Friday, September 13, 2013

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

ARC received via NetGalley.

Buy the book at Amazon.com.

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 sanitized 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 makes 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 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. 

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Thursday, September 12, 2013

Nothin' to Lose: The Making of KISS (1972-1975) by Ken Sharp with Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley

ARC received from the publisher via Edelweiss.

Get this book now. 

As I sit to write this review, KISS is scheduled to perform where I live. Being elsewhere at the moment, it appears the opportunity to see the band play live has eluded me once more. I will admit, though, (and not to slight Eric Singer and Tommy Thayer) if the day does come I hope I get to see the original lineup. It would take a miracle, I know, but such sentimentality keeps me from spending money on acts that have replaced key players. When Rush puts Darren Stephens in place of Alex Lifeson, I'll know it's the end.

On this blog you'll find reviews of both Ace and Peter's memoirs. Where these books cover the entire span of KISStory and beyond, Nothin' to Lose does as advertised: it's a lengthy eyewitness account of the band's birth told in the oral history fashion similar to Sharp's other effort, Starting Over (also reviewed here). While this method of storytelling brings many voices to the forefront, I find this style risks the loss of an objective point of view. The book's introduction about KISS reads like a gushing fan letter, which didn't irritate me but did leave me wondering if any unflattering remarks or anecdotes didn't make the cut under the watchful eyes of Gene and Paul.

Nothin' compiles the memories of a huge cast involved in the band's genesis as Wicked Lester through their early association with Casablanca Records. More than thirty years after his death, Neil Bogart represents an enthusiasm for KISS's showmanship and drive through archived interviews - you also hear from early fans (many relatives and close friends of the original members), early road crew, former managers, and other musicians. Yes, I do give them points for an extensive section on the Rush/KISS connection, the Bag Man story, and an amusing picture of Geddy Lee covered in whipped cream that a few people I know will want to see.

You might wonder, how are Peter and Ace represented here? They do have voices, though Peter's contribution to Nothin' isn't as large as Gene and Paul's, and Ace appears less frequently. Nothin' to Lose offers a view of the early days of KISS with little evidence of in-fighting - maybe a few vocal concerns about drug and alcohol, but otherwise everybody plays nice. This doesn't mean you won't find gossipy bits to enjoy; I came away from the book with the perfect Boogie Nights image in my head about Casablanca. Nobody can accuse the 70s of being boring, and despite the healthy size of the book I wanted to read more. 1975, where the book technically ends, marks the beginning of the golden age of KISS. Tales of the humble start, from the tiny clubs and an odd Seinfeld connection, provide a wealth of memories for fans - perhaps this book's success will inspire a second volume.

Rating: B

Kathryn Lively is a mystery author who still hasn't seen KISS live.

Friday, July 19, 2013

When They Were Boys: The True Story of the Beatles' Rise to the Top by Larry Kane

ARC received from NetGalley.

Purchase the book from Amazon.com.

Some of you may be groaning to see yet another Beatles book reviewed on this blog. What can one possibly learn from a new title, and how can we be sure this is the true story of the Fab's early years? Having read so many books over the decades, one would think I could recite the story by heart. So many Beatle "insiders" and witnesses to the early days of Hamburg and Liverpool - it's nice to know so many are still kicking after fifty-plus years - and it appears that journalist/writer Kane has attempted to include as many as possible in When They Were Boys. This book doesn't cover the whole of the Beatles' career, but concentrates on the beginnings of the Quarrymen through the mid-1960s at the stirrings of the takeover of America.

Beatle die-hards know Kane's name - he traveled with the Beatles as a reporter during their 64-65 American tours, and he's authored other books on the band. Personal encounters with the boys are represented here in conversations peppered throughout, but you won't find current cooperation from the surviving members. When They Were Boys instead calls on the memories of those present before the record deals, names already familiar to die-hards: Astrid Kircherr, Pete Best, John's sister Julia Baird, Bill Harry (who published Mersey Beat), and Horst Fascher (performer and club owner in Hamburg). Voices of the departed - Neil Aspinall, Mal Evans, Mona Best, etc. - are also present, as is input from Yoko Ono, speaking from memories of conversations with John.

