I was reading about Taylor Swift the other day and how she’s trying to release her new LP in an “old school way” and honestly, I have no idea what that means in the Spotify era we live in.
But I do remember what it was really like to release an album old school because I lived it and, if you were not there, it’s hard to explain how magical it was.
I was 16 years old when The Beatles released Abbey Road and I distinctly remember going down to Alexander’s department store on East 59th Street to buy it with my meager savings.
Don’t know why I was in Manhattan and not the Bronx where I lived but I’m thinking I must have gone after work because I worked in a deli in the area. I took the elevator to the record department where the lines were long and the people were buzzing.
It took no time at all to find Abbey Road. The salespeople at Alexander’s were no fools and there was an entire display devoted to nothing but the lads’ latest. It was the first time I laid eyes on that iconic cover. I read somewhere recently that a record exec had been apoplectic that The Beatles name was not on the cover, as if that mattered.
Everyone seemed there for the same purpose. There was a crowd milling around the Beatles display, turning their new LP over in their hands.
I practically ran over to the display and grabbed my copy. If you were alive when the Beatles were releasing their albums, you know how it was. For the rest, it’s nothing like it is now. No LP release these days comes close but of course it was a different time. The Beatles had no equal. It was almost like Picasso was releasing a new painting once a year or so and everyone could have their own copy.
The Beatles were THAT special. As I stood in a long line to pay, I examined my prize and dissected the cover art. There were no lyrics on the back cover which was a disappointment but the shot of the boys walking across the street was so cool. I wondered if the lyrics might be inside but back then, the shrink wrap hid the contents and there was no way I’d open the LP until I paid.
I’m pretty sure back then I had no idea that Abbey Road was the name of the studio where the band recorded. I just thought it was some street in London.
Buying that album was a community event. You had to do it in person and that, plus the cover art, made a huge difference to the sterile ways releases are handled today. Back then, everyone was buying a copy and everyone was excited and talking about the songs they had heard so far and how good they were.
As everyone knows, the Beatles had stopped touring by then. They could hardly stand to be in the same room with each other but somehow, they created this final masterpiece. There was no hope of seeing them perform and I don’t recall any of them doing interviews on television.
What carried the album was their magic–a combination of the beautiful harmonies and the songs they created.
Cut to present day: I just saw an interview with Taylor Swift where she appeared to be promoting her album but was largely complaining about how tough women have it. Blah, blah…never heard that before. Seems to me women in general and women performers have it better nowadays than ever before.
I say let the music speak for itself. If there is any magic there, listeners will find it.
It’s been a crazy good summer if, like yours truly, you’re one of the zillions of baby boomers out there. Normally, I ignore the big dumb films that come out each year from June to September but this year, movie theaters have been hosting a feast for those 60 and above. Maybe it’s only a happy coincidence but it feels like the movie summer of 2019 has been designed to appeal to the generation born between 1946 and 1964.
The best of the lot IMO is “Once Upon a Time….in Hollywood” directed by Quentin Tarantino and starring Brad Pitt, Leo DiCaprio and Margot Robbie among others. I suspect I’m not alone in having a lifelong fascination with the Manson Murders. As a teen, I’ll never forget the front page of the New York Daily News with the Manson girls proudly strutting into court with swat-stickers on their foreheads. WTF?!?! I thought and still think.
Tarantino has brought it all back–not just the Manson Murders but the entire era and soundtrack along with a violent ending that, crazy to say, is a joy to behold. I’ve never laughed so hard at so much violence. The song playing in the background of the ultimate scene is “You Keep Me Hangin’ On” by Vanilla Fudge. I can’t even guess how many high school dances I attended where some garage band tried to recreate it. Let me just say, it brings me back and now it’ll be impossible to forget the way it was used here.
