Showing posts with label C Reviews. Show all posts
Showing posts with label C Reviews. Show all posts

Friday, June 24, 2016

Living Like a Runaway by Lita Ford

When it comes to band histories, I like to read differing viewpoints from band members. It's why you'll find reviews of 3/4ths of KISS here, and when I first heard about Lita Ford's book I couldn't wait for it. Looking back at my review of Cherie Currie's Neon Angel and thinking about the Runaways movie, I wondered if I might have been unfair to Lita. Aside from her two big hits I know little of her solo career, and that movie barely portrayed her as anything beyond an uncooperative banshee. Subsequent reading about The Runaways' history, in particular a harrowing account by Jackie Fox (TW: rape) left me willing to give Lita the benefit of the doubt when I read her book.

Now, if you've followed up on recent news about Lita, you'll know this book had been delayed because reasons. Many speculate her ex-husband is involved, and toward the end of the book Lita touches on some of the conflicts that split her family. I don't know the real reason for the delay - be it post-marital gag orders or dissatisfaction with ghostwriters - but the book's out and nearly matches Cherie's in terms of explicitness and cautionary anecdotes.

Unlike Neon Angel, Living Like a Runaway (AMZdevotes only half the book to the Runaways. We are guided through a very supportive family to guitar lessons and discovery by Kim Fowley to a brief period of hard work and little, if any compensation. Lita stresses in this time (and pretty much through the entire book) about how serious she is about playing the guitar and striving to shatter ceilings and stereotypes. In a way, that's good. Metal and hard rock needed Lita Ford, and aspiring female musicians needed to see Lita in a position where she could give the old masters like Iommi and Blackmore and (insert your guitar god here) a run for their money. Lita tells her story with pride, but I get the impression it comes at the expense of others. She claims to be the only member of The Runaways serious about music, and while she's welcome to that opinion one can argue for Joan Jett and her multi-decade career.

The second half of Runaway covers the struggle to stay on top amid misogyny and apathy in the music business. I don't doubt Lita here. Cyndi Lauper's memoir covers similar frustrations with labels and managers who didn't necessarily have her best interests in mind. Even hiring a female manager - Sharon Osbourne, no less - didn't solve problems in this regard. You can't help but feel for a woman who can garner the Grammy nods and critic praise yet keeps tapping that ceiling. She claims people didn't know what to do with her. Uh, put her on stage and let her play?

Runaway is also full of juicy, sometimes sexy and sometimes squicky, hell-yeah-rock-and-roll moments. I won't reveal the conquests - have to leave something to the imagination - but they come in spurts and asides as though Lita's trying to balance the business side with the glitter. You may come away with a lower opinion of certain people in her life; I certainly did.

Living Like a Runaway is not a bad book, not a great book, either. Between the horrors of Kim Fowley and the ex-husband she doesn't name (Wikipedia it if you must know) and the Spinal Tap-esque road stories it will jerk your emotions. I still think Lita should go into the Hall of Fame as a Runaway, if not as a solo act. Maybe this will help.

Rating: C

Kathryn Lively is not the Queen of Metal. Maybe the Queen of Meh.

Monday, July 8, 2013

The Kennedy Chronicles: The Golden Age of MTV Through Rose-Colored Glasses by Kennedy

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ARC received by the publisher via NetGalley.

I made it known on a message board I co-admin that I planned to read this book, despite having very little memory of Kennedy, as an MTV VJ or otherwise. I knew the name, knew she was somebody, but I honestly have no recollection of seeing her on the channel, or of watching MTV at all during her five-year tenure. The subtitle of her memoir defines the early-to-mid 1990s as the golden age of MTV, and some may debate that. Me, I saw it as the beginning of the end, the transition from grab-bag video roulette that scheduled Motley Crue to follow The B-52's to follow The Doors to more structured programming that parsed videos by sub-genre and gradually doled out time slots to irrelevant shows. The 1980s had music videos, the 90s had Beavis and Butthead and Jenny McCarthy. By the time Kennedy appeared on the scene I was a college graduate in Athens, Georgia spending more time outside.

Nonetheless, I wanted to read her book in tandem with VJ, the oral history of MTV's genesis as told by four of the surviving original VJs. I thought it interesting to see both books come out around the same time, thereby allowing us a personal view of the network's evolution. First response from my message board post: You're lucky you don't remember her. I do, and she fuckin' sucked.

