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Posts Tagged ‘biographies’

A Review of Man on the Run

Posted by Scott Holstad on August 3, 2016

Man on the Run: Paul McCartney in the 1970sMan on the Run: Paul McCartney in the 1970s by Tom Doyle
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Man on the Run is an interesting biography of Paul McCartney and his family during the 1970s, as well as his band, Wings (one of my favorite bands of that decade). It is a long, thorough look at the good, bad, and ugly and pulls no punches, even while it clearly sympathizes with McCartney.
The book begins with the messy breakup of the Beatles, centering around the very public feud between Paul and John, which was part of the impetus for Paul’s decision to legally file to dissolve the Beatles. However, the legal ramifications showed that there were financial problems for the group and led to even more, thus sending Paul into a spiral of depression that led to he and his wife, Linda, to move to a farm in Scotland, out of the spotlight. During this period, he also lost a great deal of his confidence he had had in his abilities as a musician, as well as his own identity. Thankfully, Linda helped him through this crisis. Without her devoted love, who knows what would have happened to Paul?

The McCartney family became hippies and lived the hippy lifestyle, but Paul missed being in a band and missed touring, something he had tried to talk the Beatles into doing again and which they had refused to do. So he decided to start his own band – Wings. I didn’t know this, but there were actually three incarnations of Wings, three different bands over the years, all with Paul and Linda in them. And they were all comprised largely of studio musicians, mostly unknown. In my opinion, it’s frankly amazing Wings achieved the success and prominence they did with such an unassuming group of musicians. They obviously did this only with Paul’s leadership and drive.

However, first Paul put out a couple of solo albums, although one was credited to both he and his wife. They were all largely critical failures. The first Wings group met, practiced, and put out Wild Life in 1971. I don’t actually recall how it initially did, but ultimately it reached number 11 in the UK and number 10 in the US. Indeed, Paul’s first “hit” was a political song called “Give Ireland Back to the Irish,” a song that was banned by the BBC. A 1972 non-hit was actually “Mary Had a Little Lamb, literally, which left both his band and the critics confused. Not Paul’s best decision. In 1973, Red Rose Speedway was released. It ultimately hit number 5 in the UK and number 1 in the US. In late 1973, the band got its first big break with Band on the Run, which immediately hit number 1 in both the UK and the US (the previous two albums achieved high chart status over time, not immediately). Band on the Run turned Wings into instant stars. 1973-4 hits include “Jet,” “Let Me Roll It, “ “My Love,” a major song that hit number one in the US, “Helen Wheels,” “Junior’s Farm,” “Band on the Run,” a huge hit that got to number three in the UK and number one in the US, and “Live and Let Die,” a theme song to a new James Bond movie and one that hit number two in the US.

And on it continued. After starting its career playing impromptu college student union tours for something like 50 pounds, Wings were now doing international stadium tours. And Paul could finally gloat over John, who had been taunting Paul publicly for years, basically calling him a giant failure while John, of course, was a musical genius. Not anymore. While John turned out the occasional hit, Paul McCartney and Wings were international stars selling out stadiums with superstar hit albums, something John couldn’t say. Paul could, temporarily, put his demons behind him.

However, there was a problem. Pot. He and Linda loved their pot. They smoked a lot of it. And they got it shipped to whatever country they were visiting on their tours. And in one country, Finland?, they were caught and it made international headlines. Of course, it was hugely embarrassing, but the couple actually embraced the moment and came out in favor of pot use and said they were in favor of legalizing it. Later in his career, Paul would be arrested in Japan for possession and it could have been a very serious situation. You should read the book to find out what happened.

Meanwhile, there were band personnel changes. Paul was a cheapskate and while he raked in millions, he paid his band members practically nothing at all. Finally, these session musicians would get fed up and state that they could make more doing session work back in New York or London, so they’d leave. Paul never really got the hint. It’s a shame. Still, he continued to put out good albums and tour with his new musicians.

In 1975, Venus and Mars was released and would ultimately hit number one in both the UK and US. 1975 hits included “Venus and Mars/Rock Show” and “Listen to What the Man Said, “ which would hit number one in the US. In 1976, Wings released two albums: Wings at the Speed of Sound and a live album, Wings over America. Both hit number two in America. They contained “Silly Love Songs,” which hit number two in the UK and number one in the US and “Let ‘Em In,” which hit number two in the UK and number three in the US. In 1977, “Mull of Kintyre” was released, instantly a huge hit in the UK, remaining at number one longer than any other song in British history until that time, I believe. However, in America, it didn’t fare so well, just getting to number 33.

It was at this time that Wings peaked. Already there was a third group of musicians and maybe it was chemistry, maybe Paul was burned out from the nonstop, frantic pace of the decade, I don’t know, but the following two albums weren’t nearly as good as the preceding albums by most accounts. In 1978, London Town was released. It didn’t do as well. Only Paul, Linda, and the lead guitarist were on the album cover because those were the only people in the band. It actually happens to be one of my favorite albums of all time, because I was a youngish kid when it came out and it was one of the first albums I had and my best friend and I listened to it over and over while building model planes. I love that album, but most critics do not. It’s not considered one of the better Wings albums, but it did hit number four in the UK and number two in the US. There were three singles released from this album, but the only one that really charted high was “With a Little Luck,” one of my all time favorite songs, which hit number five in the UK and number one in the US. Wings’ last gasp in the studio came in 1979 with Back to the Egg. It hit number eight in the UK and number three in the US. Its’ biggest single was “Getting Closer,” which made it to number 60 in the UK and number 20 in the US. And aside from some more solo work over the years, Paul was done and Wings were definitely done as a group. It was the end of an era. A highly successful era, a great decade of music, one of my favorite groups, as I said. And while the rest of the Beatles went on to do solo work and while John achieved some success, clearly Paul McCartney ended up the most successful Beatle of them all, post-Beatles. The best musician, the one who taught John and George how to play, ended up teaching Linda and helping his studio musicians put out a series of commercially successful albums and successful world tours, something the other Beatles rarely, if ever, achieved.

John sniped at Paul throughout most of their post-Beatles lives and Paul, on occasion, sniped back. Paul never really understood where John’s hostility came from, his utter hatred. Paul tried to make peace a number of times. There were a few times John seemed to accept the olive branch, only to blindside Paul later with public attacks that hurt Paul deeply. Fortunately, some time before John’s premature death, they buried the hatchet and reconnected, so that’s a very good thing and even though the author implies John was the major one to start things between the two, he treats all of the Beatles with reasonable respect and points out Paul’s faults when necessary.

The author stresses certain things that are important to Paul, such as family. He brought his family on the road with him, kids included. This sometimes made his band members uncomfortable, as it limited their abilities to lead the stereotypical 1970s rock and roll lifestyle (i.e., groupies), and it led to tension, but Paul was dedicated to his wife and kids and that’s generally a good thing. He was the only Beatle to have a 100% successful marriage/relationship. That’s impressive. He was also committed to financial honesty, at least in his dealings with the Beatles and in management’s dealings with the band. He figured out quite quickly that the manager the other three had hired had been screwing the band out of millions while paying the band crap, so he sued – and won – and was vindicated in doing so. The only difficulty with his financial honesty was in his dealings with his band because he stuck with his commitment to pay his band members their agreed upon wages, but when they struck it rich with their new number one hits and their world tours, he wouldn’t share the riches and it was truly rather greedy of him, unfortunately. A McCartney wart.

This hardback I read isn’t long, just over 250 pages. However, it’s packed with so much information and trivia, it takes longer to get through than your average 250 page book. Still, it’s informative and exciting and exactly what I’ve been looking for. I know a lot about the Beatles. I know a lot about John during the 1970s. What I didn’t know was what happened to Paul during the 1970s and the story of Wings and I didn’t know a book like this existed. So I’m elated to have discovered it and read it. I learned a ton of new information, some good, some bad, but all fascinating, and it answers a lot of questions I had about these people, that band, and that decade. For anyone who’s a fan of McCartney and Wings, this is a must read for you. Even if you’re just a Beatles fan or a 1970s music buff, this will be a good read for you. Four stars and definitely recommended.

