Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Push Back: A Handy Guide

Upside Down: How the Left Turned Right into Wrong, Truth into Lies and Good into Bad – Mark Davis (Regnery Books)

The laundry list of patented lies from the left seems to grow on a daily basis. The topics cover a wide gamut of things, but the lines are often painfully familiar, you know things like:
  • ·       “The science of climate change is settled.”
  • ·       “The rich need to pay their fair share.”
  • ·       “We are a country of immigrants, so we need to let everybody in.”
  • ·       “It’s not a baby, it’s a lump of tissue”
  • ·       “There is a separation of church and state.”

I could go on and on and on and on; like I said the laundry list never stops growing. If you are like me and you have the temerity to actually call liberal on this load of B S, the new automatic response is, “where did you hear that Fox News?!” Of course that last line is more often than not serve up with a sour look of someone who smelled something bad.

Well unless you are a radio talk show host, or like me a recovering radio talk show host, most folks don’t have the time in their busy lives to have ready prepared answers to smash liberals in their place. After all, unlike liberals, you are probably working a job! Enter Dallas based talk host and bestselling author Mark Davis with his latest endeavor, Upside Down: How the Left Turned Right into Wrong, Truth into Lies and Good into Bad.

Consider this handy little guide your answer book for disarming liberals and stopping their B S right in its tracks! Davis is not a fire breathing wing nut; he is a smart, thoughtful and clearheaded thinker who serves up nuanced responses to liberal silliness. This guy may truly be the smartest guy in the room, but he would never make that claim, nor would he come off like a smug a-hole; he’d just leave that to a liberal.

Upside Down is one of those books that has a place on any conservatives bookshelf, but should never sit there gathering dust, it should be highlighted, dog eared, sticky notated, underlined and put to work smashing liberals!

Monday, September 26, 2016

Strange Fascination

Exile on Front Street: My Life as a Hell Angel…and Beyond – George Christie (Thomas Dunne Books)

Even a quick scan of our popular culture will uncover a vast and strange fascination that we have with real life outlaws and criminals. Books, movies and TV are dotted with mile markers on the road to crime town. Murderers, Mafia and motorcycle gangs make for popular fare on the pop culture radar and I can’t quite put my finger on why.

So-called reality TV is the latest vehicle to drive that fascination, with the History Channel serving up Outlaw Chronicles, which offers a supposed insider’s view of motorcycle gangs like the Hells Angels. In recent years these outlaws have also found a regular place on the shelf at your favorite bookstore. The latest entry comes from the former President of the Ventura, California chapter of the Hells Angels, George Christie and his memoir, Exile on Front Street.

Christie, a regular in the spotlight, both for his play on Outlaw Chronicles and his years as the defacto spokesman and peacemaking emissary for the Hells Angels. In the book he briefly details his life prior to signing on with the outlaw group, which he claims was merely an extension of his real outlaw life.
While he certainly offers a unique perspective and some insider insight in the ways of the Club, it really boils down to an almost PG-13 version of things. Christie portrays himself as a masterful manipulator of the media, law enforcement and a consummate negotiator when it came to anything, with the exception of women.

Doing his dead level best to avoid prison, dodge would be hit men and smooth over as many rough edges as possible along the way seems to be Christie’s modus operandi. It makes for an interesting read, but maybe not the dynamic bad boy stuff that draws pop culture legions.

Heroes and Villains

The 15:17 To Paris: The True Story of a Terrorist, a Train and Three American Heroes – Anthony Sadler, Alek Skarlatos, Spencer Stone and Jeffrey E. Stern – (Public Affairs)

What makes a hero? It really isn’t something that you can plan on or train for. There is no book you can read or instructional video on YouTube that you can peruse to prepare yourself. What makes a hero, really boils down to more often than not is the moment and how you react.

