Archive for the ‘history’ Category

h1

A little Fantasy and a little bit of Reality…

August 25, 2009

Example

Victory of Eagles by Naomi Novik

Greetings all.

I hope all is well.
This time out I’ll be reviewing the last two books I read (omitting one that I tried to wade into and got stuck)
The first one is ‘Victory of Eagles’, the latest installment in Naomi Novik’s ‘Temeraire’ series, about sentient war dragons during the Napoleonic Wars.
I know, I know, it’s a seemingly insane premise, but I assure you that Novik has, over the course of the five books proven that she is an excellent writer with a unique talent for melding fantasy and alternative history.
In brief, Temeraire, a Chinese born (laid actually, in the first book his egg is obtained by the British Navy and he actually hatches aboard an English Man-o-war.
Colonel Lawrence is Temeraire’s master/partner, and the relationship between the two is absolutely wonderfully written.
For those of you that haven’t read any of the earlier books (which I think you should) I’ll spare you the details, revealing only that Lawrence and Temeraire finally meet Napoleon on the field of battle.
Maybe not the kind of thing that everyone digs, but if you dig the genres above I think you’ll love these books.

Example

Love Saves the Day: A History of American Dance Music Culture 1970-1979 by Tim Lawrence

The second volume we concern ourselves with is Love Saves the Day: A History of American Dance Music Culture 1970-1979 by Tim Lawrence. The book is a weighty historical tome based around New York City DJ culture as it developed through the decade of the 1970s. I – who happen to be a DJ – found it absolutely fascinating (if a little long). The book was full of revelations, technical info, vintage playlists and great pictures.
I can’t imagine that someone without a prior interest in the subject manner would be able to withstand the ‘thoroughness’ of the book, but like I said, if you’re interested in DJ culture, dance culture (disco and house in particular) you will find this book rewarding.

Next up: Last Places: A Journey in the North by Lawrence Millman

h1

Always Magic In the Air: The Bomp and Brilliance of the Brill Building Era

July 7, 2009

Example

Always Magic In the Air: The Bomp and Brilliance of the Brill Building Era

Greetings all.

I said I’d be back, and this time I was (apparently) telling the truth.

About a month ago I was trolling through one of my favorite music related sites and found a couple of books I wanted to read at a steep discount, so I grabbed them.

One of these was today’s selection, ‘Always Magic In the Air: The Bomp and Brilliance of the Brill Building Era’ by Ken Emerson.

Being a huge Leiber and Stoller fan, this book caught my eye when it first came out in hardcover, and at the time it seemed a little slim to be dropping more than twenty bucks, so I passed, figuring I’d grab it in paperback (after which I promptly forgot about it).

So I ordered it, placed it on the “to be read” stack where it sat for a few weeks. I finally finished what I’d been reading, picked it up and didn’t put it down until this afternoon when I finally got to the end.

First off, if you have any interest in American pop music of the 1960s, and the brilliant people that wrote, produced and released it, this book is indispensable. My initial mistake of assuming that the book was insubstantial (it clocks in at around 260 pages) was a huge one, since the tome is well researched and densely packed with musical history. My wife actually asked me why it was taking me so long to read, and my reply was that it was taking that long to ingest all the information.

Emerson is an excellent writer with a real feel for the people he was writing about, mainly the songwriting teams of Doc Pomus and Mort Shuman, Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller, Carol King and Gerry Goffin, Neil Sedaka and Howard Greenfield, Jeffy Barry and Ellie Greenwich, Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil and Burt Bacharach and Hal David.

Using those duos as a starting point, Emerson weaves his was through the song publishing and record business of the 1960s, incorporating business wizards like Don Kirshner, various and sundry gangster record label owners and (of course) musicians and performers.

The book is full of revelations about the creative processes of these composers, the ups and downs of their careers and the evolution of American popular music from the early days of rock’n’roll, through the teen pop era and right on into (and past) the psychedelic era.

