Published July 2018
Unless you’re an ardent Beatles fan or rock history buff, the name, Ken Mansfield, may not ring a bell with you. However, he is no stranger to Boomerocity.
All of that was the reason for our first chat with Ken. However, there was a whole new reason to catch up with our friend. Mansfield has just released his first-ever work of fiction entitled, Philco.
Philco is what one would get if they wrote about longing to go back to Mayberry in a Twilight Zone sort of way. I have to admit that I didn’t think that I wouldn’t enjoy the book when I received my advance copy to review.
Boy, was I wrong.
I couldn’t put the book down. Ken masterfully articulated (through fiction) what it is we have lost in America and tugged on Baby Boomer’s heart strings in uncovering the longing in our hearts to go back to those innocent days.
So, it was about Philco that Ken and I reconnected. After catching up a bit, I asked him what prompted the book and to go this route and what he hoped to accomplish with it.
“Well, first of all, it’s my first fiction book. I’ve been writing this book for eighteen years. I started it after my first book, ‘The Beatles, The Bible, and Bodega Bay’ and for some reason another book would always take its place. ‘I gotta write this book next.’ It kept getting shoved back.
“I felt like God had told me, ‘There’s a time for this book and I’ll let you know when.’ So, as I would write this book, I would have fellow writers who I would pass ideas on to. It’s gone through about twelve titles – just remolding the concept. Then, just last year – I mean, God didn’t say, ‘Hey, I need to talk to you about your book. I think we should go with it, now.’ I just felt that it was time and some things fell together with my agent and this publisher. So, here it is, eighteen years later.”
Mansfield then goes into what the book is about.
“What this book is about, it’s about, in a way, my yearning for what life was like when I grew up in the forties and fifties. It was really an idyllic time. Now, I know some of the ‘PCers’ will go, ‘Well, what about all these issues – the racial issues and all that?’ I know there were problems. We weren’t a perfect society back then, either. But, there was a time when we would respect each other. Our parents – we all had parents, mostly, then. We were brought up with certain moral values. An honest day’s work for an honest dollar. If you saw somebody alongside of the road, you stopped and said, ‘Can I help with that tire, ma’am?’
“Today, I wouldn’t no more pull over to help somebody because I’m afraid that I’ll be beat up and robbed or something because of all these scams and things. It was a time of innocence; a time of helping your neighbor out and a time when things weren’t so complicated.
“I was just thinking the other day about when I was in grade school, how we minded and how we raised our hand and how we did all these things that we supposed to do. Life was just so simple. There were no drugs in school. There was no – just all these things that are so horrible for society.
“So, I started writing stories about real things that happened in my life. What I did was I made – that’s the true fact. Then, what I would do was embellish it with fiction. I would expand on the characters. I would take, maybe, one character and mold him out of three characters. Kind of make one person out of three people, if that’s what the story required.
“The first real story in the book is about an Indian lad that went to our grade school. At recess, he always run away and then come back at the end of recess – running around the fields and stuff. He would never talk to anybody. You could not get him to talk. He was bussed in from the reservation on the school bus. So, I kind of made it a project to corner this guy and find out why he would never talk.
“Finally, one day, I caught him at the drinking fountain. He got tired of me pressing him. So, he told me the reason was, in the tribe, his chiefs told them that we only have so many words when we’re born and when we use up our words, that’s when we die. Except, when we wanted to talk to God, we could go out and find God in the wind and find the words of the people who died before they used all their words and get their words.
“So, I created a whole story around that. It’s that kind of thing where I’d take an initial fact and then just embellish on it. Each story in here, Randy, is a story that has social content. God’s in every story. I don’t hit you over the head that you’ve got to be saved by the blood of the Lamb. It’s people that lived godly lives and made a godly example of their lives. It just shows stories of just how beautiful people can be.
“There was a black man in there. There was a homeless person in another story. There was successful musician in another story. All these different aspects and phases of our life – if you’ll look at each one, you’ll find Christ in each person through each story.”
I told Mansfield that two things that hit me about the book was, maybe restating it a bit, longing for Mayberry, again. Then, how Ken told the story, one feels that they’re reading old Twilight Zone scripts. Baby Boomers will love reading this book.
“In fact, what I did, was I pulled some things out because as I was writing these stories, I had such visuals of them. I was actually doing camera angles. I would describe how the camera would come in on something because it was so visual to me. But I did pull that out. But I’m glad that you got it, anyway, without having those in there.”
Is there anything in the book that is the gem that Ken hopes readers will take away from Philco that may not be readily obvious?
“This may not be what you’re looking for, but, one of the main points is I was trying to talk about when we were okay with each other. Like, in college, I started out in the music business in a pretty successful group called the Town Criers in California. We had an Italian guy in there. We had a Jewish guy in our group. A guy from Denmark. These were all guys who came into the college and met together. And a guy that had graduated years ago – older than us – the old guy.
