'No More Mr Nice Guy: The Inside Story ...'
By: Michael Bruce with Billy James - Gonzo Multimedia, $16.99
Description: Written by Alice Cooper's guitarist and keyboard player, Michael Bruce, this is an anthology of the band that encapsulated the decadent spirit of the 1970s.
Verdict: Following the group on their journey from Arizona garage band to eventual rise to stardom, 'No More Mr Nice Guy: The inside story of the Alice Cooper Group' reveals the truth behind the drinking and the rock 'n' roll.
Indeed, this "true life" story includes the hangings, the executions, the ghoulish makeup, the egos and of course, the rock 'n' roll. Now revised and updated, it includes previously unseen photographs and memorabilia that all fans have to see.
Having now read this book front to back, I can honestly say that original Alice Cooper Group guitarist/songwriter Michael Bruce (along with the wonderful Billy James, of course) has not only laid his dirty tour washing out for all to see, but has also put them under a microscope and then proceeded to turn one massive spotlight on them at the same time!
Basically a 115 page anthology of the band that encapsulated the decadent spirit of the 1970s, it follows the group on their journey from Arizona garage band to eventual rise to stardom. Revealing the truth behind the drinking and the rock ‘n’ roll as it goes, it kicks off when Bruce first saw Elvis Presley on the Ed Sullivan Show (and got the urge to be a performer right there and then), and ends with him seriously considering/putting out there a 27-year anniversary tour of their infamous Billion Dollar Babies show.
In between is a true, and vast wealth of knowledge about his time in the Alice Cooper Group, and as much as it is all heralded as being "true life" stories, well, pardon me if I feel like some of it has been sprinkled with glitter at times!
Come one now, you read it and come out the other side not shaking your head at some of the antics that were undertaken and dealt out by these guys, let alone Bruce himself! I mean, seriously ... can they really all be "true life" tales, for if so, well, wow ... what a feckin' life this man, these men lived (and, for the most part, survived unscathed through!)
Revised and updated, as aforementioned, it now includes previously unseen photographs and memorabilia. In fact, about a quarter of the book is photographs, which is actually refreshing, as a lot of time, books like these can be two-thirds photos, and severely lacking in written substance.
“Its not often we get a chance to redo, remake or in this case re-release a book ... my book," Michael Bruce has acknowledged. "It is with much thought, great enjoyment, many thanks and heartfelt appreciation for family, friends and fans that I present the re-release of ‘No More Mr Nice Guy.’ A compilation of hilarious rock ‘n’ roll stories and life events that made me the man I am today.”
And so with Michael Bruce's words now having been heard, and the book having now been read, I can honestly say it is one of the best (re)reads of any book I've snuggled up with in a while.
Reading all these 'other-side-of-the-coin' views from Bruce, who, as I'm sure you all know by now, was a huge part of the Alice Cooper Group as a singer/songwriter, showcases just how instrumental in the creation of the group's biggest hits he truly was.
There were obviously some bitter feelings among some of the other group members, as related to their lead singer's popularity in the media, sure, but hearing things from Bruce such as when during a flight over to England, an old lady in the next seat to Alice passed away in her sleep, and you get this spine tingling feeling that Alice's reputation as an evil incarnation was well deserved!
Another insightful recollection is the creation of both 'Under My Wheels' and 'Be My Lover,' which were fascinating to read. The former was written when Leo Fenn came to work for the Group. The band were in Michigan for a week on a layover and Dennis was playing with this riff: "Telephone is ringing" stop, "you got me on the run" stop, etc. Those two then worked on that, whilst the latter was a song Bruce wrote about his girl at the time, Chip; the sister of their PR guy at the time.
There are other glorious stories, such as when Keith Moon came down to the Record Plant in 1974 when Bruce was recording his solo album (he had been invited to play on it by Dino Dinelli from The Rascals). He'd been so shit-faced drunk on two bottles of Napoleon brandy and yet still managed to play the drums for Bruce; albeit them completely out of sync with the song!
Not wishing to spoil this read by delving too deeply into the main crux of the book, of Bruce's stories, his tales recounted, just let it be known that 'No More Mr Nice Guy: The inside story of the Alice Cooper Group' was a thoroughly enjoyable (re)read. An informational source and one where we get a fresh opinion/viewpoint of what transpired within the group's creation and demise, it's a must have for all fans of the band/artist (old or new).
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'Big City Cat: My Life in Folk-Rock'
By: Steve Forbert w/ Therese Boyd - PFP Publishing - $16.99
Description: More than four decades have passed since Steve Forbert made his way to New York City from his Meridian, Mississippi birthplace in quest of a career in music.
It was the most unlikely time and place for a folk singer to leap into the fray in a burgeoning scene where new wave and punk were emerging while he took the stage as a the archetypal folkie, armed with just an acoustic guitar and sheaf of very personal songs.
Now, those life-changing experiences have been chronicled by Forbert in 'Big City Cat: My Life In Folk-Rock', co-written with Therese Boyd, that will be released September 14th by PFP Publishing.
