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

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Book Series Review: The Garden of Allah by Martin Turnbull

The good news is I'm not dead. It's been an interesting Spring/Summer - a trip to Sicily, a book contract, pages of writing completed, and melting in the sun. I'm reading a storm, too, but lately I haven't touched any rock books. It's not for lack of titles: the books are there, and the ones I really want to read aren't out yet. I suppose I've hit a slump where I simply can't get into the subject. I have two on my TBR pile - another Kiss book and another Beatles book. I've done plenty of them, and I truly want to add some variety here.

I won't abandon those bands entirely, or rock books, but in the interest of keeping this blog from the stagnant, mosquito infested stage, I'm going to broaden the scope a bit and include reviews of books that focus on pop culture in general - music, film, TV, and some fiction. Recently I finished the latest novel in a series I can't recommend enough.

I picked up The Garden of Allah by Martin Turnbull after happening upon it after a round of Amazon roulette. The premise grabbed me immediately: three friends with ambitions in young Hollywood become acquainted in the lush community ruled over by actress Alla Nazimova. IRL, Nazimova owned property on which a mansion/hotel and a few dozen villas were built. She rented out to people in the industry - writers, actors, general gadabouts doused in whiskey and gin. You've heard of the Algonquin Roundtable, consider this Algonquin West. In this mix Turnbull places Kathryn the aspiring journalist, Marcus the aspiring screenwriter, and Gwendolyn the aspiring actress. Throughout the series they experience career and personal peaks and valleys and cross paths with the big names of the day: Mayer, Warner, Selznick, Flynn, Hearst, Garbo, Welles.

The Garden of Allah sets the series with this trio of friends working to gain footholds in their respective fields. Naturally it doesn't come easy, and you learn quite a bit about studio politics in the early days of film. The Trouble With Scarlett takes them through the greatest casting search in film history, with Kathryn longing to scoop the top dog gossips on GWTW news and Gwendolyn plotting to play the lead. By Citizen Hollywood, we're all struck by the cinematic genius of Citizen Kane...even those who'd kill to suppress the film.

Seriously, if you have a yen for Old Hollywood stories, you'll like these. I heard there are six more books planned, and I wonder how far Turnbull plans to take his characters. Will we see the infancy of Marilyn Monroe's career, or get caught up in Black Dahlia's murder all over again. I'm stuck waiting, but you can catch up.

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Face the Music: A Life Exposed by Paul Stanley

Buy Face the Music: A Life Exposed from Amazon.com!

So for several weeks leading up to this year's Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction I saw KISS trending in nearly every news site I follow. I get updates from Ultimate Classic Rock, and I received a KISS e-lert every damn day for a month. Lot of yakking back and forth. "Paul did this to us," whined somebody. "Ace is still a damned drunk." Yada yada. I asked my KISS-fan friend Joe if they got this much press at the peak of KISS-mania and he said no. "Mainstream media hated their guts," he told me.

In this book, Stanley touches a bit on the derision and odd looks they endured from the beginning - from labels, critics, and peers. To read how he looks back on the past, it's clear he's not embittered by it. "No Drama" fast becomes a theme, but it's difficult to avoid. Stanley does admit his unwillingness to put up with the two-faced sort (using a blow-up with Slash as an example) and the desire to show up past naysayers (as illustrated in an anecdote about a high school reunion), but for the most part Face the Music is what happened and where with KISS, from inception to almost present day, as Stanley remembers. If you're expecting four hundred pages of "screw Ace and Peter" you will be disappointed - probably because recent media hype of this book may have lead you to believe it's a bash-fest. Face the Music isn't all prancing unicorns, either, but it is brutal and engaging in its honesty.

Now, I reviewed Peter's book and I enjoyed it, too. I'm not yet on the KISS Army caravan but I own more albums now than I did in 2012. Since it's been two years since reading Makeup to Breakup my recall is shot, but I don't need to reread it to tell you how differently Peter and Paul tell their sides of the story. Before we get into that, though...

Stanley's pre-KISS years are marked by physical and emotional problems, everything from a dysfunctional family to a disability that luckily did not affect his musical ability. As with Criss, school offered little in terms of a future, and music proved the greater draw. Early interactions with Gene Klein/Simmons tell of a combined curiosity and skepticism that leads to a more "functional" dysfunctional relationship that remains intact.

Early KISS antics roll through the seventies on mounting credit bills and a steady climb toward fame that explodes with the release of Alive! - and the subsequent buffet of women and expensive things. I get from this book Stanley had more fun recalling sexual conquests than dealing with financial problems that plagued much of their career (understandable). Where Criss had issues with KISS merchandise threatening to undermine the band and make them appear cartoonish, for example, Stanley argues the decision wasn't any different from how The Beatles were merched a decade before them. People still go for their music, right?

When you get to the chapters on the big reunion and tours, you may think you have to choose sides. Were Ace and Peter used to generate cash, or were they asked back to recapture old magic in a setting that stood to benefit everybody involved? Stanley argues for the latter - despite having two other musicians on the payroll, the full costume/makeup tour with the original four happened as a way to end that lineup on a strong note. From Stanley's view, that was the hope, and it didn't work out that way.

And the accusations on racism that caused all the recent press? It's maybe three or four sentences, one of which is vaguely worded. Early on in this book you feel Stanley's discomfort as he remembers his first encounter with anti-Semitism (which involved neither Ace nor Peter), and it's Stanley's perception of his bandmates' overall behavior that likely prompted the remarks, if only to create a bigger picture of conflicts within KISS as you read. I can't say what Stanley thinks of Ace and Peter beyond what I have read here, but the passages read more like observation than accusation.

What he has to say about Gene, now... no, nothing to do with race or creed. I'll leave you with something to anticipate.

I enjoyed Face the Music. Stanley's enthusiasm for KISS as an entity, more than a band, is infectious. It ends in a good place, too. This went out before the HoF ceremony, and some might think that would make for a good coda to any story, but you read Paul's book and know he's nowhere close to finished.

Rating: A-

Kathryn Lively is a mystery author, editor and avid reader.