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A Review of Brother Number One

Posted by Scott Holstad on February 18, 2016

Brother Number One: A Political Biography of Pol PotBrother Number One: A Political Biography of Pol Pot by David P. Chandler
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The first “review” I read when I came across reviews for Brother Number One was one by “Annie,” which stated, “More objective, non-sensational and honest than than ‘Pol Pot: Anatomy of a Nightmare’.” Funny, having finished both books now, I couldn’t agree with that statement less. I’ll get to the Nightmare book in another review (I think it’s an excellent book), but Brother Number One is for this one. It’s an interesting book. Since this is the “political biography of Pol Pot,” a mysterious man who I have wanted to know something of for quite some time, I thought this book would help me. And in a way, it did. But only in a way. For this book was published in 1992, five years before Pol’s death in 1997. It’s therefore an incomplete work. Moreover, and more importantly by far, the author claims that the subject is so very mysterious and so little is known about him and he has hidden himself in shrouds of mystery, at times for many years at a time, that it’s impossible to know anything of his whereabouts for years at a time. So that gives the author free reign to speculate as much as he wants, and boy, does he do that. First, he includes everything he possibly can about Pol’s, or Saloth Sar – as he was known most of his life – upbringing, including his childhood in a country village, to his upbringing with a brother and other relatives in the king’s palace, essentially, to his French education, first in Cambodia, then later as an elite student, in Paris where he became a communist, most likely around 1951. We learn of his return to Cambodia in the mid-50s, his rise in the Indochinese Communist Party, his helping to form the Cambodian Communist Party in 1960, his dealings with the Vietnamese, whom he needed yet always resented, his dealings with the Chinese, his resentment toward the French, toward the Cambodian monarchy, toward the US, his paranoia, his marriage, etc. But whole years are eliminated in this book. His whereabouts are claimed to be unknown. But that doesn’t stop the author, who begins numerous sentences with things such as, “It would be interesting to suppose,” or “One might assume,” or “It might be possible to guess,” etc, et al. If I had a dollar for every time the author speculates about Pol’s thoughts, feelings, or motives, I would be a wealthy man. Because that is all the author can do. He can only guess. There is very little recorded documentation at all, anywhere. The Vietnamese have some. The Chinese have some. Pol conducted some interviews in the late 1970s. Other than that, little accounts for the 1950s, ‘60s, and early ‘70s.

The author relies on numerous interviews for this book, but I’m assuming, as he often does, as Pol was still alive while the book was being written, that so many interviewees were aware of that fact and were scared to death of him, that few of them were willing to share many details of him or say many negative things about him. For instance, many of his secondary and college classmates were interviewed. He was known as a mediocre student, at best, but seemed to be liked by most. He had a pleasant smile, a decent laugh, and people differ on his effect on people and groups. Some say he had no influence on the Parisian communist groups, while others say he played a leading role. As a teacher in the 1950s, even though he never came close to completing his degree, he was known as a wise and good teacher, patient, well spoken, thoughtful, etc. The image doesn’t jibe with the genocidal maniac of the 1970s.

In fact, it’s hard to reconcile any image of him, pre-1970 or so, until 1975 really, when he started coming out of the woodworks and into the public eye. When he became public circa 1976, it was a shocker. No one knew who he was. He was alleged to have been a rubber plantation worked named “Pol Pot,” but when former colleagues saw him on TV making speeches, they knew at once he was Saloth Sar, the former teacher, childhood friend of the king and themselves, and they were shocked. How could this kind, good man be their new revolutionary prime minister, responsible for the deaths of a half a million people in the civil war which had just ended in 1975, and unbeknownst to anyone, about to become responsible for the deaths of one and a half million people in a probable genocide of epic proportions over the next three years? That’s over one fifth of the country’s population. Yes, Mao and Stalin killed many more people, but there were many, many more people to kill from. They didn’t kill one fifth of their country’s population. So, this was unlike anything anyone had ever seen before.

And the sweeping changes. Doing away with money. I mean, what the hell??? Emptying the cities? Seriously? Driving everyone out into the countryside, no matter where you were from or where your relatives were. Who cared if you lived or died? No one. Least of all the 12 and 13-year old Khmer Rouge soldiers. Illiterate peasant boys who couldn’t even read passports that were expected to be presented at all times. It was insane. Doing away with virtually all exports except for rice, and then if/when the rice crop fell through, what the hell happens to your country then? And the “base” people versus the “new” people. If you weren’t fighting with the revolutionaries when they “liberated” Cambodia in 1975, you were a “new” person, meaning you weren’t one of them, meaning you were an enemy combatant. Even if you were a peasant refugee who had merely fled to the city to escape the countryside fighting and had no irons in the fire one way or the other. You were the enemy.

S-21. It was the torture/interrogation center. Every communist regime has one, right? Hell, every regime of any sort has one. We have Guantanamo. The French had theirs too. S-21 was a former school. Over 20,000 people were processed through there in the three plus years it existed. Unless my facts have gotten jumbled up, and they may have, only about a half dozen people survived. All were tortured extensively, confessions of up to thousands of pages extracted, and all were killed, most brutally. The confessions typically said the person was a CIA agent, a KGB agent, and a Vietnamese agent. That the likelihood of one Cambodian person being all three, let alone any of these, was absurd as hell appeared to not have sunk in to Pol Pot and his colleagues. It made perfect sense to them that the Russians, their Vietnamese protégés, and the US, whom the Khmer Rouge believed they had defeated militarily in 1975 and who they thought had it out for them and was willing to work with its adversaries, would all be working together. Insanity sees reason everywhere.

This book is only 250 pages long, less than half as long as Nightmare is. It’s not nearly as detailed or in depth. It’s not nearly as well researched nor as well written. It relies far too extensively on speculation; at least 70% of the book is nothing but speculation. But as an introduction to Pol Pot, it’s an interesting book. I would suggest that, if it’s read, it’s read with this information in mind and then one would immediately read something more recent, ideally written after Pol’s death, such as Pol Pot: Anatomy of a Nightmare, which as I said, I think is an excellent book and which I hope to review soon. It relies on speculation almost not at all. One of the things that struck me most about Pol, the man, was that in one of these books, and I can’t remember which, sorry, he was asked if he knew how many people his administration was responsible for killing after he had been deposed. His answer was somewhere between several hundred and several thousand and that was because he had been kept out of the loop, or it would have been fewer than that. Stunning, really. Interesting to know if he really believed that or not. Somehow I doubt it. But there does seem to be evidence that he was actually kept out of the loop on a lot of the executions and that many of the “zones” were self sufficient and didn’t really report much back to headquarters and communications were so bad that it could take weeks or more to communicate by messenger, so by that time, things would have happened with or without permission. So things happened. How much was due to Pol? I guess we’ll never know. Of course, since Pol set the tone, ultimately it was all his responsibility. Everything and everyone was ultimately under his control. Anyone who displeased him was purged. He had complete control. Virtually all of his old communist colleagues from Paris and the old days in early communist Cambodia were purged to ensure his power. So, if he thought anyone were abusing their authority by acting genocidal without his permission, he could have done something about it. And he didn’t. So, obviously, the buck stopped with him.

So, I could go on and on, obviously. But I won’t. I’ve got to save some stuff to say for my next Pol Pot book. I learned a lot about a bizarre, incredibly secretive, insane man, responsible for the deaths of millions of people. It was surreal to read about, because this occurred during my lifetime and I remember a great deal of this, although of course not personally, obviously. The book itself is interesting, but for reasons already mentioned, not very good. Even though the author probably tried hard, he didn’t try hard enough. It’s probably a two star book at best, but I believe I’m going to give it three stars for effort because it’s one of the early Pol Pot books and it did make an impact of Pol Pot research, so that’s worth something. Still, it can’t be relied upon on its own. It’s not that trustworthy. It’s got to be supplemented by something more current in its research, so keep that in mind. I’m really not sure that I can recommend it. I can suggest reading it if interested in the subject matter, but only if you intend to read more than one source on the subject. If you intend to read only one book on Pol Pot, don’t let this be that source. It’s not reliable enough.

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A Review of Willie Stargell: A Life in Baseball

Posted by Scott Holstad on February 5, 2016

Willie Stargell: A Life in BaseballWillie Stargell: A Life in Baseball by Frank Garland
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I’ve got to be honest. When I was a kid, Willie Stargell was my favorite baseball player. Actually, he has been my whole life. But see, he was my favorite player to see in person! I lived in the Pittsburgh area back in the 1970s and went to as many Pirates games as possible, so I got to see “Pops” play a lot and got to see the magical “We Are Family” 1979 World Series year and remember those wonderful Stargell stars everyone loved and the home runs, god, the home runs! Willie Stargell “only” hit 475 career home runs – because he played half of his career in gigantic Forbes Field, which I’ll get to in a moment, but which is estimated to have robbed him of some 150 career home runs, which is staggering by anyone’s standards – but the thing I think Stargell is best known for is his towering strength, how damn FAR he could hit his balls! Hitting balls out of Montreal’s Olympic Stadium. Hitting balls out of Dodger Stadium multiple times. Hitting balls out of Philly’s Veteran’s Stadium. Hitting the upper deck and roof of gigantic Forbes Field numerous times. Hitting the ball out of the ballpark at Pittsburgh’s Forbes Field replacement, Three Rivers Stadium. There’s an entire chapter in this book dedicated just to this! 506 feet at Dodger Stadium. 458 feet into the upper deck at Three Rivers. May 20, 1978: 515 feet, Montreal’s Olympic Stadium. 475 feet onto right grandstand roof at Forbes Field, 1967. He also had the longest home run at Houston’s Astrodome: 490 feet on May 28, 1966.

