Tag Archives: Da Capo Press

It’s Only Rock ‘N’ Roll

(But We Like It)

It's Not Only Rock 2

It’s Not Only Rock ‘n’ Roll: Iconic Musicians Reveal the Source of Their Creativity by Jenny Boyd Ph.D. with Holly George-Warren (John Blake, $14.95, 322 pages)

A book that does not quite live up to its subtitle.

“Musicians are the mouthpieces for our age.”

“Musicians are the torchbearers, the spokespersons of our time.”

Jenny Boyd George Harrison

Jenny Boyd’s (George Harrison’s one-time sister-in-law) book might have been called Conversations Touching Upon Creativity. This is a book in which she quotes numerous musicians, including Harrison and Ringo Starr, about the magical, mystical and mystifying process of creating music. But the book only takes us to the edge of the process and never smack-dab into the middle of it (e.g., the source of creativity). Boyd, in fact, seems unable to define what creativity is or exactly how it works. And the quotes she includes are often contradictory; for example, on the effect of drugs and alcohol – some musicians see these as a boon, others as a bane.

While the book is readable and somewhat entertaining and some of the statements from major musicians are interesting, there’s far too much reliance on lesser figures. Sinead O’Connor, for example, seems to be quoted on about every second or third page. The reader would have been better served if Boyd had focused on a few particular songs or albums and discussed with their creators the steps they took from first thought to finished recording. (Not surprisingly, such books already exist.)

Boyd is caught up with exaggerating the role of modern day musicians, portraying them as societal leaders and major change agents: “Artists are not afraid to break down the old to make way for the new….” Since this is what she clearly and strongly believes, she may wish to consider writing a follow-up book about this thesis. However, this work led me to realize why even Bob Dylan has disdained the role of prophet, socio-political leader or “spokesperson for his generation.” That crown may be too heavy for any musician to wear.

Joseph Arellano

A review copy was provided by the publisher.

Songwriters On Songwriting

Individuals with a strong interest in the subject of songwriting and creativity may want to read Songwriters on Songwriting: Revised and Expanded by Paul Zollo (Da Capo Press), which covers the topic in 752 pages.

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Uptight (Everything’s Alright)

The First Year: IBS — An Essential Guide for the Newly Diagnosed by Heather Van Vorous (Da Capo Press, $16.99, 242 pages)

“…knowledge is power over IBS…  (With it) you will be managing your IBS – it will not be managing you.”

Do you regularly or periodically have disabling stomach pains, the type that hurt so much you just want to lie down, curl up and be still?   If so, you may be experiencing the digestive flare-ups brought on by Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS).   IBS actually has less to do with your stomach – which seems to be the source of the discomfort and pain – then with the digestive tract; it was formerly known as Spastic Colon disease.

As explained in The First Year: IBS, this is a medical condition determined by exclusion rather than inclusion.   If you think you may be IBS-afflicted, your doctor will want to perform a series of exams and tests to exclude other serious conditions or ailments such as colon or stomach cancer, Crohn’s Disease (which may result in cancer), colitis or a hernia.   Only when all of these and other verifiable possibilities are ruled out will an M.D. decide that someone is an IBS sufferer.   If you receive such a diagnosis, you will want to pick up Heather Van Vorous’ “Essential Guide for the Newly Diagnosed.”

I purchased this book after weeks of  painful (and sometimes burning) symptoms and the subsequent medical diagnosis.   I was far from optimistic that my aches would be relieved by a new diet.   Van Vorous, however, makes a quite convincing case that IBS flare-ups are triggered by consuming certain foods or liquids.   These triggers are different for each person but they can be things as simple as:  coffee (sigh), artificial sweeteners, nuts or seeds, popcorn, fried chicken, fruits such as pineapple or fruit nectars, pastries or baked goods, chocolate, etc.   It is also essential to lower the amount of fat in one’s diet since, as we all know (eaten a large hamburger or steak recently?), high fat foods are tough to digest.

“Children with IBS absolutely cannot eat at McDonald’s, Burger King, or most any other fast food restaurant, because there is literally nothing safe on their menus.”