With all of this participation, and the author's personal experience, one could argue this is a thorough account of early Beatles history. Some stories are familiar, others appear revealed as Kane charges that some biographers may have attempted to rewrite the story by omitting certain points. As much as I've read of Mona Best's involvement, I don't often hear of her reaction to her son's dismissal/resignation from the band, or of exactly how popular Pete was during these years. Kane also takes the time to point out how some biographers want to minimize May Pang or erase her entirely, but it's not something I've seen in Lennon biographies.

The narratives aren't the most compelling as compared to other Beatles biographies and histories, and some may bristle at mentions of Paul and Ringo's lack of cooperation/interest in the this project. To note that neither attended a funeral of an insider, for example, seemed almost chiding. Nonetheless, Boys is informative, and a book new students will appreciate.

Rating: B-

Kathryn Lively is the author of the Rock and Roll Mysteries featuring Lerxst Johnston: Rock Deadly and Rock Til You Drop, and of the collection of short stories, The Girl With the Monkee Tattoo.

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Monday, July 8, 2013

The Kennedy Chronicles: The Golden Age of MTV Through Rose-Colored Glasses by Kennedy

Buy this book at Amazon.com.

ARC received by the publisher via NetGalley.

I made it known on a message board I co-admin that I planned to read this book, despite having very little memory of Kennedy, as an MTV VJ or otherwise. I knew the name, knew she was somebody, but I honestly have no recollection of seeing her on the channel, or of watching MTV at all during her five-year tenure. The subtitle of her memoir defines the early-to-mid 1990s as the golden age of MTV, and some may debate that. Me, I saw it as the beginning of the end, the transition from grab-bag video roulette that scheduled Motley Crue to follow The B-52's to follow The Doors to more structured programming that parsed videos by sub-genre and gradually doled out time slots to irrelevant shows. The 1980s had music videos, the 90s had Beavis and Butthead and Jenny McCarthy. By the time Kennedy appeared on the scene I was a college graduate in Athens, Georgia spending more time outside.

Nonetheless, I wanted to read her book in tandem with VJ, the oral history of MTV's genesis as told by four of the surviving original VJs. I thought it interesting to see both books come out around the same time, thereby allowing us a personal view of the network's evolution. First response from my message board post: You're lucky you don't remember her. I do, and she fuckin' sucked.

I haven't asked for specifics, but the "fuckin' sucks" opinion is one Kennedy seems to acknowledge. You either loved her or you wanted to poke her with sharp, fiery sticks. To make up for my neglect of MTV in the 90s, I researched clips on YouTube to find a hostess resembling a bespectacled Darlene Conner, only more interested in her environment. Not enough material to determine if she fuckin' sucked at her job, so I'll let more seasoned critics decide that. In The Kennedy Chronicles, the author recounts her time at MTV and within the music scene at the time, devoting entire chapters to specific encounters and/or relationships with the era's notables - among them Henry Rollins, Billy Corgan, and Dave Navarro. There's also talk of her colleagues - some mentioned merely in passing, others with a hint of bemusement (*cough* Kurt Loder), and a few she viewed with respect (Tabitha Soren, the one I do remember watching in this time).

From what I gathered in this collection of rambling vignettes (which are interspersed with chapters that serve as interviews with a number of these musicians), Kennedy was basically the 90s rock galpal, couch surfing at rock stars' homes and grimacing as everybody at MTV kissed Clinton's ass during a major youth vote campaign - apparently Kennedy was quite a unicorn at 1515 Broadway, perhaps the lone conservative among her peers. While many stories provide nice gossip, not all have happy endings. There's little affection spared for Courtney Love and Puck from The Real World, and you'll learn more about Jenny McCarthy's bowel habits than you'll care to know. I do wish I had more access to MTV archives to know if Kennedy's broadcast style matched her writing, regardless of the twenty-year gap. To me, the book rambles, and while fans may enjoy the "interview" chapters I thought them out of place, as though others encroached on Kennedy's time by sharing their memories.

Whatever you think or thought of Kennedy, her legacy is cemented in her short MTV tenure, and The Kennedy Chronicles serves as an interesting, albeit uneven, history of the time. Fans of the VJ and the musicians featured in her anecdotes will likely appreciate the book the most.

Rating: C

Kathryn Lively is the author of the Rock and Roll Mysteries featuring Lerxst Johnston: Rock Deadly and Rock Til You Drop, and of the collection of short stories, The Girl With the Monkee Tattoo.


Wednesday, July 3, 2013

How the Beatles Rocked the Kremlin by Leslie Woodhead

Buy now from Amazon.