I haven't asked for specifics, but the "fuckin' sucks" opinion is one Kennedy seems to acknowledge. You either loved her or you wanted to poke her with sharp, fiery sticks. To make up for my neglect of MTV in the 90s, I researched clips on YouTube to find a hostess resembling a bespectacled Darlene Conner, only more interested in her environment. Not enough material to determine if she fuckin' sucked at her job, so I'll let more seasoned critics decide that. In The Kennedy Chronicles, the author recounts her time at MTV and within the music scene at the time, devoting entire chapters to specific encounters and/or relationships with the era's notables - among them Henry Rollins, Billy Corgan, and Dave Navarro. There's also talk of her colleagues - some mentioned merely in passing, others with a hint of bemusement (*cough* Kurt Loder), and a few she viewed with respect (Tabitha Soren, the one I do remember watching in this time).

From what I gathered in this collection of rambling vignettes (which are interspersed with chapters that serve as interviews with a number of these musicians), Kennedy was basically the 90s rock galpal, couch surfing at rock stars' homes and grimacing as everybody at MTV kissed Clinton's ass during a major youth vote campaign - apparently Kennedy was quite a unicorn at 1515 Broadway, perhaps the lone conservative among her peers. While many stories provide nice gossip, not all have happy endings. There's little affection spared for Courtney Love and Puck from The Real World, and you'll learn more about Jenny McCarthy's bowel habits than you'll care to know. I do wish I had more access to MTV archives to know if Kennedy's broadcast style matched her writing, regardless of the twenty-year gap. To me, the book rambles, and while fans may enjoy the "interview" chapters I thought them out of place, as though others encroached on Kennedy's time by sharing their memories.

Whatever you think or thought of Kennedy, her legacy is cemented in her short MTV tenure, and The Kennedy Chronicles serves as an interesting, albeit uneven, history of the time. Fans of the VJ and the musicians featured in her anecdotes will likely appreciate the book the most.

Rating: C

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.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Monkee Business by Eric Lefcowitz

I will not apologize for having been (and remaining, to some extent) a Monkees fan. I came into the mania during its third trip around the sun, in the mid to late 1980s. Some may argue this MTV-encouraged wave of Monkeemania served as the pop group's initial comeback, but others will confirm that a less-prominent renewal of interest in the band and accompanying TV show happened in the mid-70s when The Monkees enjoyed a healthy run in syndication. No doubt that gust of wind propelled Micky Dolenz and Davy Jones to team up with their prime songwriters - Tommy Boyce and Bobby Hart - to tour. Of course, many people my age may remember what MTV did for them - good and bad. Sadly, with the recent passing of Davy Jones, we are reminded that subsequent reunions may become less likely with each passing year until the "final" reunion happens.

Back when MTV still aired music videos instead of tanned trash, they devoted a good amount of air time to Monkees  reruns to commemorate their 20th anniversary. Long story short - the network gifted the Pre-Fab(ricated) Four with a new audience, myself included. Seriously, I had it bad - I bought all the Rhino reissued vinyl, I collected the Tiger Beat and 16 issues devoted to them, I subscribed to Monkee Business fanzine, and I begged my mother to let me and my friend Angie go to Gainesville to see their reunion show. Fifteen years old, and granted permission to take my first overnight trip without adult supervision - just me, Angie, and her older sister...all to moon over three men twice our age. I still regard that experience as one of the best in my teen years - I still have the program, and a stack of dark photos taken a mile away of three Monkees blurs walking across a stage.

Now, we can argue about music quality and whether or not The Monkees deserve to be mentioned in the same breath with "real" musicians. As I understand it, Mike and Peter came to the Monkees with some musical ability - it wasn't really an issue of the Monkees being unable to play their own instruments, but rather were they allowed. This is one issue discussed in Eric Lefcowitz's Monkee Business, (AMZ) which is (according to a listing on a revised and expanded edition of his original book The Monkees Tale. I had not read the original version of Tale, which I will presume ended the story somewhere in the 70s since ads for the book had run on MTV during the mania period and therefore would not have included that comeback history. A similar book, Monkeemania by Glen A. Baker, came out around the same time and seemed more accessible - I'd received that one for Christmas instead of the requested Tale, but unfortunately I no longer have it. I'll have to rely upon my faded memories of that book and the Peter Tork chapter of Bruce Pollock's When the Music Mattered to make any comparisons to Monkees Business in terms of accuracy.