Anthony Sadler, Alek Skarlatos and Spencer Stone were friends, and pretty ordinary, pretty average, American guys; not super-heroes in the making, but when presented with a moment, these three friends became larger than life and answered the call. The 15:17 To Paris, written with Jeffrey E. Stern, recounts not only what happened the fateful day they stopped a terrorist on that train ride to Paris, but also what went into their life/background that prepared them for that day, when these three friends would save hundreds of lives.
Stern also details what it was that went into the creation of the terrorist in question. While this part of the books moves the story forward, it doesn’t fall into the clap trap of trying to bring us to the point of “understanding” what motivates this brutal murderers.

While the background of the three heroes certainly makes up a large part of the story here, it is the description of the heroic acts that is so compelling. Stern’s prose (I can only assume he’s responsible) bypasses any notion of a Hollywood fairy tale; you will find yourself breathing harder and digging in at the description of the life and death struggle Spencer Stone finds himself locked into as he tries to choke out the wiry and surprisingly strong terrorist. Time and time again, with their life in the balance these guys continued to rise to the occasion and take this guy down.

Finally after what seems like an hours long battle, that may have actually been mere minutes, the terrorist succumbs and is knocked out. Luck is not something that often gets mentioned in heroic tales, but clearly it was rolling in their favor on that fateful day, as time after time guns carried and aimed by the terrorist misfired or failed, allowing the heroic trio to stay in the battle.

Even after reading this book, the question remains; how would you react? Do you have the stuff to be a hero? Thankfully, most of us will never know or have the opportunity to find out, but thank God we know with certainty that there are those among us who can answer with a resounding yes.

Razor Girl Doesn’t Make the Cut

Razor Girl: A Novel – Carl Hiaasen (Knopf)

The late great Evan Hunter, better known to many as Ed McBain, was one of my all time favorite writers. Hunter penned a book, I can’t frankly remember which one it was, but it was one shortly before his passing where it became evident via snarky comments in the book that he was flouting his liberal leanings. I was caught off guard by this because none of his prior writing had indicated a political leaning to me as a reader. I visited Hunter’s website, and sent him an email in which I indicated he had lost me as a fan and reader and questioned why he would want to turn off potentially half of his readers. Surprisingly, Hunter responded quickly to the missive, saying he felt the way he felt and he understood my position. I never picked up another Hunter book after that.

Carl Hiaasen was another of my favorite authors and while I was not shocked by his liberal leanings, his latest endeavor, Razor Girl is so chock full of liberal nonsense that it made it for me unreadable. While Hiaasen styles himself as a “satirist” what he practices is not satire. Clearly Hiaasen can’t quite grasp some things so he chooses to try and bludgeon it to death. The story line here features a reality TV family loosely based on the based on the Duck Dynasty crew; clearly Hiaasen can’t quite grasp why the Robertson Family appealed to so many Americans, so he has to mock not only the family, but anyone who would tune in.

Hey I get snarky as much as the next guy, but Hiaasen’s, takes on a holier than thou, too smart for the room attitude. He also continues to flog global warming alarmism like a dead dog. One of the multitude of storylines here features a guy who runs a business that dredges up sand from the ocean. Hiaasen naturally blames global warming for the allegedly raising seas that diminish beaches. Here’s a hint Carl, dredging sand for beaches as been going on forever and this thing called the tide has been around since way before Al Gore became rich off global warming scare tactics.  

At the end of the day, Razor Girl, was not Hiaasen’s best effort, with a jumble of storylines and characters that add up to a mess. It’s not likely that I will be around to see if he rebounds in the future. He is certainly welcome to his opinion, and I am certainly free to disagree.

Saturday, September 17, 2016

The Rock Pile

The Age of Bowie: How David Bowie Made A World of Difference – Paul Morley (Gallery Books)

With the passing of David Bowie comes an avalanche of books recounting his impact on rock ‘n’ roll. While most do an admirable job of covering Bowie from that limited perspective, they miss the mark on the broader impact that Bowie had on our popular culture as a whole.

With The Age of Bowie: How David Bowie Made A World of Difference, writer, broadcaster and culture critic Paul Morley delves deeper into full range of Bowie impact on the world. Morley doesn’t shy away from the some of the more controversial moments in Bowie’s career ranging from his outrageous transformations, both physically and in persona.

