Sunday, January 27, 2013

98% Funky Stuff: My Life in Music – Maceo Parker (Chicago Review Press)

Full confession…I am a full blown music fanatic and more than a little bit of a liner note junkie. I have always loved reading the details of who, what, where, of the music I listen to. Who played what, who wrote what and who produced it all.

Maceo Parker has played saxophone on more than his fair share of a lot of that music. Parker details not only his life and career in his new memoir 98% Funky Stuff: My Life in Music, but also what turns out to be an interesting time in our musical history and the history of the United States as a whole.

Parker got his professional start backing James Brown, barnstorming around the world with the R & B master. Parker’s story about playing the Boston Gardens the night after Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated and many cities found themselves in turmoil, with riots in the streets in reaction to King’s murder. Parker remembers the dread he felt, being asked to take on the role he filled many times for Brown, acting as master of ceremonies, warming up the crowd with a short comedy routine. The laughs he generated eased any lingering tensions and eased the way for music.

His reminiscences of touring West Africa with Brown and being greeted with chants of “MA-CE-O, MA-CE-O” speaks volumes about how music can transcend any language or other barrier that might exist.

At the heart of what Parker does best is his early declaration to give 2% to jazz and the other 98% to the funky stuff. Looking back that funky side has transcended literal generations of music with his collaborations shifting from Brown to George Clinton’s P-Funk crew to Prince. Parker’s range is nearly unmatched with his contributions along the way including diverse acts like; the legendary Ray Charles, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Dave Matthews, James Taylor and Ani DiFranco.   

Bullies: How the Left’s Culture of Fear and Intimidation Silences America (Threshold Editions)

The impending death of the Republican Party will have been caused because they did nothing to staunch the bleeding caused by thousands of tiny knife wounds inflicted by a well entrenched army of the left and the fact that the limp wristed, wuss leaders of the Party (see John Boehner) did nothing to fight back.

Ben Shapiro’s book Bullies: How the Left’s Culture of Fear and Intimidation Silences America is a call to arms and a call to action for conservatives. Shapiro lays out chapter and verse, example after example of how the left has built a multi-faceted approach not only to politics, but to power.

It’s reads like something out of Chinese military strategist Sun Tzu the way the left has steadily built a power base in institutions like the media, the education system, Hollywood, and the non-profit world and utilized that power to beat down (in the case of union thugs, sometimes literally) the opposition.

Republicans and conservatives have been cowed to silence for fear of being labeled racist, homophobe, or anti-this that or the other thing. In the process the Left has so thoroughly changed the face of our culture that what once would have been deemed outrageous is now seen as somehow normal.

Shapiro’s call to action is that conservatives are at a tipping point (to use a cultural buzzword) where they charged with deciding if they want to fight or switch. Do they want to stand up and fight back on behalf of the Republican Party, which all too often bails on conservatives, or do they want to build something new to challenge the status quo. In may boil down to the ages old conundrum of the “devil you know…”

Shapiro’s best point is that conservatives can no longer be silenced by the Left’s tactics. It won’t be easy to withstand the withering assault that will come your way if you choose to take on the ingrained machine of the Left. I think that Shapiro really exposed how weak the Left really is when they get confronted head on during his recent interview with snotty Brit, CNN’s Piers Morgan. When confronted head on Morgan shows what a sputtering moron he really is; it is a clear case of an merciless beat down by Shapiro. It is that kind of gloves off response that is long overdue from conservatives.

I laughed out loud at the irony when Shapiro quotes failed Republican Presidential candidate Mitt Romney, who was talking about Obama’s approach to fixing the economy when he said “When you have an enterprise in trouble, the number one rule is focus, focus, focus.” Perhaps that is good advice for the Republican Party; clearly they have an enterprise in trouble, the question is what will their focus be? Clearly Ben Shapiro has laid out a strong case for how to bounce back.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Patriots: Surviving the Coming Collapse - James Wesley Rawles (Ulysses Press)

If you hear the terms survivalist or prepper it usually comes with a snicker of derision attached; a knowing, smarter than you “oh he’s one of those people.” This isn’t anything new; people who planned for any eventuality and to be self-reliant have always been derided as being more than a little off the beaten path, a little kooky.

