hankrules2011

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Posts Tagged ‘rock and roll’

A Review of AC/DC: Maximum Rock and Roll

Posted by Scott Holstad on July 16, 2013

AC/DC: Maximum Rock & Roll: The Ultimate Story of the World's Greatest Rock-and-Roll BandAC/DC: Maximum Rock & Roll: The Ultimate Story of the World’s Greatest Rock-and-Roll Band by Murray Engleheart

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I wanted to give this bio on AC/DC more stars, but I think it has too many weaknesses to do that. That said, this 488 page book is a beast of a bio and one does learn quite a lot about the band.

This well-researched book starts out in the ’60s with the Young brothers. Malcolm and Angus watched as their older brother George achieved some international stardom with a group called The Easybeats, but that group didn’t last too long. The brothers were excellent guitar players and started playing early on. They were also tiny — Malcolm’s 5’3″ and Angus is 5’2″ — and took a lot of crap from people. However, they were feisty Scots living in Australia and held their own in fights. A lot of fights. They formed AC/DC around 1973 with singer Dave Evans, who was replaced by the infamous Bon Scott, and they started producing records in the mid ’70s. They worked hard, but didn’t get much of a following for a long time. They toured England, Europe, the US, etc., opening for KISS, Aerosmith, Deep Purple, Black Sabbath, Cheap Trick, Boston, Styx, Foreigner, even the Little River Band, much to their disgust. Their intent was to blow the headliners off the stage, and they usually did. They developed a reputation for being LOUD and even though their records weren’t selling off the charts, they believed in themselves. Then in early 1980, Bon Scott died of alcohol poisoning, and they found Brian Johnson to replace him. They came out with Back In Black, which catapulted them into mega-stardom. That album has gone on to sell over 50 MILLION copies, second only to Michael Jackson’s Thriller. Whereas before, they were playing to crowds of 8,000 or 17,000, they soon found themselves headlining and playing to much larger crowds in stadiums all over the world. I’ve always been a big fan of Queen and was a little put off by the books’ claims that AC/DC has sold some 150 million albums internationally, trying to make them big shots, when I know Queen has allegedly sold some 300 million albums, and I didn’t care too much about AC/DC playing to 50,000 people in a stadium when Queen played to 130,000 people in Brazil, in fact 250,000 in two nights. But AC/DC apparently played for as many as a million people at a concert in Moscow, so I guess that’s saying something.

One thing that bugged me about this book was the authors are such fan boys. AC/DC is the greatest band that ever walked the earth for these two, and that’s crap. I wouldn’t even list them in my top 20 bands of all time; indeed, I don’t know where I’d place them. One of what they considered to be their strengths is what I consider to be a weakness — their musical formulas. They have hits that are formulaic and they don’t want to waiver from that. They want to play AC/DC music. Well, other bands branch out, expand, experiment, and I have a lot more respect for those bands than I do for those resting on their musical laurels pumping out the same stuff year after year. But that’s me.

Another thing that bugged me about this book was we learned some details I didn’t want to know and didn’t learn other details I would consider important. For instance, during the ’70s, the band kept getting and giving VD to girls all over the world, especially Bon Scott. WTF? Did I really need to know that? That’s gross. However, at some point Angus got married, yet we never learn a thing about that, how he met his wife, who she is, where they lived, what she did, etc. Totally omitted from the book. Same with the other guys in the band. We learn the drummer is into fast cars. We learn Malcolm hit the bottle pretty hard. But here’s where I think the real weakness of the book is — it’s formulaic, just like AC/DC’s music. Virtually each chapter is about an album. It begins with the group making the album, has a few lines about a couple of the songs, and then goes into length on the subsequent tour. Over and over, year after year. It gets really repetitive. And boring. What about the people? What about the relationships? What about critiquing the songs? Other rock bios I’ve read critique the songs from each album. This doesn’t. At least this one covers album art, which has been one of my major complaints of other rock bios, the fact that most don’t cover that aspect of things, and I think it’s important.

AC/DC continued to get bigger and bigger post-1980, which surprised me. I can only think of one or two albums they put out past Back In Black, but they actually sold well and did huge tours. I didn’t know.

