Archive for the ‘Music Books’ Category


A little Fantasy and a little bit of Reality…

August 25, 2009


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.


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


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

July 7, 2009


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


The Jazz Ear: Conversations Over Music

January 4, 2009


The Jazz Ear: Conversations Over Music by Ben Ratliff

Greetings all.

It has been an unforgivably long time since I posted here, but I must admit that it’s been just as long since I finished reading a book.

If you follow the goings on over at Funky16Corners you’ve surely encountered my grousing about life and how it happens to be abusing me these past few months. One unfortunate byproduct of that abuse is a collision between a lack of time in which to read and a lack of inclination to do the same.

I’m just not the kind of person that can get any reading done when I’m tired and stressed out, and I have been both of those things – in excess – for quite some time now.

However, sometimes, and this is one of those rare occasions, I reach an intersection in which just the right reading material arrives, as a previously unknown surplus of intellectual energy is discovered, and the reading train is placed back on the rails.

Thanks go out to my Mom and Pop who gave me Ben Ratliff’s ‘The Jazz Ear: Conversations Over Music’ as a Christmas gift. Ratliff was familiar to me as the jazz columnist for the New York Times, and the format of the book – relatively short chapters devoted to conversations with interesting jazz musicians – seemed like a perfect fit for my damaged attention span.

Best of all, as soon as I started reading I discovered that Ratliff had invited each of these musicians to pick the music they wanted to discuss, and though they are all jazz artists, many of them decided to bring along non-jazz music (which made for some very interesting discussions).

There were lots of personal faves (Ornette Coleman, Sonny Rollins, Roy Haynes, Pat Metheny, Andrew Hill, Bob Brookmeyer) as well as many artists who I’m not familiar with. The format is (in some cases) a great window into the thought processes – musical and otherwise – of some very interesting people, and provides food for thought (and listening).

Very cool.

Now reading – Tim & Tom: An American Comedy In Black and White


The Armageddon Rag

October 2, 2008


The Armageddon Rag by George R.R. Martin

Greetings all.

I come to you today, a full week after having finished this book, only having found time to write a review now.
George RR Martin’s ‘Armageddon Rag’ is yet another book that I first heard about via
Martin is best known as a writer of science fiction and fantasy. Though I knew his name, I hadn’t read any of his other work.
‘The Armageddon Rag’ was first published in 1983, and takes place in and around that time. It is the story of Sandy Blair, once a prominent journalist of the 60s underground press, now a novelist with a career that seems to be fading. The fact that he’s struggling with writers block isn’t helping any, so when he gets a call from his old publisher, to cover a murder of a prominent promoter, he jumps at the chance.
The murder victim had been the manager of a band called the Nazgul, who’s lead singer was murdered at the height of an Altamont-like concert many years before. The Nazgul now seem – against all odds – to be coming back together, and Blair wants to be there to cover the story.
Though I’ve seen ‘The Armageddon Rag’ described as a mystery, it has elements of horror, social history and fantasy.
Once Blair starts investigating the murder, he starts to reconnect to the scene he was such a part of in the 60s. He travels across the country, tracking down the members of the Nazgul, as well as touching base with his old friends who have all left their old lives behind to widely varying degrees.
Through his portrayals of Blair and his friends, Martin touches on many familiar archetypes, from commune dwellers to generational sellouts that’ve packed away their tie-dyes and moved on to the executive suite. That he manages to portray these characters so vividly without resorting to the kind of ‘Big Chill’ clichés that have saturated the image of the 60s in our collective rear-view mirror.
My only criticism of the book – and it’s entirely possible that this was Martin’s intention – is that I was never really sure (and this wasn’t resolved) whether or not there really was a supernatural element operating in the background.
That said, ‘The Armageddon Rag’ was briskly plotted, suspenseful and often touching in the way Martin portrays how the various threads of the 60s counterculture had, or had not resolved themselves fifteen years on. ‘The Armageddon Rag’ would make a great movie.
Now reading – The Collected Tales of Nikolai Gogol


Riot On the Sunset Strip: Rock’n’Roll’s Last Stand In Hollywood

May 18, 2008


Riot On the Sunset Strip: Rock’n’Roll’s Last Stand In Hollywood
By Domenic Priore

Greetings all.
Another book has made its way into the outbox, so it’s time to update the blog.
The tome I just finished was on my Amazon want list for a long time, and the last time I made an exploratory foray into the local book/cd/coffee barn – between books of course – it just happened to be there in the Music section, so I grabbed it.
The book in question is ‘Riot On the Sunset Strip: Rock’n’Roll’s Last Stand In Hollywood’ by Domenic Priore.
When I first heard about this book it set my hair on end. The mid-60’s Sunset Strip scene is for me one of the great (maybe the great) intersection of pop art and youth culture. That it was being written by rock’n’roll scholar Domenic Priore – a name that loomed large in the West Coast end of the mid-80’s garage/mod revival – I figured it couldn’t miss.
It turns out I was (mostly) right.
I should start out by mentioning that one of the book’s strong suits – the amazing photos -is also ironically it’s weakest point. While Priore has gathered some incredible period shots, due to what I can only assume is a production error, many of them are mislabeled either mis-identifying those pictured, or not (in some obvious cases) identifying them at all. If you’re an aficionado of those times, this won’t matter much because you already know the difference between Arthur Lee and John Echols, or Roger McGuinn and Gene Clark. If you’re not (already knowledgeable about the scene) you’re going to end up being misled. This must also have been disturbing for Priore, because I can’t imagine someone as deep into this scene as he is would ever make these kinds of mistakes.
That aside, Priore has really done his research and paints a very vivid picture of the mid-60’s Sunset Strip, as well as adding enough historical detail to put the growth of the Strip in perspective.
The book is broken up into thirteen chapters, each addressing a different aspect of the Sunset Strip and it’s history, as well as how it manifested itself in various parts of the pop culture spectrum. I came to this book having more than a passing familiarity with the bands of the Strip (two of which, Love and the Buffalo Springfield are personal favorites), but ‘Riot On the Sunset Strip’ was full of revelations, taking cultural movers and shakers (musicians, artists, radio, movie and TV personalities, local politicians, business owners) and creating a frame of reference that connects all the dots.
My favorite sections concerned the importance of West Coast pop art to the scene, the way the sound and sights of the Sunset Strip found their way onto TV (I was practical drooling reading about some of the bands that appeared on local television), the influence of the Strip on (and how it was influenced by) the surrounding area, and a very well written account of the legendary Sunset Strip riots.
As a fan of 60’s punk, I love how Priore covers a lot of ground about the local bands, their recordings and traces their lineage, showing how they influenced each other and many more famous bands. He also collected some great, rare photos of these bands.
If you have any interest at all in this period of popcult history ‘Riot On the Sunset Strip’ will prove indispensable.


Now Reading: The Source: The Untold Story of Father Yod, Ya Ho Wa 13 and the Source Family



May 10, 2008

Greetings all.
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.
Highly recommended.


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).


Little Things
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.