Monday, September 22, 2014

Sound Man by Glyn Johns

It's rare that I have found a recent work for this blog that isn't a rock star memoir. While Glyn Johns had a very brief career as a singer (with modest success in non-English speaking Europe), he is known more as a producer and engineer. He had the great fortune of being present at the creation of many now-legendary albums. Can you imagine hearing Led Zeppelin for the time ever, before the records are even pressed? Johns has this enviable place in history, and when you pick up Sound Man you might expect a vivid portrait of 60s and 70s rock as it evolved and how the people who created the sound lived.

You do find it, to some extent. As Johns explains in Sound Man, he came to music with the intent of singing and performing when circumstances led him to the engineer's booth and kept him there for better part of four decades. This book, though, is more technical than dramatic, with Johns focusing less on his personal life (and therefore his relationship with many of the players) in favor of the mechanics of recording music. If you'd prefer to know the equipment and recording methods used to create Let it Be and Sticky Fingers you struck gold. If you want eyewitness accounts of groupies and candy bar urban legends...sorry. At best, you'll receive hints of behavior in the studio and notes on personalities Johns liked and disliked. He doesn't seem afraid to call out a unpleasant person or his opinion of how Phil Spector "puked all over" Let it Be.

If the science behind recording music fascinates you, you will enjoy Sound Man. You won't find any more personal insights on your favorite musicians that can't be read elsewhere, but the light personal touches and style of the book make it easy and interesting to read.

ARC received from the publisher via NetGalley

Rating: B

Kathryn Lively is an author and book blogger.



Monday, September 15, 2014

Rocks: My Life in and out of Aerosmith by Joe Perry with David Ritz

I like Aerosmith. I'm not die-hard Blue Army, but when I settle in for a long night of writing I always put "Back in the Saddle" at the top of my writing playlist to get in the mood. I can credit the band for jump-starting my last three books in a way, and I'm certain they'll be around for the next three.

I've not seen Aerosmith live but they're on the bucket list. As it happens, Aerosmith seems to be cursed where my town is concerned. At least three shows that I can recall had been postponed and/or canceled - one because of 9/11, one because of illness, and one because of a hurricane. I don't shake my head at juju, either. I genuinely fear for these guys if they ever do show up at the beach, like somebody will have a bad crabcake and pay dearly for it onstage.

Since I haven't followed their career, I see what I see, and most of the time it's Steven Tyler (I didn't even know the drummer's name until the Flaming Moe ep on The Simpsons). The flash, the scarves, the lips...a neophyte would think him the heart of the band. At the very least, a lung. I looked forever to Perry's memoir, Rocks, because I'd get to read about a band on my rotation that I don't know very well. I enjoy reading these stories more to compare how these musicians rose from youth to legend. While Perry seemed to have come from familial stability, he didn't embrace his parents' zeal for academia but benefited from their support for his career choice. Deeper into the book you find Aerosmith's story doesn't really differ from other bands - dodgy management, waffling support from labels, and tension among band members. Every time I think I've read the epitome of the dysfunctional "brotherhood" (the Van Halens, Gene and Paul, Paul and John) somebody comes along to top it. Perry's frank description of Tyler's shenanigans make for the book's more interesting anecdotes, and I have to wonder how Perry made it this far putting up with him.

Rocks reads more eloquently than similar memoirs. I can't say if that's the influence of Perry's co-writer, but as I'm not familiar with Perry I don't his voice beyond Aerosmith's music. One might seem put off in that it doesn't match the band's persona, but it didn't distract me from Perry's story. I got the impression Perry wants us to reassure us that despite the history of drugs he is a "good guy." There's emphasis on his disdain for groupie collecting, for one.

Rocks will best serve the die-hards who love the Aerosmith, and those who consider Perry an influence. There are pockets of good gossip here and there, but the narrative holds it back enough so it doesn't read as sleaze. An extended acknowledgements section about Perry's and Aerosmith's equipment reads like guitar pr0n for the musicians, emphasizing this book as one for those into the music.

