Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Recent reading

I've actually found time to read a couple of books lately! I've been trying to keep track of all the books I've read this year in my blog (16 so far, not counting the ones I'm writing about here -- not bad!! -- not as many as I would have read 10 or certainly 20 years ago, sadly, but not bad...). Here are the latest entries on the list:

I actually bought & started the hardcover of The Beatles by Bob Spitz when it first came out about five or six years ago. I'd read about 4/5 of the book before I put it down (around the point where Brian Epstein died), picked up something else... & never got back to it. It wasn't because it wasn't good -- on the contrary, it's a great book about a great band, one of my all-time essential favourite bands. I just seem to have developed a nasty habit of doing that over the past few years (insert red-faced icon here). I decided that has to change, and recently picked it up again to tackle what was left.

If you're a Beatles fan, this is an amazingly detailed look at the band, with lots of fresh material that will have you going "I never knew that..." The stuff about the early days of the band, in particular, was a treat to read. It also puts so many things in context. For example -- I'd heard & seen clips from the band's legendary performance at Shea Stadium, but not until I read this book did I realize its significance: the Beatles were the first band to EVER play a concert, not just at Shea Stadium but at ANY stadium, anywhere -- it had never been done before. So, among many other things, we have the Beatles to thank for arena rock shows. : ) Not for the first time, I wished I had been a teenager back then to experience Beatlemania firsthand. (As it was, and as I've written before -- here and here, for example -- the Beatles are among my first and most treasured pop culture memories as a preschooler.)

One of the many seldom-heard-from sources Spitz dug up for this book was Paul's Liverpool girlfriend, Dorothy (Dot) Rhone. Did you know she became pregnant by Paul, just as the Beatles were starting to hit it big, and had a miscarriage? She & Paul immediately got engaged -- his father was apparently delighted that he was going to be a grandfather -- but after the baby died, she could feel Paul slipping away from her, and they broke up. (It doesn't reflect very well on Paul -- but he WAS only, what 20 years old? & his life was rapidly changing at that point.) Heartbroken, Dot emigrated to Canada not long afterward, married & had other children (& grandchildren), worked for many years as a civil servant in southern Ontario (!), and is now retired. She & Paul have since seen each other backstage at some of his concerts over the years.

I've written before about my love of the most famous band to come out of my home province of Manitoba, the Guess Who, and its lead singer, Burton Cummings. Its guitarist, Randy Bachman, also went on to further fame with Bachman Turner Overdrive, and now hosts a weekly show on CBC Radio called Vinyl Tap, where he plays some of his favourite songs & tells stories about his personal encounters with the artists over the last 50 years.

Now, some of those stories have been collected in a new book called Vinyl Tap Stories. Randy wrote a memoir a few years back that I'd read, called Taking Care of Business, & some of the stories he tells here are familiar -- whether from that book or from interviews I've seen him give over the years, I'm not sure.

Still, there's no doubt that he has some great stories to tell and tells them well. As a Manitoban, of course, I get a huge kick out of his local references and his recollections about the Winnipeg of his childhood. Randy is closer to my mom's age than my own (he was born in 1943, just ahead of the first wave of post-war baby boomers), but when he talks about the Paddlewheel Restaurant, for example, I know exactly what he's talking about (although I had NO IDEA until I read this book that it was once THE place for Winnipeg teenagers & musicians to hang out!!).

(Incidentally, dh's former boss grew up kitty-corner from the Bachmans in the north end of Winnipeg in the 1960s. He told me once at a party that Randy & his brothers always had a band & always wound up playing at their school dances & hockey banquets. "Not the Bachmans again!" he & his friends would groan. Who knew?? lol)

I've always thought Jann Arden was a great singer, and over the years, she's also shown herself to be a funny and witty interview. She's been on the Rick Mercer Report several times, mostly in Calgary -- visiting the Calgary Zoo & luging at Olympic Park, ziplining, attending RoughStock and, most recently, doing the CN Tower EdgeWalk in Toronto, with hilarious results. Now she's written a memoir about her growing up years, Falling Backwards. (Sidenote: She was signing copies earlier this month at a bookstore in the office tower across the street from mine at lunchtime. Any other time of the year, that would have been perfect. Unfortunately, it's year end, and I had a mandatory meeting I had to attend around the same time -- so, sadly, my book is unsigned.)

I loved this book. It is extremely well written -- hilarious, as one might expect, frank and also poignant. What I really love, though, is the feelings of deja vu that the book conjured up for me. Jann was born in 1962, and grew up in a small town in rural Alberta outside of Calgary in the late 1960s & early 1970s. I was born in Manitoba in 1961, and spent my childhood in small rural towns in the neighbouring Prairie provinces of Saskatchewan and Manitoba, in the same time frame. (Coincidentally, neither of us has children, either.) So, as you might expect, we share a lot of similar memories about similar things. For example:

