Showing posts with label C- reviews. Show all posts
Showing posts with label C- reviews. Show all posts

Saturday, August 5, 2017

Summer Reading in Rock

Every summer I say I will read more, and every summer I flop on the couch and pray for winter to hurry up. If it's possible to feel too hot to read, I've achieved it. I fear I've reached a point in my life where I have to psych myself not only to read a book, but discuss it. Typically I pledge to read 150 books a year on my Goodreads account. This year I shot low - 50 - but I'll surpass that number. By how much, I can't say.

I've bought rock books, reserved them at the library, and put them away. I apologize for hitting the low curve of the cycle once again, but I have finished a few titles and have thoughts. I look forward to the later half of this year when biographies of Stevie Nicks and Artimus Pyle are released. In the meantime...

The Beatles Play Shea by James Woodall
a Kindle single - buy at Amazon

This title is short. I picked it up during a Kindle Unlimited trial that included The Handmaid's Tale and a Fred Stoller memoir. The sub-title on the cover misled me at bit. I had expected to read an actual history of the landmark concert at Shea Stadium and instead came away learning very little. There's buildup to the event but little substance, and at times the narrative strayed to other topics distantly relevant to the event.

Most Kindle singles tend to be essays that may appear in parts in magazines, or long chapters of current or future works. I get the impression it's the case here. Had I purchased this title instead of taken advantage of it during the KU trial, I would have been more disappointed.

Rating: C-

Altamont: The Rolling Stones, The Hells Angels, and the Inside Story of Rock's Darkest Day by Joel Selvin
Buy at Amazon

I can't explain what it is about the Altamont concert that attracts me. I've seen Gimme Shelter and read other accounts of the day (there's a Kindle single about this, too, reviewed here). Somebody even made a short documentary about Meredith Hunter, the man stabbed by a Hell's Angel security guard. It's all history seems to tell about the day, but if the topic is new to you this book covers everything from the initial plans for the concert to its multiple tragic aftermaths.

I hadn't realized Hunter wasn't the sole casualty at Altamont, and I won't spoil the book's contents. It's an engaging tangle of ambition and opportunity in a time when the Stones struggled to compete for face time - with the Beatles fading from the picture, now they had to deal with the California sound and recent Woodstock alumni. Altamont was to have been the West Coast answer to the festival, and this book offers up a nice guide on how not to plan a free concert. It's a story that may make you angry as well, particularly when you read of Hunter's story and that of friends and family after the show.

Rating: B

Sunday, May 10, 2015

The Last Party: Studio 54, Disco, and the Culture of the Night by Anthony Haden-Guest

The Last Party (AMZ / BN / KOBO / ITUNESwas originally published in 1997. By coincidence, it came out around the same time filming of 54 with Michael Myers began, but one did not beget the other. I read the book when it first came out, and eighteen years later I'm transferring entries on my hand-written book log to Goodreads. Now, the log had four stars on this entry, but after some digging I found what I had written on Amazon all those years ago:

I admit it was the subject matter that prompted me to pick up this book, but I was disappointed. If anything, The Last Party is a much better chronicle of 54's history than that Michael Myers film, but it is essentially a slow-moving story.

That doesn't sound like a four-star review I'd write, so when I see Party has been re-released this year and slightly updated, I figure why not re-familiarize myself with the story and see if my opinion has changed. Journalist Haden-Guest (half-brother of Spinal Tap's Christopher) may be better known in some circles as a frequent guest, and while The Last Party chronicles the "Nightworld" as a whole - its early chapters a brief guide to popular discos of the time - it's clear in the 70s there was only place to party.

Party, though, isn't exclusive to Studio 54. Studio is perhaps the best known of the New York clubs that thrived in the brief disco era, but Haden-Guest touches on a myriad of imitators and (often unsuccessful) competitors. Party reads like a hybrid of micro-history and memoir, as Haden-Guest injects his personal experience in numerous vignettes within the book. It's a muddled story that plows through Studio 54, which enjoyed a life akin to a shooting star - an incredibly bright flame out and gradual fizzle into darkness. As you read a book like this, you might expect gossip to turn your hair white. You get snatches (heh) of it, but overall the book is a roll call of club promoters, developers, and people who are more New York/nightlife famous than world famous. There's a lot to muddle through and if you stick with Party you may ask yourself how a book about a place once considered the most exciting on the planet comes off so dull.

Yes, the slow-moving assessment remains. The book isn't much of a party for me, but if you're into peeling back glitter for the seamy underbelly of nightlife you'll get more tales of creative accounting than blind item coke snorting here.

Rating: C-

Kat Lively writes and reads, but doesn't snort.

