Thursday, May 29, 2014

One More for the Pile

Ain’t It Time We Said Goodbye – The Rolling Stones on the Road to Exile – Robert Greenfield (DaCapo Press)

Books about the Rolling Stones…there have been books about the band, books, about and by, the members of the band, books about the band’s music, albums, singles, and recording sessions. There have been books about the band’s wives, ex-wives, girlfriends, ex-girlfriends, groupies that slept with band members or claim to have slept with band members. Let’s not forget the books about the tours, the producers, the managers, the sidemen, the soundmen, the band’s instruments, the musicians they influenced and the musicians who influenced them. How about the picture books, the coffee table books, the catalogs, the collectibles books, the books that include CDs and the books that include DVDs. Suffice to say that there aren’t too many stones that have gone unturned when comes to writing about the Stones.

The latest entry comes from bestselling author, writer, playwright and the author of two other Rolling Stones books, Robert Greenfield, in the form of Ain’t It Time We Said Goodbye – The Rolling Stones on the Road to Exile. While toiling as the London Bureau chief of Rolling Stone Magazine, Greenfield was the only journalist who tagged along on what was called the Stones “farewell tour” of England, with plans calling for them to become tax exiles following the jaunts conclusion.

While I’m not certain that Greenfield has offered any startling new insights into the band, and who really could at this point, I think he does offer some interesting thoughts about the Stones in that time frame. In the 1971 pre-internet/24 news channel/smart phone world, it still seems odd that that the Stones would jump on what amounts to public transportation, a train, with little to no fanfare to begin the tour. Knowing what would come on future tours, with epic hours long shows; it also strikes me as hard to fathom that the band ripped through two shows a night, 12 songs each, lasting by Greenfield’s estimation 30 minutes. Would today’s fans sit still for that abbreviated set? Not likely.

While Greenfield offers numerous sidebars, he claims from referencing his original notebooks, there are a handful of errors that may seem a bit nitpicky, that find their way into the book. Given Lisa Robinson’s recent seemingly farfetched recollections of her time on the road with the Stones, maybe we need to chalk up these mis-remberances as part of residue of life on the road with the World’s greatest Rock ’n’ Roll Band.

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Start the Summer Reading Stampede

With the Memorial Day holiday comes the annual stampede of great summer reading; here a small sample of what to expect from tried and true veterans of the form to up and coming new talents.

Bird Box – Josh Malerman (ECCO/Harper Collins)

It’s out there. Something is lurking, just off the edges of your reality and if you see it, it’s all over. Imagine trying to live an existence of sensory deprivation; blindfolded against a force that to identify will cause you to go off in a murderous rage.

Josh Malerman delivers a strikingly good debut novel, Bird Box that delivers the best kind of horror and chills; the ones where your own mind creates a thrilling tension. A young women, Malorie, and her two children are set to depart the relative safety of their run down home by the river, to board a row boat and head off in search of something resembling new existence.

It is a terrifying journey, shrouded in darkness and aided by the children’s well developed sense of hearing. Can they find their way to a group of survivors and in the end will that reality be any better? It takes reckoning with an unseen force to a whole new level.

The Target – David Baldacci (Grand Central Publishing)

Recalibration. The game is once again afoot and following the mis-adventures of The Hit, Will Robie and Jessica Reel have the potential of being loose cannons so they are subjected to the CIA’s version of a recall. It’s off to the so-called “Burner Box” a physical and psychological test/torture designed to be grueling and a measure of their worthiness for trust.

David Baldacci picks up right where he left off with the latest installment in the Will Robie series, The Target. Baldacci keeps the pace hopping, the locales on a global scale and the plots on the edge. Think another day in the life of 24 and be sure to send your sense disbelief on vacation.

Seal Team Six – Hunt The Jackyl – Don Mann (Mulholland Books/Little Brown)

Elite SEALS are off to track down a missing drone when everything goes off the rails, a Mexican drug cartel kidnaps a Senator’s wife and daughter and the adventure is off to the races. Former SEAL Don Mann’s latest installment in the Seal Team Six series, Seal Team Six – Hunt The Jackyl has a ripped from the headlines feel to it.

Mann is clearly a guy who has been there and done that and he convincingly delivers that battle hardened detail to this series. Mann paints a picture perfect description of the power crazed El Chacal – The Jackyl, a controlling murderous villain who lives up to the headlines and dirty deeds south of our southern border. Seal Team Six – Hunt The Jackyl delivers high entertainment value.

The Zodiac Deception – Gary Kriss (Forge Books)

It is the Summer of 1942 and “Wild Bill” Donovan the real life founder of the Office of Strategic Services (OSS), what would become the modern CIA is looking for a way to bring World War II to an expeditious conclusion by eliminating Adolf Hitler. Who would the spymaster turn to? A German insider? A highly trained operative who could infiltrate the inner ranks of the Nazis? A skilled soldier or group of soldiers who could take part in daring raid?

All good answers, but the choice in The Zodiac Deception, the debut novel by former New York Times reporter Gary Kriss is not that obvious. Donovan, hoping to play off the Nazis penchant for astrology selects a mysterious con man known as “David Walker” to play the part of astrologer Peter Kepler, to gain the trust of Heinrich Himmler and use his highly honed skills to convince him to assassinate Hitler.

Historically accurate and with thrills on steroids, Kriss weaves and entertaining debut with the only minor complaint being the sheer volume of story in this 496 page epic.

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Strange Beautiful Music – A Musical Memoir – Joe Satriani and Jake Brown (BenBella Books)

I have always been a casual fan of Joe Satriani’s music; he is a brilliant technical player and displays a unique ability to create interesting sounds. So I went into reading his autobiography not knowing a great deal about his background or musical history.

