Reading Paul McCartney

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British music critic Howard Sounes measures Sir Paul against his Beatles’ successes, taking him to task for his post-Beatles experiences with Wings, a band he dismisses as worse than banal. Sounes bases his assessment on the bottom-of-the barrel lyrics he believes Sir Paul churned out during the 1970s while perpetually stoned and overly dependent on Linda, his devoted yet glaringly untalented (in the music department)  wife. (As George Martin once said, Linda was no subsitute for John Lennon, just as Yoko was never a subsitute for Paul).

Sounes does one better than Peter Carlin, who also recently published a book on McCartney, in suggesting that Sir Paul may have a character flaw preventing him from scaling again the heights of greatness such as he knew when a member of the greatnest band on earth.

McCartney, people who know him say, can not brook criticism and rarely allows others to guide him, even when he’s so “Mary Had a Little Lamb” wrong.

He also has grown too fond of playing it safe. The section of the book in which Sounes quotes Sir David Putnam saying that Macca tends more to rest on his natural talents rather than pushing them forward into the rarefied realm of genius, is especially thought-provoking in this regard.

But is the criticism a fair one?

When I shared Sir David’s pointed jab at fellow knight Sir Paul with my cultural anthropologist husband, a popular music expert who did his dissertation on rock music, he deftly countered it, and he is not Beatles besotted as I am.

Professor Victor Barac said that rock and roll is a young man’s pursuit and it is unfair to hold an aging rocker to the standards of his own past.

McCartney, nearing 70, no longer is guided by the same impulses as he was in his youth. From the perspective of rock and roll, he is an entirely different man, a more mature artist who surely is entitled to call it “Another Day.”

Het, if you’ve seen McCartney in concert lately, it’s clear that he himself is measuring himself against his own legend. The Beatles are his standard of excellence.

Not that that’s entirely a bad thing: His Beatles set list is sublime and it’s heart racingly exciting to see him standing in front of projected images of himself with the other Beatles during their heyday.

He really was great, along with the other Fabs. Perhaps it is too much to ask for him to be even greater than he once was.

As the recent Heather Mills debacle shows, described by Sounes as the greatest mistake of McCartney’s life, the man is only human, after all.

Good Food and Me

I think of myself as an anti-foodie. Unlike most people I know, I don’t dream of food and I don’t plan my vacations around reservations in 5-star restaurants. I don’t read cookbooks in my bed, and I hate garlic. I am indifferent at best about food: I eat to live. I don’t live to eat.

My favourite culinary experience remains the cheese sandwich that my mother made for me when I was about 18, wrapping it in waxed paper for me to eat on the subway. I remember it was white bread with large chunks of orange cheddar mixed in with chunks of butter. I was hungry, which is why I think loved that sandwich so much. But it was also because she made it for me, and at a time when I wasn’t sure of her love, so that made it feel special.

When I shared some of this story recently with Malcolm Jolley, the charming founder and editor-in-chief on the on-line magazine, Good Food Revolution, he said that it only showed that I really was a foodie at heart. “Food is emotional, ” he said to me. “You seem to have got it.”

We met at Le Select, a french bistro near my workplace, and he was interviewing me about my book, Paris Times Eight. He wanted  to focuse on the book’s food-related moments.

At first, I was skeptical.  All I could recall was only drinking a lot of coffee in Paris, and rarely eating becuase I was (a)0 always broke (b) worried about getting fat (c) unsure how to order (in French) off a fancy French menu.

But when pressed, I realized my book does have a lot of food references in it. See what a good interviewer can do?

I will let Malcolm tell you more about that story. He assures me the video he took of our interview (featuring me me with a serious case of hat head) will be published on-line, soon.

Here’s a link to his scrumptious website:  goodfoodrev.com

 Enjoy.

