Tag Archives: Los Angeles

Crawling Back to You

Breakup/Breakdown – Poems by Charles Jensen (Five Oaks Press, $12.99, 42 pages)

Can one find hope in poems of heartbreak and loss?

breakup-breakdown

This is a fascinating chapbook of poems by Charles Jensen.  These are poems about heartbreak and loss.  After all, we lose things in life, like people and laptops and places:

I understand that/purpled anger in her/face, the way she’s/aware she was/just a pitstop in/someone else’s/marriage. To know/you are not/the one, but just another one.

These are also poems about disruption, the kind that comes with rapid change, with the shedding of the present for the future:

Disruption/is the pulling apart of two independent lives. A rupture/but I didn’t know it until it was too late.  Everything we’d placed/inside those years spilled out/like blood escaping from a vein./Love, my friends, should never/be entrusted to the heart, whose job/is to push away the only thing/the world will ever offer it.

(Disruption, previously published in HIV Here + Now.)

Jensen understands that life is about accepting the changes that are beyond our control:

We shake our lives loose like a braid/untwirling at the end of a long day/I want everything and nothing that belongs to you…

And finally, there’s the notion of place.  A place is ours, if only for a transitory period.  We occupy a space for a moment, like time travelers:

I move into a one bedroom overlooking Glassell Park and/the Los Angeles Rivers and the 5 and the hills of Echo Park/between Division and Future streets.  Division runs drunk/through the neighborhood, splitting Mount Washington/into two separate lives.  Future Street rises straight up the face,/turns sharply and then goes down to just one lane, a 90 degree/curve and, from time to time, gets lost in the spaghetti of streets/only to reappear suddenly on the far side of the hill, shunning/drivers with its abrupt end in a one-way alley.  The apartment/gets a lot of light, and at night the yellow glow of porch lamps/and street lamps dot the dark landscape like a pattern for the/Lite Brite I played with as a child, plugging in plastic pegs to make/something beautiful appear…

(Between Division and Future Streets, previously published in Diode.)

I very much enjoyed reading and rereading these poems by Charles Jensen, whom I feel I now know as a friend.  If the world is something we cannot fathom, we can understand a fellow traveler who is headed down the same highway in search of peace, comfort and understanding.

Highly recommended.

Joseph Arellano

A review copy was received from the publisher.

charles-jensen

Charles Jensen is a graduate of Arizona State University, and is the Director of the UCLA Extension Writers’ Program.

 

 

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Film Review: La La Land

La La Land – Insipid But Entertaining

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This 2016 Academy Award nominated musical (a record tying 14 nominations), written and directed by Damien Chazelle (the wunderkind creator of the astonishing Whiplash) is this year’s can-do-no-wrong romantic comedy starring Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone.

La La Land is a bold resurrection of the Fred Astaire/Ginger Rogers 1940-50s musical with a blend of nostalgia (using filtered-lens cinematography and period costumes) mixed with the novelty of contemporary millennial life in Los Angeles.  A flip-book of competing images of vintage and modern L.A. with twirling skirts and old-fashioned dancing, La La Land is all about dreaming for the big break in Hollywood.

An undeniable paean to the joy and ecstasy of following your passions, this film also touches upon the sacrifices to one’s personal life, to missed connections and to other dreams that will never come true.  Part “Never-Never Land” and part “Singing in the Rain.”  However, the conventional storyline – love versus ambition – never rises above being forgettable.

Perhaps the most interesting interlude in the film, however, is Mia and Seb’s friend, Keith (John Legend) whose relaxed approach to the commercial aspects of being a musician challenge Seb’s dogmatic “purist” views of selling out to music venues.  The difference between selling out and breaking through is not always clear, and La La Land is not so hypocritical as to pretend otherwise.  I loved this observation.

The cinematography and special effects are the best part of this movie.  Except for the song “City of Stars,” the music is more competent than dazzling.  You’re more likely to remember what you saw than what you heard.

La La Land (2016) Sebastian (Ryan Gosling) and Mia (Emma Stone)

Where is La La Land going?  Is this Hollywood couple going to make it after all?  Should we care?  The film suffers from what it is supposed to parody:  Hollywood’s addiction to artifice and self-congratulation.  (Amen, sister!  – Ed.)  By the end, La La Land is an imperfect film that entertains, partly because it is a pleasant surprise to see Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone singing and dancing.

