Sunday, July 28, 2013

The Story of the Stones in Songs

Rocks Off: 50 Tracks That Tell the Story of the Rolling Stones – Bill Janovitz (St. Martin’s Press)

There have been any number of books that dissected a band’s time spent in the studio and how they went about the recording process; most with takes from the artists, the producers, the engineers and even the managers, friends and hangers on.

Rocks Off: 50 Tracks That Tell the Story of the Rolling Stones by Bill Janovitz may be the first to ever take things down to the granular level by examining a band’s career through the prism of songs that define them. The Stones may be unique in that they have not only the depth of catalog, but also the span of time, 50 years, to lend perspective.

Janovitz, a musician in his own right as singer and guitarist for the alternative band Buffalo Tom, treads the fine line between insightful scholarship in these stories and drooling fan boy of Mick and the boys. When you take a moment to ponder the sheer volume of what has been written about the Stones, the pile grows with each passing decade, to develop an original thought or approach amounts to genius.

Janovitz doesn’t claim to list the Stones 50 best songs, but merely utilizes 50 songs as guideposts through the Rollings Stones career. He delivers not only studio insights, but delivers the feel for the time, the setting and the state of the band.  He walks you through a time portal that transports you back to places like Chess Records Studio and Muscle Shoals Studio and offers up the historical perspective of not only the band, but the time in our collective history and how it impacted the music.

The approach to writing style is compartmentalized and allows you to jump around and thumb through the 50 tracks without feeling like you need to read them in chronological order. I gravitated to my personal favorite Stones song Gimme Shelter and the depth of insight about how the era impacted that song, really set the hook to draw me in for the rest of the book. Janovitz has achieved the nearly impossible; to deliver an interesting and entertaining Rolling Stones book, that doesn’t have a been there, done that feel.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

A Mid-Summer Night’s Read

Whether you take to the beach, the patio or any comfortable chair, there’s plenty of entertaining mid-summer reading to choose from.

Silken Prey – John Sanford (Putnam)
John Sanford is back with Silken Prey, the 23rd installment in the Minnesota-based investigator, Lucas Davenport, Prey series. In a day and age of politicians sending out Weiner Tweets, ending up better known as “Client #9” than as a state’s governor and plenty of dirty political tricks, is so had to believe that an ambitious political newcomer would stoop to planting child porn on an opponent’s campaign computer and then spiral to murder to not only get ahead, but to maintain that advantage?

The simple answer is yes! That’s the set up and Sandford delivers just the right mix of familiar characters and jackknife twists and turns to keep you on your toes. It’s a nice twist to have Sanford’s other familiar lead Kidd make an appearance to lend expertise with computers. Sanford delivers a winner that’s as comfortable as a pair of old, broken in sandals.
Slingshot: A Spycatcher Novel – Matthew Dunn (William Morrow)
Former MI 6 field officer Matthew Dunn checks in with the third novel in his Spycatcher series; Slingshot featuring master spy Will Cochrane. Dunn’s style has a decidedly British air ala John le Carre and like the spy thriller master, Dunn infuses Cochrane with a realistic, been there, done that edge.

Slingshot serves up the requisite amounts of far flung locales, murky damp settings and fast paced action to keep the story moving. You may find yourself having to suspend your firm grip on reality on occasion, but isn’t that what a summer read is all about?

The Caretaker – A X Ahmad (Macmillan Audiobooks – Unabridged Edition)

A native of India, A X Ahmad stated his writing career by author literary pieces but transitioned to the thriller realm for his first full length effort The Caretaker. The first in a planned trilogy featuring the adventures disgraced former Indian Army Major, turned illegal alien, Ranjit Singh.

Singh and his family overstay their tourist visas as he works menial landscaping jobs for the rich and powerful on Martha’s Vineyard. It’s not surprising that the MIT educated Ahmad would choose the Vineyard and Boston as the setting for the story. Singh ends up taking the task of winter caretaker for a Massacusetts U.S. Senator who has ambitions for higher office.

Somewhat predictably, the Senator turns out to be of less than the highest character and is willing to do anything to get ahead (gee sounds oddly familiar) and Singh’s family’s illegal status soon lands him in hot water. The story propels along nicely and the audio book performance by Mumbai-born, British actor Sam Dastor has an authentic feel.
The Warriors – Tom Young (Putnam)

As a confirmed fan of Vince Flynn, Brad Thor, Stephen Coonts and Tom Clancy, I am not certain how Tom young has escaped my reading list up until now. A retired U. S. Air National Guard master sergeant who logged time in Afghanistan, Iraq, the Far East and over the Horn of Africa.  His fourth fiction book, The Warriors harkens back to Young’s time serving in Bosnia and Kosovo.

Young captures flying sequences with accuracy and realism. The realism extends to all of the military action, where the heroes aren’t possessed with super-human powers and not every sequence resolves itself with the cleanest of outcomes. Ethnic cleansing isn’t pretty and Young delivers a gritty dose of reality.


