Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

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Happy New Year b/w Suspension of Activity

January 3, 2010

Greetings all….

While composing the first posts of the New Year for my primary (Funky16Corners) and secondary (Iron Leg) blogs, it occurred to me that while I have read a number of books since the summer, I had failed to update Paperback Rider since before Labor Day.

When I started this blog it occurred to me – and I’m pretty sure I wrote it down in this space – that I might have been spreading my blogging abilities a little too thin, and it is at this late date that I must concur with the original diagnosis.

Aside from the fact that I have a very busy life, my reading habits/schedule (as it is) have not really fluctuated – in fact I’ve had a pretty steady run of books for the last six months or so – but my ability/willingness to sit down and write about them as they are completed has waned to the point of non-existence.

So – if anyone cares – I am suspending work (outright) on Paperback Rider until such time as I can make space in my schedule, and muster up the motivation, to bring it back to life.

Until then, I thank you for stopping by, and hopefully I’ll see you here again some time.

Peace

Larry

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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

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Catching Up (sort of…)

November 14, 2008

Greetings all.

It’s been a long time since I posted here due in large part to the fact that in the few, rare moments when I’ve had time to read, I’ve been book-hopping like a sonofabitch.
Thanks to lots of music blog related work (including an upcoming internet radio show), sick kids, various and sundry parental/household responsibilities and a ton of other shit (including a near crippling case of political angst) reading time has – as I said – been at a premium.
I’m one of those folks that can’t read when I’m fatigued. I’ll prop myself up in bed with my book light, and before long, after I’ve dropped my book six or seven times, I pack it in and succumb to sleep.
When last we met, I had begun to read a collection of stories by the 19th century Russian writer Nikolai Gogol. I read four or five of them – which I was enjoying – when I had to get back to some non-recreational reading, and Gogol fell by the wayside (albeit temporarily).
Then, following the whitewater section of my stream of consciousness, I discovered, ordered, received, and then struggled with Jack London’s ‘The Iron Heel’.
I was shocked when I saw the book on a list of dystopian novels (I’d never heard of it before), and after seeing a synopsis I got myself a copy. While the subject matter is incredibly compelling, and both prescient and relevant, London’s style in ‘The Iron Heel’ was a little hard to wade through, and I fought valiantly with it until I completed it a few weeks later.
By that point I had already stockpiled a few other books (some new from the store, some passed along by my always thoughtful and generous in-laws and some left over from days of yore). Fortunately, one of these was a short story anthology, entitled ‘Wastelands’, which collected tales with an apocalyptic (pre/post and during) theme. I was just starting that one when I heard that the mighty John Leonard had passed away.
I watched Leonard for years in his capacity as a cultural critic on CBS Sunday Morning, as well as following his TV writing in New York Magazine. Leonard was possessed of a singular, towering intellect and I admired him greatly.
When I saw his obituary, I wondered why I had never sought out any collections of his essays and criticisms. I remedied the situation immediately and am currently deep into the 1997 collection ‘Smoke and Mirrors: Violence, Television, and Other American Cultures’. Reading John Leonard is like strapping yourself (or at least your brain) into a pop-cult roller coaster. What separates Leonard from so many brilliant – yet boring – thinkers, is an ability to embrace popular culture in an unironic way with an incredibly broad frame of reference that makes reading the thoughts he has applied to paper genuinely exciting.
So, that’s where I’m at.
I suspect that when I complete this Leonard anthology (I have another one on the way) I’ll post a full review.
Until then….
Peace
Larry

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The End-of-May Double Header

June 2, 2008

Example

The Great Derangement by Matt Taibbi

Greetings all.
I first read some of Matt Taibbi’s articles last year on one of the increasingly rare occasions that I purchased a copy of Rolling Stone. Once a staple of my periodical diet, I’ve gotten sick of Jann Wennerisms like Britney Spears cover stories, so unless I’m stranded somewhere with nothing to read and RS is the only remotely appealing thing in the magazine rack, I don’t pick it up.
That said, Taibbi – who is often compared to one of my idols, Hunter S. Thompson, even on the cover of this very book – is, if not a Thompson for the new era (and we really need one now), an astute commentator and observer with a sharp (in all senses of the word) pen.
‘The Great Derangement’ bounces back and for the between Taibbi’s experiences undercover in John Hagee’s Texas mega-church (timely, that), riding with US troops in Iraq and exploring the ‘9/11 Truth’ movement.
The books central thesis – laid out in the title – is that things are kind of nuts right now, so much so that the ultra-right and ultra-left have, like some kind of cultural moebius strip, looped in on themselves and connected with each other.
Taibbi delivers his narrative with a fair amount of righteous anger, but his descriptions of the people he met during his time masquerading as a born again Christian are nothing if not sympathetic. I only wish that he had provided some closure to that particular episode (i.e. if, and how did he reveal his true identity to the people he met in Texas).
His dissection of the lunacy and twisted reasoning behind the prevailing 9/11 conspiracy theories – especially a long imagined dialogue between the supposed conspirators – is excellent.
I’ll definitely be seeking out his earlier books.

Example

Epileptic by David B.

During the same trip to the book barn where I grabbed the Taibbi book, I strolled on over to the graphic novel section and found something very interesting indeed.
‘Epileptic’ by David B. is, unlike many other examples of the genre a ”book” as much as a graphic novel. Basically an autobiography (originally published in six parts) ‘Epileptic’ is also the story of his family, and especially how his brother’s illness (indicated in the title, natch) affected all of their lives.
David B. – whose work was unfamiliar to me – is an artist of amazing talent. I can’t remember the last time I saw a graphic novel (or even short form comic book) where such an astounding level of detail was not also a huge waste of time. B’s illustrations are incredibly detailed and imaginative and the story – sensitively and honestly told – is heartbreaking.
I’m going to do my best to get my wife to check this one out.
Amazing.

Now reading – And Now The Hell Will Start by Brendan I Koerner

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Greetings

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…

Example

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.

Example

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).

Example

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).

Example

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.

Example

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.