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A review of The Beatles: The Biography by Bob Spitz.

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Yeah, Yeah, Yeah

The Cambridge Companion to The Beatles, edited by Kenneth Womack (Cambridge University Press)

“(George) Martin was more impressed with the Beatles charisma than their early material.”

The Cambridge Companion to The Beatles is an excellent collection of essays concerning the band’s work.   This compendium manages to cover their musical career from simple rockers to complicated composers without missing a beat.   The chapter, “The Beatles as recording artists” quotes freely from recording engineer Geoff Emerick.   Although it’s a fine summary in a couple of dozen pages, it does not take the place of Emerick’s essential work, Here, There and Everywhere: My Life Recording the Beatles.

As with every account of the Beatles, things start out fine and fun before ending in the train wreck of the band’s dissolution.   We begin with Meet the Beatles and end up with the mishmash digital meddling – and mess – of Love.   It remains, all in all, a sad story.   (Hey Jude, anyone?)

One of the writers notes that major educational institutions – like Cambridge – now see the Beatles as a bona fide topic of scholarly inquiry.   Fine, but collections like this one completely omit the spirit of the Fab Four; their human energy if you will.   This reviewer thinks that mythologizing the Beatles is more destructive than constructive.   After all, as John Lennon said, they were just four guys in a band.   That was enough.

Well recommended.

Reprinted courtesy of Sacramento Book Review.

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I, Me, Mine

Hitman: Forty Years of Making Music, Topping Charts & Winning Grammys by David Foster with Pablo F. Fenjves

“If you’re gonna go wrong, go wrong big.”   David Foster

Foster certainly lives up – or down – to his statement in this book which might have been subtitled Musings of a Megalomaniac.   Yes, this one is all about record producer David Foster who makes millions but doesn’t get enough respect in the music trade.   So he makes sure to drop names everywhere (Barbara and Marvin Davis often invited him to parties at their 25,000 square foot mansion) and to tell us essential facts, such as that he lives on 16-acres of prime land in Malibu in a home with 19 bathrooms.   Oh, every now and then he feigns modesty such as when he spoke to a college’s music students and “somehow (managed) to let slip the fact that I’d won fourteen Grammys.”   Charming.

I thought this would be a fascinating behind the scenes in the music business account, perhaps something like Geoff Emerick’s Here, There and Everywhere: My Life Recording the Beatles.   Sadly, no it’s not.   It’s a book in which Foster praises the musicians who consented to work with him and disses the ones who did not.   The latter group includes the likes of Paul McCartney, Sting, Neil Young and Frank Sinatra.  

There’s also more than a dose of whining:  “I haven’t always been embraced by the upper echelons of the critical elite – they call it ‘wallpaper music’ or ‘elevator music’ or worse…  Who I am is a guy who writes music that people make babies to – and I’m not going to apologize for it.”   Fine, but he has some quirky opinions about what constitutes the best in music.   He calls Celine Dion “the best singer on the planet.”   OK, although not everyone would concur.

Now, ready for this?   He says of Kenny G, “He’s a hell of a musician.”   Kenny G?   What’s likely the strangest statement in Hitman is this one about Michael Bolton, “The man is one of the greatest vocalists of all time.”   Michael Bolton?   Seriously?   Once I read this I began to wonder if this entire book was a put-on, but apparently Foster’s being honest in his own way.   Maybe…   It certainly clears up the mystery as to why Foster’s had his run-ins, as detailed in Hitman, with Clive Davis – The Man with the Golden Ear.

Foster makes sure to express his self-pride at being a musician who, uniquely, has never used drugs.   Great, but this does not stop him from talking trash and frequently dropping the “f” word around as in the phrase “f—-d up.”   He also lets us know that he’s quite attractive which is why he tells us which one of his five daughters looks most like him.   Right, she’s the most attractive one.

Good is the enemy of great.   Paul Anka

Hitman is neither great nor good.   On a scale of 1 to 5 musical notes, I give it 1 note.   I’m feeling charitable today.

This book was loaned to the reviewer by Daniel D. Holt, co-author of Korean At A Glance from Barron’s.

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The Rain Falls on Bad Moon Rising (a book review…)

Let me provide a warning right up front…   If you’re a huge John C. Fogerty (JCF) fan and wish to remain as such, you may not want to read this book.   If you’re on the fence about Creedence Clearwater Revival (CCR) and not sure whether they were a great band or simply both a lucky and extraordinarily unlucky one, this book may convince you that the latter is more likely the case.   This band biography is simply not a pretty picture which is why Bad Moon Rising is subtitled, “The Unauthorized History of CCR.”

How bad does JCF come off here?   On page 293 of this 316-page treatise, he’s quoted as saying:  “We call these Beatles songs and I guess we call them Monkees songs, and in my case we call them Creedence songs.   But actually, John Fogerty wrote all the songs.   So I think now that I’m out in this limelight, I’m going to try and straighten out that misconception.”

Ouch!   Not only does JFC compare CCR to both Those Guys and The Monkees, but he refers to himself (Himself?) in the third person.   The book does, on the plus side, clear up the misconception that JCF refused to appear at the deathbed of his brother Tom.   But little else here puts either JCF or the two other surviving CCR members – now in Creedence Clearwater Revisited – in a positive light.

Slogging through this book is like revisiting the worst parts of your own family’s history while watching an unpleasant soap opera on the tube.   And remember all those stories about Saul Zaentz, founder and head of Berkeley-based Fantasy Records, as the supposed bad guy (which culminated with JCF’s solo song Zanz Can’t Dance/Vanz Can’t Dance)?   There’s little here dealing with this, which may even be fortunate.

Bottom line, there’s more unsaid than said in this not so definitive book which was advertised as covering “30-odd years of legal wrangling, thwarted ambitions and lost potential.”   Lost potential for the reader, definitely.

For me, it has been more difficult to listen to either JCF or CCR since reading this book.   No more unauthorized band biographies for me, as long as I can see the light.

Joseph Arellano

Note:   This book was purchased by the reviewer.

Reprinted courtesy of the Troy Bear blog; originally posted on April 27, 2009.

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