Thursday, August 15, 2019

My Sweet Spot


More Fun in the New World: the Unmaking and Legacy of L.A. Punk – John Doe and Tom DeSavia – (DaCapo Press)

It was my perfect music storm; the crossroads of the building of my massive music collection which would grow to more than 10,00 pieces, my professional start in radio and working as a reviewer/columnist for the Buffalo News. My music sweet spot – 1982 to 1987 – is the focus of former X bassist John Doe and co-author and music industry guru Tom DeSavia’s second installment focused on the Los Angeles, punk, music scene, More Fun in the New World: The Unmaking and Legacy of L.A. Punk.

The pair once again curate a wonderful collection of essays, interviews and first hand rememberances of those who where front and center in the L.S. scene. Go-Go’s, Jane Weidlin and Charlotte Caffey, Peter Case of the Plimsouls, Louie Perez of Los Lobos, Dwight Yoakam, Dave Alvin of the Blasters are among the list of contributors. These are the folks who powered the soundtrack of my life not only in that era, but still to this day.


These snapshots brought me back, dredging up memories of my interview with a sleepy X guitarist, Billy Zoom; who joined me on the phone for a live on-air chat about the band’s latest album and to drum up ticket sales for an upcoming club show in Buffalo. The opening segment found the slogged Zoom serving up one-word responses to my enthusiastic queries. Never intimidated or a fawning fanboy; I had a no nonsense, off air, “wake the fuck up or this is over” conversation, where I made my expectations crystal clear and ended up with a great interview.

I have always believed, and I think this book backs me up – that punk may have been a misnomer for the range of sounds emanating from the L.S. scene. Yes, punks were accounted for, but so where straight up power pop, the rootsy country sound of Bakersfield, and even a little Tejano music influence were on full display on my turntable.

 If you are looking to go back and remember that era/scene or just want to take a musical journey through this wide ranging, genre busting period; More Fun in the New World, is the perfect guide book/roadmap to take on that musical journey.

Friday, June 14, 2019

A Fiction Drought...is Over

Lately I seem to have been stuck in a rut where i have found it a tough slog to get through the latest outings from usually dependable purveyors of thriller fiction. Some I managed to struggle through. I think in some cases, the authors may have fallen victim to their own success; when their latest efforts fail to measure up to their prior work and can be perceived as missing the mark.

Cari Mora - Thomas Harris (Grand Central Publishing)

That may be the case with Thomas Harris, who is clearly cursed by the overwelming success of Silence of the Lambs and the Hannibal Lecter character being the yardstick that readers will forever measure him by. Harris has the uncanny ability to create memorable, violent, psychopathic, characters like Lecter and Francis Dolarhyde (Red Dragon) that drive his stories.

In his latest, Cari Mora, Harris combines a newly minted psycho in the form of Hans-Peter Schneider with a truly interest story concept of the hunt for an ill-gotten treasure in the form of $25 million in drug cartel gold, hidden beneath a Miami, ocean front mansion. While Lecter and Dolarhyde where clearly next level crazy, Schneider comes off as violent for the sake of violence.




As the story moves forward, it unfortunately begins to fizzle out as the title character can't quite measure up to FBI profiler Clarice Starling as female foil to the craziness.

The Persian Gamble - Joel C. Rosenberg (Tyndale)

Another case of the yardstick issue is the latest from Joel C Rosenberg, The Persian Gamble. I couldn't help but find myself comparing the latest entry in the Marcus Ryker saga to Rosenberg's early political thrillers like, The Last Jihad and The Last Days, that had an almost Nostradamus-like quality; seemingly predicting real world, future events, before they happened.



While Ryker is a dependable tough guy, that places him in the league with those created by Brad Thor, Vince Flynn, and Daniel Silva; this one seemed to be a bit of a stretch. The result was that it started to lose me at points - not bad, just not up to the level I've come to expect.

Crown Jewel - Christopher Reich (Mullholland)

Once again, the concept, while familiar, classic, tried and true; that of the so-called unseen hand in plain site, is a great one that has been done to great effect in the past. The second installment in Christopher Reich's Simon Riske series, Crown Jewel, misses the  and a beautiful femme fatale. Riske come off as a battered and bruised, Energizer Bunny, who takes an ass-kicking and keeps on ticking. While I am certainly a willing participant in fiction that suspends disbelief, this one just seems a bridge too far.



