Deconstructing The Beatles

I watched a fabulous film series at The Princess Cinemas over the past year. A couple of WPL co-workers also saw the series –and loved it! And now it has come to the library.

It’s called Deconstructing The Beatles and it’s a fun and fascinating look into the creative process behind The Beatles’ music. Presenter Scott Freiman is lively and engaging and has a ton of knowledge about music and the recording studio. Now I know and love The Fab Four and their music (slight understatement) but after viewing this series I now hear and appreciate their music in a whole new way. I think you will too.

Deconstructing The Beatles is the centrepiece of the series, a 4-DVD set, with 1 disc for Rubber Soul, Revolver, Sgt. Pepper and The White Album. This is The Beatles at the very top of their game, eager to experiment and take their music in new directions. Using a multitude of audio and visual clips, Freiman highlights unusual instruments used, looks at early takes of songs, the evolution of key songs, and ideas attempted and then abandoned, among other things. Very, very interesting.

Or check out this, Deconstructing the Beatles. The Magical Mystery Tour (1 disc). This is The Beatles in their psychedelic phase, so Scott Freiman shows you how all those glorious (and strange) sounds were made. Hearing the earliest version of Strawberry Fields Forever (John Lennon playing into his own tape recorder) is an absolute “wow” moment. And hearing the whole story of the recording of this song will blow your socks off.

And there’s this, Deconstructing the Beatles. The Early Years (2 discs). These discs focus on the musical influences of the Beatles and the wildly exhilarating year of 1963 when the Beatles went from nobodies to the biggest name in music in Great Britain and were poised, though they didn’t know it, to take on the rest of the world.

And lastly… there may be, fingers crossed, one more segment coming to WPL in the future. Earlier this summer I saw Abbey Road Parts I and II (one for each side of the album). These two films were—need I say it– great. Hopefully when the Abbey Road segment is released onto DVD, it will be joining the others at the library. (BTW, this month marks the 50th anniversary of the release of the Abbey Road LP. Bonus marks for you if you knew that.)

— Penny D.

Woodstock

Time to break out the tie dye T-shirts and headbands and love beads. Yes, it’s time to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Woodstock. In August 1969, half a million young people gathered together on a farm in upstate New York for a 3-day music festival, in what became one of the great defining moments of the 1960s.

Want to live (or re-live) the experience? Here’s what’s happening at WPL. The library is presenting a Woodstock night (live music! tie dye T-shirts! a VW van!) at the Main Library on Wednesday, August 14 from 7:00pm to 9:00pm. Click here for more info. Or borrow some Woodstock-themed items from the library, like I did.

Woodstockpic2I started with this fabulous book, Woodstock: three days that rocked the world. It is jammed pack with great big beautiful photos and provides an excellent summary/celebration of the festival. The reader gets an overview of all the performers, as well as some fascinating trivia. For instance, I learned about the origins of the peace symbol and got a huge laugh out of a New York Times editorial expressing outrage over the festival (“nightmare in the Catskills,” “freakish-looking intruders.”)

Then I moved on to a DVD, Woodstock : 3 days of peace and music. I know I will be re-watching this DVD, just to take in everything it has to offer. There is also another DVD I’m eager to get my hands on, Woodstock : three days that defined a generation. It is on order and hasn’t yet come arrived at the library but you can still place your hold.

Here, based on the DVD, is my take on the musical performances:

Best Act: Tie between festival opener Richie Havens (a singer/musician who simply resonates passion for his music) and Sly and the Family Stone (cool, funky music that is guaranteed to get you moving and grooving).

Honourable Mentions: Crosby, Stills and Nash. Just at the very start of their career, this supergroup confessed to being “scared s***less” but still put on an impressive show. The Who’s performance of “Feel Me” (from “Tommy”) was sensational.

Most LOL Act: 50s style-act Sha Na Na. You can just see the hippies scratching their heads and saying “what the…?”

Performance that best captured the spirit of the times: The crowd leaping to their feet and doing a rousing sing a-long with Country Joe & the Fish:

“One, two, three
What are we fighting for?
Don’t ask me why, I don’t give a damn
Next stop is Viet Nam…..”

Most Fortunate Performer: John Sebastian (of The Lovin’ Spoonful) was not slated to perform at all and had showed up strictly to watch the show. However on opening night when they were short a couple of performers (stuck in traffic), someone thrust a guitar into his hand, shoved him onto the stage…. for the biggest gig of his entire career.

Most Unfortunate Performer: Jimi Hendrix asked for and was given the coveted closing slot. However various delays saw the festival finishing up, not Sunday evening, but Monday morning. By then most people had already packed up and left. Still, he gave a mesmerizing performance, including his legendary version of The Star Spangled Banner. Sadly, he would die from a drug overdose just over a year later. (Another Woodstock performer, Janis Joplin, likewise died of a drug overdose in 1970.)