Sometimes a movie comes along that is entertaining and refreshingly light when we desire that intensely.  Right for this moment, viewers can forgive La La Land for being a not very good but deliciously tasty confection of sound and color.  I expected more given all the awards and accolades.

Diana Y. Paul

Diana Y. Paul is a retired Stanford professor, an expert on Buddhism and an author (Things Unsaid: A Novel).  You can read more of her reviews at the Unhealed Wound blog:

http://www.unhealedwound.com/

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Good Night

night night

Night, Night, Sleep Tight: A Novel of Suspense by Hallie Ephron (William Morrow, $14.99, 320 pages)

The setting is Los Angeles, California, and the time is May 1985. Deidre Unger, a woman whose life was forever altered by an event that took place 22 years earlier, finds her father, screenwriter Arthur Unger, drowned in the swimming pool at his sadly neglected house. Deirdre has come from her home in San Diego to assist in readying the house for sale. Her father’s untimely death appears to be an accident but that might not be the case. Deirdre can’t rely on her brother Henry who lives at the house to help her make sense of what has happened. Henry is a slacker and he lives a hazy existence.

Much of Deirdre’s life has been spent limping along on the leg and foot that were crushed in the wreck of Arthur’s Austin Healy convertible back in 1963. The circumstances surrounding the middle of the night drive and subsequent crash are a bit cloudy for her due, in no small part, to the trauma she suffered as a result. As she works to uncover the reason her father has died, Deirdre encounters people from her childhood – a neighbor boy, Tyler Corrigan, and Realtor Joelen Nichol, her best friend.

night night sleep tight wide

Author Hallie Ephron uses her childhood in Beverly Hills and a true-life spectacular only-in-Hollywood event that fascinated her as a pre-teen to underpin this memorable suspense novel. That event was the stabbing death of super glamorous actress Lana Turner’s boyfriend, Johnny Stompanato. This was no ordinary lover’s spat; Turner’s daughter Cheryl Crane was the killer.

Although characters Joelen Nichol and her mother, Bunny, have a past not unlike Turner and Crane, the similarity ends there. Ephron uses her considerable writing skills to draw the reader into a cleverly woven plot while maintaining a tone that places this book in the category of literature. The treatment of the scenes is cinematic and yet subtle. Readers who are familiar with southern California will easily see the places and scenes in their minds.

Hallie Ephron

The initial attraction to this Ephron’s work was spurred by this reviewer’s enjoyment of her sister Nora’s writing; however, Hallie now has a new fan. I look forward to reading her past and future works.

Highly recommended.

Ruta Arellano

A review copy was provided by the publisher.

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Secret

Anna Blanc

The Secret Life of Anna Blanc: A Mystery by Jennifer Kincheloe (Seventh Street Books, $15.95, 367 pages)

Sweat beaded on Wolf’s brow as he led Anna among the desks to meet the man in charge. His lips stretched in a tense smile, his skin a little paler than before he had hired Anna. “Captain Wells, may I present Mrs. Anna Holmes, our lovely new assistant matron. She types, speaks Spanish, but most importantly, she’s nervy. I say that’s a vital quality for a matron who will be venturing into unsavory territory.”

Fans of the history of southern California will find this remarkably charming mystery an accurate period piece. The opening chapters of The Secret Life of Anna Blanc offer a well-described glimpse into the life of Miss Blanc. Anna is the only daughter of Christopher Blanc, a wealthy banker and business leader in Los Angeles. Mr. Blanc treats Anna as though she were an asset/possession. Who she marries means more to him than does her happiness.

The time is 1907 and the locales for the tale include Riverside and both the wealthy and shabby areas of Los Angeles. The action begins when Anna has eloped from her father’s Bunker Hill mansion with Louis Taylor. They hop onto a train bound for the historic Mission Inn located in downtown Riverside where they plan to marry in the chapel. Due to the strictness of her Catholic upbringing, Anna has never actually touched a man without wearing gloves. The exception is her father. As she and Louis sit in a third class rail car rolling toward their destination, the action speeds up and one thing leads to another.