Verdict: Reading this highly informative, and wildly entertaining new book, we quickly discover that as a young man from Meridian, Mississippi, Steve Forbert still managed to carve out a niche in New York City’s vibrant club scene.
Playing now-iconic venues like Gerde’s Folk City and CBGB’s during a time when rootsy rock was fading out and the Ramones, Talking Heads, and other New Wave and punk acts were moving in, it was in Mill's Tavern in Greenwich Village where Forbert was first able to get paying work.
An old bar that had seen better days, they still wanted live music to entice customers in, so Forbert dutifully applied. The fun part about this story is that to play there you yourselves had to physically construct the stage that you were to then sing and perform on!
Throughout this colorful, and no holds barred autobiography, we also travel with Forbert as he took his whirlwind tour of Alive on Arrival and Jackrabbit Slim on the road. Continuing to write songs along the way, he could sense the sea change within the industry. Especially the actual production of the records being physically recorded and created.
A fun story is one where Forbert recounts a gig in Hannover, Germany with Bryan Adams where he needed a digital tape to record his set and Bryan himself went out of his way to get one for him. That was when he was playing with the Bolt Uprights and followed on stage the band simply known as Texas.
Trust me when I say that there are many, oh so many more delicious stories captured here on these pages from Forbert and each one is seamlessly linked from chapter to chapter. Whether they be recollections of pain, stress, joy, heartbreak, heartache, triumph or even surprise, 'Big City Cat: My Life in Folk-Rock' is one of the best autobiographical reads of 2018.
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'The Weirdest Movie Ever Made'
By: Phil Hall - BearManor Media - $19.99
Description: On October 20th, 1967, Roger Patterson and Bob Gimlin emerged from a forest in Northern California with 59 seconds of grainy, shaky, silent 16mm film that supposedly offered documentary evidence of the Sasquatch, a creature of Native American folklore.
Although neither Patterson nor Gimlin had any previous experience in filmmaking or zoology, they presented their remarkable footage as the first motion picture confirmation of the existence of the elusive Sasquatch.
However, not everyone was convinced by the imagery on the Patterson-Gimlin Film.
Verdict: Reading this book is, and please know that I actually recall this "filmed fact" from back in the day rather all too vividly, without a shadow of a doubt, a guilty pleasure for us "believers."
The footage shot in 1967 in Northern California has since been subjected to many attempts to authenticate or debunk it, of this we all know, and yet, mysteriously, nobody has managed to disprove Bigfoot's existence in any way, (big) shape or form.
As we learn from reading Phil Hall's new book, 'The Weirdest Movie Ever Made: The Patterson-Gimlin Bigfoot Film,' the footage was filmed alongside Bluff Creek, a tributary of the Klamath River, about 25 logging-road miles northwest of Orleans, California, in Humboldt County.
Indeed, the film site is roughly 38 miles south of Oregon and 18 miles east of the Pacific Ocean, but for decades, the exact location of the site was lost; primarily because of re-growth of foliage in the stream bed (a segment of the creek informally known as "the bowling alley") after the flood of 1964. It was rediscovered in 2011.
So now we get Hall, the author of The History of Independent Cinema, The Greatest Bad Movies of All Time and In Search of Lost Films, giving his own thoughts on this still most wondrous of short films.
The book kicks in immediately re: 2012, when in Cornwall, Pennsylvania-based residents Jesse L. Wenrich and Robert E. Zimmerman II were minding their own business one night; until they collectively hear something strange coming from an adjacent forest.
For me, I think the best line of the entire book is right there on the opening page, for Zimmerman explained to all that would subsequently listen that the noise sounded like, and I can't even begin to make this up (although, sure, he might have done, of course), "Jennifer Love Hewitt being stabbed in a horror movie!"
Come on now, how brilliant is that of a verbal description of a supposedly animalistic sound! It's made even more profound when you learn that straight after Zimmerman made that statement, Wenrich added that the source of the noise HAD to be a Sasquatch! Of course it did. Stands to reason.
Filmed on location by Roger Patterson and Bob Gimlin, we learn from Hall that neither had any professional training or experience in film production. Indeed, they were both simply military veterans who first chose to be rodeo riders, before getting tired of being tossed from their saddles each night.
But after filming this entity, lurking, then walking, nay striding past them, even turning to look them in the eyes, the final 59.5-second film, which the men would airmail back home to be developed, would soon become the world-famous film Hall discusses so adeptly in this book.
Indeed, and arguably, one of the most scrutinized pieces of video footage ever made.
Back to the story itself, and sure, additional doubt was generated by the strange story behind the film’s creation and over the years, odd rumors emerged about the film; including the story of an Academy Award-winning make-up artist’s alleged role in assembling the creature seen on camera!
As Hall winds his way through the facts and figures of the story, the meat and potatoes, if you will, he ultimately concludes that if these two men were indeed fabricating the whole thing, and faked the Bigfoot itself, why? What had they to gain from such a stupid, and easily-caught-out venture?
