Monday, August 30, 2010

Murder in the Metro: Laetitia Toureaux and the Cagoule in 1930s FranceMurder in the Metro: Laetitia Toureaux and the Cagoule in 1930s France by Gayle K. Brunelle

 My high hopes for Murder In The Metro started the moment that I spied it on the New Releases shelf at my local library. I was impressed with the subtle genius of the graphic design of the front cover (pictured above). Then, flipping to the back cover, I noticed that the book was written by two authors. The photograph showed two women, the co-writers of the book, seemingly sitting beside each other on a park bench. The woman on the left looked relaxed, down to earth and happy, possibly even having armpit hair. She seemed like someone that I would get along with, someone I would be interested in what she had to say. The other woman I wasn’t so sure about. There was nothing that struck me one way or the other about her.

I sat down and started reading and after 20 pages into it I was actually starting to think that at last I had found my brilliant female writer.  And not just one--but two.  Upon finishing Chapter 1 and 2 I turned the page to Chapter 3 with that familiar feeling that comes with reading certain brilliantly entertaining books. The story was intriguing, the setting was fascinating, the story-telling was comfortable and non-self-conscious. It had me submerged in a foreign land and a distant past. I was hooked. So as I turned the page to chapter 3 I was already settled in and prepared to be thoroughly tantilized some more. But that didn’t happen. Instead of galloping along at the engaging clip that the book had been trotting at, there was an abrupt about face. All the sudden instead of unfolding a fascianting mystery, there seemed to be an agenda behind the book, it became bogged down in scholarly gobbley-gook, it took on judgmental tone, politicized and stiff. As a reader you know you are in trouble when you read “In this chapter, we begin the…” For Christ’s sake! Is there any single prepositional phrase in the written language that is more frickin’ boring than that?  That was my first red flag as that content happy feeling of being at the beginning of a good read was replaced by that gut-wrenching, sinking feeling that comes with the disappointment of having high hopes dashed.

I turned to the back cover of the book again to get another look at the two female writers.  Upon close inspection, I felt certain that this disappointing chapter 3 must had been written by the woman on the right, Annette Finley-Croswhite (even the name sounds like it has an agenda). Finley-Croswhite’s biases immediately start littering the paragraphs of Chapter 3 and by paragraph two she is blathering on about the term “bourgeois” as it is used by historians. By paragraph three she is on about “male journalistic anxieties about the newly asserted young women of the interwar period” and male journalists whose “speculations increasingly reflected their fears of modern sexual mores, their erotic fanasies”. Again, are you frickin kidding me??? Three paragraphs into the chapter and this “historian” is claiming to know the inner-mental workings of long dead French journalists who I imagine she’s never met??? These over-generalizations combined with the disappointment of having a savory reading experience suddenly ripped away from me was too much. I decided that I had to contact these writers, if for no other reason that to find out which one wrote this chapter and which one wrote chapter one and two...

...Less than two weeks later I return home from work, open my email and find a response to my critical review of Murder In the Metro by none other than Annette Finley-Croswhite, the co-author who I was ripping on. She was very polite about explaining some of the criticism of her book. Here is what she had to say:

Both authors are equal co-authors in every sense of the word. Chapter 2 or 3 that you take issue with was written in a side-by-side manner and edited thoroughly by both authors. "Murder in the Métro" was meant to be a cross-over book, academic, but one general readers could enjoy. The book was written by two university professors, who also love to write. That said, it was published by a University Press, Louisiana State University Press. As a result, it was also written for scholars. Academic presses make certain requirements and use outside readers to review books to accept or reject for publication. Compromises occur between writer(s) and reviewers. In this case, both one outside reviewer and one editor at LSU required a discussion of the word "bourgeois." It was NOT our choice to make that inclusion, but one that was deemed necessary by two different authorities. It was part of the "negotiation" process that went on before a final contract for publication was issued. Writing a "cross-over" book isn't easy. This one went through many versions to smooth out the language. We tried to make it fun, but that is clear in some places more than others. Hopefully, you enjoyed the later chapters that are written more like chapter one. The point is that as a "cross-over" work it contains elements of both an academic text and a more popular book. Just like a piece of music in a "cross-over" situation, a variety of motifs are used. The "hook" is "popular," but the substance is, afterall, academic and based on twelve years of very hard work, much of it spent in archives digging in old documents. And "Murder" wasn't published by a popular trade press, but an academic one.