Jennifer Kincheloe

Author Jennifer Kincheloe infuses Anna with equal measures of spunk and cleverness. Our heroine longs to be a lady detective just like the ones she reads about in the contraband books she hides by using the covers of books that meet her father’s approval. Fate throws Anna into a controversial encounter with the Los Angeles Police Department. This encounter leads to the opportunity she has been dreaming about. Trickery and abundant guts are all Anna needs to launch her career!

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The novel is way too well written to give away any more than the barest of plot details. It’s rare that a thrilling mystery is also a laugh out loud read.

Highly recommended.

Ruta Arellano

A review copy was provided by the publisher.

“Fast, funny, and fabulous. You’re going to love this book!” Lori Rader-Day, author of Pretty Little Things. “A madcap frolic through turn-of-the-century Los Angeles, Jennifer Kincheloe’s debut mystery is an addictive read.” James W. Ziskin, author of Stone Cold Dead.

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Music Review: Ready to Run by P.J. Pacifico

Music Review: ‘Ready to Run’ by P.J. Pacifico (Viper Records)Ready To Run Amazon

Musician P.J. Pacifico sounds different on his new EP release. Does the change in direction work?

Singer-songwriter P.J. Pacifico is going through some changes, as reflected in his latest release, an extended play (EP) disc entitled Ready to Run. The time he spends writing songs in Nashville is now augmented by time spent in the City of Angels. The influence of Los Angeles can be seen on the cover of Ready, which pays homage to Jackson Browne’s Late for the Sky album. And Pacifico is co-writing songs with the team of Garrison Starr and AG, women who also handled the production on this release.

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Pacifico has come to terms with his status as a long-term cancer survivor (Hodgkin’s disease), a theme that runs through the five songs on the EP. And he’s gone retro, focusing on capturing the sound of the 1980s on this grouping. Does it all work? Well, let’s take a look at the songs on Ready, four of which can be seen and heard on YouTube.

“All for Something” is the first track, and it opens with the sound of a heartbeat. It sounds like a Sting recording crossed with Paul Simon during the latter’s Graceland period. Pacifico is reflective as he sings: “Baby, nothing good ever comes easy/And everybody knows it/I swear it’s all for something/If you’ll keep holding on.” The song could either be about a lost love or surviving a dreadful disease. This is a song that remains with the listener for a day or two after hearing it.

“While You Were Looking Away” is like Simon melded with Browne. The lyrics are definitely Browne-ish: “Nobody could have loved you better/It wasn’t getting any easier/Oh, I ran out of reasons to stay/While you were looking away/You don’t know what you want/You don’t want what you have/And now there ain’t no one left/You can blame me for that.” Note that Pacifico feels guilt, something that’s also true on the next track.

“Among the Living” is clearly about Pacifico’s experience with disease and his guilty feelings over having survived while others did not: “I was surviving/I want to forgive myself/For I’m among the living.” It’s a good song, but it’s marred by the heavy-handed production. There’s too much bass and Pacifico’s voice is at too low a range. “Living” would have been more effective if given a George Harrison-style arrangement. Still, Pacifico gets off a great line: “The thing that might kill you/Just might save your life.” He should know.

“I Want Your Love” is the track that’s not on YouTube, but it should be. It sounds like a Bruce Springsteen composition and production, with a bit of Ryan Adams thrown into the mix. The song closes out, quite interestingly, with Beatles-like sound effects. A very effective song, it should have been the single.

“Ready to Run” closes out the set with another overly-produced song. The sounds bury the vocal and the melody. In terms of reflecting the ’80s, this comes off as more Bryan Adams (“Run to You”) than Browne (“Running On Empty”). “Ready” would have been more memorable if delivered in a humble, pensive Browne-like style.

Ready to Run

It’s understandable that artists like to change things up, and it’s admirable that Pacifico’s taken risks on this new release. But I found there’s an overall sameness to the tracks due to the heavy, boomy production. This makes listening to this EP somewhat tiring. Make that more than somewhat.

I may well be in the minority, but I’d love to see the talented Pacifico return to the quieter guitar-based, almost folk rock sound reflected on earlier songs like “Half Wishing,” “Champions and Guardians,” and the beautiful “Lakeshore Drive.” I think Pacifico is in his natural sweet spot when he’s channeling the sound of the 1960s and ’70s.