One nice thing about this book is the pictures. Lots of color photographs, as well as some black and white ones. Here’s another complaint though — the first half of the book felt a lot more detailed than the second half. The authors go into extensive detail on the band’s early years, the recordings, Bon’s goings on, the touring, and then after Brian comes aboard, they seem to just jump from highlight to highlight, leaving a lot out. Oh well. Oh, I also got tired of the band’s hubris. Unwarranted.

This is a pretty decent book which could have been much better with more detail. The band is pretty good, although not as good as they think they are. I do like listening to them and listened to a lot of their stuff while reading this, but I’m glad I’m done with the book and can move on, because as I mentioned, it got quite repetitive. I’m not sure if I can recommend this book. Certainly not to the casual reader. I guess AC/DC fans will like it though. Read with caution.

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A Review on David Bowie: Starman

Posted by Scott Holstad on July 3, 2013

David Bowie: StarmanDavid Bowie: Starman by Paul Trynka

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Paul Trynka’s biography of David Bowie is pretty good, and at 544 pages, not overly long as far as rock bios go. It still took me a long time to get through it, though, because I’m reading six other books at the same time. Slow going.

This book has a lot of detail — sometimes too much — while also leaving out a lot of detail on things. I found it interesting to see what the author chose to focus on and what he chose to virtually ignore. There’s the requisite growing up period of the young Davy Jones and all of the years he spends trying to become a rock star, spending some 12 years in the business before Ziggy happened for him. There’s a lot of detail in this period, but it gives you some good background info into what made Bowie Bowie. There’s a good bit to Ziggy, but less so to the Diamond Dogs era and his sudden change to Philly soul mid-way through his tour. There’s a LOT of focus on his enormous coke use during the ’70s. It’s sad to realize he doesn’t even remember doing some of the records he’s most famous for. There’s some mention of Angie, but a great deal less than in another bio I read last year (which was a terrible hatchet job which hurt my opinion of Bowie, and I resented the authors for it). When she finally seeks a divorce from Bowie, not much more is mentioned of her. There’s a great deal about David’s son, Zowie, and how he tries to raise him as a single parent who’s a traveling rock star. That must have been hard on the kid. It’s good to see he made it. (He’s now a film director.) There’s a lot of information on Bowie’s years in Germany and I learned a lot I hadn’t previously known. There’s a lot of information on Bowie’s acting, both stage and film, and I enjoyed reading about The Man Who Fell To Earth, one of my favorite cult classics, but there’s virtually nothing written about 1986’s Labyrinth, which was largely crucified by critics but still became a hit anyway, thanks in part to Jim Henson (of Muppets fame). There’s also nothing mentioned about Bowie’s role as Andy Warhol in Basquiat, which I thought was an excellent job of acting on his part. Never mentioned. But lots on stage performances. Odd.

As mentioned, a lot of attention is paid to the ’70s and the excellent records to appear during that decade, culminating with 1980’s Scary Monsters, which some would argue is Bowie’s last great record. (I think Let’s Dance is, but it doesn’t get good treatment in this book.) Trynka doesn’t hold back, though, when he needs to, as he pans Tonight and most of the other post-Let’s Dance albums. He does wax enthusiastic about some individual songs on these albums, and seems especially sad that 2003’s Reality is Bowie’s last album before dropping out of sight. (I wonder what he would think about the brand new Bowie album. He must be overjoyed.)

One of the things that bothered me about this book, though, is that the author could have gotten deeper into some of Bowie’s influences and friendships and relationships, but instead you get every single detail of his recording process, the music business in general, and his collaborators. There’s also too much attention paid to Iggy Pop, probably because the author wrote a book on him and is trying to plug it. Too much Iggy Pop, sorry. As one Goodreads reviewer noted, “If you’re wondering how to intersect Jacques Brel, Aleister Crowley, William Burroughs, Little Richard, Kansai Yamamoto, Jean Genet and the Weimar Republic — don’t spend too much time with Trynka’s book. Because he’s more interested in business contacts and contract signings, the mechanical levers to fame.” Trynka mentions influences throughout the book, but instead focuses too much on the business end of things, to my distraction.

