Tag Archives: 1990s

Down the Drain

Beer-Money-Cover

Beer Money: A Memoir of Privilege and Loss, & The Decline of a Detroit Dynasty by Frances Stroh (Harper, $25.99, 336 pages)

“The house (my father had purchased in New York City when I was six) and most of its contents would soon be gone, just as the brewery was. We’d somehow allowed ourselves to be pinned into place by these things; and in our search for freedom, some of us had self-destructed.”

Despite the title, this poor little rich girl memoir offers no insight into the brewing industry. That’s because Frances Stroh, a one-time partial heir to billions of Stroh Brewery dollars – all of which vanished into thin air, was far removed from the family’s management (and mismanagement) of the company. As with most of these memoirs, Frances did not realize early on how rich her family was. In her bored teen and early adult years she carelessly used and abused alcohol and drugs. And as a grown-up she learned to mourn the fortune she would never acquire.

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However, the rich are different. Even as Frances writes about Stroh’s going down the drain, she makes sure to inform the reader that she flies first class; she lives in a fine abode in San Francisco. And when her spendthrift brother came to visit her in The City, he’d rent out entire floors of swank hotels for parties and feast on the best food and drink from room service.

Stroh’s was a “beer giant… in the eighties and nineties…” But Frances has no explanation for the Detroit company’s rapid downfall other than to admit, “we’d simply blown it.” Indeed.

Beer Money 2

Beer Money is a pointless, meaningless tale of privileged denial.

Joseph Arellano

A review copy was provided by the publisher. Note: According to Forbes magazine, the Stroh Brewery Company blew through $9 billion in profits. That’s a lot of beer money.

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Fool’s Gold

The Golden Calf: A Detective Inspector Irene Huss Investigation by Helene Tursten (Soho Crime, $26.95, 340 pages; AudioGO, 10 CDs, $29.95)

The Golden Calf (audio 500)

“…engaging and cleverly crafted.”

Police procedurals are often an exercise in scene shifts, dogged legwork and a dramatic reveal at the conclusion. The Golden Calf is all that and more. This reviewer listened to the audio version. The book is filled with a preponderance of dialogue which made the listening experience more like a radio drama circa the 1940s than a book.

The Scandinavian tale written by Helene Tursten (of Sweden) was translated into English by Laura A. Wideburg. Ms. Wideburg does an admirable job of ironing out the language difference and provides a smooth tale. The narrator, Suzanne Toren, is a master of voices, accents and gender. The listener soon forgets that only one person is speaking while the large cast of characters performs their duties.

The only hiccups in the audio version are the naming conventions and their Swedish pronunciation. The main character, Detective Inspector (DI) Irene Huss and her partner Tommy Persson, become Idean Hoose and Tow Me Pearsoon. A reader of the hard copy can fashion his or her own sounds for the names. Sometimes a person’s last name is used in the dialogue and at other times it’s the full name. Aside from these somewhat minor impediments, the tale is engaging and cleverly crafted.

DI Huss leads her team to the solution of several crimes that include execution-style murder and embezzlement. Ms. Huss suffers the blunt, minimal acceptance of her male counterparts. Her main ally is Tommy Persson who refrains from digging at her.

The several identical murders tie together an array of people who had been in business together back in the dot com boom and bust in the late 1990s. Fast forward to 2003 and these players and their expensive spending habits may be revealing more than business acumen. Author Tursten immerses the reader in the gluttony of her characters with detailed descriptions of high quality and high price tag items including clothing, furniture, cars and culinary excesses.

Perhaps crooks are just crooks regardless of where they live. Regardless, this Swedish spin on the police procedural makes for very entertaining listening.

Well recommended.

Ruta Arellano

The unabridged audio book, which comes in a nifty two-ring binder case, was provided by Soho Crime for review.

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Instant Karma

Corn Flakes with John Lennon and Other Tales From a Rock ‘n Roll Life by Robert Hilburn (Rodale, $14.99, 280 pages)

“…the best music doesn’t just fill a void in the listener…  it can also fill a need in the artist.”   Robert Hilburn

“I look at people as ideas.   I don’t see people as people.”   Bob Dylan

“And we all shine on, like the moon and the stars and the sun.”   John Lennon

The fine long-time music critic for The Los Angeles Times, Bob Hilburn, takes us along on his trips with “the best rock stars” in this engaging account of his years in the music business.   It is mostly a study of personalities, big ones, such as John Lennon, Bob Dylan (“The most important figure in rock…  rock’s most celebrated living figure…  the greatest songwriter.”), Bruce Springsteen, Elvis Presley, Neil Young, Bono of U2, Johnny Cash and Janis Joplin.   There are also quick, brief encounters with Sir Elton John, Sir Paul McCartney, Michael Jackson, Mick Jagger, Joni Mitchell, John Prine, Waylon Jennings, and Jack White.

