Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Jump The Shark

David Bowie – Retrospective and Coloring Book – Mel Elliott (Watson-Guptill Publications)

The season five premiere of Happy Days featured a scene that would become a cultural icon as the always hip Fonzi, decked out in swim trunks and his trademark leather jacket water skis and in an effort to prove his manhood jumps over a confined shark. Forever enshrined in the lexicon, “jump the shark” became synonymous with something coming to a fateful end or signifying a downhill slide that something will not recover from.

So why tell that story here you ask? Well it appears to me that David Bowie – Retrospective and Coloring Book by Mel Elliott may be the jump the shark moment for the whole adult coloring book phenomenon. Described as a retrospective of Bowie’s career…and a coloring book; this fails to deliver on either front. The fact that a drawing of a pair of platform shoes is included to mark a significant point in Bowie’s career arc should be all you need to know about this one.

While Bowie was easily one of rock music’s most significant innovators and most colorful showman, this should not be considered a significant milepost in remembering his greatness.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

A Guitar Hero’s, Guitar Hero

Michael Bloomfield: the Rise and Fall of an American Guitar Hero – Ed Ward (Chicago Review Press)

If you’ve paid even passing attention to bluesy rock then you’ve likely heard the late guitarist Michael Bloomfield’s masterful licks; if not directly than via the legion of legendary players that he spawned, influenced or inspired.

Originally published in 1982, Michael Bloomfield: the Rise and Fall of an American Guitar Hero, by Ed Ward has been remixed and remastered for a completely updated publication featuring a foreword by ZZ Top guitar slinger Billy Gibbons. Ward, the longtime contributor and rock ‘n’ roll historian for NPR’s Fresh Air program and numerous print publications writes lovingly of Bloomfield’s guitar virtuosity without slipping too far into fanboy status.

Bloomfield’s is a cautionary tale that is so familiar to so many in the rock realm because it’s been repeated so many times. A young guy flashes on the scene and scores early success only to fall prey to the temptation of chemical abuse and his shining star flashes out too soon; Bloomfield succumbed to a drug overdose at the age of 38, almost ancient by rock standards, but still too young.

Ward details Bloomfield’s career in a way that he makes the case for his stature and legacy among the most influential guitarists of not only his era, but of all time. His flight path through the Paul Butterfield Blues Band, playing with Bob Dylan, founding Electric Flag and recording the seminal Super Session album are among his many transcendent credits the Ward uses to make a case that is pretty hard to argue against.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Science! and Other Stories

The Speed of Sound: Breaking the Barriers Between Music and Technology: A Memoir – Thomas Dolby (Flatiron Books)

Imagine a long narrow nightclub that on a good night might comfortably hold 450 people. Now imagine the fire marshal is looking the other way and pack an additional 400 people like sardines into that same night club and that is my “personal” interaction with Thomas Dolby, hit maker. Granted I was lucky enough to be one somebody’s list and was able to lock down a spot while Dolby was doing sound check before the doors opened, so the experience was better than most folks.

It is from that perspective that I approached Dolby’s very self-confessional autobiography, The Speed of Sound: Breaking the Barriers Between Music and Technology: A Memoir. Dolby’s story really is pretty amazing as he careens from place to place, essentially building a career literally piece by piece or in his case chip by chip. His is a very personal rendering of his story, which may sound absurd, because it is his story; but Dolby doesn’t hold back or gloss over the nicks and scrapes he has encountered along the way.

Having spent time in and around the music industry early in my career, I always chuckle when people assume that because you had hits, record sales, and successful tours that you were automatically a millionaire and worry free. It doesn’t take Dolby long to dispel that myth and to see how his interactions with “the Business” sowed the seeds of his discontent and eventual departure from the music industry.

The Speed of Sound, is a great evolutionary story, as Dolby, like a cat, has had nine lives transitioning from fledgling musician, to hitmaker/video star, to scoring movies and becoming a tech guru. Dolby marches through the highs and the lows; the celebrations and the retreats with an evenhandedness that is rare among celebrities who always like to put their best face/foot forward.

Monday, October 17, 2016

Inside the Tortured Mind of True Genius

I Am Brian Wilson: A Memoir – Brian Wilson – (DaCapo Press)

Whether it is the world of sports or the creative world the term genius has been tossed around so liberally, that it has had its value so reduced that it has become almost meaningless and at times it can become backhanded slap. One place where the term is neither misplaced nor misused is when it is utilized to describe legendary Beach Boys tunesmith Brian Wilson.

Wilson is the musical equivalent of a Beautiful Mind; a savant who walks the knife edge between genius and insanity. As I read his autobiography, I Am Brain Wilson, I wondered if this man who has become a poster child for mental illness, may have been misdiagnosed and actually has a high functioning form of autism, like Aspergers’s Syndrome, that gives him a sparring, tenuous grip on a reality but, allows him to create sounds and songs that have become timeless classics.

The book alternates between being a sad portrait of a troubled man, who is clearly the victim of emotional trauma and abuse, and hopeful tale of a survivor who escaped to lead a life doing what he loves. While over the course of time I have literally strung together millions of words in a coherent fashion, I will admit that I don’t know how the creative process works for musicians like Wilson, who seem to have an amazing and innate facility to craft notes and words into song. Wilson details the many interactions he has had over the course of his career that have led to varying degrees of success.

