Tuesday, May 29, 2012

"Sixteen Candles Shine Forever In Memory Of Johnny Maestro" ... A New Book By Irene Brodsky

The day of reckoning has finally come ...

Today Forgotten Hits reviews the Irene Brodsky book "Sixteen Candles Shine Forever In Memory of Johnny Maestro".


To recap, here are some of the original reviews we received for Irene Brodsky's book on Johnny Maestro ... you'll find them less than flattering and kind.     

I noticed that you are giving away a copy of the book by Irene Brodsky about Johnny. Have you read it?
I immediately bought this book as I had never seen the picture of Johnny that was on the cover of the book.
Unfortunately, that was it. This is the worst excuse for a book that I have ever, ever seen. Not just bad but pathetic. I am dumbfounded as to how a college professor could think that this garbage constitutes a book. Other than the cover picture, there is absolutely nothing positive about this. It took me seven, that's right, seven minutes to read it and it was a wasted seven minutes.
What a bad joke.

Nice tribute to a great performer but I was looking for a biography about his entire life from birth to the end. I read the entire book in about 15 minutes.

I would advise people not to buy Irene Brodsky's book, unless you're a die hard Johnny Maestro fan.
The book is 49 pages long. Most of it - better than half - are pictures, illustrations and thank-yous.  It does contain statements from Johnny's wife and niece. It will take you about 15 minutes to read this book. I would sum it up as a short biography and a short revue of his music career.
Frank B.
After we ran these reviews in Forgotten Hits, we received this response from Irene Brodsky:   
>>>I must say there was a lot more to write about Johnny, but it was gossip, rumors, his illness, lack of proper treatment, etc.  When I received Mrs. Maestro's blessing to write this book, I took that blessing very seriously and put together what I felt was acceptable to all ages, to libraries and to book stores and out of the greatest respect to Mrs. Maestro, who has been more than kind to me.  The info in my book is everything that I was able to obtain that did not contain gossip, innuendo or rumors.  Mr. Maestro was a private person ... and very humble ... and did not share details of his personal life.  I tried to get his children to share their memories of their father, but that did not happen.  I tried to get his background group to meet me for an interview of their memories of being on the road with Johnny and that did not happen.  I also had to spend many months searching for people who owned rights to the 11 original photos in this book ... some were as far away as Australia.  I tried to meet members of the Crests and was told they were no longer alive, etc.  This was a 13 month labor of love.  My next book is about Jonathan Frid (also known as Barnabas Collins of Dark Shadows) and there will be no gossip, no rumors, or how he died ... it will be about how he rose to fame from his college days as an actor of  Shakespeare Plays.  It should be even harder to deal with because he never gave interviews and never talked about his former life before Dark Shadows ... and he had no wife for me to "butter up" ... but I will give it my best try with the help of his fan club of 70,000 people from all over the world and one nephew from Canada.
(Irene Brodsky) 

And then this from FH Reader Frank B, a HUGE Johnny Maestro fan ...  

Kent ...
Where did Irene Brodsky get the idea that we wanted her to write about gossip, rumors, his illness, lack of proper treatment, etc., as it pertains to Johnny Maestro?
She said that his children wouldn't talk to her. She didn't talk to members of the Crests or the Brooklyn Bridge. I can't believe that Les Cauchi and other Brooklyn Bridge members wouldn't talk to her. Maybe she should've canceled the project.
If I was writing the book, I would've talked to DJ's Don K. Reed, Bobby Jay, Cousin Brucie and Norm N. Nite. I would've also contacted fellow performers ... Jay Black and Kenny Vance, for example.
How about songwriters like Jimmy Webb?  Record Label Executives from Joyce and CO-ED. I don't think she tried hard enough to get more information.
And now she's already making excuses about her next book about Jonathan Frid "(also known as Barnabas Collins of Dark Shadows ).  He should be even harder to deal with because he never gave interviews. He didn't have a wife."
Frank B.
I'm going to leave Irene alone ... on the PLUS side, it sounds like some of this "negative publicity" has actually helped her to sell more books ... and, now that MY copy of the book is finally on its way, I'll be able to see first hand what all the fuss is about.  (And I'll try to be as objective as I possibly can when reading it ... I'm right in the middle of Mark Bego's INCREDIBLE book on Aretha Franklin ... HIGHLY recommended to all of our readers out there ... scroll back to May for a brief Q & A with Mark on our website.)  Mark sets the benchmark pretty high ... and Irene ... and anybody ELSE for that matter documenting Rock And Roll History ... need to know what the die-hard fans expect.  You're right ... we DON'T want rumors and innuendo ...  but we DO want facts, interesting tidbits and more than 49 pages on our musical heroes ... especially if you're going to call it a "booK"!  (kk)  