And therein lies the true undercurrent to this film, to this tale: What had either Patterson or Gimlin to gain from making this short film? Did Patterson go to his grave knowing he was a big, fat liar or did he go sad, knowing that he still hadn't managed to convince any one of what he truly believed he had really seen that day?
While the debate over the authenticity of the Patterson-Gimlin Film continues to percolate, few would question the effectiveness of how this piece of celluloid brought forth an unlikely sensation, lovingly dubbed the Bluff Creek Sasquatch.
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'World Domination: The Sub Pop Records Story'
By: Gillian G. Gaar - BMG Books - $21.99
Description: Founded in the late 1980s by Bruce Pavitt and Jonathan Poneman, Seattle-based Sub Pop Records released early recordings by then-upstart regional bands such as Green River, Soundgarden, Mudhoney, Tad, Nirvana, Flaming Lips, Afghan Whigs, and Screaming Trees.
When the world went grunge crazy in the 1990s, Sub Pop was suddenly the epicenter of Seattle cool. 'World Domination' takes you deep inside the chaotic early days of the label’s founding, all the way to the present.
Verdict: Dedicated to Tom Kipp, "record collector extraordinaire," it opens with a Prologue (The Twentieth Anniversary) and based around the recollections of July 10th, 2008, Gaar begins her journey with a flashback to when the Sub Pop Records logo was to be found on a flag ... rippling in the breeze atop Seattle's Space Needle (in celebration of the aforementioned company-achieved twentieth anniversary).
As we quickly learn, founded in 1986 by Bruce Pavitt it was actually in 1977, on a lovely summer's day, when Pavitt had an experience that would alter the trajectory of his life.
He was attending a BBQ in Park Forest, Chicago when the DJ started playing the brand new single from the Sex Pistols, 'God Save the Queen.' Pavitt looked around and saw how everyone listening had been instantly hooked and realized, instantly, that it was a life-changing event for him.
Cut to 1988, when Sub Pop Records was actually formed by Pavitt and Jonathan Poneman in Seattle, Washington and the music world was about to experience an audio wave quite like they have never experienced before: Grunge.
In early 1988 Pavitt and Poneman quit their jobs to devote their full attention to Sub Pop. Raising $43,000, they incorporated that April. "Of course, that was spent in, like, thirty days", Pavitt recalls. "We almost went bankrupt after a month"!
But they didn't and as you read through this thoroughly entertaining new book from Gaar, you will learn things about the label that, perhaps, you had taken for granted down the years.
It turns out that both Pavitt and Poneman studied earlier independent labels ranging from Motown to SST Records and decided that virtually every successful movement in rock music had a regional basis.
Ergo, the pair sought to create a cohesive brand identity for Sub Pop with the label's ads promoting the label itself more than any particular band.
The label also sought to market a "Seattle sound", which was accomplished with the help of producer Jack Endino, who produced 75 singles, albums, and EPs for Sub Pop between 1987 and 1989.
Endino recorded cheaply and quickly; in order to operate this way, he utilized some consistent studio techniques, which gave the records a similar sound.
Achieving fame in the late '80s for signing Seattle bands such as Nirvana, Soundgarden, and Mudhoney, all central players in the grunge movement, they are often credited with helping popularize grunge music.
Around those formative years the label's roster also included Fleet Foxes, Foals, Beach House, The Postal Service, Flight of the Conchords, Sleater-Kinney, Blitzen Trapper, Father John Misty, Shabazz Palaces, METZ, Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever, and The Shins.
The evolution of the record label is detailed by Gaar, but moreover, she allows the story to breathe and to organically be told through soundbites from most all the people involved at the time.
Trust me, by the time you reach the end (Going Silver) you will be headed out to your local record store, or searching online to buy Sub Pop Records vinyl albums (the only way to listen to good music).
As a foot note, in 1995, the owners of Sub Pop sold a 49% stake of the label to the Warner Music Group. Poneman and Pavitt had a disagreement about the direction the label should take, with Poneman wanting the label to become larger and make more money.
In 1996, unable to take the new corporate culture following the Warner partnership, Bruce Pavitt left the label and was able to spend more time with his family.
Oh, and in 2006, Sub Pop Records became the first Green-e certified record label. Through work with the Green-e program and the Bonneville Environmental Foundation, Sub Pop "greened" their label by purchasing enough renewable energy certificates to offset 100 percent of the electricity they use in their office; showing their commitment to putting renewable energy in the mainstream as a way consumers can take action to do something about global warming.
About the Author: Gillian G. Gaar is the author of over fifteen books, including 'She’s a Rebel: The History of Women in Rock & Roll', 'Return of the King: Elvis Presley’s Great Comeback', and 'Entertain Us: The Rise of Nirvana'.
She was a senior editor at the Seattle music paper The Rocket and has also written for Mojo, Rolling Stone, Goldmine, and Seattle’s Museum of Popular Culture, among many other publications and organizations.