And “Once…” is only the latest example. Earlier this summer, the fantasy film “Yesterday” featuring The Beatles song catalog appeared. The story revolves around “a world without the Beatles” but the film winds up being an homage to the four lad from Liverpool. Not only did the film have a very sweet surprise toward the end (no spoilers here) but it had the effect of making the world see for the umpteenth time how great the Beatles really were. I once read a sentence about the Beatles that sums it up for me: “They weren’t about chemistry; they were about alchemy.”
One of my least favorite Beatles’ songs is “The Long and Winding Road” but the stripped down version that appeared in this film made me hear it with fresh ears and the true power and beauty shone through.
Want more? Go see “Marianne and Leonard: Words of Love.” The documentary features the music and magic of songwriter Leonard Cohen and his muse, the luminescent Marianne Ihlen, the young woman he met on the Greek island of Hydra. Their love is the stuff of mythology except, in this doc, filmmaker Nick Broomfield pulls no punches, showing both the beauty but also the ugliness of what this vaunted love story did to Marianne the muse and her poor son Axel.
I’ve haven’t had this kind of summer in a very long time–nearly every week a film opens that I can’t wait to see in an actual movie theater. Another winner is “David Crosby: Remember My Name” about one of the most ornery figures in rock. David Crosby has quite the CV. Not only was he a member of The Byrds and Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young, not only did he play at Woodstock….he also discovered Joni Mitchell and produced her first album. He’s a Zelig-type figure of classic rock. It’s funny and fascinating to see him sitting behind The Beatles at one of their many press conferences. When a reporter asks who he is, none other than John Lennon says, “That’s our friend David.”
What the film brings out so well is how sad it is that Crosby is his own worst enemy. As he quietly admits toward the film’s end, none of the major figures that he made beautiful music with–no one from Roger McGuinn to Neil Young–is talking to Croz any longer.
I’m telling ya this summer has it all and I’ve yet to see “Echoes of the Canyon” about Laurel Canyon in the ’70s. Still to come is a documentary about Linda Ronstadt and “Blinded by the Light,” a feature film centered around the music of Bruce Springsteen. I can’t wait!
By Paul La Rosa [@paullarosa]
You may have heard something about the Fyre Festival, the disastrous music non-event held in April 2018 on the island of Grand Exuma in the Bahamas. I did but wasn’t paying all that much attention until this weekend when Hulu and Netflix each released their own documentaries on the fiasco.
A quick refresher. Sometimes soon after President Trump was elected, a millennial “innovator”/scam artist named Billy McFarland got it in his head that he would cheer everyone up by holding a gigantic music festival in the Bahamas that would rival Coachcella.
It wasn’t a terrible idea but Billy M. began by shooting the video for the event before finding a suitable location. It is evident in both docs that Billy is quite the bullshit artist and he convinced some of the world’s top models and a very slick marketing agency to help him shoot that sumptuous video. The video, mainly featured in the Netflix doc, is total eye candy with gorgeous models swimming, riding jet skis and frolicking with pigs (in case you haven’t heard…swimming with pigs is the thing to do in Grand Exmuma).
Billy even lined up some famous bands, picked a date and began flooding Instagram with news of the event. Many many tickets were sold before Billy had a suitable location and, by suitable, I mean before he and other organizers realized that you need electricity, plumbing and bathrooms to host a festival, no matter how many cute models you have on hand.
A single Instagram post by Kendall Jenner, for which she was paid $250,000, made Fyre Festival THE event to attend. Because of poor planning, no music was played and the event became a legendary fiasco with rich millennials and so-called influencers trapped on an island eating cheese sandwiches with nowhere to go to the bathroom except the sea.
Enter Hulu and Netflix and their mad dash for content. Simultaneously, they produced two slick documentaries that are each well-produced but very different.
To a storyteller like myself, it’s fascinating to see the differences and the similarities because, as we all know, there are many ways to tell the same story.
