Tuesday, April 29, 2014

The Magical Mystery Listening Tour Will Be Slightly Delayed...

...and not for lack of trying! I recently and inexplicably lost everything on my iPod this past weekend...all 140 GB of music! I have no idea how it happened; I was listening to my iPod and a random message popped up saying it wasn't ejected properly (even though it was still plugged in) and when I next looked, everything was gone! I was able to recover most of it but it's quite fragmented...songs missing here and there. It's going to take me some time to go through it album by album and replace what is missing via downloads and my huge CD collection, so the next entry won't be for a while, but I still plan on picking up where I left off and carrying on. I just wanted to let everyone know in case they were wondering what was taking me so long to post the next entry. Thanks for your patience!

Monday, April 28, 2014

Why I Love Baseball and Why I Ask: Is America's Pastime Dying?

This is something I've been thinking about for several years, but I was spurred on to write this by something I heard on the local sports talk radio show I was listening to last week. The two radio hosts were talking about how late the previous night's Red Sox game ended (it went into extra innings and after 5 1/2 hours, finally ended with the Red Sox winning). One of the hosts mentioned how he's loved baseball his entire life but has a hard time with such long games starting so late in the evening (usually between 7 and 8pm) and ending close to midnight, especially on work nights. The other host then mentioned how he couldn't imagine how he could have stayed up to watch games that late when he was a kid, and that his own son has no interest in baseball. That began their discussion into why kids don't like baseball as much these days.

Now, both of these hosts are roughly the same age as me (34), so I can completely relate. Some of the topics they touched on were:

- That most kids today don't play baseball, or even whiffleball;
- That the game is not as fast and exciting as other sports like football, hockey, basketball, soccer, lacrosse, and others;
- The games are long;
- The games start too late;
- No one in inner cities plays baseball any more;
- Kids would rather play video games or some other form of electronic entertainment than watch/attend a baseball game.

These are all valid concerns and I'll touch on them as I go along, so bear with me.

As I get into my feelings on this matter, let me give some background on where I'm coming from. I'm a huge sports fan, especially of my four local sports teams: the Boston Red Sox, Boston Bruins, Boston Celtics, and New England Patriots. I love all of those sports and as a kid played pick-up football and hockey with friends and played competitive basketball and baseball for many years. Even as an adult, I remain passionate about sports and my teams. However, if I had to pick one of these sports as my favorite, the one I like just a little bit more than the others, it would be baseball. There are many reasons for this.

First and foremost is that I played it the longest: I played tee-ball when I was 5 and moved on to play Little League from the age of 6 until I was 12 (the upper age limit). I also played on my junior high team for three years (ages 10-13). Lastly, I played on my university's club baseball team for a season when I was 20. In addition, my friends and I played a LOT of wiffleball and pick-up baseball over the years when we were growing up. We always had a gang of guys who we could round up to play whiffleball games and, in the rare instances when we couldn't, we had homerun derbies. We figured out how to pitch a whiffleball so that we could strike guys out (ever try throwing a curveball with a whiffleball?), we taped our whifflebats to give them extra weight so that we could hit farther, and generally had a blast. I have extremely fond memories of those countless games and I'm smiling as I reminisce and type this. We obsessed over all of the baseball stats, collected baseball cards like crazy, wore our favorite team's hats, played catch, watched all of the games on TV, and were generally obsessed with the game.

On a more personal level, my beloved late grandfather on my dad's side was a massive, lifelong baseball fan. Even though he'd moved to New Hampshire (which is where my parents and I are all from) as a teenager, he was born and raised in the Bronx, New York City, and was thus a lifelong New York Yankees fan. Growing up a Red Sox fan, it made for a lot of fun banter since the two teams are historical rivals. But more than that, baseball was one of the many ways that brought us close together. Whenever I'd go visit my grandparents, if it was baseball season, he had a game on the TV in his den. Most of the time, it was the Red Sox since that's all we got on the local channel (and living all but the first 16 years of his life in New Hampshire, my grandfather always made it a point to tell people that the Sox were his second-favorite team, after his Yankees, of course!). We used to watch games together, talk about them, talk about players current and old, stats, etc. He always came to watch me play when my grandparents would be visiting us and I had games, and it was just a lot of fun to have baseball as something special in our relationship (among other things...he was a great man in so many ways; he's been gone 5 years and there isn't a day that goes by when I don't think about him...I miss him terribly). Also, it's a rite of passage for just about every American boy my age and older to have played catch with their dad and that is no exception. My dad taught me how to throw a baseball, how to catch, how to hit, and always tried to make time to toss the ball around with me outside after he got home from work, no matter how tired he was.

Beyond the personal importance of baseball in my life, there is just something about the game that has affected me and millions of people my age and older that seems to be missing in younger people these days.  True, it's not the fast-paced game that hockey, basketball, and football are (all three of which I also love). There aren't big hits, slam dunks, fights, or high scores. But that's part of its charm. While all of the sports mentioned above involve a lot of strategy, baseball is more like a chess match than the other sports. Also, you are hanging on every pitch, every at bat, every hit...there will be a lull in the action and then BANG! something incredibly exciting may happen. Especially late in games, and most definitely during crucial games (whether in the midst of a pennant race or in the World Series), the tension will be almost unbearable and then in an instant, there is the thrill of a strikeout, a play in the field, or a long fly ball that is going, going, going...  It may sound crazy, but a 1-0 game can be the most exciting thing of all (if you don't believe me and you didn't see game 7 of the 1991 World Series, then you missed out!). 

Baseball also has a deep sense of history and as the oldest professional sports league in America, that history stretches back into the 19th century. Even casual fans and non-fans knew about the Red Sox' Curse of the Bambino (which we vanquished in 2004), the Cubs' 100-year curse that continues to the present, as well as cultural figures that are known immediately by just their names: Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Joe DiMaggio, Ted Williams, Hank Aaron, Mickey Mantle, Yogi Berra, Willie Mays, Pete Rose, etc.  Fenway Park, Wrigley Field, Yankee Stadium are instantly recognizable and revered landmarks, and defunct parks like Ebbets Field, Tigers Stadium, the Polo Grounds are still remembered fondly and mythologized in their own way.