ARC received via Netgalley from publisher.

Rating: B

Kathryn Lively is a mystery author and book blogger.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Summer Reads: The Spaceman and The Capeman

If you have followed this blog for a time, you know it happens in fits and starts. I prefer to read books published within a year or less at time of reading, and lately I've found it challenging to sit down and read for leisure. Work intervenes, family intervenes...everybody got the summer off but me. When I do get the opportunity to read it's close to bedtime and I hate to fall asleep and lose my place. We're already into August and I've managed to finish two books relevant to the blog, and in the interest of sharing my thoughts I decided on a catch-all summer reading post.

Since my friend Joe already reviewed Ace Frehley's book, No Regrets, on this blog, I hadn't intended to read it for myself. A few months ago, I happened upon the book at a discount store, heavily marked down, and my husband bought it for me. I figured, having read Paul's and Peter's memoirs and one work where Gene's point of view is largely present, I should complete the set. This didn't take long to finish - it's a short book compared to the others and the style is easy and flows. One thing I did notice with regards to Ace's early life compared to his former bandmates is that he seemed to have come from a more stable home environment, with supportive parents and siblings. Nonetheless it wasn't enough to keep him out of trouble.

Like the memoirs of other KISS folk, Ace recalls his side of the story in chronological order - granted his history is shorter than others - and unlike others with a fair amount of brevity. No Regrets reads quickly, not so much because it's a compelling story but that Ace doesn't go too deeply into details (though he admits the memory is fuzzy due to abuse of various substances). For lack of another way to put it, too, the book doesn't read much as a general complaint of his treatment by Paul and Gene post-KISS. You read this and get the attitude you might expect from Ace if you met him personally - everything just rolls off his back and he soldiers on. If any resentment exists, Ace saves it for his perception of how the KISS machine unfairly treated friends and family, in particular his daughter.

In No Regrets, Ace insists friends and family address him by his real name, Paul. He definitely sits on the other end of the spectrum from the other Paul I've read this month. I wouldn't call Paul Simon: An American Tune by Cornel Bonca a proper biography of the singer/songwriter, though the author touches on important events in Simon's life as they relate to his career. Tune is foremost a scholarly work, and thankfully not a wholly biased one because it allows the readers to study one interpretation of Simon's music, then decide if it's worth a listen.

Compared to Marc Eliot's 2010 biography (which I haven't reviewed here, but you can read my thoughts of it on Goodreads), Tune is a treat for die-hard Simon fans in that it appears better researched and less sensationalist. If you come to this expecting the standard unauthorized biography gossip - the failed marriages, the Garfunkel angst, that unsettling tiff with Edie Brickell earlier this year - you'll leave disappointed.

That's not to say Bonca doesn't explore the personal aspects of Simon's career. Not unlike his peers (Bob Dylan mentioned most often), Simon draws from real life to create, and Bonca deconstructs Simon's song catalog while interspersing brief histories of Simon's progression in his career. As you read Tune you may find amazement in the balance of Simon's failures and successes. Simon, and to some extent Simon and Garfunkel, has always seemed ever-present in pop culture since the 60s, but Tune points out the many struggles Simon faces to stay relevant, especially with the changes in music trends. How does a counter-culture folk/pop star thrive in the early MTV-era? Bonca concedes while Simon is not as prolific as some of his peers the messages in his song holds relevance. I have to agree with that - the first original episode of Saturday Night Live to air after 9/11, and who performs?

~

So this is my summer so far. I also got my hands on an advanced copy of Joe Perry's memoir, and I'll be looking for Billy Idol's book in the near future. Just to be straight: you want Paul Frehley for the sexy rock gossip and the Paul Simon for the fascinating music history and criticism.

Paul Simon: An American Tune was received via NetGalley.

Ratings: B- for No Regrets; B for Paul Simon: an American Tune