If you’re a record collecting nut – like myself – you’ve been reading these names on record labels and album covers your entire life, and Emerson gives you a real feel for their lives and their art with tons of detail, laid out in an epic fashion, fitting the subject matter.

‘Always Magic In the Air’ is one of those music books that’s going to go right up on the shelf in my record room to be used a reference.

Next up: Victory of Eagles by Naomi Novik

h1

Tim and Tom: An American Comedy In Black and White

February 18, 2009

Example

Tim and Tom: An American Comedy In Black and White

Greetings all.

I have returned once again, far too long between posts. However, this time it’s not because I haven’t been reading. I relocated my biblio-groove about six weeks ago and have been reading at a fairly steady pace ever since. Now I have to catch up on the blog(ging)…
This is partly due to the annual Christmas flood of prime reading material, and partly due to the conspiracy of the fates in which my brain and my outer time clock fall into synch. There’s not telling how long this bit of temporal synchronicity will last, so to borrow yet another cliché, one must strike while the iron is hot.
The book I’m reviewing today was in fact a Christmas gift (from my wonderful sister) who managed to grab me something off of my Amazon wish list before I grabbed it myself (you usually have to move pretty quickly to pull that one off, but these days my spending has dwindled to almost nil).
I don’t remember exactly when I first heard that Tim Reid and Tom Dreesen had once been a comedy team, but I do recall that it came as something of a shock. I (like most everyone else my age) knew Reid as Venus Flytrap on the TV series ‘WKRP in Cincinnati’. I had no idea that he was anything more than an accomplished character actor.
Tom Dreesen was familiar to me from countless Tonight Show appearances, as well as the fact that he was Frank Sinatra’s regular opening act during the last part of the Chairman’s career.
Sometime toward the end of last year I happened upon Reid, who was appearing on DL Hughley’s show to promote this very book. I added it to my wishlist immediately, and because Santa Claus (and my sister) was watching, it dropped into my stocking shortly afterward.
‘Tim and Tom’ is a well written, and surprisingly bittersweet memoir of the comedy team of the same name. It describes the austere upbringings of both men, their meeting in the suburbs of Chicago, and their years of struggle as perhaps the only integrated comedy team in the country. While there are lots of familiar sounding anecdotes about showbiz struggles, they are all viewed through the lens of late 1960s race relations, and both men are painstakingly honest about their feelings about the partnership and each other.
I won’t be giving away any spoilers when I mention that ultimately they met only with limited success (as a pair).
It’s a great read as a unique story, but also for anyone interested in stand up comedy.

Next up – In Search of Captain Zero

h1

Last of the Mohicans

July 20, 2008

Example

The Last of the Mohicans by James Fenimore Cooper

Greetings all.