The key to Van Vorous’ diet remedy is to begin limiting the intake of insoluble fiber foods (such as popcorn), replacing them with soluble fiber foods – “the basis of the IBS diet.”   Soluble fiber foods include such pleasing and digestible items as rice, potatoes, flour tortillas, bananas, mangoes and applesauce.   The First Year provides easy-to-read and copy (one per page) lists of insoluble fiber and other foods to avoid, and of the soluble fiber foods that will become the foundation of a former sufferer’s new diet.

Suffice it to say that even for this sceptical reader and IBS-diagnosed patient the new diet worked, both well and relatively quickly!   An added benefit of the diet prescribed by Van Vorous is not only the absence of pain and discomfort, but an improved (“regular”) digestive tract.   IBS sufferers often bounce back and forth between constipation and diarrhea, but not after adopting the soluble fiber regimen.

The First Year also addresses the importance of stress management and exercise.   Tai Chi is a specific form of exercise that is recommended as “a type of moving meditation.”   Van Vorous had IBS for over twenty years and learned that after she limited and controlled the condition through diet, she could then manage it even better through exercising and applying a positive mental attitude.   When you consider that this trade paperback book sells for less than a $20 bill, it’s a very wise investment.

Highly recommended.

Joseph Arellano

This book was purchased by the reviewer.

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Photographs and Memories

I Got a Name: The Jim Croce Story by Ingrid Croce and Jimmy Rock (Da Capo, $25.00, 307 pages)

In I Got a Name: The Jim Croce Story, the wife of the late singer-songwriter has put together a moving, direct, and fully engaging biography.   The 300 pages seem to fly by and Ingrid Croce – assisted by her second husband Jimmy Rock – has done something that most musician biographers fail to do.   She uses the lyrics to 33 Jim Croce songs to demonstrate how the events in Croce’s life directly shaped his music.

Jim Croce knew individuals named Leroy Brown, Big Jim Walker and Willie McCoy; they were not just figments of a wild imagination.   His ballads and love songs were usually based on the often contentious relationship between himself and Ingrid.   One story told by Ingrid reads like a scene out of film…  Jim and Ingrid have a major dispute, and Jim walks away leaving her sobbing in the bedroom.   A couple of hours later, by way of apology, he returns to sing her a song he has just written – I’ll Have to Say I Love You in a Song.

Ingrid does not pull any punches about Jim’s flaws.   He had a lot of anger (much of it having to do with his parent’s insistence that he not “waste” his college education on a music career), abused prescription medication, and was often unfaithful… However, her love for him as a person shines through on every page of this sometimes emotional work.

One of the shocks for the reader is finding out that while Croce made millions of dollars for his record company, he never saw any of it during his short life of 30 years.   Near the end of his life, he had no more than $40 in his pocket, saved out of a weekly travel per diem of just $200.   It took years and decades of litigation for Ingrid to receive what was due.

“I know he will be with me forever.”

It was shortly before his death in an airplane crash that Croce appeared to be coming apart at the seams.   (A psychic had earlier told him that his son would be raised with only one parent.)   He wrote a letter of love and regrets to Ingrid:  “I know that I haven’t been very nice to you for some time…  I know that you see me for what I am…”   It was a letter that she was to receive after his death.

Croce also told Ingrid in the letter of his plan to separate himself from life on the road and rededicate himself to his wife and toddler son:  “…I want to be the oldest man around, a man with a face full of wrinkles and lots of wisdom.   Give a kiss to my little man and tell him Daddy loves him.   Remember, it’s the first sixty years that count and I’ve got thirty to go.   I love you.”

A long life was not to be, but we have Jim Croce’s amazing music to remember him by.   We now also have this loving remembrance from a strong, but still somewhat heartbroken, woman.

Highly recommended.

Joseph Arellano

A review copy was received from the publisher.  The Foreward to I Got a Name was written by Arlo Guthrie.

Note:  The song I Got a Name, featured so well in the film Invincible (set in Jim Croce’s hometown of Philadelphia), was the one song sung by Croce that he did not write.