Gaar, who lives in Seattle, also served as a project consultant on Nirvana’s With the Lights Out box set.
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High in the Mid-'60s: How to Have a Fabulous Life
By: Rick Levy - Crossroad Press, $9.99
Description: Written by Rick Levy, High in the Mid-'60s: How to Have A Fabulous Life in Music Without being famous! is all of the following - a memoir, a life journey, a rock n roll “everyman” story, a spiritual discovery, a fathering experience, an absolute music business survival manual, and an anecdotal treasure chest of life on the road.
Verdict: For those not in the know, Rick Levy has created a unique position in the entertainment business.
A performer for more than 4 decades, Levy was bandleader for Herman's Hermits starring Peter Noone from 2000-2002.
Currently, Rick is guitarist and tour manager for two legendary '60s artists, The Box Tops and Tommy Roe. He also spearheaded the reunion of his first Lehigh Valley, PA. band, The Limits and licensed their recordings worldwide.
As a nationally and internationally known manager and musician, Rick Levy understands the needs of both clients and artists.
In 2014 Rick Levy was awarded the Pennsylvania Governor's Lifetime Achievement Award in the Music Industry, as well as a Lifetime Achievement Award by the Lehigh Valley Music Awards (affiliate of the Philadelphia Grammy Chapter).
In late 2018, Crossroad Press released Rick's memoir, the brilliantly entitled 'High in the Mid-'60s: How to Have A Fabulous Life in Music Without being famous!' and as someone who admittedly knew not all that much about Levy, I have to say that this book is so very hard to put down once you start reading it.
Divided into chronological sections, starting with childhood, and culminating in an ongoing epilogue, High in the Mid-'60s details Levy's life; including his time involved with various aforementioned groups such as, but not limited to, Herman's Hermits, Jay & the Techniques, and The Box Tops.
After a brief intro page that runs from 1965 ("I was 15.") to 1971 ("I'm 21"), to the Mid-'90s in Atlanta, to 2014 (Pennsylvania Governor's Lifetime Achievement Award in Music), to 2018 (The Box Tops are inducted into the Memphis Music Hall of Fame), a Heartfelt Dedication page to Levy's mother, Myra, his father Mort, his son Jonah, et al, an Acknowledgment page to his attorneys, An Invitation To Enjoy page by Lloyd Zane Remick Esq. (an entertainment lawyer and manager), and finally a Foreword, we are off and running.
From the very off, November 1949, we learn so much about Levy that you'll wish you had cottoned on to who he was much earlier in life. The book showcases a man that although he may not recall all his childhood memories, he side steps what could have been an issue for an autobiography, by making us aware it was because he was raised in a loving, tender, supportive family atmosphere.
He calls it his Before Music (BM) spell of unknown time and as he tells it, even his friend, the late Alex Chilton (lead singer of The Box Tops) suffered from the very same childhood BM loss.
Moving on though the book though and we quickly discover that BM memories are not necessary for Levy to spin his musical yarn for there's a rich, royal wealth of wisdom, honesty, fun, sharp observations, great stories, and good advice in these pages.
Levy explains, and with true low brow honesty, that his life didn't exactly change overnight, but that life simply got in his way (perfectly, so it seems now looking back).
Sure he knew from a very young age that he wanted to be a musician, but it was actually a phone call he received during his RockRoots years that changed things the most for him.
Kenny Rogers and other entertainers had put together a huge national charity campaign called Hands Across America and Jay & the Techniques were on the Allentown bill of the local touring entity.
That said, if his time in Jay & the Techniques marked the aforementioned turning point in his career, it was in 1987 when they first backed Peter Noone of Herman's Hermits (in Baton Rouge) that firmly set him on his new path.
The book grows in depth and storytelling as it progresses, his memories of his musical rise solid and very colorful. Seemingly enjoying all he went through as a struggling musician on through to his life now, reading between the lines you just know he not only wrote this memoir with a smile, but also lived it in much the same vein.
In closing and simply put, if you grew up in the '60s and love the music of that era - let alone the fact that it's also a story of perseverance and the willingness to chop and change, alter musical stylings and adapt accordingly with the times - then this is the book is most definitely for you.
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By: Daniel Ryan Day - Discovery House, $14.99
Description: Stuck in a dead-end job and not sure what to do next? Confused by the options — or lack of options — for a career path? Desperately trying to hear God’s voice and frustrated by His silence?
Daniel Ryan Day can relate.
From struggling to find direction for college, to doors slamming shut on his dream job, to getting fired from a job he was finding success in — all Day wanted was to answer God’s call on his life. If only he could figure out what that was.
Verdict: Well, cutting to the chase and Day did indeed find the answers in Scripture — where they had been all along — and finally God’s will made sense.
As we learn from this highly insightful, thought provoking new book, Day had expected that the “dream job” and “God’s call” were the same thing.
What he discovered set him free from frustration so he could confidently step forward in God’s will. It allowed him to thrive. And it will do the same for you.