Miss O’Dell

I am just about finished Chris O’Dell’s autobiography, Miss O’Dell, documenting her hard days and long nights with The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan and her sack of drugs. She was a young  American hired by Beatles PR man Derek Taylor to work at Apple when the Beatles’ notorious business entity was just launching in London.
She ends up becoming close pals with George Harrison (he writes a song about her as does her erstwhile lover, Leon Russell) and a little too close with Ringo, if you know what I mean.
Her guileless, first-hand observations of my idols (still a Beatlemaniac, after all these years) are thrilling beyond words.
She is an insider who talks about George in his kitchen making tea and in his garden planting flowers.
She also writes of the so-called Quiet One as being supremely moody ( a classic Pisces) who could be fun and happy, sarcastic and mean, karmically-focused and out-of-touch with reality (eventually alienating his own wife, Patti Boyd, who goes on to marry George’s best friend, Eric Clapton –his song, Layla, is about her) depending on which way the incense was burning on a given day.
O’Dell confirms what I’ve long suspected: that George is more responsible for the break-up of The Beatles than most people usually let on.
He was known to have held grudges, and it’s well-documented how he long resented Paul McCartney, feeling the older Beatle constantly talked down at him, and held him back. (Read Howard Sounes’ new Macca bio to see how unfair a portrait that is).
O’Dell doesn’t tread into this murky territory of bad blood among the Beatles, with one glaring exception: Her eye-witness account of George’s love affair with Maureen Starkey, Ringo’s wife, in George’s  own Friar Park, and right under wife, Patti’s nose!
Maureen was still married to Ringo at the time and one evening George blithely announces to his old pal at the dinner table, in front of everyone, “Ringo, I am in love with your wife.”
More bizarre, perhaps, is Ringo’s response:  “Better you than someone we don’t know.”
That scene got me thinking.
George, always on about sharing the love, not only took the directive far too literally, he was callous in how he treated those who actually did love him. Imagine doing that to Ringo! It is why the Starkey’s marriage broke up. Also imagine Ringo eventually forgiving him!
There seems so little is written about George from this angle;  O’Dell’s book makes me want to write his biography.
Her cast of famous dysfunctional characters aside (read the chapter on Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young and weep at how loathsome a gang of guys they were), the charm of her book belongs to O’Dell, herself.
Throughout, she is essentially a small-town girl nobody living the dreams of millions. Even she says so: “I wasn’t famous. I wasn’t even a little famous. But I was there.”  In that way, she like most of us: Fans who’d likely have given anything to be at the centre of the rock and roll circus that was the mid 19602 and 1970s.
It’s easy to relate to her when she says, “I just stood in front of Paul McCartney with a stupid smile frozen on my face,” in describing the first time the uber Beatle walked into Apple when she was there applying for a job.
I’m just at the point in the book where she’s just finished tour managing Santana (she wasn’t a groupie as some have said of her but was indeed on the rock and roll payroll, though she infamously did get around: Dylan and hunky two-timing playwright Sam Shepherd, included) and she’s stopped the drugs but not the drink.
I peaked at some of the  photos and know there’s a happy ending, as she now has a grown son of whom she’s proud. She’s today a rehab counsellor, living back in the USA.
I recommend this book, highly, and it’s the next best thing to having been there duringwhat was definitely a mind-blowing time.

It Was a Marvelous Party

The Ports 1961 bash was a blast! The affable staff dressed me in one of the line’s Italian black lace and orange silk dresses and served champagne throughout the evening. Guests included the fabulous Tu Ly, a former Ports designer who went on to form his own line, designing also the uniforms for Canada’s Olympic team in collaboration with The Bay. Way to go, Tu! 

Also in the ab-fab department was Zoomer magazine’s ed-in-chief, Suzanne Boyd, The Huffington Post’s Julia Moulden, author, director and screenwriter William Scoular, interior designer Jill Kantelberg, Hugo Nicholon retailers Carole and Eleanore Rosenstein, my real-live Chevalier friend Stephen Johnson, the City of Toronto’s Elyse Parker, the University of Toronto’s School of Continuing Studies creative writer student Theresa Spohn, gal pals Wendy Korentager and Wendy Basian (I called them Wendy-Squared that night in reference to former Ports designers Dean and Dan Caten of D-Squared fame whom the Wendys happen to know) ,  and of course the incomparable Julie Enfield, author of a book on kissing, who organized the evening, providing the long stem red roses handed out to each guest and the mounds of French pastries that people nibbled on while I read from my book, Paris Times Eight.