I will confess when it comes pop culture and music, I often take an American-centric point of view. If a band suddenly drops of the radar, I might assume they broke up or fell out of favor with their label, forever relegated to sixth-billing at state fairs. It may not occur to us that certain musical acts sell well in other countries. I know somebody who co-wrote a song that became a number one hit in South America. The US market is important, surely, but it's not the only game in town.

One can imagine what kids in the USSR did for entertainment, and if they even heard of The Beatles during the band's prime. As it turns out, the Fabs managed to breach the Communist bloc, serving as unofficial ambassadors of the West. Filmmaker Woodhead, responsible early in his career for one of the first clips of the Beatles in action (which you can view on the author's website), would discover the group's impact on Soviet youth as he filmed documentaries. His interactions with fans and stories of government-approved (and illegal) acts influenced by the Beatles are compiled in How the Beatles Rocked the Kremlin.

If there's one appealing thing I found about this book, aside from the Russian perspective of The Beatles, is the author's honesty from the beginning - many Beatle books I've read are authored by fans...die-hards. Woodhead doesn't claim a high level of fanaticism, and I like that it lends an objective voice to this first-person narrative. Woodhead takes us through the Soviet Union, then later Gorbachev's post-glasnost Russia, to meet some of the more avid Beatlemaniacs of the East. Where my aunts could easily buy the Capitol-released albums at any store in South Florida, these comrades waited for contraband records to come in via various sources (sometimes first through port towns, though the children of the privileged class were able to get their hands on the music). Many learned English via the Beatles, and took up instruments in an attempt to keep the music alive behind the Iron Curtain. Then there's the guy with the Beatles shrine (the pictures included in the book likely don't do it justice) whose admiration of the band certainly rivals that of the most fervent comrade's devotion to the Party.

What you won't find in this book (aside from personal experiences relayed by the author) are stories of interactions with actual Beatles. McCartney's historic concert is covered, and serves as a bittersweet coda for those denied the opportunity to see the entire band and follow them as the rest of the world did. The true stars of Kremlin, however, are the fans who closely guarded their admiration for the Beatles in an unaccepting atmosphere. When I recall reading stories of "Beatle burnings" in certain American communities in reaction to John Lennon's "more popular than Jesus" remark, I find it interesting how people in the Soviet Union probably would not have had the opportunity to choose to burn a record - the government would make that decision. Yet, despite an ever-present government and rules, the Beatles managed to sneak through, proving nothing short of immortal (or divine) is impenetrable.

How the Beatles Rocked the Kremlin is for the serious Beatles scholar, a fascinating history lesson about the power of music gradually chipping away at oppression. When you begin to read, you may get the impression you're in for some dry reading, but it is the enthusiasm of the Russian fans with whom Woodhead interacts that helps the book come alive. Fifty years after those four young men rocked the Cavern, they continue to rock the Kremlin, the British Isles, the States, the Internet...and that enthusiasm keeps the music alive. Sometimes, all you do need is love, and I know one place to find it.

An advanced review copy was provided by the publisher.

Rating: B

Kathryn Lively is the author of the Rock and Roll Mysteries featuring Lerxst Johnston: Rock Deadly and Rock Til You Drop, and of the collection of short stories, The Girl With the Monkee Tattoo.



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Thursday, June 13, 2013

VJ: The Unplugged Adventures of MTV's First Wave

An advanced review copy was provided by the publisher via NetGalley.

When MTV joined the Cablevision lineup, it was the first stop I scrolled to on our cable box, the magical beige rectangle that increased our TV viewing options from six to FORTY-TWO channels. Oh, we were living large. MTV introduced me to music and bands that I rarely, if ever, heard on Jacksonville radio. Even in its infancy, MTV scooped radio by introducing us to artists who would eventually conquer several media. That girl with half her head shaved, leading a conga line through New York City? That Australian band playing in their underwear? I didn't hear them on the radio first.

To hear my parents tell it, you would have thought Satan purchased a TV network and started broadcasting on cable. Of course they hated it - I still remember the stunned, WTF expression on my father's face when Motley Crue's "Looks That Kill" aired one Saturday morning, and we couldn't switch to the next channel fast enough when my mother entered the den. They didn't want us watching MTV; they believed some videos with questionable content were too racy and/or violent for us impressionable youths. In the network's defense, I disagreed (but it's not like a ten-year-old had a vote in this situation). Early on, many videos amounted to footage from concert films and appearances elsewhere on television. Other promotional videos may have simply featured the band in a studio or on a stage with no bells, whistles, or whores (pretty much every video Rush filmed). Also, none of us kids ended up as juvenile delinquents or criminals as a result of prolonged exposure to MTV. One of us is a vice-president of something.

