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Archive for September, 2012

A Review of Mercury

Posted by Scott Holstad on September 27, 2012

Mercury: An Intimate Biography of Freddie MercuryMercury: An Intimate Biography of Freddie Mercury by Lesley-Ann Jones

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I have to admit up front that I’ve been a huge Queen fan since the 70s when I was a kid listening to their music. They remain one of my favorite groups of all time, and I believe Freddie was the greatest front man of any band ever.

Now that that’s out the way, how was the book? In a word — splendid! I just put away a biography on another favorite of mine — David Bowie — cause the authors just seemed to want to skewer him and it really put a damper on my enthusiasm for the man. I had to stop reading it to save what I still liked about him. So I was nervous in picking up a book on Freddie Mercury, fearing something similar might happen. Not to worry. The author, Lesley-Ann Jones, does a truly magnificent job of thorough research and exhaustive writing to put out a rather unbiased book on a great singer, one which elucidates while still making clear that no one ever truly knew the man well. He was one thing to his family, another to his first girlfriend (yes, girlfriend) Mary, another to his lover Jim, another to his German lover Barbara, another to his band mates, another to his fans, and so on and so on. One thing that was clear was that his bombastic personality while on stage didn’t transfer to his personal life, where he was generally quite shy.

Jones starts the book with his upbringing on Zanzibar and his boarding schooling in India and interviews relatives, in some cases, fairly distant relatives. I mean, the author really went all out. It was fascinating to read about the band’s early struggles and the making of “Bohemian Rhapsody,” Queen’s masterpiece. My primary complaint is not much time is spent on other songs. I would have loved more than one line about “We Will Rock You” or “Another One Bites The Dust,” and more than a paragraph or two on “We Are The Champions.” Some of the albums barely merit more than a paragraph, and while I know Jones wanted to chronicle their infamous hard core rock and roll partying, it gets a bit repetitive after awhile. I think more meat could have been added to the songs and albums, at least some of them.

It was sad to read about Freddie’s personal life, his love life. He was always being used and he seemed to never be content with one person, other than Mary, with whom he stopped having a sexual relationship after six years. Incidentally, I knew this, but Freddie left the vast majority of his estate to Mary when he died in 1991. One would have thought his gay lover(s), but nope, Mary. He also never clearly came out to his family. That I didn’t know. It was for religious reasons. It was great fun reading about Freddie’s enthusiasm about ballet and opera, about his run in with Sid Vicious in a studio when both were recording at the same time, about his spending sprees, his wild orgies, etc, etc. And face it, the man was a genius with a four octave range. What talent. Pity he had to die of AIDS so young. It was shocking to read how many of his friends and lovers were dropping like flies during the 80s. Really shocking.

I would have liked more about the band as a whole, but alas, the book was about Freddie, and if I want to read about Queen, I guess I’ll have to get a good Queen bio, eh? Great book, fun read, hard to put down, worth five stars….

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iOS6 Disaster!

Posted by Scott Holstad on September 24, 2012

IOS6: “iTunes cannot sync apps to the iPhone ‘Scott’s iPhone’ because the apps installed on the iPhone could not be determined.”

WTF???!!! This is after 1 hour & 15 minutes of downloading & installing the new OS on my phone. Now I can’t freaking sync it. Great. WTF am I supposed to do now??? I have a useless iPhone, in terms of ever syncing it again. This really sucks. It won’t recognize a single app on my phone….

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New Issue of Ray’s Road Review Is Out!

Posted by Scott Holstad on September 23, 2012

The new Fall 2012 issue of Ray’s Road Review is out! We’ve got some great fiction, nonfiction & poetry, as well as photography. Please check it out at http://raysroadreview.com. The new poets (since I’m the poetry editor) include Tony Gloeggler, Cooper Sy, Michael Estabrook, Stephen Mead, Michael Flanagan & Brad G. Garber. Please read & submit!