Once the Introduction - a warm greeting of a hand that calms you and gently explains not only why Day is here (writing this book) but moreover why you might have found your way here also - the opening chapter ('What's Next') truly starts at the beginning re: How Day was thirty years old and had still not figured out who he was going to be.
Of course, as we get older the age-old question of ponderance What's next for me? is more profound, but as we are all only human, we tend to push that to the back of our minds to deal with more "pressing" daily "issues."
In 'What's Next,' Day tries to guide us through that mental barrier of ours and have us to try and concentrate on what it is we're actually looking for - from within our lives currently and for our future.
In the opening chapters Day doesn't overly imbue his words in the Spiritual aspects of his life, of his world, simply pointing out that the things we actually want are 1) A sense of purpose, and 2) A level of fulfillment within our lives (at all times).
The book goes on to detail how our search for the so-called "dream job" might have always been an elusive one and how we tend to shy away from those jobs that we were always so sure were not for us (when they could have been perfect for us all along), and then the chapters unfold their Spirituality thereafter.
Without giving away too many more secrets from this honest, passionately-written new book, one of the chapters ('Fight, Fight, Fight!') that stood out to me was further on where Day instructs us (suggests, moreover) to live with intentionality.
He explains it as the step beyond all good intentions is actually beyond just the desire to help. Where, and which makes great sense to all those tuned in, so to speak, most of us have that inert desire to help others.
For as it relates to this book, let alone the Bible, most of us want to live out God's calling on our lives, but the actual living-it-out part - now that's hard (although, perhaps now made a little easier to comprehend and put into motion now this book is in our lives, of course).
'What’s Next' also includes discussion questions to help you process what you’ve learned through Scripture and guide you toward your next steps.
About the Author: Daniel Ryan Day is an author, speaker, blogger, co-host of the nationally syndicated radio program, Discover the Word, and fellow believer who spent quite a few years trying to figure out God’s call on his life.
His search for answers—accompanied by earning a master’s in theology from Fuller Theological Seminary—led him to discover that God reveals every Christian’s broader calling within the pages of Scripture. Day lives in North Carolina with his family.
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'Letters To Sarah'
By: Corky Laing with Tuija Takala - Waterside Productions, $10.77
Description: 'Letters to Sarah' is a rock autobiography with a difference. In addition to the exceptionally honest and endearing voice of Corky chronicling the ups and downs of his life, there are excerpts from dozens of letters (out of the c. 200) that Corky wrote to his mother, Sarah, between the years 1963 and 1997.
She had saved them all. The letters were a way for Corky, away on the road for years on end, to keep in touch with his mother and also, to make sense of his life.
This continues in 'Letters to Sarah', as Corky relives the first 50 years of his life, up until his mother’s passing in 1998.
Verdict: Well, for those not in the know, Corky Laing is best known as the drummer of Mountain and West, Bruce and Laing and over the years he has performed, recorded and written with the who’s-who of rock.
Furthermore, he has received multiple gold records, several Juno awards and was given the Bonzo Bash Legend Award in 2014.
Released this past May 7th, 2019 via Waterside Productions, in my humble opinion 'Letters To Sarah' is one of the most open, honest and heartfelt books (from this genre of being a rock autobiography) that I have had the pleasure to read in the past decade.
With a foreword from Richard Samet "Kinky" Friedman - an American singer, songwriter, novelist, humorist, politician, defender of stray animals, and former columnist for Texas Monthly who styles himself in the mold of popular American satirists Will Rogers and Mark Twain - and a preface from Tuija Takala - Academy research fellow, philosopher, producer, songwriter, driver, roadie and dear friend and musical colleague of Laing's - the book then launches into the first chapter 'Going Down' … a story of seven passengers on a Learjet about to unexpectedly experience an emergency landing!
Family Matters brings us more into the youthful world of Laing and aside from bringing to us the real reason he obtained his nickname "Corky" also allows us to grasp just what the wee man went through at Herbert Symonds Elementary School and his very first inspiration for a collaboration re: George Gardos.
As we progress through this eye opening and highly personal book, during Formative Years we follow Laing on his journey within a Canadian band living in Montreal, Quebec and yet recording in the USA into the self explanatory Music Takes Center Stage chapter.
It's obvious reading along and reading between the lines that growing up with his triplet brothers had incorporated a lot of challenges. None more so than when it's revealed in Sofa Tour that the four boys used to sleep in a small room that used to be a dining room where four beds were set up as two bunks against the wall.
But memories like that seem to only serve to inspire and propel Laing as his touring schedule became bigger and better in and around Spring of 1970. Playing with Mountain on the East Coast and West Coast, Texas and the mighty Midwest, he soon found himself in England and so in Hello Britain he details how he was soon "... beating the shit out of my kit in front of my first UK audience"!
The book goes on and details much more - good, bad and ugly - about not only Laing's touring days, but also his letters to his mother, Sarah, of course.
