Kurt Vonnegut Slapstick (1976 novel) review

1-Slapstick(Vonnegut)

I haven’t read a book quite this fast in a long while, and I was barely trying. Published in our fair nation’s Bicentennial year, we have the story of twins separated by their judgmental parents, and a granddaughter the brother twin comes to care for. Family is the core virtue of this satire, even to the point of ludicrousness. Don’t expect it to be an endorsement of what we laughably call ‘family values’. Our protagonist is essentially a modern Neanderthal who with the help of his sister Eliza becomes by turns a genius, an idiot, a pediatrician, the last President of the United States and the King of Manhattan after a flu and the Green Death destroys civilization as we know it.

1 vonnegut lonesome no more

A means is also discovered to contact the Afterlife which turns out to be as boring as nails, so much so that it’s referred to as a ‘Turkey Shoot’. The biggest religion at the end of the world is the Church of Jesus Christ the Kidnapped. The insinuation that the Chinese are shrinking in stature may have been written in jest but by today’s standards or any other, it might be considered racist. The style is breezy and pure Vonnegut, sparing in detail and broadly farciful with even the most tragic of events. A step up from Breakfast of Champions.

Well, I am used to the rootlessness that goes with my profession. But I would like people to be able to stay in one community for a lifetime, to travel away from it to see the world, but always to come home again,…Until recent times, you know, human beings usually had a permanent community of relatives. They had dozens of homes to go to. So when a married couple had a fight, one or the other could go to a house three doors down and stay with a close relative until he was feeling tender again. Or if a kid was so fed up with his parents that he couldn’t stand it, he could march over his uncle’s for a while. And this is no longer possible. Each family is locked into its little box. The neighbors aren’t relatives. There aren’t other houses where people can go and be cared for.

–Vonnegut interview extract, Todd F. Davis (January 2008). Kurt Vonnegut’s Crusade; Or, How a Postmodern Harlequin Preached a New Kind of Humanism. SUNY Press. pp. 95–97. ISBN 978-0-7914-6676-6. Retrieved 13 July 2011^

1 vonnegut slapstick

 

Mikes’ latest book, FATHERS AND DAUGHTERS, is available at amazon.com.

f & d cover

Mike’s Amazon page:

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Something New, the next Hard Day’s Night

 

Beatles Something new

The harvest of Beatlemania of 1964 continued with their third Capitol album in a seventh-month period, Something New, a title which wasn’t that true at all. To summarize, The Beatles’ Second Album had only been released on April 10. The United Artists’ version of A Hard Day’s Night (US) was an abridged version of the original Parlophone (UK) LP. However, the US LP preceded the better UK version by two weeks (release dates, June 26 for United Artists vs. July 10 for Parlophone).

Beatles A Hard Day's night United Artists cover U.S. v., A Hard Day’s Night (1964)

Beatles A Hard Day's Night U.K. cover and the original Parlophone release

With me so far? It gets better. Something New followed the UK Hard Day’s Night by ten days and less than a month after the US LP. If this album has any weakness, it’s the lack of a strong lead single. On the other hand, apart from “Slow Down’ and “Matchbox”, it is notably lacking in the cover songs that would fill their LPs up through Beatles For Sale, or Beatles VI, depending on which continent you were born on.

Anal details: eight of its eleven tracks had already appeared on the original A Hard Day’s Night; five of  those songs had already appeared the month before on the United Artists’ album. It would be the third album release for “I’ll Cry Instead”, which we never even got to hear in the movie! Side One closes with two songs from the British Long Tall Sally EP. I’ll get to the song that closes in a bit. “A Hard Day’s Night”, “I Should Have Known Better” and “Can’t Buy Me Love” had already appeared on both/either Hard Day’s Night LPs. The only remaining orphans from the Parlophone album were “You Cant Do That”, which had already appear on The Beatles’ Second Album in April; and “I’ll Be Back”, relegated to Beatles ’65, soon to be released in December 1964.