Yet, I get the feeling that the folks that snigger and point fingers are the ones that will be the first to buckle and cry like little girls when bad things actually happen. It is those bad things, a worst case scenario if you will, in which James Wesley Rawles set his novel/preparedness guide, Patriots: Surviving the Coming Collapse.

Rawles utilizes a series of critical themes throughout Patriots, preparedness, self-reliance, team work and shockingly in this day and age…a dedication to the U.S. Constitution! The goal here seems to be seeding useful, vital information into a fictional account of the United States in a state of utter disarray, not due to an attack, a war or another calamity that so often pervades fiction, but a meltdown caused by an economic collapse. Given our current state, you’ve got to wonder just how fictional this story really is.

It certainly is not an easy task to have a fictional narrative drive the information that is packed into this book and at times the story gets a little scattered, but overall Rawles walks the tightrope between fiction and reality. The ripped from today’s headline quality makes it all the more believable.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Gary Shapiro – Ninja Innovation: The Ten Killer Strategies of the World's Most Successful Businesses (William Morrow)

What is it that separates those companies that constantly remain on the cutting edge and leave in their wake a trail of successful products and are dominant not only in their product categories, but become dominant companies?

The names are familiar household brands known the world over; Apple, Microsoft, Google, and Amazon among others. Gary Shapiro, who spent his career on the frontlines of innovation as the head of the Consumer Electronics Association offers up insights from that perspective in Ninja Innovation: The Ten Killer Strategies of the World's Most Successful Businesses.

There is a common thread that runs through the leaders of these companies; the late Steve Jobs, Bill Gates and Jeff Bezos’ of the world. They all bring a focused vision, the ability to adapt seemingly on the fly, a decisive nature determination and above all the limitless desire to win.

Are they strategic? Are they well planned? Do they innovate with a purpose? The answer to all three is clearly a resounding yes! But above all there is a bias towards action! Shapiro makes the case for the almost religious fervor with which these leaders/companies conduct business. There’s nothing laid back about these full throttle folks.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Robert B. Parker’s Ironhorse – Robert Knott

How do you replace a legend?

How do you replace a legend who created not one, not two, not three, but five incredibly memorable lead characters, each one distinctly cut from a unique cloth?

The legend in question is author Robert B. Parker and those characters are Spencer, Jesse Stone, Sunny Randall, and Virgil Cole and Everett Hitch. Like many estates/publishers looking to continue a literary franchise The Parker Family has hand selected authors to pick up the mantle of these memorable characters.

The latest to take up the task is Robert Knott who is charged with carrying on the western series featuring Cole and Hitch, the itinerant lawmen who work the mean streets of Appaloosa. Knott was selected based upon his ties to TV adaptation of Parker’s first book in this series Appaloosa, for which Knott helped to co-write the screenplay with the film’s star, Ed Harris.

It is that familiarity with not only the characters, but also with the easy-going, Parker style that help Ironhorse to work. One of the things that make Cole and Hitch so good is their comfortable, well-worn banter that fits just like a perfectly broken in saddle. Knott does a nice job shoehorning together the duos, completing the other guys thought chatter.

After depositing prisoners south of the border in Mexico, the pair board the St. Louis/San Francisco train to head back to Appaloosa. What should have been an easy trip home turns in a very different direction. Add to the mix the Governor of Texas along with his wife and daughters, $500,000 in cash and train car full of familiar bad guys including Bloody Bob Brandice and Cole and Hitch are off on a wild ride.
Knott does well to not only carrying on the characters but weaves in era correct historical artifacts throughout Ironhorse. While some purist Parker fans might quibble, overall I would bet most will be happy that Cole and Hitch will continue and not ride off into the sunset.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

20,000 Days and Counting – Robert D. Smith (Thomas Nelson)

It’s fairly easy to understand that when you walk into any library or book store in world you will find shelves if not entire sections of books insipidly labeled Self Help. It’s easy to be unhappy and miserable; most people don’t need a guide book to learn how to do it. If one was truly helping themselves, then they wouldn’t need a book to guide them.

