Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Rockin the Bookshelf

Into the Black – The Inside Story of Metallica (1991 – 2014) – Paul Brannigan and Ian Winwood (DaCapo Press)

What amounts to part two of Paul Brannigan and Ian Winwood, a pair of Brit metalhead journalist’s biography of legendary, rock ‘n’ roll hall of famers and metal masters, Metallica; Into the Black – The Inside Story of Metallica (1991 – 2014) picks up where the pair’s Birth School Metallica Death: The Inside Story of Metallica (1981 – 1991) left off.

Over the years the duo had striking access to the metal God’s inner workings and they begin this part of the journey on the cusp of the release of the band’s massive, self-titled disc, which is commonly dubbed the Black album. With that records MASSIVE success, the machinations about the band’s road forward really kicked into overdrive. Into the Black provided a great reminder of just how much crap these guys were on the receiving end of simply because they created music that attracted a huge audience.

Imagine that you have worked your entire career with the goal of breaking through to a mass audience only to be slagged as sellouts for reaching that goal. Brannigan and Winwood detail the band’s determination to continue on the path they set forth for themselves almost in spite of those, hell bent on bashing their success. I was also reminded of the laughable fixation on the part of some in their fan base as well as the media over the group shorn locks that accompanied the release of the Black album’s follow up Load.

Because they were afforded the extraordinary access during the timeframe in question, Brannigan and Winwood are able to offer up a real time perspective on the recording, writing, performing, promoting and personalities that are constantly at play within the band. Forget about a historical look back, this one is being detailed as it happens which offer a unique perspective on everything.

Play On – Now, Then, and Fleetwood Mac: the Autobiography – Mick Fleetwood (Little Brown)

Nearly a quarter of a century after his first foray into telling his life story, Fleetwood Mac founder, drummer Mick Fleetwood returns with Play On – Now, Then, and Fleetwood Mac: The Autobiography, a comprehensive look at his nearly five decade long career behind the drum kit of not only the wildly successful ban he founded, but also his start as the propulsion behind some classic blues masters.

Over the course of a multi-decade career with any number of incarnations of Fleetwood Mac along the way there is likely a shelf full of books worth of material, yet there seems to be a cautiousness to certain sections of this book. It’s almost as if Mick is happy with the currently reunited and most famous lineup of the band, that is on a highly successful tour, and he wants to avoid rocking the boat.

Much of the material is a rehashing of some of the earlier book; which interestingly has led to some a handful of new revelations, mixed with a handful of forgotten details. This ends up being a real fans autobiography; those casual or passing fans of Fleetwood Mac probably won’t gain any great, earthshaking insights, but those died in the wool fans will eat it up.

Respect: The Life of Aretha Franklin – David Ritz (Little Brown)   

Ray Charles. Marvin Gaye. Smokey Robinson. B. B. King. Rick James. Etta James. The list of sometimes legendary and sometimes infamous musical performers that best-selling author David Ritz has written about and with is marked with some of the most historically significant and talented artists of all time.

Ritz collaborated with R & B Diva Aretha Franklin on her 1999 bio From These Roots, so at first blush it might seem odd that Ritz would chose to take a second dip into the Franklin story in Respect: The Life of Aretha Franklin. The fact that Franklin didn’t give her permission and has disavowed this outing, bad mouthing the book’s more tabloid entries as “trashy” and “full of lies” could offer some interesting insights based on your perspective.

Naturally artists aren’t always predisposed to serving up “a warts and all” look at their life and times and given some legendary stories about Franklin’s tight fisted grip on controlling her career and those around her, it’s not a stretch to think that Lady Soul probably took a blue editing pencil to some of the stories Ritz uncovered about her childhood and family life, that he brings to these pages.

Trashy? Not so much. Overall Ritz still paints a compelling and positive portrait of his subject. Not sure that there was anything too earth shattering here and Franklin’s protestations may actually lend some credence to these stories.

Rumours of Glory: A Memoir – Bruce Cockburn (Harper One)

Canadian musician Bruce Cockburn is the true definition of a troubadour; a traveling musician, poet and cultural activist. He offers up a chronicle of not only his career, but also his travels, his causes and his musical journey through a life that he has shared many of his most intimate moments of, with his fans.

Rumours of Glory: A Memoir offers up some startlingly personal commentary on his five decade career and his concurrent journeys through far flung places. Clearly his traveling journey and his personal journey to Christianity has played and enormous role in influencing his music and lyrics. While his politics are often diametrically opposite from where I stand, I admire Cockburn and I am a fan of his music based on the simple fact that he never wavers from his convictions; he doesn’t merely take a stand because it’s convenient to the story he is trying to impart.

While most bios of musicians offer up a boatload of hijinks and antics of the room temperature IQ crowd, Rumours of Glory drills down deeply into what Cockburn is truly all about; fan or not, this one is truly worth the price of admission.


Wednesday, December 3, 2014

We Can be Heroes…If Just for One Day

No Hero – The Evolution of a Navy SEAL – Mark Owen (Dutton Adult)

Mark Owen is the pseudonym of former Navy SEAL and member of the U.S. Naval Special Warfare Development Group, better known as Seal Team Six and the bestselling author of No Easy Day, the account of his participation in, among other high profile missions, the killing of Usama Bin Laden.

Owen is back with No Hero – The Evolution of a Navy SEAL the story of his thirteen year career in the SEALs. The story really does detail the evolution that he went through, both mentally and physically as well as the strategic evolution of how the Seals approached the mission at hand.