But it's safe to say that as you proceed onward, heading for the finale of the Over The Mountain chapter, reaching it will feel like you have gotten to know a man deeply that you might never have taken the time to had it not been for his insightful and always endearing 'Letters To Sarah.'
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Corky Laing @ Facebook
'What About Tomorrow?'
By: Alexander Herbert - Microcosm Publishing, $19.95
Description: Punk arrived in Soviet Russia in 1978, spreading slowly at first through black market vinyl records and soon exploding into state-controlled performance halls, where authorities found the raucous youth movement easier to control.
In fits and starts, the scene grew and flourished, always a step ahead of secret police and neo-Nazis, through glasnost, perestroika, and the end of the Cold War.
From its origins in St Petersburg and Moscow to uniquely thriving punk scenes in the provincial capitals, this glimpse behind the iron curtain feels immediate, real, and more relevant than ever. [Includes never-before-published photographs of many of the bands].
Verdict: Despite a few albums smuggled out of the country and released in Europe and the US, most Westerners had never heard of Russia's punk movement until Pussy Riot burst onto the international stage.
A Russian feminist protest punk rock group based in Moscow and founded in August 2011, it has had a variable membership of approximately 11 women ranging in age from about 20 to 33.
Known for staging unauthorized provocative guerrilla performances in public places, performances that were subsequently filmed as music videos and posted on the Internet, the collective's lyrical themes included feminism, LGBT rights, and opposition to Russian President Vladimir Putin; whom the group considered to be a dictator, and his policies.
But, as you will soon find out by delving into this quite eye opening and extraordinary oral history of lives (perhaps) led outside of your daily peripheral, 'What About Tomorrow? An Oral History of Russian Punk from the Soviet Era to Pussy Riot' is that throughout the past four decades of the scene's evolution music has always been the mainstay of challenging the regime and of acquiring political self-empowerment.
From the early bands like Avtomaticheskie Udovletvoriteli (“Automatic Satisfiers,” a play on the Sex Pistols) and Naive to more contemporary bands like Distress, Ricochet, and the anti-fascist Proverochnaia Lineika (Straight Edge), this is more than just an oral history: It is the first English book about Russian punk subcultures, featuring never-before-published photographs and interviews, bringing all you never knew (or even thought you actually knew) to the comfort of your American home.
Focusing on Western Russia, and in particular Moscow and St. Petersberg (although there is the one chapter donated to the punk scene within the provinces, combined with another chapter compiled by Vladimir Kozlov on Siberian Punk), 'What About Tomorrow?' forgoes the punk tales heard from Russia east of the Ural Mountains and all the post-Soviet space to bring a more concise and bolstered tale to us.
For in telling these stories of a nation's punk history, author Alexander Herbert does everything within his power to resonate through words just how the subculture of punks resonated through Russia and what it actually meant to the country over time.
The conversations found with the book, a fair magnitude of them previously published interviews or texts, but some never-before-published, span 2013-2017 and are as wondrously tale-telling as you would have hoped they would be.
The joyous amount of black and white photographs included all represent and showcase the exact time period perfectly. Most all live shots, some backstage too, there's even exclusive photography of young and upcoming, raw and inexperienced Russian bands playing their first gigs in their parents living rooms!
For sometimes concerts were organized in casual premises, such as schools and libraries, and yes, even front rooms (when parental permission was given, of course), because it was a unique time, full of idealism and enthusiasm.
And that is what this brilliant book is all about: A written and photographic documentation of a time where all the members of the growing Russian punk scene were young, naïve, and thoroughgoing, and who gave their all for its development.
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By: Reid Chancellor - Microcosm Publishing, $14.95
Description: Punk rock and mental health have been intertwined since the very beginning.
Nervous breakdowns, anxiety, seeking acceptance, attempting to overcome internalized demons, and reacting to harmful and oppressive systems—punk rock embodies and emboldens all our feelings and experiences, positive and negative.
Told from the point of view of a young man (Reid himself) discovering punk and working through mental illness in Evansville, Indiana, this stunning nonfiction graphic novel gives punks the most important advice of all: "You aren't alone. You're going to make it through alive".
Verdict: In what has fast become on of my favorite books of 2019, the open, honest, revealing and downright hand-on-your-shoulder for guidance and nurture new book 'Hardcore Anxiety' charts and tracks punk movements from the '70s till today, from small towns to stadiums, from the struggles in our heads to the people actively harming us in our communities.
'Hardcore Anxiety' opens with Reid about to go on stage with his band in a bar in Evansville, Indiana. However, and out of nowhere, some writing on the bathroom wall sends him into a downward spiral that results, ultimately, in this thoughtful, well-researched story of the connections between punk rock and mental health; in his own life and for well known bands.
In graphic novel form, he brings to life punk's ability to express the rage, anxiety, depression, and insanity we experience is matched only by the power of music and community to make life worth living after all.
