Showing posts with label B- Reviews. Show all posts
Showing posts with label B- Reviews. Show all posts

Monday, November 27, 2017

Once There Was a Way: What if The Beatles Stayed Together? by Bryce Zabel

Buy Once There Was A Way at Amazon.

Read author Zabel's biography on Goodreads, and you'll find an impressive resume steeped in sci-fi and speculative fiction, and it's not limited to book format. Once There Was A Way is an alternative history, and while it is a work of fiction I hesitate to call it a novel. It's not a narrative in the traditional sense, like previous Beatle-related fiction reviewed here. Ian R. MacLeod's Snodgrass stands out in my mind because it also asks "what if?" That story followed John Lennon in a life of near squalor, having left The Beatles before reaching any level of international fame. Once offers not just a "what if" but "what could have been."

The book begins in 1968 at the dawn of the Apple age, with John and Paul about to announce its genesis on The Tonight Show. Immediately the trajectory veers from actual history. Reality shows (or it would, if the full footage still existed) John and Paul had to settle that night for a substitute host, Joe Garagiola. Book John and Book Paul have enough sense to hold out for the real thing, and Carson jumps.

From there we're treated to a story laid out in lengthy Behind The Music style as The Beatles flirt with divorce but ultimately agree to probationary periods of togetherness for the sake of keeping Apple viable and solvent. They agree to completing film and album commitments, yet take turns gazing longingly at the exit. Unlike bands that stay together for the paycheck despite passing their prime, The Beatles continue to spin gold.

Zabel threads in non-events ingrained in band lore (the invitation to Woodstock, the Lord of the Rings adaptation) and makes them happen. As the band's life span lengthens, so some of the individual achievements in song become those of the group. Some moments in the story seem almost too far-fetched and Forrest Gump, even for speculative fiction, but as escapism it inspires a smile.

My big issue with the book was the style. Once I realized I didn't have a straight narrative story I felt apprehensive about following through. The strength of Once There Was A Way comes in the characters. If you're big on The Beatles you're more likely to enjoy this than a non-fan. After getting through the initial chapter about The Tonight Show, I found my groove and finished this with good speed.

As for how long The Beatles remain together in this book, and who survives to the end, I won't spoil it. I will say Zabel's ending probably reflects the feelings of a number of fans who had hoped for more after 1970.

An ARC from Netgalley was received from the publisher for the purpose of this review.

Rating: B-

Kathryn Lively is looking for her next book to read.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

The Most Beautiful: My Life With Prince by Mayte Garcia

Super-fandom exists for pretty much anything - sports, musicians and entertainment franchises. If you were close to the object of affection and release a memoir to coincide with a landmark moment - say, the anniversary of the object's untimely passing - you're certain to get some side eye and murmurings of "cashing in." Because fans desire to keep their connection alive through new information, you'll also get sales. Look at this blog, I've read over a dozen books about the Beatles. Surely by now I know everything there is to learn about them, right?

You'd be surprised, and I'll read a dozen more Beatles books in the future, I'm sure.

On the spectrum of fandom, I am probably a step above casual fan status where Prince is involved. I keep the songs playing when they come on the radio, and I watched the award show/Super Bowl performances. I even watched his guest spot on that sitcom I'm too lazy to Google right now. More avid fans do have opinions on The Most Beautiful: My Life With Prince (AMZ), some questioning Mayte Garcia's decision to discuss intimate moments about a man who valued his privacy. Knowing so little about Prince the man, aside from what I found in the other Prince book reviewed here, I am grateful for the opportunity to read Mayte's story, and it's encouraged me to seek out his post-Diamond and Pearls material for a listen.

So, if you're a huge fan, know this book is exactly what it advertises. Garcia, the first Mrs. Nelson, chronicles a near fantasy tale about a young, in-demand dancer with admiration for a world-famous superstar. An ambitious parent gets a demo tape to pass into the right hands, hoping at the very least it will inspire the casting of her daughter in a music video. Instead it ignites a friendship that slow-burns into a love story.

(By the way, if you think it's that damn easy to get in with a rock star, it doesn't always work. A friend of mine gave a copy of one of my books to a technician working for a particular prog trio. The guy said he'd put it on the bus, but for all I know the pages are lining a bird's nest in Jones Beach.)

As part of Prince's inner circle, Garcia picks up quickly on signals. She learns which women interest Prince, what's expected of her as an official employee of the New Power Generation, and that the squeaky wheel gets the grease - especially where a living wage is concerned. What she originally anticipated as a once in a lifetime opportunity to perform in a Prince tour becomes a long-term backstage pass, acclimating to Prince's eccentricities and sharing in his accomplishments and failures. Following a brief marriage and personal tragedies, the story takes a bittersweet All About Eve turn as she recognizes the signals that forewarn of her eventual dismissal from Prince's life.

The Most Beautiful is a short book. One could read it in a long day, but by no means is it an exhaustive biography of Prince. It's a glimpse into a period of romantic gestures, sadly lacking an HEA, and one - like the other Prince book reviewed here - that strives to be kind to its subject. I've noticed on Goodreads how some fans have taken Garcia to task on a few observations of Prince, and her mother loses points with some for "foisting" her underage child on a man they know only from Purple Rain. This isn't Bill Wyman and Mandy Smith, though - Prince and Garcia were not a conventional love story, but the book doesn't turn lurid. I'll continue to seek out an objective Prince bio, but I do find The Most Beautiful provides a fascinating portrait.

Rating: B-

Kathryn Lively is just like her father, too bold.

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Kicking and Dreaming: A Story of Heart, Soul, and Rock and Roll by Ann and Nancy Wilson with Charles R. Cross

Once upon a time I had about a hundred eBooks housed in a library connected to an online retailer. If you know the site of which I speak, you know they folded at the turn of the year and gave customers a short window of opportunity to download and save. I managed to get twenty books to safety but unfortunately one of them wasn't my copy of Kicking and Dreaming: A Story of Heart, Soul, and Rock and Roll, which I had purchased a few years back with the intent of reviewing here. I'm slowly working to replace what I lost, what I remember buying, anyway.

