Monday, December 31, 2018

Most humbling "Batman & Bill" tweets/posts of 2018

The documentary Batman & Bill came out in May 2017; the love for it (i.e. for Bill Finger) continued throughout 2018. Not one but two tweets compared it to the NBC sobfest This Is Us (yes, This Is Odd!)...

Here is the 2017 roundup.

Thank you all. And to all a Dark Knight.

Saturday, December 29, 2018

Friday, December 28, 2018

Thursday, December 27, 2018

Visiting Beatles sites in Hamburg, Germany

My wife was raised in Hamburg, Germany and so, in a way, were the Beatles. Between 1960 and 1962, the band came there for five engagements, some spanning months. Hamburg was the first place they played outside of the UK, and it was there where they began their climb to international fame. 

I've been a Beatles fan since high school and I've come to Hamburg at least once most years since 1998, but it was not until this year when I cobbled together a tour of the Beatles sites of Hamburg (similar to what I did with another '60s watershed, the Vietnam War, in Ho Chi Minh City). As far as I know, and oddly, no guided tour exists; if it did, it would be a walking tour, and it would be short but fascinating. 

My self-created tour under the misty, overcast sky of 12/26/18 consisted of six sites: four clubs, one plaza, and one residence (or, as the Beatles might say, "residence"). Of course there is so much written elsewhere on this topic so I won't dive deep on each site but rather let the images do most of the conjuring. I'm listing them in the order I came upon them, not in the order the Beatles played at them. (The stops are along what is essentially a Z-shaped path, starting at the bottom right of the letter.)

For the 1960 and 1961 shows, the lineup was John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, Stuart Sutcliffe, and Pete Best (the latter two of whom are regular candidates for "the Fifth Beatle"). Stucliffe left the band to study painting in July 1961 (and died from a brain hemorrhage the following April). Ringo Starr replaced Best in August 1962.

The Fifth Beatle no one talks about.

The tour:

Top Ten Club; Hamburg gig #3

136 Reeperbahn

The Beatles played there April 1-July 1, 1961 and roomed upstairs. The club had opened the year before and closed in 1994. (The entrance was between the green walls to the right of the Pizza Hut.)

Beatles-Platz (Beatles Plaza)
corner of Reeperbahn/Grosse Freiheit

This installation was created and dedicated in 2008. It depicts the metallic outlines of five Beatles. One is apparently a composite of Best and Starr and the one set apart represents Sutcliffe because he had quit. They are standing on what is meant to resemble a vinyl record. Names of Beatles songs follow one after 909 within the silver rings on the ground.

Kaiserkeller; Hamburg gig #2
38 Grosse Freiheit

The Beatles played there July 31 and October 4-November 30, 1960; it had opened in 1959. It's on a (big) side street off the main drag (the Reeperbahn), about a five-minute walk around the corner from the former Top Ten. Many other notables from Duran Duran to Prince to Hamburg's own Nena have since performed there. It's still going.

Yes, there is a church across the street
(not only spitting distance from the rock and roll
rowdiness but also mere steps away from strip clubs).

Star-Club; Hamburg gig #4
39 Grosse Freiheit

Star-Club stood across the street from Kaiserkeller. The Beatles played there April 13-May 31, November 1-14, and December 18-31, 1962. Upon arriving at the airport in Hamburg for their first Star-Club appearance (which was also the club's opening night), the group learned that their former bandmate Sutcliffe had passed away. 

At that time, with its 2,000-seat capacity, this was the area's largest club. The November and December dates were the first in Hamburg with Ringo Starr. The Beatles were not keen to play those dates because their first single, "Love Me Do," was already charting in the UK, but did so to fulfill their contract. December 31 would mark the group's final pre-Beatlemania show in Hamburg. This is the only venue on this list whose original structure is no longer there; it ceased being a club in 1969 and burned down in 1987. The commemorative marker is in a side commercial courtyard accessed under an archway.

Indra Club; Hamburg gig #1
64 Grosse Freiheit

The Beatles' Hamburg debut took place here; the gig ran August 17-October 3, 1960. The Indra was a block outside the liveliest section of the street, which allegedly frustrated the band. They wanted to be at the center of the scene.

 In a brotherly nod, the Indra displays a poster 
for the now-defunct Star-Club's opening night.

When this photo is enlarged, you can see in the near distance
the blue "36" of the sign for Kaiserkeller; 
the Beatles felt that due to its "outlier" locale, 
this club was not cool enough.

Bambi Kino
33 Paul-Roosen Strasse

The Beatles stayed here while playing at the Indra. It was the dirty, unpainted, windowless former storeroom (or perhaps two) of a small cinema, and though half of their time there was during summer, it was nonetheless cold. The cinema is gone but the cartoon deer painted on the garage door indicates where it was.

 I'm pointing to Bambi Kino. Note the street sign...

...seen here again, where it meets the street home to the Indra.
(I didn't point this time, but it's the slightly taller 
brick building a ways down on the left.)
I loved visualizing the way the Beatles would've walked to work...

I was surprised to learn that a museum called Beatlemania Hamburg opened near the club district in 2009, and more surprised to learn that it closed in 2012 due to underwhelming attendance.

"Underwhelming" is rarely a word you hear in connection with the Beatles. 

No matter the museum; it was a blast to get back to where they once belonged.

11/3/19 addendum: visiting Beatles sites in Liverpool.

9/28/21 addendum: visiting Beatles sites in London.

Friday, December 21, 2018

"Thirty Minutes Over Oregon" on list of Top 20 Books of 2018

And not just any list…the list jointly compiled/posted by Mr. Schu (John Schumacher, the Ambassador of School Libraries for Scholastic) and Travis Jonker of School Library Journal's 100 Scope Notes.


(John called it a story "everyone should know." Travis also included it on his list of 10 books he did not review but loves. Note how a third influencer, Betsy Bird, kindly echoed that thought.)

With both lists, I'm humbled and honored to be among such talent. Congrats to all whose work is being recognized.

The journey to get Thirty Minutes Over Oregon published did not come close to the stakes of the journey of the star of the book, World War II pilot Nobuo Fujita…but it does make me especially thrilled that it happened. Because it almost didn't, a lot.

This book was rejected almost 50 times over seven years.

Tuesday, December 18, 2018

Sunday, December 16, 2018

Double whammy from the Book Mommy

The Book Mommy reviewed my two latest books within a week of each other. I learned of this via her two kind tweets:

Fairy Spell: "My fav telling of the Cottingley Fairies hoax (or was it?) to date. Astounding & marvelous, a story where the kids hold all the cards."

Thirty Minutes Over Oregon: "Absolutely fascinating, largely unknown WW2 story, which showcases the very best of humanity. A must for 7-10."

Excerpts from the reviews themselves:

Fairy Spell

"My eight year old, having mostly outgrown her belief in, if not her affection for, fairies, hung on every word. She has since re-read it on her own and even asked that I purchase a copy for her classroom. It's a book which tests your belief in magic on nearly every page. … what really went on down at the beck is both astounding and marvelous: astounding because the girls exhibited cleverness well beyond their years, and marvelous because they kept it a secret for so long. (Talk about empowering the child!)"

Thirty Minutes Over Oregon:

"Showcases the very best of our two countries. Indeed, it showcases the very best of humanity. I can scarcely read these pages without tearing up. … I can't help but hope that books like Thirty Minutes Over Oregon might help our children's generation think about what can be gained from letting our heart, not our politics, fly the plane."