Of course, Stargell was more than just amazing home run power. He was also a great hitter, finishing a 20-year career with a very good lifetime average of .282. Perhaps far more importantly, he was a great natural leader, from a very young age. He led quietly and he led by example. When he came up in the majors, Clemente was his leader, took him under his wing, became his friend and example. After Clemente’s premature death, Stargell assumed his role in the clubhouse and never relinquished it and remained the effective team captain for the rest of his career, which prepared him for his post-playing days of working with his ex-manager, Chuck Tanner, in the Braves system to coach and evaluate young ball players in Atlanta for a number of years before ultimately winding back in Pittsburgh for the last couple years of his life before he died a very, very premature death at age 61, I believe. This book was also enlightening in that it showed how a young man from northern California, brought up in an integrated area in the 1950s, is thrust into the deep south and southwest, and is made to play in the minors during the late ‘50s and early ‘60s and is made to suffer humilities and indignities and taunts and things that would have been hard to imagine 15 years ago, as I write this in 2016, if we hadn’t have seen the true colors of the Republican Tea Party as the racists in them come out to show their hatred of Obama and black and Hispanic people everywhere, which makes it stunning to see how far we have NOT come since then. Simply stunning. And very sad. Whatever the case, Stargell survived without anything of an outward complaint, made the big club as an outfielder, had a serious arm rivaling Clemente allegedly, but was ultimately moved to first base, started hitting serious home runs, made some all star teams, helped win the World Series in 1971, when Clemente was the MVP, won the World Series again in 1979 when he was the Series and league MVP and retired in 1982. Stunningly, he never even made half a million dollars a year in his career and indeed, never made much money at all until the final few years of his career. How someone so talented and how someone who became the 17th player to make the Hall of Fame on the first ballet could go so damned unpaid, essentially, is beyond me, but I guess that’s what owners do, so there you have it. He had advertising deals and other things to supplement his income. He also had a sickle cell foundation because his sister had the disease.

While this book certainly sings Stargell’s praises, it’s not all fun and games. It also discusses his three marriages (but how he got along with all three wives, during and after all marriages) and five children through four women (and how they all got along together as in one big, happy family, amazingly). It discusses allegations two former colleagues made against him in the 1980s that he gave them drugs, which tarnished his reputation. Needless to say, this was looked into thoroughly, as was the case with everyone named in the investigation. Stargell’s name was personally cleared by the baseball commissioner. He had done nothing wrong.

The first thing Stagell did upon retirement was agree to perform in a symphony performance made just for him by a Pulitzer winning composer in which he would perform spoken word content set to symphonic music about Martin Luther King, Jr., one of his heroes. He was excited, but very nervous. So were the composers and musicians. However, he tackled it with his usual professionalism and did quite well. Their first performance was, I believe, at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington DC. He acquitted himself well. Indeed, as they traveled the country performing, he did better and better so that he became quite a star in a brand new field. This chapter was quite interesting and I confess I knew nothing about this part of his life.

Stargell’s last few years are painful to read about. His last few years were spent on dialysis. Yet he was still working, first for the Braves, then for the Pirates. Then his overall health started failing and he started losing weight and feeling quite a bit of pain. During his last year, he became unrecognizable to former teammates who encounter him in airports and other places. He tried to avoid people, as he didn’t wish to be seen in this condition. On April 9, 2001, in honor of the opening of the Pirates’ new ballpark, PNC Park, and only the third such new statue, a new large bronze statue of Willie Stargell was unveiled publicly outside the entrance to the park. Unfortunately, Willie couldn’t be there. More unfortunately, he couldn’t be there because he had just died during the night. He’d never get to see the new park or the amazing new statue for which he felt so amazingly honored. People were stunned. He was too young. He was Pittsburgh. He was the Pirates. He was “Family.” He was one of the most beloved Pittsburgh athletes of all time. And now he was gone. Just like that. While his service was in North Carolina, where he had most recently lived with his third wife, a large service was held at a church downtown near where Willie lived and worked for decades. He loved working with the people of the city, of the inner city, with the young people. He loved teaching, giving people hope. And now he was gone. Utter tragedy.

475 career home runs. When he retired, that was a lot. Since then, a lot of hitters have passed him by. But frankly, most of those players have been from the steroid era and are suspect, such as Barry Bonds, Mark McGuire, and Sammy Sosa. So do they even count? Unfortunately, they’re in the books and records ahead of him and nothing can be done about that and that boils my blood. Even more unfortunately, he played half of his career at gigantic Forbes field. I said I would address that. Let me. PNC Park has these basic dimensions – 320 feet to the left and right field walls, 399 feet to center field. Going off my memory, Forbes Field was 360 feet to left, 376 feet to right, and a gigantic 462 feet to center! No wonder Clemente drove in a ton of runs but was a doubles hitter and not a big home run hitter. No wonder the most home runs Stargell ever hit in a season was 48. So, if the estimate that Forbes Field robbed him of 150 home runs is accurate at all, he could have finished with 625 home runs, which would have placed him pretty high up the career list by anyone’s standards. It’s a real pity that couldn’t have occurred.

For some reason, this book only has a 3.89 rating on Goodreads, yet every review I’ve read – all four and five star reviews – have nothing to say about how to improve the book. Frankly, I don’t know if this is the BEST sports biography I have ever read, but offhand, I can’t think of a better one and I’ve read a ton of them. This is a very good book. It’s well researched, it’s detailed, comprehensive, well written, has good pictures, is edited well. It’s a good book. A very good book. I can think of no reason not to give it five stars. I can think of no way to improve this book as a sports biography or as a biography of Willie Stargell. So, how can this not be a five star book then? I think Frank Garland did an excellent job and I’m really glad I bought and read this book. I learned a lot about my childhood hero and I’m glad that he remains a hero of mine and always will be. Good old number 8. One night, I was at Three Rivers in the upper deck and Willie hit the ball and he hit it straight up and it went up a mile. He hit it out of the stadium. I’ve never in my life seen a ball hit so far straight up. It went way past my head and kept on going, up, up, up past the top of the stadium before finally starting to fall straight back down. It took forever. It was a foul ball. He was out. The first baseman caught it. But it was one of the most impressive non-hits I had ever seen. What strength! I’ll never forget that. And of course, I got to see a few of his awesome home runs too. I’ll never forget the feeling that I was honored to see those. Willie Stargell graced us with his presence. He graced Pittsburgh, Atlanta, and Oakland with everything in his life. He had a lot to give and he always gave a lot. As long as people remember him, he will be missed. In my biased opinion, Willie Stargell will always be the best, most feared home run hitter of all time. Five star book. Definitely recommended.

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A Review of I Am Malala

Posted by Scott Holstad on January 24, 2016

I Am Malala: The Girl Who Stood Up for Education and Was Shot by the TalibanI Am Malala: The Girl Who Stood Up for Education and Was Shot by the Taliban by Malala Yousafzai
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I finished I Am Malala a few weeks ago and have put off writing a review for it for quite awhile because I was so overwhelmed by it. It had so much information, was so well written, was so emotional. Malala herself was so impressive, had so much incredible courage, as did her father, both of whom are lucky to be alive, is such a wonderful ambassador of Islam, is such an incredible ambassador of women’s/girl’s rights’ to education the world over, particularly in Pakistan. And she wrote this book at age 15, right before she won the Nobel Peace Prize. She’s frankly a most stunningly impressive person, a person destined for a lifetime of greatness, someone who has already accomplished more in her short years than most people do in their entire lives. This book was an amazing read. It was all encompassing. It was stunning. It was revealing. It was damning and indicting. It was amazing. And I’m again stunned that both she and her father remain alive. Her whole family is very lucky. I wanted to write a comprehensive plot synopsis and review, but I found one on Goodreads that does as good a job as any I myself could write, so I’m going to post it here myself, giving full credit to the author, one “Jean,” written December 30, 2015, and say it’s a darn good synopsis and the only disagreement I have with the author is she only gives the book four stars. For me, it’s easily a five star book. Easily. I would give it six stars if I could. Hell, ten. Twenty. It’s one of the best biographies I’ve ever read and I think one of the most important contemporary biographies one could hope to read. This is a book I’ve already purchased and given to others and my wife is giving a copy to her mother this week. Hopefully, she too will pass it on to another when she is done with it. Malala is a most impressive person, one of the most impressive people I’ve ever encountered. We saw her interviewed on a show a couple of years ago and that’s how we first came across her. We were impressed with her then and only now finally read her book. It’s a shame we waited so long. I hope she continues to make a global impact on young womens’ education rights and anything else she can influence. I wish her continued luck and success. And I hope to read another book by her in the future. It can only be excellent if it continues in this tradition she has established here. I can’t recommend this book more strongly. Most highly recommended. Five stars easily.

