Saturday, September 17, 2016

The Rock Pile

The Age of Bowie: How David Bowie Made A World of Difference – Paul Morley (Gallery Books)

With the passing of David Bowie comes an avalanche of books recounting his impact on rock ‘n’ roll. While most do an admirable job of covering Bowie from that limited perspective, they miss the mark on the broader impact that Bowie had on our popular culture as a whole.

With The Age of Bowie: How David Bowie Made A World of Difference, writer, broadcaster and culture critic Paul Morley delves deeper into full range of Bowie impact on the world. Morley doesn’t shy away from the some of the more controversial moments in Bowie’s career ranging from his outrageous transformations, both physically and in persona.

Not really a biography, The Age of Bowie, does offer up insider perspectives on Bowie’s transmutations from Ziggy Stardust to the creation of his collaboration with John Lennon, Fame. Morley delves into Bowie’s career transitions into film and stage. He also raises the question if there could ever be another Bowie; someone who could impact music to the point of having a hand in the creation of his own genre. He concludes that it is highly unlikely.

Fleetwood Mac On Fleetwood Mac: Interviews and Encounters – Edited by Sean Egan (Chicago Review Press)

How did the British band Fleetwood Mac make the difficult transition from  working man’s blues-based band to chart topping pop culture phenomenon and one of the biggest selling bands of all time? Who better, than the band themselves to answer that question? It is the band story, told in their own words, culled from dozens of interviews from publications ranging from Circus, Creem, New Musical Express, Mojo and more.

Fleetwood Mac On Fleetwood Mac: Interviews and Encounters, stitched and together edited by author/editor Sean Egan. The book really highlights the almost glaring differences in the personalities that make up the band. It makes you wonder how they ever came be melded together to so much memorable music.

If you are a true fan of Fleetwood Mac, this collection is a must have; imagine trying to gather an collect all of these disparate sources. Egan does a masterful job of pulling these wide ranging sources together to make paint a clear, cogent picture?  

Terminated for Reasons of Taste: Other Ways to Hear Essential and Inessential Music – Chuck Eddy (Duke University Press)

Veteran music journalist Chuck Eddy has plied his trade for a wide range of music and pop culture outlets including: Village Voice, Billboard, Creem, Spin and Rolling Stone. In his latest book, Terminated for Reasons of Taste: Other Ways to Hear Essential and Inessential Music, Eddy parades his almost painfully eclectic musical tastes by gathering pieces from the aforementioned outlets and even dipping back to his high school newspaper!

Eddy is steeped in music so wide ranging he touches everything from classic country to alt music so obscure it hurts. His knowledge is beyond encyclopedic and he writes with such passion that you can’t help but seek some of this stuff out to give it a listen. If you're bored to death with cookie cutter, Mr. Microphone, Auto Tuned schlock, then Eddy’s book will be the equivalent to a travel guide to new music.   

A Stray Cat Struts: My Life as a Rockabilly Rebel – Slim Jim Phantom (Thomas Dunne Books)

I loved the Stray Cats. U.S. expats, guitarist Brian Setzer, upright bassist Lee Rocker and drummer Slim Jim Phantom first found an audience and a modicum of fame in England. I vividly remember when a friend first dropped the needle to vinyl and handed me the cover with the photograph of three mop-topped guys who looked like they stepped out of a re-make of 50s teen angst movie. The sound was amazing; how could three guys generate so much noise? The thing that really jumped was the propulsive, driving beat coming from the guy with nothing more than a bass, snare and and one cymbal.

That guy was Slim Jim Phantom, born Jim McDonnell. In the grand scheme of music, it’s easy to forget the impact that the Stray Cats had when they finally exploded here in the States. They came at a time when music was at a crossroads; punk, new wave, and MTV were all conspiring to change the face of rock music forever and here was a band looking to take bits and pieces of those elements and drag them kicking and screaming back to the roots of the musical form.

