I hate the Beatles

Nothing could be further from the truth. I actually love the Beatles, especially their early songs, but when they first burst on the U.S. music scene, there was at least one boy who felt otherwise. I was in elementary school at the time, and I remember silently standing in line while one boy solemnly held up a sign with both hands. The sign read, “I hate the Beatles.” My guess is he hoped the sign would  get attention or goad the girls, whom he suspected of being guilty of Beatles worship, since all the band’s televised performances featured scenes of young girls screaming, crying, and wildly clapping during the songs. Examples are easy to find on YouTube. A boy that age can be excused for using a provocative statement to gain attention, of course.

The city of Cleveland, where I grew up, had a vibrant local rock music scene. I saw many great local bands at school dances, other venues that didn’t serve alcohol, and then in bars (when I was old enough to patronize them). The best of these bands was the Raspberries. They had a few hits before they broke up and one of their members, Eric Carmen, went on to have a successful solo career that included the songs “All By Myself,” “Never Gonna Fall in Love Again,” and “Hungry Eyes,” the latter from the soundtrack of the film Dirty Dancing. When I was in high school the Raspberries were a cover band and did a lot of early songs recorded by the Beatles. The Raspberries were fabulous. Like the early Beatles, they wore matching suits and presented a clean-cut look; unlike the Beatles, they played in small venues, the audience wasn’t screaming, and I could stand or sit pretty much right in front of them. I will never forget their dazzling performances of songs including “Mr. Postman” (my favorite cover performed by the Beatles), “Get Back,” and “Twist and Shout.”

I was reminded of the excitement I felt when the Beatles came on the scene and the wonderful performances by the Raspberries when I listened to a recent interview with Mark Lewisohn, author of The Beatles: All These Years – Volume 1 – Tune In. The author talked about what John was like as a very young boy, including his natural leadership qualities. He also pointed out that playing rock and roll was frowned upon in those days, and that this climate resulted in winnowing out aspiring rock and rollers who weren’t dedicated to their craft. The program also features audio clips of very early performances, showing a lack of polish but abundant raw talent. Mr. Lewisohn was interviewed by Andrew Ford, host of the program “The Music Show,” on 4/19/20, in an episode on Radio National from the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, entitled “The Beatles – the early years.” 

Click on the title below to listen to this program, or download a podcast to listen to at your convenience:

The Beatles – the early years

 

The timeless appeal of Jane Austen.

While romance isn’t a genre I tend to seek out in novels or films, I just saw a film adaptation of Jane Austen’s novel Emma, released early this year. The most beautiful scene in the film is arguably when Emma (played by Anya Taylor-Joy) and George Knightley (played by Johnny Flynn) fall in love with each other while they are dancing together in a highly structured line dance, where the men and women face each other then weave around to the music, affording very little time for private conversation. As they dance together for about five minutes, you observe them falling in love through their facial expressions and very brief moments of hand holding, which they prolong for brief seconds before they are swept up by the movements of the other dancers. Seeing this film and thinking about romance as portrayed in Austen novels reminded me of an episode of Radio Boston entitled “Remembering Jane Austen, 200 Years Later,” which was hosted by Meghna Chakrabarti and aired on 7/18/17. In this program Susan Greenfield, professor of literature at Fordham University, and Whit Stillman, a film director, engage in a very interesting discussion of the timeless appeal of Jane Austen and debate her politics as revealed in her novels. In addition, professor Greenfield makes a fascinating observation about romantic love in Austen’s novels, pointing out that the heroes and heroines fall in love in spite of the fact that they actually spend very little time together, illustrating that their perceptions of each other may be based more on their own imaginations than actual experience interacting with each other. The professor stated that in teaching Austen she asks her students to think about modern relationships in light of this point.

Click on the title below to listen to this program, or download a podcast to listen to at your convenience:

Remembering Jane Austen, 200 Years Later

The ubiquitous smartphone.