As for my name, I'm sorry you take issue. It was an accident of birth, reconfigured at marriage to please my father, who very much wanted me to take my husband's name. As a name it is cumbersome, I'll give you that, but the choice was made at a more innocent time of my life when I felt it was important to appease a father I dearly loved with a bow to his old-time values. I'm sure, secretly, my choice pleased my husband as well. Additionally, I enjoy a linguistic connection with the name my sons carry, their father's surname while retaining the link to my birth name and heredity.

With regard to my co-author, Dr. Brunelle is a very elegant woman, and perhaps, the smartest person I have ever met. She also has a great sense of humor. But alas, neither one nor the other author is solely responsible for any chapter of the book.

I hope I've answered your questions. We are working now on a biography of Eugène Deloncle, the founder of the Cagoule, that we hope to market to a trade press in a popular style--without much of that academic verbiage you disdain. We also continue to produce academic scholarship as university professionals.

posted by AnnetteFinley at 6:49 am (EST) on Jul 18, 2010

First of all, I was impressed by the fact that Annette Finley took the time to respond to me. And her good humour seems to indicate that she has thick enough skin to take my two cents worth for what it is. She also educated me on the process of writing her book and how that process was partially responsible for the criticisms I had of it. Still though, I had to stand by my review. I really can't stomach all of that scholarly hoity-toity crap and I would have liked to have seen the two authors blend the scholarly stuff into the narrative of Murder in the Metro in such away that it wasnt such jarring change of pace. I think if it were my book and I had put so much into it and some outside "authorities" insisted that I had to include something, I would have told these "authorities" exactly where they could go shove it. In my opinion, the suggestions of the "authorities" nearly ruined a potentially great read--and that is just a sin!

Murder in the Metro gets 2 Wagemann Heads.



Who's Who In Rockism: Brett Milano

Vinyl Junkies: Adventures in Record CollectingWhile doing research for “Who’s Who In Rockism”, the name Brett Milano kept popping up. Milano is a music journalist for the College Music Journal, the Boston Herald and the Boston Phoenix. I first came upon him several years ago while reading the liner notes of a Rhino records CD called The Very Best of Todd Rundgren (circa 1997).  But it is Milano’s 2003 Vinyl Junkies that seems to be a touchstone in any detailed discussion of Rockism I've come across. Even though I don’t recall the word Rocksim actually being used in Milano’s Vinyl Junkies, his book is full of passages like the following that make it easy to see how Vinyl Junkies would easily seduce the Rockist reader.

“…you don’t have to be one of those vinyl snobs—the kind who think that digital sound is flat and heartless—to appreciate that playing a record is a whole different experience. Placing the needle in the groove is a physical act—maybe a sexual one, if you really want to stretch the metaphor—and it’s just not the same as pressing the button on your CD player, where you can’t even see what’s going on. And even though they’re more high-tech, CDs just aren’t as mysterious. There’s a computer-age explanation for why that digital sound gets reproduced, just as there’s a computer-age explanation for everything.”

And here's another Rockist-friendly excerpt:

“…For some collectors, it’s not just about buying a bunch of records. It’s about living in the pop culture era of your choice. Anyone who gets deep into non-standard music is already making a decision about living outside the mainstream.”