Today, I couldn't tell you on which channel you'll find MTV, or MTV 2 and whatever else has spawned. It's mostly crap now, and while I'm partial to good crap I go elsewhere for it. When I want to ride my mid-life crisis, I cruise through my YouTube playlists. One might argue we don't really need MTV anymore - it's no different from half the networks dependent on reality shows for ratings - and some may feel we might have done just fine without it. I personally wouldn't mind a rebirth - not necessarily to feed my appetite for nostalgia, but for an artistic marriage of video and music.

When I saw VJ: The Unplugged Adventures of MTV's First Wave available, I knew I had to review it for the blog. In defending my desire to watch MTV, I had placed the original five VJs as Exhibits A through E - they looked like normal people you'd have over for dinner. There were no visible skull tattoos or piercings. You'd think between perky Martha Quinn and boyish-next-door goofball Alan Hunter I'd have a good argument for MTV not spearheading the decline of Western civilization. Thirty years later, I open to the first chapter of this book and Alan and Mark recall doing blow with various rock stars. I wonder if my mother would allow me to watch MTV now.

VJ, like Starting Over, is presented as an oral history, in that the four surviving VJ pioneers (the fifth, J.J. Jackson, is sadly no longer with us) round-robin their memories of the network's genesis and first half-decade. Of the quintet, Jackson and Goodman came to the network with the strongest backgrounds in radio and music knowledge, while Hunter, Blackwood, and Quinn were likely recruited to appeal to specific viewer demographics. Talk of money quickly establishes that this operation didn't work like Friends - it wasn't "all for one, one for all" when it came to salaries or perks. In fact, it surprised me to read how bare-bones the first VJs had it. Everybody learned on the air through trial and error, whether it was ad-libbing to fill space or appeasing a record label in order to broadcast videos. In my memory MTV seemed to run seamlessly from VJ intro to video, and back again. Bear in mind, it has been many years, and likely the VJs didn't get as much air time as I recall.

If you enjoy rock gossip without having to decipher blind items, you'll find plenty to like in VJ. You'll live vicariously through four voices regaling us with tales of sex (and failed attempts at it), drugs, and awkward interviews. Want to know which of your idols was an asshole, and which Top 10 ballad Nina Blackwood inspired? There are answers within. In between the juicy bits and personal vignettes, VJ provides a nice history of the network itself and its evolution from 24/7 music to a major influence on the entertainment industry. I especially found the chapter on MTV's coverage of Live Aid interesting, since for years I had been angered by how the VJs monopolized camera time during such an event. I could see Martha Quinn on TV every damn day...why would I want to watch her dancing while Paul Frickin' McCartney was playing "Let It Be" during the London finale? It's some comfort to know that cutting to her wasn't her call.

That said, I was also disappointed not to see any information on how MTV revived The Monkees. It did happen toward the end of Quinn's and Hunter's tenures, and how MTV handled the band following a FTA at an event (covered in Monkee Business) spoke volumes of the network's power to make and break musicians at the time. I am still interested in their perception of MTV as a music influence and if any other artists suffered due to the network's neglect. In the book there's mention of how MTV likely nurtured a short-attention span mentality, something that became evident personally when certain VJs left the network. Despite our general tendencies to find distraction, my memory of MTV's glory years remain strong. VJ is a fun reminder of the days video killed the radio stars...though I wonder if video is looking over its shoulder now.

Rating: B

Kathryn Lively is the author of the Rock and Roll Mysteries featuring Lerxst Johnston: Rock Deadly and Rock Til You Drop, and of the collection of short stories, The Girl With the Monkee Tattoo.





Thursday, May 23, 2013

Rubber Soul by Greg Kihn

If you're my age (and the coming reference is the only hint you're getting), you are probably familiar with Greg Kihn. Turn on your local BOB or JACK "we play anything" radio station and chances are the song Jeopardy is in rotation, sandwiched between Taco's Putting on the Ritz and that horrid Will.I.Am/Britney earworm. Greg Kihn co-wrote and performed Jeopardy, which was a huge song in its day. Constant MTV airing huge, Weird Al parody huge. If you haven't given Kihn a thought since 1984, no need to worry. He's apparently still kicking and writing in another arena.