I return to you in the midst of a nasty heatwave to hep you all to the fact that I have gone into the squared circle (the metaphorical, literary one) grappled with a classic and come away victorious.
Well, ‘victorious’ isn’t really an appropriate word, but more on that in a moment.
I try, once or twice a year, when I think I am possessed of the intellectual power (and free time) to do so, I like to get a hold of an acknowledged literary classic, one that I might have avoided out of fear of boredom (or that I might discover myself ill suited to the task), and give it the old college try. Nine times out of ten this has proven to be rewarding, as in the past few years when I worked my way through ‘Ulysses’, ‘Lord of the Rings’, and ‘Moby Dick’.
This summer, I decided that I was finally going after James Fenimore Cooper’s ‘The Last of the Mohicans’.
I grabbed an old copy off the shelf – which I believe was a relic of my wife’s high school English class – and started to read. I was actually enjoying it, until the pages started to fall out of the binding. This wasn’t so bad when it was a random leaf, but when every single page began to drop out of the binding, I decided to temporarily move on o something else until I could get to the book store and get a fresh copy.
Fortunately, having long since passed into the public domain – it was published initially in 1826 – ‘Last of the Mohicans’ was available in a number of paperback editions. One of these was a very inexpensive ($5.95) one published directly by Barnes and Noble (one of a large series of such classics they print in budget editions). As “budget” printings go it was pretty nice, with an excellent, scholarly introduction and explanatory notes.
So, I dug in yet again, and guess what? I loved it!
I was fully expecting to struggle with all manner of archaic language, but what I got instead was a fast paced adventure novel.
‘Last of the Mohicans’ was one of the first popular American novels, and it’s not hard to understand why. In his lead characters of Hawkeye, Uncas and Chingachgook, Cooper has created memorable heroes. The setting of upstate New York during the French and Indian Wars (using some actual incidents as source material) is interesting in and of itself, and Cooper managed (even in the context of the 1820s) to endow his Indian characters with much more than the stereotypical idea of the “noble savage”.
I was surprised to see that the two Mohicans are more prominent characters than Hawkeye, who almost operates in the background. Though there are certain important details in his personal history that are stated early and often, Hawkeye (or Natty Bumppo, or La Longue Carabine, or Leatherstocking all names applied to the same character through a series of novels) is a man of few words. I’ll be very interested to see how the character is presented in the other Leatherstocking books, which I plan to read as soon as possible.
So, I guess the lesson here is not to assume anything about a novel because of its age (unless, like both ‘Ulysses’ and ‘Moby Dick’ they are rightly rumored to be difficult and occasionally impenetrable), which, although rewarding, they were).
Also, if you’ve seen the 1992 movie, but haven’t read the book you’ll be in for a shock as the writers of the film (presumptuous, arrogant Hollywood douchebags one and all) apparently had little regard for Cooper’s novel, which makes you wonder why they wanted to adapt it at all.

Now reading – Mainspring by Jay Lake

h1

Excelsior You Fathead: The Art and Enigma of Jean Shepherd

June 12, 2008

Example

Excelsior You Fathead: The Art and Enigma of Jean Shepherd – by Eugene B. Bergmann

Greetings all.
I was this kid, see….
And for a few years during my adolescence, in a situation that today would be all but incomprehensible to most kids of that age, I spent close to five hours a day glued to the radio.
No, I did not grow up in the 1930’s. This was a period in the mid 70’s, when radio as a creative medium was making one last valiant charge into the valley of death. WOR in New York had a line up starting in mid-afternoon that began with Bob & Ray, and closed up shop late in the evening with the voice of Jean Shepherd.
It wasn’t just me either. A large group of my junior high school friends, and my Dad (who introduced me to Shepherd in the first place) listened every day, and discussed it all the day after.
There was something about Shepherd that struck a nerve in my 12 year old brain. He spoke about childhood, with what is widely – and mistakenly – believed to be nostalgia. However, what he was bringing to the table was – for us kids anyway – an unvarnished look at the truth of childhood, in which things were not at all rosy, but set us up for the inevitable disappointments of adulthood.
This is not to say that he was some kind of gloom-monger, but rather that he dealt in realism, in addition to the fact that he was funny as hell (as were Bob & Ray, but that is a story for another day).
I, like pretty much everyone else lost touch with Shep when some dipshit management school type came into WOR in 1977 and cleaned house, making way for an onrushing wave of mediocrity, sure to expand the audience but just as sure to put a bullet in the head of radio’s last big chance. A coup de disgrace, if you will.
A few years later, when ‘A Christmas Story’ came out, I was in college and it blew my mind that a mainstream movie had been made based on the stories of Shep (and narrated by him as well). Years later, when the film became a holiday perennial, and Shep a household name of sorts (at least for a new generation) I was able to sit smugly back and rejoice in the fact that I was on that particular bus years before the pack.
In recent years, alongside the advent of the pocket sized MP3 delivery device, I was able to go whole hog in an aural orgy of Shep when I discovered the Brass Figlagee podcast wherein lay a huge stockpile of old Shep airchecks to be downloaded and appreciated at my leisure.
It was during a recent search on the interwebs (oddly enough non-Shep related) that I happened upon a mention of what appeared at first to be a biography of Shep. Naturally I ordered myself a copy forthwith.
That book – ‘Excelsior You Fathead!: The Art and Enigma of Jean Shepherd’ – is not really Shep’s life story – but in fact a deeply researched and most importantly deeply understood critical biography dedicated to exploring Jean Shepherd’s more than 40-year body of work in radio, TV, movies and print.
The author, Eugene B. Bergmann has listened to (and transcribed) hundreds of hours of Shepherd’s broadcasts, his written work and available TV shows and gotten deep inside the world he created (real, imaginary and combinations of the two). During the course of over 400 pages Bergmann explores the recurring themes in Shepherd’s work, the philosophical and social motifs therein and how real life contributed to his work and vice versa.
Shepherd was a creative genius, in many ways creating a spoken novel over the airwaves over the course of more than 20 years on New York radio (bracketed by several years before and after when he was in essence setting the stage and subsequently winding down). He was also – like many a great creative artist – a deeply flawed individual. While Bergmann doesn’t dwell on Shepherd’s flaws, he does – where necessary – reveal how they were manifested in his work, his relations with his colleagues (and how those relationships affected his work) and how his real life, in his formative years and as an adult informed work largely assumed (again mistakenly) to be autobiography.
‘Excelsior You Fathead!: The Art and Enigma of Jean Shepherd’ is absolutely essential reading for those who are already fans of Jean Shepherd, but should also be passed on to anyone who needs to be reminded that electronic media wasn’t always a cesspool of banality.
Not only is Shepherd ripe for rediscovery, but also deserving of such. It may be that the time for any mass appeal is past, if only because the national attention span is so terribly stunted. Perhaps Shepherd is doomed to always remain a ‘cult’ artist. Considering the effect that kind of popularity has on some things, maybe that’s not such a bad thing.
Great book.

