Wednesday, December 13, 2023

Books: Music Edition, With "Curepedia" & "Living the Beatles Legend"

Curepedia: An A-Z of The Cure

By Simon Price

Dey Street Books; hardcover, 448 pages; $35.00

Simon Price is a London-based music journalist and author. He currently writes a weekly column for The Independent on Sunday, and he wrote for Melody Maker for nine years.

Curepedia is Price's new book, and it is the definitive and truly unique visual biography of The Cure. The 40+ year history of this groundbreaking alternative band, known for such songs as "Friday I'm in Love" and "Just Like Heaven," is chronicled with hundreds of entries in A to Z fashion. It is full of facts, minutiae, and little-known details about this beloved band from the full scope of their career. Lead singer Robert Smith fact-checked the manuscript, so fans will know it's "blessed" by their favorite band.

The Cure is one of the biggest rock bands in the world, with 12 studio albums, tours that pack stadiums all over the world, including their concert at Hyde Park that drew 65,000 people; and they were the first alternative band to be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2019 by Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails. Their influence can be heard in bands such as Smashing Pumpkins and My Chemical Romance.

In Curepedia, fans will be given a full-scale look at the long list of band members, current and past, trivia, tours, summaries of every album, song, films, as well as essays on the image of the band, their influence, their style, and their enduring legacy. 

The Cure is known as much for its visual style almost as much as its music, and this book will include visuals from longtime Cure collaborator Andy Vella. This will capture that style and will have cross-over appeal to fans of those creators as well. The band's style has been cited by filmmaker Tim Burton and author Neil Gaiman as influences.

Price writes of how he has viewed the band in this excerpt: "When I first heard The Cure, as a child, I already perceived that there was something else going on behind the sound itself. I vividly recall lying in the grass on the school playing fields and hearing 'A Forest' on BBC Radio 1's Top 40 countdown on my radio-cassette recorder. It wasn't for me, yet. But something about it stuck with me. 'The Walk' on Top of the Pops was my real entry point, and by the time of The Head On The Door and Standing On A Beach, I was fully on board. The Cure were my gateway drug into alternative music, holding my hand and leading the way. I loved them. I pretended not to, for a while, partly because it seemed too on-the-nose for a goth-looking guy like me to be into The Cure, and partly to annoy Robert Smith-besotted girlfriends. But you've got to get over yourself, sometimes.

One of the bittersweet things about being a music critic, as I have been for most of my adult life, reviewing records week in, week out, is that you rarely get to live with any one artist's music for as long as you would like. From about 1990 onwards, whenever a new Cure album has come along, I've listened, enjoyed, and appreciated them, but bade them farewell in the sad knowledge that my job requires me to move onto the next thing. One of the pleasures of writing this book has been reacquainting myself with those newer records. It's also been wonderful to have a legitimate excuse to obsess over some of my favourite songs ('Just Like Heaven' and 'One Hundred Years' being in the top two, for very different reasons) and write whole essays about what makes them tick.

Robert Smith, as I've said in this book, means something. (Exactly what he means, of course, is subtly different from what he intended to mean: in pop, meaning is in the mind of the receiver, the perceiver.) If you look at his face, even his silhouette, or even simply the words 'The Cure' (especially in that classic dropped-C logo), your mind is instantly flooded with associations. The word 'iconic' is over-used, but Robert Smith is genuinely an icon. Some of this book has been devoted to examining the dynamics of that. Mostly, though, it's about The Cure's body of work, and what it gives to us, emotionally and intellectually. The Cure can smell your heart, The Cure can make you dance, but The Cure are also brain-food."

Living the Beatles Legend: The Untold Story of Mal Evans

By Kenneth Womack

Dey Street Books; hardcover, 592 pages; $50.00

Kenneth Womack is a leading thinker and writer on The Beatles, as he has written many books on the Fab Four, including The Evolving Artistry of the Beatles, the Cambridge Companion to the Beatles, and a two-volume biography on Beatles producer George Martin, Maximum Volume and Sound Pictures. He is the Music Culture critic for Salon, and is a regular contributor to such outlets including Billboard, Variety, and NBC News.

Living the Beatles Legend is Womack's new book, and it is the first-ever full-length biography of Mal Evans, who has long been a mystery in the Beatles' ecosystem, an enigmatic figure who had an untold story, and was clearly beloved by John, Paul, George, and Ringo.

Malcolm Evans was the Beatles' beloved friend, confidant, roadie, and personal assistant, which made him an invaluable member of the band's inner circle. He was a towering figure, at six-feet three inches, and was known for his horn-rimmed glasses, and he loomed large in the Beatles' story.

There were times that Mal contributed at times as a performer and sometime lyricist, while struggling mightily to protect his "boys." Evans was there for the length of their remarkable story, from their Shea Stadium performances to the creation of the incredible cover of Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Heart Club Band, and the famous rooftop concert for Let It Be.

Evans left a stable job as a telecommunications engineer for the General Post Office to serve as road manager for the fledgling band, and he was the odd man out from the start. He was about five years older than the members of The Beatles, married with children, and without any music business experience, but he threw himself headfirst into their world, as he traveled across the globe and made himself indispensable.