Long-time Pacifico fans will no doubt want to pick up Ready to add to their collection. For those new to him, I’d suggest sampling his work on YouTube to see if you prefer his prior or current sound.

Recommended, with some reservations.

Joseph Arellano

A review copy was provided by a publicist.

This review was first posted on the Blogcritics site:

http://blogcritics.org/music-review-p-j-pacifico-ready-to-run-ep/

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Good Day in Hell

Proof of Angels

Proof of Angels: A Novel by Mary Curran Hackett (William Morrow, $14.99, 281 pages)

A Novel of Hope, Redemption, and the Gift of Angels Among Us…

“…without a few days in hell, no resurrection is possible.” Mary Karr

Mary Curran Hackett’s debut novel, Proof of Heaven, was excellent. This, her second novel, is about a fireman, Sean Magee, trapped in a burning building in Los Angeles. Magee is doomed and prepared to meet his end until an angel appears. Magee’s unable to see through the smoke but the female angel leads him to the place where he can make a blind three-story leap from the quickly collapsing building. Remarkably, Magee survives.

“He wanted to start over in a place that welcomed re-creation and self-invention…”

Magee had already lived one existence in New York City and a different type of life in Los Angeles. After being saved from a horrible death by what may be divine intervention, Magee’s finally ready to tackle the demons in his life and pursue happiness: “Everyone, Sean knew, had a demon or was once a demon… Then again, he thought, demons were nothing more than fallen angels like himself.” Will Magee’s third try at life – real life – be successful?

“Everyone’s got something that makes existing complicated.”

Yes, this is a story about redemption and it is – as was Proof of Heaven, a life-affirming one. Magee is an Everyman who wants what everybody wants, “Everybody wants to feel whole.” Without divulging too much, Magee comes to realize that what he actually wanted the most in his life was the company of a special woman; one he spurned and walked away from early on in his life. Will he be able to reunite with her?

This is a highly engaging and finely written morality tale. However, it has one enormous flaw. As the reader senses that the story will wrap up in a few dozen pages, it comes to an abrupt, disappointing ending. It’s as if someone cut the tape on a song, so that there’s no fade-out. It’s jarring, as when one listens to “She’s So Heavy” by the Beatles. So is the unexpected early conclusion of Proof of Angels.

Hackett is a highly talented writer, so one has to wonder if she got caught up in writing to a strict deadline or if she simply ran out of ideas. I suspect it was the former.

Recommended, for those willing to accept a close-to-great story that wraps up in a non-satisfyingly abrupt – and not quite realistic, manner.

Joseph Arellano

A review copy was provided by the publisher.

Proof of Heaven (nook book)

You can read a review of Proof of Heaven: A Novel by Mary Curran Hackett here:

https://josephsreviews.wordpress.com/2011/10/10/heaven/

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High and Dry

Adam Richman’s new TV series, Man Finds Food, has been indefinitely postponed by the Travel Channel. The series was originally scheduled to debut this evening with the showing of two half-hour episodes. This preview/review – prepared before the postponement was announced, should give everyone a taste of what they’re missing.

Man Finds Food

TV Review: ‘Man Finds Food’ on the Travel Channel

If you’re looking for a zany, weird and entertaining program that makes a half-hour go by pretty quickly, you may want to check out the new program Man Finds Food on the Travel Channel. The show premieres on Wednesday, July 2, 2014, with two episodes, the first based in Los Angeles and the second in Chicago. The premise of the show: Adam Richman goes to quirky – and sometimes slightly dangerous, neighborhoods in major cities to discover some surprisingly good restaurants. There’s a specific focus on “secret food finds,” both off-the-menu items and outrageous dishes.

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Richman is funny but has the unfortunate tendency of channeling Guy Fieri. For many, including this viewer, a little bit of Fieri goes a long, long, long way; the same is sometimes true of Richman. Richman projects the personality of an immature, never-grown-up man who behaves as if he’s still in middle school. He often pretends that he and his crew are lost but I think this is just showmanship. There’s one humorous moment in which Richman and his cameramen and assistants are driving through L.A. and he asks a crew member why he’s never lived there. The crew member responds, “Because I hate the sun.”