While certainly not giving away actionable intelligence, Owen does offer up some insight into both the demands of becoming one of the United States elite warriors and the process of the mission. While he may not have set out to offer up a book on leadership, there is an interesting set of business applicable theories.

While Owen and many of his fellow warriors try to shrug off the hero label with the faint statement of “just doing our job” the truth is we as a nation ask an enormous amount from these men, that they willingly deliver with no desire for accolades and that is what truly makes them heroic.

The Trident: The Forging and Reforging of a Navy SEAL Leader – Jason Redman (William Morrow)

Recently there have been a pile of books published by and about members of the special forces/Navy SEAL warriors. Many recount in great detail the physically punishing and demanding; training, testing and missions that they endure along the way. While many in the genre are very good reads, very few offer as intimate and intense a rendering of the life of a Navy SEAL as The Trident: The Forging and Reforging of a Navy SEAL Leader by Jason Redman.

Lt. Redman details the depths of his desire to pursue a career in the military and as a member of the SEALs that dates back to his youth. While many special forces books, both non-fiction and fiction accounts tend to tell seemingly tall tales of super human heroics, Redman paints a much more human story. While early on he struggled to balance the hard road and the bravado with reality, Redman clearly evolves as the story progresses.

It’s rare to find a person with a “normal” job to admit they made a critical error then overcome the difficulties associated with that error, let alone a battle hardened SEAL to overcome that circumstance, but that’s exactly what Redman did in spades. Not only did he overcome, he kicked things up a notch to become a SEAL leader.

For a man trained to be self-reliant, but the member of a team, Redman spells out the strength that he drew from his family to not only overcome the strain of mission deployments, but also his recovery from severe injuries sustained in a 2007 battle in Iraq where he suffered gunshot wounds to the face and arm. The sign he posted on his hospital room door that boldly declared that all who entered should not feel sorry for his injuries became a symbol and rallying point not only for Redman, but for warriors everywhere.

If you read The Trident and don’t come away inspired…then you may want to check for a pulse.  

Navy Seals: Their Untold Story – Dick Couch and William Doyle (William Morrow)

Former Navy SEAL and veteran military author Dick Couch and writer/producer William Doyle have teamed for this comprehensive accounting of the broad and evolutionary history of the Navy SEALS in the form of the book and the PBS documentary Navy Seals: Their Untold Story.

The story traces the step by step process of World War II’s Underwater Demolition Teams (UDTs) through the “frogmen” of the Korean War to the creation of the Sea Air and Land (SEAL) unit of highly skilled commandos who conducted direct action and search a rescue missions to recover POWs during the Viet Nam war. It was during the invasions of Grenada and Panama and later during the first Gulf War That the SEALs transitioned to a highly specialized operators.
Couch’s first hand, “been there, done that” knowledge combined to with incredible access to reams of classified documents and information helps to create a very detailed portrait of the units staggering history. The level of trust that these special operators have in Couch, as one of their own, shines through in the in-person interviews that offer readers an in the room and on the trail point of view to some of the units most legendary operations.

This is a first rate account for those with even a passing interest in the military and will be a must have companion piece to the PBS series for those military history buffs.

War Dogs – Tales of Canine Heroism, History, and Love – Rebecca Frankel (Palgrave MacMillan)

Speaking of evolution…the role of canine warriors or war dogs has undergone an amazing transformation over the course of time. It is that evolution that is the cornerstone of Rebecca Frankel’s War Dogs – Tales of Canine Heroism, History, and Love.

Frankel, a senior editor for Foreign Policy magazine, authors a regular column entitled "Rebecca's War Dog of the Week" which has been featured on The Best Defense since January of 2010, in which she profiled the pooches that are the subject of the book.
Dubbed by some of the forces that they operate with as “hair missiles” these dogs of war have played a crucial role in some of the most notable military actions in our history. That role more recently has included detecting improvised explosive devices, directed protective attacks and the more traditional sniffing out the bad guys.

Frankel literally goes to the heart of the matter as she details not only the work of these amazing animals, but incredible relationships and integral roles they have with not only their handlers, but the teams they work with and often protect.  



Monday, December 1, 2014

His–Story – More Than Just Dates and Dead Guys

Dreamers and Deceivers: True Stories of the Heroes and Villains Who Made America – Glenn Beck (Mercury Ink/Threshold Editions)

Unless you have been blessed to have been taught by one of those rare, magical, teachers who embraced the teaching of history and delivered depth, context and colors of the story of our nation and world; then all too often history was boiled down to the bland recitation of a list of dates and dead guys.

Glenn Beck and his team of writers is out with Dreamers and Deceivers: True Stories of the Heroes and Villains Who Made America, the second in a series of books that offer short historical “fiction” pieces that examine a variety of points in our history and flesh them out by piecing together a variety of sources. Is there a bit of poetic license? Certainly! But by in large these stories hang together and really make history interesting. I look at these short pieces as an invitation to delve a whole lot deeper into the stories that catch your imagination.

The names: Ponzi, Sacco and Vanzetti, and Steve Jobs, among them, are often familiar, but their stories may not be. Dreamers and Deceivers offers up some new perspective on the stories of these men who influenced our history. While Ponzi became infamous for his “scheme” exactly what that ruse was may not be widely known; now you can get a basic sense of his story.

It is often eye opening to learn how the media and history for that matter treated many of the subjects of these stories. It seems amazing, but not surprising that the media still lauded Alger Hiss, a convicted perjurer and Communist upon his passing; Hiss infamously thought more highly of mass-murdering, Soviet leader, Joseph Stalin than he did of his own country. When you place that historical reference side by side with the current Liberal school of thought and how we as a country view terrorism, history becomes absolutely frightening.