The Netflix doc tells the story of the festival in chronological order while the Hulu doc starts at the end and backs into the story. I found the Netflix approach more compelling; I was on the edge of my seat to see how the event would play out. The Hulu doc gives you a lot of that at the very beginning.
One big difference is that Hulu was able to interview the event’s villain, Billy McFarland who is now serving a six year prison stretch for his fraud. Hulu reportedly paid Billy in the six figures for the interview but doesn’t pull any punches. The producers ask him very tough questions to which Billy either stares blank-faced or says “I can’t comment.”
The Hulu doc is much more about Billy for better and for worse. I was craving more about him after watching the Netflix doc which I viewed first. I got all I wanted and more from the Hulu doc. It’s much tougher on Billy the BS artist but also features his loyal model girlfriend and that’s a problem. No one wants to see Billy rewarded in any way, least of all with the love of a beautiful woman.
Overall, the Hulu doc takes a larger view of society and the influencer culture that opened the door for a scam artist like Billy who, by the way, continued his fraudulent ways while he was out on bail for the original charges. It’s hard, after seeing Billy exposed this way, to believe anyone would invest another dime with this guy. The jury’s out on that.
The Hulu producers made a wise choice when they picked New Yorker writer Jia Tolentino to provide context and commentary. Her original voice and keen insights carry the heavy lifting of explanation.
As for the Netflix doc, it’s more about the festival and doesn’t stop to consider the context of what was going on in our society to allow such a colossal flop. But that choice doesn’t hurt it; it fact, by taking a limited view, the Netflix documentary moves faster.
The Hulu documentary forces you to think but loses steam after its first incredible 20 minutes. It’s still quite good (who can resist seeing Billy squirm in the chair even if he is wearing expensive black jeans?) but, if you only want to watch one, Netflix is probably for you.
It’s also the one to watch if you’re thinking right about now, “Why should I watch either one; I hate these rich punks!” Good point but Netflix humanizes those who truly suffered–the hardworking men and women of Grand Exuma who worked day and night and mostly were not paid. You can’t help feeling bad for cook Maryann Rolle who tears up when she thinks of the $50,000 she lost paying for all that food. (Some started a fund-raising campaign that has raised $123,000 as of this writing.)
I would make the case that you should watch both. Yes, there are many of the same characters and much of the same footage but the devil’s in the differences. Characters who seem important pop up in one doc but are completely absent in the other. And there is a killer anecdote about water and a blowjob you’ll only see in the Netflix production.
So watch both, especially if you’re snowed in or it’s a dreary rainy winter’s day. If nothing else, the water and the models help offset a cold winter’s day.
After reading Being John Lennon by longtime Beatles chronicler Ray Connolly, one can’t but help think that John Lennon simply never grew up. Murdered at age 40, he was, to the end of his life, a petulant genius, capable of writing great songs and administering great cruelty to those who knew him.
Toward the end of this encyclopedic biography, Connolly, who interviewed Lennon countless times, sums it up this way: “Though millions who didn’t know him loved him, sometimes those who knew him well didn’t always like him. A natural leader, who could so easily be led and who saw himself as a chameleon, he was at various times a clever, witty, angry, funny, sharp-tongued, far-sighted, impetuous, talented, guilt-laden, preaching, sardonic, exaggerating, gullible, aggressive, unfaithful, obsessive, self-absorbed, outspoken, jealous, sometimes cruel but often generous man. He was certainly no saint, but, to his friends, he was hard not to like. Above all, he was absolutely a one-off.”
Because Lennon died so young, he seems never to have achieved perspective on his life. It must have been hard for any Beatle. Famous in their early twenties, they were showered with lavish praise worldwide, especially Lennon and McCartney. It’s a minor miracle that Paul and Ringo are seemingly as normal as they appear but they have the benefit of having lived a long, full life.
Lennon didn’t have that.