It’s also easy not to think of Slim Jim Phantom as a rock star, but he serves up a reminder that he is a card carrying rock star in the form of his autobiography, A Stray Cat Struts: My Life as a Rockabilly Rebel. If you pick up this book expecting to hear the familiar tale of a guy who pulled himself up by his motorcycle bootstraps to become a rock star, you may walk away disappointed.

In A Stray Cat Struts, Slim Jim offers up a string of great stories from his rock ‘n’ roll life. Tours, backstages, recording studios, rubbing elbows with other high profile types from music and pop culture, not to mention his time with Swedish, blonde bombshell Britt Eklund. Yeah this guy is a rock star! Quite frankly I didn’t miss the childhood remembrances; I usually skip those to get to the good stuff anyway!

The Improbable Rock Star

All These Things That I Have Done: My Insane, Improbable Rock Life – Matt Pinfield with Mitchell Cohen (Scribner)

To be honest…I never understood how Matt Pinfield ended up on MTV/VH1. Here was this dweeby little bald headed dude, what amounted to a not good looking version of the talentless Carson Daly. I often wondered aloud, “who do these guys have pictures of with farm animals?” Granted, I was a viewer when MTV launched and had been through all the changes along the way, so by the time Pinfield rolled around I was spending countless hours watching the boob tube.
So I didn’t know what to expect when I cracked open All These Things That I Have Done: My Insane, Improbable Rock Life, Pinfield’s autobiography. What I soon discovered was that Pinfield is a certifiable music fanatic of epic proportions. This guy is truly embalmed in music and for me his story was immensely relatable.

I got into radio not to be star DJ, but because I loved music and wanted to tell people about it and share great stuff with people. When Pinfield tells the story of being herded into a room with a bunch of B and C level writers and DJs to interview The Cure, I could totally relate, because I had been in a different version of that same room with artists like Sinead O’Connor, The Squeeze and The Hooters. It’s one of those deals when you ask the question that makes you stand out and you end up later drinking whiskey the band like you had been lifelong friends.

Pinfield’s tale is a bit rambling at times, with strange asides like the story of the birth of his first child, followed by an odd paragraph about a cassette he received in the mail that purports contained 45 minutes of the cult leader Jim Jones on a rant while his followers scream and writhe on the ground around him. Not sure what one has to do with the other.

Improbable rock life, yep I think Pinfield has that one covered. In fact his story reads like another edition of Behind the Music, with his rise up from nothing to rock star fame, drugs and alcohol followed by the obligatory rehab and redemption, it covers all the bases. Bet he didn’t see that coming.

Friday, September 16, 2016

The Jealous Kind - A Top 5 Summer Read

The Jealous Kind: A Novel – James Lee Burke (Simon & Schuster)

There are authors who bring something to the table that puts them head and shoulders above their writing peers. It is a special something; I won’t call it a gift because I know the ones I would put in this class worked hard to hone the skills that play out in their words.

James Lee Burke is one of those writers. There is an unmatched elegance to Burke’s prose and the way he strings words together that put him in a class all his own. The way the Burke crafts his characters and his stories captures a level of authenticity in place and time that very few have the ability produce.

In his latest, The Jealous Kind, Burke collects the sights, sounds and smells of Korean War era Texas that marks not only the struggle with coming of age, but also the arm wrestling with identity of Aaron Boussard, a teenage high school student who rings like a man out of time, stuck between youth and manhood and who his parents want him to be and who he wants to be.

Like many of Burke’s books, there is a bit of an unrepentant, wild streak to the characters that are in play in The Jealous Kind. He has a clear fondness for the era and locale he drops these folks into that rings through in his words. While so much fiction reads like a throw away, James Lee Burke serves it up in a way to be enjoyed and savored slow and easy. The Jealous Kind easily finds its way onto my list of the Top Five summer reads. 

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

The Business of Music 101

What They’ll Never Tell You About the Music Business, Third Edition: The Complete Guide for Musicians, Songwriters, Producers, Managers, Industry Executives, Attorneys, Investors and Accountants – Peter M. Thrall (Watson-Guptill)

When it comes to this book, the impossibly long title should tell you all you need to know. Even though the history of the music business is littered with victim after victim of their own stupidity; artists who were not business savvy enough to look out for their own best interests and ripped off, had their money or their art or both stolen by shysters, even to this day we still see cases where bad deals continue to happen.