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A Review of The Digital Dead

Posted by Scott Holstad on September 21, 2012

The Digital DeadThe Digital Dead by Bruce Balfour

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Not a bad book, but not a great book either. Could have been better. First, though, it’s about a new company called Elysian Fields that offers eternal life by implanting chips in people’s heads and then when you die, an electronic copy of your personality is stored in a digital universe for people to interact with as though you’re still alive. It’s an odd premise and hard to pull off. I’m not convinced the book accomplished that for me. This book is also a sequel, which I wish I would have known. I could never figure out why an alien version of the Egyptian god Thoth was wandering around Kate’s head. Very strange. Ultimately the book is about power, and the scramble to attain it. The thing that irritated me about the book was that there were too many darn characters! I’m not completely stupid, but I had a hard time keeping up with them all. It doesn’t help that I read 4-6 books at a time, so I’d set this down for a couple of days and then had a hard time catching up when I picked it up again. I just kept think that Dick and Pohl, two of my sci fi favorites, never had to resort to dozens of characters. You usually have one or two with them and they still pull off a mean story. It just aggravated me and I almost gave up reading the book several times. However, I managed to finish and I guess I’m glad I did. Things were haphazardly tied up at the end, so I guess all is well with the universe. I’m still not completely satisfied with what happens to all of the digitally living dead people at the end of the book, but I won’t write a spoiler. I guess I mildly recommend the book, but with some reservation. Three stars max.

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A Review of Picasso: My Grandfather

Posted by Scott Holstad on September 19, 2012

Picasso, My GrandfatherPicasso, My Grandfather by Marina Picasso

My rating: 1 of 5 stars

I got through 30 pages and then just couldn’t finish this book. It’s dreadful. Marina Picasso’s hatred of and contempt for her grandfather knows no bounds. It’s really appalling. And what did Picasso do to gain her enmity? He was insulting. Yeah, that makes him a “monster” according to the Vancouver Sun on the front cover of the book. Her father, his son, had to work for him as a chauffeur. Well, everyone has choices in life. He chose to work for his dad and therefore had to get paid by him, which the family found humiliating. BFD. I felt no pity for this woman, and she so desperately wants to get pity from the reader. I couldn’t finish it. It was too pathetic. She needs to go to additional therapy, over the 14 years she went, and get the hell over it. Get a life Marina!

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Posted by Scott Holstad on September 9, 2012

I use an iPhone diary app called Flava. It’s pretty nice, cause you can track what you’re reading and listening to, where you go, etc., in addition to writing text. Friday they released version 2.0 and they made radical changes that make it SUCK! I can’t sync or back up to Evernote or Dropbox anymore. There’s no lock feature anymore. They took the calendar feature away, so you can’t search entries by date. It doesn’t even post to Facebook or Twitter anymore and just gives you a message in Japanese when you try to. The new version is getting trashed on iTunes and I sent them an email. This is what I sent them:

Dear Flava,

I utterly HATE the Flava 2.0 update! I can’t tell you just how much I hate it. I think it’s the worst app update I’ve ever seen.

I am ticked that you can’t back up or sync with Evernote or Dropbox anymore. Flava Cloud is NOT something I want, and 200 MB is nothing. The reason I sync to Evernote in the first place is because I’ve got well over 1 GB of Flava material. I’ve made 7 Flava entries today, and it’s already taking up 14 MB of my 200 MB. At that rate, I’ll have used it all up in three weeks! And then I’ll have to pay for more? Ridiculous!

I also hate the fact that the calendar feature is gone. I really relied on that and now it’s useless. Also, how could you take the lock function out? That’s stupid!

Your FAQ sucks too. Your English is terrible. Get a translator, please. Also, when I try to post to Facebook or Twitter, I get an alert with Asian writing (Japanese?). I can’t read it at all. When I press OK, nothing posts to Facebook or Twitter. Nothing happens. Again, useless in this regard.

I also hate having to title my posts now. When I’ve forgotten to title book or album posts, the default titles are stupid. Additionally, having to create an account is annoying. I hate having to remember tons of passwords. What was wrong with the old Flava??? I had asked for tag features and I recently got an email telling me you had completed this. Well, I can create tags now, yes, but I have no idea how to look them up or search for them, and it’s not in your FAQ, so that’s useless too.