I won’t cover every restaurant and sandwich featured in these episodes, as I dislike spoilers. But in L.A., Richman finds a New York steak with fixings that include eggs, bacon, cheese, toast, and potatoes. This ungodly sandwich is known as “Godzilla Destroys Skid Rokio.” He goes on to locate an inside-out grilled cheese sandwich on Melrose Avenue, a massive Mexican-Peruvian-Korean burrito in Alhambra, and The Jazzburger. The latter is a burger served with ten very spicy-hot Thai chilis, and the sandwich is found at a strip mall restaurant in East Hollywood.

The show is entertaining but not quite informative, for prospective chefs, as those preparing the food generally refuse to share their recipes and secret ingredients with Richman and his viewers. As you might gather from the limited descriptions found here, this is food that’s a million miles away from being heart healthy. In fact, if everyone were to dine on what Richman eats, cardiac surgeons would be billionaires and registered dieticians would go bankrupt. Another issue is that Richman loves sandwiches that include the rarest of rare cooked beef; if you like your meat cooked medium well or well done (and I plead guilty to that), it’s sometimes nauseating to watch Richman salivate over these pinkish-red concoctions.

In Chicago, Richman makes stops at Logan Square, Urkranian Village, West Town, and the Fulton Market District, which is located in the South Side. Among the “hidden gems” he discovers are a super-sized Mexican torta, a Shrimp Po-Boy, and a 3-pound Italian ribeye (rare) meat roast and potatoes combo. He also finds a hodgepodge bigger-than-enormous sandwich that includes short rib, skirt steak, sweetbreads, linguica sausage and chicken hearts. This is the episode where we are expected to believe that Richman and crew cannot find the A Tavola restaurant in West Town which is located in a home rather than in a commercial structure. OK, play along.

In future episodes of Man Finds Food, the show will visit Atlanta, Boston, Honolulu, Las Vegas, Milwaukee, Nashville, New Orleans, New York City, Portland (Oregon), and San Francisco. This is a show that may literally represent an acquired taste. It’s entertaining but relatively harmless – unless, that is, you seek out the food that’s featured on the show. If so, you might want to find out when your local well-qualified cardiac surgeon can perform your heart bypass operation.

Joseph Arellano

This article was originally published by the Blogcritics website:

http://blogcritics.org/tv-review-man-finds-food-on-the-travel-channel/

Preview DVDs were provided by the Travel Channel.

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The Night Chicago Died

City of Scoundrels: The 12 Days of Disaster That Gave Birth to Modern Chicago by Gary Krist (Broadway Books, $14.95, 384 pages)

“Oh, the winds of Chicago have torn me to shreds….” Bob Dylan, “Cold Irons Bound”

City of Scoundrels (nook book)

Those who have gone on the Chicago Architecture Foundation’s river cruise will never again look at the city’s buildings the same way. There are many cities in America (New York, with an aura all its own, and Los Angeles with its own unique vibe) that typically rule the pop culture landscape. But there is one city in this country so uniquely American that it is better experienced than described or imagined — particularly when it is paradoxically and arguably the most corrupt city in our nation’s history.

Yes, there is the blue-collar folklore, The Jungle, and everything else, all of which is either true or has elements of truth to it. But Chicago is, and always has been, a mystery of wonder — simultaneously brilliant, politically corrupt, awe-inspiring and bad at baseball.

Gary Krist’s City of Scoundrels attempts to capture the essence of Chicago through the lens of twelve particularly challenging days in 1919. The book starts with a blimp crashing into a bank and then, after it gets our attention, chronicles several events, circling back to this tragic event. A racial incident, transit strike (oh, the unions in this great state), and senseless murder of a six-year-old transpire in rapid succession. These events allow the author to paint a picture of a city and its leaders, including the iconoclastic mayor, William “Big Bill” Thompson, who dreamed of making the city the architectural gem of the world.

In the meantime, for the baseball fans among us, references to the Black Sox scandal are sprinkled in, and the even more corrupt decade of the 20s and Al Capone foreshadowed in the Epilogue.

The factually accurate City of Scoundrels features meticulous research. It is interesting, though this is likely more confined to those who have some existing knowledge of or personal interest in Chicago. It would be less interesting for general readers.