Connolly makes it clear that Lennon was still being buffeted by events rather than choosing them. Yeah, he started the Beatles but Paul broke them up. Lennon never even lived alone, going from Paul and onetime wife Cynthia to Yoko to girlfriend May Pang and then back to Yoko again.
Lennon famously did not suffer fools but, as Connolly points out, it was relatively easy for Yoko to make a fool of him. She simply stalked him until he gave in to her avant-garde personality and, as Lennon once said, “Avant-garde is French for bullshit.” If only he’d listened to himself.
There is an untold number of books on the Beatles but at least Connolly actually knew the boys. That counts. In probably his most famous moment, Lennon handed the author one of the biggest scoops in the world at that point, the revelation that Lennon was going to quit the Beatles. Later, when Paul beat him to the punch, Lennon cornered Connolly. It’s one of Connolly’s best stories:
“Why didn’t you write it when I told you in Canada at Christmas,” he asked me that day.
“You asked me not to,” I replied.
“You’re the journalist, Connelly, not me,” he stabbed back.
The problem here is similar—Connolly waited too long to write this book. He may have intimate knowledge of the lads but Lennon was right—Connolly is too slow for his own good. The idea that he waited 38 years since Lennon’s murder to write this bio is astonishing. Talk about sitting on a story!
The sad truth is that, by now, there’s nearly nothing left to squeeze from the life of the Beatles. Any Beatles fan can recite all the touchstone moments off the top of his head—the day John met Paul, the day Pete Best was replaced by Ringo Star, the trips to Germany, the achievement of Sgt. Pepper, the day John met Yoko, the recording of the White Album, the rooftop concert and, the worst day of all, when Lennon was murdered.
This bio does add detail to those moments but it’s not enough. Yes, it is interesting that Connolly was set to interview Lennon a day or two after the murder but only for a moment.
At this point—more than 50 years since the boys appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show—the best books about the Beatles come from interesting analyses like Dreaming the Beatles by Rob Sheffield or straight up fiction. The best of the recent fiction about Lennon in particular comes from Tom Barbash who wrote the recently published The Dakota Winters that tells the story of a family who lived in The Dakota apartments in the months leading up to Lennon’s murder. An earlier novel titled Get Back, Imagine Saving John Lennon by Donovan Day also had its fun moments.
This is not to say that Connelly’s book is anything less than comprehensive. It is but, in writing about Lennon’s life, it’s not enough to go through all the obvious signposts. Lennon was an amazing songwriter and singer, probably an average musician, but his legend needs a breather. We loved him but his life story may be as played out as the 10,000th playing of “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds.”
Sometimes, one needs to listen to new music and find fresh legends.
(Originally published in The New York Journal of Book. )
Sometimes, the world is butt ugly. Eleven members of a synagogue dead in Pittsburgh while attending a bris, two African-Americans killed while grocery shopping in a Kroger’s, suspicious packages sent to politicians who disagree with the President.
Even before any of these events took place, I was feeling the oppression of living in New York City which, yeah, can be great but can also be an ugly, coarse place. I was working on a story at Criminal Court, a monolithic monument to all that is wrong with New York. Long security lines, frightened and nervous suspects and jurors unsure what’s in store for them, and burly court officers trying to make the best of a bad situation weighed down by bulletproof vests and a well-earned sardonic outlook on life.
These days, the streets around this gray building–which by the way is connected by skybridge to a jail called The Tombs (get the picture?)–is swimming in construction. I’m not even going to mention the subway system that got me there. Even on its best days, the subway is an ugly parade with peeling paint, moldy, water-streaked walls and commuters right out of a Diane Arbus photo. No one looks very happy.
Having said all this, I’m an optimist by nature so, when I feel overwhelmed by the only city I’ve ever lived in, I know what I need–I need beauty. Sometimes, it’s getting out the city and seeing nature and sometimes, it’s Paris! But last week, I chose to visit the Guggenheim Museum where I’d not been for ages.