This captivating new non-fiction graphic novel features a bunch of bands like Black Flag, Fugazi, The Clash, Ramones, and so many more, but its the eye opening, brutally honest, and at times blindingly raw tales of Reid's struggles with mental health that openly course throughout.
With 157 backers who pledged $4,386 to help bring this project to life on Kickstarter, Reid’s trough of self esteem issues as a young teenager soon began to take on a much larger form as he got older.
As he tells it, his disordered mood “... was beginning to take over” as he slowly, but surely began to descend into acts of self-harm. Backed by the music of Punk’s go-for-it-screaming pathos, 'Hardcore Anxiety' - and containing a slew of black and white art, all hand drawn by Reid - is not really a "guide," per say, but moreover a deeply personal diary of a punk fan’s troubled mind.
From the moment where the book opens with Reid putting on his first basement punk show, having painted it in the form of a skeleton with rib cages and skulls around the stage (which he then assimilates it to something that comes alive when the room fills; as if they were the organs that made everything come to life), to the recognition that the longer they played how the world just started to fade away, through to the book-ending revelation of how a giant chalk board of negativity in a bathroom culminated in eventual positivity, this is truly a book for the ages to behold.
About the Author: Reid Chancellor is an artist, writer, and musician from Evansville, Indiana. You can follow his work on all social media platforms @reidchancellor. He currently lives in north-western Kentucky with his wife Kristan and two cats Buffy and Willow.
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By: Neil Ratner MD - Rock Doc Entertainment LLC, $19.99
Description: The highly engrossing 'Rock Doc' will take you from backstage at a Pink Floyd Dark Side of the Moon concert in the early seventies, where Neil's production company, Circus Talents, Ltd. was providing production services, to the office operating rooms of elite New York surgeons where Neil Ratner MD was Director of Anesthesia.
Verdict: Well, for those not in the know, author Neil Ratner quit college in the late sixties and traversed the Hollywood celebrity world as a successful road manager for names like Edgar Winter's White Trash and tour manager for Emerson Lake and Palmer.
He established a full service production company (a pioneering approach at this stage) to support the artists on tour and worked with T-Rex, Genesis, Pink Floyd and many others.
Later in his career he managed the successful songwriter Denise Rich and built Dream Factory studios in NYC.
After his successful career in the music industry he decided it was time to follow his heart and pursue his other childhood dream of becoming an MD.
Even though not a single American school wanted to take him, he didn't give up and moved to Mexico to get his medical degree. He made it back into the American system and after many years of residency Neil became an anesthesiologist.
In what can only be described as a series of If you didn't read it here you would never have known moments, Neil's story combines not only the highs and lows of both music and medicine, but also intertwines rabidly with celebrity friendships, high profile meetings and a downward spiral that would have brought many lesser men to their knees.
Picking things back up though, when Propofol became available in the U.S. in the late 1980's Neil was one of the first to become expert in its usage as it was a perfect drug for office use.
His relationship with the top plastic and reconstructive surgeons in New York allowed him to treat a number of high profile patients. That's how Neil met Michael Jackson. He became his personal doctor and a close friend.
They had a lot in common and Neil accompanied the star from late 1997 until his last performance in 2001. Indeed it was during Michael Jackson's tour in South Africa, Michael introduced Neil to Nelson Mandela.
They would meet again a few years later when Neil went with Michael to present Mandela a check for Mandela's Children's Fund. A meeting that would have a great impact on Neil's future charity work.
For Neil's world of fame and fortune, good times and even greater times was about to come crashing down when he was convicted for insurance fraud and sentenced to jail.
As you can well imagine, this was a turning point in his life. Power and greed were no longer perfectly acceptable ways of exploiting his personal position.
Thus Neil served four months in federal prison and 4 months of home confinement. Worse than that he lost everything: money reputation, job, and even his (so-called) friends.
But Neil refused to be defeated and became more focused on improving the lives of people in deprived areas around the globe. He knew it was time to make a difference.
He knew life was not just about money and material things and so this is when his relationship with Nelson Mandela began to play a role in how he was going to make a contribution to humankind.
It wasn't that Neil hadn't tried before. He began with solo charity work in Samburu, Kenya, where he established a bush clinic. A few years later after the US Embassy bombings in Africa in 1999, he co-led a team of doctors that operated on over 300 people that suffered deforming injuries.
But Neil knew that wasn't near enough. Going to prison and losing everything showed him a different side of life. It was time to start something new.
Thus he established a charity project called International Community Bakeries. Its purpose was to create community based, community supported, self-sustaining micro bakeries which produce fresh, high quality, healthy breads.
The charity started with creating a bakery in South Africa at a place called Nkosi's Haven a home for very poor single HIV positive Moms and their kids.
When Mandela heard about the project he helped Neil raise the necessary funds for the bakery. The bakery opened in 2009. A second bakery followed in a township outside Cape Town two years later and last year they opened a third bakery in one of the worst slums in Port Au Prince Haiti.
