Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Lost in Translation?

ZeroZeroZero – Roberto Saviano (Penguin Books)

Full disclosure up front: I didn’t read Roberto Saviano’s bestselling take down of Naples Italy Mob, Gomorrah: A Personal Journey into the Violent International Empire of Naples’s Organized Crime System.

Certainly based on that outing, Saviano’s reputation precedes him as an investigative journalist, known for throwing himself headlong into a story. So I approached ZeroZeroZero with a level of expectation that this book would serve up the all-to-rare these days kind of hardboiled journalism.

What I got in return for those expectations was a nearly incoherent, muddled effort that became nearly unreadable from the first page. The introductory chapter has Saviano droning on about the level of saturation that cocaine use has in society. If it’s not your Mother it’s your Father, and if not your Father it’s your sister; if it’s not your sister it’s your brother…co-worker…person next to you on the bus…guy mixing your drink at the bar…you get the picture. Saviano serves up so many examples that I started flipping pages to see exactly how long he could go before exhausting this line of thought.

Is there a story to be told here? Without a doubt, but unfortunately, that story is not told here. It left me wondering if that story may have been lost in translation.

Creative Inspiration Sharpie® Style

Sharpie® Art Workshop – Techniques and Ideas for Transforming Your World – Timothy Goodman (Rockport Publishers)

While I am neither an artist or a designer, one look around my office and you’ll see an oversized fishbowl chockfull of Sharpie® markers of all shapes, sizes and colors. Forget the erasable whiteboard; one of my prized possessions is an easel whiteboard with the oversized flipchart attached and just for fun the tabletop, oversized sticky note flip charts.

I find these to be the indispensable tools of creativity and planning, and I have been known to drive my wife crazy as I manically scrawl ideas on the flip chart I have strategically tacked to her office wall. I admit to more than a few overzealous arrows and under-linings that have been the root of paint touch ups.

So I approached Timothy Goodman’s Sharpie Art Workshop – Techniques and Ideas for Transforming Your World from the perspective of an undeniable fan of the Sharpie®. Goodman not only lays out the lowdown on everything Sharpie®, he also serves up some bold inspiration for the artist and the non-artist alike.

There is a level of fascination that I have for those artists and doodlers alike who can raise things to a different level when it comes to Sharpie® art. While Sharpie® Art Workshop may not transform you into a modern day Picasso, it will offer creative inspiration to kick things up a notch on the creative front and realize that there really are no rules to hold you back.

Get Your Genghis On

Genghis Khan – His Conquests, His Empire, His Legacy – Frank McLynn (DaCapo Press)

By the shear scope of the undertaking at hand, author Frank McLynn started out with a task that even an army of researchers and writers could not have powered through writing a definitive biography of a man who has been labeled everything from the greatest conqueror in history to the worst, most evil murderer of all-time, with some crediting him with tens of millions of deaths.

The hundred pages of endnotes clearly illustrates the efforts that McLynn put forth in penning Genghis Khan – His Conquests, His Empire, His Legacy. Practically right from birth, Genghis Khan was surrounded by a level of violence that he carried into adulthood as he led a band of nomadic warriors into a blood soaked, brutal and merciless rein over a huge geographic territory.

McLynn tries mightily to synthesize what amount to four decades of research and scholarly opinion on how Khan overcame his lack of masterful intellect by blunt force to rule with an iron fist. While certainly a yeoman’s effort, the voluminous nature of the subject is hard to encapsulate in one book.

On the Trail of Genghis Khan – An Epic Journey Through the Land of the Nomads – Tim Cope (Bloomsbury)

What would motivate a seemingly level-headed, intelligent, then 24 year old man to put his basically normal life, whatever that might be these days, and drop himself headlong into what can only be described as a foolhardy adventure across treacherous and life-threatening terrain on his own?

Just to further make the case; we are talking about a self-admitted novice horseman, and novice may give him too much credit, who want to set off on a self-guided trek across 6000 miles of the most inhospitable trails, through some of the most brutal weather extremes on what he labeled the Trail of Genghis Khan.

It is that adventure tail that Tim Cope not only undertook, but he details in On the Trail of Genghis Khan – An Epic Journey Through the Land of the Nomads. It is nearly impossible to comprehend the distance and the extremes that Cope subjected himself to during this under-funded, flying by the seat of his pants journey that took up three years of his young life to complete.

Cope focuses not so much on the extremis nature of the trek, but more so on the kindness of strangers he encountered; more than one of who may have saved his life. With the nearly insurmountable odds stacked against him, this is a tale of high adventure, survival and triumph and isn’t that reason enough to undertake the journey?


Respect for a Shark

Allen Klein – The Man Who Bailed Out the Beatles, Made the Stones, and Transformed Rock & Roll – Fred Goodman (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)

Easily one of the most revered and at the same time reviled men in the music business; Allen Klein is the subject of The Mansion on the Hill author Fred Goodman’s latest insider examination of the music industry. In Allen Klein – The Man Who Bailed Out the Beatles, Made the Stones, and Transformed Rock & Roll, Goodman tries mightily to present a more balanced picture of the hard-nosed, often ruthless business man.

