Sunday, October 26, 2014

Billy Joel by Fred Schruers

About four years ago, Billy Joel was to have published a memoir. In an earlier blog post here, I mention that The Book of Joel had gone to the pre-order on Amazon stage, with a cover and final manuscript turned in to the publisher. Two months before go time, Joel pulled the plug. I'll repost his quote, included in the older blog:

"It took working on writing a book to make me realize that I'm not all that interested in talking about the past, and that the best expression of my life and its ups and downs has been and remains my music," he said.

Schruers had been hired by Joel to help with the project. An interview in Newsday details the journey from memoir to "semi-authorized" biography - the author notes in the book that while Joel contributed thoughts and clarifications, he left Schruers to his work.

Rather extensive, at that. Billy Joel comes together through multiple interviews with friends, associates, ex-wives, and archives of articles and interviews with the Piano Man. The more you read, you do realize Joel had a point with regards to his music telling his story, and Billy Joel could be read in tandem with a binge listen of Joel's music. One would be hard-pressed to think of another American singer/songwriter with an equally extensive, autobiographical catalog. More telling that the story "stopped" twenty years ago with Joel's last album of original work, River of Dreams. Why that is, I won't spoil it.

You come to understand Joel as a private person with a very public career, and while he has no interest in rehashing the past it doesn't make the life lived any less interesting. Schruers documents everything from family struggles in Nazi-occupied Europe to the heartaches turned tabloid gossip: money mismanagement, divorces, substance abuse. Rock and roll problems suffered by one who doesn't necessarily lead the fabled lifestyle to match. It may be why, compared to stories of other musician, I am more sympathetic toward Joel's struggles. He doesn't have to worry about his next meal, but he's still just like us

I enjoyed this book. It is detailed without being gossipy. You might come away realizing you're more of a Joel fan than you initially thought.

ARC received via NetGalley.

Rating: B+

Kathryn Lively is a mystery author and a book blogger. Her latest title is Killing the Kordovas.




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 forward 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.