I Am Brain Wilson, is a must read for anyone who is a fan of the Beach Boys, Wilson’s solo work or anyone who appreciates the impact that he has had on popular music as a whole. While the later, touring groupings dubbed the Beach Boys have become a musical punch line or footnote, this offers great insight into what remains one of the few truly unique and impactful music groups of our time and Wilson was the undeclared leader of the band.

Sunday, October 16, 2016

The Complete Beatles

Tune In: The Beatles: All These Years – Mark Lewisohn – (Three Rivers Press)

A little housekeeping up front; I have never been a huge Beatles fan and wasn’t a huge collector of their music. After reading what I considered to be one of the most interesting Beatles books, Mark Lewisohn’s The Beatles the Recordings, which was a truly fascinating look into the studio process and recording sessions of the band, I did collect a number of the bootleg recordings that had made the rounds for years because it was interesting to tie them back to the various takes that Lewisohn described in the book.

Now many years later, and literally hundreds of Beatles books later, Lewisohn has set out the first installment of what is supposed to be a trilogy of Beatles books chronicling the band’s history. Tune In:The Beatles: All These Years, is exactly what you would expect from Lewisohn; comprehensive, intimate, and utterly intriguing. He does a remarkable job of tracking down the band’s history and offers a real insider’s perspective.

While in many instances Beatles related books come off has shoddy and penned by shady characters, Lewisohn brings an almost historian-like approach to his writings about the band. There is no fan-boy awe in this at all; instead Lewisohn delivers the in depth, thoroughly researched goods that a true Beatles fan is seeking.

Like I said, there are hundreds of books on the Beatles, both as a group and its individual parts, not to mention those in the band’s orbit, but if you want to get a true full perspective on the band, Lewisohn has delivered a great first piece that will have you looking forward to the next two installments.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

The Perfect Escape

Escape Clause (A Virgil Flowers Novel) – John Sandford (G P Putnam)

I became a John Sandford fan through the Prey series, featuring the character Lucas Davenport. Sandford is a master craftsman at weaving intricate stories chock full of twists and turns. As the Davenport stories progressed well into double digits I have to admit that I started to grow weary with the series. It took a while, but I find myself slowly warming to Sanford’s other mainstay character, Virgil Flowers.

With the latest entry in the Flowers series, Escape Clause, it struck why have evolved to liking this series so much; Flowers is a character who is the equivalent of a comfortable, well-worn, shoe. He is a laid back, easy going kind of guy who takes care of business. The light turned on for when I realized the similarity between Flowers and James Lee Burke’s, Dave Robicheaux.

In Escape Clause Flowers answers the call and is on case of trying to track down the folks who broke into the zoo and made off with a pair of rare tigers. Sandford lace’s the plot with a never ending parade of oddball characters ranging from animal rights activists and natural medicine practitioners to thugs imported from Armenia through California. I could see this one easily transplanted from the wilds of Minnesota to the below sea-level wilds of New Orleans.

Sandford always manages to keep things interesting by dabbling in the quirky and lacing just the right amounts of humor and plot twists. This one is Sandford and Flowers at their entertaining best. 

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Rigging the System

Guilty as Sin: Uncovering new Evidence of Corruption and How Hilary Clinton and the Democrats Derailed the FBI Investigation – Edward Klein – (Regnery)

“If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it,” - Joseph Goebbels – Reich Minister of Propaganda, Nazi Germany.

Hitler’s propagandist believed that statement and Hilary Clinton and her band of minions practice it on a daily basis. Longtime New York Times columnist William Safire got it right when he described Hilary Clinton as a “congenital liar.” This is a woman who chooses to lie even when she has the opportunity to tell the truth and more often than not she does it with absolute conviction.

It is that skillful ability to lie, aided and abetted by a legion of minions and enablers and a sycophantic media that is the centerpiece of bestselling author Edward Klein’s latest exploration of the corrupt world of Hilary Clinton, Guilty as Sin: Uncovering new Evidence of Corruption and How Hilary Clinton and the Democrats Derailed the FBI Investigation.

Klein, a deft journalist has always managed to pull on enough story threads to craft a compelling, detailed case loaded with an insider’s perspective of all of the comings and goings of his subject matter. In Guilty as Sin, Klein focused his attention on piecing together the details of the FBI’s multi-layered investigation into Hilary’s use of a “home brew” private email server that was CLEARLY outside the parameters of the law on a number of levels.

The Clinton and her evil minions defense is where the Goebbels-like lies come into play; bullshit like: “there was nothing illegal about it,” or “Colin Powell did the same thing,” or “Colin Powell advised me to do it,” “There was no classified email sent through the server,” and my personal favorite “I only deleted emails about my yoga classes.” Sorry, but the only thing twisting into knots was Hilary make believe stories and not her overstuffed backside!

Klein details the endless laundry list of Clinton scandals, the self-enriching, pay for play schemes that Hilary and company have cooked up. Imagine, this is when she was only the secretary of state; it boggles the mind to think what she would try to pull if she lands in the White House. This women comes with more baggage then O’Hare Airport! It’s scary to think of the gaggle of assholes, sycophants, clingers and criminals that she would bring with her to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. Klein spells out a compelling story of way she must be stopped!