Aside from the Beatles and the Stones, Klein “other list” of clients reads like the directory at the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, including the likes of: Sam Cooke, the Who, the Kinks and many others. Most music fans will certainly agree that Klein “transformed Rock & Roll” but may argue that is wasn’t for the better. While he certainly was a central figure in raising the profile and the bank accounts of many of his clients, it is impossible to argue that Klein wasn’t a self-serving, first dollar in business man. He clearly wasn’t the kind of guy to take his cut on the back end of any deal.

Goodman, known for his even handed approach, will certainly take some flak from hardcore fans who believe it was more Klein than Yoko, who busted up the Beatles and his outright swindling of the ownership of the early Stones catalog, while not unprecedented in the music business, is certainly one of the more glaring heists of intellectual property, as he tries to offered a balanced look at the man.

Are there two sides to every story? Certainly. Does Goodman’s rendering of things amount to a whitewashing of music history? I think there are instances that Goodman cites where Klein certainly has to be seen a zealous advocate for his clients, but it’s hard if not impossible to overcome the image of Klein perched on stacks of cash plundered from the Stones via the ABKCO (Allen B. Klein Company) shenanigans  


Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Living in the Dark

Dark Days – A Memoir - D. Randall Blythe (DaCapo Press)

Imagine…the unimaginable. What is one of the worst possible scenarios that you can come up with and now kick it up a notch and realize it’s all real. I am talking the stuff that movies are made of, you know; truth is stranger than fiction stuff.

You are a modestly successful rock star; we’re talking comfortable, not crazy blinged out, garage full of exotic cars kinda rock star, but a pretty cool life doing what you love. Your tour takes you to the old city of Prague in the Czech Republic, but instead of being met at the airport by adoring fans you encounter a phalanx of armed to the teeth policemen who take you into custody the minute you step out of the jet way and inform you that you’re being held for manslaughter. Apparently on your last concert visit to Prague out of self-preservation you decked a young fan, who unknown to you, later died from head injuries.

This is the nightmare that is all too real to D. Randall Blythe, lead singer for the metal outfit lamb of god. Dark Days – A Memoir is Blythe’s recounting of the harrowing tale. The book takes on a very authentic feel early on, with reproductions of notes scrawled in a very rough hand; not sure if they are contemporaneous notes taken at the time or from Blythe’s recollections, but they offer a depth of clarity that is amazing in its level-headedness, yet painful in their desperation.

His description of the dank, crumbling, 123 year old prison and the dark cell he called home for over a month from shortly after his arrest to his making bail reads like something straight out of a James Bond movie and a villain’s lair.

Dark Days illustrates Blythe’s iron grip on his reality; this guy knows pretty clearly who he is and his place in the world, truly a rarity for a rock star. He lays things open about his “drinking and drugging” issues and his sobriety. Oddly enough, his sobriety came about prior to the legal issues he faced; it was undoubtedly challenged by the case.




Saturday, July 18, 2015


End of Discussion - How the Left's Outrage Industry Shuts Down Debate, Manipulates Voters, and Makes America Less Free (and Fun) - Mary Katharine Ham and Guy Benson (Crown Books)

As a recovering radio talk show host, I have opinions…lots of them. But I don’t have an opinion on absolutely everything and I don’t feel the unquenchable need to express my opinion on everything, meaning you aren’t likely to find me chitter-ing away on social media. My thoughts generally take more than 140 characters and my tolerance for dealing with nitwits, who would rather attack me personally than engage in a spirited debate of ideas, has me more often than not refusing to as Glenn Beck puts it, “argue with idiots.”

After reading Fox News contributor Mary Katherine Ham and Town editor Guy Benson’s new book, End of Discussion - How the Left's Outrage Industry Shuts Down Debate, Manipulates Voters, and Makes America Less Free (and Fun) I may be reconsidering and getting ready to armor up and dive back into the fray. It is that sitting on the sidelines that allows those in the perpetually aggrieved class to win without a fight.

Ham and Benson point out just how organized and professional these attack dogs have become. Along the way they have created an attack playbook chalk full of labels and before non-existent “phobias” that they readily slap on those who might have the temerity to disagree or voice a different opinion. Think marriage is between a man and a women then you must be a homophobe…right?

Ham and Benson have the nerve to point out example after example of how, more often than not, the left don’t just disagree differing points of view, they try tooth and nail to stamp out those who disagree and deprive them of their livelihood. With regularity they also point out the hypocrisy of the left when it comes to so many things. The relatively moderate Koch Brothers are evil billionaires hell bet to fund conservatives, but billionaire Tom Steyer spend wads of cash is okay, because he believes what they do when it comes to global warming.