Phew! Well, it's hardly an understatement to say that 'Rock Doc' is a uniquely personal opus that reveals the incredible beginning, middle and end (as of today) of a man embedded in the world of music on minute, of medicine the next, and then bounced through the justice system, only to come out the other end a better, stronger, and more whole person intent on giving his newly-cleansed heart and soul to the most deserving.
Instilled with honesty, even to the point that Ratner admits that the events portrayed inside are to the best of his memory from those days and that whilst all the stories in the book are true, some names and identifying details have been changed to protect the privacy of the people involved, his words just continue to showcase a man not out to besmirch or step on others as he takes his new path forward.
In a heartfelt, well-scripted, and scenically told to perfection book, one dedicated to all those that have been told by others, "You'll never," and also to Michael Jackson, whose presence was with him for much of the writing, and also his soulmate and partner for the last 42 years, Leann, the book begins with the MD in the house and about to meet the aforementioned King Of Pop in his office.
Not giving much away here, but as we head into the four-part photograph section midway through the book, just prior to the opening of the Rock section (the others being Doc, Michael Jackson and Rock Doc) it is revealed that it was actually the King Of Pop himself who gave Ratner his "Rock Doc" moniker!
In conclusion, chapter by chapter of this amusing and painfully life-lived book reveals a new facet of Neil Ratner that not only colorizes the man himself, but adds to the history of others re: MJ that perhaps we didn't even know had a correlation.
Ergo, 'Rock Doc' is an incredibly honest reveal of a man who, layer by layer, chapter by chapter, presents to us, arms open wide, Ratner's most personal tales of his intimate friendships with average joe's to mega stars, from loved ones to a South African anti-apartheid revolutionary, political leader, from drugs to court rooms to jail, and yet who encases it all sublimely within a magnificent transformation tale.
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'Curse of the Mudchalk Devil'
By: Phil Lanzon - Pegasus Publishers, £8.99.
Description: When an inquisitive and determined young girl discovers she can see music as well as hear it, she uses this power to destroy the curse of disharmony engulfing her world.
Elin is to assist in her father's illusionist show, but the disastrous events of that night sets her on a journey that would test the stamina of any human.
Reluctantly, she accepts the persistent help of a boy from her class and they enter a wondermus, fantastical world from which they may never return the same.
Will her gift change anything?
Verdict: Well, for those not in the know, author Phil Lanzon is a musician (keyboardist for Uriah Heep since 1986) who writes songs and stories, forever searching the far corners of imagination to find unchartered waters.
He's toured the world with his music many times and seen much of life in all its diverse, deranged, endearing dimensions. He has three children, nine grandchildren, and two GREAT granddaughters and lives at the edge of the universe in east Kent with his partner, Patina.
Here in his first novel, 'Curse of the Mudchalk Devil,' Lanzon brings forth the transcription of an earlier screenplay he had long ago written.
During a Scandinavian tour in February 1999, Lanzon began to write short stories to kill wasted time on the road and even self-published a collection entitled 'Strange and Wondermus Stories.'
Over the new decade he would go on to perfect one of those stories which he turned into a screenplay. He even got it read by a Hollywood producer, but as with most things Hollywood nothing came of it.
However, the story itself has now raised it's Devilish head once again in the form of this debut paperback novel, 'Curse of the Mudchalk Devil.'
This fiction book is about a young girl who can see as well as hear music and who ultimately uses her gift to combat her biggest troublemaker … the aforementioned Mudchalk Devil!
Specifically written for children and teenagers, renaissance man Lanzon (who has also just released a stunning new sophomore solo album entitled 48 Seconds) not only wrote the novel, but has also illustrated it (complete with a vibrant cover art designed by Tony Mayor) has created a magnificently compassionate story chock full of both adventure and suspense.
With an opening Dedication to all the mistreated, unloved and unlistened-to children of the world, the story opens with Elin Boneti daydreaming through her math class.
Wondering aloud to her teacher If you could see music what would it look like?, together with her teachers concerns for her mental health along with derision from her class mates, Elin resigned herself to the fact that maybe she didn't belong.
The book quickly picks up pace with the discovery of an old book ('A Broughtonsea History') that reveals a local shrine where once an immortals' battle had taken place between good and evil, mysterious visions at her local seaside lookout (aptly named Devil's Lookout), and then come some most fantastical adventures for both teens and young adults to enjoy.
Personally, and being an avid reader (of actual paperback books rather than anything Kindle associated), I found 'Curse of the Mudchalk Devil' to be engrossing from the very off.
It doesn't labor in the slightest on the quiet moments, such as the initial origin story of Elin, nor the subsequent build up to her self discoveries, nor during the what-can-be always dangerous lead into the last quarter run in, and for that alone I found that the story line together with the readers sense of vicarious adventure never wavers either.
At its heart a tale of a good soul with something precious (Visible Music) beholden to them that is desperately wanted by a bad entity (the Mudchalk Devil), Lanzon's debut novel may well have been 20 years in the making, but trust me when I say that reading it is like a breath of fresh air within this industry.
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