Drought Over

Collusion - Newt Gingrich and Pete Earley (Broadside)

Things start to look up with the latest fiction forray from the combo of former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich and veteran writer Pete Earley, Collusion. While we have been blasted with the C-word for the past two plus years, this one is not what you may think. The first entry in what will hopefully become and ongoing series featuring FBI counter-intel type Valarie Mayberry and disgraced former Navy SEAL, Brett Garrett, Collusion taps into not only Gingrich and Earley's insider knowledge, but also some ripped from today's headlines storylines.



Along the way you get political assassination, high stakes espionage, whack-a-mole Antifa types and even a side story centering on the opioid crisis and medication assisted treatment. Perfectly paced and intricately woven the team keeps things moving forward and isn't shy about tossing in a few curveballs to make things even a little more audacious.

Rogue Strike - David Riccardi (Berkley)

In Rogue Strike, from David Riccardi, the unseen hand remains a mystery until deep into the story, and could have deadly consequences not only for CIA Operative Jake Keller and his partner, Curt Roach, but on a more global scale, the United States and it's interests around the globe.

Early on a mission in Yemen to take out a high value terrorist target goes awry as control of a drone get's commandeered in in mid-flight. The drones payload of Hellfire missiles, intended to take out the bad guy, instead get dropped on Mecca and the innocents at the annual Haj pilgrimage, leaving thousand dead, countless injured and the U.S. squarely in the crosshairs of international outrage and hatred.



Keller and Roach become the easy targets of blame for politicians looking to pass the buck. With a target firmly affixed on their back, Keller and Roach run hellbent to stay one step ahead of the Middle Eastern Hoard on the hunt for their heads. Fast-paced is an understatement and Riccardi make the case that he is poised to join the elite ranks of thriller writers.

Redemption - David Baldacci (Grand Central)

Right from his first forray into fiction, 1996's Absolute Power, and on through his numerous series of regular characters, David Baldacci has proven to be one of the most prolific, nearing fifty titles in print, and consistently satisfying writers out there.



Baldacci's fifth installment in the so-called Memory Man series, Redemption, is no exception. The quirky and enigmatic Amos Decker is back and Baldacci does his dead level best to string you along and dole out not only a steady stream of clues to the stories direction, but also enough hooks and curves to keep you guessing right through the end.

While for me, Decker doesn't rank at the same level as Baldacci's Will Robie, King and Maxwell or The Camel Club crew, Redemption, did wonders for ending my fiction drought.

Thursday, June 6, 2019

A Tale of Two Memoirs

Serving the Servant: Remembering Kurt Cobain - Danny Goldberg (ECCO)

As I delved into music industry veteran Danny Goldberg's memoir of Nirvana frontman Kurt Cobain; Serving the Servant: Remembering Kurt Cobain, I was struck by Goldberg's admission that time, age, and what ever other degradating factors, have caused gaps to form in his recollections of Cobain and the era.

Goldberg's rather revealing comment in the introduction of a book with the word "remembering" in the title, certainly seemed to me that was seeking a proverbial get out of fan-boy jail free card, in case his recollections miss the mark with Cobain super-fans.



As I progressed through the book, at times I was left to wonder if this was a Cobain memoir or just an opportunity for Goldberg' liberal political screed. My advice would have been to stick to the music - I for one don't care about your politics or your desire to once again spread the missed-take on Nancy Reagan's purchase of new china for the White House. Just for the record Mr. Goldberg, a private foundation funded the purchase, not taxpayer dollars. Guess I should have expected this stuff from the former CEO of the Titanic liberal talk radio network, Air America.

For a guy who should have had an extremely intimate relationship and first hand knowledge of Cobain from his time as Nirvana's manager, there was a surprising lack of revelatory stories based on that insider proximity. In short, not much new to see here that hasn't already been posited in any number of prior Cobain tomes.

