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.
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.
Every time I read a Beatles-related book I find most players run hot or cold with critics. You either adore somebody or you loathe them. We can guess how assorted Beatles and personnel fall in the spectrum, and when it comes to Allen Klein you find a figure just as (or perhaps more) polarizing than Yoko Ono. Long story short, Klein was a money man on a mission: to manage the most popular band in the world. One could argue he obsessed over the idea of being their right-hand man, so much that he couldn’t appreciate what he had with The Rolling Stones, no slouches themselves.
In the Afterword of Allen Klein: The Man Who Bailed Out The Beatles, Made the Stones, and Transformed Rock & Roll (Buy: AMZ / BN / KOBO / ITUNES) the author mentions the desire of Klein’s family to clear the air, so to speak. Going into this book, all I knew of Klein was his work with the Stones and that three out of four Beatles wanted him to replace the late Brian Epstein. We may forever argue over who broke up the band, but if you read enough of the Beatle chapters here you may give Yoko a break and lean toward the theory of self-implosion. Klein’s alleged reaction to Epstein’s death as mentioned here could also leave you cringing.
I’m not here to review Klein’s character, though. Allen Klein the book, overall, is informative and detailed, and may find an audience in readers interested in the financial workings of the music industry. Klein’s life work is a tangle of royalties and subsidiary rights and similar legalese and promises to musicians with less business savvy to get the money they deserve. It used to baffle me to read of rock stars claiming to be broke, but as Goldman breaks down how music publishing works, and how managers earn their share, I understand it. Maybe those who dream of fortune should put down the guitars and get accounting degrees.
I found the book is most interesting when the story focuses directly on Klein’s interaction with the musicians he manages: Sam Cooke, John Lennon, Mick. At times the narrative splintered into tangents, delving here into Andrew Oldham’s story, then over there to talk about somebody else. While it interested me, another reader might think there wasn’t enough about Klein to make a book. Once Klein loses Lennon as a client, his story seems to wrap up rather quickly.
Allen Klein is a book for hardcore Beatles and/or Stones fans, readers who likes to crunch numbers and crave a side of classic rock gossip.
It’s rare that I have found a recent work for this blog that isn’t a rock star memoir. While Glyn Johns had a very brief career as a singer (with modest success in non-English speaking Europe), he is known more as a producer and engineer. He had the great fortune of being present at the creation of many now-legendary albums. Can you imagine hearing Led Zeppelin for the time ever, before the records are even pressed? Johns has this enviable place in history, and when you pick up Sound Man (AMZ) you might expect a vivid portrait of 60s and 70s rock as it evolved and how the people who created the sound lived.
You do find it, to some extent. As Johns explains in Sound Man, he came to music with the intent of singing and performing when circumstances led him to the engineer’s booth and kept him there for better part of four decades. This book, though, is more technical than dramatic, with Johns focusing less on his personal life (and therefore his relationship with many of the players) in favor of the mechanics of recording music. If you’d prefer to know the equipment and recording methods used to create Let it Be and Sticky Fingers, you struck gold. If you want eyewitness accounts of groupies and candy bar urban legends…sorry. At best, you’ll receive hints of behavior in the studio and notes on personalities Johns liked and disliked. He doesn’t seem afraid to call out a unpleasant person or his opinion of how Phil Spector “puked all over” Let it Be.
If the science behind recording music fascinates you, you will enjoy Sound Man. You won’t find any more personal insights on your favorite musicians that can’t be read elsewhere, but the light personal touches and style of the book make it easy and interesting to read.
ARC received from the publisher via NetGalley
Kathryn Lively is an author and book blogger.