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Woog’s World Beatles the focus of teacher’s new novel

January 4, 2019

Like many of his Westport colleagues, Paul Ferrante is much more than just a teacher. From kindergarten through Staples High, the men and women who work in our schools have rich lives outside the classroom. Each one has a great back story.

But Ferrante’s backstory has a very intriguing back story of its own.

The seventh-grade Coleytown Middle School language arts teacher is also a noted author. He writes about baseball for adults, and paranormal investigations for kids (the T.J. Jackson Mysteries series).

His seventh book is entirely different. Published this fall, it’s set in 1966 Memphis. After John Lennon made his famous “We’re more popular than Jesus” remark, the Beatles faced a backlash. Their records were burned; death threats poured in.

Ferrante’s historical fiction follows a female fan who must choose between the group and her conservative community. She’s a strong character, with important insights into free speech and the value of sticking up for beliefs.

In advance of publication, Ferrante sent letters to a few people he thought could promote the book. He included the cover of “The Beatles Must Die” — an illustration by his sister, Carol Young, showing Lennon with a target on his forehead — and offered to send a review copy.

Ken Dashow — who hosts “Breakfast with the Beatles” Sunday mornings on New York’s Q104.3 — responded that the book sounded great. However, he said, the wounds of Lennon’s murder were still too fresh. He did not want to read it.

Dennis Elsas is heard nationally on Sirius XM’s Beatles Channel 18. He wanted a copy. So did Anthony DeCurtis, a contributing editor at Rolling Stone. Ferrante was excited.

He sent a book to Julia Baird, in England. She was born six years after Lennon, to the same mother (also named Julia). They have different fathers, though. John’s was Alf Lennon, a merchant seaman who abandoned the family shortly after John’s birth. John’s mother then had three girls — including Julia — with another man.

John’s difficult childhood is well known. His mother Julia was a free spirit who loved music and dance. When Alf left, John was sent to live with his stern Aunt Mimi. He had no communication with Julia until age 12 or 13. Then he began visiting her, a few miles away in Liverpool. She taught him to play banjo and harmonica. When he was 16, as she left after visiting with John at Mimi’s house, she was struck by a car and killed.

John began drinking and skipping school. Fortunately, music saved him. He’d already struck up a friendship with Paul McCartney. They formed a band, and the rest is history.

When the Beatles hit it big, Julia became friendly with John’s wife Cynthia. The siblings grew close.

In the late 1970s though, Yoko Oko shut Lennon off from much of his family. When Julia called, Yoko would say John was not home.

In 1980, Lennon sent a message to Julia that he wanted to see her. That never happened. He was murdered, and no one from her side of the family was invited to the funeral.

Julia wrote a book — “Imagine This” — about John’s childhood. She spent more than 20 years as a special education teacher in Liverpool. Then she embarked on a second career, managing Cavern City Tours. The company took visitors to historic Beatles sites, finishing up at the famed Cavern Club venue.

That’s how Ferrante found her email. He sent her the same note he’d sent Dashow, Elsas and DeCurtis. She said she’d love a copy of the book.

Ferrante sent two to England. One was for her. The other, he hoped, she’d pass on to Paul McCartney.

Then Ferrante waited. And waited. And waited.

After a month with no response, he emailed back. She’d never received the package.

He sent it again. Five days later, Julia emailed. She loved the book. She’d read it in one sitting.

In a follow-up phone call, she praised Ferrante for his historical accuracy, and painting beautiful word pictures. There was just one problem: the title. Some people might be “a bit put off,” she said gently.

After a sleepless night, Ferrante decided to change it. He came up with “30 Minutes in Memphis.” Julia added the subtitle: “A Beatle Story.”

Ferrante’s sister redrew the cover. She removed the target. Now it just shows John Lennon, in silhouette. Julia was delighted.

“It cost me some time and aggravation,” Ferrante admits. “But it was worth it, to get that reaction from her. That means everything to me.”

The other day, he got his first shipment. He sent two books to England: one for Julia, the other for Sir Paul.

Imagine.

Dan Woog is a Westport writer, and his “Woog’s World” appears each Friday. He can be reached at dwoog@optonline.net. His personal blog is danwoog06880.com.

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