Milano’s guided tour through the world of record collecting consists mainly of meetings and conversations with 30 or so record collectors who range in age from the mid 30s to the mid 60s, who are mostly male (although Milano seems to go out of his way to include 3 or 4 females) and most of whom—if not all of whom—are connected to the music industry in some way. This last aspect seems natural enough of course, but I found that limiting his focus group just to the mainstream record collectors gave Vinyl Junkies a lack of depth. I would have like to have heard the words of record collectors who weren’t involved in the music industry. Why not include conversations with some dentist or accountant, or janitor, who also just happens to collect records? Are the record-collecting habits of regular, everyday people operating outside the hipster judgments of the music industry/record collector hemisphere not worthy?

I’ve been collecting records since the age of 8 (I used birthday money to purchase Steve Miller's “Keep On a Rockin me Baby” 45). So I enjoyed Milano’s book, but at the same time I was let down in that he only really touched the surface of a very large and interesting subculture. At various points in the book he tried to describe the smell and look of a vintage album, the smells and looks of record collector’s rooms, of DJ booths, of record stores, and even of the rush of searching for a record, but in the end there was something missing. Milano has a understated-realistic, workman-like style of writing and his love and knowledge of music comes through clear, but he missed a real opportunity here to write something much greater. The locomotion behind every collector I’ve ever met is the idea of having a mission. Milano touches upon this during parts of Vinyl Junkies, but to really understand the excitement and frenzy that someone on a mission experiences, you have to be on a mission yourself. In the first chapter of the book Milano appeared as though he was going to create a mission—a mission for the reader, a mission for himself, etc—when he explains in great detail experiencing a record listening party with his friends Pat and Monoman. This gets the book off to a great start, but from there Milano just sorta randomly goes from one record collector conversation to another, occasionally touching upon one theme or another, but with no real sense of mission at all.

So for this reason and many more, my final verdict is 3 Wagemann heads.


***Bonus Material***
I have a bittersweet reaction to any book, movie, song, etc that has the title “[something:] junkie” in it, for it was my 1996 Golden Circle Award winning essay Streetball Junkie in which the term “junkie” was originally used to describe a person that is obsessed with something—something other than drugs—in a very addictive, drug-like way. Since then there have been a plethora of “junkie” novels, movies, etc and I have yet to see one dime for the intellectual property that I have contributed to our beautiful pop culture. But did Willie Burroughs get any monetary compensation for his creative insertion of “punk” or “heavy metal” into the 20ths centuries pop culture landscape? No. But he does get the credit, so who knows, maybe 50 years from now I’ll get my due and be considered as the William Burroughs of Generation A.D.D. (Generation A.D.D. by the way, is another term that I first popularized as well).

Monday, August 23, 2010

Who's Who In Rockism: Chuck Klusterfuck

I disagree with about 90% of everything Chuck Klosterman utters, yet I enjoy reading him (although I only end up reading about 50% of any book he publishes and skip or skim the other 50%). I've always liked reading/hearing thoughts and opinions that differ from my own, especially if those thoughts/opinions are presented in an interesting and entertaining way--which is the same reason that I listen to Rush Limbaugh at times.

Sometimes I will agree with Klosterman in spirit, but disagree with him on the detail. A good example of this is the 20 page riff Klosterman goes off on about NFL football that starts on page 125 of his 2009 book Eating The Dinosaur. Like Rush Limbaugh often does, Klosterman seems to be passionately saying a whole lot about absolutley nothing, using small nuggets of wisdom or verifiable facts and stretching them beyond any sort of comprehension or meaning what so ever. With a voice as bold and confident as Olympus he spews completely contradictory ideas and arguments within sentences--or even words--of each other. And after doing such he goes on, as though what he is saying makes absolute sense, which makes it all very comical to me.

During his 20 page tirade on NFL footballl for instance he states that what makes the NFL so great is that it is not trying to be anything that it is not. But then sentences later he says: "He [Brett Favre] was the human incarnation of how the NFL hopes to portray itself..." Contradictory. Then he goes on to argue that the NFL is liberalism cloaked in conservatism, going as far as conjuring up a story about how Teddy Roosevelt legalized the forward pass and how former comissioner Roselle was a Marxist.

