Sunday, March 22, 2015

Long-Lost John Lennon Letter Inspires Hollywood Movie

In 1971, a small music magazine called ZigZag published an interview with a 21-year-old British singer-songwriter named Steve Tilston. At one point Tilston was asked if fame and fortune — should he be lucky enough to achieve them — would change his art. He said they would probably have a negative effect on his songwriting.

Tilston needn't have worried — he never became famous (although he's sustained a career as a professional musician, and good for him). But his comments in ZigZag caught the eye of John Lennon, who at the time was 30 years old and in the early stages of his post-Beatles solo career. Lennon jotted out a note (see above) telling Tilston and the writer who'd interviewed him, Richard Howell, that money didn't actually change anything. Here's what he wrote:

Dear Steve Tilston + Richard Howell

Being rich doesn't change your experiences in the way you think. The only difference basically is that you don't have you worry about money - food - roof - etc. But all other experiences - emotions - relationships - are the same as anybodies. I know, I've been rich and poor and so has Yoko (rich-poor-rich). So whadya think of that.

John + Yoko

Lennon mailed the letter to Tilston in care of the ZigZag offices, but Tilston never received it. It's not clear what initially happened to it (maybe it was waylaid by a ZigZag staffer who opened the envelope and decided that a handwritten letter from John Lennon was too special not to keep), but Tilston didn't learn of its existence until around 2005, 34 years after it had been written, when a collector contacted him and asked him if he could vouch for its authenticity. Tilston was confused because he'd never known about the letter in the first place. It had apparently been bought and sold several times by that point. (Yoko Ono later confirmed that she remembered Lennon writing the letter.)

This story is now the rough basis of a new movie called Danny Collins, which features Al Pacino playing a popular singer in the latter stages of his life and career who receives a long-lost letter from John Lennon, triggering a major personal reassessment. Here's the trailer, which, frankly, looks awful:

I don't think I'll be seeing Danny Collins, but I do like that a lost letter has inspired a movie. And it's also nice that Steve Tilston is getting a bit of fame out of this after all.

Friday, March 20, 2015

Old Library Book Cards

fronts backs
For all images, click to enlarge

When I was growing up in the 1970s, my Mom volunteered at our local library, and I'd sometimes go there when she was on duty. I remember thinking how cool it looked when she (or, really, anyone) used the rubber stampers to stamp the date onto the card for each book being loaned out.

I thought of that when I recently acquired some old library book cards, including the three shown above (those are the fronts on top, and the corresponding backs beneath them). The Etsy seller from whom I purchased them said they were from the Oliver Wendell Holmes Library at Phillips Academy in Andover, Mass., so the people who checked these books out the library were probably spoiled rich kids.

It's fun to see these old cards, from the days before bar codes and electronic book-tracking systems. I love seeing how long the gaps were between the books being borrowed, the cumulative span of the books being on the shelves, the Dewey decimal numbers, the handwriting of the borrowers. I also love the title Further Adventures in Essay Reading (which begs the question of whether there was a previous volume simply titled Adventures in Essay Reading).

Here are two more:

fronts3 back3

Lots to like here, like the way Steven Anderson crossed the "t" in his first name. I also like how the date for April 11, 1973, was initially stamped upside-down and then re-stamped in the correct orientation. Did my Mom ever do that? Also, it's interesting to see that borrowers signed their names in pencil in the 1940s and ’50s, with pens becoming more common in the 1960s. I'm pretty sure this reflected the increasing nationwide use of ballpoint pens.

Where are these students today? And where are these books?

I no longer have these cards in my possession (I recently gave them to my friend Gilmore as a gift but scanned them first), but I have more of them. Perhaps I'll share them in future entry.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Student of the Week: Madeline Garbarini

For all documents, click to enlarge

Our latest Manhattan Trade School student is Madeline Garbarini, a dressmaking student from Staten Island whose primary card is shown above. I should admit from the outset that her story is not particularly remarkable, but I was drawn to her student record because of her photo, which is one of the most engaging and likable portraits to be found in my report card collection. Let's take a closer look:


Nice haircut and jacket, right? Here are her grades, which were generally solid if unspectacular:


And here is Madeline's work record. The interesting thing here is that she left the school in 1927 but was still taking job referrals from the school in 1937 — another case of the school maintaining a surprisingly long relationship with its students:


And here are the comments regarding Madeline's work experiences:


Here's a transcript of some of the more interesting commentary (as usual, I've spelled out some abbreviated terms and made other small adjustments for the sake of clarity):

Oct. 14, 1927: Working with tailor and do not like it. Rather work on dresses. JBA [job placement secretary at school] called O'Sullivan [the employer], who said she would arrange to have girl do part-time work with tailor and part-time dressmaking.

Dec. 21, 1927: We get an extra dollar if we get to work on time every day. I like this place very much.

Feb. ??, 1929: "Don't like it." AMG [school official] wrote telling girl to come in last [day] of month if still dissatisfied. Dressmaking positions scarce now.

Dec. 14, 1932: Worked two months this fall. Prior to that, I was unemployed for one year. Anxious to get a position as a finisher or [sewing machine] operator.

Feb. 15, 1937: Attending Manhattan Trade evening School, Millinery Dept.

Very interesting to see that Madeline went back to Manhattan Trade to learn millinery. This was during the Great Depression, of course, and she must have been desperate to increase her employment prospects.

That's all I have for Madeline. If you know more about what became of her, please get in touch.

• • • • •

Every now and then, someone will email me out of the blue and say, "I was doing some genealogical research and spotted a family member on your list of report card students. Could I see her student record?"

I receive only two or three of these emails per year. So it was rather amazing when I received two of them, just a few hours apart, this past Tuesday. In both cases, I've emailed the report card scans to the people who got in touch and am hoping they'll agree to do follow-up interviews with me for Permanent Record. Stay tuned.