Also of note, on the trivial side, in addition to being released in Mono, it was the only early Beatles album where all tracks were in true stereo. Alternate versions of “Any Time at All”, “I’ll Cry Instead”, “When I Get Home”, “If I Fell” and “And I Love Her” appear in the Mono mix. Parlophone released Something New to US Armed Forces bases in Europe; today those copies are appropriately great collector’s items. The German stereo version on the Odeon label has a reprocessed stereo version of “Komm, Gib Mir Deine Hand” and an extended version of “And I Love Her” that repeats the closing riff six times instead of the familiar four. This mix appears on the US version of the now-defunct LP Rarities (1980). In 2004 the album was released on CD as part of the box set The Capitol Years, Volume I.

All fine, but how does it sound??? Despite being A Hard Day’s Night Redux, it’s actually a pretty listenable album. “I’ll Cry Instead” gets it off to a rocking start; “Things We Said Today” was a reflection on Paul’s relationship with actress Jane Asher. “If I Fell” and “And I Love Her” were two of John and Paul’s most tender love songs; given their relative youth, it’s surprising how much depth and maturity they could fit into two and a half minutes each.

https://www.thoughtco.com/the-beatles-only-german-recordings-4075314

http://www.beatlesebooks.com/komm-gib-mir-deine-hand

The final track, “Komm, Gib Mir Deine Hand”, was a German language recording of “I Want to Hold Your Hand”. It wasn’t something they really wanted to do, and in the end they had to be dragged to the studio in Paris to get the job done. It wasn’t unknown for American artists in the ’60’s to record foreign-language versions of their biggest hits. The Temptations for example did the Beatles one better by recording “My Girl” not only in German but in Italian as well.

For “Komm…”, the band used the original instrumental track, then recorded eleven vocal takes, overdubbing handclaps later. And that’s all Capitol had to offer until November with the release of The Beatles’ Story, a two-LP spoken-word press release until Beatles ’65 arrived in December, with “I Feel Fine” rounding out the year.

 

Mikes’ latest book, FATHERS AND DAUGHTERS, is available at amazon.com.  Mike’s Amazon page:

https://www.amazon.com/Mr.-Michael-Robbins/e/B00CMHSMYA

f & d cover

 

Bruce Springsteen, Born to Run (2016) review

51SWMXc8H-L._SX340_BO1,204,203,200_

I like that Bruce doesn’t just talk about the records and chart positions. You get into the process, the thrill of seeing Elvis on TV for the first time, the arrival of the Beatles and the Motown sound. You get to know the man and the people he performs with, their gifts and foibles and all the reasons he loves them.

He spent his childhood walking in egg shells around his father Doug, a man always on edge, seemingly disappointed in how life did NOT turn out for him, disapproving of his children. He was Bruce’s foe as well as his hero, and he grew up never knowing when the fuse would be lit.

Ten years of groundwork went into his apprenticeship in New Jersey. Behind his songs was the lingering dread that was only relieved on stage. It wasn’t until the 1980s that Bruce was diagnosed with depression, something I never knew about, that most of us didn’t know, and it was then, before his biggest hit Born In the USA, that he began treatment and got the help he needed. It took a lot of courage to express that part of himself, a never-ending specter that rises up and must be endured. This he has done with medication and the support of his loved one. It’s a long read but worthwhile, on a level with or even surpassing Bob Dylan’s Chronicles. Highly recommended.

Doctor Who Series 11: A Perspective

I think I’ve heard just about enough of this. Ever since Jodie Whitaker was announced as the 13th Doctor, we have heard from the disgruntled male class how wrong this was, that the Doctor was MALE and always should be. Guess they all forget that the idea was first introduced in the 4th Doctor story “The Hand of Fear”. The change,  if you will has been hinted at, even anticipated by fans every time a regeneration was due. And now that is has happened, we have those same males swearing this is the worst Doctor Who ever, that this marks the END of Doctor Who.

I’ve finally had the opportunity to view the entire 11th series on DVD, including the New Year’s special ‘Resolution’. And my verdict? Calm down, you dimwits.

Point one: WORST Doctor Who ever? You people never watched Classic Who, have you? Where do I begin…? How about ‘The Twin Dilemma’? ‘Time and the Rani’? ‘The Power of Kroll’? Okay, ‘Robot’ had dicey f/x but at least there was some heart in it, and it was Tom Baker’s debut so his energy managed to carry it through.