Klosterman has not been the first to suggest that the NFL has socialistic tendencies. Afterall the league does have a salary cap and a salary minimum. It has a weighted college draft and ofcourse the teams all share the massive tv reveune that the league brings in. The idea being that you are only as strong as your weakest link, so if you empower those on the bottom, you make the entire league stronger. So the case that the NFL is liberalism cloaked in conservatism has real merit and is one of the few things that Klosterman points ot that actually makes some sense. Some of Klosterman's jibber-jabber is entertaining, but most of it seems to be babbling on for the sake of babbling on, possibly just to entertain himself. Which is fine. Because even though alot (probablly even most) of this babbling bores the socks off of me and I end up skipping over it (like his tirade about laugh tracks or his musings on Garth Brooks), there are sections of his book that I find moderately entertaining and which are no worse than watching reruns of The Office, for example.

For this reason and more I give Eating the Dinosaur 1.5 out of 5 WagemannHeads

View all my reviews

Old Weird America's Last Stand, part 1

Cardboard Gods: An All-American Tale Told Through Baseball CardsEarly this summer, while perusing my local suburban library, I came upon a non-fiction book about baseball cards titled Cardboard Gods: An All-American Tale Told Through Baseball Cards by Josh Wilker . I hadn't read a book about baseball since about 1981 (and that had been the instruction manual that came with my Johnny Bench Batter-Up) and I wasn't expecting much, but when I took Wilker's book home and began reading, it was instant magic.  To use a baseball analogy, reading Cardboard Gods was like watching a little known big league hurler pitch a near perfect game. From the first few pitches you realize that this guy has his good stuff. His curve ball is biting, his fastball has a sharp giddy-up, he is in command of the plate, pinpoint control. And as the game goes on, he gets stronger, more confident—perhaps a lapse in judgment or a missed pitch here and there, but nothing to get him into trouble. By the seventh inning you are cheering him on with all you've got in total appreciation of being able to witness the greatness of a masterly executed shutout or no-hitter even.

PhotobucketBy the final out Cardboard Gods may not have been a perfect game for everyone who reads it, but it was an absolutely perfect read for me (not unlike the Doc Ellis no-hitter that Wilker's references). Of course part of the reason this book resonated with me certainly has something to do with the fact that author Josh Wilker is the same age as me, that 95% of the baseball cards he mentions were ones that I owned and coveted, that he grew up in an alternative family situation that involved moving from house to house frequently, he had a step-father, he had a brother who is close in age, and that both Wilkers and I were UPS package handlers in the early 90s.

But there are plenty of aspects of Cardboard Gods that anyone can appreciate, for instance his brilliant use of a “device of continuity” that ties the book together. Wilker starts each chapter with a reproduction of a Topps baseball card circa 1974 to 1980 and then goes on to connect an aspect of his childhood (and/or an aspect of American culture and/or the nature of mankind) with an aspect of that card. Wilker’s observations about the poses, gestures and facial expressions of the ball players captured on the cards were especially brilliant as he insightfully wove these snapshots into the parallel narrative of his childhood in 1970s America. One great example of this was the side-by-side chapters in which Wilker juxtaposes a 1978 Bo McLaughlin card with a 1976 Steve Garvey card:
Photobucket“Everybody was going from before to after. Everybody had a look on their face like they’d just caught a whiff of a nearby landfill. Everybody was ambivalent about the length of their hair…Everybody went back and forth from having a regular job to laying on rusty lawn furniture all afternoon unemployed…Everybody began wondering how to file for divorce…Everybody was Bo McLaughlin…Everybody except Steve Garvey.”

As Homer Simpson would say "It's funny cuz its true!"  Also true, almost alarmingly so, was how similar Wilker’s sense of these player’s essence (as obtained from their cards) were to my sense of these player’s essence (also gleaned exlusivley from their card), and the sense that thousands of other kids growing up in the 70s must have gotten from these cards as well. Wilker’s was right on the money-- from his ruminations on the 1976 Victory Leaders card with Jim Palmer and Randy Jones to the old school admiration triggered by the 1978 Wilbur Wood card and so on and so forth.