Friday, January 11, 2013

In the Pleasure Groove by John Taylor

You kids who have happened upon this blog for reasons I can't explain: you like that One Direction group, right? You have the dolls and the pillowcases and the skins for your iPhones and whatnot, because there is no better group to have walked the face of the planet, and you want to show your team stripes. Well, back in the 80s, what you call ancient history, the girls were not without their musical idols. They were called Duran Duran, and their fans were loyal to the point of frothing, skin-clawing madness. I would know, I lived in the midst of it. Girls scrawled "Mrs. Simon Le Bon" on their school folders, and held Duranie-themed birthday parties (you haven't lived until you've played Pin the Tail on the Ragged Tiger), and if you didn't have tickets to their concert at the Jacksonville Coliseum you were basically a loser with absolutely no reason to live.

All through this period of Duran-mania, while classmates drooled over pouting portraits of the three Taylors on the covers of Tiger Beat and 16, I asked my parents for a copy of The Police's Synchronicity.

I admit it, I wasn't into Duran Duran. At. All. I didn't buy any of their albums until long after I married, and even then it was a greatest hits CD, bought used. This doesn't mean I hated the group - I liked their music, but I didn't pray the rosary by it. It might explain why I had few friends in middle school. Yet, when I saw John Taylor had published a memoir I decided to give it a look for a number of reasons. I do find I listen more to 80s music these days, not for nostalgia but because many songs remain fresh after time - yes, the Durans included. The "Fab Five" reached the pinnacle of their fame in a time where musicians challenged fans to be more politically conscious and accommodating toward those less fortunate. This was the time of Live Aid and Little Steven's Sun City protest song. I picked up In the Pleasure Groove and wondered how Taylor and Duran Duran figured into all of that.

So, what do you learn about Duran Duran and Taylor here? Well, Pleasure Groove is pretty much a cut and dry history of the band, prefaced by chapters of Taylor's middle-class childhood which was defined by his mother's Catholic piety and a love for music. Taylor makes the group's rise through the ranks to superstardom seem almost easy - he helped form a band, they worked clubs, they cut a record and made videos, and the girls fell like dominoes. Yes, there are mentions of drugs and sex, and you'd expect to hear some lurid tales. Here, it just sounds...boring. Many of us today may be embarrassed by the 80s, but we definitely weren't bored then.

As I feared when I picked up this book, Pleasure Groove is for the fans. If you lived by Duran Duran then and now, you'll appreciate Taylor's effort to bring you into his personal space. If you're looking for a typical rock and roll memoir, this might leaving you wanting.

Rating C-

Kathryn Lively is a mystery author and book blogger.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Clockwork Angels by Kevin J. Anderson and Neil Peart

When I first heard Neil Peart would collaborate with author Kevin J. Anderson on a fiction project connected to the latest Rush album, I was intrigued. For about two years, since the release of the band's single "Caravan," we waited for something - anything - resembling a larger project that might necessitate a tour for support. The hardcore fan base saw that wish realized with the release of Clockwork Angels the album (which I do enjoy) and the corresponding novel of the same name, which crafts the various themes of Peart's songs into a story that blends steampunk and fantastic imagery with the humanist ideals for which the band is known.

If you follow Rush religiously (sorry), you may find the former elements curious, since steampunk isn't something one would associate with them. Having browsed Anderson's bibliography, steampunk doesn't appear to be a major genre for him, and I would hesitate to place Clockwork Angels the novel solely in this category. As I read the story I didn't get a true sense of time to go with the settings - odd considering time is a primary theme. One could see this as a fantasy or dystopian adventure as well.

Anderson and Peart's clockwork world is comprised of a few major continents and cities with names drawn from mythology and ancient tradition: Posiedon City, Atlantis, and ancient name for the island of Great Britain. Here the people seem more apt to pursue manual labor, save for those who study at the Alchemy College. We are told that the country of Albion had suffered turmoil and crime before the appearance of the benevolent and enigmatic Watchmaker. For the following two hundred years through the present day, Owen's bucolic home of Barrel Arbor, the more cosmopolitan Crown City, and surrounding villages live in peace and punctuality. You can literally set your watch by everything that happens, from the distribution of national news to changes in the weather. All is for the best, as the Watchmaker is known to proclaim, and few people argue with those words.

The two who do challenge this order have different motives. Owen seeks adventure and the opportunity to live out a story he can tell his grandchildren one day; the legendary Clockwork Angels who parrot the Watchmaker's maxims draw him to Crown City, and the wonder of a traveling carnival entices him to extend his journey. The story's antagonist, the Anarchist, creates havoc in hopes of waking people to the realization that the Watchmaker doesn't exactly have Albion's best interests at heart. The way he carries on, of course, makes one wonder if the Anarchist's view of the world is any better.