Someone on Twitter had posted something about the museum’s current exhibition–wildly designed abstract paintings by Hilma Klint created at the turn of the 20th century. They were so arresting and colorful, so utterly different than my sad surroundings, that I went.
Klint was a Swedish feminist artist who took her art very seriously. She believed there was a world beyond this one and attended seances regularly. She believed in mediums and a lot of her art, she wrote in meticulous journals, was inspired by spiritualism.
Her greatest work “The Paintings for the Temple”–created around 1906–is breathtaking in color and design and way ahead of its time. You can read the above link which will tell you much more about Klint than I could. All I can say is that the exhibition did the trick. It showed me some beauty and art in a world sorely in need of it at the moment.
Klint lived in a different country and time but, standing in front of her art, I felt as though she was speaking to me from the beyond. I connected with her work–inspired by the unseen world and so far out of my day to day realm. If an artist can create works of this magnitude, all is not lost. Believe it.
Somewhere in the middle of this revelatory and emotionally powerful memoir by Sally Field, she unpacks a story that is a case study in what Hollywood’s casting couch was like, even for an actress who had already starred in two network series—Gidget and The Flying Nun.
Field’s career was in a lull after those two shows so she was incredulous and delighted to find herself auditioning (it was her first audition ever) for the part of a sexpot in Bob Rafelson’s film Stay Hungry. At that point, director Rafelson was a hot ’70s new wave director, and his resume included the landmark film Five Easy Pieces with Jack Nicolson.
Field got the audition for Stay Hungry because of a female casting director who believed in her, but Rafelson wanted no part of her. Still, he had to admit that she read for the part better than anyone else. As Field writes, “He had a hard time owning the idea that he’d be hiring the Flying Nun . . . and it was driving him crazy.”
Rafelson asked for one more meeting at his house. A housekeeper led Sally to his bedroom and was dismissed. He sat on the bed and “he told me to take my top off so he could see my breasts, saying since there was a nude scene in the film, he needed to figure out how to shoot me.”
After reading this memoir about life with her famous father Steve Jobs, one comes away feeling that author Lisa Brennan-Jobs must be the most even-tempered woman on earth. That’s what a bastard Jobs is, and that word does not begin to describe him.
But Brennan-Jobs is nothing if not understanding. Even in the title, she takes it easy on Jobs. She could easily have called this “The Cruelest Man in the World” and it’s doubtful anyone would have argued.
Steve Jobs may have been a visionary but, as has been well-documented elsewhere, he could be a son of a bitch and was an eccentric of the first order. And his first child Lisa seems to have taken the brunt of it. The story is different and powerful when it’s from the point of view of a child.
There’s nothing like primary sources. For all the books written about Jobs, this one means more because it’s so intimate. Brennan-Jobs lived in Job’s house and got nearly a daily primer on how cruel and nutty he could be—although there were moments of humor and love sprinkled here and there.
As the book makes clear, there were special moments and eventual love between father and daughter. Jobs wasn’t a total jerk 100% of the time but he was capable of so many emotionally cruel moments that there are almost too many to catalog. [Continue reading….]
Recently, I visited Lisbon and as I was walking through one of the oldest parts of town–a neighborhood called the Mouraria–I spotted plaques attached to the walls of the ancient buildings that featured senior residents of the block. The plaques are brilliant–stylized photographs designed to remember longtime residents who were there before the shops and restaurants.
One of the plaques at the end of the block explained what the project was all about. It’s called “The Tribute” and it’s a street exhibit by photographer/artist Camilla Watson from Britain designed as “a tribute to the elderly who live here. They walk this beco daily and their spirit makes this corner of Mouraria special.”
Doing a bit more research, I discovered Watson’s reason for undertaking the project in an article from the Evening Standard:
“When I began this project, the old part of Lisbon had not been renovated for at least 200 years,” says Watson. “The walls were full of holes and cracks – and the area had a high density of elderly so for me the old people were ageing together with the old buildings. They were one and the same. So I imagined their faces as part of walls in the streets. And I set myself the challenge of printing them onto the walls themselves.”
