Thursday, March 22, 2012

Mark Titus- Don’t Put Me in Coach (Doubleday)

How can I best describe Don’t Put me in Coach?

Don’t Put me in Coach is Rudy for the South Park Generation…or A Season on the Brink with Beavis and Butthead. That’s close, but this book lacks the hero who works hard to overcome adversity and achieve his dream of playing a division 1 college sport and while there is references to occasional fisticuffs, no chairs were thrown by any crazed coaches.

The books parenthetical title sums it up; My Incredible NCAA Journey from the End of the Bench to the End of the Bench. Hardly inspirational stuff, though the so-called millennial generation may find Mark Titus’ success as a smart-ass blogger who chronicled his time as a walk on bench jockey at Ohio State amusing.

Clearly the goal of the book was not for Titus to wax poetically about the beauty of sport and the dedicated athletes who work hard to pursue championships as way to many blowhard sports writers have done over the years. Titus doesn’t spend a whole lot of time or ink worrying about trying to preserve relationships with his teammates; more often than not he set about trashing and bad mouthing the guys he played with.

It’s pretty clear that Titus was handed the golden ticket and his goal wasn’t to hone his game and crack the lineup, but to see exactly how far he could push the envelope or maybe the better analogy is, how hard he could push before his finger broke through the toilet paper.

Don’t Put Me In Coach ends up being a chronicle of a dysfunctional sports family…imagine your family’s Thanksgiving dinner, but with a bunch a really tall guys who spend way too much time together. There’s bound to be some laughs, someone is gonna get hurt and it’s no surprise when someone snaps and comes to blows.

As goofy as some of the stories are, they do ring true. That, and having crossed paths with him during my couple year stint working in the NBA Development League, I totally believe Titus’ story about his short time roommate Ivan Harris. But you’ll have to pick up the book to get the details!

Friday, March 16, 2012

Kent Hartman- The Wrecking Crew: The Inside Story of Rock and Roll’s Best Kept Secret (Thomas Dunne Books)

Confession time, not only am I a music junkie, I am also addicted to liner notes. As a kid I started combing through the fine print on album jackets and loved it when record companies moved away from the plain white inner sleeves to include more tidbits of info about the band, the producer, the studio and so on.

I have also been fascinated by books written about the inner workings of bands and recording sessions. Even tough I wasn’t a big Beatles fan, Mark Lewisohn’s book “The Beatles Recording Sessions” was a slice of nirvana, detailing the tiniest details of life inside Abbey Road Studios.

So, Kent Hartman’s new book The Wrecking Crew: The Inside Story of Rock and Roll’s Best Kept Secret, was right up my alley. Motown had the legendary Funk Brothers. In Nashville the go to studio musicians were The A Team and Atlantic Soul had Booker T and the MGs to lay down the musical bedrock on which so many classic songs were built.

Hartman’s book lays out the left coast version things with the rolling group of great players who worked on a steady stream of hits from artists like the Beach Boys, Sonny and Cher, The Monkees, Mamas and Papas, Simon & Garfunkel, the Byrds, a pile of Phil Specter productions, and many more.

Hartman really details what amounts to the birth of Rock and Roll, not as a musical form, but as a recording industry. Prior to the early 60s, record labels were all about finding great songs for their artists to record. That attitude carried over in the early days of rock music, where the producers were the stars and the “artists” were the interchangeable parts that got plugged into the formula when it came time to market the product.

The Wrecking Crew were a lose collection of players that more often than not got the call when it came time to make records. Players like drummer Hal Blaine, guitarist Glenn Campbell, keyboardist Leon Russell, guitarist Tommy Tedesco, bassist Carol Kaye, and a few dozen more played on literally hundreds of hit records and racked up dozens of Grammy awards along the way.

Hartman puts Campbell’s transition from side man, to Beach Boy to session star to hit-maker in his own right in focus through out the book. Campbell was one of a small number of these extremely skilled players who made the leap into stardom. Hartman begins the thread with Campbell’s rough and tumble childhood and completes the circle with Campbell building not only a wildly successful career in music, but a 16,500 square foot mansion at its peak.

Hartman profiles with insider details, the stories of the prolific, creative and musically gifted cats, who not only played the hits, but often added the musical missing piece. Carol Kaye playing around on her bass dropped the memorable dum dum dum da dum da d um rift that kicked off “The Beat Goes On” and gave Sonny and Cher an over due hit. Blaine was famous for coming up with just the right beat at the right time. He provided the thunderous explosions during Simon & Garfunkel’s “The Boxer” during the lie la lie lie lie crescendo of the song by recording a drum beat from the bottom of an elevator shaft.

Liner note fans will love Hartman’s Timeline, source notes and bibliography which lays out the finite details of the Wrecking Crew. This story is a fascinating look at the inner workings of the early days of rock and roll.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Elmore Leonard – Raylan (William Morrow)

Voice on tape…Your mission Mr. Big Honkin’ Blogger, if you choose to take it; is to write a review of the new Elmore Leonard book, Raylan, without out using the following terms: the master,  masterpiece, genius, the Dean, the King, the greatest, best, maestro, and legend or legendary.

It seems that at some point during his 40+ book career that each of those prohibited terms have been have been applied to Mr. Leonard and/or his writing. Along the way he has created not only a legion of memorable characters, but also a massive group of fans that follow these quirky, occasionally twisted and often flawed folks.

This collection of shorter novellas features U.S. Marshall Raylan Givens, popularized by actor Timothy Olyphant in the TV series Justified. While Leonard amerces his readers in easy rolling dialog and off the beaten path settings, these abbreviated approaches tend to come up a little short in delivering a complete story; in short, they read more like a TV script than a book.

While this approach may leave some longtime Leonard fans unhappy, the pure poetry of his dialog should be absorbed by anyone who wants to take on the challenge of creating timeless fiction and drawing full-blooded characters.