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Review: Please Be With Me: a Song for My Father, Duane Allman by Galadrielle Allman

Review: Please Be With Me: a Song for My Father, Duane Allman by Galadrielle Allman

Originally posted on my blog: Books That Rock Us.

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I should know more about The Allman Brothers Band than I do, which (until I read this) isn’t much. I’ve lived my entire life south of Mason Dixon – with half of that spent in areas still affected by Allman influence. Indeed, while reading Ms. Allman’s biography it surprised me to find so many coincidences:

  • The author and I share a birthday (August 25), though we’re separated by a few years.
  • Her uncle Gregg received a liver transplant at the Mayo Clinic right around the time my father did.
  • She lived eleven years in Jacksonville, FL. I lived there for 22.
  • Duane and Gregg Allman lived very briefly in Virginia Beach as children, not far from where I live now.
  • In the book’s prologue, Ms. Allman talks about finding a Rolling Stone with her father on the cover in an Athens, GA thrift shop. I lived in Athens for a time, and I have a good idea which store she mentions.
Spooky, eh? Maybe the last two tibits are a stretch, but seeing the birthdate was pretty wild. I also share the day with Gene Simmons and Gopher from The Love Boat.

Coincidences aside, I still acknowledge I should know more about The Allman Brothers. While not a Jacksonville-based band like Skynyrd and Molly Hatchet, the ties the brothers had to the music scene there shaped the legend. Perhaps for a long time, Ms. Allman knew as much about her father as I do – she was only two when Duane Allman perished in a motorcycle accident in the early 70s, a few years shy of the mystically unlucky 27 that stalks troubled musicians and shortly after the band’s grand commercial breakthrough. Please Be With Me is the culmination of her journey to meet a man everybody else (even strangers) knew and loved. 
To complete the puzzle, Ms Allman relies on the memories of colleagues, family friends, and relatives to recount Duane’s life story in vivid, lyrical prose. You can taste the salty air of Daytona Beach, where Duane picked up chords through his adolescence, and follow the scents of bougainvillea, whiskey, and weed all the way to Macon and back. When you read stories of rock legends, however, you wonder about the accuracy of detail when everything comes to you second and third-hand. One reviewer on Goodreads of this book voiced some skepticism that Ms. Allman’s book holds 100% accuracy. I don’t know if this opinion is based upon further research on Duane and the Allmans, or just conjecture. I say, sometimes an urban legend holds a kernel of truth. Did a brother really arrange to severely injure himself to get out of the draft? Were there tensions with the Grateful Dead and in Clapton’s Layla sessions? Chances are, you’d learn of different opinions as these events happened.

I thoroughly enjoyed Ms. Allman’s book, which is partly a biography and partly a tribute not only to her father but the family that surrounded them. The strength of the narration carries you deep into the story that, for a moment, you almost forget the tragic outcome and want to remain where the music plays.

Rating: A

ARC received from NetGalley

Kathryn Lively is a mystery writer and book reviewer.

Recent Reads, Late 2013

Recent Reads, Late 2013

In Bed with Gore VidalIn Bed with Gore Vidal by Tim Teeman

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

My creative writing professor knew Gore Vidal; they had a professional relationship that produced the book Views from a Window: Conversations with Gore Vidal. Vidal is one of those people who seemed to interest me from a distance – I’d see movies in which he co-starred, and to this date I’ve only read one of his novels. My husband read his memoir, Palimpsest, and enjoyed it. He had read parts of the book to me, and the memory of that made this book easier to understand.

Not that In Bed With Gore Vidal is difficult to read. I found it well researched and it kept my interest through the end. The title may mislead readers, who might expect a juicy tell-all along the lines of a Kitty Kelley-penned biography. Teeman does divulge Vidal’s sexual history, but more than you read of personal and professional relationships, in particular Vidal with himself coming to terms with his roles in literature and Hollywood. Throughout the book Teeman reports that Vidal asserts he is not homosexual but homoerotic, and that “there are no homosexuals, just homosexual acts.” This view would put him at odds with gay activists, and certainly there are people within Vidal’s circle who would argue this point.

Teeman interviews a number of people closest to Vidal, including Susan Sarandon and Scotty Bowers (whose book I have read – definitely a juicy tell-all), and draws from Palimpsest and other Vidal works. If you aspire to study Gore Vidal more, this is a good resource.

Choose Your Weapon (The Helen of Hollingsworth Trilogy) (Volume 1)Choose Your Weapon (The Helen of Hollingsworth Trilogy) by Sarah Rodriguez Pratt

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Helen lives a double life – high school is spent deflecting the scorn of the “cool” kids, while in another world she trains to slay the dragons who terrorized the fantasy novels she enjoyed as a child. Choose Your Weapon is like Pleasantville meets Mercedes Lackey – where a young woman becomes empowered in fantasy and carries it through her reality. A great read for young adults.