There have been so many great moments in the history of the game and I feel fortunate to have witnessed so many of them even in my (relatively) short lifetime, from the heartbreak of the 1986 World Series to the exhilaration of the 1991 NLCS and World Series to the thrilling 2004 ALCS and eventual ending of my Red Sox' 86-year World Series drought, and everything in between. So many of these moments carry lifelong "where were you when..." status in a way no other sport does...this is not to say the NBA, NFL, and NHL don't. They do and I've been lucky to witness so many of those, too, but with a history as long and rich as baseball's, this is one I think MLB is a clear winner on.

 Here's but one example, from the 2004 ALCS...what drama!

Baseball fans are passionate about the integrity of the game and its unwritten rules and ostracize players like Barry Bonds, Mark McGwire, Roger Clemens, and all others who sullied the game and made a mockery of the record book with their chemically enhanced statistics; we rest easy knowing that, while their pre-steroid careers in most cases would have rendered them Hall of Famers anyway, they will never be enshrined in Cooperstown now that their cheating has been exposed.

Finally, on this tangent, it is the most iconic and American of the four major sports...case in point, the photograph at the top of this post, which just screams Americana and is so rooted in our cultural history that not a single person would look at it and not understand what it meant, whether they were a baseball fan or not.

Baseball offers the most unique game viewing experience, especially in person. I'm only speaking from my own experience here, and I'm lucky enough to be a Boston fan and have the ability to watch home Red Sox games at Fenway Park which is, for those who don't know, the oldest ballpark in the country. While it has been slightly renovated in recent years, it is still almost wholly original and retains the same quirks and charms that it did decades and decades ago. Going to a baseball game just feels different...the smell of the grass, the sounds of the crowd and the vendors hawking their food and drinks up and down the aisles, being outside in the fresh air, the sunshine of a day game or the bright lights of a night game, maybe being at the mercy of the elements (okay, that can be a whole lot of NO fun...I've been to many cold and rainy games that were downright miserable).  It's a very relaxing yet exciting time watching a game and it offers a special time to bond with whoever you go with. To a lesser extent, the same holds true when watching a game on TV, but there is nothing like the experience of going to the ballpark and spending the time watching a game.

As far as playing baseball, of all of the team sports I played, either on an organized team or in an intramural or pick-up league, it was always my favorite, for many of the same reasons that I love to watch it: everything can end up hanging on one pitch, one hit, one play in the field, one out. Also, there's a different type of atmosphere that comes with being a part of a baseball team. Practices, games, travel...it was all quite different on the baseball teams I was a part of when compared to other sports. There is something special about the feeling when you're carrying your equipment to the field, the smell of the grass, the crack of the bat, the sound the ball makes as it smacks into your glove, the grass and dirt stains on your uniform...even siting in the dugout cheering your team on, chewing gum, spitting sunflower seeds or not (gross, I know, but a part of the game)...anyone who has ever played baseball will know exactly what I mean by all of this.

However, it seems that more and more kids (and adults) are either abandoning baseball or not getting into it in the first place. The slower pace of the game when compared to other sports is a factor, as is the needlessly late starting times...this is especially detrimental during the playoffs and World Series, when even East Coast games start after 8pm, which is ridiculous! There are also fewer kids playing baseball, certainly in cities as well as the type of mid-sized towns where I've lived my entire life. Other sports like football and soccer (especially) take up more interest from kids, and especially in northern climes where you're only able to play baseball outside for 6 months of the year (if you're lucky!) the number of kids playing and sticking with it for many years seems to be dwindling. I don't think baseball will ever die out and go away forever, but I think there should be some effort to introduce kids to it in order to try and capture their passion at a young age in order so that they may nurture a lifelong love of the game. As for adults, most that I talk to who used to like it have lost interest due to over-expansion of the game (too many teams and playoffs, which I do agree with), and whether they've ever liked the game or not, the length of the games in an increasingly busy and stressful life are always cited as reasons why many are not interested.

There are many ideas that have been bandied about amongst fans and the media to try and improve the game, attract new fans (or previous fans who left), and increase interest to get it back to the passionate levels that it enjoyed before the NFL took over the mantle of America's (unofficial) pastime in the 2000s, but those are not the intention of my piece and I'm not going to address them here (although if you'd like to discuss them, let's do so in the comments section below). However, I am happy that all of my kids so far seem to really enjoy baseball...we watch it on TV, sometimes we toss the ball around or have batting practice, and they want to go to some games at Fenway Park. I hope this love for the game continues into adulthood and beyond for them, because in a crazy, hyperfast-paced world, baseball is still a uniquely American sport with a one-of-a-kind viewing experience and sense of wonder unlike any other. It's a part of the American fabric and a part of our culture and for my children's generation to lose that would be a very sad thing indeed.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

BOOK REVIEW: Ginger Baker: Hellraiser

Subtitled "The Autobiography of the World's Greatest Drummer," legendary drummer Ginger Baker joins his fellow Cream band mates Eric Clapton and Jack Bruce with an autobiography detailing his life and career.  Considered by most to be one of the greatest drummers of the 1960s and of all-time (along with Keith Moon, John Bonham, and Mitch Mitchell, Ginger is a member of my "Big Four" drumming greats from the classic rock era), he is mainly known solely for his work alongside Clapton in Cream and Blind Faith. However, Ginger had a high profile and successful career both before and after those bands and as one soon learns from reading the book, he has had an incredibly interesting and bizarre life as well!

***special thanks to Claire at John Blake Books for sending me a copy of this book to review!***

Ginger starts the book off quite naturally with his birth and childhood in London and takes us through his entire life, progressing in each chapter to highlight defining eras in his career. While it's not necessarily a straight-ahead narrative (there is a fair amount of jumping around within each chapter as well as between chapters), overall he tells his tale in a linear fashion, ending around 2009 (when the book was published).

