Beatles, battles, betrayed, Bay waters

Books of the Region

August 18, 2002|By James H. Bready | By James H. Bready,Special to the Sun

Yellow Submarine is the 1968 cartoon movie in which the Beatles travel the deep seas to Pepperland, where Sgt. Pepper's Band is being held captive by the Blue Meanies. The Fab Four appear as themselves briefly, at the end. The film is a classic -- and a hot book subject nowadays is how the famous films, one by one, came to be made.

Robert R. Hieronimus began assembling Yellow Submarine material in the 1970s; now his book, Inside the Yellow Submarine (Krause, 432 pages, $24.95) is out. So let listeners to Dr. Bob and his wife Zoh, hosts of a long-running futurist and environmentalist radio program, make whoopee: The book, based on interviews with dozens of people from the original film crew, is good stuff -- lively, insightful and authoritative.

Yellow Submarine, the movie, was made by some 200 anti-Disneyites, 150 of them women, in Swinging London, with a tight budget and a rigid 11-month deadline. The director was Canadian; the art director, German. For a while, there was no script at all; Peter Max had nothing to do with the project; other actors, not the uncooperative Beatles, spoke the animated Beatles' lines. Those seven-day work weeks nonetheless had time for 13 illegitimate babies and five marriages. The show's big song, "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds," translated as LSD. Hieronimus points out, though, that only earnest, clear-headed people could have produced all those oversized cels.

For one moral: love and music can unite even such opposites as Pepperlanders and Meanies. For another, Hieronimus quotes George Harrison: "The entertainment industry is almost entirely controlled by the Blue Meanies."

The Civil War was the century before last. Yet the diaries of some of its combatants are still being published for the first time; sometimes, about unfamiliar phases of the struggle. Yellow Flag: The Civil War Journal of Surgeon's Steward C. Marion Dodson, edited by Charles Albert Earp (Maryland Historical Society, 151 pages, $16 softbound), is about the sea war, from a medical standpoint.

Dodson was from a prominent Eastern Shore family. In March 1864, aged 22, with some experience in pharmaceuticals, he set out for Philadelphia, in quest of a vacancy as druggist aboard a U.S. Navy vessel. The Pocahontas, at the Naval Yard for repairs, signed him up (with a uniformed rank between officers and crew). Soon the ship, a sloop of war with six guns, personnel of about 100 and a surgeon (chief medical officer) who drank, fired up its boiler. Off to Florida, Texas, New Orleans and blockade duty.

When ashore, Dodson flirted with young females. Afloat, when not preparing medicines, he could read, socialize, conduct the church choir. But in October, in the Gulf of Mexico, the USS. Arkansas appeared, flying a yellow flag -- the distress symbol for yellow fever. No known source, or cure; and the ship's surgeon was one of its victims. Dodson agreed to go on board and minister to the dying.

He had other adventures, on other ships, before his postwar discharge and return to St. Michaels. Later, in Baltimore, Dodson became a general practitioner; he died in 1929. His Civil War journal shows no uncertainty -- the Union was simply the right side to be on. Nowadays, the war-scenes diary is a military no-no, lest the enemy obtain it and learn things. Posterity, particularly book-readers, loses.

The central figure in Patricia Gaffney's latest novel, Flight Lessons (HarperCollins, 388 pages, $24.95) is Anna Catalano, newly betrayed by her male partner. In flight, Anna comes back to the Eastern Shore to help run Bella Sorella, the family restaurant, which is doing poorly. But its owner is Aunt Rose, and Anna has a hangup there, too. Soon Anna, in this nameless Maryland city, reattaches, particularly to a wildlife photographer. Yet she still cannot let herself hang loose.

This is the third hard-cover novel in four years from Gaffney, all probing women's relationships -- women as close friends, women as parents and children, here the interlocking of a small business's mostly female managers and staff. To these themes, Gaffney (who lives across the Pennsylvania line, in Blue Ridge Summit) brings a big talent for conversations, for action scenes, for personality portrayal. Along with its food talk, Flight Lessons is also rich in birder lore.

Are women, the nurturers, better at bonding? Or are men, despite their competitive urge? Patricia Gaffney's readers will be eloquent in the unending argument.

While Michael Meyerson of Columbia is explaining, it all seems wonderfully clear: much of the U.S. Constitution is built on mathematics. Not just the infamous three-fifths population count; think rather of the first presidential veto, by George Washington, of a bill prescribing how many House seats each state was to have. Think of Marbury vs. Madison, and the "game of chicken" over those 16 Federalist "midnight judges." Think of the infinity factor -- the founders' vision of the Constitution as "perpetual."

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