There were some other problems with the book. As I’ve already mentioned, there’s nothing written about some of his films, while too much is mentioned about some of his other acting gigs. What about the infamous, ground-breaking 1980 video for “Ashes To Ashes”? Not mentioned. Other videos are mentioned, but perhaps his most important one is not. What about the collaborations with Pat Metheny and Nine Inch Nails? Not mentioned. Queen, yes, but not Nine Inch Nails. Why? And this is one complaint I always have with rock bios — why is the album art never covered??? The controversial Diamond Dogs cover art should have been discussed, but was never broached. Virtually nothing was said about his album covers. That’s a shame.

Still, at the end of the book, there’s a fantastic discography section where every album is reviewed with some detail. The book is worth it for that alone, but also for the pictures, which really made it for me. I saw some photos that were just classic. Awesome.

Is this a five star book? I don’t think so. Too much is left unsaid. Too many other things are covered in excess. But I think it’s a solid four star book. It’s a pretty good rock bio, and I recommend it for Bowie fans and for music and biography fans in general.

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A Review of INXS: Story to Story

Posted by Scott Holstad on June 23, 2013

INXS: Story to Story: The Official AutobiographyINXS: Story to Story: The Official Autobiography by Anthony Bozza

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

OK, this is the “official autobiography” of INXS, so it’s somewhat filtered, I’m assuming. That said, it’s pretty well researched and fairly well written, although the author is an obvious fan boy and makes INXS out to be pretty much the greatest band of all time, which annoyed the hell out of me.

It was enjoyable to read about the band’s beginnings in Australia, when they were high and middle school students. How they played the pub scene for years, all around the country, sometimes three shows a night. They certainly paid their dues. Their manager was an apparent asshole, but a visionary and he had a plan to turn these boys into successes, something he ultimately did.

I first heard INXS circa 1981 when I somehow got my hands on an import LP with a post-punk song called “We Are The Vegetables” on it. I loved it and have been following the band ever since, enjoying Shabooh Shabbah and The Swing to Listen Like Thieves and Kick. I sort of lost interest as the ’90s rolled around and they released X, which did fairly well, but it was their last really decent selling album.

It was interesting to read about the international tours they went on. They played America, opening for Adam Ant and blowing him off the stage. Eventually he would have nothing to do with them. They opened for the Go-Gos, and in Europe, for Queen, which I think would have been cool. They also headlined at clubs to build a greater following. Of course they had MTV to thank for introducing Americans to the band, with the channel’s heavy rotation of their music videos.

I learned something I didn’t know about the band. They were as into hardcore partying nearly as much as Zeppelin! I mean sex, drugs, rock and roll. Trashed hotel rooms, groupies, coke and booze. I had no idea. Some of the band members were married or had girlfriends, but the others took advantage of the opportunities such touring afforded them.

Listen Like Thieves was really their first American hit album. I still listen to it a lot. But they hit it really big with Kick, which was nominated for a Grammy. I was in college at the time, circa ’88 I think, and I remember camping out for concert tickets in Knoxville with some friends and going to the show. It was great; I really enjoyed it. High energy. We all had a blast.

That was the pinnacle for INXS. At the time, they were probably as big as U2 and REM, ie, the biggest bands in the world. Everything seemed great for them. However, they had been touring for so many years that they just got tired out and took some time off before regrouping to record X. Also, something happened to them in Australia that was rather odd. They had always been local boys made good in the press, but now that they had gotten so big internationally, they were trashed in the press, as though they were too good for the locals, which wasn’t the case at all. However, their reputation in Australia never really recovered, which is a shame.

I didn’t know that Michael Hutchence was such good friends with U2’s Bono. They spent a lot of time together and probably influenced each other a great deal. I also didn’t know that the members of the band lived in England, France, and Hong Kong, as well as Australia. The distance eventually drove a wedge between the band members. Pity.

Everyone probably remembers the occasion of Michael Hutchence’s death. I was horrified and felt really badly for his family and the band, just for the way in which it was portrayed. The author doesn’t really tell us whether Michael Hutchence’s death was a suicide or an autoerotic accident, but he does indicate that the rest of the band members remain unsure, themselves, of what exactly happened to Michael. The band members really have differing opinions of what happened. One thing that could have led to a suicide was an accident he had in Denmark, when a taxi cab driver beat him so severely that he was in the hospital for two weeks and permanently lost his sense of smell. He also got a brain injury that caused him to become angry and violent. He would lash out at people for no reason. It wasn’t entirely his fault. It’s just a shame that it happened like that. Toward the end, he had hooked up with Bob Geldoff’s ex-wife and they had had a daughter. You would think this would have stabilized his partying, but he was hooked on heroin by then, as well as other substances, and was in a deep depression. That said, the last day of his life, he seemed to be in a good mood as the band prepared to record a new album. He died at 10 AM the next morning in a hotel room.