Not really a biography, The Age of Bowie, does offer up insider perspectives on Bowie’s transmutations from Ziggy Stardust to the creation of his collaboration with John Lennon, Fame. Morley delves into Bowie’s career transitions into film and stage. He also raises the question if there could ever be another Bowie; someone who could impact music to the point of having a hand in the creation of his own genre. He concludes that it is highly unlikely.

Fleetwood Mac On Fleetwood Mac: Interviews and Encounters – Edited by Sean Egan (Chicago Review Press)

How did the British band Fleetwood Mac make the difficult transition from  working man’s blues-based band to chart topping pop culture phenomenon and one of the biggest selling bands of all time? Who better, than the band themselves to answer that question? It is the band story, told in their own words, culled from dozens of interviews from publications ranging from Circus, Creem, New Musical Express, Mojo and more.

Fleetwood Mac On Fleetwood Mac: Interviews and Encounters, stitched and together edited by author/editor Sean Egan. The book really highlights the almost glaring differences in the personalities that make up the band. It makes you wonder how they ever came be melded together to so much memorable music.

If you are a true fan of Fleetwood Mac, this collection is a must have; imagine trying to gather an collect all of these disparate sources. Egan does a masterful job of pulling these wide ranging sources together to make paint a clear, cogent picture?  

Terminated for Reasons of Taste: Other Ways to Hear Essential and Inessential Music – Chuck Eddy (Duke University Press)

Veteran music journalist Chuck Eddy has plied his trade for a wide range of music and pop culture outlets including: Village Voice, Billboard, Creem, Spin and Rolling Stone. In his latest book, Terminated for Reasons of Taste: Other Ways to Hear Essential and Inessential Music, Eddy parades his almost painfully eclectic musical tastes by gathering pieces from the aforementioned outlets and even dipping back to his high school newspaper!

Eddy is steeped in music so wide ranging he touches everything from classic country to alt music so obscure it hurts. His knowledge is beyond encyclopedic and he writes with such passion that you can’t help but seek some of this stuff out to give it a listen. If you're bored to death with cookie cutter, Mr. Microphone, Auto Tuned schlock, then Eddy’s book will be the equivalent to a travel guide to new music.   

A Stray Cat Struts: My Life as a Rockabilly Rebel – Slim Jim Phantom (Thomas Dunne Books)

I loved the Stray Cats. U.S. expats, guitarist Brian Setzer, upright bassist Lee Rocker and drummer Slim Jim Phantom first found an audience and a modicum of fame in England. I vividly remember when a friend first dropped the needle to vinyl and handed me the cover with the photograph of three mop-topped guys who looked like they stepped out of a re-make of 50s teen angst movie. The sound was amazing; how could three guys generate so much noise? The thing that really jumped was the propulsive, driving beat coming from the guy with nothing more than a bass, snare and and one cymbal.

That guy was Slim Jim Phantom, born Jim McDonnell. In the grand scheme of music, it’s easy to forget the impact that the Stray Cats had when they finally exploded here in the States. They came at a time when music was at a crossroads; punk, new wave, and MTV were all conspiring to change the face of rock music forever and here was a band looking to take bits and pieces of those elements and drag them kicking and screaming back to the roots of the musical form.

It’s also easy not to think of Slim Jim Phantom as a rock star, but he serves up a reminder that he is a card carrying rock star in the form of his autobiography, A Stray Cat Struts: My Life as a Rockabilly Rebel. If you pick up this book expecting to hear the familiar tale of a guy who pulled himself up by his motorcycle bootstraps to become a rock star, you may walk away disappointed.

In A Stray Cat Struts, Slim Jim offers up a string of great stories from his rock ‘n’ roll life. Tours, backstages, recording studios, rubbing elbows with other high profile types from music and pop culture, not to mention his time with Swedish, blonde bombshell Britt Eklund. Yeah this guy is a rock star! Quite frankly I didn’t miss the childhood remembrances; I usually skip those to get to the good stuff anyway!