Consumer tech gadgets and trends that defined the decade starting in 2010 are the subject of the 12/17/19 edition of Forum, a talk show from KQED, a public media outlet based in Northern California. The show is entitled “The Decade’s Best (and Worst) in Consumer Tech” and hosted by Scott Shafer. The panel talk about how the smartphone has become ubiquitous. If you haven’t noticed, it might be because you’re too occupied looking at your own, maybe while you read this blog post. Although the iPhone debuted in 2007, from a tech perspective, the period starting in 2010 was the decade of the smartphone. In the prior decade, Web 2.0 was the rage, where anyone could contribute content to the Internet. The skyrocketing popularity of smartphones in the decade closing now is due in part to the growth of algorithms, like the one Facebook uses to control the presentation of posts users see in their feed. The evolution of the Internet can be viewed in three phases, the first wave of enthusiasm for the Web was around searching for information, the next involved creating content, and in the third, where the mobile web exploded, people expect information and entertainment to come to them. Tech watchers and pundits will be keen to report on the next big trends in consumer tech. Will the big four, Google, Facebook, Amazon, and Apple remain dominant or will one or more of them be disrupted by new players or regulation?

Click on the title below to listen to this program, or download a podcast to listen to at your convenience:

The Decade’s Best (and Worst) in Consumer Tech

 

An amazing tale of hope, human spirit, and heroism in Thailand.

In June 2018 the Wild Boars soccer team, including their coach, decided to venture deep into a cave in Thailand. While they explored inside the cave it began to rain and they were marooned behind flooded cave passages. It was ten days before the boys and their young coach were found by two British divers. A massive rescue operation was mounted in which one Thai Navy Seal perished. Two key figures in the rescue effort were Australians Dr Richard Harris, an anaesthetist, and Dr Craig Challen, a veterinary surgeon. Both men are expert cave divers. In the 11/18/19 episode of Nine to Noon from Radio New Zealand, host Kathryn Ryan interviews the two men who co-wrote a book about their role in the rescue, “Against All Odds: The Inside Account of the Thai Cave Rescue.” This is a gripping program about the incredible complexity and danger involved in the rescue operation. Both men were initially convinced that the boys could not be brought out alive, but they explain how the ingenuity and courage of the rescuers, along with the toughness and spirit exhibited by the boys and their coach, resulted in all of them being saved.

Click on the title below to listen to this program, or download a podcast to listen to at your convenience:

Australian heroes of Thai cave rescue

Any understanding of the United States has to be based on an understanding of the Civil War.

In one of his appearances in the well-known Civil War documentary by Ken Burns, the historian and novelist Shelby Foote commented, “Any understanding of this nation has to be based and I mean really based on the understanding of Civil War.” I was reminded of this assertion when I listened to an interview with the historian Eric Foner in which he discussed his book “The Second Founding: How the Civil War and Reconstruction Remade the Constitution.” He was interviewed by Ed Ayers, Tucker-Boatwright Professor of the Humanities and president emeritus at the University of Richmond, during the 10/11/19 episode of Backstory, a weekly podcast. Foner’s book focuses on the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments to the US Constitution, passed in 1865, 1868, and 1870 respectively, and known as the Reconstruction Amendments. Many controversial issues of today trace their origin back to these amendments. The Fourteenth Amendment, for example, guarantees birthright citizenship.

Click on the title below to listen to this program, or download a podcast to listen to at your convenience:

How Reconstruction Transformed the Constitution

 

The ultimate expert on paper airplanes

One of my favorite jobs when I was in high school and college was working in a gas station. In addition to pumping gas I got to work on cars, which I loved. I also worked with a lot of great people from my age up to guys in their fifties. One summer I worked with a young woman who attended the University of Cincinnati where she took a class in making paper airplanes taught by Neil Armstrong, the first person to set foot on the moon. I was impressed when she told me this, but having learned more about the first moon mission over the years, especially now with all the focus on the fiftieth anniversary, I really envy her. The BBC ran a fascinating, 12-part series on the Apollo Eleven mission called “Thirteen Minutes to the Moon,” hosted by Kevin Fong.