After The Beatles broke up in 1970, Big Mal, as he was known, continued to work with them as they each embarked on solo careers. By 1974, he was determined to make his mark as a songwriter and record producer. He began a new life in Los Angeles, where he wrote his memoirs. In January 1976, he was on the verge of sharing that book with the world, but Evans' story came to a tragic end during a domestic standoff with the LAPD.

Mal's life and his untimely death have always been a mystery, and for decades, his diaries, manuscripts, and vast collection of memorabilia was missing, seemingly lost forever.

The Holy Grail for Beatles fans is Mal's lost memoir, and it was found in the basement of his publisher and recovered by a temp who sent it to Yoko Ono, who is John Lennon's widow. Ono ensured that the materials were returned to Mal's family, and the estate is working with Womack to bring this work to light. 

Womack was given full access to Mal's unpublished archives and he conducted hundreds of new interviews to deliver his unknown story that is at the heart of the Beatles' legend. This book is packed with many unseen photos and other ephemera from Mal's archives. Mal documented his experiences immediately, as he used his annual Post Office Engineering Union diary to capture momentous events on his first trip with The Beatles to London in early 1963 for his son Gary, who writes the Foreword for this book.

In this excerpt, Womack writes of how Evans lucked into his role with The Beatles in January 1963: "For Mal Evans, it would be nothing short of a primal moment. For the Beatles, it would be a much-cherished memory along the unsteady road to extraordinary fame. It would exist inside their collective museum of recollections as the emblem of a more innocent time and place when everyone and everything that truly counted in their world could be measured inside the cramped interior of a van.

A Ford Thames 400E Express Bus, to be exact. Cream-colored and sporting license plate nbumber 6834 KD, the vehicle had been the Beatles' workhorse since the summer of 1962, when manager Brian Epstein purchased it via automobile salesman Terry Doran, a Liverpool chum. With the Beatles' twenty-one-year-old assistant, Neil Aspinall, behind the wheel, the group had barnstormed through an incessant run of dance halls and ballrooms across Northern England, desperate to launch their debut single, 'Love Me Do,' as far up the English record charts as it could go; it reached maximum altitude at number seventeen for the week of December 27, 1962...

It was a simple twist of fate that landed Mal behind the wheel of the Ford Thames that January day. Aspinall, the Beatles' full-time road manager, had taken ill with the flu. He was hardly the only Briton felled during that unusually severe winter. During the last week of December, a blizzard swept across southwestern England and Wales, leaving snow drifts of up to twenty feet in its wake. The ensuing weather emergency came to be known as the Big Freeze, with dangerously low temperatures plaguing Great Britain throughout January.

Known as Nell among the Beatles' entourage, Aspinall had succumbed at an especially inopportune moment. The group's second single, 'Please Please Me,' had been released on January 11. When the Beatles recorded the up-tempo song back on November 26, their normally staid producer, George Martin, had gone out on an extraordinary limb. Overcome by a moment of 'bravado,' he announced, 'Gentlemen, you've just made your first number-one record.' The very notion that the four Liverpudlians would release a chart-topper was so far-fetched that 'the boys,' as Martin and manager Brian Epstein had lovingly dubbed them, promptly broke into peals of laughter. But as January wore on - and with the Big Freeze stranding millions of Britons at home, 'Please Please Me' was fulfilling the producer's daring prediction. Snowed in with radio and television as their chief sources of entertainment, record numbers of viewers watched the band's January 19th performance of the song on the popular Saturday night television program Thank Your Lucky Stars. That night, the Beatles held the lowest rung on a seven-act bill. But not for long.

With the single racing up the charts, Epstein had booked a fresh spate of radio and television appearances, necessitating the Beatles' journey to London on the day after their Thank Your Lucky Stars appearance. But on the morning after the TV show, Neil had woken up feeling feverish. When he arrived for the band's evening gig at Liverpool's Cavern Club, he announced that he would be unable to drive them to London. The Beatles were unsympathetic, saying, 'Well, you have to get somebody else, won't you?' In the fog of his illness, Neil 'didn't have a clue who I could get. I went up the Cavern steps into Mathew Street just to get some fresh air, and Mal was standing there.'

As it happened, Mal and Lily had just arrived at the Cavern that night. Having worked as a part-time bouncer at the basement club, Mal had become a familiar presence to the Beatles and their crowd of 'Cave Dwellers,' as deejay Bob Wooler had christened the Cavern's regulars.

'What are you doing for the next couple of days?' Neil asked Mal. 'Would you like to drive the Beatles to London?'

For Mal, it was a no-brainer. Being near the action was what had drawn him to the Cavern in the first place. An inveterate Elvis Presley fan, he relished the Beatles' company, swapping stories about the King and growing especially close with George, who had befriended the giant, bespectacled man. Mal enjoyed peppering the band with requests for Elvis tunes. He held a particular affection for 'I Forgot to Remember to Forget,' which George intentionally bungled, singing, 'I'm so bloody lonely' in place of 'I'm so blue and lonely.' The bandmates invariably introduced their songs for Mal by playfully altering his name: 'This one's for Malcontent,' or 'This one's for Malfunctioning,' or 'This one's for Malodorous.' Mal took it all in stride, good-naturedly playing along with his new friends."

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