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Summer Reading in Rock

Summer Reading in Rock

Every summer I say I will read more, and every summer I flop on the couch and pray for winter to hurry up. If it’s possible to feel too hot to read, I’ve achieved it. I fear I’ve reached a point in my life where I have to psych myself not only to read a book, but discuss it. Typically I pledge to read 150 books a year on my Goodreads account. This year I shot low – 50 – but I’ll surpass that number. By how much, I can’t say.

I’ve bought rock books, reserved them at the library, and put them away. I apologize for hitting the low curve of the cycle once again, but I have finished a few titles and have thoughts. I look forward to the later half of this year when biographies of Stevie Nicks and Artimus Pyle are released. In the meantime…

The Beatles Play Shea by James Woodall
a Kindle single – buy at Amazon


This title is short. I picked it up during a Kindle Unlimited trial that included The Handmaid’s Tale and a Fred Stoller memoir. The sub-title on the cover misled me at bit. I had expected to read an actual history of the landmark concert at Shea Stadium and instead came away learning very little. There’s buildup to the event but little substance, and at times the narrative strayed to other topics distantly relevant to the event.

Most Kindle singles tend to be essays that may appear in parts in magazines, or long chapters of current or future works. I get the impression it’s the case here. Had I purchased this title instead of taken advantage of it during the KU trial, I would have been more disappointed.

Rating: C-

Altamont: The Rolling Stones, The Hells Angels, and the Inside Story of Rock’s Darkest Day by Joel Selvin
Buy at Amazon


I can’t explain what it is about the Altamont concert that attracts me. I’ve seen Gimme Shelter and read other accounts of the day (there’s a Kindle single about this, too, reviewed here). Somebody even made a short documentary about Meredith Hunter, the man stabbed by a Hell’s Angel security guard. It’s all history seems to tell about the day, but if the topic is new to you this book covers everything from the initial plans for the concert to its multiple tragic aftermaths.

I hadn’t realized Hunter wasn’t the sole casualty at Altamont, and I won’t spoil the book’s contents. It’s an engaging tangle of ambition and opportunity in a time when the Stones struggled to compete for face time – with the Beatles fading from the picture, now they had to deal with the California sound and recent Woodstock alumni. Altamont was to have been the West Coast answer to the festival, and this book offers up a nice guide on how not to plan a free concert. It’s a story that may make you angry as well, particularly when you read of Hunter’s story and that of friends and family after the show.

Rating: B

Living Like a Runaway by Lita Ford

Living Like a Runaway by Lita Ford

When it comes to band histories, I like to read differing viewpoints from band members. It’s why you’ll find reviews of 3/4ths of KISS here, and when I first heard about Lita Ford’s book I couldn’t wait for it. Looking back at my review of Cherie Currie’s Neon Angel and thinking about the Runaways movie, I wondered if I might have been unfair to Lita. Aside from her two big hits I know little of her solo career, and that movie barely portrayed her as anything beyond an uncooperative banshee. Subsequent reading about The Runaways’ history, in particular a harrowing account by Jackie Fox (TW: rape) left me willing to give Lita the benefit of the doubt when I read her book.

Now, if you’ve followed up on recent news about Lita, you’ll know this book had been delayed because reasons. Many speculate her ex-husband is involved, and toward the end of the book Lita touches on some of the conflicts that split her family. I don’t know the real reason for the delay – be it post-marital gag orders or dissatisfaction with ghostwriters – but the book’s out and nearly matches Cherie’s in terms of explicitness and cautionary anecdotes.

Unlike Neon Angel, Living Like a Runaway (AMZdevotes only half the book to the Runaways. We are guided through a very supportive family to guitar lessons and discovery by Kim Fowley to a brief period of hard work and little, if any compensation. Lita stresses in this time (and pretty much through the entire book) about how serious she is about playing the guitar and striving to shatter ceilings and stereotypes. In a way, that’s good. Metal and hard rock needed Lita Ford, and aspiring female musicians needed to see Lita in a position where she could give the old masters like Iommi and Blackmore and (insert your guitar god here) a run for their money. Lita tells her story with pride, but I get the impression it comes at the expense of others. She claims to be the only member of The Runaways serious about music, and while she’s welcome to that opinion one can argue for Joan Jett and her multi-decade career.

The second half of Runaway covers the struggle to stay on top amid misogyny and apathy in the music business. I don’t doubt Lita here. Cyndi Lauper’s memoir covers similar frustrations with labels and managers who didn’t necessarily have her best interests in mind. Even hiring a female manager – Sharon Osbourne, no less – didn’t solve problems in this regard. You can’t help but feel for a woman who can garner the Grammy nods and critic praise yet keeps tapping that ceiling. She claims people didn’t know what to do with her. Uh, put her on stage and let her play?

Runaway is also full of juicy, sometimes sexy and sometimes squicky, hell-yeah-rock-and-roll moments. I won’t reveal the conquests – have to leave something to the imagination – but they come in spurts and asides as though Lita’s trying to balance the business side with the glitter. You may come away with a lower opinion of certain people in her life; I certainly did.