Not unlike the reading of the book, I seem to fall behind where Heart is concerned. I had become aware of their existence in the early 80s but didn't give thought to the singles out at the time. "Tell It Like It Is" and "This Man is Mine" were a bit too doo-wop and ballad-y for my tastes then, despite Ann's killer vocals, and I hadn't realized these songs weren't necessarily representative of the overall Heart sound. Then by the mid-80s they'd launched into this MTV, male-gaze video era with the gold corsets, big hair, and bouncing boobies before a backdrop of flashpots and lightning. It appeared a bit much, but that was the point of the 80s - excess for success, and Heart was a 70s band pushed to take those extremes to stay relevant and solvent. In a way it worked, because the frequent radio play encouraged me to seek out their earlier hits. It wasn't until a few years ago, though, I took the opportunity to see them live - both shows post-Hall of Fame victory laps. My daughter and I loved them, but with these recent family fallouts happening I fear there won't be other concerts.

Well, I got a replacement copy of the book. Upon finally reading it I find it's presented in "oral history" format with Ann and Nancy on a round robin storytelling pattern. There are a few books reviewed here that employ this writing method (VJ, Starting Over, Nothin' To Lose) and while it's not my favorite style I find it's effective when you have several voices in the chorus. Oral history books risk a breakdown of cohesion in telling a story, but more perspectives help to create a large picture and a better sense of time and setting, even if dates aren't exact. But for a few "guest shots" in this book - collaborators and former bandmates - the book is mostly Ann and Nancy, which is appropriate in a way, considering they are the most visible faces in Heart. For years I used to think Heart was strictly a duo. Shows what I know.

Kicking and Dreaming tells the evolution of the Wilson sisters' career in their own words, starting with a shared mobile military-family childhood, through thankless gigs in Canadian bars and early battles with their first label. Similar to points in lives like Lita Ford's, the sisters contended with sexism in the industry (even from female execs - e.g. the corset years) and not-always faithful companions. They have great anecdotes to share, particularly about early touring years and the struggle to become known for original work rather than covers. One such story about John Mellancamp may encourage you to whack him upside the head when you see him next.

For everything interesting in Ann and Nancy's journey, though, I tended to be pulled away from it at times due to the book's presentation. I note there's a third author listed and I'm not sure of his purpose, given the spots of spelling and syntax errors throughout the book. Other reviewers have noted continuity errors - incorrect release dates and such - but if I don't intimately know a band's discography I'm willing to forgive such things. Memories may challenge us, and I got the impression Kicking and Dreaming came out as a transcript with a perfunctory polish.

I appreciate Heart more than I did in my youth. Rock music is a male-dominated industry and I suppose we're conditioned to gravitate more toward male artists. Ann and Nancy challenged that norm early on by fronting a band, writing songs and playing their instruments. We see more women leading groups as a result, and if more are able to catch breaks in this business they may have the women in Heart to credit. Kicking and Dreaming is a rich history with rough spots, but worth reading.

Rating: B-

Kathryn Lively is slowly recovering.

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) 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.

My mother's family was 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.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Allen Klein: The Man Who Bailed Out the Beatles, Made the Stones, and Transformed Rock & Roll by Fred Goodman

Every time I read a Beatles-related book I find most players run hot or cold with critics. You either adore somebody or you loathe them. We can guess how assorted Beatles and personnel fall in the spectrum, and when it comes to Allen Klein you find a figure just as (or perhaps more) polarizing than Yoko Ono. Long story short, Klein was a money man on a mission: to manage the most popular band in the world. One could argue he obsessed over the idea of being their right-hand man, so much that he couldn't appreciate what he had with The Rolling Stones, no slouches themselves.

In the Afterword of Allen Klein: The Man Who Bailed Out The Beatles, Made the Stones, and Transformed Rock & Roll (Buy: AMZ / BN / KOBO / ITUNES) the author mentions the desire of Klein's family to clear the air, so to speak. Going into this book, all I knew of Klein was his work with the Stones and that three out of four Beatles wanted him to replace the late Brian Epstein. We may forever argue over who broke up the band, but if you read enough of the Beatle chapters here you may give Yoko a break and lean toward the theory of self-implosion. Klein's alleged reaction to Epstein's death as mentioned here could leave you cringing.

I'm not here to review Klein's character, though. Allen Klein the book, overall, is informative and detailed, and may find an audience in readers interested in the financial workings of the music industry. Klein's life work is a tangle of royalties and subsidiary rights and similar legalese, and promises to musicians with less business savvy to get the money they deserve. It used to baffle me to read of rock stars claiming to be broke, but as Goldman breaks down how music publishing works, and how managers earn their share, I understand it. Maybe those who dream of fortune should put down the guitars and get accounting degrees.

I found the book is most interesting when the story focuses directly on Klein's interaction with the musicians he manages: Sam Cooke, John Lennon, Mick. At times the narrative splintered into tangents, delving here into Andrew Oldham's story, then over there to talk about somebody else. While it interested me, another reader might think there wasn't enough about Klein to make a book. Once Klein loses Lennon as a client, his story seems to wrap up rather quickly.

Allen Klein is a book for hardcore Beatles and/or Stones fans, readers who likes to crunch numbers and crave a side of classic rock gossip.

Rating: B-

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Ringo: With a Little Help by Michael Starr

Does Ringo Starr get enough credit as a musician? Other professionals have cited his influence on them, mainly by virtue of The Beatles' reach and an equal focus on all four members. Think of how many kids watched the band on Ed Sullivan and went on to pursue music - not all of them became guitarists.

Others may argue that Ringo is no Buddy Rich or Neil Peart - then again you can reverse that argument. How well would Neil and Buddy have paraded through A Hard Day's Night or mugged through Help! and The Magic Christian without Ringo's effusive charm? Legend has it Buddy once told a young fan, "fuck off, kid," so it's safe to say we wouldn't have heard him narrating any Thomas the Tank Engine stories.