Sunday, July 21, 2013

Detroit: More Than Murder, Cars and Bankruptcy!

Detroit Rock City: The Uncensored History of Rock ‘n’ Roll in America’s Loudest City – Steve Miller (Da Capo Press)

You’ve probably at one point or another played the game where someone whispers something to a person and then that person passes it on to the next and so on. By the time it reaches the end of the group, the original comment has been changed pretty dramatically. That is almost the gist of this documentary style format retelling of the history of Detroit rock ‘n’ roll, by the folks who contributed to the city’s noisy history.

That’s what makes Detroit Rock City: The Uncensored History of Rock ‘n’ Roll in America’s Loudest City from journalist and author Steve Miller, not to be confused with the Fly Like and Eagle guitarist, so interesting. It’s all about perspective, as Miller tosses out a nugget and Detroit’s finest offer up their version of how things went down. It’s certainly interesting and often entertaining to read the occasionally wildly varying remembrances of the same events.

While the musical side of the Motor City is often framed around the exploits of Berry Gordy’s Motown Records which spawned so many icons and hits, it is impossible to overlook the monumental rock ‘n’ roll output that the gritty city served up. Guitar heroes from Ted Nugent and Dick Wagner to the White Stripes’ Jack White all called Detroit home. Add to that the likes of Bob Seger, Iggy Pop, MC5, Alice Cooper, Mitch Ryder, Mark Farner and Grand Funk Railroad and the list goes on and on. A case could easily be made the for the Rock ‘n’ Roll hall of fame to be located in Detroit. The end result turned out to be so darn lame that it’s probably better housed in Cleveland.

While the legendary laundry list of stars all have their say here, it is the folks who worked the music scene; the sound guys, disc jockeys, music journalists, managers, club owners, groupies, girlfriends, and hangers-on that add the layers of color to the story told here. While fame and fortune are cool side effects, it was really the music that mattered. It is a striking comparison to today’s Auto-tuned, pabulum puke that is instantly forgettable.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Divergent – Veronica Roth (Harper Audio/Unabridged Edition)

It’s easy to understand how some people have made the short leap to describe Veronica Roth’s Divergent trilogy as being similar to Suzanne Collins Hunger Games trilogy. Aside from the obvious fact that they are trilogies, both stories feature a dystopian societal setting laced with fear and primal destitution.

At that point, the comparison really runs out of steam. While Hunger Games runs closer to fantasy; given the divisive state we find our world in, it isn’t all that hard to fathom a society where people divide themselves into Roth’s fractured, factions, which take on splintered roles in society as a whole.

Narrator Emma Galvin is the perfect voice for heroine Beatrice “Tris” Prior, who takes the unexpected leap from the straight laced, “abnegation” faction to the X-Games style faction of the “dauntless.” While the factions seem to co-exist, Roth laces the story with a tension that clearly sets the table not only for conflict, but the next installment of the series.

While readers both young (the intended audience) and old will enjoy the fantasy storyline, were Roth falls a bit short is her dry description of the setting. Important locales get short shrift when it comes to in depth drawing of place. A good fantasy, not matter how bleak should conjure up a clear image of where the action takes place.
In the end, Roth leaves it to the characters to drive the story and has with all good series, she leaves you wanting to see what’s next and anticipating the new installment.  




The Power of Rock ‘n’ Roll…Not So Much

Bruce Springsteen Rocking the Wall: The Berlin Concert That Changed the World – By Erik Kirschbaum (Berlinica Publishing)

I want to be clear up front; believe in the power of rock ‘n’ roll. It is a musical form that has moved generations, caused notable cultural, and world seismic shifts. But being equally clear; I find Erik Kirschbaum’s hypothesis, in the book Bruce Springsteen Rocking the Wall: The Berlin Concert That Changed the World, that Springsteen’s concert was the catalyst for bringing down the Berlin Wall absurd at best.

Kirschbaum, a U.S. born, Reuters correspondent based in Germany for more than two decades seems all too willing to ignore the world political tide at the time Springsteen’s historic, July 19, 1988 concert. Kirschbaum’s liberal panties show when he makes snide comments about conservatives and the impact they had on bringing about the end of the Cold War.

To discount the impact of Ronald Reagan, Margaret Thatcher and even Pope John Paul II in bringing about a global change in Communist dominated countries from Russia to East Germany and Poland is to ignore reality. Springsteen’s record breaking concert crowd, with estimates of upwards of 300,000 East German’s, was not the cause of freedom, but a symbol of what freedom could bring.

Anyone who has ever been involved in organizing a huge, outdoor, event knows all of the details involved in pulling together so many moving parts that it often seems an insurmountable task. Kirschbaum’s book does offer interesting insight into what had to be a monolithic effort that went into pulling off this historic concert.