10 May, 2010

The Duchess Listens and Learns . . .

To and Of The Beatles

This Saturday marked the fortieth anniversary of the release of "Let it Be", the Beatles' last album and one issued after they had declared their separation. "Let it Be" was a long time in the making; many of the songs were recorded at Abbey Road prior to the recording of the album by the same name, but as they were unhappy with it, its release was delayed while Phil Spector remixed the songs, and cut "Don't Let Me Down" (shame, shame!) from the final edit.

For years the Duchess has much preferred the 2003 release "Let It Be . . . Naked", which contains different cuts of the original songs (including "Don't Let Me Down") and strips away much of the Phil Spector polish. "Let It Be . . . Naked" was conceptualized by Paul McCartney and filmmaker Michael Lindsay-Hogg in preparation for the DVD release of the film "Let It Be", which documented the creation of the album and the Beatles' last public performance together, a spontaneous rooftop concert. It's a stunning film.

Coincidentally or not the Duchess just completed "Life at the Dakota" by Stephen Birmingham. The book covers the creation, completion, and life of the Dakota coop on West 72nd Street and Central Park West (originally 8th Avenue) in New York, the building in which John Lennon and Yoko Ono famously lived. Lennon, of course, was shot and killed by Mark David Chapman at the entrance to the Dakota. This is perhaps its most notorious claim to fame.

At the time construction on the Dakota was completed, in 1884, there was little to no city development on the Upper West Side; someone suggested to Edward Clark, who built and funded the German Renaissance masterpiece, that it was so far afield it might as well have been "the Dakotas" -- and the name stuck. The book is a fascinating recollection of Clark's vision to build for moneyed New Yorkers a unique alternative to the grand palaces of the Fricks and Morgans -- it was New York's first luxury apartment building. The Dakota can be credited with introducing soigne apartment living, in the European style, to New York, and launched (of course) a thousand imitators.

The Dakota also can be credited with establishing the elan of the Upper West Side; to some, the east side of the Park, with all its gentility and poise, is sterile and restrained. The Dakota and its tenants epitomize the boheme, eccentric and intellectual aspirations of a certain population of New Yorkers, one that is too small (in New York and elsewhere) and ever shrinking. Commerce and trade continually win out over art and culture. "Life at the Dakota" subtly points out this inequality of power; it inspires wistfulness for a sea change. The Duchess recommends.

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