The writing in the book is straightforward and probably honest, but it’s certainly not challenging. Rather like reading People magazine. One thing that irritated me about the author, as I’ve already noted, is his willingness to fawn over INXS like they were the greatest band ever. Listen to this:

“…in 1988, it [Kick] spurred every major label to seek out and sign some kind of slinky, sexy, romantic, rock and rhythm-and-blues band. They found them all all right, crap or not, from the Fine Young Cannibals to General Public to Faith No More to the Red Hot Chili Peppers to the Fixx. INXS put punk, funk, soul, and rock together better than those bands could ever hope to, for one simple reason; INXS could and still can play them into oblivion.”

Wow. Seriously? OK, I can agree on Fine Young Cannibals and Faith No More, both good for one or two albums, and who cares about General Public? But The Fixx put out some good albums, and they’re still producing music, putting out a decent album which I bought just last year. And most importantly, the Red Hots? Seriously? I’ve read about the Red Hots and I really doubt if INXS was an influence on them. Shabooh Shabbah was released in 1982, one year before the Red Hots formed. And the Reds had it from the beginning. If anyone was influencing anyone else, it was the Red Hots. THEY had punk, funk, soul, and rock down much better than INXS did or more any other group, for that matter. Also, let’s talk stats. INXS sold 35 million albums and never won a Grammy. The Red Hots have sold 80 million albums and have won 7 Grammy Awards. ‘Nuff said. Don’t go overboard in your idealizations, Mister Bozza. It’s stupid and unfounded.

Aside from my annoyance with the author’s constant praise of the boys in the band, it wasn’t a bad book to read, and as a fan, I enjoyed learning some things I hadn’t formerly known about the band. If you like INXS or just dig ’80s music at all, you might like reading this book. Cautiously recommended.

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A Review of Life

Posted by Scott Holstad on June 12, 2013

LifeLife by Keith Richards

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Wow. I thought I had a foul mouth, but I never met Keith Richards. He’s got a mouth on him, he does. Heh.

This is an interesting book to read because it’s like the ghost writer sat Keith down with a tape recorder and 100 tapes and said record anything that comes to mind. And so he does. It’s all stream of consciousness. It’s Keith rambling and babbling about just about anything and everything. Sometimes it’s wearing, but sometimes it’s juicy and good. It’s actually quite hard to put down. He even includes his own recipe for bangers and mash!

It was mildly interesting to read about Keith and Mick’s youthful obsessions with American blues music. Since I care nothing for blues, it held little interest for me, but Keith consistently refers to blues musicians throughout the book, so it’s good to be on the lookout for this. It was also interesting to see how the band came about and how they became famous almost overnight, right after the Beatles gave them one of their songs to perform (which I already knew). They apparently played for three years straight with only some 10 days off in between. If that’s true (and it’s hard to believe), that’s a lot of touring. Keith makes no bones about the fact that the Stones were making blues and country albums with a couple of rock songs thrown in on each to please the record companies, so they could sell some records. These rocks songs are the ones we know and love. I never knew Keith was such a song writer. He wrote “Gimme Shelter” and many others of the major hits, and he collaborated with Mick on nearly every song. It was sad to read about the disintegration of their relationship. Keith spends half the book bad mouthing Mick and then saying good things about him, that he’s his mate. Weird. Some of the friction started with Anita Pallenberg, a hottie Keith had stolen (“rescued”) from Brian Jones. Apparently, she and Mick were in a film together and had a scene in a bathtub and one thing might have led to another. Keith writes, “I didn’t find out for ages about Mick and Anita, but I smelled it.” He then goes on to write “I’m not that jealous kind of guy,” before telling us how he got back at Mick by porking Mick’s girlfriend Maryann Faithful, having to escape out the window to avoid being caught by Mick. There’s lots of these discrepancies throughout the book, which would normally make me want to give it three stars, but I’m giving it four because it is interesting.