 

 

 

Dec 30, 2015 Jean rated it really liked it
Recommended to Jean by: Angela M
Shelves: non-fiction, auto-and-biography, religion-and-beliefs

A few days prior to her 18th birthday, Malala Yousafzai has returned to Oslo, to attend the Oslo Education Summit, insisting that all children worldwide have a right to education. Her defiant slogan claims, “Books not Bullets!”

Malala claims, “I measure the world in hope, not doubt” and “Pens and books are the weapons that defeat terrorism”. Last year in Oslo, Malala was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize jointly with another child rights activist, Kailash Satyarthi. They were honoured “for their struggle against the suppression of children and young people and for the right of all children to education”. At 17, Malala was the youngest person ever to receive this award; Malala Yousafzai is indeed a determined and remarkable person. In this book, I am Malala: the girl who stood up for education and was shot by the Taliban, she tells her incredible story.

The book is an absorbing read, an amalgam of Malala’s own memoir, plus a history of the troubled country of Pakistan. Most readers will have lived through some – if not all – of the times described, unlike the author, startlingly only 15 herself when she wrote it. To many of us this is not “history” but merely remembrance of current events happening elsewhere in the world during our lifetimes. Could she have a proper grasp of such complex issues of current affairs?

Malala is fluent in Pashto, English, and Urdu. She is articulate, brave, compassionate, informed, driven – and very focused. Growing up at the heart of an area targeted by the Taliban, she had a unique experience living under a developing regime of terror. When Osama Bin Laden was eventually discovered in hiding, it was, to everyone’s shock, just a few miles away from where Malala herself lived. Along with the guidance and influence Malala’s activist father has had on her, perhaps she was destined to become the person she is.

The book starts with a prologue, briefly describing the day when she was shot, from Malala’s point of view. The name “Malala” means “grief-stricken”. Malala was named after Malalai of Maiwand, a famous Pashtun poetess and warrior woman from southern Afghanistan. It was an unusual name, which many thought to be unlucky or inappropriate.

Reading her account, it is clear that her father knew from the start that there would be something different about this child. Malala was allowed to stay up at night and listen to all his political conversations with his friends, long after her two brothers had been sent to bed. She was encouraged to read and think; to have a mind of her own.

The Yousafzai family were part of a large Pashtun tribe in the Swat Valley in Pakistan. Her family consisted of her father Ziauddin and her mother and two younger brothers. They were very poor, but part of a strong community in Mingora. There were comparatively few modern amenities such as running water and electricity; waste disposal and disease were a big problem, but the valley itself was lush and beautiful, and Malala thought her home was wonderful.

This first part of Malala’s story is entitled “Before the Taliban”. Malala describes her grandparents and parents’ history, how events had shaped each generation in her family. There was her father, an outspoken poet and education activist, who overcame his chronic shyness to learn public speaking to impress his own father. There was her more traditional, uneducated mother, who too began school at the age of six – but stopped before the term was over. Malala includes many family anecdotes, explaining the varying cultural mores as she does so, and interspersing the account with the troubled political history.

The section has 8 chapters, and is over a third of the book. It takes the reader carefully though all the difficulties Pakistan has faced since its creation on 14th August 1947. Malala relates the views of her people, who regretted the loss of Swat’s identity when it joined Pakistan. Additionally, the creation of a “home for Muslims” within Pakistan’s boundaries was established too hastily, inevitably resulting in other faiths such as Hindus fleeing across the border to India. Economic chaos ensued, and peace has never yet come about.

Since then, Pakistan has suffered under various regimes. There have been three Indo-Pakistan wars, several military coups, and numerous unsuccessful attempts at a military coup. The regime has lurched between military rule and democracy, between dictatorships and brief periods when a Prime Minister such as Benazir Bhutto was in power. She served two terms, but was eventually killed, clearly assassinated, although Malala carefully chronicles the muddled events. Pakistan has had varying degrees of both political and police corruption and is in constant turmoil.

It is remarkable that any normal life can survive such conditions, but the life Malala describes is a happy one. Her father’s greatest love apart from his family was the Khushal Public School which he established. The values of education ring clear and true throughout, having been instilled in Malala from a very early age. She also begins to develop her own opinions, drawing from her experience.

One shocking episode helped to crystallise her views. Malala came across some scavenger children, who lived inside a huge mountain of rubbish. They had matted filthy hair, were dirty, diseased and covered with sores and lice. Picking out cans, bottle tops, glass and paper from the rotting pile of rubbish, they would sell them to a garbage shop for a few rupees, barely enough to live on. Malala begged her father to take a couple of these starving children into his school without pay, and inwardly vowed that she would work as hard as she could towards a time when every one of those children would have an education by right. In the meantime she wrote a letter to God, and sent it down the Swat river.

Towards the end of this first section, it is apparent that the Taliban’s influence had begun to be felt in the Swat valley. Across the border in Afghanistan, the Taliban had enforced a very strict interpretation of Sharia, or Islamic law. In horror folk learned of the massacres, the brutality towards women, the denial of food to ordinary people, the burning of homes, crops and land.

Malala explains that the majority of the Taliban were made up of Afghan Pashtun tribesmen, simple ignorant people who had always been looked down on by many educated people, including those poor themselves, such as Malala’s family. Recruits were resentful of any who had advantages, such as good jobs, and easily influenced by a fundamentalist idea of Islam. Seeing an opportunity to seize power, with weapons in their hands, they took it. There were many variations of interpretation of Islam present in Pakistan, not to mention other religions, but Malala’s people could see others fleeing for their very lives as the regime continued. They were equally suspicious of the US, thinking that they inflamed the situation, causing innocent casualties.

The local “Mufti”, a religious leader, was making decisions for the whole community. He was very critical of Malala’s father’s school; the girls should not be seen, they must be segregated. They should not learn certain inappropriate subjects. He made increasingly outrageous statements, such as that Ziauddin was running a “harem” in his school. Purdah was insisted upon for younger girls, and more strictly. The Mufti was determined to enforce his own brand of Islam; individual interpretation was quashed.

The section ends in 2005, when a massive earthquake in Pakistan killed over 70,000 people. Fundamentalists seized on this as a sort of punishment, a seal of approval on all their edicts.

The second part is entitled, “The Valley of Death. Malala is now 10 years old, and she describes the arrival of the Taliban in her village. A self-proclaimed Taliban leader named Maulan Fazlullah had risen to power, through a popular local radio station in Swat, appealing mostly to the ignorant and uneducated. In his radio broadcasts he offered instruction on how to obey the Quran. He soon had many followers – including Malala’s own mother. His demands became more strident and fanatical, calling for an end to televisions, DVDs, and other modern technology. The public humiliations began of anyone who didn’t obey his interpretation of the law, including women who did any work outside the home.

The 7 chapters in this section are primarily about the suppression of the people of Swat, and the growth of Taliban influences. Some of the episodes referred to – the beatings, the beheadings – are harrowing, despite this being seen through the eyes of a young girl. Malala’s education continues, but the reader is wondering for how long this can continue. Many girls have been taken away from the school and sometimes Malala is the only girl in her class. Very competitive, she has two close friends, equally clever.

As time passes it becomes increasingly difficult for Malala to study. Military tanks are in evidence everywhere. On one occasion, travelling in a relative’s car, the driver panicked, asking her to hide a CD of music in her clothes. Malala often began to feel afraid when on the streets, imagining that every man she met was a member of the Taliban. She and her friends stopped wearing their school uniforms and hid their books as they travelled to and from school. The beatings and beheadings continued. A nearby school was bombed during a prayer service in honour of a fallen police officer.

When Malala is 11, she is approached by the BBC who feel that a child’s viewpoint would be very significant. She is asked to write an anonymous blog about her life, and chooses the pseudonym “Gul Makai”. People she knows, including some of the girls at school discover it but she wisely keeps it secret. The Taliban’s powers are increasing. They have instructed families to send them the names of marriageable women, so that marriages can be arranged for them. They have announced a date in 2009, by which all girls’ schools must be closed, yet Malala keeps hoping that something will prevent this. She becomes bolder and more confident, being taken in 2008 by her father to Peshawar to speak at the local press club. She has written a clear and passionate speech, “How dare the Taliban take away my basic right to education?”

Inevitably though, the final day of school arrives. Malala cannot believe it; her books are her proudest possessions. She is followed around by a camera crew from the New York Times, making a documentary. Her life seems empty without school, and increasingly the family are living in fear of their very lives. Malala compares their existence to a family of which she has just read, in “Anne Frank’s Diary”. Deciding they will have to leave their home, Malala’s family, like many others, flee to relatives. Others flee to friends, even though this means that in some homes the males have to leave. The Pashtun tradition of hospitality conflicts with the belief that an unmarried female should not reside in the same home as a male who is not her relative, but they respect both principles. Malala goes to school again with a cousin. She is now 12 years old, although everybody is living in too much turmoil to mark her birthday in the way they always had.