PhotobucketI was also entertained by the way that Wilker used baseball cards to say so much about people, about the trials and tribulations of childhood and about 1970s America all at the same time.  As I flipped the pages from chapter to chapter, each revealing another lost treasured image of the Cardboard Gods from my childhood, I began to notice a sense of exhiliration—an exhileration that was similar to the exhiliration that (just like Wilker explained having as a kid) I also experienced in my youth every time I bought a new pack of baseball cards and then obsessively thumbed from one Cardboard God to the next. Wilker even pays homage to that lost experience of exhiliration (common to nearly every boy who ever bought a pack of baseball cards in the 70s) by opening the book with an offering (in image at least) of one of those rock hard miniature slabs of pink sugar/bubble gum that came inside every pack of Topps baseball cards from that era. Even the cover of Cardboard Gods is cleverly designed to replicate the packaging of a pack of baseball cards from the 70s era. This all resonated with me (a thrift store/garage sale junkie anyway) as Cardboard Gods displayed a rich understanding of that certain 1970s Americana vibe that only a kid growing up in that era could truly understand.

I imagine that a lot of guys in their 40s have experiences of wandering up to the storage area above their parent’s garage some weekend afternoon, looking for a tool or something, and stumbling upon a stack of shoeboxes that housed the thousands of baseballs cards that they once collected as a kid. Reading Cardboard Gods was like opening up those boxes and being bombarded with those long lost memories, and for this alone it deserves:
5 Wagemann Heads


PhotobucketI don’t know what happened during the 1980s that ruined the two great passions of my childhood life—major league baseball and classic rock—but somehow shortly after I blossomed into a teenager my passion for each of them slowly and sorrowfully fizzled. I had just turned 13 years old in 1981 when the Major League's players went on strike and I immediately had this very raw “screw them” epiphany. By 1984 I had no real interest in major league baseball what so ever. I had stopped collecting baseball cards and obsessing over the league leaders and box scores in the Sunday paper, I couldn’t sit through an inning of watching a ball game on TV anymore and I soon found myself just channel surfing right past the highlight reels on ESPN. And on the rare occasion that I actually found myself at a major league ball game, I’d sit there interested in anything but the actual game; the guy selling peanuts, some large breasted woman three rows up, a cloud… Even when I consciously tried to focus on the game, after two or three pitches, I’d just think to myself, “What’s the frickin point?” Not just the point of watching the game, but what’s the frickin point of major league baseball in general? The broadcasters regurgitating one cliché after another, the players mechanically steroiding about like robots. Even the fans seemed ridiculous, with their puppet-like reactions of anger and/or rehearsed celebrations. Maybe I should have just blamed it all on Reagan and let it go at that.

But then, some 20 plus years later, I came upon Wilker's Cardboard God's which had so completely awakened my long lost obsession for baseball cards and the game of baseball in general that I couldn't help but wonder, “What the fuck happened all those years ago?” How could something I once lived and breathed and cared so much about become totally meaningless and actually annoying to me? Had major league baseball really changed that much? Or was it me? Had I changed that much? I mean what was it about big league baseball that I had once thought was so frickin great?

To get the answers to these questions and more I immediately sought other non-fiction books about baseball. My hope was that these books would not only sustain the nostalgia, but actually help me figure out why I had ever lost my love for baseball and baseball cards to begin with...