The Improbable Rock Star

All These Things That I Have Done: My Insane, Improbable Rock Life – Matt Pinfield with Mitchell Cohen (Scribner)

To be honest…I never understood how Matt Pinfield ended up on MTV/VH1. Here was this dweeby little bald headed dude, what amounted to a not good looking version of the talentless Carson Daly. I often wondered aloud, “who do these guys have pictures of with farm animals?” Granted, I was a viewer when MTV launched and had been through all the changes along the way, so by the time Pinfield rolled around I was spending countless hours watching the boob tube.
So I didn’t know what to expect when I cracked open All These Things That I Have Done: My Insane, Improbable Rock Life, Pinfield’s autobiography. What I soon discovered was that Pinfield is a certifiable music fanatic of epic proportions. This guy is truly embalmed in music and for me his story was immensely relatable.

I got into radio not to be star DJ, but because I loved music and wanted to tell people about it and share great stuff with people. When Pinfield tells the story of being herded into a room with a bunch of B and C level writers and DJs to interview The Cure, I could totally relate, because I had been in a different version of that same room with artists like Sinead O’Connor, The Squeeze and The Hooters. It’s one of those deals when you ask the question that makes you stand out and you end up later drinking whiskey the band like you had been lifelong friends.

Pinfield’s tale is a bit rambling at times, with strange asides like the story of the birth of his first child, followed by an odd paragraph about a cassette he received in the mail that purports contained 45 minutes of the cult leader Jim Jones on a rant while his followers scream and writhe on the ground around him. Not sure what one has to do with the other.

Improbable rock life, yep I think Pinfield has that one covered. In fact his story reads like another edition of Behind the Music, with his rise up from nothing to rock star fame, drugs and alcohol followed by the obligatory rehab and redemption, it covers all the bases. Bet he didn’t see that coming.

Friday, September 16, 2016

The Jealous Kind - A Top 5 Summer Read

The Jealous Kind: A Novel – James Lee Burke (Simon & Schuster)

There are authors who bring something to the table that puts them head and shoulders above their writing peers. It is a special something; I won’t call it a gift because I know the ones I would put in this class worked hard to hone the skills that play out in their words.

James Lee Burke is one of those writers. There is an unmatched elegance to Burke’s prose and the way he strings words together that put him in a class all his own. The way the Burke crafts his characters and his stories captures a level of authenticity in place and time that very few have the ability produce.

In his latest, The Jealous Kind, Burke collects the sights, sounds and smells of Korean War era Texas that marks not only the struggle with coming of age, but also the arm wrestling with identity of Aaron Boussard, a teenage high school student who rings like a man out of time, stuck between youth and manhood and who his parents want him to be and who he wants to be.

Like many of Burke’s books, there is a bit of an unrepentant, wild streak to the characters that are in play in The Jealous Kind. He has a clear fondness for the era and locale he drops these folks into that rings through in his words. While so much fiction reads like a throw away, James Lee Burke serves it up in a way to be enjoyed and savored slow and easy. The Jealous Kind easily finds its way onto my list of the Top Five summer reads. 

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

The Business of Music 101

What They’ll Never Tell You About the Music Business, Third Edition: The Complete Guide for Musicians, Songwriters, Producers, Managers, Industry Executives, Attorneys, Investors and Accountants – Peter M. Thrall (Watson-Guptill)

When it comes to this book, the impossibly long title should tell you all you need to know. Even though the history of the music business is littered with victim after victim of their own stupidity; artists who were not business savvy enough to look out for their own best interests and ripped off, had their money or their art or both stolen by shysters, even to this day we still see cases where bad deals continue to happen.

When I used to host a radio interview program that featured up and coming baby bands, as they were dubbed by record labels, or unsigned aspiring bands and artists, I was astounded by how little time most of them spent taking care of their career. I spent countless hours both on and off air offering guidance and suggestions on how to go about pursuing a contract or signing a publishing deal or dealing with agents and attorneys, which by in large fell on deaf ears. It got to the point where one band was so upset by my cajoling that they released an indie EP which featured a song entitled F@&K You Jeff Johns…We Hope You Rot in Hell. I wasn’t offended, in fact I still have a copy…not sure where the band ended up, although I know it wasn’t on the charts.