Serving the Servant, isn't a bad book as much as a missed opportunity to tap into first hand interactions, access to band members and those closest to Cobain for unique stories to either build on the legend or to dispel myths and inuendo surrounding this often tortured man-child.

Thursday, May 9, 2019

Leadership...Not the L-Word They Had in Mind

Lead From the Outside: How to Build Your Future and Make Real Change - Stacey Abrams (Henry Holt)

@staceyabrams - "Trump's refusal to concede the election if he loses, proves he is a petty man uninterested in our national stability." 10:29 AM - 20 Oct 2016 - Twitter

Stacey Abrams, the Democrat candidate for Governor in Georgia in the 2018 election, LOST to Republican candidate, now Governor of Georgia Brian Kemp by 54,723 votes; yet as recently has last week she still claims to have won and has NEVER conceded. She makes this claim in speeches and national television appearances and newspaper interviews with some regularity.
Let me be perfectly clear; this is not a demonstration of LEADERSHIP, it is a demonstration of a childish, LOSER.

I guess I shouldn't be surprised; the Democrat party seems hellbent and ready to charge forward with a bunch of young, upstart candidates who aside from whack-a-mole, socialist tendencies all have one thing in common. The group includes the often hailed Abrams, former Texas Senate candidate and Congressman Robert Francis O'Rouke, and former Florida gubernatorial candidate Andrew Gillum; all of whom gather buckets of national, liberal media attention despite the simple fact that they are all LOSERS!


Heck, look at the current top of the polls, Democrat, Presidential candidates and you've got two-time LOSER (1988/2008) former Vice President, Joe Biden and 2016 LOSER, Senator Bernie Sanders. Yep the Democrats have seemingly hitched their wagon to a band of LOSERS.

In her book, Lead From the Outside: How to Build Your Future and Make Real Change, Abrams tries to portray a positive outlook and message that she tends to repeat over and over to the point of redundancy. I think it speaks volumes once again, about political correctness run amok the the original title of this campaign tome being, Minority Leader: How to Build Your Future and Make Real Change. I guess anything to try to re-package and re-purpose. 

Tuesday, April 23, 2019

Dazed and Confused

Jimmy Page: The Definitive Biography - Chris Salewicz (DaCapo Press)

Biographer, journalist, broadcaster and New Musical Express senior, features writer Chris Salewicz sets a high watermark by laying title claim to being the "definitive biography" of the guitar legend Jimmy Page.

As for the results; Jimmy Page: The Definitive Biography, is at times chronologically sketchy, ping-ponging through years and stories, often in the same chapter, without a discernably coherent timeline or story line. I am not an over-sensitive fan-boy, who wouldn't be happy about anything written about their all-conquering hero; I do tend to lean towards stories that move from point A to B to C to D.
The book does reveal a lot of details on Page's rise from in demand session player to songwriter and onto rock God status. One thing I will credit Salewicz with doing, is dispensing with the childhood tales of woe, abuse, poverty and the phoenix-like rise through the power of music, that normally dot so many rock star bios.



While I was never a huge Led Zeppelin fan, i thought I knew tidbits and trivia about Page so I was surprised to learn about his start as a studio musician and his songwriting and partners penning tunes for pop stars of the era.

Like most, I knew about his time with the Yardbirds, which at points featured Eric Clapton and Jeff Beck, but I didn't know he joined the band as a bassist. His shift to guitar happened when Beck had an ongoing bout with tonsillitis during an extended tour.

If this was the first foray into Page's story it may have earned Salewicz's a different level of acceptance for his take. In the end it comes off as a stitched together bits and pieces of stories told elsewhere, yet carefully packaged as a fly on the wall's view of a legendary musical figure. Biography? Yes. Definitive? Not so much.

Friday, March 29, 2019

Inside The Beltway Fiction


The Good Lie – Tom Rosenstiel (ECCO)
Tom Rosenstiel literally wrote THE book on journalism, in the form of Elements of Journalism, and has been a inside the Beltway observer for decades from his perch at the American Press Institute, so it’s not surprising that he has created a series of fiction reads that balance DC insider knowledge and insights into the newspaper/media industry.