Kent ...
Irene Brodsky just left me a message ... she wants to be my friend.    What should I do?
Maybe we are helping her sell books. LoL!!
Frank B.
That's your call.  Just don't marry her, Frank ... or you won't be allowed to testify against her in a court of law!  (kk)  

Talk about putting you in a tight spot ... so now Irene sends you a copy of the book and you'll be forced to perform your diplomatic review and comment after all that's been said about it. This entire episode illustrates the challenges of the new world of online bookselling; the buyer doesn't have the opportunity to flip through the book before purchasing. With Irene's book, much of the negativity could have been avoided if there was advance info that this was more a biographical sketch than a deeply researched work (such as Tim Riley's 800-page "Lennon", which I'll be finishing soon).
David Lewis
And let's face it ... not everybody out there is up to the challenge of reading an 800-Page tome to John Lennon either ... there must be a happy medium somewhere in between.  I don't feel that I've done our readers justice if I don't speak honestly and openly when doing a review ... and I can tell you that there have been a number of occasions over the years where I've chosen to say nothing at all about a particular piece of work, resorting instead to the old adage that "If you can't say anything nice, then don't say anything at all" ... and sometimes at the expense of some near and dear musical colleagues.  I am NOT going to publicly bash a work of art just for the sake of bashing it ... but this book has already caused SO much controversy and discussion, that I feel obligated to voice my opinion, too ... but ONLY after I've read it from cover to cover ... so check back with me in about fifteen minutes!  (kk)   