I wouldn’t necessarily label Robert Smith’s book 20,000 Days and Counting “self help”, as much as a reminder that you can choose the life you want to lead. The misconception that most people have is that life dictates how they live, rather than they themselves choosing the direction their life takes.

Groundbreaking? No not really. Smith really runs on a familiar path, in short, easy to read and grasp book. Where he is at his best is when Smith talks about living each day with “maximum intensity”. Life is full of distractions and time wasters which can drag us down, Smith really lays out a guidepost to focus with a new intensity.

 One of the down falls of most books in this genre is that they tend to drag on and lose reader focus and end up on the shelf gathering dust. Smith gives the reader prescriptive to dos that are easy to put into practice today…while the count up clock is ticking.

Friday, January 11, 2013

Babylon Confidential: A Memoir of Love, Sex, and Addiction by Claudia Christian (BenBella Books)

The story has been written and told more times than you can count; a gorgeous teenager flees a troubled childhood and lands in Hollywood. The handwriting is clearly on the wall, this won’t end well!

The story includes all of the usual suspects you expect in a Hollywood story; ego-fueled actors, directors and producers, millionaires and billionaires, rock stars and super models. Add a heaping helping of alcohol, drugs and addictions, mix with a handful of the usual hangers-on and requisite trips to rehab and rehab and rehab and rehab…you get the picture, and you have actress Claudia Christian’s memoir, Babylon Confidential.

Christian details her ongoing struggles with addiction that is at one turn familiar to the point of being commonplace in Hollywood tales and in another heart wrenching. While I don’t think the goal was to inspire folks struggling with the demons of addiction, Babylon Confidential does prove to be illuminating for family members or friends who may be trying to assist those in tackling an addiction.

One of the amazing things about Ms. Christian’s story is her ongoing survival in a churn and burn industry and the fact that in an era where late twenty-somethings pass themselves off as glee-ful high schoolers, a young Christian off played mature roles many years her senior.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

New David Bowie Record Causes Stir...not sure why...

Based on the early reactions, the release of a new single by David Bowie came as a surprise to many music industry watchers and fans. Not sure why people are getting so worked up; based on a few quick listens my initial reaction is Where Are We can I put this BLOWS! So much for being polite! Some people just don't know when to hang it up. I had the opportunity to interview Bowie back when he did one of his farewell tours back in the 90s, it was a great show full of his classics and would have been a fitting end to a storied career. But like so many senior citizen rockers, Bowie is back for more. Suppose it could have been worse...he could have gone the Rod Stewart route and released The Thin White Duke Does Standards Volumes 1-5.

Friday, January 4, 2013

To Sell Is Human: The Surprising Truth About Moving Others – Daniel Pink (Riverhead)

You gotta love selling related clich├ęs: always be closing, you’ve got to ask for the sale, and my personal favorite “coffee is for closers.”

My friends at Miriam Webster offer this among the multitude of definitions for the word sell; “to persuade or influence a course of action.” For me that fits the premise of best selling author/famed speaker Daniel Pink’s new book, To Sell Is Human.

Pink makes the case that while millions of Americans, numbering 1 in 9 work in what would be considered “traditional” sales professions and that the other 8 out of 9 are actually in sales as well, in the form of non-sales selling. Any marketer worth his salt will tell you that every member of every organization plays a role in selling your organization, your service or your product.

It really boils down to the power of persuasion; we spend a large portion of our work day trying to move people, ideas, concepts or processes to co-workers, bosses, peers or the public. Pink posits that while some think salespeople are grown, selling is a natural, instinctual, process; an ability we are all born with. Like ducks to water we are all born with the basics to move people.

Pink tackles the ABCs of selling, which used to mean the aforementioned Always Be Closing that he changes to Attunement, Buoyancy, Clarity. At close inspection, they make sense; Attunement addressing the ability to mold your actions and views to work cooperatively; Buoyancy dealing with your outlook, spirit and grittiness and Clarity your capacity to make sense to difficult situations and create a clear path to solutions.

Pink provides actionable steps that can be put to work today, but I don’t find this to be a groundbreaking, head slapping, “why didn’t I think of that” kind of book. The six-successors of the elevator pitch, does serve as a good reminder that story is the cornerstone of what we do.