Friday, February 5, 2016

Interlude: Read and To Read

If you're curious about the inner workings here at Chez BTRU, I'm happy to take a few moments to talk/write about it. If you've hung out for a while, you realize it's not a regularly updated blog. I stick to reviews of books about popular music and artists here, but as a reader I don't limit myself to this type of non-fiction. I tend to choose books that interest me as a reader and wannabe historian, and as I work in the industry I read to keep up on current releases and "buzz" books. Often that takes me into fiction, outside of this realm. Once I get my hands on a book fitted for this blog, I'm going to give it my full attention.

With this blog, too, I strive to review recent releases - books no more than a year old. So if you've wondered why I haven't reviewed a certain title, say Neil Peart's first books or something else, that's why. In time, though, I'd like to look into older books maybe for round-up posts about a particular topic/artist. There are a few things I'd like to do with this blog to make it more interactive.

For now, though, here's what I've read lately and what you can look forward to in the future:

Read: Frank: The Voice by James Kaplan
OmniLit ~ Amazon

I read the second book of Kaplan's two-part Sinatra bio first (reviewed here). Having done this, I think if you haven't read either book you should read The Voice first if you want to better appreciate it. Reading Sinatra: The Chairman first, I found I enjoyed the second book more because I saw this era of Sinatra's life as more interesting - this despite the rapid drop-off in 80-90s Sinatra history.

In The Voice, there's so much to muddle through and it's not all happy. To me the book didn't really start rolling until he met Ava, and right when it gets to a pivotal moment in his life, the book's over.

If you're really that interested in Frank's first thirty years, pick it up. You may appreciate The Chairman more for it. Rating: C+

To Read: Kill 'Em and Leave: Searching for James Brown and the American Soul by James McBride
OmniLit ~ Amazon

I read McBride's The Color of Water  many years ago. Excellent book. Pick it up if you haven't yet.

From the blurb: Kill 'Em and Leave is more than a book about James Brown. Brown's rough-and-tumble life, through McBride's lens, is an unsettling metaphor for American life: the tension between North and South, black and white, rich and poor. McBride's travels take him to forgotten corners of Brown's never-before-revealed history: the country town where Brown's family and thousands of others were displaced by America's largest nuclear power bomb-making facility; a South Carolina field where a long-forgotten cousin reveals, in the dead of night, a fuller history of Brown's sharecropping childhood, which until now has been a mystery. McBride seeks out the American expatriate in England who co-created the James Brown sound, visits the trusted right-hand manager who worked with Brown for forty-one years, and sits at the feet of Brown's most influential nonmusical creation, his "adopted son," the Reverend Al Sharpton. He reveals the stirring visit of Michael Jackson to the Augusta, Georgia,funeral home where the King of Pop sat up all night with the body of his musical godfather, spends hours talking with Brown's first wife, and reveals the Dickensian legal contest over James Brown's valuable estate, a fight that has destroyed careers, cheated children out of their educations, cost Brown's estate millions in legal fees, sent Brown's trusted accountant, David Cannon, to jail for a crime for which he was not convicted, and has left James Brown's body to lie for more than eight years in a gilded coffin on his daughter's front lawn in South Carolina.

To Read: Fleetwood Mac on Fleetwood Mac Interviews and Encounters by Sean Egan
OmniLit ~ Amazon

I've wanted to get in a Fleetwood Mac book here for some time. I had my hands on Mick Fleetwood's memoir a while ago but for some reason didn't finish it. Will have to try again.

From the Blurb: Fleetwood Mac was a triumph from the beginning—their first album was the UK’s bestselling album of 1968. After some low points—when founder Peter Green left, some fans felt that the band continuing was sacrilege—Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks joined, and the band’s 1977 album Rumoursbecame one of history's immortals, a true classic that remained in the charts for years and public affection forever. In the press, the ethereal Californian Stevie Nicks, the tormented rocker Lindsey Buckingham, the dignified English rose Christine McVie, the blunt-speaking John McVie, and the loquacious Mick Fleetwood have all regularly been astoundingly candid. This collection of interviews across the entirety of Fleetwood Mac’s career features articles from such celebrated publications as Crawdaddy, New Musical Express, Circus,Creem, Mojo, Goldmine, Classic Rock, Blender, and Elle, as well as interviews that have never previously appeared in print. In it, readers will learn the Fleetwood Mac story from the band members’ own mouths, and experience it contemporaneously rather than through hindsight.

~

So that's what I have on deck, and of course I'm still waiting for Lita Ford's book...if and when.


Friday, January 1, 2016

2113: Stories Inspired By the Music of Rush by Kevin J. Anderson and Josh McFetridge, eds.