I recall Lefcowitz from the many "Monkee Minutes" that aired on MTV in the mid-80s. They seemed to set him up as the de facto expert on the band, and we'd learn little tidbits like the story behind the UK alternate title to the song "Randy Scouse Git," and how Stephen Stills auditioned for the group, etc. I came into Monkee Business knowing much of the trivia and hoped that a revised edition of Tale-cum-Monkee Business might offer deeper insight into the band's story. When you really think about it, The Monkees and the people behind the brand (Bob Rafelson, Bert Schneider, Don Kirscher, etc.) not only inspired much of what we see now on television and music ("boy bands", music videos) they pioneered practices that have influenced creative minds.

The TV series broke the "fourth wall" and allowed the band to speak to the public and expose the backdrop of their production. One scene where Micky leaves the set to talk to the show's writers probably worked as a gag on Family Guy at one point. I had hoped to read deep into the workings of the show and the creative process in the studio - one in which the group weren't necessarily encouraged to participate - but I have to admit Monkee Business left me wanting at times. The book was a quick read for me, one that gave the impression that I had read more of a detailed summary of The Monkees than a deep history.

To be fair, I'm writing this as somebody who went in knowing quite a bit about the show and group. A Monkees newbie may find Business a valuable source of information, and I will admit I learned a few things. I had not realized, for one, that many markets refused to air the show, and this contributed to lower Nielsen ratings. Also, while I'd assumed low ratings axed the series, I hadn't known that the group provided some push toward cancellation, and that the band still enjoyed some level of popularity in this time.

What struck me about the book, too, was the overall impression that most players in the story had been cast as unsympathetic. Rafelson and Schneider saw The Monkees mainly as a meal ticket and springboard toward better things (not untrue, Monkee profits in part allowed them to film Easy Rider and Five Easy Pieces), while the band members themselves clashed personally and professionally. The suggestion of a long-running tendency toward self-sabotage did help me understand the dramatic career nosedive in the late 60s and again in the mid-80s - it still amazes me to think that one broken commitment to MTV spurred the network to shun the band altogether and foil any hopes of a lengthy comeback. A scene in The Simpsons has Marge discussing The Monkees with her therapist, who bellows that The Monkees weren't about music, they were about "rebellion"! Reading Business, one can see how that rebellion affected them negatively.

So, did I like the book? Well, yes and no. For me, Business served as a way to rejuvenate memories of my teen years and my free-fall into 80s Monkeemania. As a book, it didn't offer anything new to me aside from a few points of trivia and the revised, updated content, which covered the various reunions and projects in the 90s and early 21st century that I missed. Even then, all points seemed glossed over - they did this TV special, they made that album. They argued and split up again. For me, an ideal book on The Monkees would cover detailed anecdotes of show production and interaction with guest stars, and even recollections of actors who appeared as guests (Rose Marie and Monte Landis are still kicking, surely they have something to contribute). I remember in Monkeemania, for example, an incident where Mike Nesmith left Carole King in tears that was only glossed over in Lefcowitz's book. Were there more clashes between the front group and the wrecking crew working behind the scenes? What toll did Monkeemania in the 60s and 80s have on their relationships with family?

If you know absolutely nothing about the Monkees beyond the music they made and have come here by way of a search on Davy Jones's passing looking for more information, you will probably find something to enjoy in Monkees Business. The die hard fan like the ones who ran the fanzines and now operate the websites probably have more insight on the guys and would view this as a simple primer. As the band might put it, it's a stepping stone.

Rating: C

Kathryn Lively is a mystery author and freelance writer.

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.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Wonderful Tonight: George Harrison, Eric Clapton, and Me - Pattie Boyd

Years ago when I purchased the gigantic The Beatles Anthology hardcover, one criticism I read bemoaned the lack of contribution from some of the more important witnesses to the band's history: the women. When I think of all the Beatles related books I have read, I realize I have read biographies written by people who were close to the band (Peter Brown) and others by those who merely saw the Beatles as the rest of us did - from a distance. They devoted more time researching the lore and sorting the truth from legend, and so far everything I've read appears to corroborate, give or take a few surprises.