It’s amazing how Richards dismisses Brian Jones’s death. He writes,

“I knew Frank Thorogood, who made a ‘deathbed confession’ that he’d killed Brian Jones by drowning him in the swimming pool, where Brian’s body was found some minutes after other people had seen him alive. But I’m always wary of deathbed confessions…. Whether he did or not I don’t know. Brian had bad asthma and he was taking quaaludes and Tuinals, which are not the best things to dive under water on. Very easy to choke on that stuff…. But when somebody says, ‘I did Brian,’ at the very most I’d put it down to manslaughter. All right, you may have pushed him under, but you weren’t there to murder him. He pissed off the builders, whining son of a bitch. It wouldn’t have mattered if the builders were there or not, he was at that point in his life when there wasn’t any.”

Doesn’t seem to care very much, does he? He gets angry about other people in his life dying, but could care less that a member of the group does. Odd.

Later in the book, Keith speculates further about Mick.

“I’ve no doubt, in retrospect, that Mick was very jealous of me having other male friends. And I’ve no doubt that that was more of a difficulty than women or anything else. It took me a long time to realize that any male friend I had would automatically get the cold shoulder, or at least a suspicious reception, from Mick.”

One of the things I didn’t like about the book was that Keith just skipped over songs and albums entirely. He mentioned Beggars Banquet, but only mentions Let It Bleed once in the book that I can recall. Yet he spends perhaps hundreds of pages on Exile on Main Street and Some Girls. Why is that? Is that because he was writing more of the songs, so he wants credit? Is he so insecure that he wants to gloss over early Stones history to get to where he contributed more heavily? It doesn’t make sense. He also totally skips over Tattoo You, the Stones’ last great album, while writing at length about inferior newer albums. Weird. Another thing that bugged me about the book was that he tries to describe himself as a real macho type. He carried guns and knives with him — slept with a gun under his pillow. And apparently he used these at times, and was well known for it. During his very bad heroin period, when he couldn’t get the “good stuff,” he’d have to go to downtown L.A., for instance, and read on…

“We knew the trick — you’d score upstairs, and on your way down the other bunch would take it back off you again. Most of the time you’d hear it going on while you were waiting for your turn. The thing was to leave quietly, and if you saw anybody outside — because you never knew if it was going to happen or not — usually you’d give them a kick in the balls. But a couple of times, fuck it, OK, let’s go for it. You cover me. You stay down there, and as I come down with the shit I’ll go bang, and they’ll go bang and then you go bang. Shoot out the lightbulbs and put a few bullets around and do the run, sparks flying. Then with a bit of luck we’re out of there. The statistic are well on your side against being hit when you’re a moving target. If you look at the odds, one thousand to one, you’re going to win. You have to be very close and you have to have good eyesight to shoot out a lightbulb. And it’s dark. Flash, bang, wallop and get out of there. I loved it. It was real OK Corral stuff.”

Keith’s heroin habit was VERY bad, but he really almost downplays it in the book, like he had some control over it. Never OD’d like others, knew not to take too much. Said it helped his creativity. I don’t know about that, but I don’t think you’re setting a good example for the kids, Keith.

Keith and Anita have several children, one of whom dies mysteriously in a crib death experience, but her heroin addiction is worse than his and when he finally cleans up, he can’t stay with her, so ultimately hooks up with Patti Hansen, whom he marries four years later and with whom he has two more children. Strangely, the book talks more of Keith and Anita’s relationship than Keith and Patti, until the final chapter.

Keith and Mick had been at each other’s throats for some time, but it got very bad when Mick piggybacked a three album solo deal on a new Stones deal. Keith felt betrayed by this, for some reason. He rants about it at length. He then goes on to write about the beginnings of “World War III.”:

“Dirty Work came out in early 1986, and I badly wanted to tour with it. So, of course, did the other band members, who wanted to work. But Mick sent us a letter saying he wouldn’t tour. He wanted to get on with his solo career. Soon after the letter came, I read in one of the English tabloids of Mick saying the Rolling Stones are a millstone around my neck. He actually said it. Swallow that one, fucker. I had no doubt that some part of his mind was thinking that, but saying it is another thing. That’s when World War III was declared.”