The third part is entitled, “Three Bullets, Three Girls”. We know what this section is going to be about, but now we also feel we know the girl herself; her history, and how her individual experience slots into the mess and bloodshed that is Pakistan’s inheritance.

It is three months later, and Malala’s family return home to find much of their village destroyed during the battles. The Taliban has gone, the Pakistani Prime Minister promises, but many people don’t believe it. Some return and eventually school resumes, but many stay away. During these 5 chapters, Malala’s beliefs become more fully formed. She wonders what it would be like to leave school at 13 to be married, just as one of her classmates has.

The climate of opinion changes. There are still tanks on every street corner, machine guns posted on rooftops, checkpoints all along a route, but now people blame the US. Why were they still there, 3 years later? There was even outrage at the American raid that resulted in the death of Osama bin Laden. The details were unclear. Why had the US conducted the raid on their own, without telling the Pakistanis or seeking help from them? Conspiracy theories abound. Had the Americans perhaps even actually killed bin Laden years earlier?

Clearly the Taliban are still present, carrying out atrocities very close to their home. On Malala’s 14th birthday, when she is officially considered to be an adult, the family learn that one of Ziauddin’s outspoken friends has been attacked. Malala agrees to follow her mother’s advice, and even though the school is so close, she takes a rickshaw to school, and the bus home.

The section ends with the shooting which made world headlines. On 9th October 2012, a Taliban gunman shot Malala through the head, neck, and shoulder as she rode home from school on the bus after taking an exam. Although Malala can remember very little about it, being preoccupied with her own thoughts, the masked gunman apparently shouted, “Which one of you is Malala? Speak up, otherwise I will shoot you all”. Her identity became obvious, at which point he shot at her. Two of her friends, Kainat Riaz and Shazia Ramzan, were also wounded, but survived.

Part four is entitled, “Between Life and Death”. It contains just 2 chapters, about a time of which Malala can remember very little. Immediately following the attack, she was rushed to Swat Central Hospital. There she remained unconscious, in a critical condition. The political machinations behind the scenes continued. The chapters give clinical details, and credit one doctor, “Dr Fiona”, for preventing Malala’s death when staff neglected to follow specialist procedures necessary for the brain and body to recover. She insisted that Malala be sent to the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham, UK for intensive rehabilitation. Her parents were not able to travel to see their daughter, due to protocol. What comes across to the reader is the ignorance apparent at every level, but also a sense that it is possible for individuals to overcome this, even when the odds seem stacked against them.

The final, fifth part “A Second Life” also consists of 2 chapters. Malala now tells of her recovery more from her personal experience. By 17th October, she had come out of her coma and begun to repond. She was terribly worried about the cost of her treatment, thinking that her father would have to sell his land. She still had not been able to see her father. Eventually everything progressed to the point where the Pakistani government paid for her treatment, she was able to be visited by her family, and best of all, she had no lasting brain damage, only nerve damage.

On 3 January 2013, Malala was discharged from the hospital to continue rehabilitation at her family’s temporary home. On 2nd February she had a five-hour operation to reconstruct her skull and restore her hearing. Since March 2013, she has been a pupil at the all-girls’ Edgbaston High School in Birmingham. Although happy there, she evidently misses her old life, and would love to go home some day. She realises that her new classmates regard her as a children’s rights activisit, but sometimes longs to just be the normal simple Pashtun girl of old, in Minora …

The co-author of this book is Christina Lamb, a British journalist who is currently Foreign Correspondent for the Sunday Times. Her credentials for helping to write this particular book are impeccable. She first interviewed Pakistan’s Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto in London in 1987. She then continued her work as foreign correspondent in Pakistan, journeying through Kashmir and along the frontiers of neighbouring Afghanistan. She has interviewed the former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet. Always working in war-torn countries, she was even once deported back home. Commenting on the worsening devastation and destruction by the president Robert Mugabe and the Zimbabwe African National Union – Patriotic Front since she started reporting from Zimbabwe in 1994, she maintains that this has been her most harrowing experience.

In 2006, Lamb was reporting from Southern Afghanistan, meeting with town elders. The team were then supposedly directed to a safe route out, but soon after they had left, the British were attacked by Taliban fighters. Anyone who experienced running through irrigation trenches, with Kalashnikov rifles and mortar firing from all directions, for two and a half hours, is well qualified to co-author this book. Immediately after this book she wrote another about her many years in Afghanistan and Pakistan. She is critical of many missed opportunities by the US, to help resolve the long war, blaming the poor relationship US has with Pakistan for many of the continuing problems of terrorism.

Interestingly it is possible to see the seeds of that book within this one. Often the voice of Malala seems critical of the US, and their inability to be effective, even a mistrust of American troops. But whose is the underlying voice? It is impossible to really know.

Other parts of the book suggest the hand of an experienced foreign affairs correspondent. The indepth knowledge of both contemporary issues and the country’s history and political situation, as well as of the many different tribes, languages and customs within each region, is so very extensive. The issues are complex and quite difficult for the general reader, only aware of the basic schism between Sunni and Shia Muslims, to assimilate.

The roots of the split are ancient, originating in a dispute soon after the death of the Prophet Muhammad. Sunni Muslims such as Malala’s family follow the orthodox and traditionalist branch of Islam, which takes as its precedent the actions of the Prophet Muhammad. Shia Muslims are followers of Muhammad’s son-in-law and cousin, whom they claim as Muhammad’s successor, believing that only God has the prerogative to appoint the successor to his prophet. But there are massively complex distinctions between all the different factions within both Sunni and Shia. Could the complicated issues explored all be Malala’s work?

However Malala is an erudite speaker and writer. I have no doubt that the views, anecdotes, and probably the structure of the book are hers, and that the passion with which she explains her views is hers alone. It is well balanced, her own experience set within the ongoing political situation. But perhaps there is slightly too much input from history to make the memoir flow easily. Malala is a courageous, intelligent, indefatigable person. I would have loved to say this book merits 5 stars. It very nearly does, and I have a sneaky feeling that if she is ever inspired by events in her life to write a book again, it probably will.

The subtitle of the book is, “the girl who stood up for education and was shot by the Taliban.” Malala insists that surviving being shot in the head is not what she wants people to focus on, but the issues of children’s rights, women’s education and world peace. Surely that is what we should take away from reading this book.

“Our people have become misguided. They think their greatest concern is defending Islam and are being led astray by those like the Taliban who deliberately misinterpret the Quran … We have so many people in our country who are illiterate. And many women have no education at all. We live in a place where schools are blown up. We have no reliable electricity supply. Not a single day passes without the killing of at least one Pakistani.”

 

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A Review of Patrick Roy: Winning. Nothing Else.

Posted by Scott Holstad on December 4, 2015

Patrick Roy: Winning, Nothing ElsePatrick Roy: Winning, Nothing Else by Michel Roy
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

There are some who consider Patrick Roy to be the best goaltender in the history of the NHL. I’m not one of them. But I do think he’s one of the best, and perhaps the best if you go by some statistics. For instance, Roy played in more games than any other goalie in history. He won more playoff games than any other goalie in history, not even close. He won four Stanley Cups and three Vezina Trophies. All really good statistics. But he played from 1984 to 2003, 19 years. And while he was named to 11 All Star teams (why not 15, 16, or 17?), he was named First Team All Star only four times and Second Team All Star only twice. I think that’s pretty telling. And even though three Vezina Trophies for best goalie in the league is pretty impressive, are you telling me that the best goalie in HISTORY could only win three in NINETEEN years and he’s still the greatest ever? No, I don’t believe it. Even though this book sings his praises and, apparently, so do many other people, evidently not enough of his peers and NHL management thought highly enough of him to honor him while he played so that says a lot to me. And even though both Montreal and Colorado retired his jersey after he played for both teams and even though he made the Hall of Fame, I consider him to be merely one of the greatest goalies ever, although I hesitate to say who’s the best. Perhaps I would put him up with Billy Smith and Ken Dryden, among others. Grant Fuhr, to a far lesser degree. Some of the older goalies from previous eras, too, no doubt.

The main problem with this book is it’s written by his father, who is a Quebec government official, not a sports writer or journalist, and certainly not objective. And to make matters more irritating, the first part of the book seems more intent upon describing the author’s own life and career rather than Patrick’s boyhood and beginnings. It’s rather hubristic. Eventually, though, Michel Roy settles down and starts telling Patrick’s story and it’s startling grim to start out with. His entire minor league career is ugly. He plays on horrible junior hockey teams, just wretched. And one thing I never understood is, while he was apparently decent, the few times his father listed his junior numbers, they weren’t that good, which his father attributed to his teammates’ ineptitude rather than his son’s, and so I never understood why Patrick went on to become considered the top junior goalie in the league at some point. His numbers sure didn’t reflect that and he sure never led his teams to winning seasons. Weird. Usually winners hoist their teams on their backs and lead their teams to winning seasons. Not Roy.