The party made the society pages, if you can believe it. 

photo credit: James Dawson

And you’ll have to, because here’s the link: 

http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/national/toronto/ports-1961-holiday-party/article1841143/

Ports of call.

Well, the snow is falling heavily where I am, and the coloured lights are strung outside on the houses and the trees. It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas. I plan to write more on the topic later. But for now, I wanted to share a wonderful seasonal gift that has just come my way from fashion label, Ports International:  The New York brand is throwing a holiday party at its stylish Bloor Street West store in Toronto on December 10, with me reading from my book, Paris Times Eight. The Ports 1961 champagne soiree is a cinq a sept, as they say in Paris, running from 5pm until 7pm. Please tell your friends, and come share a glass.  

I haven’t yet decided what chapter of my Paris-inspired memoir I will read from as yet. At least two are set at Christmastime: one tres triste (Miss Lonelyhearts) and one light-filled and heartwarming (Mother).  I love reading out loud, love engaging with my audience, and so I promise whatever I present will be worth the trek in heels in snow. I am grateful to Ports 1961’s Julie Enfield for creating this party around me.  I even get to dress up in Ports for the occasion. Talk about tinsel on the tree.

DKTO

I can’t tell you how long I’ve wanted to put DKTO out there as my signature, so to speak,  being a DK who lives in TO, that is, Toronto. 

But, and I don’t know if you’re aware of this, fashion designer Donna Karan is another DK who apparently thinks she owns the initials, having used them to create the popular fashion brand DKNY in the 1980s.

When anyone even comes close to emulating them, Karan has typically slapped down the so-called DK wannabes — with a lawsuit. Such was the case of Donnkenny Inc., a company whose Nasdaq trading symbol — DNKY– was deemed too close to the DKNY brand name that Karan successfully sued on  the basis of trademark infringement. 

But Karan can kiss my DK.

Those letters of the alphabet I was born with. Besides, too many people already call me DK, so I think I could claim squatter’s rights, and win any suit she wants to throw my way.

DK is so much easier on the tongue than my full name Deirdre, which no one ever seems to pronounce correctly on the first go, including some Irish people I have met on my side of the pond, even though Deirdre is a uniquely Irish name,  old as the Druids, and immortalized by scores of Irish poets, among them Synge and Yeats. 

I had an Irish father and he taught me to pronounce my name DeerDree, just as it is spelled (she says indignantly), and not Deerdrah, which is what some people inists on calling me. And it drives me mad. When I lived in Northern Ireland as child that’s how I remember everyone saying it, even the nuns, bless them, so I know I’m not crazy.

(Not-do-gratuitous name dropping opportunity: When I first met Bob Geldof many moons ago, the Irish pop star-turned-philanthropist laughed loudly at my name, asking me, “So where’d you get such a joke Irish name?” Deirdre, and especially Kelly, is as common in Ireland as Susie and Smith is here in North America.  Geldof went further, calling me a walking Irish cliche. But I wasn’t offended. I recall he said Deirdre properly, with an E on the end and not an A, and so I allowed him to call me again, and we became, briefly, friends.) 

Yet, I once met another Deirdre, a saleswoman at The Bay department store as it were, and she had our name on a tag pinned to her chest.  I asked to tell me how she says it. She said Deerdrah. I asked her why.  She answered that her family was from Dublin, and that’s how they say it, there, with an ah at the end and not an ee.  So with that bit of empirical evidence, and based on my own memories of my life in Derry, I concluded that it must be a north-south thing then, as if Ireland didn’t already have enough Troubles (the latest economic meltdown notwithstanding). 

