Tag Archives: Frank Sinatra

Come In From The Rain

our-song-sager

They’re Playing Our Song: A Memoir by Carole Bayer Sager (Simon & Schuster, $28.00, 352 pages)

“I loved my parents, but I didn’t want to be like them.  I didn’t want to be afraid of life.  The trouble was, it was all I knew.”  Dani Shapiro (“Still Writing: The Perils and Pleasures of a Creative Life”)

“Music saved my life and gave me life.  It was where I allowed myself to feel fully alive, where it was safe…  As long as I stayed in that lane, I was protected from the frightening stories I would otherwise tell myself.”  Carole Bayer Sager

Carole Bayer Sager’s memoir – which, in an ideal world would have been accompanied by a CD of her songs (performed by Sager and others) – is an entertaining but somewhat bewildering work.  It’s interesting to read about how her songs, beginning with “A Groovy Kind of Love” were written, but there’s an odd dichotomy that pervades her life story.  On the one hand, Sager portrays herself as a person unnaturally afraid of almost everything, from flying to performing.  But then there’s the ultra confident Sager who writes songs with the likes of Marvin Hamlisch, Burt Bacharach, Carly Simon, Carole King, Bob Dylan and so many others.  This is the Sager who hung out with Elizabeth Taylor, Michael Jackson, Dylan, David Foster, Peter Allen, Liza Minnelli, Bette Midler, Melissa Manchester, David Geffen, and so many others.

There’s no co-writer listed, no indication that this memoir is an “as told to…” work.   Perhaps if a professional writer-editor had been directly involved, he or she would have pointed out the inherent contradiction in the telling.  In addition, a writing assistant might have advised Sager to cut down the long, long list of famous people in her account; this book transforms name dropping into an art!   In fact, it might have been easier for Sager to have listed the famous people she has not run across in her existence.

And there are other issues.  One is that Sager repeatedly discusses her body image concerns with the reader.  Although she is a small woman, Sager has viewed herself as battling weight issues since childhood.  Mentioning this a few times would have been understandable.  However, it arises time and time again.  The repetitiveness tends to wear the reader down.  And there’s the matter of her sexual encounters.  She’s determined to tell the reader intimate details of her relationships with famous men.  Not only is this unnecessary – but for the fact that titillating details may sell a few books, it’s boring.

Where They’re Playing Our Song succeeds is in establishing the case for Sager as an extremely talented and successful songwriter.   The book was the impetus for this reviewer to listen to her songs as originally performed and/or covered by many talented recording artists.  Before reading this memoir, I was unaware of the song she wrote for Frank Sinatra, “You and Me (We Wanted It All).”   For someone less blessed and talented than Sager, writing a song recorded by the Chairman of the Board would have been in itself a life’s work, a definitive achievement.

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Recommended, if hesitantly, for music fans and prospective songwriters who will take what they need and leave the rest.

Joseph Arellano

A review copy was provided by the publisher.

This book was released on October 18, 2016.

 

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(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction

1965

1965: The Most Revolutionary Year in Music by Andrew Grant Jackson (Thomas Dunne Books, $27.99, 352 pages)

1965 could have been a direct, engaging and entertaining account of that year’s music. Instead, this nonfiction story begins with Acknowledgements, a Selected Time Line, an Introduction, and a Prologue before it actually starts. The ending is, naturally, followed by an Epilogue. And instead of simply discussing the music of the 12-month period, Andrew Grant Jackson proceeds to attempt to cover all of the political and social developments of the time, with far too much attention paid to psychedelic drugs. (Boring, “oft-covered” territory.)

One or two factual errors might be excusable, as Jackson was not alive when these events occurred. But there are far too many in 1965. Jackson writes that the Beatles tried to out-jingle-jangle the Byrds with the song “Nowhere Man.” No, it was George Harrison’s “If I Needed Someone.” He lists the Beatles’ “Think For Yourself” as a song about politics and free expression. No, it was a break-up song. He writes that the Lovin’ Spoonful’s “Daydream” was a remake of “Baby Love” by the Supremes. Not even close. And he cites “Sloop John B” by the Beach Boys as a drug song. It was a remake of a West Indies traditional folk song earlier recorded by the rather benign, innocent Kingston Trio.