Ginger grew up during WWII London and lost his father, who was killed in the war, when he was a small child. Growing up, he was a typically headstrong and mischievous boy who had a talent for bicycle racing, which became one of the earliest of his many passions. While he was a music fan from a young age, it wasn't until he sat down on a lark behind someones drum kit at a party that he found his true calling in life. His natural talent for drumming led him to practice relentlessly and take lessons while learning from the top jazz drummers of the day in and around London. Eventually, Ginger joined a succession of bands (and also began his lifelong addiction to drugs, mainly heroin) before he ended up in Alexis Korner's Blues Incorporated. There he met up with the man who would be his arch nemesis for the rest of his musical career, legendary bassist/singer Jack Bruce. Eventually, they left Korner's band along with their keyboard player, Graham Bond, and formed the seminal mid-1960s blues/jazz/R&B band, the Graham Bond Organization. After numerous rows with Bruce, onstage and off, Ginger ejected him from the band before deciding to form his own group with a hugely popular blues guitarist on the scene that he'd met, Eric Clapton. The resulting band, which ended up including Bruce (at Clapton's insistence, as they had been in John Mayall's Bluesbreakers together), was, of course, the legendary Cream. However, the explosive mix of Baker and Bruce, and Clapton's role as perpetual peacekeeper, took its toll on the band (and Ginger's hearing!) and after a few years of global stardom, Cream split in early 1969. After his stint in the 1969 supergroup Blind Faith (with Clapton, Steve Winwood, and Rick Grech), most people lost track of Baker apart from the brief Cream reunion in 2005, but this is where his story gets really interesting (and strange).

A love of African rhythms and culture led Ginger to move to Nigeria in the early 1970s, where he built and operated a recording studio outside of Lagos (where Paul McCartney and Wings recorded parts of their classic Band On the Run album) and became involved in musical endeavors with many local musicians, the most famous of whom was Fela Kuta. From Ginger's time in Nigeria to the present, he has had many brushes with thugs, guns, threats, drugs, and women...his life has been in danger so many times that it's a miracle he was never killed! After getting into polo and desert rally racing, however, he left Nigeria in the late 1970s and moved first back to England, and then to the USA. Stints in California and then Colorado coincided with the end of his first marriage, two subsequent short-lived marriages, and numerous health scares. He also spent most of his adult life getting clean from heroin only to end up hooked on it again, the cycle repeating numerous times. At present, due to immigration issues and visa difficulties in both the USA and his native England, Ginger has settled in South Africa, where he is running his own polo club and seems to be fairly settled and happy, if not at peace. (UPDATE: Since publishing this review, I've since learned that Ginger has moved back to England with his new wife and he currently lives there).

While his story is entertaining and surreal in parts (think of a rock'n'roll version of Hunter S. Thompson's "Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas" to get an idea of what Baker's life has been like), it's also quite sad in many ways. He's had a sporadic but successful musical career since the demise of Blind Faith, moving on to Ginger Baker's Air Force and Baker Gurvitz Army in the 1970s, and since then numerous jazz bands (his true passion, musically) that have been critically successful. As for his other passions, besides women and heroin, Ginger had a stint racing Range Rovers across the deserts in Africa during his time there, but his overriding passion since the mid-1970s has been polo. The numerous places he's lived between then and now all centered on his ability to have the necessary space to build his own polo clubs. However, this has drained him of a lot of money and led to him at one point, when living in Italy, working as a bricklayer in order to afford food!

Throughout his book, Baker has stories of his encounters with many of the legendary figures of his era, from Pete Townshend (and even Townshend's father Cliff, who was a prominent jazz saxophonist in London after the war), the Beatles, Stones (his appraisal of Mick Jagger was hilarious), good friends Charlie Watts, Keith Moon, and John Bonham, Hendrix, and others. He is still close friends with Eric Clapton and Steve Winwood, while his lifelong feud with Jack Bruce shows no signs of abating, especially given that by the time of the 2005 Cream reunion, they were still at it. One thing I will say is that, apart from everything I've read over the years regarding the two of them, it seems from this book that Jack was a real jerk to work with and the real reason Cream split up; this is only strengthened and corroborated by the fact that Clapton was in agreement with Ginger on pulling the plug on Cream not only in 1968 but again in 2005.

While Ginger's writing style is quite candid and at times uproariously funny, he does have a tendency to jump around a bit, especially in the chapters where he is focusing on a broad period of time in his life. It can also quite shocking, at times, how nonchalant he is when describing his numerous affairs, especially during the time when he was married to his first wife Liz (whom he was married to for almost 20 years and who he had all of his children with). However, while he's not necessarily self-deprecating, he's quite honest and usually humorously blunt about what happened.  My only complaints about the book are that, apart from how scattered it can get in certain spots, Ginger tends to give short shrift to some rather important parts of his life (ie Cream in particular) while going on in greater detail when discussing his horses and love of polo. He also doesn't go into too much detail behind certain events that would seem to warrant it; there's a lot of the feeling that you're reading "this happened and then this happened, and then this happened," etc. However, the book overall reads more like a series of anecdotes and episodes that are put into chronological order than a straight narrative memoir, which is good and bad. It certainly makes for an interesting and enjoyable book, however.

Hellraiser is an apt title for Ginger Baker's life story as he has certainly done his fair share of living up to that name! However, he's also a musical giant and one of the all-time great drummers. To call his life story bizarre and surreal would be an understatement, but this is well worth a read for any fan of the man and his music.


Sunday, April 20, 2014

The Magical Mystery Listening Tour #57

The "F"inal batch of "F" albums...after this, here come the "G's!"

The Black Crowes - Freak n' Roll...Into the Fog
Frank Zappa - Freak Out!
The Beatles - Free As a Bird
Dan Wilson - Free Life
Cream - Fresh Cream
Rory Gallagher - Fresh Evidence
Bernard Butler - Friends and Lovers
Genesis - From Genesis to Revelation
The Beatles - Fulton County Stadium, Atlanta, GA 8/18/65
Frank Zappa - FZ: OZ