Finally, he got invited to Montreal’s camp. He barely spoke English and had to play mostly in non-Quebec cities for the first time. It was difficult. He didn’t last and was sent back down, but the following year was back. His (real) rookie year in 1985-86 was good, but not great. But when Montreal made the playoffs, something happened and he caught fire and never stopped. He led the Canadiens to a Stanley Cup win and was named MVP of the series, which was pretty awesome for a rookie. And so it began.

He had a series of difficulties with coaches in Montreal. During his first few seasons, for some reason, he was forced to share goaltending duties with another goalie, which was pretty humiliating, considering he was much better. There was a possible reason. In the juniors, he had hooked up with this young, new untraditional goalie coach who had helped him develop a new “butterfly” technique of goaltending, which the NHL had rarely seen and detested. His style was frowned upon and he was actually punished by numerous coaches for using his own style no matter how effective it was. It wasn’t until he had established himself with a new coach in Montreal, and with this goalie coach, that his career took off and he started winning lots of games and he started getting career lows in goals against averages.

His second year was a down year, but then he came back and established himself. His general manager was always messing with the team though, trading good players to get new players, messing with the chemistry. It was tough to repeat as Stanley Cup champions with that going on. Nonetheless, Roy won Vezina Trophies in 1989, 1990, and 1992. And he led Montreal to another Stanley Cup victory in 1993. However, the team and even some fans began to get somewhat disenchanted with Roy by then, for reasons I never entirely understood. He was making too much money and was standing up to a new asshole coach. Big deal. So they did the unthinkable and traded him to Colorado in 1995, their old Quebec Nordiques nemesis recently moved to the Rockies. Roy would have to start all over again.

By this time, Roy was married and had a couple of kids. One of my complaints about this book is his father mentions the fact that Patrick meets a pretty woman and starts seeing her. Later, surprise, they get married! Later, they apparently reproduce. The only time we actually see her at all is when they have a massive public fight on their front lawn in Colorado, which I thought was going to end their marriage, but which evidently did not. In fact, Michel Roy didn’t delve very much into Patrick’s inner being and psyche very much at all, other than to assert that he wanted to play and win more than anything and anyone else at all. Over and over again, he beats that into your head. It gets pretty repetitive.

Whatever the case, Roy adapts to Colorado pretty quickly. His coach is his old agent in Quebec. He leads the team to a Stanley Cup win his first season there and becomes a huge celebrity in that state, according to his father, bigger than any other athlete in the history of Denver or Colorado, including John Elway, which I personally find ridiculous and impossible to believe. Utterly impossible. Roy kept putting up good numbers and Colorado eventually traded for aging superstar Raymond Bourque, who would likely be a Hall of Famer but had never won a Stanley Cup. The team decided to dedicate themselves to winning one for him, for some reason, and Roy made it his obsession. And they did in Bourque’s last year, 2001, when Roy won his third Conn Smythe award for playoff MVP while winning his fourth Stanley Cup. He then retired in 2003. After his retirement, he got involved in coaching junior hockey in Quebec and is now the coach of the Colorado Avalanche, his old team.

This isn’t a bad book. At times, it’s fairly interesting. But I’ve read many better sports bios, as I’ve read a lot of them, and I’ve read better hockey bios. As I mentioned, I don’t think it helped that Patrick’s father wrote this. He really should have had an unrelated professional write this. It would have been more objective and written better with more and better information about the man himself, I’m guessing. Still, if you’re a fan of Roy, you’ll probably like it. If you’re a fan of Montreal or Colorado, you’ll probably like it. Even if you’re simply a hockey fan, it’s possible you’ll probably like it to some degree, like me. Otherwise, I’d probably avoid it. Cautiously recommended, but obviously only for hockey fans. No point in reading it otherwise.

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A Review of Grant Fuhr

Posted by Scott Holstad on July 26, 2015

Grant Fuhr: The Story of a Hockey LegendGrant Fuhr: The Story of a Hockey Legend by Grant Fuhr

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is a pretty good sports biography. Not the best I’ve read, but pretty good.

Grant Fuhr is a legend. One of the best goalies to ever play the game of hockey and a Hall of Famer. And the first black goalie to ever play and the first elite black player and I believe the first black Hall of Famer. He played most of his career for the Edmonton Oilers, before moving on to five other teams toward the end of his 17 year career. He set a number of records along the way and won five Stanley Cups. With Edmonton’s emphasis on offense, with Wayne Gretzy, Mark Messier, Paul Coffey, and others, he was usually the only line of defense for the Oilers, but teams rarely beat him. He was athletically gifted and could move very quickly. Had great reflexes. His personal stats will never be among the best, because when he played it was an offensive league, not the defensive league it is now. There were over eight goals scored per game, as opposed to the six per game scored now. Things have tightened up. But if he played now, I’m certain his stats would be among the best.

Fuhr was adopted by white parents in Alberta, Canada as a baby. Later, they adopted his sister. When he was five, they told him he was adopted. He didn’t care. They were his parents. He loved them. He went to school and played hockey and baseball. All of the kids in the neighborhood did. It was a small town outside of Edmonton. He decided at a young age he wanted to play goalie in the NHL. His parents did everything to support his dreams. He didn’t really notice color and no one else in the community seemed to either. There were two other black children in the school and some Native Americans. But everyone played and everyone was equal. Except Grant wasn’t. He was exceptional. He started playing in local leagues, often for two at a time. And as a result, his grades suffered. He would skip class to go out on the ice to play hockey. At 17, a scout saw him and told his boss at a minor league Victoria team to sign him, that he was going to be great. So he did and Grant dropped out of school to go pro. And he set the world on fire! He was amazing. He owned the league. He learned to play golf in the off season and that became a lifelong passion. The next season, he came back and had an even better year. The NHL draft came up, this was 1981 I believe, and Grant knew he was going to get drafted, but by whom? He thought it would be by Toronto or the Rangers. Surprisingly, the Edmonton Oilers took him with the eighth pick, even though they already had a star goalie in Andy Moog.

Grant came to his first camp, with his $45,000 contract in hand, thinking he’d play a little and be sent back to the minors, so he was shocked when the team kept him on the roster. And then he got to play in the fourth game of the season and did fairly well. And he kept playing. He split time with Moog, but at one point he had something like a 13 game no-loss streak going. He ended the year with a good record and good stats and as a finalist for the Venzina trophy, given to the best goalie in the league. (He only won that award once.) His second year, for whatever reason, was rockier. People began to question if drafting him was a wise decision. He began to have doubts about himself. But his third year, he came back and dominated. And for the rest of the decade, he owned the NHL. He helped the team to five Stanley Cups and people attributed much of his success to his laid back nature. He felt no fear. He was confident. He enjoyed the competition. But he suffered some injuries, mostly to his shoulder. But in one playoff game in the late ’80s, a goon dived on his leg, tearing his ACL and other tendons, requiring extensive surgery and his coach was livid.

At this point, I’ve got to be honest. There had been rumors for some time that some of the Oilers were using drugs. Fuhr had always denied he did. How could he perform at such a high level if he did? But it came out that he had used coke, at a minimum, for a number of years and his reputation took a major hit. The NHL decided to make an example out of him and suspended him for a full season, even though he had quit using drugs two years prior to this point. He took his punishment quietly and with many apologies to everyone.

In the late ’80s, when Gretzy got traded to the LA Kings, everyone in the world was in shock. How could that happen? Fuhr, by that time, was making more realistic money, but Edmonton didn’t have the money to pay their superstars, so he saw the writing on the wall. He got traded. It was a huge shock to the system. And so began his short term journeys. Finally, around 2000, he retired when his knees could no longer take it. And the Hall of Fame beckoned in 2003. A fitting end to a great career.

Normally this would be a five star book. But there’s one thing that really bugged me about this book. It’s the set up of the book. It’s allegedly by Grant, with Bruce Dowbiggin, but Dowbiggin is obviously the real writer and interviews Grant at various intervals for short quotes about various things. So Grant didn’t write this. Also, the book is supposed to be a bio. But when I got it, I was surprised to see it is divided by chapter into 10 prominent games and those were to be discussed. I wasn’t really thrilled with that, but I went with it. So imagine my surprise when I discovered that each chapter spent about one paragraph on the chapter’s game and the rest of the chapter building a standard bio, beginning with Grant’s birth and moving chronologically forward chapter by chapter. It’s kind of false advertising. Don’t get me wrong. I was glad to have the standard bio instead of just 10 games. But why divide the book into 10 chapters of 10 games if you’re just going to write a standard bio? It’s stupid. Aside from those complaints, it’s a good book and if you’re a hockey fan, you’ll want to read it. Recommended.