There are other statements that are questionable. Jackson writes, for example, that the Rolling Stones based their single “Paint It Black” on “My World Is Empty Without You” by the Supremes. Maybe, maybe not. One of the highly doubtful statements made by Jackson is that Brian Wilson based his classic song “God Only Knows” on the lightweight song “You Didn’t Have To Be So Nice” by the Spoonful. C’mon, now.

1965 is also plagued with no small amount of repetition. Jackson often makes the claim that specific rock song introductions were based on Bach’s classical music. In a couple of instances, he is likely right, but he goes on to state that this is the case for a large number of songs. Again, this is questionable.

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Every now and then Jackson does uncover something of interest. He may have discovered the song that Paul McCartney heard as a very young boy in the early 50s, which subconsciously inspired him to write “Yesterday.” Well, maybe.

aftermath-usa

The book’s subtitle claims that 1965 was the most revolutionary year in rock music. Really? Pet Sounds and Blonde on Blonde and Aftermath were released in 1966, and Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band followed in 1967. I’d argue that these were the most significant, revolutionary years in rock music.

One final point is that Jackson often attempts to connect one type of music to everything else, musically and otherwise. You can love the music that Frank Sinatra recorded in the 60s without tying it to what the Beatles, Bob Dylan or the Rolling Stones were doing at the time. There are different types of music, and some music is created without reference to the political struggles or happenings of the time.

1965 is a book that had a lot of potential. Due to its strangely formal structure and its errors, the potential was largely wasted.

Joseph Arellano

A review copy was provided by the publisher. This book was released on February 3, 2015.

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Love and Marriage

A Reliable Wife: A Novel by Robert Goolrick (Algonquin Books)

I just finished a marathon reading of A Reliable Wife.   It was one of those books that I literally couldn’t put down.

A Reliable Wife is a beautifully written novel set in the harsh winter of Northern Wisconsin in 1907 (location: Fictional town of Truitt somewhere on the shores of Lake Superior).   Ralph Tuitt has lived a lonely past twenty years after a very tragic and mysterious married life.   He advertises for a mail-ordered “reliable wife.”   Catherine Land answers his advertisement and upon arrival is not the Plain Jane in the picture that she sent to Ralph.   She is beautiful, and has many secrets of her own to hide.   There is a roller coaster of events that I will leave off so as to not spoil the book.

The lyrical prose of this book was wonderful, starting with the first line, “It was a bitter cold, the air electric with all that had not happened yet.”   The setting of the novel in the cold, bitter winter in a land of depressed people was stark and perfect for the novel.   Ralph and Catherine are both troubled souls seeking redemption.   As the book progresses, it is interesting to see how two people who start off seeming so unalike are actually quite similar.   I enjoyed their characters and learning more about them.

The story was unpredictable and twisted and turned to an ending I certainly did not predict.   It kept me riveted.   I really wanted to read this book after seeing it compared to my favorite authors, Daphne Du Maurier and the Bronte sisters.   While it did have a gothic sinister darkness to the plot that was also driven with despair, it is really its own novel.   I did love it, but I wouldn’t rank it above Jane Eyre or Rebecca.    

With the setting of the novel in 1907, one would expect it to be staid and sexless, it is anything but.   At first I was put off by Ralph’s constant thoughts about sex as it just wasn’t something I was interested in reading.   But sex and the way different characters handle it or have issues with it is definitely a main part of this book and I grew accepting of that.  

One small complaint I had is that sometimes the setting did not seem accurate.   I lived for six years in Houghton, Michigan in the Upper Peninsula, which is isolated and routinely receives 300 plus inches of snow in a year.   I now currently live in Northeast Wisconsin.   It seemed strange to me that the world would be so winter locked in the fall.   I could see that happening around Thanksgiving and especially in January or February, but not before.   I also wondered about the trips to Chicago without mention of Milwaukee or Minneapolis, both of which would be closer to Wisconsin or the Lake Superior shore.   Like I said, though, these were small items that seemed only out-of-place to me as I’ve lived in the area.   It just showed to me that the author had not, but he still wove a fantastic story.

Overall, it was a great riveting tale that will keep you guessing until the end.

This review was written by Laura Gerold of Laura’s Reviews.   You can read more of her fine reviews by going to:  http://lauragerold.blogspot.com/ .   A Reliable Wife was checked out of the Kewaunee Public Library.