You’re probably thinking that you’ll enjoy this memoir if you happen to like these artists, most of whom were blessed with the approval of both Hilburn and Rolling Stone magazine.   You’ll be right in that thought, and also will likely find that it has less charm if these artists are not your cup of tea or Java.   Hilburn makes quite clear that he dislikes “superficial artists” (a term coined by Dylan), among whom he includes Rod Stewart, the “cold” Steely Dan, and Madonna.   He writes of the latter that she’s a “sharp cookie” who always provides good quotes for an interviewer, but “I’m not generally a fan of her music.”

So, yes, this is an account of hanging out on the road with the stars of boomer rock and country music.   The true tales from the 1970s are the most interesting ones – when rock was seemingly full of excitement and energy (and played on vinyl) – and the telling seems to get tired and grumpy as we approach current times.   Hilburn, in fact, closes the book with a tremendous sense of pessimism about the music trade’s prospects for survival.

If Hilburn has a fault, it’s an obvious one in that he often gets close to being over the top about those artists, those geniuses – such as Dylan and Mitchell, that he favors.   Not only does he realize it, but so do some of the performers he’s supported.   For example, at one point he asks Bono if the musician fears that the public will become tired of him.   Bono replies, “Look, I’m tired of Bono and I am Bono.”

“Paul’s like a brother.   We’ve gone way past all that.”   John Lennon

If there’s a reason to buy this book, now available in trade paperback form, it’s for the touching overview of Hilburn’s days spent with Lennon in New York City just two weeks before the former Beatle’s tragic death.   This Lennon is a man at peace with himself, in love with his life, and ready to forgive and forget.   One very revealing note is when John tells Hilburn that all of the stories about the deep rift between him and Paul McCartney were just that, stories.   John noted he and Paul were, deep down, brothers still.

Hilburn’s book is a brief for the magical power of rock ‘n roll.   It may now be an endangered art form, but Hilburn reminds us that, at it’s best – as when it’s performed by The Boss (Springsteen), “rock ‘n roll can still be majestic.”

Well recommended.

Joseph Arellano

Take Away:  This is a very entertaining journal of life within the rock ‘n roll circus tent.   However, Hilburn sacrifices a bit of credibility when he refers to Kurt Cobain as one of rock’s greatest figures and as “the great talent” of the 1990s.   As he admits, “I often had a hard time convincing…  people when it came to Kurt.”   In the words of The Band, take what you need and leave the rest.

This book was purchased by the reviewer.

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New York Minute

An Object of Beauty: A Novel by Steve Martin (Hachette Audio,$34.98)

An Object of Beauty is the first novel I’ve read by Steve Martin.   I’ve enjoyed Martin’s comedy and movies for years, and I wasn’t quite sure what to expect from him as an author.   What I discovered was a very well written, intriguing novel about the art world in New York City in the 1990’s and 2000’s.   My husband loves to talk about how Steve Martin is one of the premier banjo players in the country.   With his music, comedy, acting, and writing, I think it is safe to say that Steve Martin is a true renaissance man.

An Object of Beauty has one of the most unusual heroines that I’ve had the pleasure to read about.   In the vein of Scarlett O’Hara or Catherine Earnshaw, Lacey Yeager is a strong-willed woman who cares mostly about herself and getting ahead at the cost of those who get in her way.   Yet, she is fascinating to read about.   I really enjoyed this book and couldn’t stop listening to Lacey’s story.

An Object of Beauty is narrated by Lacey’s friend Daniel.   Daniel once had a casual fling with Lacey, but now meets her occasionally as a friend and fellow art lover.   While Daniel writes for an art magazine, Lacey works her way up the chain of the art world to own her own gallery.   Lacey’s rise to the top is filled with scheming and intrigue, and involves at least one mystery that is finally resolved at the end of the story.   Lacey has learned to find art an “object of money” rather than an “object of beauty” and she lets this passion control all even if it costs her the love of her life.

Lacey’s journey was fascinating and I especially loved how the art world and Lacey’s place in it paralleled the major events of our time.   This included the rise of the markets in the 90’s and early 00’s and the crash at the end of the decade.   Lacey’s experience on 9/11 was quite intriguing and I couldn’t turn the CD off at that point!   I also didn’t know how this affected the art world.   I know next to nothing about art and I loved Martin’s detailed explanation of how the art world works.   It was interesting and never boring.

I listened to the audiobook as read by Campbell Scott.   He did a fair job as a narrator and stood in for me as Steve Martin narrating the novel.

Laura Arlt Gerold

Used by permission.   You can read more reviews by Laura Arlt Gerold at the brilliantly titled Laura’s Reviews, http://lauragerold.blogspot.com/ .

A review copy of the audiobook was provided by the publisher.

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Ruby Tuesday

An Object of Beauty: A Novel by Steve Martin (Grand Central Publishing; $26.99; 295 pages)

“In addition to her normal inquisitiveness about a work, who painted it and when, and a collegiate hangover necessitating a formulaic, internal monologue about what the painting meant – which always left her mind racing with static – she now found she had another added task:  she tried to estimate a painting’s worth.   Lacey’s internal wiring had been altered by her work in Manhattan.”