DW power of kroll

@ BBC still for ‘The Power of Kroll’

No, I think we can settle on Series 22 as the rock bottom of DW. The writers failed Colin Baker, they relied too much on torture and violence as valid story telling elements, and god! That patchwork coat still burns my eyes!

dw_-_sixth_doctor_5773

Don’t look on this as a criticism of Colin Baker. Truth is he was my first Doctor, which is always going to leave some warm fuzzies–even though my first viewing of DW on PBS was Episode 4 of the Trial of a Time Lord season. Getting back to Jodie Whitaker. What to say about her first outing as the Doctor…

One of the failings of series 11 was something we’d all gotten used to, an overarching plotline leading to a season-ending all-in showdown. Where was the Cosmic Menace with Delusions of Grandeur threatening all reality/the universe entire/Earth in general, whatever? I think we could all have used more scripts of epic proportions. And DAMN Doctor Who for making me care about f—in’ giant spiders! Why would you do that, Chibnell? ‘Kay, so much for the negative.

‘The Woman Who Fell to Earth’ served as a decent introductory story for 13 (I’m just going to call her that for now). Like so many before him, Tim Shaw–is it ok to call him that?–mistakes regeneration for incapacity. This Doctor is firing on all cylinders, scraping traps out of available materials and assembling a new sonic out of spare parts. Think ‘The Christmas Invasion’–‘The Eleventh Hour’–‘Deep Breath’. We haven’t had a regeneration story yet that was a turkey, and we don’t have one now. The Doctor is never more dangerous than when their neurons are going batshit.

jodie whitaker making sonic Ep_1_4.0

We did have gold amidst the dross. ‘Rosa’, ‘The Witchfinders’ are among the best New Who has to offer. ‘Demons of the Punjab’, oh lord, that was a heartbreaker! And make no mistake, 13 is the Doctor. The sanctity of life is still paramount, perhaps too much so; we’ll see what Time and Experience does to modify 13’s perspective and attitude.

DW-S11E06-Wedding

I know there are some people who will never be convinced this series is not pure shit, and honestly they’re not worth our time. Science fiction is about open perspectives and challenging ideas, NOT calcified notions of ‘THIS IS HOW DOCTOR WHO IS SUPPOSED TO BE AND NOTHING ELSE!’ I got this with Matt Smith and Peter Capaldi, not to mention Colin Baker, Sylvester McCoy ad nauseum. There are some die-hards who think anything done since the 2005 return of DW was god-awful.

Okay, I’ll give you this. Jodie Whitaker’s first series as 13 was lacking in the Epic department. But its not the end of DW. It’s a different team’s take on a classic hero…heroine, whatever. We have two or three more series to judge her era on its merits or demerits. And I got exactly what I wanted when 13 first met a Dalek, she left it gobsmacked with clever patter, and she gave it as much mercy as it deserved–which is none at all. Will future Whovians look back favorably on 13? Sorry, friends, only Time and distance will tell us that.

jodie whitaker resolution 03-dr-who.w700.h700

 

Mikes’ latest book, FATHERS AND DAUGHTERS, is available at amazon.com.

Mike’s Amazon page:

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https://www.amazon.com/Mr.-Michael-Robbins/e/B00CMHSMYA

 

Book review: Apollo 8

apollo 8 cover

Apollo 8: the thrilling story of the first mission to the Moon by Jeffrey Kluger, author with Jim Lovell of Apollo 13 @ 2017 Henry Holt & co.

This was a mission of firsts which by no means was a sure thing. It may not be exaggerating to say this was the mission that saved the Moon Landing, the hurried preparations notwithstanding. Apollo 8 was the first manned mission to leave the Earth’s gravity field and surrender to another’s; the first manned mission to orbit another world; the first burn during a communications blackout on its first pass around the dark side of the Moon, to establish lunar orbit. That orbit would be the first time the eyes of man viewed the dark side of the Moon from close proximity. Then there was the burn to escape lunar orbit and re-entry into Earth’s atmosphere, all of which held the potential for disaster. Despite the fatigue that was inevitable on a six-day flight in a small, sometimes temperamental craft, with virtually the eyes of the world on these three men, the first trip to the Moon was an unqualified success.

