Tag Archives: Books

Songs, Signatures & Young Love

And may you stay forever young—Bob Dylan

Nobel Prize-winning Bob Dylan recently published a book, The Philosophy of Modern Song. The categories that the Nobel committee presents awards in are physics, chemistry, medicine, economics, peace, and literature. Seems that Alfred Nobel, in addition to being a chemist and engineer, was a frustrated writer, which explains the literature category in his bequest to fund the prizes that carry his name and the medal with his likeness. Economics had not been one of his categories. It was added in 1968, 67 years late, thanks to funding by Sveriges Riksbank, or the central bank of Sweden.

There are several missing categories, like engineering, math. . .and music. Dylan received his Nobel in literature in 2016. In 2015 the recipient was Svetlana Alexievich, a journalist who was born in Ukraine and lives in Belarus; in her work she has criticized the regimes in the then-Soviet Union and Belarus. In 2017 the recipient was Kazuo Ishiguro, who was born in Japan, raised in the U.K.; the novelist received the prize because, according to the committee, his work “uncovered the abyss beneath our illusory sense of connection with the world.”

Dylan? “[F]or having created new poetic expressions within the great American song tradition.”

The Philosophy of Modern Song is not Dylan’s first book. There were Tarantula, a book of poetry, in 1993 and Chronicles: Volume One, a book of personal reflections, in 2004. There have also been a number of books carrying his name, whether children’s books that illustrators have adapted his lyrics in, or collections of his lyrics.

The Philosophy of Modern Song has become controversial of late not because of, well, the philosophy, but because publisher Simon & Schuster offered 900 limited-edition versions of the book that were said to be hand-autographed by Dylan. The signed versions of the $45.00 book were marked up to $599. Turns out that Dylan didn’t sign them. Which brings to mind that existentialist Jean-Paul Sartre was named the 1964 Nobel recipient in literature in 1964. Being the good philosopher of existence that he was, he didn’t accept the prize.*

Simon & Schuster fessed up and is refunding the monies to those who paid.

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There Is No 13th Note

In a book titled Great Thinkers, which includes essays on people from Plato to Virginia Woolf, there is this sentence in the entry about 18th century economist Adam Smith, the man known for his ideas regarding the division of labor and “the invisible hand,” in the portion regarding his biography:

“In his childhood, he was briefly kidnapped by gypsies.”

That’s it. It goes on from there, describing his becoming an academic philosopher. Nothing about why he was kidnapped, where he was when he was kidnapped or anything about the kidnapping.

Which leads me to think that sometimes we are kidnapped by ideas that briefly take us to all manner of places. . .

Anjanette Comer was an actress who appeared in several TV series mainly in the 1960s and 1970s (e.g., Combat!, Mannix, Bonanza, and various other one-word-title shows), and a few feature films. Although it was announced that she was going to be in the film Funeral in Berlin with Michael Caine, which appeared in 1966, although there were publicity stills showing the actors together, she didn’t appear in the film. Not everything goes as planned. Presumably she wasn’t briefly kidnapped.

One film that she did star in is 1967’s Banning, which also features Robert Wagner, Jill St. John and Guy Stockwell. This is a somewhat complicated movie that has to do with a golf pro, Mike McDermot (played by Wagner), who is unfairly accused of throwing a tournament; he changes his name to Mike Banning and catches up with the guy who had tried to get McDermot to cheat and then accused him of cheating, which led to McDermot becoming Banning, and so Banning, who now has to pay off the mob (?), gets into a tournament, where it is actually a do-or-presumably-die situation. . . .

The poster for the movie proclaims in the sensationalistic verbiage of the day: “The action begins. . .when the auction ends! The truth about the women who go all out. . .when they go for a man!”

Note the absence of golf. Sort of like Comer in Funeral in Berlin.

Banning was nominated for an Academy Award. “The Eyes of Love,” a song performed by Gil Bernal, who also crooned a tune in Blood of Dracula’s Castle (“Count Dracula and his coffin-mate Countess Dracula need young girls to stay alive. . .another 300 years!”), was nominated. There was some serious competition for Best Song that year, such as “The Look of Love” by Burt Bacharach and Hal David.

Both “The Eyes of Love” and “The Look of Love” (strangely ocular titles) lost to “Talk to the Animals,” music and lyrics by Leslie Bricusse, performed by Rex Harrison, in Doctor Doolittle.

Which brings us to Quincy Jones, who wrote the music for “The Eyes of Love” (lyrics by Bob Russell).