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Coming Up Next…

A review of I Got a Name: The Jim Croce Story by Ingrid Croce and Jimmy Rock.

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Maybe I’m Amazed

Fab: An Intimate Life of Paul McCartney by Howard Sounes (Da Capo, $20.00, 624 pages)

In Fab, biographer Howard Sounes achieved his self-stated goal of creating “a better balanced, more detailed and more comprehensive life of Paul McCartney than has previously been achieved.”   It surpasses the earlier-recommended Paul McCartney: A Life by Peter Ames Carlin, and provides details that are not found in any of the band bios of The Beatles.   For example, want to know why Paul began wearing a moustache in the 1970s?   (Something the other members of the band quickly copied.)   The answer is found within the pages of Fab.   Want to know why George Martin admitted that he “made the biggest mistake of my professional career” when it came to compiling the songs for the Sgt. Pepper album?

A highly illustrative example of Sounes’s thoroughness is when he explains the many surprising similarities between Linda Eastman McCartney and Yoko Ono.   The “two strong women” both grew up as girls in Scarsdale, New York; and each of them had a very successful, domineering father.   Both attended and withdrew from Sarah Lawrence College.   Both became involved, as young women, in the New York City art scene and both had an initial unsuccessful marriage that produced a daughter.   Linda and Yoko were to each make “a beeline for the The Beatles,” and they each achieved their goal of marrying one of the best known men on the planet.   Sounes even throws in the fact that when John Lennon had a tiff with Yoko in 1973, and left her in Manhattan for a fling in Los Angeles with their assistant May Pang, he was seeing a childhood friend of Linda’s!

Most every other writer who touches the story of the Beatles will tell you that Linda and Yoko were very different women.   Kudos to Sounes for arguing that the exact opposite is true…  Another strength of this account is that Sounes does not give short shrift to McCartney’s time with Wings.   Fab devotes just as many pages covering Paul’s time with Wings, and their tours, as he does to McCartney’s time as a member of the Fab Four.   This is quite fitting as Sounes notes that during the years 1989 through 1991, Paul and Wings played live before 2.8 million people – including this reviewer and Sounes.

Sounes’s weakness is when it comes to Paul’s music.   He makes some huge mistakes, as when he critiques the song Let Me Roll It for sounding too much like John Lennon.   Wrong, it was Paul’s intent to show how “easy” it was for him to write and perform a song that sounded like John and the often-ragged Plastic Ono Band.   And he criticizes Magneto and Titanium Man from Venus and Mars as being “virtually unlistenable” – it’s still a very fresh sounding track – while ignoring the brooding classic Letting Go, where Paul compared Linda to wine and cocaine.

“There is one thing you’ve got to remember about Paul: he’s a very, very private guy.   He doesn’t like to be talking about his family, or anything to do with anything other than music, if he can possibly help it…  He doesn’t like to share things.   He takes them on his own shoulders.”

Speaking of shoulders, Sounes includes several interesting tales about Paul’s songwriting experiences, including one about how when Paul was finishing the song Hey, Jude he was determined to excise the line that reads, “The movement you need is on your shoulders.”   It was John Lennon who convinced him to leave the  line in, and John who realized that the throw-away line was brilliant (many heard it as Paul’s way of encouraging John’s son Julian to use his brain as a means of taking a hard life – a sad song – and making it better).

The Sir Paul McCartney portrayed within the pages of Fab has not led a perfect life, but then no human being does.   He is shown to be a sentimental creature (“Obviously one of my feelings is how proud my mum and dad would have been…  But I won’t go into that because I’ll start crying.”), sometimes harsh, but often generous with those in need.   His career, without a doubt, has been a fine gift to the world of music and the world in general.

This intimate biography is a model for future rock biographers.   Highly recommended.

Joseph Arellano

A review copy was provided by the publisher.   “Fab delivers all you need to know.”   Rolling Stone magazine   “A McCartney bio that intrigues all the way through.”   The Times of London/U.K.

Howard Sounes also wrote Down the Highway: The Life of Bob Dylan.