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Beyond the music, there was such a great vibe to Woodstock. Reading the book or watching the DVD you get a real, palpable sense of community. It must have been such a blast to be there!

— Penny D.

Failure Is Not An Option

In the library we see publishers responding quickly to events in the hope that they will capitalize on reader interest and sell more books. In some cases their rush to get a book on the shelves can result in books that meet a need but won’t find their way into your top ten list. With the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing publishers, authors, illustrators, scientists and astronauts had ample time to pull together every resource to make their products top-notch and it has been an absolute thrill to see these book treasures arrive on our shelves. It seems like I have been taking home a book or two a month to read or share with my space-loving family and we have learned some wonderful new facts, sneaky behind-the-scenes tidbits or relived the details we already read.

coderWhen we look back at those blurry images on the moon it’s hard to comprehend that it was only fifty years ago that engineers and technicians (almost entirely men) huddled over the desks to wait and see if decades of work would pay off. It seems like much more than fifty years because advances in technology have reached an absolutely dizzying pace. The computers used to provide guidance for the Apollo mission were so big that they took up entire rooms but are known to have been no more powerful than a calculator used by today’s high school student. It’s astounding to realize that the code was fed into the guidance computer using punch cards. You can actually see the code listing on the Caltech archive and imagine the incredible amount of work that went into just one part of the mission. Or you don’t have to imagine it. Here is a photograph of Margaret Hamilton, an MIT computer programmer working at NASA during the Apollo missions, standing next to a stack of some of the Apollo guidance computer source code.

Landing on the moon is the anniversary being celebrated on July 20th but there could have been hundreds of thousands of individual anniversaries celebrated before that day. An estimated number of about 400,000 people worked to make it possible for three men to safely travel to the moon and two men to walk upon it. The dedication, the incredible risks, the scientific advances and the decades of research and development since the Apollo mission have culminated in a publishing surge and it’s making for some fabulous reading.

In 1961 John F. Kennedy shared his goal that the United States put a man on the moon by the end of the decade and put into motion his plan to conquer space and the world at the same time. Historian Douglas Brinkley (a professor at Rice University where Kennedy gave his famous “we choose to go to the moon speech”) has done well in tying together the story of Kennedy’s family, that of engineer Wernher von Braun, NASA’s role in American politics and the space program’s future following the president’s assassination. He successfully blends politics, history and the thrill of the space race into one compelling narrative in American Moonshot : John F. Kennedy and the great space race. It’s a must read for anyone interested in the Kennedy story or someone who wants to get a feel for all of the forces that came together to make Apollo 11 happen.

Another 2019 book that has far fewer pages but held me captivated for hours was a gorgeous picture book by Dean Robbins and Sean Rubin. The Astronaut Who Painted the Moon is not about the Apollo 11 mission but about the mission that follows and the images are so beautiful. It’s a sweet choice to take home to read aloud but a reader of any age could learn from this one. Alan Bean was the lunar module pilot for Apollo 12 and was the fourth person to walk on the moon but is also known as the only artist to have ever seen the moon up close. What a perfect chance to use your art to communicate a unique experience! This picture book is a wonderful opportunity to learn a little more about his life as a navy pilot and his work at NASA but focuses more on his work as an artist. The author was able to collaborate on this story with the astronaut before his death and the illustrations share some of Bean’s own bold use of line and shape. It’s a little more STEAM than STEM and it’s perfect. Read more about Alan Bean on his own website or through the NASA website.

Alan Bean was a part of the group known as Astronaut Group 3 which included Buzz Aldrin and Mike Collins. But in the early days at NASA all of the astronauts worked closely together by backing each other up at mission control, training together, testing equipment, flying together and helping each other to learn the dense material required to make each mission a success. We have so many fantastic books on the shelves about these fascinating days – some old and some new – but Neil Armstrong’s authorized biography (the one that the Ryan Gosling biopic was based on) is one that stands out in my mind because it is so clearly written. It reads like a textbook because it is free of extra emotion but filled with incredible fly-on-the-wall detail. The chapters that cover his time as a test pilot are so explicit that I am sure I will remember the types of the planes he flew longer than I will remember the names of the people in his family or the town he was born in (Wapaknoeta, Ohio). If you read one book about the Apollo 11 mission then I suggest you set aside a few evenings and spend some time with First Man : the life of Neil A. Armstrong. It’s the closest you will ever get to feeling like you have experienced the life of an astronaut.

For another perspective on the Apollo 11 mission we have a newly reissued copy of Michael Collins’ Carrying the Fire here on the shelves. As a member of the crew, he followed a similar astronaut career path to many of the other pilots with a graduation from West Point, time spent as a test pilot and a spacewalk on Gemini 10. Where his story becomes interesting is that with Apollo 11 he had the unique worry of being the man who might have to fly home and leave Buzz and Neil behind. He was concerned that they might crash on the moon, that there might be a failure to launch from the moon or any one of a number of other catastrophes. He writes about this weighty knowledge in his memoir. Mike had time to think about this as he piloted the command module and listened to his crewmates make their historic first steps onto the lunar surface. So much of the spotlight has focused on their actions in those days on the moon but his story – and his feeling of being truly alone out there – make this a fascinating memoir.