Ringo was/is a drummer, memorable enough to make Best Of lists, and more so an entertainer. Think of each of the Beatles movies: Ringo has a significant side story in AHDN, is practically the focus of Help!, and opens Yellow Submarine and Magical Mystery Tour. Sometimes people debate over rock groups and the possibility of expendable members. Ringo isn't one of them.

Ringo the musician is not without his critics, but it's not enough to dismiss his skills entirely. He can claim a fair number of fans in the industry. While he didn't enjoy lasting solo success on the music charts compared to the other ex-Beatles, he never had a problem lining up capable sidemen for his albums. Check the liner notes of any of his records - each is a who's who in classic rock. I can't say if these music makers expected high sales, but it's clear they believe enough in Starr's talent to give their time to him.

Despite five decades in the public eye, you don't find much in the way of detailed biographies on the man. Look on Goodreads, and you'll see his photography collections, and a few bios with negative reviews - claims of poor writing and research. Michael Starr's Ringo: With a Little Help (AMZ / BN / ITUNES) may very well set a precedent. Like other Beatle biographies, this is an unauthorized work - author Starr (no relation, of course) even notes a Facebook post from Starr's official page denying any participation in the book's creation. It's possible Starr isn't interested in having his whole life story told, which makes sense considering the professional and personal nadirs revealed here.

The tone of Ringo, however, is kind. Ringo reads quite the opposite of Howard Sounes's Fab:An Intimate Life of Paul McCartney (reviewed here). Where Sounes's biography teeters between disappointment of and scorn for its subject, Ringo is almost apologetic in recounting post-Beatle struggles, as though the author doesn't want to put the star in a bad light. Even so, consider the content to work with: a string of low-charting solo albums (when they did chart), low-grossing movies and failed TV pilots, and a decade's worth of drunken debauchery. Hey, it happened, but Ringo survived. His All Starr Band is on it's thirteenth tour, and he's about to be inducted solo into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Granted, it's being done not as a performer but under the title of Outstanding Achievement in the Field of Excellence or whatnot, but the Rock Hall could simply have let the Beatles induction suffice for him.

On top of all this, he's 75 and looks 40. Eat your broccoli, kids.

As a biographer, author Starr appears to have done his homework. Ringo comes with an extensive bibliography and list of cited sources, though it looks as though he relied heavily on certain ones - specifically Beatles books I've read for the first third of the history. You won't find many new revelations in the Beatles era, beyond the hints of reunion in the following years. One nit pick: the book states the claim of a near crime-free evening in New York during the Sullivan show, which the people at Snopes have debunked.

Ringo's post-Beatle debauchery well matched, if not surpassed, the decadence of Lennon's fabled Lost Weekend, only in his case it's a Lost Decade or two. You would expect a more rounded portrayal of Ringo here, and experience his frustration of wanting to move on from the past. I get the impression, though, author Starr is more interested in protecting Ringo and downplaying some of the uglier public moments. They exist.

With the new tour and Rock Hall honors, and every year until 2020 will be the 50th anniversary of something Beatle-related, Ringo is a timely release, one for fans interested in more about the man who inspired so many to pick up sticks.

Rating: C+/B-

Friday, March 27, 2015

Blood, Sweat, and My Rock 'n' Roll Years: Is Steve Katz a Rock Star? by Steve Katz


The more I read rock and roll memoirs, the more I'm convinced it's required for at least two chief members of a successful group to butt heads and fall out with spectacular hand gestures and bitter, four-letter words. Lennon sniped with McCartney, Stanley rolls his eyes at Simmons's every PR stunt, and Perry seems to barely tolerate Tyler (you get that impression from his book). Everybody has a frenemy in the business, the person with whom you work while you look at your watch to check for quitting time, and for Steve Katz that man would be Al Kooper.

Or Lou Reed.

Or David Clayton-Thomas.

Or his brother Dennis.

The difference between the aforementioned rock duos and Katz and company, though, is you get the impression at the end of the day John and Paul, etc. can bury the hatchet. After reading Blood, I envision Katz using the hatchet to hack the bridge into firewood before tossing back a lit match as he walks away.

I picked up this book because I wanted to read about a musician and a group about whom I know next to nothing. Katz helped form two popular bands of the 1960s: first The Blues Project and later Blood, Sweat & Tears. I know exactly three BS&T songs. I thought I knew four, but the last one turned out to be a Guess Who hit. Soon as I'm done here I'm firing up Google Play to listen to both groups. Anyway, if die-hard BS&T fans exist who live to takes sides with Team Katz or Team Kooper, I'd recommend this book to all of you because now you have a counterpart to Al's book.

If you're not a die-hard and want to read an insider's story of the industry as a musician and executive, you'll find here a rough blend of memories - blunt, happy and bitter. There are early heartbreaks that make you want to give the guy a hug (read: Mimi Baez), and fun brushes with celebrity like Bob Dylan and not-yet-Hutch David Soul. Katz doesn't suffer fools as he relates his tenure with fame, multi-million record sales and Grammy Awards, all the while dealing with an ego he had to humble to improve the band (Kooper) and the replacement singer he wanted to throttle (Thomas).

BS&T, however, only accounts for a fraction of Katz's story, given that he left the band in 1973 (by '77, the last founding member cycled out and a bazillion other people have performed in this group since). I found the second part of the book more interesting as Katz transitioned from musician to producer, namely with Reed, to A&R during the musically volatile 70s and 80s. How does the co-founder of a jam band and a jazz-rock band head hunt disco acts for a record label? With the knowledge he's getting a much-needed paycheck.

Blood, Sweat, and My Rock 'n' Roll Years opens with a great hook and scatters through several decades of headaches and musical triumphs and disappointments. One might call it a cautionary tale, though I have to wonder how much Katz would do all over again given the choice.

ARC received from the publisher via NetGalley.

