As our wondrous herd lurches toward immunity, many Americans have traded their masks for traveling shoes. The book industry is right in step, offering a slew of titles showing the way to destinations great and small and offering innovative ways to get there.
Jeralyn Gerba and Pavia Rosati offer a comprehensive guidebook in “Travel North America (And Avoid Being a Tourist)” (Hardie Grant, 283 pages, $29.99). It begins with the dizzying observation that we live on a “furiously spinning globe” beset by potential apocalypses. No worries. Healing can be fostered if the wandering class behaves more like “travelers” than “tourists,” the latter notorious for staying in “hotels owned by large corporations” and for drinking too much bottled water. Travelers “avoid big cruise ships,” hold haggling to a minimum, and bunk in places like A Room at the Beach in Bridgehampton, N.Y., a bungalow once owned by Martha Stewart that, for all its glories, might vaporize what remains of a stimulus check far faster than Motel 6.
Readers hoping to undo the damage inflicted by Grubhub pizza sherpas can follow the authors’ directions to the 2,650-mile Pacific Crest Trail or burn excess blubber by trekking to high-country huts in Colorado. Those suffering from post-pandemic stress can seek healing context at Winslow, Ariz., where Mother Nature dropped a meteor some 50,000 years ago, devastating neighborhood life forms but leaving behind a crater that makes an awesome selfie backdrop. A similar reminder that our era has not been singled out for rough treatment is found at the La Brea tar pits in Los Angeles, where many a prehistoric beast met a gooey end, their agonies detailed in a pleasant museum that made the authors’ list.
Travelers whose artistic sensibilities were not satisfied by the work of Joe Exotic and other lockdown luminaries will find welcome relief in “101 Art Destinations in the U.S.” (Rizzoli Electa, 271 pages, $14.98). Veteran scribe Owen Phillips covers museums famous and remote, cave drawings, and even funk superstar George Clinton’s “Mothership”—an iconic spaceship-shaped stage prop—at Washington’s National Museum of African American History and Culture. Along the way Mr. Phillips supplies interesting asides. Money guy Nelson Rockefeller, as we know, made great contributions to several collections at the Metropolitan Museum in New York; the connection between art and commerce is also on display at the nearby Carlyle Hotel, which swapped accommodations for murals by artist Ludwig Bemelmans, famous for his Madeline books. In Boston, the art of art theft is acknowledged at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, whose Dutch Room displays the frames from which thieves posing as police officers sliced two Rembrandts and a Vermeer during a 1990 heist.
Mr. Phillips reminds us that art raises spirits—and hackles. The Battle of Gettysburg Cyclorama, which depicts Pickett’s charge, may strike some as a cautionary tale about the dangers of joining the infantry. Other observers, he writes, criticize it “for showing valor on both sides with no judgment or sign of the underlying causes for the war”—a message that might require an additional cyclorama or two. A more creative protest met Pablo Picasso’s untitled five-story steel portrait at Chicago’s Daley Plaza, unveiled in 1967. A science-fiction writer erected a giant pickle on the site to pan the piece in advance. Piling on, journalist Mike Royko wrote of the Picasso that “its eyes are like the eyes of every slum owner who made a buck off the small and the weak. And of every building inspector who took a wad from a slum owner.” In Richmond, Va., where most Confederate statuary has been removed, visitors to the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts can still pose beside a full-figure statue of Caligula, the controversial Roman statesman.
Those seeking to end their bout of house arrest with a longer and perhaps stranger trip will find kindred spirits in Ben and Roxy Dawson, authors of “The Falcon Guide to Van Life” (Falcon Guides, 223 pages, $24.95). The authors note that “discontent is on the rise in the sedentary lives of twenty-first-century Americans.” They have a cure: Make like a turtle—hit the road and take your accommodations along for the ride.