It is a very good book, but despite the shocking events described, it does not capture the raw emotion inspired by the true experience of Chicago — getting off at the train station and being pressurized out of the building into the sights and sounds of the city, seeing the sun over a brick outfield wall as the latest edition of a terrible team attempts to play baseball on a weekly afternoon, or seeing the juices of a barely edible pizza run down the side of the cheek of another innocent victim.

The book feels like an essay. It would be better if it were an essay that felt like the Windy City.

Recommended.

Dave Moyer

A review copy was provided by the publisher.

Dave Moyer is an educator and the author of Life and Life Only: A Novel.

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Midnight Confessions

The Wrecking Crew: The Inside Story of Rock and Roll’s Best-Kept Secret by Kent Hartman (Thomas Dunne Books/St. Martin’s Press, $25.99, 292 pages)

Carol Kaye is the female bass player/musician who came up with and played the opening notes on “The Beat Goes On” (Sonny and Cher), “These Boots Were Made for Walkin'” (Nancy Sinatra) and “Midnight Confessions” (The Grass Roots).   She also came up with the opening notes for Glen Campbell’s first hit, “Wichita Lineman.”   These are the kinds of unique, Behind the Music-style, facts cited in The Wrecking Crew, a book whose second subtitle is, “The unknown studio musicians who recorded the soundtrack of a generation.”

Kent Hartman writes about most of the hit songs recorded between 1962 and 1975, starting with “The Lonely Bull” (Herb Alpert) and ending with “Love Will Keep Us Together” (Captain and Tennille).   Special attention is paid to 19 specific songs, and if one or more of these happens to be a favorite of yours, you’ll want to read Hartman’s account to find out how the song(s) were written and recorded.   Here’s the list (I’m eliminating the quote marks here for the purpose of clarity):  California Dreamin’; Limbo Rock; He’s a Rebel; The Little Old Lady (from Pasadena); What’d I Say; I Got You, Babe; Mr. Tambourine Man; River Deep, Mountain High; Eve of Destruction; Strangers in the Night; Good Vibrations; Let’s Live for Today; Up, Up and Away; Classical Gas; Wichita Lineman; MacArthur Park; Bridge Over Troubled Water; (They Long to Be) Close to You; and Love Will Keep Us Together.

Back in the day when these songs were first released, not too many radio listeners and record buyers realized that the Mamas and the Papas, The Byrds, Jan and Dean, The Beach Boys, The Grass Roots, The Monkees and others were not playing the instruments on their songs.   A group of select musicians, informally known as The Wrecking Crew, recorded the music in Los Angeles studios while the “performers” played the songs on stage when they toured.   It was generally a “win-win” situation for both the high-paid touring musicians and the highly paid studio musicians, and it allowed Brian Wilson to create and record on his own while the official members of the band that he created were off touring.

To his credit, Hartman does cover the occasional conflicts that arose, especially among the musicians – such as Creed Bratton of The Grass Roots and Mike Clarke of The Byrds – who felt insulted by not being permitted to play on their band’s “own” recordings.   Most of the musicians who couldn’t handle the public fame but private shame were shown the door; one exception being the four members of The Monkees, who eventually gained enough power to overrule their managers and record their own songs.The Wrecking Crew (nook book)

MacArthur Park is melting in the dark, all the sweet green icing flowing down…  Someone left the cake out in the rain, and I don’t think that I can take it, ’cause it took so long to bake it, and I’ll never have that recipe again.   (J. Webb)

The stories of how some of these songs came to be written are perhaps even more engaging and intriguing than the tales of how they were recorded.   And likely the most interesting of all the composition stories is that behind the song “MacArthur Park” and the song suite by Jimmy Webb that eventually became the best-selling album A Tramp Shining by Richard Harris.   It turns out that Webb was quite gun-shy about offering the suite to anyone after it was soundly rejected by the soft-rock group, The Association.   The story of how Harris came to hear what he was to sing as “MacArthur’s Park” is almost worth the price of admission itself.

MacArthur Park

One caveat about The Wrecking Crew is that Carol Kaye has some personal objections to the book which she has expressed on Amazon.   (I won’t attempt to summarize her concerns here.)   Still, this is a worthwhile read for music fans, musicians and future composers.