DK has always seemed the perfect compromise: as a salutation it is non-partisan and uncomplicated. Just a couple of letters that go well together– the velvety thickness of the D snuggling cozily against the clicking staccato of the K, as mellifluous on the ear as Lennon-McCartney, which of course I would say, being something of a Beatles freak. But that’s for another blog. So back to DKTO. I think I own it, don’t I?, seeing that it’s my name and my city and my right to do what I want when it is my own website. Even cry if I want to.

But hold on. What’s this? A quick search on Google alerts me to the existence of yet another DKTO, this one the acronym for Kenya Tanzania Overland, an offering of Gap Adventures. So I am not the first. And neither can I now claim to be a DK subversive, thumbing my nose at that other DK for whom our shared initials have made her millions.  But at least I now know that I won’t be the last. Donna Karan has apparently not shut DKTO down. But will DKTO now shut me down? That’s something I hadn’t thought of.  

So quick, let me sign off before anyone can initial a lawsuit against me.

Yours, 

 DK

(for better and for worse).

Girls’ Club

I was in New York City recently, staying at the uber cool Standard Hotel in the Meat Packing District and while having lunch in the ground floor restaurant, I felt the call of nature.

I asked for directions from the white-aproned waiter behind the bar, then scooted down the stairs, and not too soon. I really had to go.

But when I turned the corner to enter the washroom I saw a man akimbo in front a urinal. OMG! I jumped back, really quite shocked. The corridor was short. How had I missed the ladies? I backtracked, but could only find the stairs I had just come down.  It’s then I realized that the gents was the ladies or the ladies was the gents. Oh brother. I mean sister.

Anyway, I still had to go but there was NO way I was going to tinkle within earshot of some man. So I zipped back upstairs to my hotel room, relieved to be relieving myself  without some dude listening in.

I might be liberated and all that, but a unisex toilet? For me that’s taking emancipation too far.

I feel the same way about men infiltrating salons and spas. I just hate it when I am in a salon-issue terry cloth robe, my feet in a basin of warm water in preparation for a pedicure, when in walks some hairy legged guy, plopping down in the identical robe in front of me. He usually sits like a  guy, too, his legs open at the knees, the robe riding up the thigh. Looking at him, I feel exposed, and very uncomfortable.

I have an 11-year old son, and when I told him that I can’t stand it when a man comes to the spa, he asked me recently why?

Call me old-fashioned — or is that sexist?– but I told him that I don’t want a man, particularly a stranger, stealing a glimpse into my female world of make-up and ablutions.  I don’t want him knowing my arts of illusion, my secrets of the boudoir. I want to maintain my difference, my sense of mystery if not dignity.

I feel the same way about men who come to the dressing rooms of clothing stores, most often dragged there by insecure women who need a man to tell them, yes dear, the red suits you, no dear, your bum looks big in that. I don’t like them seeing how I try different outfits on, looking for the right one that will make me seem alluring beyond the dressing room’s walls. I don’t want them knowing how I do it. And so I silently curse the women who bring them along, thinking them weak and utterly lacking in imagination.

Sometimes I notice that the man dragged in by one woman ends up quietly ogling all the other women in the store.  Which is to say they don’t mind having crossed the boundaries at all. But I do. I don’t want to be seen with my stockings off, or my underwear showing, by a man I don’t know.

I enter the dressing room armed with the same attitude I bring to the hair salon or spa: this is my world, defiantly female, no boys allowed —  gay hairdressers/stylists/makeup artists excluded.

If I wanted to pee in front a man I’d do that at home, in front of my husband, which I never do, by the way:

I don’t want him associating me with a toilet.

What’s in a Name?

When I realized I was carrying a girl, I searched for a name she could live up to. I sifted through my memory for illustrious women with names I could borrow for my child, but soon hit a wall. Most of the best-named women through history had something worng with them: Ophelia was a sap who drowned herself in a  river over a guy; Thomas Hardy’s Eustacia Vye a fool; Emma Bovary a screaming narcissist; ditto Cleopatra. 