Getting back to the Beatles' women, in the band biographies they are often relegated to the back seat. With solo stories, your mileage may vary. John Lennon: The Life presents the history of a man dominated by women. Well, two at least. I've not read bios of the other three yet, but it happened that I found a copy of Wonderful Tonight at a closing Borders and grabbed it for the TBR pile. Musically speaking, George was always my favorite, and all I know about him comes from Brown's memoir and what I've since found in rare interviews and, of course, the post-Beatles music. Pattie Boyd, George's first wife (and later, Eric Clapton's first), is long known as his first muse as well, having inspired some of rock music's best-known tributes. While she isn't the first wife/girlfriend to influence a Beatle into quality songwriting ("Here, There, and Everywhere" was allegedly written for Jane Asher), I'd always thought her the most interesting. It was my hope this long-awaited memoir lived up to the hype.

The one thing I immediately took away from Pattie's book, and this is something I'm guessing any reader would expect, was this unfortunate pattern of unhealthy relationships she endured. The beginning chapters recall, with lack of clarity, a young life in Africa in a semi-stable family. One might be envious to know a girl raised in such exotic environs, but instead we are told a story about passive parents and a father who gradually fades away, to be replaced by a stepfather who doesn't do any better for Pattie and her siblings. Adulthood proves her first opportunity to escape and achieve happiness and a sense of accomplishment, and it's this determination to succeed as a model that gets her the gig of a lifetime, a walk-on part in a Beatles film.

She's the blonde and has only one line. One word, actually, but behind the scenes it was a different story. Now, I can forgive how Boyd glosses over her childhood. She seems to imply, too, she only recalls so much, but the picture of life before George that she paints offers vivid glimpses into the hip sixties, where people of all classes socialized and interacted. A brief anecdote about inviting a famous dancer to her table sticks out in my mind - what she describes, I'm sure, doesn't happen much these days, even with celebrity accessibility via Twitter.

In some instances, though, I read a passage and wish Boyd had gone into more detail. The Beatle courtship also reads a bit rushed. Some of what Boyd relays I remember from other books and accounts of peak Beatlemania. I can also forgive her here, for she had come during the touring years and therefore didn't have much access to the scene beyond receiving hate mail from fans. It isn't until Clapton enters the picture that Boyd is freer with detail, yet reading through Wonderful Tonight I got the sense that there is still more to tell here.

Boyd's voice comes off as sadly wooden, as though she's telling us okay, you've bugged me for years to tell my story, here it is. Having lived the life surely exhausted her, perhaps to the point that there is no emotion left for the book. As other readers of this book confirmed, I had a problem with the time-hopping in this work. Boyd tends to jump back and forth with anecdotes - she may start with an event that happened in the mid-sixties and leapfrog a decade, then come back. If you're the type of reader who craves chronological order, Wonderful Tonight may give you a bit of a headache. If you believe Eric Clapton can do no wrong, too, you may not want to pick it up at all.

What emotion I do sense in the book comes forth as pain, mostly where Clapton is concerned. I wouldn't say that Boyd's account of her second marriage is scathing, but if what she writes is the truth then my opinion of the man musicians call God is now virtually non-existent.

Once we're past the marriages, Boyd's life seems to waver between self-doubt and spiritual search. While she claims not to have gained financially from her divorces (she claims to be overdrawn often at the bank), she apparently has enough income to travel extensively, and the remainder of the book reads like a gossip column. She had dinner with Mike Rutherford of Genesis, she stayed at Ron Wood's house, met this person and that. More time is spent talking about other people, and not Pattie Boyd. We know who Mike Rutherford and Ron Wood are, Pattie, who are you?

I wanted to love this book, but at best I liked that Pattie finally came forward open up about her life. I still get the sense there's more to tell, however. That this book came out after George died made me wonder if she waited on purpose, yet she still lives now as she did when she was Mrs. Harrison, then Mrs. Clapton: as a young woman doing her best to maintain balance and harmony in her environment, and living by merely accepting what happens. I hope that's not the case. A woman who would willingly hang-glide without a thought for the outcome shouldn't be afraid to bare her soul.

Rating: C

Kathryn Lively is a mystery author who reads and drinks wine.