The second installment in the Peter Rena/Randi Brooks political fixers series The Good Lie offers up storyline that, while it shows similarities to the Benghazi situation, also features an insider knowledge of the comings and goings of the very political side of Washington.



Rena, a former military investigator who went onto a career as a Senate staffer who hung out his shingle as a consultant, is one of those memorable characters, smart, with a gruff exterior and an honorable edge that cuts against the “normal” comings and goings in DC political circles. Rena drives the story through its paces as those in the circle around the President try to keep the lid on the cover up of what actually happened in North Africa when a renegade Army general died in a terrorist attack on a U.S. embassy.

As the story unfolds, Rena and company are tasked with conducting and independent investigation, to get answers for the President. It is that inner circle that tries mightily to keep the lid slapped tight, but soon the story begins to trickle out and the media side of things start to push Rena’s investigation closer to the truth. It is the truth that is at the root of not on the story but the concept behind the The Good Lie. Rosenstiel has hit on another winner and will have you looking toward what is next for Peter Rena.


Wednesday, March 13, 2019

I Hear Mute People


The Silent Patient – Alex Michaelides (Celadon)

Every once in a while, a book comes along that has a reputation that proceeds its arrival onto bookstore shelves. Alex Michaelides debut novel, The Silent Patient, is one of those books; a unique, yet pretty straight forward story as psychological thrillers go. 

The tale involves a seemingly troubled, beautiful artist, who stands accused of murdering her husband and then goes mute, not uttering a single word in her own defense. Assumed to be psychologically challenged, Alicia Berenson is confined to a mental institution; where a series of psychotherapy professionals try to break through the wall she has built up around herself.

 

Enter, Theo Faber, a psychotherapist who seems utterly hellbent to work with Alicia and boldly go where no therapist has successfully gone before and bring her back to the world of the living and speaking. It’s the hellbent part that should be tip off for folks who want to try to figure out where all this is heading.

As with all great psychological thrillers – you will either have the breakthrough you seek, or you will upon the story’s conclusion do a healthy face palm for not realizing the path that you have been on all along. While The Silent Patient, is very well put together, I was able to see a bit of the classic, The Sixth Sense in between the lines and that Faber was a whole lot bigger to this story than just a hyper interested, committed metal health practitioner. That best guess on my part, may have reduced my overall impression and the impact of the story for me.

Wednesday, February 27, 2019

Have a Drink on Me

On Drinking - Charles Bukowski - Edited by Abel Debritto (ECCO) 

The new collection of writings, On Drinking, by Charles Bukowski, edited by Bukowski expert Abel Debritto, you get everything you should have come to expect from Mr. Bukowski; at turns the writings are colorful, profane, elegant, and caustic. Bukowski is a prolific scribbler and this collection offers up the scratchings of poetry, short stories, magazine quotes and observations.

On Drinking, proves that EVERYTHING was fodder for Bukowski writings - events big or small or seemingly insignificant. Bukowski On Drinking is really drinking as a catalyst for writings on women and sex and life and family and sobriety and all things Bukowski. Clearly a drunkard himself, Bukowski offers up some colorful thoughts, observations and prose about drunks, especially those who are not himself.


Many skilled practitioners of the art form of writing have bemoaned the difficulty of churning out words, that often give reference to the strain of giving birth. Bukowski does seem to give credence to the stream of thought. In fact he seems to lend credence to the line the alcohol lubes the system and ease the flow of words onto the blank page.

Some of these scribblings drip with an intense loneliness and despair, while others display and all out, reckless abandon and humor. Much of what is gathered here seems to be imbued with a sense of telling the real world to go F itself. That attitude makes this collection a must read for those who aspire to the form.

Thursday, February 14, 2019

Judgment Day for Judgment

Judgment: A Novel – Joseph Finder (Dutton)

Joseph Finder is one of my all-time favorite authors. He has done an amazing job of crafting tightly woven plots, compelling characters and stories that will suck you in and keep you turning pages and guessing right to the very end. Add to that his willingness to kill off a main character along the way just to ratchet things up.

With his new book, Judgment, I am left questioning Finder’s judgement. First, there are the totally out of place, backhanded slaps at Donald Trump, ranging from a dog chewing on a Trump figurine chew toy (?) to a running commentary on branches  of the U.S. government that deal with all things Russia, are underfunded/understaffed. Not sure how these offhand remarks (Russia collusion?) served moving the story along?