“We spent all our time on the road. All our time enjoying each other by making comments about the Jewish guy, then the Italian guy – just ragging on each other. We loved our differences and teasing each other about our differences; enjoying our differences.
“Now, if I said, ‘The Wop in our group,’ these days, my gosh! It would be horrible! But that just set him up to comment on me. We enjoyed each other.
“The black guy in there (the book): I wanted to show how beautiful this man was before - there was no prejudice there. There was just no prejudice in that thing. I never thought about. We made fun of him and he made fun of us. He made fun of us because we were white, and we made fun of him because he was black.
“That’s kind of my favorite story in the whole book. There was an innocence. There was a time we could enjoy each other. There was a time when we – just yesterday, the Supreme Court passing a thing for the baker (not baking for gay weddings). Why don’t we accept that ruling? It’s been taken all the way to the Supreme Court. The Liberals will not accept anything. But back then, when a law was passed or something that went to court, we accepted our country’s decisions on things – our authorities.
“I think the main thing is just that we were able to enjoy the differences in each other and because we were bound together by a morality that we shared as a nation. Can you imagine, back then, not standing up for the flag or burning a flag or any of these things? We were Americans. We were bound together by a country founded on the principles of Christ and Christianity and God. We just abided by our laws. That kept us together.”
When I asked Mansfield if he felt that there was a single, seminal event that took us away from Mayberry, he replied:
“My mind is rattling through several events. I think there was more than one event. There was a series of events as we chipped away at things that we would have never done before. We keep crossing the lines. This thing is no longer sacred, any more. Now, this thing is no longer sacred, any more.
“Women cussing, for instance. Or, cussing on T.V. All of the things that we would have never done before, one by one are chipped away. All of a sudden, one day I felt as if there was nothing left.
“I don’t know if we can say it was the sixties; the whole free-love and drug scene may have been the thing that kind of weakened society to a certain degree. It’s kind of hard for me to say because I was having such a good time with all of that. Ha! Ha!”
I mentioned that some may pin things on Elvis or other cultural icons were the lynch-pin to losing Mayberry, Ken said:
“What you’re saying, though, made me realize that when we were growing up, maybe our family religion did not believe in us going to movies, so I couldn’t go to movies. I wasn’t allowed. I grew up under these different disciplines. When I was eighteen or whatever, when it was time to leave home, then I was able to make my own mind up with what I wanted to do. But I had this teaching – I had this discipline – I had this respect – all these things built in me. So, then, I decided if I would go to movies or not. I had something to base my decision upon.
“It wasn’t, like, for our whole life you weren’t allowed to go to movies. The growing years have been taken away from today’s youth – mainly because a lot of them don’t have fathers. We don’t have those years where we lived under a discipline or a morality.”
When I stated that Mel Brooks and others wouldn’t be able to make their movies today, Ken added:
“You look at some of those (Rowan and Martin) Laugh-In things, they wouldn’t even come close today. Some of the racial things they did. They were making fun of each other. It was funny.”
Out of the blue, I asked Ken if we can go back to Mayberry.
“No. I’ve written a song. Phil Keaggy and I were talking. They have theme songs for movies, why can’t we have a theme song for a book? We wrote a theme song for Philco. I’m going to post it on Facebook (Note: It’s now on Ken’s Facebook page). The point of it is I can’t go back there any more from here. Not from where we are. We could just never get back there like it was.”
In Philco, there’s a great scene involving a couple, Lou and C.J. and a homeless man. I wondered if the story was an “angels unawares” type of analogy.
“Yeah, you’re right. You could actually say that. When Rick Warren was writing A Purpose Driven Life, I was working on this book then. He used it in his Easter service one year for thirty-something thousand people. He sent me a cassette. People gasped. He said, ‘There was a gasp when I got to the punchline of the story.’ But, yeah, you’re right. It could be that kind of a thing.”
We can’t go back to Mayberry. We can’t put the bite of the apple back on it. What do we do?
“I think we try to recapture much of that as we can. Literature and the movies and everything is so dark these days. My wife and I like to go to movies but there’s never anything to watch. Everything’s so dark. Sometimes, we get up and leave just because of the foul language. I’m no prima donna, man. My gosh, I came out of the music business and was with Waylon (Jennings) for five years and rock and roll and stuff. But, after a while, it’s just offensive. And dirty. We’ll be watching a beautiful movie and you’ve got all this foul language and stuff in it.
“I think we can go back – some of us can go back, in a way. But we’ll not all go back. Society will never get back there, again.”
When I asked if the taste-makers and influencers would even allow us to go back without being driven into the ground with ridicule and shouldn’t we just have to make a conscious effort to turn from that junk, Ken replied:
“What’s interesting to me is: I’m a Conservative. Liberals are accusing the Conservatives of the things they’re doing even though the Conservatives aren’t necessarily doing it. They just turned the whole thing around. But, Randy, what I also think is starting to happen is you’re seeing God step in on some of these things. They’re not getting away with all this stuff, as much.