Rating: B-

Kathryn Lively writes, and drinks.

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 (AMZ / BN / KOBO / ITUNES), 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 (AMZ / BN / KOBO / ITUNESby 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

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Wild Tales: A Rock and Roll Life by Graham Nash

I admit I am slow on the uptake at times. I hadn't realized Graham Nash put out a memoir until I saw it listed on the front of my library's Overdrive page. I had intended to read first a Bob Dylan bio (second attempt, different book - it will happen one day), but since I go through eBooks rather quickly I snatched up Wild Tales (AMZ) before somebody else did. I do like The Hollies, and we enjoy CSN(Y). My husband can scratch out a nice rendition of "Southern Cross" on his guitar; I wish I could say we were able to nail down the harmonies as well.

Before Nash delves too deeply into his personal history, he opens Tales with the story of perhaps the most important point of his career, where he comes to a crossroads (by air, on the way to LA) and must decide to divorce not only The Hollies, but his estranged wife. Waiting for him in California are his new love, Joni Mitchell, and Stephen Stills and David Crosby. Yeah, no big deal - three major hitters of late 60s music are chillin' in the same space. What's even more amazing are the collective resumes of this cast: Crosby has left The Byrds, and Stills is recently out of Buffalo Springfield. So technically CSN are the original supergroup. Take that, Damn Yankees.

Wild Tales chugs along quite smoothly and you could probably get through it in a day or two. Books like this are either so compelling you can't stop, or lack substance so you kind of speed through it. Nash's story kind of teeters. He doesn't spend a lot of time on his youth, which seems to parallel a bit with that of John Lennon - young man grows up in an industrial English town, befriends a future music partner (in Nash's case it's former Hollie Allen Clarke), discovers American rock and roll, and takes up the guitar to escape an inevitable future in a mill or mine. It's interesting to read how Nash and the Beatles cross paths throughout their earlier careers, and Nash's eventual dissatisfaction with commercial pop, which brings him to Joni Mitchell's door as relayed in the beginning of the book.

The first few chapters pertaining to CSN(Y) read like a description of the longest dysfunctional yet most successful open marriage ever. Nash maintains the group remains active to this day, even if people don't speak to each other for years and tour with different bands and so forth. It's a turbulent love story co-starring more than a few female lovers in common, money gone missing...all liberally dusted with enough blow to fill a canyon. You listen now to harmonious ditties like "Helpless" and "Long Time Gone" and wonder how they were able to keep the tempo slow when they were all jacked up.

The last quarter of the book summarizes Nash's activism and recent honors (HoF, OBE, etc.). If you're into the Tea Party, you probably will leave Wild Tales pissed off. As a memoir, though, Wild Tales lives up to the title. If you enjoy good dish and name-dropping, even if you're not into the music scene of this time, it's an entertaining read.

Rating: B-


Kathryn Lively is the author of Killing the Kordovas and the Rock and Roll Mysteries, Rock Deadly and Rock Til You Drop.

Friday, July 19, 2013

When They Were Boys: The True Story of the Beatles' Rise to the Top by Larry Kane

ARC received from NetGalley.

Purchase the book from

Some of you may be groaning to see yet another Beatles book reviewed on this blog. What can one possibly learn from a new title, and how can we be sure this is the true story of the Fab's early years? Having read so many books over the decades, one would think I could recite the story by heart. So many Beatle "insiders" and witnesses to the early days of Hamburg and Liverpool - it's nice to know so many are still kicking after fifty-plus years - and it appears that journalist/writer Kane has attempted to include as many as possible in When They Were Boys. This book doesn't cover the whole of the Beatles' career, but concentrates on the beginnings of the Quarrymen through the mid-1960s at the stirrings of the takeover of America.

Beatle die-hards know Kane's name - he traveled with the Beatles as a reporter during their 64-65 American tours, and he's authored other books on the band. Personal encounters with the boys are represented here in conversations peppered throughout, but you won't find current cooperation from the surviving members. When They Were Boys instead calls on the memories of those present before the record deals, names already familiar to die-hards: Astrid Kircherr, Pete Best, John's sister Julia Baird, Bill Harry (who published Mersey Beat), and Horst Fascher (performer and club owner in Hamburg). Voices of the departed - Neil Aspinall, Mal Evans, Mona Best, etc. - are also present, as is input from Yoko Ono, speaking from memories of conversations with John.

With all of this participation, and the author's personal experience, one could argue this is a thorough account of early Beatles history. Some stories are familiar, others appear revealed as Kane charges that some biographers may have attempted to rewrite the story by omitting certain points. As much as I've read of Mona Best's involvement, I don't often hear of her reaction to her son's dismissal/resignation from the band, or of exactly how popular Pete was during these years. Kane also takes the time to point out how some biographers want to minimize May Pang or erase her entirely, but it's not something I've seen in Lennon biographies.

The narratives aren't the most compelling as compared to other Beatles biographies and histories, and some may bristle at mentions of Paul and Ringo's lack of cooperation/interest in the this project. To note that neither attended a funeral of an insider, for example, seemed almost chiding. Nonetheless, Boys is informative, and a book new students will appreciate.

Rating: B-

Kathryn Lively is the author of the Rock and Roll Mysteries featuring Lerxst Johnston: Rock Deadly and Rock Til You Drop, and of the collection of short stories, The Girl With the Monkee Tattoo.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Rubber Soul by Greg Kihn

If you're my age (and the coming reference is the only hint you're getting), you are probably familiar with Greg Kihn. Turn on your local BOB or JACK "we play anything" radio station and chances are the song Jeopardy is in rotation, sandwiched between Taco's Putting on the Ritz and that horrid Will.I.Am/Britney earworm. Greg Kihn co-wrote and performed Jeopardy, which was a huge song in its day. Constant MTV airing huge, Weird Al parody huge. If you haven't given Kihn a thought since 1984, no need to worry. He's apparently still kicking and writing in another arena.