Doctor Sleep (The Shining, #2)Doctor Sleep by Stephen King

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This year my Christmas gift to myself was time away from the computer to enjoy my day off from work and read this book. I would call it time well spent – The Shining remains my favorite King novel, and Doctor Sleep is a satisfactory follow-up to the story. It’s important, however, to read The Shining first rather than rely on memories of the Kubrick film, because there are differences, and the past does come into play here.

Where I found The Shining more of a psychological horror story, Doctor Sleep relies more on the paranormal to freak you out. A roving band of bad seeds, semi-immortal because they depend on the “steam” of shining youths to survive, zero in on a girl with more than a psychic connection to the grown-up Dan Torrence. Dan carries much baggage from the Overlook Hotel (he makes for a moody anti-hero) yet remains sympathetic. The creepy True Knot gang may just keep you out of RV parks for a while.

I got through this in a day – two King winners in one month.

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Book Review – The Fifth Beatle: The Brian Epstein Story by Vivek Tiwary, Philip Simon (Editor), Andrew C. Robinson (Illustrations), Kyle Baker (Illustrations)

Book Review – The Fifth Beatle: The Brian Epstein Story by Vivek Tiwary, Philip Simon (Editor), Andrew C. Robinson (Illustrations), Kyle Baker (Illustrations)

ARC received via NetGalley.

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One thing I’ve noticed in what’s become my scholarly study on The Beatles is that one can find a wealth of information on the band, the individual members, and their chronological history. I may know more about John Lennon than I do my current president, and yet information on their manager, Brian Epstein, remains scarce. Pretty much everything I know about Epstein came from Peter Brown’s memoir, The Love You Make. I know I tend to hold up that book as the standard, but years and years after I’ve read it, the memory is fresh.

There are Epstein-centric books, though, none of which I have read: among them a ghostwritten autobiography published at the height of Beatlemania that is likely whitewashed to appeal to young fans, and a more in-depth history from Lennon biographer Ray Coleman. One could guess the lack in reading material about Epstein corresponds to the short time he worked with the band and the fact he died so young. I see pictures of Epstein and imagine a man beyond his years – always mature and serious – when in fact he was only six years older than John.

We can imagine the stress of managing an extremely popular group aged him prematurely. Not only that, Epstein dealt with social prejudices that rendered him depressed and unable to sleep. A public figure comes out as homosexual today and it may not be a big deal, but in 1962 to be gay and Jewish in a tiny English port town equated to painting a large target on your head. The Fifth Beatle, a new graphic novel fictionalizing the life of Epstein, opens with the grim image of Epstein suffering a violent act in what appears to be a hustle gone wrong in a dank Liverpool alley. It’s a specter of shame and unrequited feelings that follow him through his short life, terrors he seeks to replace with success.

Fans know the legend – Epstein had little to no talent management experience, but knew the music business through the family chain of record shops. He attends a live show at the Cavern after hearing of the Beatles, and you know the rest. The Fifth Beatle vividly recreates this and other key scenes in Epstein’s relationship with The Beatles with sharp characterization and moody colors. Unlike another graphic novel reviewed here (Baby in Black), representations of main and supporting players take on appearances that match their personalities – genuine and assumed. Brian comes off as enthusiastic despite weary expressions, John is sharp and smirking, and Paul exudes a gee-whiz cuteness. Darker scenes position people like Colonel Tom Parker in a demonic setting and Ed Sullivan as wooden (you’ll see it soon enough), and Yoko Ono in an eerie cameo.

All through the adventure, Brian has a right-hand woman named Moxie. Whether she existed as a composite of personnel assisting the band and Epstein or as a figment of the imagination (not unlike Jessica Lange’s angel/confessor in All That Jazz) remains up for debate. Her role in the story serves to heighten one thing we’ve always known about Brian Epstein – he was lonely. He had friends and family, and while he may not have been the savviest of managers he had the respect of four lads from Liverpool for a time. Nonetheless, he had no partner with whom to share his success, and that knowledge make this story all the more bittersweet. His premature death in 1967 is arguably the beginning of the end of The Beatles – that’s something I’ve believed for a long time. We can blame Yoko, but the smoke ignited when the band found themselves without management and couldn’t easily decide on a successor.

Anyway, I’ve followed the progress of The Fifth Beatle for the better part of a year and looked forward to reading it. Overall, I liked the story and the illustration. Fans will easily spot the lyrical Easter eggs in the dialogue, but I find things like that take me out of the story and make it a challenge to take it seriously (Clockwork Angels had this same issue). I will admit, too, there are known scenes of Epstein’s life that didn’t make it to this book. George is barely represented here, Ringo even less, and Pete Best isn’t on the radar…unless you count blurred background Cavern images. Also missing or downplayed are moments of John’s cruel humor, anti-Semitic and anti-gay slurs that reportedly drove Epstein to tears.

The Fifth Beatle is a welcome tribute to a figure sometimes marginalized in Beatles history. Petitions to get Epstein inducted as a non-performer in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame continue to circulate, and perhaps a book like this will bring more attention to the cause.

Rating: B

Kathryn Lively is the author of Killing the Kordovas, The Girl With the Monkee Tattoo, and The Rock and Roll Mysteries.