Big Hair and Plastic GrassThe first book I found, Big Hair and Plastic Grass by Dan Epstein, was prominently displayed in the New Releases section of my local library - the cover of which promised a treasures trove of interesting anecdotes, funny details and witty insight. Besides great images of Oscar Gamble and Mark "the bird" Fydrich, the cover also sported a retro design that instantly conjures up the distinct 1970s vibe. But even as the title and sub-title promised a funky ride through the baseball landscape of the swingingest decade, I proceeded with caution for as I’ve been burned before by cover promises and stylized illustrations. Then, as always, I look to the book’s back jacket to get an image of author. There I see Epstein - dressed as hipster wannabe, complete with 70s side burns, a height-ashbury jean jacket, and a coolier-than-tho smirk. Then taking a bite out of his introduction, at first it seems as though Epstein might actually delivery on his big promises when he acknowledges the disparity between Major League baseball in the 1970s and Major League baseball post-70s when he writes:

Photobucket“In recent years, for example, the Atlanta Braves have held a ‘Faith Day’ promotion, featuring performances by Christian rock bands and testimonials from Braves players about how Jesus turned their lives around. This is same team that, back in 1977, drew more than 27,000 fans for a ‘Wet T-Shirt Night’ competition.”

Well shit, this might just be the book I've been hoping for. Unfortuneately as I read on, it didnt take long to realize that this book was more style than substance. The large part of Epstein's text is year by year summaries of how teams won their divisions, who the stat leaders on the teams were, with a few seasonal and individual game high lights mixed in, which all goes to read like a 3rd year college journalism student covering the local college team. At the begining of each chapter Epstein tried very hard to shoe horn pop culture into the baseball landscape. I'm not sure what the point of that was other than try to add some kind of context but it came off as Epstein wanting to be considered an expert on 70s culture so that he might be asked by the producers of VH1's "I heart the 70s" so that he could contribute witty comments about slinkys or moon boots.

About halfway through, I began skipping around a bit. Then a bit more. There were some interesting narrative possibilities, but Epstein only touched the surface and gave the cliche wikipedia-ish treatment to them, and not much else.

PhotobucketBy the time I got to 1978 I was looking at maybe two words per paragraph until I finally just gave up. The most disappointing thing here, is that I DO believe that the subject matter is worthy of a book. A good book even. Possibly something in the tradition of an oral telling along the lines of Loose Balls (about the American Basketball Association) where we have the stories told directly to us from the mouths of the players, owners, coaches, managers, umps, anouncers, etc themselves. Overall I give it 3 out of 5 WagemannHeads. I think Epstein could have done more with the wealth of material than what is here.

Finally two and a half years later, my answer comes:

The Bird: The Life and Legacy of Mark FidrychThe writing for The Bird: The Life and Legacy of Mark Fidrych by Doug Wilson isn't the deepest, in fact sometimes it seems like its more geared toward an audience of high school or college age kids at times - but that didn't really bother me. I'm not a baseball romantic. But I was in 1976. I ate, slept and shit baseball. And Mark Fidrych played the game as if he did too. And how could an 8 year old kid not be drawn to the Bird? His perma-grin, his love of guitar Rock music, his bushy unkempt hair, his wild antics on the mound and his joy in the game. He was like a big kid himself. And it was as if his sheer love of the game, his passion for baseball, led to his success - which in turn inspired young kids like me to believe that all you needed to make it to the big leagues was simply to love the game, play it with every fiber of your being every second of the day.

And all changed. A silly injury that led to a sadly drawn out exit. Something was missing from baseball without Mark 'The Bird' Fidrych in the Major Leagues. The game had been changing with free agency and corporatization. Baseball players, who previously had to sell insurance in the off season to make ends meet, were become multi-millionaire brandnames represented by narrow-eyed agents who wrangled endorsements for them and spinning the stories of their clients personal lives that was splattered all over the Sports sections than they did enjoying the game.

Would baseball had steered clear of all these evils had Fidrych stayed in the game? No, of course not. But for one brilliant summer in 1976 it seemed possible. In fact whenever the Bird took the mound, for that one brief moment, almost anything seemed possible.