Kicking things off is a great live album from the Black Crowes from the Fillmore in San Francisco in 2005, full of their brand of soulful Southern-flavored rock and blues. Following this is Zappa's debut, a bizarre and classic album that was one of Paul McCartney's favorites and an inspiration for Sgt. Pepper. Speaking of the Beatles, they're represented by two albums in this batch: first, their 1995 single "Free as a Bird" and secondly with a great show from Atlanta. Only 3 days after their legendary Shea Stadium concert, this was the first time they ever had monitoring on stage and the ability to finally hear themselves led them to give one of the best concerts of their career. Dan Wilson of Semisonic released his first solo album in 2007 and it's a fine record. He's one of the greatest American songwriters of the past 20 years and this record only bolsters his reputation. Cream's debut album from 1966 is a classic blast of British electric blues rock and contains some of their biggest hits, including "I Feel Free," "NSU," "Sweet Wine," as well as classic covers of "Spoonful" and "I'm So Glad" which would be gain new life (and be greatly extended) when played live. The final album from legendary Irish guitarist Rory Gallagher starts off a bit slow with a couple of good-but-not-great tracks but by the third cut ("Middle Name") it rounds into form and is a blistering collection of his masterful playing and singing. Sadly, while he would continue to tour another five years until his death in 1995, he would never make another studio album. Bernard Butler's second (and to-date, last) proper solo album is a solid collection of songs, some of them great, that showcases much of the songwriting and guitar playing that made him an instant legend as a member of Suede in the early 1990s. The debut album from Genesis is strikingly different from everything that came after: it's more of a lush, ballad-driven album with tinges of psychedelia...its maturity belies the fact that the band members were not even 20 years old when they made it. Wrapping up this batch (after the aforementioned Beatles show) is a long set from Frank Zappa in Australia from 1976, which is one of my favorite band incarnations of his during the 1970s, which I feel is the decade of his strongest work.

On to the "G" albums now!

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Interview with Dave Schwensen, author of "The Beatles at Shea Stadium"

Author Dave Schwensen
It's a real pleasure and honor to bring you this interview with Dave Schwensen, the author of the excellent new book The Beatles at Shea Stadium, which I reviewed recently on this site.  I highly recommend this book to any Beatles fan, both for how enjoyable and how informative it is. I've not only had the pleasure to have read and reviewed the book, but I've had the opportunity to have some interesting discussions with Dave. He was kind enough to take time out of his busy schedule in order to answer my questions and the resulting interview is posted below for your enjoyment and enlightenment.

RNRChemist: Dave, thanks so much for taking the time to answer some questions about your great new Beatles book! 
Could you describe how you got into the Beatles a little bit? Were you alive in 1965 and if so, were you old enough to be aware of what was going on during Beatlemania in general and the Shea Stadium gig in '65 in particular?

DS: Great - right from the beginning I have to come clean about my age… ha! I'm proud to be a first generation Beatles fan and was glued to the television on February 9th, 1964. I stood in line that summer to see "A Hard Day's Night" but my parents thought I was too young to see them on their 1964 tour. They made up for it by taking me to see them in 1966.

RNRChemist: I've always been interested in their return visit to Shea in '66...the empty seats, the bad vibes surrounding that last tour...I was hoping you'd have a little bit more about it in your book at the end. Any plans to investigate that a bit further?
 (Also, have you seen the footage of that rather belligerent reporter interviewing fans at the '66 Shea concert and trying to goad them into saying bad things about the Beatles?)

DS: I wanted to keep "The Beatles At Shea Stadium" about the 1965 show. That was the ground breaking one and what I consider to be the birth of stadium rock. In fact that was almost the subtitle, but we changed it to "The Story Behind Their Greatest Concert" because that's really what it is. I know some people might disagree and try to make cases for other shows, but this was New York. It's still the media capital of the world and if it happens in New York, the world knows about it.

So there was never any intent to write about the '66 Shea concert. The focus is solely on August 15, 1965 including the events leading up to it and making the television special.

I wrote about the 1966 tour in my book "The Beatles In Cleveland." The innocence of "A Hard Day's Night" was absent only two years later and if you're old enough to remember, there was a major media backlash in the U.S. over their "Butcher" album cover for "Yesterday… And Today" and John Lennon's remarks about Christianity. I talked with the concert promoter for that book and he said tickets were selling up to that point, and then dropped off almost over night.

And yeah, I've seen the footage of the "belligerent" reporter. To me it's an example of the generation gap. Kids like something and the "more mature" adults, for lack of a better term, can't wait to knock them from their pedestal. The old footage shows just how wrong they were since the Beatles are still a major force in the music industry fifty years later. It's still like that. A lot of my generation seems to take pleasure in knocking the music today by saying it's not as good as it used to be. Well I've got kids and listen to their radio stations. A lot of it is pretty good. But then again, letting my age show a bit, it's not as good as The Beatles… ha!

 Go to the 6:20 mark to see the footage Dave and I refer to at the 1966 Shea Stadium concert

RHRChemist: Looking back on the concert, it's amazing how tiny and alone and isolated the Beatles looked on that little stage in the middle of the empty field...can you imagine what it would've been like if they'd allowed general admission ON the field? There would've been 75,000+ people there, I'm guessing!

DS: I'm convinced Sid Bernstein could have sold out Shea Stadium three or four times during the summer of 1965. It was really the pinnacle of Beatlemania when they were still looked upon as The Fab Four. They were not only the world's most popular musicians and teen idols, but also movie stars thanks to "A Hard Day's Night" and "Help!" Sid was not allowed to sell seats on the playing field, unlike the year before when he put 300 extra seats on the stage next to and behind the Beatles during their concerts at Carnegie Hall.

It really would've been uncontrollable chaos if they had allowed fans on the field close to the Beatles. Remember, this was the first time this had been done on such a big scale. No one including Sid, Brian and the police knew what to expect. It was also during the days before the big-armed security guards and barricades that are used now to keep fans away from stages. It was a learning process and I think if 75,000+ people had been there it could have been dangerous for the fans and the Beatles. There were a lot of disappointed fans that didn't get to see them, but it worked out perfect the way it was handled.

There was a major concern for their safety. At Shea Stadium in '65 no one had ever attempted a concert of that size. The biggest worry for Brian Epstein was how to get them out of there alive. In the book I detail how scared and nervous they really were. In the dugout before running onto the field, that was Lennon's conversation with Cousin Brucie and Peter Bennett. He was worried they could get hurt. Again, even the Beatles with all their worldly experience had never seen anything like Shea Stadium before.

RNRChemist: I was surprised while reading the fan recollections in your book at how young some of the crowd were...kids as young as 7 or 8! What was the youngest someone you interviewed was when they attended the concert and can you imagine kids that young being at a massive show these days?