Click on the title below to listen to Episode One (of twelve), “We choose to go,” or download a podcast to listen to at your convenience:

13 Minutes to the Moon

 

Book Chat: An Obscure Savior

This post is a bit of a departure for this blog, which is dedicated to audio podcasts, because it’s about a video podcast. Your humble editor of Bob’s Blogcast interviewed the author Robbie Paxton about his book entitled “An Obscure Savior.” Robbie is a friend of mine and we live in the same village, which has its own cable TV channel, PCTV, on which our interview aired on March 6, 2017.

The author was working in a building directly across from the World Trade Center in lower Manhattan on September 11, 2001 and a scene he witnessed in the mayhem that ensued inspired him to write the novel. Among the excerpts Robbie read during our interview is one where the novel’s narrator describes events during and immediately after the terror attack. Robbie said that this description mirrors his actual experience on that tragic day. He goes on to say that while his novel was inspired by 911, it really isn’t about it.

This interview may appeal to aspiring writers because I asked Robbie several questions about how he went about the process of writing the book, including character development and finding the time to write. In addition, both Robbie and I talk about other books we have enjoyed over the years.

Click on the title below to watch my interview with Robbie Paxton:

Bookchat Featuring An Obscure Savior

Technology’s impact on journalism then and now.

Technology, particularly the mobile Internet, puts current events at our fingertips, from distant aviation disasters to the ongoing migration crisis resulting from the civil war in Syria. The ultimate in immediate press coverage was live TV reporting of the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center. Currency of press coverage came up in a discussion of the book “Waterloo: the Aftermath” by Paul O’Keeffe on the 5/24/15 edition of “The History Show,” hosted by Myles Dungan on Radio Ireland (RTÉ Radio 1).

When a coalition of forces including British soldiers lead by the Duke of Wellington defeated Napoleon at the Battle of Waterloo on Sunday, June 18, 1815 it took three days for official news to reach London. Unofficial reports of the battle had arrived somewhat earlier, and people were desperate for news about the outcome and the British casualties. There were fifty six newspapers in London at the time, and none of them sent a journalist to cover the battle. This wasn’t done in 1815. In those days, journalism involved waiting for the news to come in and commentating on it. Sources included letters received by members of London society or directly from front line observers, like soldiers. The telegraph hadn’t been developed yet, so even this information moved only as fast as the post. In some respects, contemporary journalism is moving toward a similar model, also due in part to the speed of technology, which has created a different dynamic. Immediate news is readily available to all via the Internet, so news publications are moving toward analysis of the flood of information. Journalists once focused on analysis due to a dearth of timely information, now they focus on it due to a plethora.

Guests on the show included Brian Cathcart, author of “The News from Waterloo: The Race to Tell Britain of Wellington’s Victory,” Hough Gough, author of “The Terror in the French Revolution,” and Dr Jennifer Wellington, Lecturer in late 19th History Continental, University College Dublin.

To access the show, visit the URL listed below, then scroll down to the title of the program. You can listen to this program, or download a podcast to listen to at your convenience.

http://www.rte.ie/radio1/the-history-show/programmes/2015/0524/702811-the-history-show-sunday-24-may-2015/?clipid=1888648#1888648

The Killer Angels

The current controversy over the Confederate battle flag and Confederate memorials was catalyzed by the tragic mass murder of worshippers in a black church in Charleston, South Carolina last June. Referring to the entanglement of Confederate tributes with current headlines, Yale historian David Blight stated “Memory is always about the present” (Economist, 7/25/15, page 24). The Killer Angels, Michael Shaara’s brilliant novel about the battle of Gettysburg was published in 1974 as the Vietnam War was winding down. This book is the subject of the 5/31/11 edition of Slate’s Audio Book Club. Two journalists, Emily Bazelon, a staff writer at the New York Times Magazine, and David Plotz, host of the Slate Political Gabfest, discuss the book with David Blight. They note that the book won a Pulitzer Prize but didn’t become a best seller until two decades later. They speculate that the public was so disillusioned by the Vietnam War that there was little appetite at the time for another book about war. The Ken Burns Civil War documentary of 1990 and Gettysburg, the film version the book released in 1993, spurred the later jump in sales.