View all my reviews ----

PhotobucketEven though I lost interest in major league baseball after the strike of ’81, I still enjoyed playing baseball.  In high school I played two years on a team that finished first place in a conference that showcased the talents of future major league ball players like Jim Thome, Joe Girardi.  In 1984 during my sophomore year I hit .375 and led the conference in sacrifices while finishing second on our team in stolen bases.  At 5 foot 10 and 140 pounds I didn’t have the power to knock it out of the park, but I had an instinctual skill for the cat and mouse dueling that goes on against an opposing pitcher in the batter’s box (and the opposing team while on the base paths).  To this day I still love to play the game.  But the major league’s still do nothing for me.  I just don’t care.  If anything, when I think about it, I’m actually a bit annoyed by the fact that major league ball players get paid multi-millions to run around in their pajamas and play a game that nearly any 10 year old kid would give his left nad to do for free.  And it’s not necessarily the players that annoy me.  It’s the entire system that gets on my nerves. Why is it that our culture puts so much value on this—let’s face it—meaningless game, while school teachers, nurses, garbage men and millions of other people who actually do something for the betterment of our society get didily squat on a popcicle stick?  Why are people so frickin desperate for baseball?  And basketball?  And hockey and good lord Nascar—at a time when gas is $3 a gallon and our troops are dying in the middle east over oil. 

So on that note, just let me say this: "Go Steelers!!!"  I know, I'm a hypacrit.  I watch NFL football religiously every Sunday that I can--which ends up only being about 12 sundays a year if I'm lucky.  But I've never contributed monitarily to the NFL in anyway what so ever.  I don't buy jerseys or flair, I've never bought a ticket to a game.  I even put the commercials on mute when they come on.  But I do watch and I do talk about the games and I do pretend to be Big Ben when I'm playing football in my bedroom with my 4 year old son and 2 year old daughter.  So, I am contributing to the perpetuality of the NFL's existence in some small way.  And by extension I am contributing to the perpetuality of the dispicable corporate consumer culture that is more influencial on our society than any religion could ever be.  But what is my alternative?  To stick my head in the ground and become a grumpy old hermit?  There are sands in the pop culture beach that are beautiful.     

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Who's Who In Rockism: Geof Emerick

Here There And Everywhere Abridged Compact DiscsLately I'm starting to believe that 90% of what makes a good book is the subject matter and the other 10% is the author not being a total ass wad. In Geoff Emerick's Here There and Everywhere it would be hard pressed to find a subject matter that is more interesting to me right now. Emerick was like 15 years old when he started working for EMI and participating on Beatle recordings. He was there in fact for the first ever Beatle recording and eventually became the sound engineer for all of their later work. All while still a teenager. His love for music and the Beatles comes through in his narative and he conveys a number of fascinating insights and anecdotes. There was a section early in the book that dealt with his youth/background that I didn't find particularly interesting and should have been edited out in my opinion. Also I could have done without some of his judgements and tooting of his own horn, but for the most part this was a very enjoyable read and I give it a strong recommendation.

4 Wagemann Heads.


Who's Who In Rockism:  Steve Almond

Rock and Roll Will Save Your Life: A Book by and for the Fanatics Among Us (with Bitchin' Soundtrack)The following is a letter I recently sent to the publisher of a book called Rock and Roll Will Save Your Life:

Hi, I just finished reading your book Rock and Roll Will Save Your Life and I’d like to review it for my blog: Rockism101. Before I write my review I’d like to share some of my thoughts about your book with you and give you a chance to comment on these thoughts.

For the first 100 plus pages or so I had a hard time trying to figure out what the point of this book was. Maybe I was confused by the title, which is very misleading. In fact, until you explained where you got the title from—a Boris McClutheon show you put on—I was wondering/expecting whether this book was some kind of hipster parody of a self-help book like “I’m Ok, you’re Ok” or “How to win friends and influence people.” Maybe it should have dawned on me earlier, but this book was about you, Steve Almond, not about “you” the reader who wants to have his life saved by Rock and Roll. I understand that writers have to conjure up intriguing titles to draw the prospective reader’s attention, but I couldn’t help but feel a bit cynical and that this title choice might have been a slick trick on your part. This slick trick though, ties in well with what I think the real theme of your book is. You aren’t a famous celebrity—and you address this in the book—so why would anyone want to read a book that is essentially a lengthy memoir of one aspect of your personal development as it relates to Rock and Roll? Maybe there are some fans out there who have read your stuff before or who know of you, but that is small fries, I image. You certainly aren’t a Chuck Klusterfuck, I mean. So the title of this book revealed to me that you think that Rock and Roll can save your life.