Now reading – Not sure yet…going to the book store tonight…

h1

Now The Hell Will Start

June 9, 2008

Example

Now the Hell Will Start by Brendan I. Koerner

Greetings all.
Due to an ongoing combination of blog related work, family life (I got me some kids ya know), reading, giving insulin to my diabetic cat (what has become of me??) and various and sundry stuff (including the fact that the industry in which I have been employed for over two decades seems poised at the moment on the verge of implosion), I am behind in my responsibilities herein.
This shall of course be remedied right now.
I finished ‘Now the Hell Will Start’ sometime in the middle of last week, and jumped immediately into my current book,
I first heard about this book via a post on the always interesting BoingBoing (the source of many recent reads) and as I was on the cusp of booklessness I ordered it immediately. The fact that it showed up less than two days later (as I was finishing my previous book) says something about both the nature of kismet and the vagaries of Amazon’s delivery system (I said to my wife if I was waiting for a kidney transplant it never would have showed up that quickly).
Anyway….
I’m glad I picked this one up for a few reasons.
First and foremost it’s a great story, involving a US GI (Herman Perry), driven to the brink of madness in the jungles of Burma who snapped, shot and killed an MP and took off into the jungle where he lived amongst the headhunters (yes, real headhunters) and became the subject of a major manhunt.
Second, it revealed a hidden chapter (at least to me) of history with a number of intriguing side stories that might have made for interesting books on their own.
Third – and probably most important – ‘Now the Hell Will Start’ is an antidote to anyone who thinks that this country’s race issues were solved after Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation. The stories of the disturbing and inhumane treatment of black GIs during WWII – institutional and otherwise – are positively mind-boggling. It amazes me when reading about how these soldiers were treated that they didn’t take up arms against the government upon their return to US soil.
There are several lessons to be learned from this book, including the unbearable savagery of war, the arrogance of men who thought that they could conquer the Burmese jungle, and the willingness of people who clearly knew better to treat their fellow citizens like garbage.
Brendan I. Koerner is an excellent storyteller (and researcher) and ‘Now the Hell Will Start’ ought to be force fed to anyone who thought Barack Obama’s pastor was “too angry”. If I’d been treated the way these men were I’d spend the rest of my life finding the people responsible and addressing the issue in the harshest physical terms possible (seriously)
Great book.

Now reading – Excelsior You Fathead: The Art and Enigma of Jean Shepherd