Living Like a Runaway is not a bad book, not a great book, either. Between the horrors of Kim Fowley and the ex-husband she doesn’t name (Wikipedia it if you must know) and the Spinal Tap-esque road stories it will jerk your emotions. I still think Lita should go into the Hall of Fame as a Runaway, if not as a solo act. Maybe this will help.

Rating: C

Kathryn Lively is not the Queen of Metal. Maybe the Queen of Meh.

Interlude: Read and To Read

Interlude: Read and To Read

If you’re curious about the inner workings here at Chez BTRU, I’m happy to take a few moments to talk/write about it. If you’ve hung out for a while, you realize it’s not a regularly updated blog. I stick to reviews of books about popular music and artists here, but as a reader I don’t limit myself to this type of non-fiction. I tend to choose books that interest me as a reader and wannabe historian, and as I work in the industry I read to keep up on current releases and “buzz” books. Often that takes me into fiction, outside of this realm. Once I get my hands on a book fitted for this blog, I’m going to give it my full attention.

With this blog, too, I strive to review recent releases – books no more than a year old. So if you’ve wondered why I haven’t reviewed a certain title, say Neil Peart’s first books or something else, that’s why. In time, though, I’d like to look into older books maybe for round-up posts about a particular topic/artist. There are a few things I’d like to do with this blog to make it more interactive.

For now, though, here’s what I’ve read lately and what you can look forward to in the future:

Read: Frank: The Voice by James Kaplan
Amazon

I read the second book of Kaplan’s two-part Sinatra bio first (reviewed here). Having done this, I think if you haven’t read either book you should read The Voice first if you want to better appreciate it. Reading Sinatra: The Chairman first, I found I enjoyed the second book more because I saw this era of Sinatra’s life as more interesting – this despite the rapid drop-off in 80-90s Sinatra history.

In The Voice, there’s so much to muddle through and it’s not all happy. To me the book didn’t really start rolling until he met Ava, and right when it gets to a pivotal moment in his life, the book’s over.

If you’re really that interested in Frank’s first thirty years, pick it up. You may appreciate The Chairman more for it. Rating: C+

To Read: Kill ‘Em and Leave: Searching for James Brown and the American Soul by James McBride
Amazon

I read McBride’s The Color of Water  many years ago. Excellent book. Pick it up if you haven’t yet.

From the blurb: Kill ‘Em and Leave is more than a book about James Brown. Brown’s rough-and-tumble life, through McBride’s lens, is an unsettling metaphor for American life: the tension between North and South, black and white, rich and poor. McBride’s travels take him to forgotten corners of Brown’s never-before-revealed history: the country town where Brown’s family and thousands of others were displaced by America’s largest nuclear power bomb-making facility; a South Carolina field where a long-forgotten cousin reveals, in the dead of night, a fuller history of Brown’s sharecropping childhood, which until now has been a mystery. McBride seeks out the American expatriate in England who co-created the James Brown sound, visits the trusted right-hand manager who worked with Brown for forty-one years, and sits at the feet of Brown’s most influential nonmusical creation, his “adopted son,” the Reverend Al Sharpton. He reveals the stirring visit of Michael Jackson to the Augusta, Georgia,funeral home where the King of Pop sat up all night with the body of his musical godfather, spends hours talking with Brown’s first wife, and reveals the Dickensian legal contest over James Brown’s valuable estate, a fight that has destroyed careers, cheated children out of their educations, cost Brown’s estate millions in legal fees, sent Brown’s trusted accountant, David Cannon, to jail for a crime for which he was not convicted, and has left James Brown’s body to lie for more than eight years in a gilded coffin on his daughter’s front lawn in South Carolina.

To Read: Fleetwood Mac on Fleetwood Mac Interviews and Encounters by Sean Egan
Amazon

I’ve wanted to get in a Fleetwood Mac book here for some time. I had my hands on Mick Fleetwood’s memoir a while ago but for some reason didn’t finish it. Will have to try again.

From the Blurb: Fleetwood Mac was a triumph from the beginning—their first album was the UK’s bestselling album of 1968. After some low points—when founder Peter Green left, some fans felt that the band continuing was sacrilege—Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks joined, and the band’s 1977 album Rumours became one of history’s immortals, a true classic that remained in the charts for years and public affection forever. In the press, the ethereal Californian Stevie Nicks, the tormented rocker Lindsey Buckingham, the dignified English rose Christine McVie, the blunt-speaking John McVie, and the loquacious Mick Fleetwood have all regularly been astoundingly candid. This collection of interviews across the entirety of Fleetwood Mac’s career features articles from such celebrated publications as Crawdaddy, New Musical Express, Circus,Creem, Mojo, Goldmine, Classic Rock, Blender, and Elle, as well as interviews that have never previously appeared in print. In it, readers will learn the Fleetwood Mac story from the band members’ own mouths, and experience it contemporaneously rather than through hindsight.

~

So that’s what I have on deck, and of course I’m still waiting for Lita Ford’s book…if and when.