So with all of the changes that have occurred in the music business and the disappearance of record labels, the advent of online streaming and music downloads has anything gotten easier? Oh hell no! The business of music has become multitudes more difficult and the need for artists to not only be aware and self-serving when it comes to business is that much greater. Enter Peter Thrall and his book, What They’ll Never Tell You About the Music Business, Third Edition: The Complete Guide for Musicians, Songwriters, Producers, Managers, Industry Executives, Attorneys, Investors and Accountants.

Thrall’s book is the encyclopedia of music business knowledge and it needs to be not only on the shelf of every aspiring artist and music industry wannabe, it needs to be dogged eared, highlighted, Post it noted and generally looking like it’s been dropped kicked around the block…six times.

This is the go to primer to learn all of the ins and outs of the business of music. It truly strips things down to an easy to understand, problem solving and avoiding masterpiece. This is a nuts and bolts how to guide through every step of the artistic process, from both perspectives. This one needs to be carried along in the road, into the studio, down to the gig and back again, because it is just that vital to your success. Again…take a look at the title, then ask yourself, “am I ready to deal with all of these folks and what they bring to the table.” I can surmise that the answer for most people is simple; NO.

Monday, September 12, 2016

Inspired Inspiration

Many people utilize the Bible and other Christian writings for inspiration in the daily lives. For me, all too often these books have come in a less than inspiring package. For those who participate in Bible study or who want to refer back to particular passages or verses pages can quickly become dog eared or difficult to read if you like to highlight or take notes. While the invention of Post It Notes is great, I found my Bible quickly becoming logged down with the notes and marked pages. I also wanted to avoid the larger style, heirloom, illustrated Bibles, just due to shear weight.

Now comes a series of great tools that are also great looking, what I have dubbed Inspiring inspiration.

HCSB Illustrator’s Notetaking Bible – Holman Bible Staff (editor)

When you take a traditional, carrying Bible, it is difficult to take notes without some form of additional inserted cards or paper. Well the Holman Bible Staff have come up with a unique looking Bible that can be uniquely personalized and notated.

The HCSB Illustrator’s Notetaking Bible, offers up not only a useful space for jotting down notations, but also takes things to a new level by tapping into the adult coloring phenomenon by giving creative types a way to personally customize their Bibles by coloring the outlined pictures and drawings throughout the pages.

While this may not be everyone’s cup of tea, I found this to be not only a useful tool, allowing me to jot notes, thoughts and outlines in the substantial margins, but this is also of such a nice, sturdy and beautiful quality, that I can see it passed on through generations and allow family members to read what I was thinking as I utilized the Book.

365 Pocket Morning Prayers: Strength and Joy to Begin Each Day – David R. Veerman

I have an admission to make upfront; I have become a bit of a junkie for nifty, leather bound journals and notebooks. Between my day job and a few other business ventures I tend to keep a stack of these in my briefcase because they not only look professional, but they hold up over time.

So when I received a copy of 365 Pocket Morning Prayers: Strength and Joy to Begin Each Day, I was immediately thrilled with the butter-soft leather cover which is beautifully embossed with a palm tree and birds.

For those that take a few minutes at the start of their day for reflection and prayer, this is a powerful little package. I can toss it in my briefcase, alongside my notebooks, and take it with me to work or on road trips and it’s never out of place.

The design makes this a great bit of inspiration, no matter if you work from the front to the back or if you flip around to find your inspiration for the day.

Gratitude: A Prayer and Praise Coloring Journal – Tyndale (Producer)

While I haven’t been bitten by the adult coloring bug, I did think that the Gratitude: A Prayer and Praise Coloring Journal, was a great way to combine quiet reflection and prayer in one time frame.

It is a beautiful collection of words and images that just about anyone can find inspiration in. There is something to be said about the power of journaling and the focus it can bring to your life and this book presents you with a real opportunity to be present in the moment and share your thoughts with not only yourself, but with your family.

My first thought upon thumbing through this book was what a wonderful and meaningful gift this be for a family member or friend. Not only will they be inspired, but they will think of you whenever they put the book to use.