Plot Holes
Couple that silliness with plot holes throughout and storylines that swerve off the road and go nowhere and you’ll be left scratching your head. You have to wonder how it is that the seemingly all knowing, all seeing antagonist somehow misses when the protagonist, Judge Julianna Brody has a series of meetings with representatives of the federal government.

The ending was a dramatic miss, where Brody gets to walk straight into a high powered meeting at the private residence of a Russian oligarch so she can confront her tormentor directly. Now this is a guy who has been portrayed as being so ruthless, or surrounded by ruthless killers who would not hesitate to kill off anyone who gets in the way; yet she gets to walk out of the house unscathed. In fact there were so many opportunities that Judge Brody could have been dispatched that it defies logic and any grip on reality.

It was my respect for Finder’s skill that kept me plugging along, reading to the end, in an unrealized hope that things would take a turn for the better, that never happened.

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

The Bottom Line on the Bottom Line

Geddy Lee’s Big Beautiful Book of Bass: A Compendium of the Rare, Iconic and Weird – Geddy Lee – (Harper Design)

Who better than Geddy Lee, the man who spent nearly 40 years anchoring the bottom end of the sound of progressive legends and Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame inductees, Rush, to write a definitive treatise on the bass guitar. This amazing collection, chock full of amazing photos, deep history and insightful interviews with some of the masters of the instrument all under the covers of Geddy Lee’s Big Beautiful Book of Bass: A Compendium of the Rare, Iconic and Weird.

You will literally run out of adjectives to describe the book, before you run out of book. The photography, courtesy of Richard Sibbald – illustrates the full range of styles, shapes, sizes, colors and finishes from manufacturers like Fender, Gibson, Hofner, Ampeg, Rickenbacher and even Steinberger.



Lee waxes poetically about his voluminous personal collection and details the axes he used in the studio and on the stage. Lee offers a completists approach to a graphical index of a timeline of the history of the bass. You can hear a mutual respect in the interviews Lee conducts with a group of legendary bassists ranging from Led Zeppelin’s John Paul Jones, U2’s Adam Clayton, Robert Trujilio (Metalica/Suicidal Tendencies) the Rolling Stones’ Bill Wyman among others.

Lee shows just how deep this collection goes by looking at international bass builders/craftsman (luthiers) Dan Armstrong, Tony Zemortas and Antonio Wandr Pioli. This is a must read for bassists, bottom line bass/Rush fans, music fans, and fans of the skilled craftsman who create musical works of art. It’s only fitting that the Geddy Lee’s Big Beautiful Book of Bass: A Compendium of the Rare, Iconic and Weird is a work of art.

Monday, February 4, 2019

A Tale of Two Thrills

Freefall: A Novel – Jessica Barry (Harper)

Thrillers, by their very nature, need to bait the hook, tease the reader into biting on the story and then set the hook and keep them locked in for the full ride. Great thrillers feature sympathetic, yet tough as nails characters and a story line that is relatable and that you care enough about that you want to see what happens to them in the end. It helps if the author can parcel out the story in a way that keeps readers guessing and thinking that they can discern  where things are going before they actually get there.

Jessica Barry’s debut, Freefall, checks all of the boxes, with a story line that runs on a dual track. Allison carpenter miraculously survives when her fiance’s private plane crashed into a mountain side in the Rockies. Thousands of miles away in Maine, Allison’s Mom, Maggie – estranged from her daughter, upon hearing the news, tries to piece together her daughter’s life, all the while doubting the reports of her death. Both women fully live up to the sympathetic yet tough as nails standard.



Allison’s harrowing trek out of the mountains and toward a new life, free of the almost stereotypical, bad guy, big pharma CEO fiancĂ© driving her forward. While there are a number of brushes and near misses with folks who seem hell bent on stopping her from blowing the whistle on her fiance’s wrongdoing. Along the way it becomes apparent that her beau was not at the stick when the plane went down and that a race for survival was on between the pair.