When I used to host a radio interview program that featured up and coming baby bands, as they were dubbed by record labels, or unsigned aspiring bands and artists, I was astounded by how little time most of them spent taking care of their career. I spent countless hours both on and off air offering guidance and suggestions on how to go about pursuing a contract or signing a publishing deal or dealing with agents and attorneys, which by in large fell on deaf ears. It got to the point where one band was so upset by my cajoling that they released an indie EP which featured a song entitled F@&K You Jeff Johns…We Hope You Rot in Hell. I wasn’t offended, in fact I still have a copy…not sure where the band ended up, although I know it wasn’t on the charts.

So with all of the changes that have occurred in the music business and the disappearance of record labels, the advent of online streaming and music downloads has anything gotten easier? Oh hell no! The business of music has become multitudes more difficult and the need for artists to not only be aware and self-serving when it comes to business is that much greater. Enter Peter Thrall and his book, What They’ll Never Tell You About the Music Business, Third Edition: The Complete Guide for Musicians, Songwriters, Producers, Managers, Industry Executives, Attorneys, Investors and Accountants.

Thrall’s book is the encyclopedia of music business knowledge and it needs to be not only on the shelf of every aspiring artist and music industry wannabe, it needs to be dogged eared, highlighted, Post it noted and generally looking like it’s been dropped kicked around the block…six times.

This is the go to primer to learn all of the ins and outs of the business of music. It truly strips things down to an easy to understand, problem solving and avoiding masterpiece. This is a nuts and bolts how to guide through every step of the artistic process, from both perspectives. This one needs to be carried along in the road, into the studio, down to the gig and back again, because it is just that vital to your success. Again…take a look at the title, then ask yourself, “am I ready to deal with all of these folks and what they bring to the table.” I can surmise that the answer for most people is simple; NO.

Monday, September 12, 2016

Inspired Inspiration

Many people utilize the Bible and other Christian writings for inspiration in the daily lives. For me, all too often these books have come in a less than inspiring package. For those who participate in Bible study or who want to refer back to particular passages or verses pages can quickly become dog eared or difficult to read if you like to highlight or take notes. While the invention of Post It Notes is great, I found my Bible quickly becoming logged down with the notes and marked pages. I also wanted to avoid the larger style, heirloom, illustrated Bibles, just due to shear weight.

Now comes a series of great tools that are also great looking, what I have dubbed Inspiring inspiration.

HCSB Illustrator’s Notetaking Bible – Holman Bible Staff (editor)

When you take a traditional, carrying Bible, it is difficult to take notes without some form of additional inserted cards or paper. Well the Holman Bible Staff have come up with a unique looking Bible that can be uniquely personalized and notated.

The HCSB Illustrator’s Notetaking Bible, offers up not only a useful space for jotting down notations, but also takes things to a new level by tapping into the adult coloring phenomenon by giving creative types a way to personally customize their Bibles by coloring the outlined pictures and drawings throughout the pages.

While this may not be everyone’s cup of tea, I found this to be not only a useful tool, allowing me to jot notes, thoughts and outlines in the substantial margins, but this is also of such a nice, sturdy and beautiful quality, that I can see it passed on through generations and allow family members to read what I was thinking as I utilized the Book.

365 Pocket Morning Prayers: Strength and Joy to Begin Each Day – David R. Veerman

I have an admission to make upfront; I have become a bit of a junkie for nifty, leather bound journals and notebooks. Between my day job and a few other business ventures I tend to keep a stack of these in my briefcase because they not only look professional, but they hold up over time.

So when I received a copy of 365 Pocket Morning Prayers: Strength and Joy to Begin Each Day, I was immediately thrilled with the butter-soft leather cover which is beautifully embossed with a palm tree and birds.

For those that take a few minutes at the start of their day for reflection and prayer, this is a powerful little package. I can toss it in my briefcase, alongside my notebooks, and take it with me to work or on road trips and it’s never out of place.