Lacey Yeager is herself an object of beauty and she is mesmerized by the notion of possessing beauty in the form of paintings.   Her training at Sotheby’s auction house is the launching point for the morphing of a clever girl just out of college into a conniving woman years later.   Her story is told by a college friend whose profession is closely aligned to Lacey’s.   Daniel Franks is the narrator who allows himself to be drawn into her magnetic field for years.

Crisp, dry prose that has the power to embed itself in the reader’s memory; exquisite examples of fine art illustrating the plot twists and turns; a white cover reminiscent of art gallery walls; and a journey through the inner workings of an impressionable mind make this book a sensational read.   Never mind that this reviewer was a design major with an art history minor and volunteered as an art museum docent!   A reader with lesser credentials will surely come away with the same sense of the personality quirks, self-absorption and greed that fueled the Manhattan art scene in the 1990s.   Someone who does possess knowledge of art history can be assured that Steve Martin has gathered spot on examples for his illustrations.   Martin has succeeded in avoiding the obvious, over-exposed works in favor of others by the artists being featured.

Martin’s emphasis on the spare use of adjectives, ample use of specific details and well-researched facts place the story solidly in the time and places he has chosen.   Lacey’s movements around Manhattan serve to define her values.   She aspires to possess the best and has a great set of assets that provide her with what she wants.   There is a bit of mystery that, while not particularly central to the novel, does serve to deepen the reader’s engagement with the story.

Frequently at casual gatherings the question, “Who would you choose to sit with at a dinner party?” pops into the conversation.   After reading An Object of Beauty, I know my immediate answer would be, “Steve Martin.”   Although dinner party conversation would not allow me to plumb the depths of this brilliant man’s mind and character, it would be a wonderful start.

Highly recommended.

This review was written by Ruta Arellano.   A review copy was provided by the publisher.

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On the Road Again

Corn Flakes with John Lennon and Other Tales From a Rock ‘n Roll Life by Robert Hilburn (Rodale; $14.99; 280 pages)

“…the best music doesn’t just fill a void in the listener…  it can also fill a need in the artist.”

“I look at people as ideas.   I don’t see people as people.”   Bob Dylan

The fine long-time music critic for The Los Angeles Times, Bob Hilburn, takes us along on his trips with “the best rock stars” in this engaging account of his years in the music business.   It is mostly a study of personalities, big ones, such as John Lennon, Bob Dylan (“The most important figure in rock…  rock’s most celebrated living figure…  the greatest songwriter”), Bruce Springsteen, Elvis Presley, Neil Young, Bono of U2, Johnny Cash and Janis Joplin.   There are also brief encounters with Elton John, Paul McCartney, Michael Jackson, Mick Jagger, Joni Mitchell, John Prine, Waylon Jennings, and Jack White.

You might be thinking that you’ll enjoy this memoir if you like these artists, most of whom were blessed with the approval of both Hilburn and Rolling Stone magazine.   You’ll be right in that thought, and also will likely find that it has less charm if these artists are not your cup of Java.   Hilburn makes very clear that he dislikes “superficial artists” (a term coined by Dylan), among whom he includes Rod Stewart, the “cold” Steely Dan, and Madonna.   He writes of the latter that she’s a “sharp cookie” who always provides good quotes for an interviewer, but “I’m not generally a fan of her music.”

So, yes, this is an account of hanging out on the road with the stars of boomer rock and country music.   The true tales from the 1970s are the most interesting ones – when rock was full of excitement and energy – and the telling seems to get tired and pessimistic as we approach present times.   Hilburn, in fact, closes the book with a lot of pessimism about the current music trade’s prospects for survival.

If Hilburn has a fault, it’s an obvious one in that he often gets close to being over the top about those artists, those geniuses, he favors.   Not only does he realize it, but so do some of the artists he’s supported.   For example, at one point he asks Bono if the musician is afraid that the public will become tired of him.   Bono answers, “Look, I’m tired of Bono and I am Bono.”

“Paul’s like a brother.   We’ve gone past all that.”   John Lennon

If there’s a reason to buy this book, now available in trade paperback form, it’s for the touching overview of Hilburn’s days spent with Lennon in New York City just two weeks before the former Beatle’s tragic death.   This Lennon is a man at peace with himself, in love with his life, and ready to forgive and forget.   One very revealing note is when John tells Hilburn that all of the stories about the deep rift between him and Paul McCartney were just that, stories.   John noted that he and Paul were, deep down, brothers still.

Hilburn’s book is a brief for the power of rock ‘n roll.   It may now be an endangered art form, but Hilburn reminds us that, at its best – as when it’s performed by Bruce Springsteen, “rock ‘n roll (can) still be majestic.”

Well recommended.

Take Away:  This is a very entertaining journal of life within the rock ‘n roll circus tent.   However, Hilburn sacrifices a bit of credibility when he refers to Kurt Cobain as one of rock’s great figures and as “the great talent” of the 1990s.   As he admits, “I often had a hard time convincing…  people when it came to Kurt.”   Take what you need from this account and leave the rest.

Joseph Arellano

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