The Killer Angels is one of my favorite novels and sparked a long running fascination with the Civil War. By focusing on compelling characters, especially Confederate generals Lee and Longstreet, and Union colonel Joshua Chamberlin, Shaara tells a fascinating, historically accurate story, but necessarily glosses over other parts of the battle, including heroic contributions by Union officers besides Chamberlain. The novel is told from the point of view of several key actors in the battle. One of the interesting issues brought out is the disagreement Generals Lee and Longstreet have over defensive versus offensive strategy. This difference in strategic thinking plays out tragically in Picket’s Charge, ordered by Lee on the third and final day of the battle. Shaara portrays Longstreet trying to talk Lee out of this charge in favor of a more defensive strategy. Professor Blight points out that Shaara based this argument in part on statements made by Longstreet after the war, when he openly criticized Lee for the decision to launch the fateful charge on the third day of the battle.

Thanks in part to historian Douglas Southall Freeman, Robert E. Lee became immortalized as a great general and icon of the Civil War, second only to Lincoln in the popular imagination. Some historians referred to him as the “Marble Man” due in no small part to his portrayal in a Pulitzer-prize winning multi-volume biography of Lee written by Freeman in the mid-thirties. That biography was followed by Lee’s Lieutenants, another multi-volume work written by Freeman in the early forties. Professor Blight points out that Shaara uses Longstreet’s character as a vehicle to knock Lee off of the pedestal he rested upon and portray him as a soldier who made tragic mistakes as well as winning dramatic victories. Author Thomas L. Connelly offered a more nuanced view of General Lee around this time in his book entitled The Marble Man, published in 1977, in which he describes the construction of the Lee myth.

Visit this URL to listen to this program, or download a podcast to listen to at your convenience:

http://www.slate.com/articles/arts/the_audio_book_club/2011/05/the_audio_book_club_on_the_killer_angels.html

The Artistry of Van Morrison.

I love the music of Van Morrison, and some of my friends are particularly passionate about his compositions. Once I saw him in an outdoor stadium in New York City and I was struck by how much the crowd loved him, with many fans singing along with him. Van has a large repertoire, and I knew there was a lot of music that I hadn’t really listened to yet, but this gap in my exposure to his work was driven home by the April 6, 2010 edition of OnPoint hosted by Tom Ashbrook. The show is entitled “Van Morrison’s Mystic Music” and Tom’s guest is Greil Marcus, cultural critic and author of the book “When That Rough God Goes Riding: Listening to Van Morrison.” Marcus is eloquent in describing Morrison’s gift for writing and singing, and how his music touches people. Some of the songs Marcus talks about include “Madame George” from Van’s “Astral Weeks” album (which my daughter loves), “Rough God Goes Riding” from the album “The Healing Game,” “Into the Mystic” (one of my favorites) from the album “Moon Dance,” and “Why Must I Always Explain” (another favorite of mine) from “Hymns to the Silence.”

I love all of the songs on “Moon Dance.” I also love “Queen of the Slipstream,” “Alan Watts Blues,” and “Did Ye Get Healed” from “Poetic Champions Compose.” Van does a beautiful version of the traditional hymn “Be Thou My Vision” on “Hymns to the Silence” that I love. I wish he would do an album of cover tunes from the Motown Era. I would love to hear him sing “I Heard it Through the Grapevine” by Marvin Gaye,” “Stop in the Name of Love” by the Supremes, and “Bernadette” by the Four Tops, among others.

Visit this URL to listen to this program, or download a podcast to listen to at your convenience:

http://onpoint.wbur.org/2010/04/06/listening-to-van-morrison