So Rock and Roll is the vehicle through which you have chosen to gain a larger audience—and gaining a larger audience (gaining celebrity if you will) will make you happy and in the end save your life. Throughout the book then there are a series of musicians who you have come to worship: Nil Lara, Joe Henry, Ike Reilly, Boris Mccutcheon, Bob Schneider, Chuck Prophet, the Strawze. But none of these artists made it big, either because they wouldn’t or couldn’t compromise. Their commercial failure seemed to make them appear lesser and unhappy beings (from your perspective) and the lessons you gleaned from them was that being a creative genius (something that you admittedly aren’t) wasn’t all it is cracked up to be. In the end in fact, it is Dave Grohl, a Commercial Pop Hack (in my opinion), who is your role model. Grohl is the best example of someone who is happy and famous at the same time. And somehow that inspires you to conclude that you might be able to be perfectly happy being a “midlist toiler”. But honestly, after all that has come before that, I find that epiphany a bit hard to swallow. The more believable point of your book seems to be that if you (and by you I mean Steve Almond) want to be happy, you have to be successful. And to be successful (since you aren’t a creative genius) you have to be a Commercial Pop Hack—which is why you have written this book.

Not that there is any shame in that, for being a Commericial Pop Hack isn’t easy—it takes hard work, a little luck, etc. Still though it seems a million times easier than doing the heavy lifting, soul searching and hard living it takes to become a tortured creative genius. Which is why, in the end, you will still be a Drooling Fanatic.

With that said, I’d like to throw you a compliment. While reading your book I was also reading another book called Bandalism by Julian Ridgway. This book was incredibly terrible. In fact after about a half dozen pages I decided to just skip around and I skim through it hoping to find at least one nugget of something that seemed the least bit entertaining or interesting. And I found nothing. This poor sap Ridgway doesn’t even have the skills/ability to be a Commerical Pop Hack. I have no idea what kind of moron would want to buy this book (I get all of my books for free through my library by the way) so I’m not even going to make an attempt to describe how terrible this book was (mainly I just want to forget about it). Maybe you can pick it up for yourself if you are truly curious. But my point is that even being a commercial Pop Hack takes some talent. And there were definitely parts of your book that were very good. Early in the book you described how listening to the Cars “Moving In Stereo” on a walk man transformed the people around you, making them appear deeper, etc. I thought that was a great insight/description. I read a book or two a week, and I have a low threshold for mediocre writing, and it was little gems like that which were enough to keep my interest. One of my favorite sections from the first part of your book was when you described the listening process, from vinyl to 8-tracks to cassettes to cds and to digital files. This one section convinced me that you were worth continued reading. There were times that I would skip a paragraph or two, or even a page or two, but overall I ended up reading about 98% of the book. The end of the book (beginning with the chapter about Ike Reilly) was a lot better than the start of the book. I think you have a real talent for capturing the interesting lives of the musicians you covered.

To end with, I want to nitpick one minor thing that really irks me, and that is when people include hip hop as part of Rock. If you are going to include hip hop in your narrative, then you are talking about Pop music—not Rock. Rock has a history, an evolution, an ethos, etc that is an entirely different animal than hip hop. Talking of Rock and talking of hip hop as if they are of the same ilk is likely to not only piss off Rock fans, but piss off hip hop fans as well. And again, it makes the title of your book appear disingenuous. If you need to include Hip Hop in your story, then maybe a better title would have been “Commerical Pop Will Save My Life.”

I hope to hear from you soon.

As of the publication of this blog Almond nor his publisher have yet responded to me.  I give Rock and Roll will Save Your Life 2 Wagemann Heads.