Boudica, Queen of the Celts, was a strong bird with a clarion cry that once scred the bejezzus out of teh Romans. But I couldn’t imagine my daughter going through school with a name like that. Kids would shorten it to Booty, and I didn’t want that.

I was reading at the time a biography on Isadora Duncan, a great artist, truly pioneering, and that’s when I decided that she’d be my daughter’s namesake.

Isdaora was alaso a narcissist as well as a drunk and a nymphomaniac. She died tragically by stangulation when her scraf caught inthe spokes of a Bugatti, justa s she was shouting A la Gloire! To the Glory! 

But while flawed I saw much in her to admire: she had grit and determination; she inspired every artist of her day; she was a true original. Isadora it would be.

My daughter, now seven, has in her short life already lived up to the first Isadora’s legacy.

She birthed herself in the car on the way to the hospital, pushing herself out into my pants while I was driving in the front seat, a girl already with her own agenda.

She chose as her birthplace the spot directly outside a Toronto theatre where Agatha Christie’s Mouse Trap had played for years, on Bridgeman Ave.

I was consious enough, depsite my panic and screams, to see it as a sign: She would be a woman well schooled inthe art of the dramatic gesture.

When she couldn’t even walk, and would hold onto a side of furniture for balance, I watched with astonishment as she performed what definitely was a series of battements and tendues, techniques of ballet, an art form she had yet to see. I had the funny feeling that her name might indeed be her destinty.

She passed the audition to the National Ballet School of Canada when she was six (her teacher had insisted she try out), but I ultimately didn’t let her go becuase the classes are on weekends and my spitfire likes to ski. And fast.

Last year, she came in first out of hundreds of girls in her age group when she ran for the first time the Toronto District School Board’s city-wide cross country race at Ashbridge’s Bay. She had never trained, and I had no idea she was that good.

I had run track as a child and into my early 20s when injuries hobbled me, completely. It was the first time thinking of my daughter as having inherited anything from me, other than her fiery temper.

This year, she ran first again, and I cried when she whizzed past me, so proud, I couldn’t speak. I could only cry out her name:

“Isadora! Isadora!  You are already so powerful.”

Ringo and Me.

I met the Ringed One recently, on the occasion of his 70th birthday.  He was in Niagara Falls to launch the North American tour of his All Starr Band. Being a lover of all things Beatles, and in the fortunate position of being a newspaper reporter (meaning I had a reason to make it worth his while), I made my pitch to meet the drummer of all rock band drummers, the one-and-only Ringo Starr, and lo, I was granted a face-to-face interview.  When he approached me inside the red-velvet confines of Fallsview Casino’s in-house concert venue, to quote an old tune by the Fabs, I thought I would die. “Christ, it’s like meeting the Queen,” I blurted rather clumsily to the vigilant PR standing with clipboard by my hyperventilating side. I was nervous. What if I fell flat on my face? What if I asked a stupid question? But Ringo put me instantly at ease. He was affable, smiling and quick to laugh. He even hugged me (and he smelled good, too). I ran through the questions on my sheet; this wasn’t a time to improvise simply because there wasn’t any time. We talked about his new album, how he is now wanting to write songs as autobiography. He said he doesn’t want to write a book, though publishers have lined up at his door, offering him pots of money to do so. “Why would I write a book when I can say everything I need to say in a single lyric?” Soon, my time was up, but not before I asked him what was his favourite Beatles song. “Oooh, that’s hard one,”  he said, smiling.  “There are so many.” I liked that we shared the same problem. He mentioned a few of the oldies, among them Hey Bulldog, an underplayed  rocker by John with harmonies by Paul that features  Ringo saying, “Yeah?” when John says, “Big man?” The PR gave me the boot; there were other journos witing in the wings. I took a fast elevator upstairs to my Fallsview hotel room to write my article on Ringo to deadline. While I was half-way through, I suddnely noticed that hotel tower I was sitting in was moving. Niagara Falls, which I could see out my window, looked to be moving back and forth instead of downwards. I thought, I’m going to die. But also, oh well. I had to keep on writing. A journalist’s gotta do what a journalist’s gotta do. After I filed I discovered I had just experienced an earth quake. I found that poetic somehow. I had waited so long to come face-to-face with one of my idols. And so it came to be that the day I finally met a Beatle, the earth did move.