Pre-order 2113 on Amazon.

Andy Rooney said, "Writers never retire." Drummers...well, it happens and it's not always voluntary. We know Neil Peart can't rock the solos forever, short of having bionic arms installed (don't think somebody hasn't suggested it), and if you've read recent interviews you know what's on his mind. Family. Writing. Somewhere he's said he hoped to adapt Clockwork Angels the novel to film. So yeah, he's not going anywhere in a sense.

While I didn't love the Clockwork Angels novel, I think there's strong potential in a film. Tighten the story and give it to right director, and I'll go see it. I haven't yet read the followup, because to be honest 2113 intrigued me more. Multi-author anthologies, for me, are a mixed bag in terms of quality, but this being a collection of stories - 16 of which are inspired by Rush songs - proved too tempting to resist.

Of the 18 authors included in the book, I've read three prior, including Kevin J. Anderson and Mercedes Lackey (I'd read somewhere she based the character Dirk from the Valdemar novels on Geddy Lee). Most die-hard fans have searched the Internet to read "A Nice Morning Drive" by Richard S. Foster, which inspired Neil to write "Dead Barchetta." It is part of this collection, and Fritz Leiber's "Gonna Roll the Bones" is the other reprint.

So we have 18 stories, each connected to a specific Rush song. The cover and roster suggest all science fiction, and you'll find everything from hard SF to futuristic drama here, but 2113 also showcases some paranormal mystery and noir. For the most part, Easter eggs of Rush lyrics are scarce - which suits me fine. The stories flow nicely, much like in Rush albums where the individual songs connect to form an all-encompassing concept.

Highlights for me in 2113 include:

"On the Fringes of the Fractal" by Greg Van Eekhout - Futuristic YA about loyalty and friendship, a willingness to sacrifice social standing for a friend.

"A Patch of Blue" by Ron Collins - Another theme of "deviating from the norm," as one Rush song goes, where creators in two different realms take similar paths for what they believe is right.

"The Burning Times, V2.0" by Brian Hodge - Like Fahrenheit 451 crossed with Harry Potter; a young fights censorship and as a result has to save himself.

"The Digital Kid" by Michael Z. Williamson - A dreamer's journey to overcome disability.

"Some Are Born to Save the World" by Mark Leslie - The story of a superhero's mortality.

I won't reveal which songs inspired which stories. As noted in the book's introduction, one doesn't need to be familiar with Rush's music to enjoy the book. That the majority of the contributing authors have backgrounds in SFF keep the stories cohesive. A fair number of Rush fans I know enjoyed Clockwork Angels, but I think they will appreciate this book as much, if not more.

My only nitpick with this collection: only one female author in the bunch. If the boys sanction this as a franchise, perhaps 2114 could feature a few more women writers. Lady Rush fans do exist.

Rating: A-

Kathryn Lively is a lady Rush fan.





Thursday, December 24, 2015

Beatlebone by Kevin Barry

Somewhere in the middle of Beatlebone (AMZ / OMNI) the author squeezes in an interlude which explains the research that went into authenticating John Lennon's voice for this story, and the history behind Dorinish Island as once owned by the singer. Once you get to this part of the book you may think one of two things: 1) Uh, shouldn't something like this appear at the tail end of the story, like an Afterword?, or 2) Oh, thank God.

This is not to say the prose of Beatlebone will leave your eyes crossed. It's uniquely told, stream of conscious narrative married with rapid exchanges of dialogue, and given the focus of the book it's an appropriate presentation. I think that Barry's interlude in the middle works because it's unexpected, much like the things John experiences in this story, and perhaps unconsciously Barry tipped toward a similar "intermission" gag in the movie Help!

So it's 1978. Lennon hasn't cut a record of original material in about four years. He has a toddler at home and an island on the Western coast of Ireland, bought in the late 60s. He gets the idea if he spends a few days on this deserted floating rock and employs some Primal Scream therapy and chain smoking he'll rejuvenate his creativity. Getting there, though, is half the battle, most of the headache, and all over a trip more surreal than the back-masking on "Strawberry Fields Forever." Seems some of the locals are in no hurry to help John get to where he wants to go. In his de facto guide Cornelius, John find camaraderie and irritation in the same package. Cornelius wants to feed John blood pudding (not on a macrobiotic's menu) and drag him to a pub and help him dodge the press with a quick hideout in a hotel full of "ranters."

John just wants to get to the "fucken" island. What happens from there, a lost "album" spilling from John's mind like coming down from a magnificent high, is at once lyrical and bizarre. Makes you want to go back and find In His Own Write and Spaniard in the Works to see how they compare.