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A Review of Comfortably Numb

Posted by Scott Holstad on July 21, 2015

Comfortably Numb: The Inside Story of Pink FloydComfortably Numb: The Inside Story of Pink Floyd by Mark Blake

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Wow! After reading this book, I’ve come to the conclusion that Roger Waters was one of the biggest assholes who has ever lived. He was/is a freakin’ monster! A bully. A grouch. Never happy. Always has to be right. Always has to win. Always has to have the last word. Confrontational. Critical as hell. A royal dick. To everyone. Especially to David Gilmour. And Richard Wright. He generally spared Nick Mason.

This is one of the most comprehensive rock bios I’ve ever read, starting out with the group’s boyhoods in Cambridge in the 1950s to their forming the band in the mid-60s. Of course, Syd Barret was the singer and guitar player and was charisma personified. This book probably is probably one fourth about Syd, which irritated the hell out of me and nearly knocked it down a star. I’ve never understood the writer’s, fan’s, and band’s obsession of and love for Syd Barret. Floyd’s classic album Wish You Were Here was made as a tribute to Barret and just about every album they produced had songs that were tributes to him. Yet he was only with the band for one fucking album!!! The first one. The band has been in existence for 50 years and he was with the band for about two, so get the fuck over him people. Damn! He wasn’t even that good. And six months into their first album’s existence, he went insane. Too many drugs, mostly pot and LSD. Lots and lots of acid, daily. He burned himself out. He went from being a fun, eccentric, vibrant young man with lots of promise to a basic corpse on stage who couldn’t/wouldn’t sing and just let his guitar hand around his neck without playing it. So the band hired their friend David Gilmour to come in and back Barret up, to play the guitar for him and even sing the songs, all the while pretending it was Syd. But that didn’t last very long. After about six months of that, one night the band decided not to pick Syd up for a show. And then they didn’t the next night. And after that, he was gone.

Pink Floyd got their start playing at the UFO, a psychedelic club in London where they were the house band and everyone was tripping. When their first album came out, it generally got decent reviews and made them minor stars. They were doing what was called acid rock or space rock, take your pick. After Syd left, they had to find a new songwriter, so Roger took that role on his shoulders and became the band’s de facto leader. He wrote the songs, with minor contributions from the others and Gilmour sang. Gilmour was apparently an excellent guitar player, while Waters was a mediocre bassist, but he was an ideas man and felt good about that.

Their next few albums got decent reviews, but weren’t huge sellers and their record company was begging them for a hit single. Finally, they produced the all time classic, Dark Side of the Moon, which stayed on the charts for an amazing 14 straight years. That changed everything. It went to number one in many countries, made them superstars, and made them rich. And they went on tours. Big tours. Expensive tours. Tours that Waters became dictator of in regards to everything in every detail.

Wish You Were Here and Animals came out over the next few years and sold well. Everyone seemed to know the first one was the band’s tribute to Syd, who by this time was quite ill. But Gilmour was watching out for him, making sure he was getting his royalties and being taken care of. Around this time, Waters had had enough of Wright, who he thought wasn’t contributing enough, so he got the band to fire him, which was stunning. Wright’s keyboards played in integral role on virtually every Floyd song there was and he had even written some songs, so it was just a crazy power play. This didn’t sit well with Gilmour, who by this time was having a hard time even conversing cordially with Waters.

Meanwhile, Waters had a vision. He wanted to do a themed album, a brutal album about a rock star who goes crazy, gets power hungry, but is then redeemed at the end. In other words, himself. And Syd. He wrote the songs for The Wall and the band put it all together for a year and a half. The band hired Wright back, but not as a full member, rather as an hourly player with no credits. Somehow Wright agreed to this. When The Wall came out, it was a huge hit and Waters was flush with pride. And then they made it into a movie, starring Bob Geldoff as the main character. Waters hated Geldoff, but couldn’t do anything about the casting. The band went on a huge tour with some 200 roadies, all around the world, and made a killing, but Waters pissed everyone off so much, that a lot of people refused to ever speak to him again. Gilmour, by this time, hardly spoke to Waters, himself. He had had it with him. And Waters had had it with Gilmour. So he quit Pink Floyd and tried to dissolve the band. But Gilmour and Mason had other ideas. They wanted to keep the band going, with Wright, and still put out albums under the Pink Floyd name. Waters was incensed and sued them to stop it. He lost. Hah! Serves him right. He went on to do solo albums, none of which made a dent in the charts. He toured to crowds of 6,000 people, but claimed it didn’t bother him. Meanwhile, the remaining members of Pink Floyd gradually decided to do another album, after Gilmour put out his own solo album, which also didn’t sell. A Momentary Lapse of Reason was produced with Gilmour writing most of the songs, with the help of his then journalist girlfriend, later his wife. The album shot to number one everywhere and the band went out on huge stadium tours playing to 80,000 people at a time. Gilmour must have felt vindicated, but Waters couldn’t let it go, bitching that Gilmour could only do it with the help of his wife, that he didn’t have the talent to do it on his own. He also said the album sucked.

Fast forward a few years. There are more solo albums, by everyone. None sold well. The members of Pink Floyd decide to do another album and spend a good bit of time producing it. It hit number one on the charts too and they went on another big tour. During this tour, they played new stuff, very old stuff, including stuff from the first album, and the entire Dark Side of the Moon album. Recordings of the concert were later released as Pulse. Of course, Waters was immensely critical.

And that’s about it. Waters produced an opera that was mildly successful and allegedly mellowed in his 60s. The band reunited for Liveaid 8 around 2005 and there was speculation they’d get together again. Waters even indicated he’d be willing to, but Gilmour wouldn’t hear of it. He hated Waters too much. He turned down a $250,000,000 offer. The book ends with a new solo Gilmour album that becomes the band’s first solo album to sell successfully and with Gilmour finally finding some peace. And with Syd’s death in 2006. He lived very frugally, but to everyone’s surprise, was quite rich when he died. He left his money to his brothers and sisters. None of the band members attended the funeral. Syd was quite insane for most of his life. A pity.

One of the cool things about this book is the detailed descriptions of the covers and how they came about. How they were conceived and shot or drawn. You don’t usually get that in rock bios and I was glad to see that. You also get commentary on most songs on the albums. Pink Floyd is one of the most enduring and successful bands in rock history. This book does them justice and is definitely recommended for fans and anyone else.

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A Review of J.R.

Posted by Scott Holstad on May 27, 2015

J.R.: My Life as the Most Outspoken, Fearless, and Hard-Hitting Man in HockeyJ.R.: My Life as the Most Outspoken, Fearless, and Hard-Hitting Man in Hockey by Jeremy Roenick

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This was a very enjoyable book to read, even if you’re not a huge fan of Jeremy Roenick. I gained a lot of respect for him as a player as a result of reading this. He obviously loves the game of hockey and played with a lot of passion. Over the course of his 20 year career, he became one of a very few American-born players to score more than 500 career goals. Pretty impressive.

Roenick grew up a hockey player. He was playing pee wee hockey at 10 and his parents were traveling to other states to take him to tournaments. He moved around a lot as a kid, mostly due to his father’s occupation, but as his hockey playing skills grew, his parents’ determination for him to succeed grew, so his dad did something totally bizarre. Rather than take a promotion to a warm weather city like Dallas or LA, he took an entry level demotion to move to Boston so his son could grow up entrenched in a hockey atmosphere, losing some 50% of his income in the process. Still, he must have been doing pretty well, because JR went to prep schools, where he dominated. So much that he got drafted by Chicago after his junior year of high school. He wasn’t even 160 pounds yet. Strangely, even though he wasn’t into academics, he decided to go to college and went to Boston College — for 15 minutes. Long enough to read the syllabus for a class and decide it wasn’t for him. So soon, he was NHL-bound. He played a year in the minors, but got called up to Chicago and scored. The rest is history. He had a tough coach, was surrounded by good players, was a tough player himself, could score a lot, was a fast skater, a scrapper, and excelled. He lasted eight years in Chicago before they shipped him off to Phoenix, where he stayed for five years. Then he went to Philly, where I think he was also there for about five years. L.A. for one abysmal year, then two years with San Jose, then retirement. Along the way, his body took a lot of punishment. Hundreds of stitches, many broken bones, most teeth busted. Abused. He also partied his ass off, even though he was married. Strangely the book evades the topic of groupies. Gee, I wonder why? LOL! He devotes a chapter to a gambling problem he had, which was pretty bad. He played a lot of pranks. He was the life of the party, an entertainer. When he retired, he didn’t know what he wanted to do, but he felt like he wanted to stay in front of the camera. So when NBC offered him his job as an analyst, he jumped for it. And I like watching him now. I think he’s very good. There’s a funny story in the book about a disagreement he and Mike Milbury had in the studio about a hit on Kris Letang which nearly brought them to blows. Speaking of Penguins stars, in the book’s first paragraph, JR calls out Sidney Crosby for not showing enough or proper leadership. Which I tend to agree with, and I’m a huge Pens fan.