Frankly, you screwed your users and you’ve seriously downgraded a once-great app. It’s too much like Path now, and that’s annoying. I guess I’m going to have to go back to boring-but-trustworthy Momento. You really messed up.

I don’t know if my email will have any effect, or if the negative iTunes reviews will either, but if they’re smart, they’ll do something — and quickly — to satisfy their user base because they’re about to lose a whole lot of people….

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A Review of The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch

Posted by Scott Holstad on September 9, 2012

The Three Stigmata of Palmer EldritchThe Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch by Philip K. Dick

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Please excuse my French, but this is a giant mind fuck of a book! All I could say when I finished it was, wow. Dick tackles a lot in this book. You’ve got twenty-first century global warming as it’s envisioned in 1964 when he wrote it. You got recreational drug use — Can-D and Chew-Z — similar to pot and LSD. You’ve got people who have been drafted to colonize other planets, all miserable and using Perky Pat (Barbie?) layouts as escape mechanisms. The thing that makes this aspect of the book interesting is the colonists use Can-D as a type of shared VR experience where anything in the Perky Pat layout can be lived through Can-D. It’s the only “out” these colonists have. Unfortunately, renowned explorer Palmer Eldritch has returned from 10 years in the uknown Prox system, and he’s brought Chew-Z, an upgrade drug in that anyone can experience any type of world they want. The creepy thing is, Eldritch inhabits virtually all of these worlds in a hellish sort of way and in fact, somehow, becomes the people taking the drug.

Palmer Eldritch is initially portrayed as God or a type of god before Dick settles on an ancient alien type of being who has taken over Eldritch and intends to take over all of humanity. The book is about good and evil, God and Satan, reality versus unreality, and so much more. The first 50 pages or so are fairly straitlaced, but then the book (d)evolves into utter insanity as we’re introduced to Palmer through Barney’s (the main character) boss Leo. Palmer has three distinctive stigmata, as we learn. He has a misformed metalic jaw, a metalic right hand (why right?) and fake horizontal eyes. As more people chew Chew-Z, these people take on these stigmata as part of their persona and at some point you realize you can’t distinguish between the “real” characters and Palmer, as they all trade personalities at some point. A neo-Christian named Anne, whom Barney is taken with while on Mars, tells Barney late in the book, the pot is not the potter, and that might be the crux of the entire book. What are we left with, after all? It’s difficult to tell, just as it’s difficult to tell what’s real and what isn’t. Ultimately, I don’t think you can. While this is a drug addled book, it’s also a highly religious book with all sorts of (unanswered) questions that Dick ponders. It’s a crazy read, so read with caution. Recommended.

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The Dead Can Dance Concert

Posted by Scott Holstad on September 6, 2012

[Caveat — I can’t get the darn pictures to line up correctly with the type, so I’m sorry for the jumbled page.]

Last night was the big Dead Can Dance concert in Atlanta and it was amazing! My buddy Chris D, who drove down from Virginia, hooked up with me here in Chattanooga and we went down to our hotel in Atlanta late yesterday afternoon. After checking into our suite, we went to a local Italian place recommended by the hotel staff. It wasn’t bad. I had lasagna and I would give it a solid B grade. After dinner, we went back and changed into our Dead Can Dance t-shirts we’d gotten with the purchase of our tickets. Looking like concert twins, we left for the venue.

The concert was held in the Cobb Energy Performing Arts Center, where the Atlanta Symphony plays. It’s a three story marvel, very tall and high. Fortunately, we were in the orchestra section, down front. When we entered the center, Chris insisted on buying us DCD concert t-shirts, even though we were already wearing DCD t-shirts. I relented, cause he was as excited as a little kid. T-shirts in hand, we hit the bar, where Chris got a beer and I got a pinot grigio.

Me, at the Dead Can Dance concert

Chris and I at the DCD concert

After a drink, we headed for our seats. We were elated when we were taken by the usher down to the second row, where our seats were practically dead center. It was virtually impossible to have had better seats! We giggled like school girls, knowing how close to the band we’d be.