The authors tell us that they’ve been living in a van since 2017 and discovering nomadic bliss: “rock climb in the morning, float a river that evening, have a drink by the fire at the end of the day.” Their book is rich with information about vans both humble and sumptuous; the strategies for finding free campsites; and the best websites for scoring regional work. Practical advice abounds. “When in a pinch, don’t underestimate a water bottle with a hole poked in the top to use as a makeshift shower.” On-board toilets, meanwhile—given the tight quarters—can “make for some awkward mornings if one of us had to use the bathroom while the other was making breakfast.” One solution: “Carry a large shovel. The ease of digging a hole with a larger shovel relieves some stress of going in nature.” This is the innovative spirit that drove prairie schooners across the frontier.
The authors even offer a strategy for overcoming unreliable gasoline supplies. Diesel-powered vans can be converted to run on the vegetable oil that restaurants dispose of after cleaning their deep-fat fryers. As of now, the ransomware bandits have overlooked this fuel source.
Yet another threat to placid travel must be noted, one every bit as annoying as bears, mosquitoes and quicksand pits. The culprit, Amber Share writes in “Subpar Parks” (Plume, 205 pages, $22), is fellow humans suffering from what might be called the Yelp virus.
Ms. Share’s amusing indictment of the “least impressed visitors” to America’s most sublime sites is based on reviews, many from online sources, of the 400-plus parks, monuments and other areas managed by the National Park Service. One critic panned the Delicate Arch in Utah’s Arches National Park for looking “nothing like the license plate.’ ” In a similar spirit, a reviewer found the 6-million-acre Denali Alaskan wilderness a “barren wasteland of tundra” despite, as Ms. Share notes, its 2,000 “species of plants, grizzly bears, wolves, moose, caribou”—not to mention, at 20,310 feet, the highest peak in North America. Another Yelper type complained that at Yosemite “trees block view and there are too many gray rocks,” while another dismissed the Grand Canyon as “a very, very large hole.” The Statue of Liberty, an inspiration to countless wanderers, is merely “a big green statue and that’s it.”
One hates to dampen the spirit of our Great Reopening, but as of now there’s no vaccine for what ails these individuals.
—Mr. Shiflett posts his original music and writing at Daveshiflett.com.
Review of And In The End
‘And in the End’ Review: Band on the Run
The Beatles’ ﬁnal year was silly, crazy and chaotic, but the music they made then is still with us—as are tales of the Fab Four.
The Beatles circa 1969.
PHOTO: JRC /THE HOLLYWOOD ARCHIVE/ALAMY STOCK PHOTO
By Dave Shiflett
Aug. 20, 2020 7:28 pm ET
Among the horrors that beset some aging boomers is the harrowing suspicion that there is more music in Rachmaninoff’s Second Piano Concerto than in the entire Beatles catalog. But of course not everyone feels that way. Existing for around eight years and gone for 50, the Beatles and their signature hits are still very much with us. If the Fab Four didn’t roll over Beethoven in the composing competition, they certainly overshadowed him in mass popularity. And they continue to inspire a kind of pop anthropology, in which their life and times are chronicled in detail and mined for cultural insights.
In “And in the End,” the Scottish journalist Ken McNab focuses engagingly, and insightfully, on the band’s final year, starting with an account of its performance on Jan. 30, 1969, atop the roof of Apple headquarters in London. (Apple, we should remember, was a record label, not a computer cult.) The band hadn’t played publicly since an August 1966 gig at San Francisco’s Candlestick Park. Lots had happened in the intervening years: landmark albums, drugs, divorce, the death of manager Brian Epstein and the arrival of Yoko Ono.John Lennon complained that the band “had become Paul McCartney’s sidemen,” Mr. McNab says, a view seconded by George Harrison: “You’d have to do 59 of Paul’s songs before he’d even listen to one of yours.” Ringo Starr had tried to keep the peace while acting in Peter Sellers’s “The Magic Christian.”
The lads were at one another’s throats—and the wolf was at their door. Upwards of £20,000 was disappearing every week, Mr. McNab says, and nobody knew where it was going. Bankruptcy loomed. Lennon, who would later imagine a world with no possessions, worried about spending his senior years playing gigs for anyone who would listen. When he said the band didn’t have “half the money people think we have,” the comment crossed the ocean and aroused the dorsal fin of noted music shark Allen Klein. Like Yoko, Klein is something of a satanic figure to many Beatles fans. But he adds a dramatic surge to Mr. McNab’s narrative.