Kihn's latest effort, Rubber Soul (AMZ), follows the adventures of a Liverpudlian entrepreneur as his life intersects periodically with those of several hometown friends striving to launch careers in music. I have read quite a few Beatle-inspired novels, and reviewed some Beatles fiction here in the past - I find stories like these go either away in terms of quality. I hesitate to call such works glorified fan fiction, since the Beatles themselves are basically historical figures now, and it wouldn't be fair to lump these books as fanfics when other writers bring true to life people into fiction and dodge the stigma. That said, some stories I have read seem to lack the polish that carries the characters out of fandom into something serious. In the case of Rubber Soul, I found a concept that interested me -- a look at the early Beatles through the eyes of a friend -- despite the rough patches.

Bobby Dingle helps his father run his antiques shop in Liverpool. Like other teenagers in the port town, he's fascinated by American rock and roll, and through the right contacts is able to snare prized 45s before anyone else in town (What's a 45? It's like an MP3, but different. Google it.). His love for American rhythm and blues and rock solidifies a friendship with a young John Lennon, and soon Bobby's position as the band's Forrest Gump is secured. Throughout the story - from encounters in Hamburg, Bobby's later adopted home of Baltimore, and London - Bobby peppers little influences like Easter eggs for John to find and integrate into the Beatles' success. If you're a fan, you'll spot them on sight.

As the reader gets a lesson in early rock and roll - with names of the Fabs' musical idols sounded off in a constant roll call - dark shadows cast occasional palls over the action. Bobby's thug half-brothers, Mick and Clive, cause trouble for the band, while fatal events in Hamburg have a lasting impact. Rubber Soul covers the period from the late 50s to the Beatles' nightmarish experience in Manila, in 1966. I've read more than my share of Beatle bios, too, and while Kihn doesn't specify actual dates throughout the story he appears to present an accurate timeline of events. That one scene where John dupes Bobby into trying LSD? I confirmed the date John tried it for the first time (it's a fairly famous story, mind you), just to make certain. A casual music fan may gloss over particulars, but a Beatleologist can nit-pick. Given that the pace of Rubber Soul runs rather swiftly, one may accept that Kihn properly placed the fixed points in Beatles history within his fiction. Curiously, though, this story omits the "bigger than Jesus" controversy altogether.

So, accuracy aside, is the story any good? Firstly, I commend any author willing to fictionalize people who existed. I did find overall dialogue stiff at times - in some parts it didn't feel natural, more like a recital of facts. I did like that the story focused more on Bobby as he connected with a variety of supporting players - the fictional Clovis, for example, came off more colorful as the rest, which would make sense given the author could write the character more freely.

Rubber Soul should please Beatles fans, and fans of early rock and roll. You'll find it's more than another version of an oft-told history, but a view of a changing time as youthful innocence morphs into moments of cynicism and turbulence. Ending with the events in The Philippines seems to cut the story short, but it doesn't make the ride there any less thrilling.

An ARC of this book was provided via NetGalley by the publisher.

Rating: B-

Kathryn Lively is the author of the Rock and Roll Mysteries featuring Lerxst Johnston: Rock Deadly and Rock Til You Drop, and of the collection of short stories, The Girl With the Monkee Tattoo.

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Saturday, February 16, 2013

The Rolling Stones Discover America by Michael Lydon

Buy The Rolling Stones Discover America (Kindle Single)

True story: when it was announced that The Rolling Stones planned to bring the Steel Wheels tour to my home town, I drew the short straw to get tickets. Now, this happened way before the Internet and refreshing Web pages on LiveNation to get good seats. I had to drive to Turtles Records and Tapes about an hour before the sale began and pluck a strip of paper from a hat as part of the "lottery" system. There were rules, too: you entered the store when your number was called, and you took the tickets they gave you. Fine. We all thought this was the Last. Stones. Tour. Ever. I'd play ball.

As my number is called and I'm walking toward the store, this guy stops me. Would I buy three more tickets for him and his friends. A store clerk sees this and says, "Do you know him? You can only buy your tickets. No cuts." You have to understand I was a good Catholic teenager who couldn't deceive anybody. Catch me in crosshairs and I start blubbering. At the same time, I'm thinking this stranger is about to screw up my only chance to see the Stones. My memory is blurry, but somehow I managed to get past the checkpoint and buy six tickets. The show sold out in about a week. We sat in the boonies and loved it, because we thought these guys were winding down and would, contrary to a song they covered, fade away.