Enough already.  You've played this to the hilt ... and now you owe your readers an honest review of the book.  We need to know what you REALLY thought of Irene's book on Johnny Maestro ... and we expect you not to pull any punches.  What say you?
AWKWARD!!!  But you're right ... it really is time to address this issue head-on, once and for all.
And let me tell you, this is a tough spot indeed ... as I've exchanged numerous emails with Irene regarding her book over the past several months ... and I have every reason to believe that she was completely sincere in her reasons for writing it ... and in NO way intended to "rip off" any unsuspecting readers who didn't know what they were getting themselves into when they bought the book. 
It makes writing this review even more difficult because it's impossible not to factor in the information that I now know and judge the book solely on its own merits objectively.
Suffice to say that in these scant 49 pages we learn precious little about Johnny Maestro.  I still have difficulty qualifying 49 pages (the bulk of which are blank or photo pages) as a "book" ... honestly, in my opinion, the sum of all of the information collected between these two covers barely qualifies as a long article ... and it doesn't stay "on topic" much of the time.  (Forgetting the fact that Irene says you can purchase the book cheaper than the $11.95 price published on the back cover, it's hard to feel that you've received a "good value" for you money had you purchased a copy.)
Written by a Professor and Brooklyn College faculty member, I cannot help but wonder how Irene would have graded this work had it been turned in by one of her students.  If the assignment were to provide a brief but detailed biography of singer Johnny Maestro, I believe that (were she being totally objective) she, too, would have found this work to be terribly off target.  (Even worse, the spelling errors and punctuation mistakes are ATROCIOUS ... and hardly what one would expect to pass the watchful eye of a college professor.  Some of it is downright embarrassing!)
As I said, we learn precious little about Johnny Maestro ... in fact, I believe that if you actually condensed the material contained as it pertains to Maestro's career only ... forgetting photographs, a poem about Johnny Maestro, a career discography (which is nothing more than a photocopy of a previously published work ... and not all that good of one at that, in that part of the lettering has been cut off!) and personal praise about how much Johnny's music meant to the writer ... you'd be hard-pressed to fill three or four pages of actual Johnny Maestro biographical information.
Instead we learn where Irene used to work (at The Federal Building on lower Broadway near China Town) and how the New York City Subway System changed and labeled its routes.  We're provided with a list of songwriters who held offices at the 1650 Broadway Building (none of whom seem to have any direct connection to Johnny Maestro or The Crest, who simply recorded AT that building) and how her brother bought some of these Crests recordings from Sam Goody Music and played them endlessly for his younger sister, Irene Betty Kerschman.
Honestly, we get more of Irene's biography here than we do Johnny's ... which is fine if this was simply a memoir of "What Johnny Maestro's Music Meant To Me" ... and perhaps that would make for a fitting article in a music fan magazine ... but again, there's just not enough substance here to sustain itself as a "book".
We also get the lyrics to a couple of songs that Johnny recorded (credited to Johnny Maestro and The Brooklyn Bridge, for example, on "You'll Never Walk Alone" ... when, in fact, this work should have been credited to the SONGWRITERS, Rodgers and Hammerstein, who included it in their musical "Carousel" in the 1940's ... all Johnny did was sing it ... the credit as shown is misdirected, something else I would think a college professor would know better than to do.)
As mentioned by several readers thus far, I, too, am concerned that SO many people directly connected to Johnny Maestro turned Irene down when they were approached about making comments or sharing stories for the book.  (As Frank B. suggests above, I may have been inclined to throw in the towel right there ... yet so many OTHER potential sources of information were never pursued.)  As such, I don't hold much in the way of high hopes for Irene's next work, a biography of Jonathan Frid, in that she's already explaining away what the book WON'T contain, rather than touting what it DOES.
I remember my daughter being totally enamored by John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John after she saw them together in "Grease" ... and in the fifth grade, I believe, she wrote a biography piece on each of them for a school assignment.  I can honestly say (with perhaps the SLIGHTEST sense of bias) that the research and detail that went into those two pieces far exceeds what I see here in Irene Brodsky's piece.  Don't get me wrong ... I believe both parties equally shared their passion for their subject matter ... the difference is my daughter as a fifth grader wasn't going to have the opportunity to interview anyone close to these two celebrities ... so she had to do the bulk of her research from previously published works ... but in doing so, she completely captured the story of their lives in the process.  We got the whole story ... a time-capsule picture of their careers up to that point in time.  Sure, the "fan" showed through ... how could it not?  She wasn't a seasoned writer and was truly smitten with her subject matter.  It's what you would expect to read from a talented fifth grader.  But it is NOT what we expect to read from a four-time published author / professor.  When Irene writes "From 1939 - 1942, it was a most difficult time.  Young men were drafted daily to fight for their county (her typo, not mine), many of them returned home disabled or died in action. (her punctuation, not mine) For most of the veterans who thought their jobs were waiting for them when they returned home, many of those  businesses were gone or their jobs were given to someone else.  But sometimes miracles happen!  YES, THEY DO!" (her capitalization, not mine)
Irene goes on to write "One of those miracles was a young boy named Johnny Mastrangelo.  Just barely 5 years old, Johnny was discovering beautiful music on the radio that would inspire him to become a great entertainer from 1956 - 2010."
I'm not quite sure what one paragraph has to do with the other ... or what the "miracle" was (in relationship to the heartbreak and disappointment of the war), but much of the book is written the same way ... offering more personal opinion and observation than fact.  Again, great for a "What Johnny Maestro Means To Me" article ... but not a book or a biography of the singer.
The book also includes a few brief fan testimonials written by others (reducing the actual page count of Irene Brodsky-written pages to 18 ... and many of those are just lists of names and/or accomplishments), including one written by Michael Boguski, (with absolutely no explanation as to who Michael is or what his role may be in relationship to any of this).  It serves again as nothing more than a "fan letter" ... honestly, a couple of the letters we received from our readers about "Favorite Johnny Maestro Moments" or "The Impact of Johnny's Music", all of which ended up qualifying for a free copy of the book, held more substance and were more heartfelt.  Michael DOES bring up one good point, however, when he writes "Johnny Maestro has done so much for the history of rock and roll ... so why isn't he in The Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame?"  While I'm sure that the intentions of all of these letters were sincere, they add nothing to The Johnny Maestro Story, other than extensions of the "What Johnny Maestro Means To Me" theme that seems to be so prevalent throughout the book. 
Irene lists a multitude of awards Johnny has received over the years ... and even talks briefly about the recent street-naming ceremony held in New York City.  She mentions Johnny's time with The Crests, The Del-Satins and The Brooklyn Bridge ... but doesn't do much more than provide a list of songs recorded with each group.  There's no history here ... we gain no sense of what it took to make it back in the '50's ... and then make it again and again, reaching new peaks in the late '60's with The Brooklyn Bridge ... and then sustain an audience of an incredibly loyal fan base decades later.  ALL of this information would have made for a far more interesting read.
I'm sorry, Irene ... but as a self-professed educator at The Rock And Roll College Of Musical Knowledge, I feel forced to give this effort a failing grade.  Johnny's long-time, die-hard fans expected ... and deserved ... more.  (kk) 