Kihn's latest effort, Rubber Soul (AMZ), follows the adventures of a Liverpudlian entrepreneur as his life intersects periodically with those of several hometown friends striving to launch careers in music. I have read quite a few Beatle-inspired novels, and reviewed some Beatles fiction here in the past - I find stories like these go either away in terms of quality. I hesitate to call such works glorified fan fiction, since the Beatles themselves are basically historical figures now, and it wouldn't be fair to lump these books as fanfics when other writers bring true to life people into fiction and dodge the stigma. That said, some stories I have read seem to lack the polish that carries the characters out of fandom into something serious. In the case of Rubber Soul, I found a concept that interested me -- a look at the early Beatles through the eyes of a friend -- despite the rough patches.

Bobby Dingle helps his father run his antiques shop in Liverpool. Like other teenagers in the port town, he's fascinated by American rock and roll, and through the right contacts is able to snare prized 45s before anyone else in town (What's a 45? It's like an MP3, but different. Google it.). His love for American rhythm and blues and rock solidifies a friendship with a young John Lennon, and soon Bobby's position as the band's Forrest Gump is secured. Throughout the story - from encounters in Hamburg, Bobby's later adopted home of Baltimore, and London - Bobby peppers little influences like Easter eggs for John to find and integrate into the Beatles' success. If you're a fan, you'll spot them on sight.

As the reader gets a lesson in early rock and roll - with names of the Fabs' musical idols sounded off in a constant roll call - dark shadows cast occasional palls over the action. Bobby's thug half-brothers, Mick and Clive, cause trouble for the band, while fatal events in Hamburg have a lasting impact. Rubber Soul covers the period from the late 50s to the Beatles' nightmarish experience in Manila, in 1966. I've read more than my share of Beatle bios, too, and while Kihn doesn't specify actual dates throughout the story he appears to present an accurate timeline of events. That one scene where John dupes Bobby into trying LSD? I confirmed the date John tried it for the first time (it's a fairly famous story, mind you), just to make certain. A casual music fan may gloss over particulars, but a Beatleologist can nit-pick. Given that the pace of Rubber Soul runs rather swiftly, one may accept that Kihn properly placed the fixed points in Beatles history within his fiction. Curiously, though, this story omits the "bigger than Jesus" controversy altogether.

So, accuracy aside, is the story any good? Firstly, I commend any author willing to fictionalize people who existed. I did find overall dialogue stiff at times - in some parts it didn't feel natural, more like a recital of facts. I did like that the story focused more on Bobby as he connected with a variety of supporting players - the fictional Clovis, for example, came off more colorful as the rest, which would make sense given the author could write the character more freely.

Rubber Soul should please Beatles fans, and fans of early rock and roll. You'll find it's more than another version of an oft-told history, but a view of a changing time as youthful innocence morphs into moments of cynicism and turbulence. Ending with the events in The Philippines seems to cut the story short, but it doesn't make the ride there any less thrilling.

An ARC of this book was provided via NetGalley by the publisher.

Rating: B-

Kathryn Lively is the author of the Rock and Roll Mysteries featuring Lerxst Johnston: Rock Deadly and Rock Til You Drop, and of the collection of short stories, The Girl With the Monkee Tattoo.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Amy, My Daughter by Mitch Winehouse

One might have shaken his head on hearing of Amy Winehouse's death last year. I will admit I was not familiar with her music when she was alive, and much of what I knew about her came from the tabloid press. For a time - to me, anyway - she seemed more famous for her antics and addictions than her talents. When somebody posted an "RIP Amy Winehouse" thread in a message board, however, my first reaction had not been one of expectation. I had genuinely thought it was a joke, because I thought she might just miss entry in the dreaded 27 Club. I don't know why I felt that way - I suppose I read enough entertainment news and see stories about people who abuse their bodies and systems yet continue to tick. Earlier today somebody on my Facebook timeline posted a picture of Keith Richards bearing the caption I've outlived Whitney Houston, Michael Jackson, and Elvis. Betcha didn't see that coming.


These days, when a person of note dies you're likely to find Amazon swell with self-publish cut and paste jobs that cobble together Wikipedia pages and blog articles to create a "biography" of the dearly departed. A few people thought enough of Amy to try to make a fast buck off her name, but when I picked up a copy of Amy, My Daughter (AMZ) I noticed author Mitch Winehouse has pledged the money he makes from this book to the Amy Winehouse Foundation, established in 2011 to assist various charitable interests in the UK, in particular involving people suffering addiction. As one might expect of a memoir by a close relative, Daughter is part love letter, part therapeutic exercise. It is a short book, one you could probably read in a few days, and rather blunt in its execution. Winehouse does not wax poetic, but rather lays down what happened when, who was there, and how he felt at the time.

Some reviews I've seen of this book accuse Winehouse of presenting a one-sided story; really, would you expect different from a grieving father who claimed to invest his time and energy trying to help his daughter overcome drug addiction? Through much of the book he recalls cycles of abuse and regret, with "I'm going to stop" becoming a tired mantra of Amy's up until the end. There's also no love lost for her ex-husband, on whom he appears to have settled the blame for Amy's decline, or the ex's parents, dismissed as leeches who saw Amy more as a wallet than a member of the family.

As this story is not told from an unbiased point of view, it is difficult to get the full story, and Daughter reads like a diary in that you don't get the impression other people close to Amy contributed. It would be interesting to one day read Amy's story from different vantage points to get a fuller picture and determine one thing I didn't wholly glean from this book: how Amy started on this self-destructive path. One day early in her career she's smoking cannabis...what prompts her to start? Peer pressure, curiosity, a desire to fit in? Only one person can answer that, and unfortunately we'll never hear from her.

If you followed Amy's career more closely than I did, you may enjoy Daughter for what Winehouse likely intended it to be: a tribute. Even as he recalls moments of tension and embarrassment, there is an underlying tone of pride and love. Amy should be remembered for her music rather than the negative press, and in time hopefully history will allow for that.

