Here, right before your eyes you are now priviledged to witness the very moment I went insane and started a third blog.
That’s right, three…
The big difference being that this blog deals not with music – and it’s not like I haven’t considered a third music blog – but rather with books.
The other night the fam and I were driving somewhere I and mentioned to my lovely wife that I had just ordered two books (which I’m hoping arrive in short order as I’m almost finished the one I’m reading now).
‘You read too many books’ says the wife (only half kidding).
I’m pretty sure that the kernel of truth in that statement is something more along the lines of:
‘You BUY too many books’
…but I’m cool with that too.
Last week we were listening to something on NPR (or PRI, I can’t keep track) and someone was talking about how proud of themselves they were for reading a book a month.
I chuckled (not warmly) and thought ‘piker….’
I said to my wife, ‘I read a book a week (sometimes two)’
‘You ought to start a blog about that’ says she.
So here I am.
And I’m not really insane (in any serious way).
I won’t be updating this blog as frequently as my others, and since writing about the books I read doesn’t involve recording mountains of vinyl. I read whenever I can (usually during lunch and before bed) and I’ll post here whenever I finish something.
The point of this exercise – if there is one – is that I’m always on the prowl for something new and interesting to read, and I figure there are a lot of folks out there with the same literary monkey on their back. Other than spending time with my family, and digging for records, nothing makes me happier than finding an interesting new book with which to feed my head.
I’m always making note of new books I want to read and I usually out them up on my Amazon wish list so I don’t forget (I used to take care of this with a folded up scrap of paper in my wallet).
So, I figured that this blog would serve two purposes, the first which I just mentioned, and the second being a way for me to track what I’ve read over the course of a year (or longer).
I’ll start things off with a quick recap of the last few weeks…
Tell the Truth Until They Bleed: Coming Clean in the Dirty World of Blues and Rock ‘N Roll
by Josh Alan Friedman
I picked this one up on one of my patented ‘blind’ trips to the bookstore, in which I comb the racks by genre waiting for something to jump out and grab me. I have to say – that aside from being accosted by suspicious clerks – these trips have proven rather successful over the years with an overall 80/20 ratio of books that ended up being satisfying.
Friedman – brother of illustrator Drew Friedman and son of screenwriter Bruce Jay Friedman – collects a number of essays about his years on the fringes of the music business as musician, fan, journalist and oddly enough boyfriend of Ronnie Spector.
Friedman is an excellent writer with a very solid historical perspective. The opening piece – a long form essay on songwriter Jerry Lieber – is revelatory, giving him and his partner Mike Stoller the respect they deserve not only as major songwrting talents by innovators in the recording industry.
I also dug his portraits of Mose Allison, bassist Tommy Shannon and his vignette of Ronnie Spector’s career – as it was in the late 70’s – and his own spot on the sidelines as her boyfriend.
Groucho & Me
By Groucho Marx
Groucho Marx was – along with his brothers – a comic genius. If you aren’t already aware of that fact, stop reading and go watch ‘Duck Soup’. If you are (aware) then you ought to check out ‘Groucho and Me’ which is an autobiography of sorts. I use that qualifier because the book is more of a free form, anecdotal reminiscence than a strict, historical recounting of his life (of which there was much left as this was written in 1959).
Groucho was almost as funny in print as he was on the screen and if you aren’t already on the Marx Brothers tip, you may find his comic sensibility familiar, but that is due entirely to the fact that his humor is so elementally a part of everything that came afterward. Marx – along with the geniuses that wrote his films like George S. Kaufman, Morrie Ryskind and S.J. Perelman – brought a wry, sarcastic, often anarchic vibe to bear on movie comedy that still echoes today nearly a century since he and his brothers first set foot on the vaudeville stage.
If you’re already familiar with the Marx Brothers on film, it’ll be hard for you to read ‘Groucho and Me’ without hearing his voice in your head (which is a good thing).
Haight Ashbury: A History
By Charles Perry
I’ve always had a deep interest in the 60’s counterculture, especially in San Francisco where the legacy of the Beat Generation was played out – and expanded upon – by the Merry Pranksters (with Neal Cassady as the direct link), the Diggers and others.
Charles Perry’s history of that most eventful San Francisco neighborhood – originally published more than 20 years ago and just reissued – is no hippy dippy valentine to a bygone age. Perry recounts the political and artistic undercurrents that gave birth to the Summer of Love and brings to life many interesting personalities that are often overlooked in the short-attention-span “documentaries” that are pretty much the current generations only connection to that time.
The picture he paints is of an era is a lot more intellectually driven, and often darker than the nostalgic one we see in movies and on TV.
My favorite part of the book is the long chronological chapter that illustrates how, by the time the summer of 1967 arrived, the initial glimmers of utopianism were well on their way to destruction thank to forces both external (government and police repression) and internal (struggles for ideological control and an epidemic of hard drugs and homelessness).
By Jeffrey Brown
Ever since reading Craig Thompson’s ‘Blankets’ a few years back – the first long form graphic novel that I ever picked up – I’ve made regular stops at that section of the book store (as well as the occasional trip to comic shops). It is via those trips that I’ve become acquainted with artist/writers like Joan Sfarr, Linda Barry, Chris Ware and Jeffrey Brown.
The first Brown book I picked up was ‘Clumsy’. It took me a little while to get used to his somewhat rustic drawing style, but eventually his way of framing the small vignettes that make up (his) everyday life won me over.
‘Little Things’ is his most recent book, and I dug it a lot. I’ll be on the lookout for more of his work.
Hollywood’s Hellfire Club: The Misadventures of John Barrymore, W.C. Fields, Errol Flynn and the Bundy Drive Boys
by Gregory William Mank, Charles Heard, Bill Nelson
I can’t remember where I read about this book, but I’m glad I did.
I’ve always been a big fan of old Hollywood – especially the like of W.C. Fields, one of the funniest people ever to walk this earth – and thanks to early exposure to Kenneth Anger’s ‘Hollywood Babylon’, have long been aware that even in its earliest days the movie capitol had a dark side.
‘Hollywood’s Hellfire Club’ – while much less lurid than Anger’s book – is an unsparing look at a fairly wild gang of geniuses, of stage, screen and the page who hung together as drinking buddies and intellectual companions for many years.
Though I’d heard of most of the key players (a few like painter John Decker and proto-bohemian Sadakichi Hartmann were new to me) I had no idea that they had been so close, especially John Barrymoore and Fields, two of the biggest stars of their time nor that younger stars like Errol Flynn and Anthony Quinn were also part of the group.
There’s plenty of debauchery here but the overwhelming sense you get after reading about the group is one of wasted potential and tragedy (especially Barrymoore who I’d like to read more about).
Very well written and researched.