Congressman and former Vice Presidential candidate Paul Ryan talks about changing the mindset and inspiring men in the inner city through mentoring and he’s labeled a racist using “dog-whistle” politics. Michelle Obama talks about changing the attitudes of “young men sitting on the couch playing video games and dreaming of being ballers and rappers,” and she’s clearly and inspiration to the African America community. Pardon me but…what a crock.

So, yes it is time for this conservative to armor up and get back into the game and engage in a battle of wits with the unarmed! Keep your labels my Liberal friends, you can have your own opinion, but you can have your own facts.  

Friday, July 10, 2015

Un-common Sense

Making the Case: How to Be Your Own Best Advocate – Kimberly Guilfoyle (Harper)

Having worked my way through a few of the other books by the ladies of Fox News, I have to admit up front that Making the Case: How to Be Your Own Best Advocate by Kimberly Guilfoyle, one of the anchors of The Five was not what I had expected going in. Guilfoyle is a former San Francisco assistant District Attorney, who worked as a high profile legal analyst along the way to her current gig; so I had expected a more legal based book.

What Making the Case: How to Be Your Own Best Advocate turns out to be is more a guided tour to not only her own personal story, but how to navigate your way through both your professional and personal life. As a person who earns their living in the health care industry, I read with particular interest Guilfoyle’s thoughts on advocating for your own health and caring for aging parents.

Given her track record on the martial front, with multiple swings and misses to her credit; including one to the Liberal nut bag, former Mayor of San Francisco Gavin Newsome (Irksome is more like it) I’m sure I would take some of her personal advice with a grain of salt or two.

Her advice on clarity, brevity and having the facts is something that I can certainly relate to and advice that I have tried to impart to my own children. Chock full of not so common sense, Making the Case: How to Be Your Own Best Advocate will likely drive the Fox News haters to the brink and that alone makes it worth the price of admission.


When You Least Expect It…

The Fixer – Joseph Finder – (Dutton)

It is a classic writing jump starter; you find something in an unexpected place, use it to drive your story. For an added twist let’s throw into the mix the question that numerous children have raised during their lifetimes; how well do you really know your parents?

Those are the building blocks, the foundation of Joseph Finder’s latest thriller, The Fixer. At frayed ends having recently lost a high paying, high profile job as a writer at a Boston glossy, Rick Hoffman finds himself living in his childhood home, a dilapidated, moldering stack of bricks in need of a facelift. With his Dad wasting away in a nursing home, silenced by a stroke nearly two decades past, Hoffman is struggling to get by when a childhood neighbor finds him living in his Dad’s digs.

The neighbor helps him to determine the source of a foul order and after breaking through some ragged plaster, Hoffman finds some neatly packed stacks of hundreds and fifties. A quick count has the mystery find totaling out at $3.4 million and sets Hoffman on a path to discover the source of the largess.

It turns out the Hoffman never really did know his Dad; in fact he is surprised to learn the Leonard Hoffman built his legal career working as a fixer, the go to guy when it came to a mysterious “cash bank” and a guy who could get things taken care of.

As Hoffman peels back the layers in attempt to determine the not only the source of the money, but the story behind it, he encounters a steady stream of shady and dangerous characters. This is Classic Joseph Finder, just when you think you’ve a got a handle on things hold on tight for a high speed shift of gears and a new twist in the road. Finder is the master of dropping his lead characters into one precarious situation after another.

Thursday, July 2, 2015

A View from the Bottom End

Snakes! Guillotines! Electric Chairs! My Adventures in the Alice Cooper Group – Dennis Dunaway and Chris Hodenfield (Thomas Dunne Books/St. Martin’s Press)

Perspective is everything. Even a passing glance at the shelf full of books that have penned about Alice Cooper, the man and the band, and your likely to uncover nearly as many takes and storylines as there are books. How things happened, what (and in some cases who) went down can often be widely varied.

Such is the case with the autobiography of original Alice Cooper bassist Dennis Dunaway Snakes! Guillotines! Electric Chairs! My Adventures in the Alice Cooper Group. Based on Dunaway’s story, he may have been the most clearheaded and chemical free member of the band to offer up his version of events; from the founding of the band and on through the evolutions and incarnations on the way to fame.

Dunaway, with an assist from writer Chris Hodenfield, serves up tale that is at once familiar from so many up from nothing to stardom bios of so many rockers and yet also offers up heartfelt insights into the band’s personalities. Dunaway’s recollections of the troubled life and ultimate too young death of guitarist Glenn Buxton offers a different perspective from Buxton’s hard charging public persona.

While he certainly enjoyed the highs of the rock star life, Dunaway also levels a dose of reality when he details life after the spotlight dims. He brings an interesting perspective to the inner workings of the music business, the LA music scene in the late 60s and early 70s and reminds of the long gone days of the $3.50 concert ticket.