Rating: B-

Kathryn Lively is a mystery author and book blogger.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Beatles Fiction in Review: A Date With Mercy Street

I should preface this post by explaining why the site hasn't been updated in a while. The short answer: I took a break from reading relevant titles, and when school started for the little one I lost track of my many leisure pursuits. During this time, I fully intended to revive the site and read more rock-related novels and bios, but few caught my attention enough to draw me to read. I started a Bob Dylan bio, set it down, tried a Tom Waits book, put it down, and so forth. I supposed I needed to be in the right frame of mind to pick up the genre again.

Recently, though, I learned that the New York Beatles Fest was coming back to the Meadowlands in March (yes, that's technically New Jersey, but anything in the area is labeled NYC for reasons I don't ask to have explained) and I'm planning a trip up with the little one. I've longed to attend a Beatles Fest for years - when I was a teenager in Florida I used to get the catalogs and newsletters from Mark Lapidos, and hoped one day to get to Chicago where the main event is held annually. I like that there's a second event in the NYC area because it's closer, and I like that Micky Dolenz is one of the headliners. Just sounds like an awesome event.

With the Beatles on the brain, I took advantage of the high and tucked into two quick novels, both inspired by the same subject but entirely different. John Lennon and the Mercy Street Cafe is a work some would call "magic realism" in that the contemporary setting is enhanced by something extra that can't be classified as fantasy or paranormal. The protagonist, advertising executive Amy Parisi, is dissatisfied with her work and her love life, and basically feeling low about everything that goes on in between the two frustrations. Who doesn't experience this, yes, but few people are able to find a diversion in a private John Lennon concert. Amy can't quite believe it herself when she happens upon a cafe situated on a street that isn't supposed to exist, and sees a man who is supposed to be dead strumming on a guitar and singing to empty chairs.

What is John Lennon doing back in New York nearly thirty years after his death? He isn't sure, either, and Amy isn't sure why she's the only one who can see him, and the cafe - which appears as an abandoned storefront to the rest of the world. A chance (or perhaps fated) meeting with a writer named David begins a journey for Amy...and David and Amy's ex-boyfriend and John as they try to determine the purpose of their existence. What does Amy truly want in life, for one, and why is John back?

It may sound odd for me to say now, "Here's where it gets weird." I've thought a long time on how to explain this book. It can be split into two sections: the Mercy Street period and what I'd call the Time Warp period. Without getting too much into detail, this motley crew ends up driving across the country and ostensibly through time, sharing John's music and ideals while John absorbs the influence of the times. When the trip comes full circle the impact hits home, and isn't exactly welcomed by everybody. Lennon's entanglements with the FBI are no secret, and author Hammett injects a bit of government intrigue into the story. In truth, I enjoyed the story while it stayed in New York, but got lost on the road trip. While I understood what the author intended to convey, but I suppose as a reader I was more interested in seeing Lennon experience the culture shock of returning home after thirty years to see what had changed - particularly among family and friends. Mercy Street Cafe is quite a trip, but it took a different route I didn't expect.

Compared to this work, A Date With a Beatle will probably take you less time to read because the prose is much simpler. I actually did read it in about a day, not necessarily because I found it riveting. It's a short book, with very short chapters, and it's just a quick read with a basic plot threaded through enthusiastic teen dialogue.

The protagonist is Jude, a hardly mild-mannered Beatlemanic determined to meet her one and only - quiet George. Marketing for the book implies this is a true story, and it may very well be, but there is a definite roman a clef feel to the book. Luckily for Jude, she is close enough to New York and other points on the map to cut school and con her way to the boys' hotel for a hopeful encounter. Along the way there is a scuffle with another "number one" Beatles fan and a few law enforcement officers who've had enough of the screaming girls.

Other reviews of Date I've seen compare the story to that of I Wanna to Hold Your Hand, a movie about a group of rabid fans trying to meet the Fabs. I've not seen the movie myself, but I'm sure author Kristen's book benefits from the personal experience and memory felt throughout the story. There really isn't much more I can say about it because it is simple. Boy is one of the four most famous people in the world, girl wants to meet him. Who didn't back then, or now?

Ratings: John Lennon and the Mercy Street Cafe -  B- ; A Date With a Beatle - C

Kathryn Lively is a mystery author whose titles include Rock Deadly and Rock Til You Drop.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

FM for Murder by Patricia Rockwell

Recently I went on a book-buying tear at Amazon to burn down some gift card credit. Part of my goal was to stock up on some less expensive titles - given the recent boom of 99 cent eBooks, I thought surely I'd find some titles relevant to this blog. FM for Murder, part of a series starring an acoustics expert, held an interesting premise, and a good price.

Bear in mind, this is the second book in a series, so if you are the anal retentive sort who must start with A before going to B you may wish to see what else Rockwell has to offer. This book, FWIW, is written in a manner that doesn't give away anything important from its predecessor. That's a good thing in terms of spoilers, and to give Rockwell credit I didn't feel lost due to any inside references.

Getting to the story: the Black Vulture is, rather was, a popular local DJ who held court during a late-night shift of alternative rock and songs for the goth/emo set. His on-air murder sets off a ripple of shock and concern among fans, but for college professor Pamela Barnes the event rekindles her sleuthing desires. Not that she takes charge immediately - local authorities call on her expertise in sound recordings and voice to assist with digging up clues, and we find out quickly that her family is none too pleased with this moonlighting.

Meanwhile, a subplot involving Daniel Bridgewater, heir to a carpet manufacturing company a few hours away, takes the reader slowly through a familial conflict veiled in secrets. Desperate to mend ties between his ailing father and prodigal brother, Daniel tracks down the elusive David to discover a reunion is inevitable, but not in the way he expects. To go further into detail would give away too much of the story, so I will just say that Rockwell brings together both story lines the way one would slowly pull on a zipper. The lives affected do not cross so much as meet together at the right time for a resolution.

