Beatles vs. Stones

Were they friends? Rivals? Frenemies?

Yes, all of the above. And above all, they were the two most influential bands in the Sixties.

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The popular view of the bands early on was that they were desperate rivals fighting it out for the hearts of teens everywhere. And much later, that it was all a publicity ruse, and they were thick as thieves and had no envy between them.

The reality is somewhere in the middle, this book says.

The Rolling Stones of course owe a lot to the Beatles, not the least of which their first hit, “I Wanna Be Your Man.” John and Paul finished it off for them as easily as tossing off a joke, and so there was the start of a little bit of jealousy as Mick and Keith struggled to write anything at all.

Along the way, John Lennon said the Stones did everything the Beatles did, just a couple of months later (and for awhile, that was true). Mick Jagger sniffed that he didn’t care about the Beatles, but it’s clear he sought their approval at times.

The Beatles hit it big and the Stones a notch or two below. The Beatles were four working-class boys who made nice for the masses, and the Stones were five middle-class boys who toughened it up for their fans.

It’s all here, the affairs, the drugs, the rumors. And the fact that the Beatles needed to go away for the Stones to show what they could really do. And the Stones came out with four iconic albums – Sticky Fingers, Beggars Banquet, Exile on Main St. and Let It Bleed — as the Beatles were slowly vacating the stage.

The book also notes that while the Beatles may have ended too soon (debatable), the Stones have gone on far too long (affirmative), succumbing to all sorts of excess, disco, never-ending oldies tours, and all the rest.

Still, you gotta have both to have a feel for the music of the Sixties and what came after.

First Man: The Life of Neil A. Armstrong

I confess, I had this sitting in the queue and was going to get to it eventually, but the debut of the movie made me move this up.

I still haven’t seen the movie.

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But what can you say about Neil Armstrong. An American icon and the face of the space program – or specifically, the moon shot.

This is a very good biography that doesn’t seem to pull punches even though it’s authorized. It talks about the controversies, the misgivings, the warts and all.

Or mostly – I’d have to see another biography to judge that.

But it’s all here, from Neil’s childhood to his military service to engineering career to his life as an astronaut. Plus, the tragic loss of his child, and his tangles with other astronauts and Chuck Yeager, and his eventual divorce.

One interesting insight is that while they were history-makers, the three astronauts of Apollo 11 were nothing more than cordial strangers. You would think the shared experience would pull them together, but it doesn’t seem to have done so, and partly because of Armstrong’s distance from everyone, all the time.

(By the way, the author pulls from other bios and autobios, and Mike Collins’ quotes makes me want to read his book now).

The book also tells everybody’s side in recounting the controversies, but of course it largely sides with Armstrong.

It was a really good book. Might have been one or two chapters too long, though.

Pigskin: The Early Years of Pro Football

This is a good book about the early, rough-and-tumble years of pro football, and the men who played it.

I had expected tales of amazing games and the developments in rules and equipment, but it leaned too heavily on the minutiae of the business dealings and what players played under what fake names when. I got a little lost at times.

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That said, the story is an interesting one (maybe there’s another book out there that’s more what I’m looking for), about the changing times as the nation turns its eyes from baseball to football, and from college to pros.

One thing that made me proud to be a football fan – there was no official freeze-out of black players like there was in baseball. True, blacks weren’t in football for around a dozen years around WWII, but that soon corrected itself. While baseball had to wait for Jackie Robinson to break the color barrier in 1947, the pros can go back to Fritz Pollard in 1920. He was also the first black coach in the pro game.

The less said about the Redskins, all the way around, the better!