There is an equally relatable crustiness to Maggie’s character; if you have a cranky parent or grandparent you can hear the old school, familiar disdain, with little to no patience for new people and new things. The slam bang finish is satisfying and sets the table for Jessica Barry to be an ongoing thriller talent to be reckoned with.   

Thursday, January 17, 2019

Expect, No…Mercy

The Long Road to Mercy – David Baldacci (Grand Central)

Since his debut thriller, Absolute Power, some 23 years ago in 1996, I have been a fan of bestselling author David Baldacci. Through his amazing catalog of work and his multitude of successful characters and series he has done an amazing job of weaving enthralling tales and creating compelling story leads.

So it was no surprise that Baldacci would once again launch a new character to lead the way with his latest book, The Long Road to Mercy, in the form of FBI Special Agent Atlee Pine. Right from the first page I thought we were off to the races on another amazing thrill ride. Pine makes late night visit to the Colorado based Florence ADX, super-max prison to have a chat with serial killer and mountain sized Hannibal Lecter-like, Daniel James Tor, who she believes is responsible for the disappearance of her twin sister Mercy.



With shades of Clarice Starling confronting Lecter at the Plexiglass divider I was strapped in a ready for what I thought was certain to come! And then the story took a hard turn and veered off into a tale involving the murder and mutilation of a Grand Canyon mule and the mysterious circumstances that surround it. What? The word LONG in the title is very apt, because this one goes on a long and winding road to introduce Pine and her background while mixing in a twisted tale involving international intrigue, a so-called suitcase nuke, mysterious North Korean thugs and a shadowy bunch of consultants and think tank operatives. What?


I hung in for the story to see exactly where it would go and end up and in the end thought it would be a good story for a beginning novelist, but I wasn’t sold that this was up to Baldacci’s standards. Here’s hoping the title The Long Road to Mercy, lives to its billing in the second book and Baldacci sends Pine on an ongoing search for answers involving her sister.   

Thursday, January 10, 2019

The Tale of Two Cookbooks

I love cookbooks because of the sheer diversity of their style and approach to cooking, because I love to try new things and learn new techniques or methods for preparing food. Two recent additions to the shelf approach things from very different directions; one focused on an almost snout to tail approach to cooking, with nothing going to waste and the other an easy home cooking, simple recipe approach.
  
Joe Beef: Surviving the Apocalypse: Another Cookbook of Sorts – Fredric Morin, David McMillan, and Meredith Erickson (Knopf)

Adventurous and dynamic may just barely scratch the surface of the Joe Beef approach to cooking and food. Part cookbook and part gourmet survival guide Fredric Morin, David McMillan, and Meredith Erickson team up to serve up Joe Beef: Surviving the Apocalypse: Another Cookbook of Sorts, is a rambling affair chock full of intriguing recipes (150!) along with a carefully curated selection of essentials to stock up your larder to make surviving the apocalypse less trying.




The trio load Joe Beef: Surviving the Apocalypse: Another Cookbook of Sorts, with tales and reminiscences about long lost summers and unique Sunday dinners. The fact that they are based in Montreal may be a contributing factor to some of the difficulty sourcing some of the ingredients suggested in the book. Not a great choice for the beginning cook, there is a level of skill need to successfully pull some of these recipes off; but the stories make this worth the price of admission.

Comfort Food Shortcuts: An "In the Kitchen with David" Cookbook from QVC's Resident Foodie – David Venable – (Ballantine)

A 20 plus year veteran of the shopping network OVC, David Venable is dubbed the channel’s resident foodie and has successfully introduced curious shopper to a wide range of new gizmos and innovative devices and tools to make meal preparation simple and easy.



Simple and easy is the focus of Venable’s latest cookbook, Comfort Food Shortcuts: An "In the Kitchen with David" Cookbook from QVC's Resident Foodie, which is loaded with 110 recipes that utilize many of the time saving devices that he sells through QVC, combined with great shortcuts that will make it easy to get great tasting food that will become favorites for the whole family.


Busy schedules can make family dinners non-existent, but this simple, stripped down approach combined with easy shortcuts on the ingredients used in things like slow cookers and pressure cookers to simplify the whole process. Think great meals with less muss and no fuss.