Irene Brodsky was kind enough to give away an autographed copy of her book to the Forgotten Hits Reader who came up with the best "Favorite Johnny Maestro Memory".  The winner of our little FH contest was Nate Mehdi of West Palm Beach, Florida ... and here is what Nate had to say of HIS Johnny Maestro experience:    

Some years ago I attended an outdoor Brooklyn Bridge Concert, sponsored by a local politician, at Mt. Lorretto Playground in The Bronx.  It was scheduled to begin at 7:30 pm but they started at 7 PM because of threatening weather.  At about 7:15  there was a lightning and thunder storms and they had to stop.The politician arrived at about 7:30 and saw that the act had changed into their street clothes and asked what had happened. Johnny explained that it was too dangerous to perform with electronic equipment under the existing conditions.  The politician threatened to stop payment on the check and asked Johnny to sing a few songs for the people.  John, Les, Freddie, Marty and Jimmy Rosica ... all in street clothes ... commenced to do an a cappella set that lasted about an hour.  It was one of the greatest concerts I ever attended!  It was reminiscent of back in 1956-7 when Johnny & the Crests, including Patrica VanDross, used to sing a cappella at the Henry St. Settlement House in lower Manhattan.  This was before they had recorded anything and John was still a student at Textil High School (now Charles Evans Hughes H.S.)  Everyone who heard them knew that John was destined for greatness. 
I guess I had a proclivity for attending Brooklyn Bridge concerts in inclement weather.  One summer night I went out to John Burns Park in Massapequa, NY, but the concert was moved to a local school because of bad weather.  Due to limited seating, they were only allowing local residents into the venue.  I did not qualify and had to sneak in through a back door to see another memorable concert.
I was fortunate to attend  John's last public performance at Mohegan Sun Casino in Connecticut in January, 2010. Even though he was very sick at the time, he gave his usual excellent performance.
My favorite memory in watching and listening to Johnny for over a half a century is that he was a consummate professional who always gave a 100%.  In all those many years his voice never wavered and he never gave a bad performance.  Thanks for the memories John ... RIP.
Nate Mehdi
For some of our original coverage of Johnny's passing in 2010 (and the fan reaction to this sad, sad news) check out this link below: