Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Clive Davis – The Soundtrack of My Life (Simon & Schuster)

So, how does a nice Jewish boy from Crown Heights, Brooklyn, New York go from being a Harvard  educated lawyer to becoming one of the most successful music industry moguls in the history of the business? A quick run through the pages of The Soundtrack of My Life the autobiography of Clive Davis and you’ll get a red carpet glimpse of the incredible and storied career of a true titan of the music business.
For a guy who has gone through a series of meteoric rises and nearly as dramatic falls, Davis has an amazing memory from which he recounts his climb from first rung of the legal department to running Columbia Records at what would be a pivotal moment as it transitions from the home of successful middle of the road acts to being the home to a veritable rock ‘n’ roll hall of fame wing.
The names, the tales, the internal battles and the dynamic style that Davis brought to the business and while it’s been attempted, it’s never quite been duplicated, is all here. Davis has had a hand in discovering, signing or guiding to greater success the careers of: Neil Diamond, Bob Dylan, Janis Joplin, Simon & Garfunkel, Aerosmith, Pink Floyd, Whitney Houston, Chicago, Johnny Cash, Santana (not once, but twice), Sly & the Family Stone, Earth, Wind & Fire, The Grateful Dead and many, many more.
He recalls with fascinating detail the process and back story of many of his personal interactions with artists and in the case of Janis Joplin an offer of a very personal interaction to seal the deal if you will. Davis doesn’t shy away from telling his side of the story about his dramatic departure from Columbia Records at a point that many would say was the peak of his first round of success. While clearly stung by the accusations against him and the media’s coverage of those allegations, Davis finally has his day in these pages.
While many would have been destroyed by this kind of episode, Davis deftly bounced back forming Arista Records and continuing on to even greater success. While at times coming off as more than a bit self-obsessed, what mogul worth his salt isn’t self-obsessed, Davis lards on the detail of his salary, his homes and his lavish mogul lifestyle.
Anyone familiar with the stories of the titans of the music industry know that these are not people cut from ordinary cloth; they are extremely creative, dynamic risk takers who are willing to roll the dice in search of a jackpot. Certainly that is a mantle that Clive Davis would be comfortable wearing. While these folks are often cited for the positive impact they have on the artists they guide, they are also bound to rankle a few folks along the way and make enemies along the way. Davis has his share of both, but clearly his track record of success makes it clear that the positives outweigh the negatives.  

Sunday, February 24, 2013

What Makes a Thriller Great

While often disparaged by those who claim to be of a higher mind as not being great literature (insert your best Downton Abbey accent here) the thriller holds a special place in the hearts of readers everywhere.

There are a handful of prerequisites that separate great thrillers from the average. First a great thriller will drop you into the action right from the very first page; while some think Stephen King writes thrillers, this guy will bury you in 400 pages of background, before he hits you with the action. Get me in the grip of the story right away, or lose me!

Second, while a thriller needs intensity, what really makes it great is tension! It’s the knife edge, the whats around the next corner, the will the hero get caught that drives great thrillers. And last, but certainly not least, a thriller needs to finish strong. You’ve succeeded in dragging me through the twists and turns of a great ride, but then you finish with a slap down or a lame shoot out to end things?! NO! You need to make the action carry right to the last page.

Three recent entries in the thriller sweepstakes hit the mark to varying degrees of success:

Brad Taylor is back with another installment in the Pike Logan series; Enemy of Mine which is chock full of been there done that, insider knowledge. With Pike Logan, Taylor is poised to join the elite class of thriller writers that include Vince Flynn and Brad Thor.

Taylor jumpstarts the action from the get go and ratchets up the intensity as he puts the covert force known as the Taskforce through its paces. The real world believable plot of a terrorist attempt on a U.S. envoy sent to solidify an Israeli-Palestinian peace accord has a ripped from the headlines feel.

While it may not be what is traditionally considered to be a thriller, Lawrence Block’s hit man for hire, Keller is back in Hit Me. While considered a master of mystery, with Keller, Block clearly steps away from the whodunit style with a unique and intriguing character.

Everybody’s favorite philatelist (stamp collector) has retired from the murder for hire game and has migrated from New York City south to New Orleans. Add to the mix a new name, a wife, a new kid and a new career as a home remodeler/flipper in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

But, like seemingly everybody else, Keller’s new life gets impacted by the economic downturn and suddenly he is thrust back into the world he thought he left behind. While comfortable, Keller does want to dip into his cash reserves, so when the phones rings and the ever-present contractor Dot offers up work in his former profession, Keller needless to say takes the job.

Block is a master of tension, mixing Keller benign hobby smoothly with his menacing career. The stakes seem higher for Keller as he walks the fine line between his new life and his old. You may end doing a double take when you realize that Block has caught you up in the web so tightly that you are rooting for a man who commits murder for money.

While comparisons to Dan Brown may be a blessing and a curse, TV personality and critic Linda Stasi’s initial foray into fiction, The Sixth Station has all of the elements and alchemy of thriller gold; terrorism, international intrigue and even the very real possibility that someone has utilized religious artifacts to clone Jesus in an otherworld style Second Coming.

Stasi’s wise-cracking, feisty, reporter Alessandra Russo sets the table quickly, when she is seemingly randomly picked from a crowd gathered for the international U.N. tribunal for alleged  terrorist Demiel ben Yusef, and she is on the receiving end of a kiss from ben Yusef that sets the wheels in motion on a global conspiracy.

Is ben Yusef the cloned Son of the Son or the murderous terrorist, who stands accused of killing tens of thousands. The race is on as Russo fends of villains of every stripe in an end of days chase for answers. Stasi does a nice job of balancing religious history and mystery with a tension filled style. The problem is as the story builds and grows to epic proportions that the ending seems to be a letdown. The whats next ending seems to have set the table for a sequel/ follow up to continue the tale.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

What’s More Shocking About the Morrissey Story?

The headline of the Reuters story is; Singer Morrissey requests meat-free venue for Los Angeles concert.

After reading the story, I’m not sure what the most shocking thing about the story is:

1.      The fact that Reuters makes the claim that this mincing slob is a “singer.”

2.      The claim that this bloated old puss bag is 53!

3.      The fact that the way over-rated former frontman of the Smiths is playing the Staples Center? Last I checked the Staples Center in Los Angeles seats nearly 20,000 people for a concert. I would think the local coffee house with a capacity of 12 standing or 7 sitting would be plenty big enough.

4.      Or the reason for the story; that this holier than thou PETA-type coerced the Staples Center management company to not sell meat at the concession stands.

Gee…shocking that old Mo was hospitalized recently for a bleeding ulcer. Maybe this old

mo needs to have a steak and relax…it just might improve his health and his outlook on life!



Saturday, February 16, 2013

How To Boil an Egg – Rose Carrarini (Phaidon Press)

True confessions…I love to cook and I am pretty good at it.

I started my cooking “career” as a latch key kid, with two working parents and an absent, older sibling who didn’t do the best job of feeding me. So I learned pretty quickly that if I wanted to eat more than PB&J, I had to watch and learn and try my hand at cooking.
I wasn’t going to be firing up the grill or making full blown meals, so I started with simple things; grilled cheese sandwiches and as the marketing brand says, the incredible, edible egg. I quickly mastered everything egg. Egg salad. Scrambled eggs. Fried eggs. Omelets. If you egged me on, I could whip it up. Soon enough I became the breakfast master, knocking out plate after plate of egg dishes for family breakfasts, for tired parents after work and even larger family gatherings like camping trips.
I moved on to bigger and better dishes and feasts, but to be honest, while they are a cornerstone element to many of the favorite dishes I continue to crank out for family and friends, I never really gave a whole lot of consideration to the versatility of the egg, until I cracked open Rose Carrini’s new guide to everything egg, How To Boil an Egg.

Carrini is the co-founder of the bakery/restaurant, Rose Bakery and she does a wonderful job of laying out 84 simple yet delectable ways to turn the simple egg into breakfast, lunch or dinner masterpieces. Accompanying the easily executed recipes are the striking illustration by botanical artist Fiona Strickland, which makes for an interesting twist on the pre-canned food photos normally found in cookbooks.
Carrini tackles the age old question posed by the book’s title; if you’re wondering…for soft boiled bring the water to a boil first and gently lower in the eggs. The book runs the gamut new twists on breakfast favorites, to egg-centric baked goods and even soups and egg based sauces.
If you’re like me and you’re a fan of breakfast for dinner, How to Boil and Egg offers up a wide variety of both savory and sweet options. Even some of the easy to prepare choices give tried and true favorites a new twist; like Egg in the Middle which spins fried eggs and toast and you can even tell the kids Green Fried Eggs was inspired by Dr. Seuss and get them to eat spinach.
Whether you are a black belt egg master or a beginner, How To Boil an Egg offers up variety of easy to make dishes that will impress anyone you choose to serve them up to.

David Fredosso – Spin Masters: How the Media Ignored the Real News and Helped Reelect Barack Obama (Regnery Books)

David Fredosso’s new book Spin Masters: How the Media Ignored the Real News and Helped Reelect Barack Obama is a chapter and verse indictment of the mainstream media and their complicity in not only ignoring the pitiful results of Obama’s first term, but their creation of news and storylines that didn’t exist.

Fredosso recounts one of the most glaring examples of news creation when Democrat operative George Stephanopolis, who collects a paycheck from ABC Propaganda (formerly ABC News) and his promulgation of the “war on women” and badgering of Mitt Romney about his “plan” to ban birth control. Anyone who was truly paying attention and had an IQ above room temperature knew that there was no such “plan” or even thought process, even from the most pro-life Republican candidate Rick Santorum.

Fredosso makes the case that the media went far beyond debate moderator Candy Crowley of CNN’s inserting herself into the debate between Romney and Obama by ignoring countless high profile issues that were part and parcel of Obama’s first term including; terrible economic numbers, wasteful government spending that contributed to a huge increase in the national debt, serious abuses of power like the so-called recess appointments, despite  the fact Senate was still in session and the utter mishandling of the Benghazi attack.

Anyone in their right mind who gave serious consideration to Obama’s first term has to conclude that he ranks among the worst Presidents in U.S. history, who has done serious if not irreparable harm to the country, yet in the media vacuum and echo chamber, he still managed to get re-elected.

Fredosso’s detailing of the media’s malpractice should be a clear signal to the inept Republican party and to those who care about the future of this country, that if we are ever going to pull out of the tailspin created by two terms of Obama, then they will have to make significant progress on improving their methods of communication and making an impact on the American public. If that does not come to pass then the stupid masses will continue to be lead around by the nose by the media and continue to reelect the worst possible candidates.

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Why We Write – Meredith Maran (Plume)

At some point anyone who has ever put pen to paper, banged away on a typewriter, or tapped the keys of a computer in an effort to string together words into a story have probably wondered why they do what they do. In Why We Write Meredith Maran strings together a series of interviews with “acclaimed” although not all bestselling, authors as to why they do what they do.

Why the mix of authors leans heavily towards those who ply their trade as literary writers versus those who are bestselling, or more commercial writers, there is a level of commonality that they share. Often it boils down to the simple fact that they have a story in them that just has to come out.

One of the most interesting segments comes from Walter Mosley, the bestselling author of the Easy Rawlins series (among others) who laments that he is pigeonholed by his fiction success, while he has non-fiction stories and screenplays that he has put down on paper. While most would be content with Mosley’s level of success, he clearly has a desire to expand his scope.

The bottom line is there is nothing truly groundbreaking in the response to the book’s title question; most write because they feel the need to get a story out or they simply don’t know how to do anything else. Writing is simply the vehicle they use to get their creative mojo on.