In keeping with the story's connection to Clockwork Angels the album, an assortment of song lyrics and characters provide ample references, perhaps a bit much. A reader more familiar with Anderson's work than Rush's may be able to breeze through the book without making many connections, but I have to admit I found the Easter egg-style lines distracting at times. Anderson doesn't limit himself to the recent album, either, in this respect. A character shouts, "Presto!" and I know there's more to it than the parlor trick he's performing.

What disappoints me more about this book, however, is the overall style. Between the many instances of telling instead of showing (and this is not another song reference) and repetitiveness of narrative and dialogue (more than once the author has Owen recapping his adventures and echoing lines) made it difficult for me to appreciate the story. I get the impression, too, that maybe the author hoped to attract the YA reading audience in addition to Rush's older fan base. Owen's young age and the dialogue may imply that, but I think of other books I've read in the dystopian YA genre (most notably The Hunger Games) and find them more sophisticated in style and dialogue.

Clockwork Angels had the potential to deliver a thought-provoking adventure, but the writing just didn't grab me. When I think of the other Anderson/Peart collaboration, the story "Drumbeats" (reviewed on this blog), I find I enjoyed that more. For its length, "Drumbeats" is a tighter story with better dialogue - it is also in first person, which makes me wonder if Anderson had attempted Clockwork Angels in that POV would the story be improved.

Will you like this book more if you're a Rush fan? You certainly don't have to be one to read it. The book hasn't changed my perception of the album, but I do know I'll revisit the songs more than the story.

Rating: C-

Kathryn Lively is a mystery author and a book blogger.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Fab: An Intimate Life of Paul McCartney by Howard Sounes

As I look back on all the Beatle-related books I have read over the years, I'm a bit shocked to find I tend to gravitate either toward books on theory and band history, or books solely about John. I know this can't be attributed to a lack of material on the other three Beatles - surely there are as many biographies on Paul available now, and recently I learned of a new George bio due later this year. I suppose I've resisted all this time to read a Paul bio, at the very least, because he's still kicking and apparently making news...therefore his story is far from over. As it is, I already have a backlist of just Beatles-related books to read, though the pile is shrinking. Paul is Undead, a zombie fantasy picked up out of sheer curiosity - however - has unfortunately been transferred to the DNF pile for now. My dissatisfaction with that book encouraged this most recent dive into non-fiction and an oft-heard story.

I chose Fab mainly for its length (an impressive 650+ pages in hardcover, which amounted to well over 900 in the eBook version I obtained) and its recent publication, this version in October of 2010. One won't find the McCartney stamp of approval as given to the authorized tribute by Barry Miles, Many Years From Now, but the latter book misses out on the last decade of McCartney's life - when his ill-fated second marriage provided the stuff of pre-Twitter tabloid dreams. Fab is rather exhaustive, chronicling an impressive life from McCartney's birth to Jim and Mary in Liverpool, through the Beatle years and the flight of Wings and a predominantly happy and rural-toned marriage to Linda Eastman, finishing with his more recent and rejuvenated touring career and relationship with Nancy Shevell (their engagement was only announced this past spring).

It is the post-Beatles years that interested me most here. I wouldn't exactly say that I followed Paul to Wings - I own Wingspan and a few solo McCartney albums - but the second phase of Paul's career is no less fascinating, especially when you consider how it mirrors that of his friend and musical rival, John Lennon. Each sought to prove himself a superior songwriter on his own, even if unconsciously, and both incorporated their spouses into their business. Having gone through grade school at the height of Wings' presence, I didn't question Linda McCartney's talents or lack thereof, though Sounes in Fab almost takes pleasure in pointing out her shortcomings as a musician as well as other personal faults. Opinion on Linda runs hot and cold here, with interviewees referring to her as either a bitch or a saint. The question of who pursued whom is also called into question: where Peter Brown's The Love You Make affirms Linda as the aggressor in forging a relationship, Fab doesn't commit one way or the other. It's interesting to note, though, that Fab covers quite a bit of Paul's romantic relationships, including an on/off fling with actress Peggy Lipton that even the authoritative Wikipedia doesn't list.

In fact, you'll find more personal than professional history in this book, which is peppered with stories of McCartney's generosity toward friends and family (albeit at times reluctant, done more perhaps out of a sense of duty) and juicy Heather Mills gossip. One might suspect author Sounes writes with a thread of jealousy for his subject.