I personally would not consider FM for Murder a mystery in the traditional sense. The book is presented more like a crime drama, where the pieces gradually come together. You may get a sense of where the story is going as you read - I got to a certain point and figured out much of the revelations before they happened. Still, it didn't diminish what I enjoyed of the book - mainly Pamela's sleuthing. A sub-plot involving a co-worker's pending marriage - while likely used to shape Pamela's workplace and expand on characterization - didn't catch my interest as much. I felt that space could have better served in Pamela's corner.

As a quick read for a good price, however, FM for Murder just may satisfy readers of suspense.

Rating: B-

Kathryn Lively is a mystery author whose titles include Rock Deadly and Rock Til You Drop.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Little Girl Blue: The Life of Karen Carpenter by Randy L. Schmidt

Once upon a time, deep in my classic rock phase, my then boyfriend remarked that everybody has that one musical guilty pleasure they tend to hide from view, lest friends and family find a reason to mock that appreciation. He smiled slyly at me and guessed I probably had a Madonna album sandwiched between my Beatles and Doors collection (I did), but it never occurred to me that Madonna probably had a few Carpenters vinyl platters hidden away somewhere. Little Girl Blue, Randy L. Schmidt's look into the life of this tragic legend, intimates that Karen can count some of music's trend-setters as fans, and that's okay.

Repeat after me: it is okay to admit you like, even love, The Carpenters' music. Karen seemed to have held no shame in her role as a performer, and while reading Little Girl Blue (AMZ) I became more endeared to the woman behind the songs, even though I would still consider myself a casual listener. When The Carpenters enjoyed their peak recording and charting period, I was not likely representative of their audience demographic. By the time I developed an appreciation for popular music, it was all Duran Duran and MTV when The Carpenters would have been relegated to the easy-listening VH1 for moms and dads (you have to remember, this was way before VH1 essentially became MTV and MTV moved to Jersey). Nonetheless, when Karen died in 1983 I knew she was significant, and I watched the subsequent TV movie about her life. Blue reads somewhat like an extended version of that film, and it would appear both had been conceived under similar circumstances.

In fact, Schmidt begins Blue with a short history of the movie, and how the creators met with roadblocks in the form of Karen's family, who stood protective of Karen's image and history - reading the rest of the book and the treatment Karen endured, a bystander might view these actions as attempts by the family to protect themselves. In the early passages of the book it's revealed that mother Agnes is adamant that she did not kill Karen, and already you get the sense that you're about to read 300 pages of familial discord.

Oddly enough, it's almost happy discord. Despite having no support from the Carpenter family on this project (the parents have since passed, Richard Carpenter refused to help and Karen's husband is legally prohibited from participating), Schmidt manages to fill a book through interviews with close friends and associates and archived interviews given by The Carpenters. What we learn is really nothing one could not glean from the TV-movie: every move the family made served to help Richard's musical career. Mother Agnes acted as the driving force to ensure Richard's fame, leaving Karen literally to beg for a chance to participate. Her taking up the drums allowed her to share this family dream and stay in the background, but this posed a few problems in the plan. For one, Karen was quite good at it:

 For two, when Richard's band moved from jazz instrumentals to vocal compositions, the world discovered Karen's other talent, which is more synonymous with the group's sound than her drumming. Little Girl Blue records the group's career with care, detailing recording sessions and tours and interspersed romances Karen found difficult to maintain - the theme of Karen yearning to be loved intimately pervades the book as we read of her mother's distant affection and husband Tom's love for her money. The more you read, the more you definitely sympathize for Karen.

Of course, her eating disorder is covered, but unlike the movie which implies Karen's battle with anorexia began following a critical review of her looks after a performance (the article in question was later revealed to have been fabricated for the film) the book doesn't really pinpoint whether or not her anorexia and career pressures were related. It is possible, for even today actresses and performers are held to observe unreal standards for the sake of beauty, and unfortunately Karen could not be helped - as friends and family did seek to get her to eat and take better care of herself, what she did when backs were turned proved too deadly to reverse. As with many biographies I read here, general reviews are mixed.

Does Little Girl Blue do Karen justice? I think Schmidt did the best he could with what he had - some may argue that the absence of family involvement gives this book credibility, that at least nobody has tried to sugarcoat Karen's story or disavow her personal pain. I found the story interesting but not wholly engaging - there were times I put the book down and left it for days while I did other things, I didn't feel compelled to finish it in one sitting. As an addition to Carpenters lore it provides a more accurate picture than the film, yet reads dry in parts and falls short of the same level of enthrallment that drew fans to Karen. Of course, it's difficult to compete with something like that.

4/25 update: Since posting this review, I have since gone back and sought out the Karen Carpenter TV movie, which is available for viewing via YouTube. If I have intimated that this book parallels the film, I should stand corrected in parts. One glaring item I notice in the movie is the implication that Karen bore the brunt of the disintegration of her marriage, almost to the point that it was her fault entirely. The book relays the exact opposite. Also, very little is mentioned of Karen's efforts to produce a solo album - in the movie, it's portrayed as an idea that Richard quickly dismisses.

Rating: B-

Kathryn Lively misses the 70s.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Red: My Uncensored Life in Rock - Sammy Hagar

Buy Red at Amazon.

I didn't discover Van Halen until their 1984 album, and I have television to thank for that. I don't have an older brother who might have introduced me to many of these hard-rocking late 70s groups (as a number of my junior-high classmates did), so I had to rely upon the pre-Jersey Shore MTV to broaden my musical horizons. It helped, too, that during this time our cable system also came with WGN in Chicago, and "Jump" had been the unofficial theme of the Cubs. That summer I asked my conservative Catholic parents for a copy of 1984 for my birthday, and to my surprise I got it... and I actually played the whole thing for my dad because he wanted to hear that song. This may not seem odd to you, but in my house this defined surreal - the Cubs on mute while I sat in the living room with my 48-year-old, Eucharistic minister father blasting "Panama" and "Hot for Teacher" on the stereo.