The design makes this a great bit of inspiration, no matter if you work from the front to the back or if you flip around to find your inspiration for the day.

Gratitude: A Prayer and Praise Coloring Journal – Tyndale (Producer)

While I haven’t been bitten by the adult coloring bug, I did think that the Gratitude: A Prayer and Praise Coloring Journal, was a great way to combine quiet reflection and prayer in one time frame.

It is a beautiful collection of words and images that just about anyone can find inspiration in. There is something to be said about the power of journaling and the focus it can bring to your life and this book presents you with a real opportunity to be present in the moment and share your thoughts with not only yourself, but with your family.

My first thought upon thumbing through this book was what a wonderful and meaningful gift this be for a family member or friend. Not only will they be inspired, but they will think of you whenever they put the book to use.

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

A Timeless Classic for Jobseekers

What Color Is Your Parachute? 2017 – A Practical Manual for Job-Hunters and Career Changers – Richard N. Bolles (Ten Speed Press)
There are a handful of authors/books that become the epitome of timelessness and influence. For self-improvement and interpersonal skills, there is Dale Carnegie’s, How to Win Friends and Influence People. For growing your business/developing your team, Jim Collins offered up Good To Great. For personal development, Stephen Covey’s, 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. All hold a special place for ability to impact the reader if they choose to implement the skills and insights these books have to offer.

When it comes to jobs search and career development, one book stands head and shoulders above the rest, and has for more than four decades. That book is What Color Is Your Parachute? 2017 – A Practical Manual for Job-Hunters and Career Changers, by career guru, Richard N. Bolles. A Harvard trained physicist, Bolles has made it an annual right of passage to update and expand this handy guide to include the latest in job search trends and techniques, alongside tried and true skills for selecting or changing a career path, interviewing and salary negotiation.

Bolles brings a dynamic level of passion to the advice he offers to both seasoned job searchers and to those who are just setting sail on their career path. Bolles doesn’t shy away from offering up his advice on choosing to start your own business; which is clearly a very real career path for many folks.

Linkedin? Yep Bolles is on it and offers up suggestions on how to best utilize the business networking site to your advantage in a job search. If you find yourself on the beach, as my colleagues dubbed back during my days in radio, Bolles offers up some useful advice for your mental health during the job search. No pop psychologist, is this chapter Bolles serves of practical advice, based on time and experience.

What Color Is Your Parachute? Is one of those timeless guideposts that can offer up useful advice for those in the work force at any stage of their career. It stands up to the test of time due in large part to the driving force behind it all.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Making First Books Look Easy

Nothing Short of Dying: A Clyde Barr Novel – Erik Storey (Scribner)

First books are hard and when the goal is to create a continuing series, it becomes a fine balancing act. It is the literary equivalent of building a house; you want to have a solid foundation, then a strong frame and along the way you start to add the finishing touches that will turn the house into a home.

Novelist Erik Storey has walked that tightrope with his debut, Nothing Short of Dying: A Clyde Barr Novel. Barr clearly has what can only be described as a checkered past that includes time in a Mexican prison, work as a mercenary and to borrow a line from Liam Neeson, a “particular set of skills,” honed to a sharp edge.

The trick for Storey is to give the reader enough of Barr’s backstory so we know who this guy is and what he’s all about, without giving us information overload. Storey manages this well, teasing out Barr’s story to put some meat on his bones and serve us up what’s behind his selfless dedication to family and friends.

Pair this process of giving depth and dimension to the Barr character, with a storyline that moves at a break neck pace fueled by adrenaline and you’ve got a winning formula for a successful series. Barr, fresh from the Mexican prison is looking for a return to the mountain wilderness he loves and the simple life he craves, when a phone call from his sister brings things to a screeching halt.

From there, Barr leads us on a beat the clock adventure to rescue his sister all at a break neck clip. 

Nothing Short of Dying delivers the goods and sets us up well for more to come from Clyde Barr and ranks as my favorite debut novel thus far in 2016.