Reading Fab, you get the impression that the author is only a marginal admirer of McCartney, or else a jaded Beatles fan set out to prove that everything McCartney accomplished since pales greatly in comparison. The author comes off as highly opinionated with regards to which of McCartney's compositions and projects are sublime and which are marginal at best, and interestingly enough omits notice of many of the musician's honors awarded during and after the Beatles. You won't hear about the Beatles' Oscar for Let it Be, or McCartney's two subsequent Best Song nominations for "Live and Let Die" and "Vanilla Sky," nor any of his band or solo Grammy wins. In the author's defense, though, two of McCartney's more notable achievements - the Gershwin Prize and the Kennedy Center Honors - were awarded after publication.

Still, while Fab may be mainly factual, it doesn't read as an objective piece. A song is mentioned, and the author delivers an off-handed comment about how lousy it was, or how this album wasn't good, etc. While I don't expect McCartney to have lived as a saint, the author appears to have taken great care to highlight moments where McCartney most visibly acted like an ass. Fab isn't necessarily a character assassination piece, and while it need not read like a gushing love letter it seems as though the author put too much personal emotion into the work.

If you believe Macca can do no wrong, you're probably not going to like this book. I expect a thorough biography to pull up the occasional scab, but there are moments in Fab where the author appears to take great pleasure in doing so. It's off-putting, and given McCartney's life and body of work, it is deserving of a more objective presentation.

Rating: C-

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

Thursday, April 28, 2011

My Favorite Band Does Not Exist by Robert T. Jeschonek

My first word of warning to anybody who is interested in buying the eBook version of My Favorite Band Does Not Exist: there are numerous instances where the book shifts to a "book within a book" that is presented in semi-graphic form with dog-eared pages and fancy fonts. Clicking through these sections of the eBook seems to slow the loading something fierce, to the point you might think there's something wrong with your reader or the eBook file. I opened the file in two separate eReaders and encountered the same issue, and I have to admit that waiting for pages to load proved irritating. I promise, though, the following review doesn't take that into account - I just note it here for the reader to be warned should anyone decide to buy e.

My Favorite Band Does Not Exist seeks to convey an adventurous spirit that takes readers on, literally, a whirlwind tour - imagine the Beatles' bubblegum tour bus and its passengers compressed into a paranoid teenager and his flight companion, then hold a mirror to the result for a parallel story. Idea Deity is on a mission to save his parents from going through with a public suicide pact to preserve and promote the cult movement they have founded. While Vengeful and Loving Deity (and these are perhaps the tamest of the names bestowed upon this book's characters) are measuring potions or knife lengths on the other side of the country, Idea has hooked up with the bubbly Eunice who assists in keeping him hidden from the Deitys' toughs. Slipping under their radar might be easier to do if Idea weren't already preoccupied with the plan he's set in place to upstage media attention the suicide might receive: he's fabricated a rock group with a viral following for which Lady Gaga would give up her meat bra, and Youforia has left Bic lighters aglow from sea to sea. This is despite having never cut an album, played live, or existing.

Cut to Reacher Mirage, who would argue the point of Youforia's existence. His band rehearses in secret, travels incognito, and deflects pressure placed upon him by management and band mates to do something besides nothing. It's when Reacher gets wind of website updates made without his knowledge and songs leaked through "YoFace" and other aptly named social media sites that he suspects something he's apt to fear more than playing in public.

Meanwhile, Idea can't understand why people are scalping tickets and making money off a band that exists only in his mind, crammed in his conscious along with the belief that he is a literal Truman Show - a character in a book set to die in Chapter 64. Certainly it's not the same book he's carried around on his quest: Fireskull's Reverent, a hefty tome that also has Reacher turning pages. Suddenly any determination to save his parents is forgotten as Idea and Eunice detour to track down those profiting from Youforia's, er, presence.

When realities and fiction collide, one would think things start to make sense, yet in reading My Favorite Band Does Not Exist I find the narrative off-putting and at times frustrating. Whether the saturation of odd character names (Wicked Livenbladder comes to mind) are there as some satirical commentary on goofy names dreamed up in typical YA fantasy I can not say, but having to take it all in - while juggling three parallel universes within the book - left me weary. There is a good germ of a story here, but one may end up re-reading chapters and passages to make it come together. I would dare suggest having too much of the novel within the novel made it difficult for me to follow the complete story - it's like David Lynch remade A Hard Day's Night.

As an adult reading this book, I may also concede a younger reader - the target audience of this book - will have little problem getting through the story and enjoy the irreverent humor and moments of slapstick. My Favorite Band reads like an acid trip Saturday morning cartoon, and though I don't consider a book like this my cup of tea I wouldn't mind mixing some that drug in with it.

Rating: C-

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