AND IN THE END
By Ken McNab Thomas Dunne, 311 pages, $28.99
Klein had made a name for himself managing the Rolling Stones and other top acts. He deeply desired the Beatles, but his reputation was reptilian. Among his most notable scams was to siphon off most of the Rolling Stones’ U.S. profits. Mick Jagger warned the Beatles against hiring him, and Paul didn’t trust him, but the others liked Klein, who gets a fairly light lashing from Mr. McNab. Klein cut costs and decimated the Apple deadwood, but he would later sue the band (which would also sue him) and be accused of skimming money from the Bangladesh charity concert. His toxic side may have had early origins. Mr. McNab tells us that Klein’s father had put him in an orphanage at an early age, which perhaps also sharpened his ambition and wits. In any case, Klein got the band a significantly better recording contract. They had two projects in the pipeline as the curtain was falling: the albums that became “Abbey Road” and “Let It Be.”
Mr. McNab is a fan of the band, though not an uncritical one. He dings Lennon for being “high on idealism, low on reality” but also reminds us that the Beatles were uniquely talented and very hard working. “You Never Give Me Your Money” required 36 takes. “Because” had 23 takes of the backing track; producer-arranger George Martin also wrote nine harmony parts for the song. Amazingly, Harrison’s “Something” (which Frank Sinatra called “the greatest love song of the past 50 years”) was initially dissed by Martin, who dismissed it as “lightweight and derivative,” Mr. McNab writes.
Talent was evident in other forms, including self-promotion. After a post-nuptial hang with Salvador Dalí in Paris, John and Yoko made their way to Amsterdam to promote world peace, arriving in a white Rolls-Royce and taking up residence at the Hilton. Lennon was playing a new tune, “Give Peace a Chance,” which wasn’t entirely impressive. “What did it matter if it read like garbage?” Mr. McNab writes of the lyrics. “What really counted was the message.” He credits Lennon with playing a decisive role in ending the Vietnam War—an accomplishment the Nobel committee overlooked. His claim that rumors of Paul’s death became the “biggest and fastest circulating sensation since the 1963 assassination of JFK” also seems ambitious.
Mr. McNab leaves no doubt that Lennon engineered episodes of genius-level dissolution. Beethoven had hearing issues, Tchaikovsky was often a nervous wreck, and Schumann ended up in an asylum. But none, so far as we know, descended into “bagism,” a phenomenon in which Lennon climbed into a bag and whistled the “Blue Danube Waltz,” creating a vibe he referred to as “total communication.”
On April 10, 1970, Paul announced that he was done. The end had arrived before any band members had reached age 30. Bittersweet years followed, including acrimonious legal action. Lennon was murdered on Dec. 8, 1980, three weeks after the release of his “Double Fantasy” album. Harrison made good music and did good deeds until his death from lung cancer in 2001. Paul’s solo career showcased prolonged musical and showbiz prowess: His 2012 “Kisses on the Bottom” album was released on Starbucks’ record label and included “My Valentine,” which channeled Tony Bennett. Ringo maintained a talent for not appearing to take himself too seriously. Mr. McNab’s portrait of the band in its twilight neatly conveys the hazards of fame and the enduring value of youth, talent and a touch of madness.
As for Yoko, she re-captured the spotlight during the 2016 election cycle over rumors that she had once been romantically involved with Hillary Clinton, which was not enough to get the former secretary of state elected. Ailing but socially concerned, Yoko has lately been involved in creating anti-virus face masks. May her karma be pleasantly instant.
Mr. Shiflett posts his music and writing at Daveshiflett.com.
The coronavirus has parked multitudes on their sofas, where many have gone half-mad reading rants from advanced-studies graduates of the University of Twitter. Matthew Crawford’s “Why We Drive” is the perfect antidote.
Mr. Crawford, a senior fellow at the University of Virginia and the author of “Shop Class as Soulcraft” (2009) and other works of social philosophy, has written a thoughtful, entertaining and substantive work about the joys of driving—and about the attempts by various scolds to relegate…
‘Homeplace’ Review: Enticed by Twang and Sawdust
The last roadhouse in the Virginias, where Budweisers, Beatitudes and country music mingle—and a fading subculture finds a home.