DS: I always hate calling The Beatles teen idols, as I just did above. That image reminds me of the clean cut, sweater-wearing, parental approved male pop singers that were on the charts before the Beatles arrived. Right away the Beatles seemed more sophisticated and mature than that. But something else that really influenced me when I was researching the book was how young they were at that time. Nedra Talley-Ross from The Ronettes talks about playing the game Tag with the Beatles on her eighteenth birthday while they were touring England a couple weeks before they did "The Ed Sullivan Show." George Harrison was only twenty and Ringo was the oldest at twenty-three.

So taking that into consideration you would expect their fans to also be quite young - and for the most part, they were. First generation Beatles fans are now in their sixties - or getting close to that magic number. Take away half a century and you're looking at kids that were around ten years old when the Beatles first hit. Plus it was a different time. A lot of parents wouldn't let their kids go to Beatles concerts because they considered them to be a bad influence with long hair and sarcastic attitudes. That's what made them so attractive to young baby boomers in "A Hard Day's Night." George's line "Sorry we hurt your field, mister" from that film is a great example. Unless you were marked as a juvenile delinquent, kids weren't supposed to talk like that to adults.

But again, it was a different time. The parents that were more lenient and city-wise, as in New York, allowed their younger kids to take trains and buses to school and events, and Shea Stadium was no different. Some dropped off their kids and went to the World's Fair, which was happening next to the stadium. They didn't have to pay for baby sitting!

For the book I interviewed a fan who was about five years old when his dad took him and his sister to the concert. There are also some great memories from other fans that were too young to be there without their parents. Mom and Dad may not have been fans, but they knew how much it meant to their kids and they wanted them to be safe. I can relate because that's how I got to see the Beatles. My mom and dad took me because they felt I was too young to go without them. My mom and I still talk about it. The cool part is that she and my dad also liked them and I was just a good excuse for them to go, too.

RNRChemist: You uncovered quite a bit of new information in your book, including the fact that Allen Klein was at the show and briefly met the Beatles years before he became involved in their split. Mick and Keith were there, too...is there anything else you discovered that you can share with us that didn't make it into the book?

DS: I didn't leave anything out of the book. As I said in the introduction, there were a lot of "Hey, I didn't know that!" moments and I was anxious to share it all. I also was fascinated that Allen Klein was backstage, considering everything that came down later with his involvement with the Beatles and Apple. Brian Epstein was still in control, but here was this guy almost shadowing him. There's a photo in the book taken right before the Beatles ran onto the field and Klein's in the shot. I sent it to his nephew Ron Schneider to be sure and he said it was. Ron's also in the book because he worked with The Stones and brought Mick and Keith to the concert. He was with them backstage and in the dugout.

RNRChemist: What were some of the craziest things about the concert that you learned when working on the book?

DS: Everything was crazy. I'll emphasize again that nothing like this had been attempted before. It was all new territory. A great example is that Sid Bernstein wasn't allowed to advertise the concert until he paid a deposit. And he didn't have it. But Brian said he could "talk about it." So just by word of mouth Sid sold out 55,600 seats. There were no posters or flyers and all the tickets were sold by mail sent to his post office box. There was no Ticketmaster or computers or anything like that. Each letter was opened by hand.

But what will drive fans crazy is learning that it wasn't only the concert that was filmed for the television special. The Beatles were pretty much followed by a camera crew from the time they landed in New York on Friday to when they left on Tuesday. Where's that film? You have to read the book to find out!
RNRChemist: It's amazing how smoothly the planning seemed to go given the technology and communication methods of the day...can you imagine trying to stage something like that today?

DS: Thanks to how they did it at Shea in 1965 it's progressed into the large stadium shows you see today. The Beatles were a compact touring group. Four musicians, two roadies and assistants, Neil Aspinall and Mal Evans, Brian and his assistant, and press agent Tony Barrow. The opening acts also traveled with them on planes and buses. Today it would include a fleet of trucks, tons of sound equipment and staging, and large crews to move it, set it up and tear it down for the next show. For examples of what it's like today, just look at how Paul McCartney or The Rolling Stones tour. It's massive in comparison.

RNRChemist: One thing that struck me was how much simpler and innocent things were in 1965 compared to even later in the decade, let alone 2014. Any reflections on that?

DS: The 1960s changed for everyone because of the Beatles. Even if you didn't like them, you couldn't ignore them. As the Beatles grew up and became more sophisticated musically and started voicing their opinions, so did the young baby boomers. They were still The Fab Four mop-tops in 1965, but less than a year later Lennon had "gone off the script" by talking about the Vietnam War and Christianity. A year after that there was "Sgt. Pepper" and references to drugs. Everything changed very quickly between 1964 and 1970. I do a program for colleges and Beatles festivals about this. In six short years we went from Baby Boomers to The Flower Power Generation to The Woodstock Generation. I doubt it would've happened that fast if we didn't want to be "fab" in 1964 and '65.

RNRChemist: What is your opinion of the concert itself? What did you like/dislike about the set list? Favorite/least favorite songs they played?

DS: It was total excitement and as far as I'm concerned, the height of Beatlemania during their touring years. Watching the film today is like a shot of adrenaline. It was really a happening; an event. I compare it to the ending of "A Hard Day's Night." That film was an extremely entertaining build-up to the finale, which was a live television appearance in front of screaming fans. Shea Stadium had a similar plot. The fans knew the Beatles would be there and the anticipation was building for months. Then the fans arrived at the stadium, sat through all the opening acts - and again, the anticipation and excitement level kept building. Then John, Paul, George and Ringo ran onto the field and the place pretty much exploded with energy. And the deal is that it never let up. There was never a lull where they grabbed acoustic guitars, sat on stools and mellowed out the crowd - like most concerts today. This was just in your face rock'n roll Beatles style.

So just on the energy and excitement level alone, this was a great concert. There were no down moments or anything not to like about this concert. They only played for a little over half an hour, but that was standard for that era with all the groups. And of course the kids in the upper decks and the ones who screamed the entire time couldn't hear much because the sound system was so small. The Beatles didn't even have stage monitors to hear themselves. But again, no one had ever done this before and the equipment was the best they had in 1965.