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My rock and roll library update

The Zapple Diaries: The Rise and Fall of the Last Beatles Label by Barry Miles (Harry N. Abrams, 2016)

Do we need another Beatles book? Is there any facet of the Beatles’ 12-year existence as a group that hasn’t been written into the ground? Well, at least until Mark Lewisohn completes his definitive multi-volume history, it looks like we’re going to continue to get more. This one is a specific first-person look at the big-idea, short-lived subsidiary label that the naive idealists formed to release experimental recordings. Miles was hired to record poets such as Charles Bukowski, Laurence Ferlinghetti, and Allen Ginsberg. Spoiler alert: Zapple ended up only releasing two records (vanity projects by George Harrison and John Lennon) before new manager Allen Klein fired everybody and closed shop.

The Underground Is Massive: How Electronic Dance Music Conquered America by Michaelangelo Matos (Dey Street, 2015)

I’m probably not the intended audience for this book since I don’t really know the difference between house and techno and jungle and dubstep, and I don’t particularly care. Dance music people are very into genre differentiation, but it’s still rock and roll to me. I do, however, enjoy reading well researched and engaging history, and this book is full of that. Lots of young people doing their own thing, making their own scenes, getting loaded, and digging music. Despite the fact that Matos has claimed “The book is not about recordings,” I could have really used a soundtrack when reading it since virtually all of the music was unfamiliar to me.

Sound Man: A Life Recording Hits with The Rolling Stones, The Who, Led Zeppelin, the Eagles, Eric Clapton, the Faces… by Glyn Johns (Plume, 2014)

It’s rare that I start but don’t finish a book. This is one of those rarities. For all the characters and events this guy witnessed, you’d think he’d be able to come up with some interesting insights or at least a few good stories. Nope. It’s just tame and boring. Which is a shame because I’ve read interviews with Johns where he’s been hilarious and opinionated. Unfortunately, this book — at least the first half — doesn’t reveal any of that.

Willie Nelson: An Epic Life by Joe Nick Patoski (Back Bay, 2008)

I picked up this book after reading Patoski’s Oxford American article about drummer/character Paul English, “Watching Willie’s Back.” Willie Nelson is an American hero whose greatness has only occasionally been captured on tape despite the fact that he’s got 50+ years of recording under his belt. This book goes a long way in explaining what it is about Willie that makes him such a compelling and unique figure. He’s as close to the Buddha as this country is every going to produce.

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Joan Jett by Todd Oldham

Joan Jett by Todd OldhamJoan Jett by Todd Oldham, introduction by Kathleen Hanna

Ammo Books (224 pages; $34.95)

To be honest, I expected this book to be terrible. With the Runaways movie coming out in a blaze of twilit fanfare, you’d assume that any book being released around the same time would be nothing but a quickie cash-in.

But that’s not what this Joan Jett book is…not at all. Nice thick pages with high quality prints, assembled by celebrity designer Todd Oldham, it’s 9×9 size just looks cool sitting on your coffee table. Open it up and in additional to all the great rock and roll photos of Joan Jett throughout her career, you’ve got what amounts to an autobiography, seemlessly assembled from interviews over the past thirty years. Historians might’ve liked to have seen footnotes and a real bibliography so we could place the source of the quotes, but as it is it reads surprisingly cohesively.

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The Velvet Underground: New York Art

The Velvet Underground: New York ArtThe Velvet Underground: New York Art – Edited by Johan Kugelberg (Rizzoli)

As influential as the Velvet Underground is, there is surprisingly little written material devoted to the N.Y.C. groundbreakers. For years, Victor Bockris and Gerard Malanga’s Uptight: The Velvet Underground Story was the best reference point available—a collection of interviews and retelling of the band’s history.

It remains as the go-to book for anyone wanting to learn more about the band and it presents the band in a warts-and-all fashion, particularly Lou Reed who is not spared from the harsh realities of truth, or at least his peer’s interpretation of it.

The Velvet Underground: New York Art takes a different approach in delivering the band’s story, as it focuses on telling it through visual methods instead of the traditional black and white prose.

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Hunter S. Thompson – GONZO

Hunter S. Thompson - GONZOHunter S. ThompsonGONZO (Ammo Books)

There’s a strange sort of irony that Hunter S. Thompson was a victim of the same trappings that contributed to the death of his hero, Ernest Hemingway. They were the same things that helped elevate them from writers to icons, especially among other writers. Both Thompson and Hemingway understood image…optics. They understood that what they projected in life was almost as important as what they portrayed in print. The trick is figuring out how you’re not crushed while you’re still alive by the weight of your own myth. After all, to be a legend in death a far sight easier than in life.

And so it comes as little surprise to Thompson fans that the good doctor had an eye for the camera. The man had to see the scenes before he wrote them so vividly. What is interesting is to see how simply his camera’s eye saw these scenes in the coffee table photo book GONZO in comparison to the twisted surreality of his writing. There are vast landscapes captured during his many travels. There are friendly snapshots from his youthful days in New York or Big Sur or Puerto Rico, which also served as the locale of his first novel, The Rum Diaries. They’re good—most of them—but straight. There’s no weirdness, no madness, no fear, no loathing. But that is the stuff of his novels.