During this time I had a vague idea of who Sammy Hagar was. "I Can't Drive 55" had come out then, and before that he had another song that enjoyed heavy rotation on MTV, called "Three Lock Box," which I - deep in my British 80s group phase - didn't care for:

This wasn't even the hit off that album, and I swear it's all I saw when I turned on the TV.

So when I hear that David Lee Roth left Van Halen and Sammy had been tapped to replace him, like many people I found that odd. It isn't common for a singer with an established solo career to join an established band, but after reading Red: My Uncensored Life in Rock you'll come to find that Hagar doesn't particularly embrace common. I recall wondering about Van Halen's future given the lineup change, but one day during my sophomore year I arrived at school to find half the student body wearing the 5150 tour shirt purchased from the concert at Jacksonville Coliseum the previous weekend. On the back in bold: VAN HALEN KICKS ASS.

Well, that answered that.

What inspired me to pick up Red, however, was not a fervent admiration of Van Halen. To this day 1984 is the only album I have of theirs, though when I married I inherited more - all Roth-era. Hubby will listen to solo Hagar and his stuff with the Cabos, but still resists "Van Hagar" for some reason. I don't ask why.

Being the avid Rush fan, I was more interested in Hagar's perspective with regards to dealing with Ray Danniels, brought in to manage the group following the death of their previous handler. Danniels has also managed Rush since the beginning of their career, along with a few other groups of fleeting significance. I had known for a while that there is no love lost between the two, but I figured reading Red might enlighten me further. Now, if you are a Rush fan thinking the same thing, I'll warn you that this part of Hagar's history doesn't appear until very late in the book. The singer's life from birth to that point, luckily, does keep you entertained.

Be ready to read closely, too, for Red comes off like a long, rambling conversation in a bar, with Hagar holding court. Everything from his poorer than dirt childhood in Fontana, California to his rocky relationships with his first wife, his Montrose bandmates, and later on the Van Halen brothers, is relayed in choppy sentences that read as though they've been arranged one way then another to make sure the story comes out right. There are moments in Red where Hagar seems to skip like a record, and you'll suspect contradictions. He does drugs, he quits. He's offered drugs and swears he's not interested, yet chapters later he's describing doing blow with This Rock Star and That Chick. That sort of thing.

As a "juicy" rock tell-all, Red has its moments, and you may come away with the idea that Hagar has a high opinion of himself as compared to others (definitely where David Lee Roth is concerned). He is confident, yes, and business savvy and quasi-spiritual - but you don't get the sense that he feels entitled to his success. From the stories he shares, it's clear he's worked his ass off to earn everything he has, and stands today as perhaps one of the best examples of the old school musicians who didn't sit around and wait for things to happen. In an age where somebody achieves instant fame through a fluke viral video (is it "Friday" yet?), one can appreciate a guy like Hagar.

The Van Halen brothers may be the only exception.

Rating - B- / C+ (Waffled on this - there is a good story here, but some may find the rough narrative jarring.)

Kathryn Lively has not seen any incarnation of Van Halen live. Sucks.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Drumbeats by Kevin J. Anderson and Neil Peart

Buy DRUMBEATS on Amazon.

If you know me in real life, you know I follow news on the band Rush. Look at the sidebar, I've written a novel starring a tribute band musician named Lerxst. Therefore, it should come as no surprise that I would include a review of this short, co-authored by the band's drummer and chief lyricist. In truth, I hadn't actively sought out this story because I didn't know it existed until recently.

What happened was that I was researching release information on Peart's latest travelogue, the upcoming Far and Away, when this title appeared in search. Asking around my circle of Internet friends and fellow Rush fans yielded little opinion on the story, but I did learn that this story had first appeared in an anthology of rock-themed horror called Shock Rock II, now out of print. I had not heard of the book, or it's aptly-named predecessor, but as far as I know this is the only story resurrected via digital publishing. The current buzz on Barry Eisler embracing the self-publishing bug comes as news to some people thinking he is one of the first big names to go rogue, but if you check the revised edition publishing dates on this story you'll know Anderson has him beat.

I'd heard it suggested, too, that Peart is or was embarrassed by this story. I cannot tell you if that's true, nor could I discern while reading Drumbeats how actively he participated in the writing. The short numbers about twenty-one pages, just enough to shape the story of a world-weary and renowned drummer for a popular band. When he isn't touring with his fellow musicians, he finds solace and inspiration traveling through remote area where the indigenous people aren't likely to bug him for autographs. Anybody who has read Peart's previous travel books, or at the very least reads his website journals, can plainly see the autobiographical tone of the story. The fatigue in Danny Imbro's narrative, coupled with a descriptive sense of place, sets the stage for some truly creepy juju.

No matter where he is, or what he's doing, Danny isn't far from his craft. In a village, while haggling over the price of tepid water, he hears a native beating on a drum. The sound mesmerizes, as does the drummer's rapt devotion to his instrument. When attempts to buy the drum off the skittish African fail, Danny manages to get directions to the drum's maker in another village.

What Danny finds there, aside from a crafty youngster named Anatole who seems protective of the stranger, is a chilling secret regarding the drums' true nature. Bargaining with the village chief and drum's maker lead Danny to learn the true meaning behind the term caveat emptor.

Drumbeats is short, and aptly priced at $1.99 for the eBook edition. As a horror story it does the trick in evoking discomfort and squeamishness in the reader. Some readers may argue whether or not Danny is a sympathetic enough character to deserve his fate - as the story is written in first person you don't feel as though Danny thinks he's entitled to a drum because of who he is in another society. He's just a guy in the wrong diaspora at the wrong time.

For a story written more than a decade ago, too, Drumbeats looks to have aged well. I cannot say if Anderson or Peart had revised any of the story before the re-release, but for what it is the story will appeal to fans of the music and genre. You may not look at a pair of bongos the same way again, just to warn you.

Rating: B-

Kathryn Lively is a mystery author who doesn't play the drums.