That was 1989.

As I'm reading The Rolling Stones Discover America, I experience a touch of deja vu, even though this Kindle single recounts an earlier tour of America. After a long hiatus from the road, the band has decided to resume live shows, and the reaction is similar to the Steel Wheels frenzy. I imagine many fans scrambling to see the 1970 tour figured it was a brief gift before an eternal exile to the studio, a la The Beatles. Rock journalist Lydon covers the journey in Discover, a longish essay that paints vivid pictures of the people and places along this journey. It reads like a series from Rolling Stone Magazine, too, which makes sense as Lydon was a founding editor.

The further you read into Discover, you may think the real story lies in the periphery of the band - the fans, the media, the family, and the gofers and manager who orbit the group. Names are dropped, and some snippits of conversation provide amusement - like when Keith Richards predicts nobody in the band will get an MBE like John Lennon (no, but Mick would be knighted). You'll read a line about Janis Joplin and Tina Turner hanging out after a show and wish for more details. When you first get into the chapter on Altamont, you get the impression people sensed the show was doomed. And just as quickly as the action happened there, so it is as quickly retold.

This is a quick read, not necessarily about The Rolling Stones but the climate in which they existed - a time in music where bands and listeners straddled the fine line between mop-top innocence and free-love hippiedom. It is a prelude to future explosions - civil rights movements, Vietnam, etc. It's certainly not meant to be a definitive story on the Stones, but it makes an interesting chapter in their careers worth reading.

Rating: B

Kathryn Lively is a mystery author and book blogger.


Friday, January 11, 2013

In the Pleasure Groove by John Taylor

You kids who have happened upon this blog for reasons I can't explain: you like that One Direction group, right? You have the dolls and the pillowcases and the skins for your iPhones and whatnot, because there is no better group to have walked the face of the planet, and you want to show your team stripes. Well, back in the 80s, what you call ancient history, the girls were not without their musical idols. They were called Duran Duran, and their fans were loyal to the point of frothing, skin-clawing madness. I would know, I lived in the midst of it. Girls scrawled "Mrs. Simon Le Bon" on their school folders, and held Duranie-themed birthday parties (you haven't lived until you've played Pin the Tail on the Ragged Tiger), and if you didn't have tickets to their concert at the Jacksonville Coliseum you were basically a loser with absolutely no reason to live.

All through this period of Duran-mania, while classmates drooled over pouting portraits of the three Taylors on the covers of Tiger Beat and 16, I asked my parents for a copy of The Police's Synchronicity.

I admit it, I wasn't into Duran Duran. At. All. I didn't buy any of their albums until long after I married, and even then it was a greatest hits CD, bought used. This doesn't mean I hated the group - I liked their music, but I didn't pray the rosary by it. It might explain why I had few friends in middle school. Yet, when I saw John Taylor had published a memoir I decided to give it a look for a number of reasons. I do find I listen more to 80s music these days, not for nostalgia but because many songs remain fresh after time - yes, the Durans included. The "Fab Five" reached the pinnacle of their fame in a time where musicians challenged fans to be more politically conscious and accommodating toward those less fortunate. This was the time of Live Aid and Little Steven's Sun City protest song. I picked up In the Pleasure Groove and wondered how Taylor and Duran Duran figured into all of that.

So, what do you learn about Duran Duran and Taylor here? Well, Pleasure Groove is pretty much a cut and dry history of the band, prefaced by chapters of Taylor's middle-class childhood which was defined by his mother's Catholic piety and a love for music. Taylor makes the group's rise through the ranks to superstardom seem almost easy - he helped form a band, they worked clubs, they cut a record and made videos, and the girls fell like dominoes. Yes, there are mentions of drugs and sex, and you'd expect to hear some lurid tales. Here, it just sounds...boring. Many of us today may be embarrassed by the 80s, but we definitely weren't bored then.

As I feared when I picked up this book, Pleasure Groove is for the fans. If you lived by Duran Duran then and now, you'll appreciate Taylor's effort to bring you into his personal space. If you're looking for a typical rock and roll memoir, this might leaving you wanting.

Rating C-

Kathryn Lively is a mystery author and book blogger.