Second row seats

An opening act came on at 8 PM, doing instrumentals to Arabic tambourines and Swiss drum-like instruments. Good world music. Finally, after a break, Dead Can Dance came on. Brendan Perry has aged, but looked great. He’s shaving his hair and his goatee is white now, but he sounds fantastic. And Lisa Gerrard was stunning! She wore a black outfit with a gold cape and she looked regal as she gazed out over the crowded audience, smiling the whole time. There was a backing band of three keyboard players, two percussionists, and a bass player, while Brendan played the guitar and Lisa played her odd instrument, the name of which escapes me — I think it’s a dulcimer. Since they’re supporting a new album — which is fantastic, and their first since 1996 — they did a lot of new songs. All told, I believe they did six songs from the new album and three other new songs I’d never heard before, one a Moorish song that was 800 years old and another a Greek tune from the 1930s. They opened with “Children of the Sun” from their new album, Anastasis, and it was pretty powerful. Here is a picture of the band.

Dead Can Dance, Atlanta 2012

DCD played several new songs to start the show off before going to one of their old ones, “Rakim.” Here’s a picture of Lisa singing “Anabasis.”

Lisa Gerrard

Here’s a picture of Brendan doing “Amnesia.”

Brendan Perry

The band continued mixing new and old songs, but they didn’t play many of my favorite old Dead Can Dance songs, like “Cantara,” “American Dreaming,” “Salterello,” and “Carnival Is Over.” Oh well. Here’s a picture of them doing “Yulunga.”

Dead Can Dance

One of the big highlights was of Lisa doing her classic, “Sanvean.” It always brings tears to my eyes, it’s so beautiful. It was an awe inspiring performance and I recorded it on my iPhone so I can always play it.

Lisa Gerrard performing “Sanvean”

Brendan & Lisa collaborating

DCD ended their show with another song from the new album, it’s closing song, “All In Good Time.” They then left the stage. The crowded roared to its feet and exploded. The ovation lasted a long time before they came out for an encore. They played a rousing version of “The Ubiquitous Mr. Lovegrove” and another before leaving again. They got another standing O before returning for a second encore. This happened again, for a third encore, before the band gathered onstage to say their goodbyes and wave at us. Lisa blew the crowd kisses.

Goodbye DCD

It was a glorious concert and Chris and I were elated that we had gone, that we had such good seats, and I was particularly thrilled because I had waited some 25 years to see them live. Kick that off the bucket list, I guess.  I’ve seen a lot of good concerts, some very good. Morrissey was great, The Cure played until 1 AM, I saw the Bauhaus 15 year reunion tour concert in Los Angeles, Nine Inch Nails was amazing, but this one was perhaps the best show I’ve ever seen. I’m only sorry my beloved Gretchen didn’t get to make the trip with us. Perhaps another year.

Speaking of Gretchen, there was a sobering note to the evening. She called me while I was in the venue waiting for the show to begin, distraught. Her car window had been smashed out and her purse stolen, with everything in it. It was terrible, and we’ve spent the bulk of the day making the bank, DMV, credit card, and new car window rounds. What a hassle, and it was very worrisome. Chris and I contemplated going back to Chattanooga early in the morning, about 1 AM, but Gretchen went over to my parents’ house to stay, so instead we left around 6 AM today and got back at 8. It’s been a full 24 hours. It was an amazing show.

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A Review of The Secret War Against Hanoi

Posted by Scott Holstad on September 5, 2012

The Secret War Against Hanoi: The Untold Story of Spies, Saboteurs, and Covert Warriors in North VietnamThe Secret War Against Hanoi: The Untold Story of Spies, Saboteurs, and Covert Warriors in North Vietnam by Richard H. Shultz Jr.

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The author of this book used declassified material to give readers an inside view of “The Secret War Against Hanoi.” Unfortunately, it’s almost all from the operational level, or I guess more accurately, from a top down perspective. What I mean is we learn about special forces (SOG) fighting in the Vietnam area (N Vietnam, S Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia), but with almost no personal stories behind what went on. Instead, we get directives and papers argued about and with the Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS), the State Department, the Defense Department, and the White House itself. It’s a book about politics and the resulting failures of SOG due to bureaucratic bullshit. It took years for a covert war to get off the ground, and just when North Vietnam started to publicly admit they were feeling the heat, the White House pulled the plug due to political reasons.