“Trump is an example of that. Hillary did all this stuff and she lost in the end even though she’d done enough to win. God just turned things around, I think on that. I don’t know what your politics are, but I just saw God not honoring her corruption.”
I queried if Mansfield felt that “the church” has been complicit in this change in societal mores.
“You can’t say every church or Christian band. But some do sell out and I watch them just adjust so that they can appeal to more people. But, what they do is they give up Christian principles to do it. Connie (Ken’s wife) was the associate director of the Dove Awards and worked at all the Dove Awards as a stage manager or whatever. She said that backstage at the Dove Awards, sometimes, that bands were worse than the rock band or country bands she worked with on TV shows. They have the same ol’ jealousies or selfishness or those kinds of things.
“I actually had a gay engineer in Nashville. I won’t name any names but had him working with a Gospel group I was working with. He started bringing his Bible to the sessions. He would lay it on the board before we would start. It just laid next to him on the board. They started getting into some crap up there.
“One day, he just took his Bible and threw it away. By their witness – here they are, the people speaking were what drew him to be a Christian and by their lives and their actions, they pushed him away. He didn’t want to be like that.
“I just see churches appealing to the masses and giving in. They don’t want to do anything offensive. They don’t want to say the word ‘Jesus’. In fact, when I was in Hollywood, a bunch of us used to get stoned and go to the Vineyard Church because they had all these great musicians in Hollywood there. Guys from the Eagles and guys like that and we’d go for the music when we’d get stoned and we really felt good when we left there, afterwards. And the reason we liked that particular church was because they didn’t use the word, ‘Jesus’. They said the word, ‘God’. They knew if they talked about Jesus, they would drive people away. They kept it generalized as “God’. And I think that the church, in essence, do a little bit of that today. They don’t try to say anything that would offend anybody.
“By the way, I did have a point in this book – I wanted people to be able to read something that made just them feel good – didn’t deal in all this horror that we’re dealing with these days. So, it’s a light-hearted book that has a Christian message underlying it – just a nice book to read in that respect. I wanted them to feel good. Each story has its own little moral.”
I wondered if there were any of the vignettes that Ken wrote that he felt he didn’t make the point clear enough. He straight-faced said:
“Yeah, the whole book is like that! I tried to do something like in ‘The Great Gatsby’ – the light across the water. I wanted to leave room for people to make their own conclusions – their own picture of some things. So, I tried to make it a little bit abstract. I wanted it to be the kind of book if you were in your class in school – your literary class and you would discuss, ‘Well, what did that mean? What did you think that meant?’ I really wanted it to be that kind of book – think about and discuss and kind of understand some of the symbolism.”
What has been the buzz been on the book, so far?
“The feedback that I’ve gotten, so far, has been exactly what I’ve been looking for. People really loved the beauty that was in there. One guy said that he cried. He said, ‘In three stories, I actually cried!’ I wanted it to touch people like that – to give them the feeling of lightness – seeing what life can be like. That there is this age-old thing – there is this goodness in each and every one of us. I just want people to know that – there’s goodness in people.”
Is a sequel to Philco that we can look for.
“I have, and I haven’t thought about that. Do you know who Andy Andrews is? He has this character called ‘Jones’ in his bestselling books. Jones is this ethereal character that comes in and out of people’s lives. I told him that Philco and Jones should become friends and we should write a book where they meet. Ha! Ha! Because his Jones is always giving wisdom to people and working in a godly way in their lives. He kinda drifts in and drifts out of these people’s lives.
“But, I don’t know. I’ve thought about it. Yeah. I have another book that I was going to write called, ‘Under The Hood.” It’s an analogy of how you don’t know how a car runs until you raise up the hood and look inside. People are the same thing. You don’t really know what they’re like until you get inside and take a look at them.
“So, I was thinking about having Philco stumbling onto a gas station and going from there. I don’t know. I’ll think about it. I’m so worn out. I’ve got two books coming out this year. The next one comes out in November and it’s called, ‘The Roof: The Beatles Final Concert”. I’m the only person that was really there that is really writing about it from experience. Everybody else is doing research and stuff like that. So far, I’m the only author that’s still alive (that was there).
“My thing is that I like to see the best in people, so I really write about the good things about people and the nice things about them; the guys, themselves, and the feeling in the building that day and when we’re up on the roof and this (the rooftop concert) happened; what happened afterwards; what the building was like; what the neighborhood was like. The real personal story.”
While we anxiously await that book, by all means order Philco. It’s a wonderful read and one that you’ll want to read several times in order to catch little things that you missed in previous reads.
You can also keep up with the latest happenings with Ken Mansfield via his website, KMansfield.com.