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Dan Sartain and the Night Marchers Live in Newcastle

Dan Sartain and the Night Marchers Live in Newcastle

The Night Marchers And Dan Sartain

Newcastle Cluny, November 16, 2009

Dan Sartain certainly looks every bit the rockabilly troubadour, he has described himself as sounding like Chris Isaak on acid and hooked up to jump cables. I for one can’t disagree. He plays a mean guitar and has the songs to back up his undoubted talent. In 2007 he supported the White Stripes in the USA and fans are eagerly awaiting his new album due in 2010.

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Obsessing the Empty Orchestra

KaraokeDon’t Stop Believin’: How Karaoke Conquered the World and Changed My Life

By Brian Raftery

DaCapo, 233 pp., $16

Don Henley is, apparently, four-square against karaoke.

Do you want to be like Don Henley?

We didn’t think so.

Does this mean that you’re likely to run down to your local bar and belt out “Feelings” with some gusto in front of people who are undoubtedly there because they are there to reveal their own secret song stylings in public?

We didn’t think so, either.

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The B Side

The B List: The National Society of Film Critics on the Low-Budget Beauties, Genre-Bending Mavericks, and Cult Classics We Love“. . .rock ‘n’ roll is always a quintessentially B art form. Its potency, even the bulk of its charm, has always been about no respect for artistic authority, musical elegance, refinement of taste, or virtuosity.” So write David Sterritt and John Anderson in the introduction to one of the 11 sections in their eclectically focused selection of essays culled from sources ranging from the Los Angeles Times to tcm.com, The B List (Da Capo Press; $15.95). The section in question is titled “Whole Lotta Shakin’: Rock, Pop, and Beyond,” and it contains essays on the movies The Buddy Holly Story, King Creole, American Hot Wax, The Girl Can’t Help It, and Greendale. The essay on Neil Young’s Greendale, by Sam Adams, contributing editor at Philadelphia City Paper, is quite possibly worth the better part of the price of this collection of essays on that movie as well as 57 others that Sterritt and Anderson encompass in the subtitle The National Society of Film Critics on the Low-Budget Beauties, Genre-Bending Mavericks, and Cult Classics We Love.

Sterritt, chairman of the National Society of Film Critics and a film professor at Columbia, and Anderson, a writer for venues including Variety, miss the point vis-à-vis B movies and rock and roll. A better way of looking at it is that a B movie is to a full-blown feature what a B side is to a disc. Peter Keough, a film editor at the Boston Phoenix, writes in one of the collected essays, “Traditionally, the term B movie refers to those cheap, readily accessible, generally lurid exploitation films from pulpy genres designed to fill the second billing for the main feature.” The occasion of his essay is Francis Ford Coppola‘s The Conversation (1974), which was made just after The Godfather. Clearly, Coppola didn’t make a film that had “no respect for artistic authority;” Keough points out that Coppola acknowledged Michelangelo Antonioni‘s Blow-Up (1966) as inspiration for the film; Blow-Up was nominated for two Academy Awards (director; screenplay), and while it didn’t win either, let’s face it: back then, mainstream was the only stream so far as the Academy was concerned. Keough writes that The Conversation represented a “new kind of B picture,. . . an intensely personal expression of the filmmaker’s soul.”

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Shine On You. . .

He Is. . .I Say: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Neil DiamondThe recent coverage of Glen Campbell here is remarkably coincident with the rise of a performer of similarly long pedigree who, some would say, has had a recent resurgence, while others—David Wild, foremost among them—would say he’s never really stopped shining. Yes, I am talking about Mr. Neil Diamond.

First, permit me a digression. . . .

It had the makings of a good road trip. A new car. A full tank of gas. Clear weather. A challenging route. My navigator, although I didn’t know him all that well, was a personable fellow, who can read a map and, more importantly, drive well, so I didn’t need concern myself with our getting lost or spinning uncontrollably over the edge of a mesa. But I was to learn more about him. And I was to have an out-of-control experience of another sort.

A couple hours into the trip, when the radio stations had gone from bad to worse to static (no satellite radio in the car), my colleague reached into a satchel and extracted his iPod. He hooked it into the aux jack. Neil Diamond’s Home Before Dawn had just been released, and he dialed it on. I was to discover that my navigator, a man a few years younger than Diamond, spent his Thursday nights as a singer is a bar where Thursday night meant “Karaoke Night.” When management saw that the stage was empty and it seemed as though it was going to stay that way, up went the ringer, my navigator, who would belt out Aerosmith, Meatloaf, Rod Stewart, Bonnie Tyler. . .it didn’t matter.

And in the car I was to experience this, over and over again, but in a different way. His all-time favorite and audio mentor, I was to learn, is Neil Diamond. This was not Neil and Streisand in the car. No, this was pure, unadulterated Diamond lust. For hours.

All I could think about was hitting a tree.

Continue reading Shine On You. . .