We have also been experiencing an increase in other material focusing on the Apollo 11 anniversary so if you haven’t satisfied your curiosity through shiny, new books you can view a documentary like the one that features newly discovered 65mm footage of mission control and the astronauts on the moon. It’s a truly unbelievable viewing experience. You can also check out one of the many magazines that have featured the moon landing – Make, National Geographic, Popular Mechanics and Sky & Telescope are a few of the periodicals that I’ve been reading lately – the photographs and features have been a great way to augment my reading about the anniversary.

We have some of the classic books about space flight on the shelves like NASA flight director Gene Kranz’s Failure is Not an Option and Tom Wolfe’s The Right Stuff (many contemporary astronauts say that this book was an early inspiration for their career choice) and your options for fiction about astronauts are endless. We have so many great books to suggest that you could be reading until we return to the moon. I know I’ll be on the holds list for the book about that mission.

— Penny M.

NOTE: if your children are into space, check out the Moon Lander (see below) in the Children’s Department at the Main Library. And don’t forget to register for the super-fun, space-themed Summer Reading Club. Activities, events, challenges and prizes all summer long.

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Six Degrees From a Typewriter

A popular game suggests that all things in the world are six or fewer steps away from each other. Who would have thought that this applies to a vintage typewriter?

This tale begins when a staff member offered a vintage typewriter for display at the Main Library. Shortly thereafter I displayed the typewriter in the lobby near Borrower’s Services on an equally old oak desk the library had kicking around. Immediately our customers began to try out the vintage machine and the click-clack of the keys could be heard in the library.

This is not a new idea. The book “Notes From a Public Typewriter” edited by Michael Gustafson and Oliver Uberti is a collection of a series of notes left on a vintage typewriter set up in a book store in Ann Arbor, Michigan. The book combines essays with favourite notes (like “I ended up alone on my birthday but being here makes it easy to forget that. Thank you.”) as a nod to community.

At WPL we too began to experience our own unplanned community-building exercise. Jokes, words of advice, famous quotes and reminiscences were typed up, slowly or quickly, on the old machine at the Main, revealing the heart of our community here in Waterloo.

The heartwarming:

“Dear whoever reads this. You matter.”
“You are loved. You are accepted.”
“Love yourself.”
“Books are good for you and books love you too”

Gentle advice:

“Learn something new every day.”

Salutations:

“Hello person who is reading this.”
“Whoever you are? Have a good day.”

Memories:

“My dad had a typewriter like this in his office in Buffalo.”
“This is the typewriter that I learned on in 1950 when I could do 40 words a minute.”

Kids:

“Give me ccccoooookkkiieeeessss.”
“I wish I could use one of these for school. It’s cooler than Google docs.”
“This is old school. How did anyone ever type like this?”

Generations mingled:

“This is an ancient keyboard.”
“It’s not that old. I used to have one!!!”

Suddenly, I began to see images of typewriters everywhere I looked including on the cover of Tom Hank’s collection of short stories “Uncommon Type”. Each of Hanks’ stories features a typewriter almost like it was a character in the story. My favourite “Christmas Eve 1953” tells the story of a World War II vet who has achieved the American dream but is still haunted by flashbacks to Christmas 1944.

Hanks himself is an avid collector of typewriters which he talks about in the documentary “California Typewriter”. The documentary examines the extinction of the beloved typewriter and the movement to keep these “ancient” machines clicking away.

WPL customers really enjoy the sound from yesterday. Customers noting “The sound of the keys clacking is nice.”

In the popular feature film, “You’ve Got Mail“, a cherished neighbourhood bookstore (owned by Meg Ryan’s character) is being pushed out by a big book store chain (owned by Tom Hanks’ character). Another character in the movie collects vintage electric typewriters, rhapsodizing about the hum of the machine and the sound of the keys. Spoiler alert, he doesn’t keep the girl – but he does hang onto the vintage typewriters! The viewer can judge who got the better deal.

If all this typewriter talk has made you want to learn more about the trusty machine, check out the book “The Typewriter Revolution” by Richard Polt. It includes a chapter on care and repair which I may need when unsticking keys and adjusting the ribbon every morning. Curious customers have a habit of fiddling with buttons and adjusting levers and, as one typist freely admitted, “Help! My finger is stuck between the keys!”.

Finally, I seem to be right back where I started – the typewriter. You see, I have my own typewriter story. When I started at WPL almost 30 years ago one of my jobs was to type catalogue cards on just such a machine. I think a WPL customer summed it up best when they so wisely clacked out in short staccato strokes “Remember who you are. Remember who you were”.

— Maureen S.

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