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Forever Young

Trading Manny: How a Father & Son Learned to Love Baseball Again by Jim Gullo (Da Capo Press, $23.00, 272 pages)

“May you grow up to be righteous/ May you grow to be true/ May you always know the truth/ And see the lights surrounding you…”   Bob Dylan (Forever Young)

In Trading Manny: How a Father & Son Learned to Love Baseball Again, Jim Gullo has a big problem.   His seven-year-old son, Joe, suffers from two afflictions:  he loves baseball, and he is terminally honest.   At first, neither would seem to be a problem.   Many boys love baseball, and there are certainly worse worries for fathers than a son with a very well-developed conscience.   However, the publication of the Mitchell Report in 2007 changes everything for both of them.

For the record, the Mitchell Report is the infamous document chronicling widespread steroid abuse in professional baseball.   It is then that Jim is flooded with questions from his son that he feels he cannot adequately answer, such as:  “Aren’t drugs bad for you?” and, “If someone cheated shouldn’t they be punished?”, etc., etc.

Befuddled by baseball’s apparent unwillingness to either address the issue or respond, the players’ blatant refusal to discuss anything related to steroids, and his own inability to respond adequately to his son’s confusion, Jim goes on his own personal quest for answers.   Meanwhile, his son separates his precious baseball card collection into cheaters and non-cheaters.

The title of this book comes from his son’s incessant belief that his favorite team, the Seattle Mariners, should trade for Manny Ramirez, only to later learn that, he too, was a steroid user.

On their joint journey, father and son become friends with Dirk Hayhurst, a marginal left-handed pitching prospect, who eventually makes a couple of brief appearances in “the show” after years of watching the users pass him by.   This sets up the reality that cheating was so common and the financial stakes so high, some reluctant users simply felt that their choices were to use or face an early end to their career.

This reviewer, a Milwaukee Brewers season ticket holder, recently faced a similar situation, when two of his sons yanked their Ryan Braun posters off the wall and refused to go to baseball workouts following Braun’s positive test for performance enhancing drugs.   Though the suspension was later overturned, none of us will ever seem to know the real truth, and the emotional damage had already been done.

With that as the backdrop, I read the book expecting a more visceral, emotional reaction to the story, one which I did not experience.   Trading Manny is a good book, and the ending is satisfactory, but apparently I have become numb to the whole thing myself.   It was either that or have my heart ripped out, and I decided that not being able to live without baseball – like the players themselves – I would have to pretend that none of it ever happened.   Baseball can have its statistical lists, and I can have mine.

Recommended.

Dave Moyer

Dave Moyer is a public school superintendent, and the author of Life and Life Only, a novel about baseball and a singer named Bob Dylan. 

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Summer of ’68

Summer of ’68: The Season That Changed Baseball – and America – Forever by Tim Wendel (Da Capo, $25.00, 288 pages)

“…in 1968, we of the pitching profession came as close to perfect as we’ve ever come in modern times.”   Bob Gibson

There’s a reason the phrase “inside baseball” has come to be used.   And the phrase represents the problems with trying to determine who will want to read the rather awkwardly titled Summer of ’68: The Season that Changed Baseball – and America – Forever by Tim Wendel.   If you’re a baseball fanatic, you probably already know about every detail, every fact in this account of the 1968 World Series.   If you’re not, you won’t be able to relate to the names that pop up on every page – many of the details seem to pile on without context.

And then there’s the problem with the sub-title.   Yes, there were assassinations and riots that year that horribly marred the country’s history, but this reader felt that Wendel never adequately made the connection between the socio-political events and the sport covered here.   The story of Curt Flood of the St. Louis Cardinals will spark an interest for some – but, again, if you’re not already a deep-in-the-weeds baseball fan, this retelling will not mean much.

Wendel also tries a bit too hard to make the case that Bob Gibson may have been the best pitcher ever – a case that won’t convince fans of Sandy Koufax and others.   Summer of ’68 is sometimes interesting, but more often it’s just passable reading.

Joseph Arellano

A review copy was provided by the publisher.

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