apollo 8 crew

Though all three astronauts–Commander Frank Borman, Jim Lovell and rookie Bill Anders, along with their wives have their share, the focus is more on Borman, his service in the Air Force and his struggle to join the budding astronaut corps. For author Kluger it’s also a chance to revisit an old friend, Jim Lovell on his earlier career for his record-setting missions for Gemini. And for a last first, these gentlemen were the first to eyewitness the Earth rising over another world, and Bill Ander’s majestic photo has been immortalized ever since as ‘Earthrise’.

45th-Anniversary-of-Apollo-8-Earthrise

It is also a story of the tragedy of Apollo 1 and the disorderly craft that killed Gus Grissom, Roger Chaffee and Ed White on the ground. Apollo 8 was a bold, on-the-fly idea that ultimately saved the Moon landing, and I want to thank Kluger and all those brave men who helped bring back the wonder of the Moon shots, before cynicism and division became the norm and divided our country.

 

Mikes’ latest book, FATHERS AND DAUGHTERS, is available at amazon.com.

f & d cover

Mike’s Amazon page:

https://www.amazon.com/Mr.-Michael-Robbins/e/B00CMHSMYA

Beatles ’64—what a year!

To say 1964 was a fruitful year for the Beatles, as well as a bonanza for Beatles fans, may be the understatement of the past century. At least it was for their American fans, who were treated to seventeen single releases, twelve albums and a motion picture, not including a national tour and two appearances on The Ed Sullivan Show. All their native Brits got was two albums and an EP-single.

beatles with the beatles       Beatles EP uk_long-tall-sally-960x960

Actually, a serious analysis would show those numbers are a bit misleading, and in fact England got the better part of the deal. Two albums may not seem like much, but those albums were presented to them as nature (or their British label, Parlophone Records) intended. In 1963 the Beatles also had their radio show, adding up to 39 BBC sessions that year, and a further eight radio shows in 1964. While that certainly was a much reduced schedule for ’64, it was something we didn’t have access to in America, at least not before the advent of bootlegs in the 1970’s.

For the next three years screaming rabid fans would be the norm for the four lads from Liverpool. This new generation of record buying kids had developed an insatiable hunger for Beatles merchandise. The boys could have recorded an album of Gregorian chants, in basic Liverpudillian, and odds are it would’ve cracked the Top Ten charts.

Let’s start with Vee Jay. Introducing…The Beatles was Vee Jay Records’ attempt to cash in on Beatlemania, and that story is worthy of a blog by itself. Before their contract on the music had even expired, Vee Jay re-packaged the same album—twice; first as Songs, Pictures and Stories of the Fabulous Beatles (October 1964, chart peak 63), and again as a double album, The Beatles vs. the Four Seasons (Oct. 1964, chart peak 143), paired with a greatest hits package by the Seasons.

Beatles Introducing...VeeJay     Beatles sogns pictures etc of fab bs vj     Beatles vs 4 seasons lp     Beatles Jolly_What_by_Beatles_and_Frank_Ifield

On February 26, 1964 Vee Jay offered another misleading title, Jolly What! England’s Greatest Recording Stars: The Beatles and Frank Ifield On Stage, reissued in October as The Beatles and Frank Ifield On Stage. While the Fab Four only had four tracks on the LP, none of them live, this was the only place to hear their hit single “From Me to You” until 1973’s compilation The Beatles 1962-1966 (‘The Red Album’) hit the market. The Beatles Story was a double-album propaganda piece that required little to no participation of the band members; and again it was slapped together in response to Vee Jay’s interview record Hear the Beatles Tell All (Nov. 1964). That’s seven down.

Beatles_and_Frank_Ifield_on_Stage     Beatles storyalbumcover     Beatles hear the beatles tell all

https://rateyourmusic.com/release/album/the-beatles/the-beatles-story/

We’ll discuss the official U.S. capitol albums another time. Suffice it to say you can thank Dave Dexter, the Capitol Records exec who’d spend the next three years creating two albums out of one, with the addition of all their singles and B-sides. For now it is time to dispel the confusion…or perhaps to add to it.