 

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Every Story Tells A Picture

When I Stop Talking, You’ll Know I’m Dead: Useful Stories From A Persuasive Man by Jerry Weintraub with Rich Cohen (Hachette Audio, Unabridged on 8 CDs; $29.98).

“I’ve never been afraid to fail.”   Jerry Weintraub

If you’re going to experience a book based on an “old man’s” stories of his life, you might as well hear them in the voice of the man himself, Jerry Weintraub.   Weintraub, now 72, has worked with the biggest of the big in the music and movie businesses.   Yes, everyone from Frank Sinatra and Elvis Presley to Neil Diamond, Bob Dylan – who wrote the introductory poem – and Led Zeppelin in music; Brad Pitt, Matt Damon, George Clooney, Julia Roberts, Bruce Willis and Gene Hackman (with whom he attended acting school) in film.

Weintraub was also the Zelig-like figure who befriended the biggest figures in politics including a young John F. Kennedy, CIA Director George Herbert Walker Bush, and a peanut farmer by the name of Jimmy Carter.

I first attempted to read the standard book version of Talking, but something was missing.   The stories were entertaining but I couldn’t get a feel for the narrator, the person telling the stories.   This all changed when I began to listen to the audio book.   Initially, Weintraub sounds every year of his age and I began to wonder if a young actor should have been hired to voice the tales.   But within just a few minutes one becomes mesmerized by his voice.

Weintraub likes to say that there are differences between a person’s appearance and his/her behaviors and true personality; but it takes some time to learn about the individual’s soul.   The same is true here…  Only by spending time with the man do you get past his appearance as one of “the suits” in New York City and Hollywood/Los Angeles.   Eventually you get to the man and his soul – what makes him tick, what really drives him, and what he thinks life – success – is really about.

Jerry Weintraub takes the listener on a journey which begins with him as a poor Jewish kid on the streets of Brooklyn.   In his early twenties he becomes the most ambitious young man working in the mail room at the famed William Morris Agency in Manhattan.   After a couple of very quick promotions, he quits William Morris – now who would do that? – as he has the idea of taking Elvis on his first nationwide concert tour.   In order to do this he needs to come up with a cool $1 million deposit to hand to Colonel Tom Parker, Elvis’ manager.   How does he come up with the money?   This is just one of the many great, highly entertaining, stories told in this anthology of true tales.

“While we’re here, we may as well smile.”   Armand Hammer

It comes as a surprise that the most fascinating stories are about the secondary figures, such as John Denver, George Burns, Dean Martin, Dorothy Hamill (who married Dean Paul “Dino” Martin), Colonel Parker (who was originally a carnival barker), and Armand Hammer.   But Weintraub saves the very best for last, when this very mature man touches upon spirituality, religion, mortality and family.   By his own admission, Weintraub has never been religious and yet he has come to work closely with Catholic charities and Jewish congregations.   It is all very personal, as he explains in Talking and some of the connections have to be heard to be believed.   (Yes, real life is so much stranger than fiction.)

It is when he talks of the death of his parents that we come to feel the emotional soul of Mr. Weintraub.   His voice breaking, he tells us that “everything changes in life when you lose your parents.”   Materialism takes a sudden back seat to memories, to one’s basic values as one comes to realize that we’re all renters in this place.

Jerry Weintraub, we come to know, was proud of his success but so much more so because he could share it with his parents – such as with his skeptical father who came to doubt that he “really knew” President Carter and the First Lady until the Weintraubs were invited to a State Dinner at the White House.   (Weintraub’s father once wondered aloud if his son had made millions as a Jewish member of the Mafia.)

By the end of Talking, you’ll come to feel that Jerry Weintraub is a very nice man, one you’d be happy to invite to one of those special “10 people you would like to have dinner with” events.

Highly recommended.

Joseph Arellano

A review copy was provided by the publisher.

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I’m Down

You Never Give Me Your Money: The Beatles After the Breakup by Peter Doggett (Harper, 400 pages, $24.99)

“We were four guys in a band, that’s all.”   John Lennon

Rock ‘n roll writer Doggett provides the reader with a Magical Misery Tour in this inexplicable rehashing of the Beatles story, especially its sad ending (Hey Jude).   Now really, what’s the point of retelling a story that’s already been told in at least 75 other versions, and by the Beatles themselves in Anthology?   Well intended or not, Doggett appears to want to make the point that these were four not really very nice young men; except for the fact that the author is clearly partial to The Legend of John Lennon.