I was also able to listen to the unedited audio tapes of the concert thanks to Michael Adams, whose dad M. Clay Adams from Clayco Films filmed the television special. Michael was on the field with his dad and the crew and is also a contributor to the book.  When you watch the concert film you'll see small audio microphones under the sound system microphones the Beatles are singing into. These went direct to the recording equipment. And a cool note is that Michael still has these microphones.

Of course the concert was exciting just seeing the Beatles playing on that small stage. But I think the performance itself sounds very good despite the equipment and everything that was going on around them. I explain in the book what the Beatles didn't like about the sound, but listening to the audio it's obvious they knew by instinct what they were playing. That was the result of all the years they spent paying their dues with all night shows in small clubs. They could just look at each other and feed off of that. Ringo has said in interviews he couldn't hear much and just played along to their heads bopping, their feet tapping and their butts shaking. Maybe those weren't his exact words, but you get the idea.

I wrote about each song in the book, but I'll point out one good example. On "She's A Woman," which was cut from the television special, the song goes along like the studio recording until close to the end. Then it just turns into a classic three-chord rocker like they must have played thousands of times in Hamburg and Liverpool. It has a real Chuck Berry and Rolling Stones feel to it, which I find very exciting to hear. With all the screams and noise raining down on them they turned into what they really were - rock'n rollers.

I couldn't pick favorite or least favorite song. They were all great. A lot of fans point to "I'm Down" because of John acting crazy while playing the organ and laughing hysterically with George. I personally haven't stopped listening to the Shea recordings of "She's A Woman" and "Dizzy Miss Lizzy" since writing the book. I guess the one surprise for the fans at the concert was Ringo singing "Act Naturally." Of course we all know the song now, but at that time it hadn't been released in the U.S. yet. It wouldn't come out until as the B-side of "Yesterday" a month later, so fans didn't know what he was singing.

RNRChemist: Have any of the Wells Fargo badges ever been found and authenticated?

DS: No. That's also discussed in the book. They've disappeared and even if someone said they found one, there would be no way to authenticate it unless it came from Paul or Ringo or a close family member. There's a photo of John Lennon from around the "Magical Mystery Tour" days playing with his son Julian, who is wearing his dad's Wells Fargo Badge. Maybe he still has it.

RNRChemist: You had access to a lot of documents and memorabilia associated with the concert...what was the coolest bit you got to see?

DS: For me it was like viewing very rare and historical documents. Some of the documents were the originals and others were copies made in 1965 and 1966. A lot of this stuff, like telegrams and letters from Brian Epstein and Ed Sullivan Productions have never been seen by the public before. They had been stored away and forgotten after the television special was broadcast. There were in-house notes about the upcoming 1965 tour and because their entire visit to New York was to be filmed for the television special, their daily schedule was mapped out in advance. Also the editing notes from the different versions of the television special were there and could be placed in chronological order. I could see what cuts were being made to make the film ready for broadcast.

RNRChemist: Did you try to contact Paul or Ringo to get their memories of the concert for your book?

DS: I've tried to contact both in the past for interviews, but it's not easy to get in touch with a former Beatle. Besides "The Beatles Anthology" in 1995 and the "The Beatles: The Authorized Biography" by Hunter Davis back in 1968, which I always considered to be a watered down version of their story, I can't think of any books where they actually took time to sit down and contribute specific memories. Of course there are countless past interviews from all four that have been used in countless books to give added details and insights into what they were experiencing at a particular time. There are also a few where it's been "hinted" one or the other was involved or cooperated by making the author's research easier. But right now as we're doing this interview, I'm looking at my collection of books about the Beatles on my office shelf and what makes each one stand out is the author's research or personal experiences with the Beatles. I don't see any that list Paul or Ringo as contributors.

But getting back to your question, I tried to contact Paul through his U.S. office years ago for a newspaper article I had been assigned. I couldn't get an interview, but they gave me really great review seats for one of his concerts. Not the same, but not a bad trade-off and I sent him a copy of my first book as a thank you.

The same thing happened with Ringo during one of his All-Starr Band tours. His press agent said he was only doing one interview per city and since the paper I was writing for at the time wasn't the biggest, it wasn't going to happen. Instead they hooked me up to interview Eric Carmen, who was playing keyboards. I'm a big Raspberries fan and since I grew up in Cleveland, I had seen them play some of the local clubs before they hit it big. We ended up talking about that and had a fun conversation. The interview was posted on his website for years. It might still be there, I haven't checked in awhile. Anyway, Eric Carmen invited me backstage after the concert and I thought there would be a good chance to meet Ringo. But there was a big-armed security guard that wasn't going to let that happen, even though I had a press pass. Still, it was a great show and I'll always be a big Ringo and Eric Carmen fan. In fact, I'll say it right now. The Raspberries belong in The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Am I opinionated about that? Don't get me started!

RNRChemist: Do you think the delay in showing the TV special (spring 1966 in the UK and early 1967 in the US) dulled the impact of the moment for those who weren't there? The Beatles in early 1967 were a universe removed from the band who played Shea in '65!

DS: That would be looking at it in hindsight. For those of us still teenagers at that time, we weren't aware these annual summer tours wouldn't continue. In "The Beatles In Cleveland" there's an eyewitness account of John and George telling deejay Ken Douglas they were never going to tour again. That happened on August 14, 1966 in their hotel suite and before they even told Brian Epstein. But it wasn't made public in 1966. In fact I have a newspaper clipping from May 1967 headlined "Beatles May Sing Swan Song" that's in the "Cleveland" book announcing no summer tour. I'm sure there were more than a few of us that had been psyched about seeing them again that summer.

Looking back we know the Beatles had changed. But the "The Beatles At Shea Stadium" television special aired in the U.S. before they released "Penny Lane" and "Strawberry Fields Forever" and months before "Sgt. Pepper." We hadn't heard any of the new music yet. For the Christmas season they had released "A Collection of Oldies" with all the older fab tunes, so it could be perceived as "business as usual" in the world of Beatlemania. There had been a photo of them in Time Magazine after the holidays with mustaches and John with his granny glasses, or whatever they were called at the time. But I also remember seeing photos of Ringo with a beard while on vacation around 1965 and that didn't change our perception of them as The Beatles. So I don't really think young fans in early 1967 had any real clues of the major changes that were right around the corner.