The first Beatles album released in North America isn’t what you think it was. Capitol Canada got the jump on us by issuing their second British LP, what we know as Meet The Beatles! a couple months ahead of Capitol US, under the augmented title Beatlemania! With The Beatles. That was followed by Twist and Shout, the Canadian version of their first LP Please Please Me. The final Canadian-exclusive Capitol release was The Beatles’ Long Tall Sally, which incorporated the British EP of the same name with four tracks already released on the Beatlemania! album. The cover design was virtually identical to Capitol US’s The Beatles’ Second Album. From here on Capitol Canada followed the U.S. releases, beginning with A Hard Day’s Night.

Beatles Canada LongTallySally       Beatles Second Album cover

Nor was their time wasted with Tony Sheridan. Their first professional recordings were backing the English singer on five tracks in 1961, although they were credited then as The Beat Brothers. “My Bonnie” (Polydor, 1962) would be the single that brought them to the attention of their future promoter Brian Epstein. And these recordings would be twice issued, as The Beatles with Tony Sheridan and Their Guests, augmented by six tracks featuring Danny Davis & the Titans (MGM/Atco, Feb. 2, 1964, chart peak 68); and then as Ain’t She Sweet, featuring an entire side devoted to British Invasion band the Swallows (Atco, Oct. 5, 1964).

Beatlesmgm w Tony Sheridan      Beatlesatco Ain't she Sweet

Here’s a misleading list of all the Beatles’ albums from 1964:

-Official British releases for 1964: 

Long Tall Sally (EP, June 19)

A Hard Day’s Night (July 10)           

Beatles for Sale (Dec. 4)

Beatles A Hard Day's Night U.K. cover      Beatels for sale

-Beatles releases by Capitol Records for 1964:         

Meet the Beatles (January 20)        

The Beatles’ Second Album (April 10)    

Something New (July 20)    

The Beatles’ Story (Nov. 23)

Beatles ’65 (Dec. 15)

beatles meet the beatles     Beatles Something newBeatles 65 vinyl

Beatles A Hard Day's night United Artists cover
U.S. release A Hard day’s Night, United Artists, released June 26, 1964

-Vee Jay LPs: 

Introducing the Beatles (Jan. 27)

Songs, Pictures and Stories of the Fabulous Beatles (October)      

The Beatles vs. the Four Seasons (Oct.)     

Jolly What! England’s Greatest Recording Stars: The Beatles and Frank Ifield On Stage (Feb. 26)

[reissued in October as The Beatles and Frank Ifield On Stage]  

Hear the Beatles Tell All (Nov.)

 

-Reissues of 1961 recordings with Tony Sheridan:  

The Beatles with Tony Sheridan and Their Guests (Atco, Feb. 2)

Ain’t She Sweet (Atco, Oct.5) 

 

Mikes’ latest book, FATHERS AND DAUGHTERS, is available at amazon.com.

Mike’s Amazon page:

https://www.amazon.com/Mr.-Michael-Robbins/e/B00CMHSMYA

 

 

review–Dispatches by Michael Herr

Required reading. Michael Herr takes you under fire with him and the Marines. You’ll find yourself under siege at Khe Sahn, breath their sweat, the marijuana, the fear. Despite it all, it’ll be one of those places you can’t leave behind. There are the improbable stories of daredevil war photographers such as Tim Page and of all people the son of actor Errol Flynn, Sean. Spot on-observations abound, such as, “The Green Berets doesn’t count. That wasn’t about Vietnam, it was about Santa Monica.”

One of the most apt summaries of the war, filed while it was still going on, appears on pg. 200: “Somewhere on the periphery of that total Vietnam issue…there was a story that was as simple as it had always been, men hunting men, a hideous war and all kinds of victims. But there was also a Command that didn’t feel this, that rode us into attrition traps on the back of fictional kill ratios, and an Administration that believed the Command, a cross-fertilization of ignorance, and a press whose tradition of objectivity and fairness (not to mention self-interest) saw that all of it got space.” This book was hard to get through, not hard to read per se but harsh in its details, and may be the most honest book about the Vietnam War.