And yet even Mr. Lennon comes off as a crass ruffian in this account.   For example, here is Lennon talking about the band members’ treatment of George Harrison:  “It’s only this year that (George) has realized who he is.   And all the f—— s–t we’ve done to him.”   Positively charming.

John Lennon, however, is treated with virtual kid gloves compared to Doggett’s agenda-driven need to attack Sir Paul McCartney (probably the most commercially successful musician of our lifetime), George Harrison (who wrote what Frank Sinatra called the most beautiful love song of the last century), and Ringo Starr (whose upbeat personality and drumming literally bound the band together).   It is all very, very tiresome.

The point of this exercise is further called into question when one realizes that there’s nothing in this account that one has not read about before.   Even if you’ve read no more than two or three or a handful of books about the Beatles’ storied if marred career, you’ll be bored by the same old stories here.   The author seems to admit as such as he often quotes multiple earlier accounts of the same material.   For example, when he writes about the evil manager Allen Klein he quotes six other sources before providing his own perspective.   Yawn.

There are far better alternatives out there.   If you want to read a true story of a highly talented band’s sad demise consider reading the excellent account, Without You: The Tragic Story of Badfinger by Peter Matovia about Badfinger, the Beatles’ alter-egos band (sometimes referred to as The Junior Beatles).   Each of the four members of Badfinger worked with each of the Beatles at some point – and each of them looked like one of the Beatles – and two of their members died by their own hand.

If you wish to read an account of a band that will succeed in making you hate all of the band members, there’s Bad Moon Rising: The Unauthorized History of Creedence Clearwater Revival by Hank Berdowitz.   After reading this unofficial history, I lost my aural appetite for listening to the music of John Fogerty and/or CCR.

One final advisory, and it’s an appropriate one.   I recently discussed this book with a music-loving friend and he asked me what the complete title of the book was.   When I told him that it was supposedly about the Beatles “after the breakup,” he wisely responded:  “Well, after they broke up they weren’t the Beatles anymore, were they?”   No, and it’s a point well taken.   We stand adjourned.

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

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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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Beg, Borrow, Steal: A Writer’s Life by Michael Greenberg

Beg, BorrowThe only living boy in New York…   These words by Paul Simon kept going through my head as I read Greenberg’s collection of 44 essays on life and living in the Big Apple.   Another title for this compilation might have been A Life in New York City.   To his credit, Greenberg does not try to convince the reader that everything in Manhattan and the boroughs is exciting; in fact, when writing about his daily commute he hopes that “(there’s) more to the monotony than I had expected.”

In theory this collection is supposed to focus on the tough work of trying to make a living as a writer.   That is a theme often returned to, but Greenberg nonetheless gives himself plenty of room in which to roam and create.   He has been, in fact, a successful writer most notably with last year’s release of the four-star non-fiction memoir Hurry Down Sunshine: A Father’s Story of Love and Madness.   But here we read about Greenberg, the free lancer, script doctor, ghost writer, writer-for-hire who uses his craft to distinguish his life from that of the typical career worker…  “I was willing to work harder than the next person to ensure that I didn’t have one.”  

Greenberg’s essays are a prime example of the writer as the detached, note-taking, chronicler and observer (He sought “work in which I could observe people, write, and get paid at the same time.”).   Reading Greenberg, I was reminded of the phrase used in the movie Elizabethtown – “We’re the substitute people.” – in which the main character finally learns that it’s best to enjoy life rather than watching others as they do so.   Yet Greenberg tells very true tales coincidentally parallel to this reader’s experiences.   Of working in a criminal courthouse, for example, he notes that “boredom was the permissible emotion”; the only permissible emotion.

The author also writes with humor and sophistication:  “When Tony Bennett crooned ‘Baby, Ain’t I Been Good to You?’ I could hear the tuxedo in his voice.”   How true, and the same was the case with Sinatra.

Is there any big message in this compilation?   Perhaps that everything counts, as Greenberg treats the lives of Wall Street movers and shakers and cab drivers and waiters and baristas equally.   Some gifted and talented writers are able to show us that everything in life is – in the words of The New York Observer – both “big and small in perfect proportion.”

Recommended!

Beg, Borrow, Steal: A Writer’s Life was released by Other Press on September 8, 2009. 

This review was written by Joseph Arellano.   Thanks to Terrie at Other Press for the review copy.

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