When the television special aired in January, I don't think any of us looked at it as an historical documentary of "what once was" any more than when we watched their debut on "The Ed Sullivan Show" three years earlier. For me it had been less than five months since I'd seen them in concert, so this was just a television special to watch them perform live at a major concert in New York. I really had no idea that evening it would never happen again.
RNRChemist: What are your thoughts on the overdubbing they did for the film? While I understand why they did it, I'm a purist and prefer artists to release live albums/films warts and all...to me, that's what makes live albums and videos so special...they're not perfect and capture a moment in time, preserved forever. What is your opinion on this?

DS: I've always loved live albums. But I remember being surprised when I learned how many were "sweetened" later on in the studio. You know what I'm talking about; missing background vocals, bum notes, sound system problems, weather - whatever it might have been, the artists could fix it. I have a decent collection of live bootlegs from my favorite bands that also have "official" live albums and you can hear the differences when it comes to the production. I've never followed any bands that wanted to release something that made them sound bad. Today a lot of acts perform to prerecorded vocal tracks so they don't sound bad while dancing on stage.

In my opinion, the Beatles' performance at Shea Stadium was not bad. Especially when you consider the equipment they had in 1965. Again, they didn't even have stage monitors to hear themselves sing - and they were still doing great harmonies! While writing the book I had access to the raw audio recordings, which I talked about earlier. There were sound problems and John's organ on "I'm Down" was more a mix of Jerry Lee Lewis and Liberace than what you hear on the studio recording. But it certainly didn't lack any excitement.

It's documented through letters and telegrams in the book that Ed Sullivan Productions and Brian Epstein had approved the original concert recordings for the television show. Brian even says the Beatles were for it, but then after input from the producer George Martin they changed their minds. The Beatles' studio records had a lot of "bottom" as they called it. That means Ringo's drums and Paul's bass. Those elements and some of the vocals were missing or muddied-up during parts of the live recording at Shea. The Beatles knew they wouldn't duplicate the studio versions, but they also knew it didn't represent how good they really were as a band. Exactly what they did to sweeten the soundtrack during the secret recording session is detailed in the book. In some cases they just played the song live in the studio, which is how they would've sounded at Shea with the proper equipment. Some of the songs were left alone. The audio used for the first song, "Twist and Shout," was actually a live recording from The Hollywood Bowl. It's still the Beatles live in front of a screaming audience, but sounds better because it was recorded in a venue built for concerts rather than in a massive open-air baseball stadium.

RNRChemist: It boggles the mind how much film footage was lost...do you think any of it still exists and is there any hope of recovering it?

DS: People have to read the book to find out! Enough said!

RNRChemist: What do you make of the good relationship the rather inflexible and square Ed Sullivan had with Brian Epstein and the Beatles? Seems there was mutual respect and admiration there.

DS: I would think so and you can never underestimate the importance Ed Sullivan had in breaking the Beatles in the U.S. But the real story behind Shea Stadium was the relationship, meaning mutual respect and admiration, between Sid Bernstein and Brian Epstein. There's a reason this book had to start in early 1963. That's when the groundwork was laid for the Shea concert more than two years later. Ed Sullivan had never even heard of The Beatles, but Sid Bernstein had already booked them for two shows at Carnegie Hall. Ed Sullivan was a minor player at Shea Stadium. Yes, he had the television clout to introduce them and it's a very exciting and historic moment during the show and the film, but it wouldn't have happened if Sid Bernstein hadn't earned Brian Epstein's trust and loyalty in the first place. Sid Bernstein is the guy who was sticking his neck out. It was his gamble and it paid off.

But getting back to Ed Sullivan, there's a story in the book told by Cousin Brucie that gives pretty good insight into his character. It happens just as they're climbing up the stairs together and onto the stage to introduce The Beatles. When I read that part I still think it's very funny, while at the same time describing the excitement these guys had to be feeling at that exact moment. My wife thinks I'm nuts, but I tell her I still get chills when I think about it.

RNRChemist: I feel sorry for the opening acts...no one remembers them now and no one wanted them then! I can see why they were necessary, though, as the Beatles were only to play for half an hour. What do you think about how the show was put together and the overall presentation?

DS: That's how it was done at the time. There were all these "caravan" shows. You know, like "Dick Clark's Caravan of Stars" or "The Motown Review." They'd load all these different acts together on a bus and hit the road. If you didn't like one act, you might like the next. The popular television shows at the time, like "The Ed Sullivan Show" and "The Hollywood Palace" were variety shows. You'd watch to see The Beatles or The Rolling Stones, but have to sit through dog acts, jugglers, acrobats, plate spinners and others that obviously had to attract other viewers otherwise they wouldn't have been included. So as kids, we were programmed to accept that. It was showbiz.

In 1965 the opening acts at Shea Stadium can probably be called "fillers." They filled in time to make it a real show. Otherwise everyone would've been in and out within an hour considering the length of time the Beatles actually performed.

Of course the industry has changed since then. Promoters are more aware of their audiences and even the headlining bands bring in their own opening acts that will enhance the entire show. But 1965 Sid Bernstein wasn't a teenager and neither was anyone else that might have helped him put together the opening acts. I can see some kids' parents at the time thinking the "teenagers" would enjoy The Discotheque Dancers demonstrating the "latest fad" dances so they can all do them later at a junior high school dance. They must have also felt The King Curtis Band would give them needed variety. Sounds Inc. was an instrumental group managed by Brian Epstein, so he knew this would give them exposure in front of a lot of potential fans. They played "The William Tell Overture." I doubt there were many fans there that night that would've paid to see that. Also despite rumors that have persisted over the decades, The Young Rascals were not one of the opening acts.

But the Beatles were so popular it was difficult for anyone to open for them. I saw a more supportive lineup in 1966 when they toured with The Ronettes, The Cyrcle, Bobby Hebb and The Remains. Bobby Hebb actually had the number one song at that time with "Sunny," but the fans continued to scream for The Beatles during all their sets. I remember enjoying them, but the real anticipation was for The Beatles.