* Jann claims her mom is "the cleanest person in Canada" (p.11) -- I always thought mine was. ; )
* she grew up in a classic baby boomer suburban neighbourhood where kids walked to school & people didn't lock their doors (so did I)(p. 12).
* Jann's dad cooked bacon & egg breakfasts on the weekends (p.15). My dad is great cook, but his weekend brunches are legendary in our family. Yum! (My mother is the potato lover in our family, though!)
* Milk was delivered by a milkman (p.15)(I remember that too, in my early childhood).
* Jann used a big fat HB pencil when she started school, as did I (p. 25).
* Old Dutch salt & vinegar chips (p. 26) -- ahhh, the memories...! I still think Old Dutch makes the best chips ever. We couldn't get them in Ontario for years, & they're still hard to find. Dh thinks they're awful. ; )
* Reading about Jann's teachers, Mrs. Hurst & Miss Humphreys, reminded me of my favourite teacher from fourth grade, Mrs. Dean. She was in her early 20s, had long blond hair & wore mini-skirts. She was beautiful and she sang like an angel, at school and in our church choir. (My mother told me a few years ago that her obituary was in the local paper, so I found it online. She was only in her mid-50s when she died... and the obituary mentioned her beautiful singing voice.)
* Jann's fascination with the globe (p. 29).
* Jann says Prairie people refer to underwear as "gonch" (p. 33). Where I lived, it was "gotch" (close enough, I guess). But I never called them that -- it made my ears hurt just to hear the words. I wonder how that term came into being??
* Dubble Bubble bubblegum (p. 43).
* Jann's parents' work ethic, & how it makes her feel lazy (p. 73)(boy, me too). "They are in their seventies now, and I swear they still don't sit down."
* Well cooked meat (p. 55).
* "Romper Room" & "The Friendly Giant" (p. 64).
* Walking for miles all over town at the age of 10 & nobody batting an eyelash about it ("I know I sound like I am a hundred years old, but the seventies were so much different from how things are today," p. 66).
* Playing outside all the time (p. 66).
* Gigantic pigs (p. 72 -- my uncle had some on his farm -- scared the crap out of me!).
* Slaughtering farm animals (p. 74). I was at my grandparents' farm when they were killing chickens once. My cousins all went out to watch -- they thought it was hilarious to watch the chickens run around with their heads cut off. I stayed in the house with my nose in a book & refused to even look out the window.
* Milking cows (p. 75) -- never did it myself, but I did used to watch my grandmother do it in the barn.
* Having only three TV channels (p. 88 -- we had just one, the CBC, until we moved closer to the border when I was 14 & got a rotary antenna, & then eventually cable).
* School lunches (p. 98) & open area classrooms (p. 103).
* Reading, Enid Blyton mysteries in particular (p. 104).
* Listening to a transistor radio under the covers at night (p. 105) -- late at night on the Prairies, especially after a thunderstorm, you could pull in radio stations from far-away, exotic places like KSTP Minneapolis & WLS Chicago. It was almost a competition to see who could pull in the radio station from furthest away.
* Listening to records & singing from mimeographed sheets in music class (p. 107).
* Anne Murray & "Snowbird" (p. 107).
* Casual dressing (p. 115)(Corduroy pants -- which we called "cords" -- were about as dressy as things got in the small Prairie towns I grew up in the the 1970s. And if I wanted to wear mine, I'd have to call up my friends & make sure that at least one of THEM was ALSO going to be wearing cords).
* Lonesome Charlie (!!) (p. 116).
* The Columbia Record Club (p. 157)
* The Carpenters (p. 158 & several other places in the book)
* home perms by mom (p. 168)
* Yahtzee (p. 181)
* finding out that you're short credits to graduate from high school (p. 183). This happened to me. I got called to the guidance counsellor's office in November of Grade 12 & was told I couldn't claim both Music 101 (band) AND 108 (for my private piano lessons & Royal Conservatory of Music exam) -- hence, I was short a course to graduate. After I'd finished crying, we went over my schedule & looked at the available classes that I could fit in. I wound up in History 301 -- comparative governments. I caught up very quickly & wound up with something like a 92 in the course. But I was kind of resentful all year long that it took them until November of my graduating year to figure this out.
Now, there's a lot that is different about our childhoods, of course. Jann's upbringing was, shall we say, a little more backwoodsy than mine, & she was a lot more adventurous than I ever was (I never killed gophers or was never chased by a bear, for example, or dove headfirst into a brick barbecue). I didn't have a troubled older brother who wound up serving a life sentence for murder, or an alcoholic father, and I was never molested by a relative when I was 10. But I knew people and places like the ones she describes -- I knew boys like her childhood buddies, Dale and Leonard, and places like the gas station with the cooler full of pop bottles.

The book ends with 30-year-old Jann on the brink of releasing her first record. Which leaves me hopeful that someday, there might be a sequel. : ) Fingers crossed!


  1. You know, I've always liked Jann Arden. Don't have one CD of hers, but I always thought she'd be great to go out with a drink with. If I had known you liked Old Dutch salt and vinegar chips, I would have brought you some. I'm a Lays girl myself. :)

    I was just saying to hubby the other day (as we drove by the local high school with all the Land Rovers, Mercedes, Lexus SUVs lined up) that I NEVER got picked up from school - my middle school was at least 30 minutes walk from my house and we always ran the last 5 minutes to make it on time. We walked or rode our bikes everywhere without parents tagging along.

  2. I love your book reviews. I'll have to look up the Beatles book. George's sister lives in one of the Illinois towns outside of STL.

    I admit I've never heard of Jann Arden, but I like the details you've mentioned here.

    I was on Romper Room in my hometown -- for a full week! I have no idea how my mom was able to arrange that. On my first day I broke formation during the Pledge of Allegiance to tell Miss Peggy that I had an ant on my leg. I remember she hissed, "Get back in line!" No chance of a political career for me. ; ) My brothers also had a week a few years later. They interrupted another kid, who was showing off her new puppies, to tell Miss Peggy about our dad's Mustang. Not much has changed nearly 30 years later.

    I've been a bit of a lurker this week but have been thinking of you, your DH, and Katie. I hope the baby shower was OK.

  3. I did a lot of reminiscing while reading this post! I also remember my dad cooking bacon and eggs on weekends, being fascinated with the globe, romper room, scad of reading, singing with the Carpenters, and playing lots of Yahtzee. I will HAVE to check out her book and must check out her music too...