July 11, 2019 6:50 pm ET
Among the collateral calamities of our era’s descent into health obsession is the decline of the traditional honky-tonk. The heart skips a beat in fond remembrance of these roadside establishments, which dispensed—enthusiastically and in good conscience—pork rinds and…
The prospect of death separates the terminally ambitious members of our species into two distinct groups: those who compose a bucket list of offbeat things to do before they croak and those who decide to attempt one final grand feat, a last hurrah. Bucketeers climb mountains and visit the Taj Mahal. Last-hurrah types try their hand at writing a symphony or building a school in some far-flung place—or, if their life-long occupation has been in the larceny…
Virginia’s Confederacy of Dunces
How can we continue looking down on Arkansas and Mississippi with this sort of stuff going on
Feb. 7, 2019 6:53 p.m. ET
When word leaked that Gov. Ralph Northam was in hot water over a medical-school photo, some Virginians smiled knowingly. We’ve seen pictures of med-school friends posing with cadavers they’d hung with monikers like “Bessie,” “Big Boy,” and “Wee Willie, ” as circumstances dictated. Then came the jarring news of Mr. Northam’s costume mishap and…
Nov. 20, 2018 6:52 p.m. ET
If turkeys have souls (it’s the season for generous speculation), one might expect that, in the spirit of the times, a flock of transcendent Toms will soon storm the gates of heaven to demand an end to their species-ist Thanksgiving sorrows. They might have a case, but the holiday itself will surely retain heaven’s blessing. As two new books make abundantly clear, giving thanks pays big dividends—soulful and otherwise—at least for humans.
Sept. 27, 2018 5:49 p.m. ET
Given the choice between hearing a country-music crooner or a cat in a blender, many Americans might give us reason to fear for the fate of the cat. Others consider country the music that red-state deplorables listen to, even if it’s hardly restricted to hayseeds, malevolent or otherwise. Even Beyoncé sings a little country
Beyoncé is a little late to the hayride, as we are reminded by the 50th-anniversary edition of Bill C. Malone’s “Country Music USA.” Mr.…
The new NFL season has commenced with the usual hoopla, though some fans are finding new things to do on Sunday afternoon. Their disaffection isn’t just about kneeling, which is as easy to ignore as other celebrity pose-striking. The game seems flat, perhaps due to efforts to remove risk with new rules and more penalty flags. Watching a game can set the teeth to grinding, especially when advertising time-outs seem longer than the first half of “Gone With the Wind.” Meanwhile, ticket, beer and parking…
Sept. 7, 2018 5:08 p.m. ET
Jorma Kaukonen isn’t quite so famous as some of his musical peers, a group that includes Janis Joplin, Jerry Garcia and Jimi Hendrix. Yet unlike those eminences and many others, Mr. Kaukonen—a Rock & Roll Hall of Fame guitarist best known for his work with Jefferson Airplane—has hung around. Still touring as he approaches 80, he has now written an engaging memoir that will interest even those who wouldn’t know Hot Tuna (his current band) from a can of sardines. “Been So Long” is…
Worship Thy Ancestor
. . . from a distance
2:00 AM, Apr 06, 2018 | By Dave Shiflett
You can get arrested for spanking an unruly tot these days, but flogging the immortal bejesus out of once-revered ancestors can pay significant dividends. Pounding the Founders and other historic villains not only affirms one's purity and moral superiority but can help achieve social dominance over those who fail to recognize your excellence of spirit. On top of that it can make you feel really good and distract…
Skunk vs. Skunk
The defense of the Second Amendment goes down-market
2:40 AM, MAR 16, 2018 | By DAVE SHIFLETT
If someone invented a television “raver filter” there would no doubt be national jubilation—until we realized that blocking the ravers would leave very little to watch. Everyone raves these days: sports announcers, politicians, airline executives, celebrities, cartoon characters, weather forecasters, dog trainers, and of course the growing army of what were once called “talking heads”—whose…