The book, Strange Beautiful Music – A Musical Memoir, places a real emphasis on the musical memoir portion of the title; if you’re looking for dirty details of life on the road and groupie stories, you may end up sadly disappointed. The focus here is truly on the music and the evolution of not only Satriani’s musical progression, but the in depth story behind the creation of his albums.

I was surprised to learn that not only had Satriani spent a year recording and playing with the poppy Greg Kihn Band, but also worked as a guitar teacher and spent time offering lessons to fellow guitar hero Steve Vai. While he offers up an amazing amount of technical how to throughout the book, Satriani clearly wants to keep what drives him has an artist front and center.

Satriani has left his indelible stamp on the musical landscape not only as a guitar hero in his own right, but also by creating a mythical presence with his love for the instrument. His solo work, combined with the G3 tours and recording and his coming full circle and being a member of Chickenfoot has solidified his place as one of the all-time greats, and Strange Beautiful Music, encapsulates that that journey.


Thursday, May 15, 2014

Ace Hits His Stride

 Robert B. Parker’s - Cheap Shot - Ace Atkins (Putnam Publishing)

Back in 1989 Raymond Chandler’s estate selected with Robert B. Parker to finish he partial manuscript for a book called, Poodle Springs that Chandler left upon his passing. Parker was a solid choice to finish off the book featuring the hardboiled detective Philip Marlowe. At the time fans cried foul, complaining that Parker could never live up to standard Chandler had set.

Flash forward a few decades and now its Parker fans who grouse about the authors selected to continue the stories featuring Parker’s collection of memorable characters. Ace Atkins finds himself firmly in the least enviable position of picking up the reins of the series featuring Parker’s most famous character, Boston private investigator Spenser.

As a confirmed Parker fanatic I always approach these new efforts with a mix of excitement and trepidation that I temper with the clarity that no one can truly replace Parker. With his third outing carrying on the Spenser series entitled Robert B. Parker’s Cheap Shot Atkins really hits his stride. While to two prior efforts were chock full of references to familiar places and faces from Spenser’s world, this one keeps in place that cast while generating an original storyline that has a ripped from the headlines quality.

Take one highly paid NFL superstar, add some nightclub gun play, a dead body, shake with a curvy trophy wife who has substance issues and a checkered porn past and throw in a kidnapped son and the story is off to the races. Spenser is on the case weaving his way through the Boston underground to track down not only the kidnappers, but also the truth.

Rather than exercising his ability to simply name drop, Atkins uses those familiar characters to weave an entertaining tale anchored firmly by Spenser’s do the right thing moral compass.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Marlowe: Back To The Future

The Black-Eyed Blonde – Benjamin Black (Macmillan Audio)

Legendary mystery writer Raymond Chandler’s equally legendary private dick Philip Marlowe has once again been through a literary resurrection, this time by the very skillful hands of John Banville writing under his pseudonym, Benjamin Black for The Black Eyed Blonde.

Black weaves a highly entertaining yarn, perfectly capturing a bygone era where men where men and women were dames. Some may find it hard to fathom a pre-second hand smoke era when people fired up in public places, where whiskey was consumed for its medicinal purposes and real men sipped gin gimlets. Not mention the very simple fact that cases were solved utilizing shoe leather, asking questions and trying to connect the facts rather than internet searches and a few smart phone calls.
Banville’s version of Marlowe could never measure up to the original and if you use that as your starting pace, then you won’t be disappointed. He turns out prose with classic style as he talks about the effect the title character’s shimmering silk dress can have on a man.

For this audio version of the book, veteran character actor Dennis Boutsikaris does a solid job of delivering a larger than life presence to the Marlowe character; he’s big a blustery when he needs to be and tender and vulnerable when it’s called for.

Sunday, May 4, 2014

There Goes Editing

There Goes Gravity – A Life in Rock and Roll – Lisa Robinson (Riverhead Books)

Lisa Robinson was one of a small handful of early party crashers; female writers who gate crashed the all boys club that can almost laughably be called rock journalism. Robinson’s legendary career is marked with stints as a staff and contributing writer, columnist and editor of numerous alternative a mainstream publications. She has spent time on the road, breaking bread and interviewing most of the biggest name in music over the course of four decades.

Working from that frame work, it would be an easy expectation to think that Robinson’s career retrospective biography There Goes Gravity – A Life in Rock and Roll would be chock full of great stories, insider insights and great writing. Unfortunately those holding that expectation, myself included, will likely come away disappointed.

It’s only natural for someone who has enjoyed such a long and storied career would name drop with some regularity and Robinson certainly does, it’s the seemingly random references that add up to utter confusion. For someone who spent so much time working as an editor, this book is loaded with redundancies and repeated references.

Robinson tells the story about a 1971 trek to London with her husband, producer Richard Robinson and Lou Reed to record Reed’s first solo album. In the story she talks about the songs Reed has collected for the album, including “Walk on the Wild Side” then progresses to a birthday party they attended and David Bowie’s house and then about her free time spent shopping in London; only to close that paragraph with the line “And Lou did not record “Walk on the Wild Side” on that solo, self-titled debut album.” I get the whole stream of consciousness thing, but this just screams for an editor!

Robinson also spends an inordinate amount of time endeavoring to from her perspective, “set the record straight” about many stories that have been written about herself and the band’s she intimately covered. She regularly uses a line that “no two people remember it the same way” yet she seems to want the reader to believe that her version of the tale is the correct version.

Many of the things she hopes to clarify will likely be lost on the casual music fan, so you have to wonder how this will appeal to the broader audience and it ends off sounding like a petty effort to defend criticism of here “insider” status. There is a thin line between collector and hoarder, and Robinson sounds like a pack rat extraordinaire. She regularly references original notes and recordings of interviews, phone calls and general conversations, which would tend to lend a level of credibility to the stories based on her original point of view.