RNRChemist: The jackets the Beatles wore have become so iconic and are associated solely with that show...however, it's unbelievable they wore those heavy jackets and suit pants in the middle of August! I can't think of any other artist off the top of my head who has one stage outfit so associated with only one concert...can you?

DS: Well, I've always wanted an Elvis jumpsuit, but that's another story… ha! The jackets they wore that night will always be associated with the 1965 Shea concert. There are a lot of details in the book about the jackets from Russ Lease, who owns Paul's and specializes in reproducing Beatles stage outfits. In fact they were originally described as "military tunics" because of the design, but I'm sure Russ had a lot of influence in making them widely famous as "Shea Jackets."

Actually the Beatles wore them for other shows that year with dress shirts and ties. In the videos for "Day Tripper" and "We Can Work It Out" you can see them wearing the jackets over turtle neck sweaters. So they weren't designed specifically for Shea Stadium. They had other suit choices to wear that night, but Paul, who came up with the look based on what he saw police wearing when they were in the Bahamas shooting "Help!" was very influential in the decision to wear them. It was very hot that night at Shea and these were not light jackets. They were soaking wet after the first couple songs. Russ said you can still see the sweat stains on Paul's jacket, even though it had been dry cleaned a few times before he bought it.

RNRChemist: Some personal questions:

Favorite band(s) (besides the Beatles, of course!)

DS: Other than The Beatles I'd have to say The Rolling Stones. I consider myself to be a classic rocker, but thanks to my kids I keep up with many of today's artists. My iPod can bounce from AC/DC to Broadway show tunes (seriously), but the Beatles and Stones have always been the two constants and have withstood the test of time. I'm also partial to music from The British Invasion.

RNRChemist: Best concert you've been to?

DS: The Beatles - of course! The Rolling Stones at Shea Stadium in 1989 runs a close second.

RNRChemist: Worst concert you've been to?

DS: Led Zeppelin at Cleveland Public Hall in 1970. I know that's going to tick off a lot of Zep fans, and I'm still a big fan, but it wasn't happening for them at that show. They were pretty much booed off the stage. Huge disappointment.

RNRChemist: Favorite album(s) of all time?

DS: Getting back to my love of live albums I'd have to say The Rolling Stones "Get Yer Ya Ya's Out." It's from the 1969 shows at Madison Square Garden and first with Mick Taylor. Not a dull moment from beginning to end. It's impossible to choose between Beatles albums, but as a fan that could only get the U.S. versions of their albums I look at "Beatles VI" and "Yesterday… And Today" as being very special. They were released at the beginning of summer in 1965 and 1966 and remind me of kicking-off the excitement for their tours.

RNRChemist: You've written two books about the Beatles...any plans for another one?

DS: I'm still trying to recover from this one! But thanks for asking because you never know…

RNRChemist: Dave, thanks so much for talking to me, it was a blast! Now I need to get a copy of your other Beatles book to read!

(Dave can be found on Facebook and Twitter and his book can be purchased by clicking on the Amazon link in the interview above).

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

The Boston Marathon Bombing: One Year Later

Today is a weird day for me, filled with conflicting emotions, since it's not only my youngest daughter's birthday, but it's also the 1 year anniversary of the Boston Marathon bombings, which rocked this region as well as the rest of the country on April 15, 2013.

The bombing and its immediate aftermath were just crazy...following it as it unfolded in real time was surreal and the ensuing rampage, shoot-outs, death of one of the bombers, and eventual capture of the other bomber after an unprecedented lockdown of the city and its suburbs was, again, surreal. For me, driving toward the city to work that week with the highways literally empty was one of the eeriest things I've ever experienced. We had no idea where the bombers were on the run to and where they might pop up next. It is a testament to the local and federal law enforcement for the great job they did in minimizing the loss of innocent life and property damage during the manhunt and for that we are ever grateful.

As a proud and lifelong New Englander, a dedicated runner myself, and someone who has worked in and around Boston for many years, it's hard for me to convey to anyone who is not from here just how shocking and crazy the events were last year as they were unfolding. As anyone else who lives here (or anyone who has come here as a tourist) can attest to, this is a very provincial (if not the MOST provincial) part of the country.  While Boston is one of the major cities in the US, we've always felt as though we were a bit immune from things like this. Even with New York City a mere 4 hours to the south, New Englanders have always felt that we were secure and safe tucked in up here in our little corner in the Northeasternmost part of the country. The senseless and depraved attacks at last year's marathon completely rocked that assumption and obliterated our sense of security, which of course pales in comparison to the physical, mental, and emotional toll the attacks took on the victims and their families. Hundreds of victims will never been the same, and the number stretches into the thousands when their family and friends are taken into account. In reality, none of us here in New England will ever be the same after the insane events of last April unfolded. In fact, with the trial of the surviving bomber still to take place, last year's wounds are still a long ways from being completely healed (metaphorically speaking).

However, what was great about the events of last year and every single day since then is how we as a region banded and bonded together to overcome what happened, and we've continued on more defiantly and stronger as a region than ever before.  New Englanders have always been tough bastards...you have to be to not only survive but thrive in the brutal winters, humid summers, and other distinctive things that make this one of the most unique parts of the country. Try as they might, the two bombing brothers and their sick and twisted schemes could not break the spirit or will of our great city, this great region, and we proud people who call it home. And of course, being as sports-crazy a region as we are, our teams played a huge role in the healing, from the Celtics and Bruins cancelling games, to the first Bruins game after the arrest of the surviving bomber when the crowd took over the singing of the National Anthem, from David Ortiz' speech before the Red Sox game on live TV ("This is OUR F**KING CITY!") to the Red Sox winning the World Series in October and dedicating it to New England and the marathon victims...our unique connection with our sports teams was a special way for the region to begin the healing process.

There is still a lot of healing to be done, not least of which by the victims who lost limbs, were irreversibly maimed and injured, and of course by the families of the unfortunate few who lost their lives.

The attack will live on eternally in history, but we bounced back stronger and tougher because those two cowards and their supporters had no idea who they were messing with.

Thanks for reading...I know this may not mean as much to those of you outside of New England, but I just wanted to take some time to reflect on this and hopefully share my thoughts and feelings with anyone else who may be reading this who happen to also be from New England.