This book isn’t the best autobiography I’ve ever read. There should have been more about the game of hockey itself and more hockey stories, with fewer party stories. But it’s still quite entertaining. One area of confusion. He goes out of his way to ensure you know he’s American, dammit! Yet the book is written in Canadian English (defencemen, cheque, etc). WTF? Whatever. I enjoyed it. If you like hockey, you probably will too. And even if you don’t like hockey, but you like a good story, this might be a good book for you. Recommended.

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A Review of Hey Ho Let’s Go

Posted by Scott Holstad on May 6, 2015

Hey Ho Let's Go: The Story of the RamonesHey Ho Let’s Go: The Story of the Ramones by Everett True

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I read and wrote a review of a book called Ramones on November 26, 2013, so much of this is overlapping. With that in mind, I’m going to reprint some of that review here:

“Let me begin by saying I’ve liked the Ramones for a very long time. Since roughly 1980. And while I’ve enjoyed their music, I never thought they were musical geniuses or lyrical geniuses the way Lennon and McCartney were or even Trent Reznor. It was just fun, fast music. This book is about the music, but I’m downgrading it a couple of stars because the author thinks the Ramones are the world’s greatest band, for all intents and purposes. He’s a real fan boy. But since this is an authorized biography, I guess you would expect that.

The band started out in New York in 1974. Four disaffected young people who couldn’t play a musical instrument to save their lives. They couldn’t even imitate their musical heroes, the way Bowie or McCartney did. But they did get instruments and learn a chord. Their first show was a disaster, but soon the new club, CBGB’s, found them and nothing was ever the same again. They’d come on stage and rip through 17 songs in 15 minutes or 23 or 24 songs in 20 minutes. The object seemed to be to get through the songs as quickly as possible, with as much loudness as possible. The chiefs at Sire, a new outfit, heard their demo and signed them, and all of a sudden they had a record. And it got great reviews! All of a sudden, they were the founders and leaders of a new punk movement, and they influenced the Sex Pistols, The Clash, The Damned, and many, many other bands. They toured a lot and continued putting out records. That’s pretty much the book. A couple of lineup changes, the only one of which — when bassist and song writer Dee Dee quit — was big. There’s mention of drugs and alcohol, but just barely. This is a PG rated book, unlike other rock biographies I’ve read. A lot of the songs are quoted in the text, or snippets of songs, but it serves, in my opinion, to show just how insipid their lyrics were — not how great they were like the author asserts! While the Ramones never sold many records, they did tour a lot, and I guess that’s what prompted the author to write, “Everyone in the known universe loves the Ramones today.” Huh? They made $400 for their shows. Their albums sold in the 25,000 to 40,000 range. Obviously NOT everyone in the known universe loves the Ramones….”

Well, this book basically echoes that review, but instead of it being PG rated, it’s R rated. We learn of Dee Dee’s heroin addiction, of the band’s affinity for sniffing glue when younger, of Marky’s alcoholism, (and Joey’s too, it seems), and Johnny’s totalitarianism control freakishness and his Reagan/Bush loving Republican loving right wing politics (which is really weird). We learn how Johnny and Joey stopped talking to each other after about 10 years and spent the next 12 years communicating through others while still playing shows together year after year and still recording albums together. Part of that may have been because Johnny stole Joey’s girlfriend and married her.

I used to like the guys, but this book made me feel icky about them. Joey’s like this child-like, tall, skinny praying mantis who’s always in a dream state and doesn’t deal with reality well. Marky is an alcoholic in denial. Dee Dee is in a permanent state of being pissed off and is a drug addict. And Johnny is a right wing nut job penny pinching control freak. Tommy, the original drummer, is the only one who seemed normal. Maybe he got out at just the right time. CJ, Dee Dee’s replacement on bass, seems fairly normal too, but he’s never really viewed as one of the group.

We learn about how the band feels about music and their place in rock, as well as their views of other groups. We learn that they grew bitter about not selling records and not being recognized for starting punk or speed metal or whatever you want to call it (Johnny called it both). We learn that they seriously hated Styx, Foreigner, Boston, and Journey, as well as Yes and Pink Floyd. We learn that they kind of looked down their noses at the Sex Pistols. We learn that they liked AC/DC and Monster Magnet. We learn they hated goths, although they played a festival with Sisters of Mercy. We learn they hated traditional metal, opening for Black Sabbath and having bottles and cans thrown at them by the audience. We learn the author thinks they were bigger than the Stones in South America. Perhaps that’s true, and perhaps it’s true that they played to 50,000 people at a show there, but Queen played to 130,000 people there, so they don’t have the record, sorry. (I like Queen more.) The Ramones wavered on liking The Who and The Stones. Sometimes they did; sometimes they didn’t. They didn’t think too much of Lou Reed. They liked Debbie Harry and Joan Jett, who partied with them.

It was weird reading about them dying at the end of the book. Except for Dee Dee, and perhaps to a certain extent before he got cleaned up, Marky, they didn’t really live too hard. After shows, they wouldn’t have traditional rock parties with groupies, etc. They’d go out in the clothes they wore at the concert and look for a 7-11 or a Burger King. Then go watch cartoons or monster movies.

As stated in the previous review, the author and many of the people he interviewed thinks the lyrics are genius. Personally, I think they’re insipid. But I think that’s part of the fun of the Ramones. You can’t take them seriously. I don’t think they took themselves seriously. How in the hell do you take Beat On The Brat or We’re a Happy Family seriously? As to musicianship, many thought Johnny was the best guitarist ever. I think that’s insane. (Jeff Beck is.) One person interviewed, however, said Johnny sucked, was horrible, couldn’t play his way out of a box. The truth was he was probably somewhere in the middle. I doubt he created a genre, as so many claimed in this book, but he was decent.

Overall, I’m glad I read this book. It filled in a lot of details I didn’t know and was entertaining. The only downside was, it lowered my respect for the band members a bit, which is unfortunate. Nonetheless, I’d still recommend this for fans. It’s chock full of good info which you can’t find elsewhere.

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A Review of Mao: The People’s Emperor

Posted by Scott Holstad on April 27, 2015

Mao, the People's EmperorMao, the People’s Emperor by Dick Wilson

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

This is a hard book to rate. On one hand, it provides a lot of information and is somewhat detailed. On the other, it leaves out huge chunks of information which is simply unforgivable.

I wanted to read about Mao to learn more about him — I knew next to nothing — and I did. I learned of his modest upbringing, his hardships, his love of country, his love of the peasants, his introduction to Marx, his awakening to socialism and communism and the way to save his country — and every country. I learned of his split with the nationalists led by Chiang Kai-shek, the backstabbing, dictatorial asshole American naturally supported to rule China and whom Mao eventually drove to Taiwan. I learned about Mao’s raising of a peasant army, about the Long March, about his battles against Japan during WWII, his continued battles with the nationalists after the war, and about his victorious march into Peking after defeating them. I read of his rise to power and of how power corrupts, in this case, his cronies. Mao apparently wanted the Chinese to continue to revolt to bring about true communism, but his cronies on the Politburo grew a little too comfortable. I read of the numerous attempts to get Mao thrown out of office, which surprised me, and of how he survived each, coming back stronger each time. I read of his Cultural Revolution, which was taking place when I was born and was something I barely remember. I read of when Nixon went to visit him, the first time an American president had done such a thing. And I read of his death in the mid-70s.

All of this was interesting, but so much was left out. For instance, you would think the Korean War would be pretty big, wouldn’t you? It was big for the US, the two Koreas, and China, but it only merits a few sentences in this huge book. WTH? What’s up with that? Surely the author could have written something about that! Also, during the Hundred Flowers phase of the ’50s, Mao was said to have said that “the imperialist claims that twenty million people had been killed as counter-revolutionaries were quite false. The true number was ‘not much greater than 700,000.'” Um, excuse me? Where the hell did that come from? At least 700,000 people died and perhaps as many as 20 million and the author never even hints that executions are taking place, that people are being murdered, that there are death squads, that anything AT ALL is happening???!!! Doesn’t Mr. Wilson owe it to his reader to let them know that this is happening? It’s shocking that he left this information out of the book. It’s insulting to the Chinese and to the reader. If I were a relative of one of the deceased, I’d be outraged. I just couldn’t believe it when I read that passage. And that’s not an isolated example! This occurs elsewhere. Mass massacres, with no advance warning. No sense of injustice. Mao’s just a rustic good old boy, a somewhat naive genius who barely understand Marxism, but is well loved by the peasants. What the hell??? And so on. And then there’s the Vietnam War. How much do you think that’s mentioned in this book? Not at all. I can’t believe it. Not at all. The author is an idiot, or he thinks his reader is, I’m not sure.

I would give the book one star, but I’m giving it two because a lot of research did go into it and the author did tackle a moderately complex character with a minimum attempt at explaining him. He tried, but only just. I expected so much more. If anyone can recommend a better Mao bio to me, I’d appreciate it. Definitely not recommended.

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