What a great idea! And it occurred to me that, since this exhibit is years old, at least some of these seniors must be dead and yet their images live on….on the very street where they spent decades. Watson has since expanded her project to other parts of the old city as she describes on her website:
“I am interested in people, communities and their history. How can we keep a communities history alive? How can we hold onto their memories in rapidly changing environments? I want to bring the past into the present in a way that is visual, creative and accessible to all; especially in historic neighbourhoods and in areas in a process of change.”
It struck me that this would be a great project for New York but with a slightly different angle. Too often, New York neighborhoods undergo changes due to gentrification that make it seem like people and businesses that existed on our streets just a year or two ago are part of prehistoric history. Wouldn’t it be great to do something along the lines of this project to help remember them? Of course the best thing would be to enact laws that prevent them from being forced out but, seeing how that’s not going to happen anytime soon, let’s at least remember them and not ignore our past.
Camilla, if you read this, maybe you can visit and make this a reality.
[Note: A few years back, Ted Sturtz, a former investment banker and lover of books, was dismayed by all the newspapers dropping their book review sections. Feeling there was a place online for thoughtful book reviews, he created the website New York Journal of Books and somewhere along the line asked me to participate which I was happy to do. Here’s my latest review for them. I hope you take a look at the website; there are a lot of great reviews and books featured. Thanks!]
This memoir is filled with the type of jaw-dropping anecdotes one might expect from a purebred reporter such as Sy Hersh but one story stands out, precisely because it demonstrates how deeply society has changed over the past 40 years.
The year was 1974 and Richard Nixon had just resigned the presidency. Seymour Hersh, then working for the New York Times, got a tip that Nixon’s wife Pat had been taken to an emergency room with serious injuries. A tipster connected with the hospital called Hersh—who was known to do anything to run down a good story—and told him that Pat had informed the ER doctor that Nixon had hit her.
“I had no idea what to do with this information, if anything,” writes Hersh in his autobiography, “but I went along with the old adage from the City News Bureau, ‘If your mother says she loves you, check it out.’”
Hersh called John Erlichman, who had been one of Nixon’s most trusted lieutenants. Erlichman matter-of-factly told Hersh that he knew of two other incidents when Nixon beat his wife, once when he was president. [continue reading]
I know you Google yourself because, let’s face it, everyone does.
(Here’s the other guy above and me to the right in case you were having trouble telling us apart.)
I hadn’t Googled myself in a while and, when I did recently, I noticed this other Paul La Rosa horning in on my search results. In fact, this other guy is now the top Paul La Rosa. I’m, like, third! Hmmm….
The other Paul La Rosa is a Juilliard-trained baritone opera singer. He’s a good looking guy and we both have good singing voices. The big difference is his penchant for posing with his shirt off so he can show off his larger than life abs. He apparently does this so often that it’s become something of a thing.
Check out this headline and story about the other guy. I swear this is a real story. Well, it’s on the internet so who knows how real it is but you can look it up and Google it yourself. It’s on an opera blog called “Barihunks” and the headline and first graph are as follows:
“Paul La Rosa’s Hot Chest and Big Balls”
“There is nothing that we love more than a barihunk who likes to show off some skin, especially when they look like Paul LaRosa. Here he his showing off his hot chest and big balls. Impressive, eh?”
Well, it is impressive I guess. But I don’t want anyone to confuse us although, to be honest, that’s already happened. Because I’ve cornered the market on everything Paul La Rosa–on gmail, Twitter, Instagram etc–I sometimes get emails meant for this other guy. My favorite was the itinerary to sing in Vienna. I nearly accepted just to see if anyone could tell us apart.
I don’t think that’s possible, do you?
[P.S. My blog has a new look and I’m still getting the hang of it…hope you like it.]