The book covers four main areas within SOG, including psyops, maritime ops, efforts to “cross the wire” to the Ho Chi Minh Trail in Laos, and frankly, it’s a book about frustrations and failures. It was disappointing in that regard, because I’ve read plenty of books about SOG heroism in Vietnam, and that’s rarely reflected in Schultz’s book. In fact, it would have helped to add some stories of courage or valor or even cowardliness to give the reader a better feel for what he’s getting at, but the author doesn’t do this. Instead, you have military and civilian commanders running around subverting each other at every opportunity and it gets old after awhile. The jokers never learned to work together and they never learned in general. It’s amazing SOG accomplished anything with these people in charge. Sadly, the author portrays most SOG operations as blunders and failures. The truth is, there are no real metrics with which to measure SOG success — people went in to territories they weren’t politically supposed to be with no identifying information. We don’t know the true number of dead and missing SOG vets. It’s a pity.

This book is fairly dry and it gets boring and repetitive quickly. There’s a lot of information overlap between the chapters. I think a better book to read about the subject is John L. Plaster’s “SOG: The Secret Wars of America’s Commandos in Vietnam.” It’s sad and tragic, but it gives you a real feel for what took place and just who fought these battles.

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A Review of Martin Luther King, Jr.: A Life

Posted by Scott Holstad on September 4, 2012

Martin Luther King, Jr.: A LifeMartin Luther King, Jr.: A Life by Marshall Frady

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I came to read this book because I admittedly don’t know much about Martin Luther King, Jr, and I decided that now that I’m middle aged, it’s high time I learn something about such an influential man. And so, this book.

Marshall Frady did a good job at capturing the highlights AND lowlights of King’s short life, and I learned a lot. One thing that annoyed me about the book, however, was the fact that Frady has an enormous vocabulary and doesn’t hesitate to employ it in his writing. I can’t imagine how your average reader would understand half the words he uses. I have three English and writing degrees, and I found words I’d never heard of or knew what they meant. It was unnecessary and I felt like Frady was showing off, perhaps because he’s a narcissist, I don’t know. It was frustrating.

I learned that Martin was born Mike and that he got his Ph.D. at Boston University. I learned his father was an Atlanta preacher, and that King later served at the same church, after he had been at a church in Alabama. I learned about the marches, the details of non-violent demonstrations, the arrests and jailings. I also learned an awful lot about the beatings the non-violent black marchers took, sometimes lethally. It was truly horrifying to read about, and to think that this happened right before I was born was quite shocking. These people endured a lot, a whole lot more than I had realized. I mean, people were freakin’ KILLED by white supremacists! Maybe I should have known that, but I didn’t. It was appalling.

I learned about highlights like Montgomery, Selma, the DC speech, and others. I also learned things I wish I hadn’t been exposed to. For instance, King was a major horn-dog! I mean, on his last night on earth, he had intimate encounters with two separate women back to back and had to turn a third away early in the morning. He had no control over his enormous sexual appetites, and that was disappointing. He was also vulgar, and smoked and drank secretly. All heroes have flaws, and he was human after all, but it was still disappointing to learn these things. I also didn’t realize how many failures King had, how he was oftentimes given the shaft by both white and black society. After essentially winning the civil rights battle, he turned his attention to creating the Poor People’s Campaign, which was basically about his goal of turning America into a socialist country. People fled from him like crazy when he started working on that. I didn’t know. I also didn’t know about the virtually dialectical relationship he had with Malcolm X, nor had I realized what a large role Jesse Jackson played in his later campaigns. It was disappointing to read about how a man who had done so much for the black community through non-violence was largely discounted when the Black Power movement started, how he was thrown by the wayside.

I can’t give this book five stars because of the author’s irritating style of using a dictionary to write the damn book, but I think it’s worth four stars because you learn a great deal about King, warts and all, and I think it ultimately gives one a greater appreciation for what he did for black people and the country as a whole.

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