Sunday, November 29, 2015

I'll Never Write My Memoirs by Grace Jones

In my memory, Grace Jones never played on the mainstream radio stations in Jacksonville, Florida in the 70s-80s - not when I listened. I get the impression after reading I'll Never Write My Memoirs (ARe / AMZ / BN / KOBO) that this wouldn't have bothered Grace. Her albums and songs have charted in the US, and with greater success in other countries, but like with many acts it took the launch of MTV to introduce me to this slender cat woman in gray, creeping up a staircase in impossible heels and barking out "Demolition Man" like she ordered you to listen. Grace Jones was and remains badass.

When I saw this book you bet I put on the brakes and got a copy. Anybody who survived Studio 54, industry discrimination, and Dolph *drool* Lundgren has a hell of a story to tell, and while going in with my own perception of Grace the entertainer I came away with a higher respect for Grace the person. This book, presented in the "as told to" format through rock journalist Paul Morley, ebbs and flows through her life in a colorful narrative, and unlike previous memoirs I've read where one senses a reluctance to confess, Grace lays it all out. One will hear legends of Studio 54 where Grace walked around naked - this book has that feel. There's no shame in revealing moments of shyness, anger (justifiable at that, particularly when people try to screw you come payday), and frustration (we can't hire you because XYZ). Grace makes no bones about her influence in music, either - I'm still trying to figure out the mysterious "Doris" she speaks of, an entertainer wanting to emulate and collaborate. I have it narrowed to two possible suspects.

If you are stickler for timelines, know that Grace warns early on how she doesn't keep track of time. Not good if you're The Doctor, but one expects a person like Grace Jones to remain timeless. Her story may hop around but not enough to distract. It's a fun ride with bittersweet memories of people from an era long gone and a strong message: you deserve compensation for your talents.

Rating: B+

Kathryn Lively has never been to Studio 54. 

Friday, November 27, 2015

Van Halen Rising: How a Southern California Backyard Party Band Saved Heavy Metal by Greg Renoff

I have a few "missed concert" regrets, and pre-Hagar Van Halen will always have a place in the Top 5. Yeah, I know Dave's back more or less, but we'll likely never see the Mike/Dave/Brothers combo again unless somebody raises a billion dollars on Kickstarter. We still have the records, though, and video memories. Reading through Van Halen Rising (AMZ / BN / KOBO) may leave you tinged a tad green if you're in the same boat as me. Author Renoff built this book from interviews with over 200 witnesses to the early days - with Anthony as the sole cooperating VH alum - and scores of archived articles. The book is as exhaustive in detail of the band's beginning as the research done to complete it.

As the title implies, Rising sticks to the genesis of the band through the release of Van Halen and subsequent early marketing of the band. If you haven't studied the band's history, you may not only find this an invaluable resource but understand Rising as almost prophetic. Well before anyone considered Van Halen might be signed, friends and supporters give insight to personalities and quirks that shape the band's legacy.

You'll learn David Lee Roth had always been a showman, if not a thorn in the brothers' sides - both cheerleader and headache. You'll scratch your head at passages of well-known names who had the opportunity to sign them to their labels before ultimately passing. If you're a fan you might snicker and wonder who still kicks themselves. Moreover, you'll read a story that seems less likely to happen anymore, the gradual winning over of music fans and the industry by a band playing a style largely regarded by critics as "dead." Had they began in the YouTube age they might have eliminated the middle man like so many groups do now, but I enjoy reading stories like this.

While reading this I was reminded of my husband telling me about the first time he heard Van Halen on the radio. "Eruption." He had to pull over the car to catch his breath.The spectacle on display in their early tours no doubt left a lot of people feeling the same way. It's not easy to translate that to print, but Renoff does the band justice.

Rating: B+

Kathryn Lively writes books and drinks wine.

ARC received via NetGalley