Barry writes in his interlude how he sees most Lennon-centric fiction as "character assassinations." It's easier to do when your subject can't speak up, but Beatlebone aims for an introspective John who doesn't treat everybody like crap. If you're looking for a more traditional narrative this book might drive you nuts, but it's worth the read if you can hold on.

Rating: B

Kathryn Lively did get to cross Abbey Road, but doesn't Scream.

Saturday, December 19, 2015

Sinatra: The Chairman by James Kaplan

I hear the term problematic fave often now. It's applied to people largely admired for their achievements, talents, etc., yet for all the praise comes the reminder these people aren't saints. Oh, you like Joe Rock Singer, don't you? You realize he'd trade his first born for a bag of crack in a heartbeat, right? I'm not saying Sinatra would have done that, but as we celebrate the 100th anniversary of his birth it's interesting to see all the tributes and memorials when in the back of some minds there's that voice, and it's not booming out "Come Fly With Me."

It's saying, Well, you know what he was like...

Problematic fave.

I can't say Frank Sinatra was a bad person. He did bad things, many of which are documented in Sinatra: The Chairman (AMZ / OMNI) and in other bios. He also did many great things, acts of charity and kindness to friends and strangers. After another hundred years I doubt we'll have the man completely figured out.

I'm part Sicilian. I grew up with Sinatra on the stereo during the holidays. Beyond that, my knowledge of the man amounted to sensationalist bytes read in the supermarket tabloids found in my grandmother's house - each anecdote involved Frank in some night club or bar and a waitress getting his drink order wrong.

"I want that broad fired!" he said. And she was. That's how every story ended. I, young and newly feminist, even with little background on the circumstances that resulted in this juicy gossip, sympathized with the women who lost jobs over this and pictured a winding line of sequined dresses and ostrich plumes wrapped around the unemployment office on The Strip. I pictured children of single moms, reliant on tips for food and clothing, wondering over their next meal because some guy who hadn't had a hit record in years got all pissy about extra ice and Jim Beam in his rocks glass instead of Jack.

I vowed if for some reason I got a job as a cocktail waitress I would never serve the man a drink, ever. I take that back. I wanted to purposely get a job as a cocktail waitress and wait for my time. Come at me, old man. 

Closest I ever got to Sinatra was in 1993 at the Coliseum in Jacksonville for one of his last concerts. Still ambivalent about the man and music (come on, early 90s, we were trying to get REM tickets), but we went because Sinatra.

Jon Pinette (RIP) opened with his uproarious act. Shirley Maclaine followed and killed. The Voice finished and it held up, although haltingly. He was slightly stooped and relied on teleprompters, but the crowd cheered him all the while. My mother later said of the show that she saw him tearing up at the last ovation. What the crowd gave, he needed.

And just like that, I felt for him.

~

When I picked up Sinatra: The Chairman I didn't realize it's actually a Part Two. I opened the book to the aftermath of Sinatra's Oscar win for From Here to Eternity and am thinking, "Um, there was stuff before this, right?" Author Kaplan had written Frank: The Voice several years prior, and that book covered the life from birth through his first official "comeback" in the early 50s. What you get in Chairman is the rest of the story, of which twenty or so years are meticulously detailed. This is the genesis of the Clan, what later became the Rat Pack. This is the juxtaposition of professional successes in film and music and personal turmoil (losing Ava, Kennedy snubs). Every drink toasted, every woman romanced, every nerve set on edge due to Sinatra's impatience for retakes and rehearsals.

Chairman clocks in at close to a thousand pages, of which a hundred or so comprise the appendix. I'm reading at a steady clip, more than halfway through and curious how Kaplan handles the rest of Sinatra's life and is there room. If you want to read up on exploits post-Eternity through the mid-60s - struggling to stay relevant during Beatlemania, mediocre vanity film projects, Mia Farrow - you have a goldmine here. It's once the next decade begins, though, Kaplan seems to run out of gas. We go from a steadily detailed bio to a summary of Frank's sunset. Granted, one wouldn't consider the last twenty years of his life the peak of his productivity, but the bio at that point reads like a rapid downhill roll and gives it an all-too abrupt end. Did Kaplan strive to meet the centenary deadline or did he figure we weren't interested in the later years?

I did enjoy this book. My rating would be higher if not for the drop-off in the last quarter of Sinatra's life. I'm sure there's enough material to warrant a third part of the story if Kaplan were willing to commit to it.

Rating: B-

Kathryn Lively once visited Sinatra park in Hoboken. It's nice.