Well recommended.

Joseph Arellano

A review copy was provided by the publisher.   The Wrecking Crew is also available as a Nook Book and Kindle Edition e-book, and as an unabridged audiobook.

Note:  The personal story of the musician Glen Campbell (pictured on the cover of The Wrecking Crew) is covered in some detail in this book.   Campbell was a member of The Wrecking Crew for several years, as well as a member of The Beach Boys touring band.   Interestingly, he went on to record a relatively successful cover version of “MacArthur Park.”

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Another Roundup

Quick Looks at Books

True Strength: My Journey from Hercules to Mere Mortal and How Nearly Dying Saved My Life by Kevin Sorbo (Da Capo Lifelong)

The overly-long title gives you some idea of what this memoir is about.   The actor who played Hercules on TV was hit with a series of puzzling strokes that disabled him for quite a long time.   The first half of this true tale is interesting, but then the reader fully expects to find out – in the second half of the telling – what caused the strokes and/or how Sorbo was cured.   Neither happens and nothing much of interest (other than Sorbo’s getting married and having children) occurs in the last 140 or so pages.

This is the type of account that, if boiled down to six or seven pages, would have made for a heck of an interesting magazine article.   Unfortunately, at 276 pages it just seemed to go on and on without resolution.

The Me Generation by Me: Growing Up in the ’60s by Ken Levine (Ken Levine)

Levine writes about much of the growing up male territory covered so well previously by Bob Greene.   Levine, however, grew up in the greater Los Angeles area rather than in the Midwest.   While there are a lot of funny bits in this memoir, a good amount of the (Jewish-American) humor seems forced – more Woody Allen, if you will, than Jerry Seinfeld.   Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

God’s Hotel: A Doctor, A Hospital and a Pilgrimage to the Heart of Medicine by Victoria Sweet (Riverhead Books)God's Hotel (B&N)

This medical memoir is best summed up in the quote, “The secret in the care of the patient is in caring for the patient.”   Dr. Sweet, who has practiced medicine for more than two decades at the Laguna Honda Hospital in San Francisco, is a doctor who truly cares for the most indigent of patients; and she cares for the human-paced hospital which barely survived a closure scare.   At a time when some still wish to debate the benefits of a national health care system, Sweet explains why we should “still believe and act as if taking care of the sick poor is something that a society should do.”

Sweet goes on to explain how a physician can learn lessons from patients, such as the fact that “medicine no longer (needs to seem) so complicated.”   A hospital should still be just that rather than a dreaded modern “health care facility.”   Sweet also details how literally dangerous it can be for a budget-cutting hospital administrator to meet and get to know the patients – actual human beings and not just “residents” – for whose lives he’s ultimately responsible.

Most readers will find themselves wishing that Dr. Sweet could be their own personal M.D., providing medical care that’s less technology and more about instinct, feeling and a sense of bonding.   Oliver Sacks said this book “should be required reading.”   Indeed.   Well recommended.

How We Age: A Doctor’s Journey into the Heart of Growing Old by Marc E. Agronin, M.D. (Da Capo Lifelong)

HowWeAge_358“…the burden of illness and the proximity of death force a special bond (between a health care professional and) patient and family.”

Marc Agronin, a psychiatrist for the Miami Jewish Health Systems is another caring doctor who has written about his relationships with elderly patients in How We Age.   Agronin makes clear that he’s also learned much from them:  “…no matter how many years I’ve practiced, I still find myself a student to the life lessons offered by these (patients).”   He specifically learns that his patients, no matter what their illness or psychological state, generally die with dignity and prior to their expiration, they acquire “the crowning glory of old age” (Cicero) – namely wisdom.   “Wisdom serves to calm (the) maelstrom (of decay), providing a way of thinking, feeling, and experiencing that brings order, harmony, and, for many, a great measure of happiness.”

To his credit, Dr. Agronin also – like Dr. Sweet – rejects the notion that the business of medicine has evolved into nothing more than “a business transaction between strangers.”   In his view, a doctor or psychiatrist and patient should be no less than truly friends, if not more.   Highly recommended.

Joseph Arellano

Review copies were provided by the publishers or authors.

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