be hard for them;  we only have to say goodbye once but they are doing it every time a patient walks in these last few weeks.

Thanks, Doc (& staff). Happy retirement!

Sunday, June 8, 2014

"The Fault in Our Stars" (the movie)

I dragged dh to see the movie version of "The Fault in Our Stars" this afternoon. I had read the book about a year ago, in the summer of 2013, and reviewed it for Mel's GRAB(ook) Club, here, and was looking forward to seeing the cinematic version.

It was opening weekend & I was afraid the theatre would be crawling with teenaged girls. Surprisingly, it wasn't crawling (it WAS early Sunday afternoon), but the audience WAS mostly teenaged girls -- including an entire rowful, a few rows ahead of us -- feet up on the seats in front of them, cellphones in hand, a few of them wearing "Okay? Okay." T-shirts. . A couple of teenaged boys arrived just before the show started & sat right behind them, kicking the seats & generally being annoying. Aside from a chorus of giggles & sniffles in the appropriate places, though, they (fortunately) weren't too disruptive and the comic relief was a nice balance between the sad story that unfolded on screen. (We were probably the oldest people in the theatre, though -- erk!!) 

"I think you & I cried more than they did," dh commented. (He liked it!)

"That's because we can relate both as former teenagers AND as parents facing the imminent loss of a child," I pointed out. When Laura Dern, as Hazel's mother (!!), reassures Hazel that "I will ALWAYS be your mother" (even after Hazel dies, as she surely will), we held hands a little tighter.

I generally find movie adaptations of the books I love disappointing... but I'm happy to say this mostly lived up to my expectations & hopes, moreso than most movie adaptations do. The acting is uniformly superb, particularly from Shailene Woodley, who I'm willing to bet has an Oscar somewhere in her future (she was already nominated for her role as George Clooney's daughter in "The Descendants"). Ansel Elgort as Gus is a real charmer;  it is easy to see why Hazel falls for him. Amsterdam was magical. I shed almost as many tears during the scenes in Anne Frank House as I did during Isaac & Hazel's eulogies. I found the initial support group scenes even funnier than they read in the book.

There are a few things missing in translation from the book to the movie. Gus's parents don't get much screentime;  his sisters are entirely absent, as is Hazel's friend Caitlin, and a lot of the poetry that I loved in the book is missing. Hazel's backyard swingset is there and then it's gone at the end, without explanation.  The important stuff was all there, though.

The one jarring note for me is that I had pictured Van Houten's assistant as a middle-aged, motherly woman. Here, she's young and extremely pretty. And speaks excellent, almost completely unaccented English. It wasn't bad, just something I didn't expect.

So you have two thumbs up from me & dh. Go and see it (but you really should read the book first). And take Kleenex -- you'll need it.