The Stars Above

Perseid Meteor Shower

A collective wail of oohs and ahhs erupted behind my back as I stood on a hill in the dark last Thursday night near my country property in Thornbury, Ontario. A star had just streaked by, and everyone around me was terribly excited. No, it wasn’t Angelina Jolie in the buff. And actually, even if it had been, I doubt this crowd would have cared.

With a few exceptions (among them me and others from the community who had gathered that night for a little star gazing courtesy the L.E. Shore Memorial Library in the Town of Blue Mountains) the squealers were all members of the Royal Astrological Society of Canada. They were on a hill in the dark last Thursday night to ogle instead the stars that twinkle far above our heads, often beyond our ken.

These amateur astronomers had with them huge honking telescopes with which to gaze at the real stars that were their heart’s desire. Some had them trained early in the evening on Venus, rising coyly in the dusky sky to show off her sparkling raiment made of star fire.

As the sky darkened, other pinpoints of light succeeded in elbowing Venus aside for our attention.

One hoodie-wearing RASC member whom I could still make out in the thickening darkness excitedly told me that one that was then grabbing his attention was a double star. I saw it with the naked eye as a single. He asked me if I wanted to look at it through his lens. I did. And there it was. The twin star known as Albireo.

But that wasn’t what all the fuss was about.

The bigger star show was yet to come, and it belonged to the Perseid meteor shower said that night to rain a shower of starlight onto mortal heads. A mini lecture held back at the library in advance of the excursion emphasized that Perseid was a rare occurrence, happening every 132 years or so. We were all primed to face the explosion head-on. But first we had to wait until the night sky took on the appearance of black velvet in order to see it. There were Muskoka chairs set out on the lawn near the Observatory to make the waiting more comfortable. I instead took my position up against my parked van, preferring to commune with the stars in private.  I gazed upwards in the direction of the Milky Way and watched and waited, waited and watched, cicada singing around me like a Greek chorus.

The experience felt not unlike whale watching, which I had done summers before with my husband in Quebec. I knew nature’s behemoths were out there, but didn’t know when they would chance to slice through the darkness to reveal their glory.

I heard a few more oohs and ahhs ahead of me, proof that the meteors were making their brilliant appearance, just not in the patch of sky I was watching. I wondered if I’d go home disappointed.

But suddenly, without warning, a meteor exploded before my eyes, leaving a trail of stardust in its wake. Another soon followed, and then another. It was like watching a fireworks display, except for one thing. Save for the people exclaiming around me, all this cosmic dynamiting was taking place in strictest silence. The heavens were mute, speaking only through the visual language of stars. The meteors, as mighty and fiery as they were, seemed to pounce cat-like onto the night sky,  leaving behind scratches of light that seared onto my retina.

One of the leader astronomers in our midst said that some of the starlight were watching was millions of years old, having traveled light years to arrive in our here and now on the night of August 12, 2010.

I found much philosophy in that comment.

This starlight seemed to be happening in the present, but it was really a phenomenon from the past.

It made me think that reality is more illusory than I had imagined.

In my mind, I flashed back to the University of Toronto’s Trinity College where I was enrolled in Philosophy 101. This is where I first read Plato and his argument about the forms. If memory serves me right, Plato said that  most of us live in caves of our own ignorance, mistaking an appearance of a thing for the thing itself. I had just thought as much about these stars above my head. I looked upon them as present, but they were really past. I  felt deeply humbled.

And in that state of grace, as it were, I suddenly realized something: that humanity is itself something celestial, being also straddled between the two worlds of being and becoming.

I had, you could say, seen the light.