Oddly, while Keith is ranting about Mick’s Solo career, he goes off and forms a band and puts out two records of his own with zero remorse. Again, some hypocrisy. It’s disappointing. Keith seems so down to earth and real at times, and so spoiled and brat-like at others that it’s maddening!

So in 1989, a truce between Mick and the rest was declared. Keith wrote,

“Mick and I may not be friends — too much wear and tear for that — but we’re the closest of brothers, and that can’t be severed. How can you describe a relationship that goes that far back? Best friends are best friends. But brothers fight. I felt a real sense of betrayal. Mick knows how I feel, although he may not have realized my feelings went so deep. But it’s the past I’m writing about; this stuff happened a long time ago. I can say these things; they come from the heart. At the same time, nobody else can say anything against Mick that I can hear. I’ll slit their throat.”

Even though there is peace once again, Keith still gets some shots in. Mick called Keith to tell him that Tony Blair is insisting that he accept a knighthood. Keith’s reply? “You can turn down anything you like, pal.” And then he goes off!

“What’s all this shit about a knighthood? … Had I misread my friend? The Mick that I grew up with, here’s a guy who’d say shove all your little honors up your arse. Thank you very much, but no thanks. It’s a demeaning thing to do. It’s called the honors list, but we’ve been honored enough. The public has honored us. You’re going to accept an honor from a system that tried to put you in jail for nothing? I mean, if you can forgive them for that….Mick’s class consciousness had become more and more evident as we went along, but I never knew he’d fallen for this shit.”

Sounds like Keith could use some therapy to me. He never gets over Mick trying to get in with the popular circles and trying to manage the group himself. He resented Mick for nearly everything and it’s this poison that seeps throughout the whole book which makes it a bit disappointing. Don’t get me wrong — he may be right about everything and Mick may be a total asshole, but you’re sinking to a level you don’t need to go to when you start writing this stuff.

Keith’s linguistic skills are a marvel to observe in this book. He has a way with words, even when he’s describing shooting up in a shit hole hovel or he’s escaping being jailed once again. I think there’s too much emphasis on albums that don’t deserve it (like the recent ones) and not enough — if any — on some classics that do deserve it. I would have liked to hear a little more about his doings with Charlie and Bill and the others. They play bit roles in this book. Still, it’s a decent read, and quite long, and if you’re a Stones fan, you’ll probably find it quite illuminating. Hell, you probably will even if you’re not a Stones fan. Recommended.
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A Review of The Show Must Go On

Posted by Scott Holstad on June 5, 2013

The Show Must Go on: The Life of Freddie MercuryThe Show Must Go on: The Life of Freddie Mercury by Rick Sky

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

This book on Freddie Mercury could have been better and it could have been worse. Frankly, it was only mediocre. Even the cover is mediocre, like the author pulled some first year graphic art student out of class and asked him to draw Freddie looking like one of the Village People.

The book does have some interesting pieces spread throughout the pages, but it’s arranged so oddly, that it gives you a disjointed feeling. You start out eerily with his death, move on to his childhood in Zanzibar, jump to the “Beginning of Queen” chapter, which covers every Queen album ever released — not just the beginning. (Very odd.) Then you have chapters covering his hedonistic years in Munich, his infamous spending sprees, the great Live Aid performance by Queen and how that resurrected the band’s career, oh, and there’s a chapter titled “The Men and Women of Freddie Mercury’s Life,” all about Mercury’s sexual escapades. Really? Is this a smutty magazine or what? There’s a chapter on his collaborations, which really wasn’t necessary to the book, I thought, and of course a chapter on him with AIDs and the rumors that surrounded him for so long. The author interviewed several hangers on, but no band members, I believe, and very few people in general. Frankly, I don’t know how he got 200 pages out of this. I have other books on Freddie Mercury that do the great man more justice. This one just glosses over so many things, while ensuring that we know that Freddie did a lot of coke. Nice. One thing that irritated me toward the end of the book was his covering of the great tribute concert for Freddie after he had passed on. He cites Guns N’ Roses as covering “Queen’s hits ‘Paradise City’ and ‘Knockin on Heavens Door’ to rapturous applause.” SERIOUSLY? You couldn’t even get that right? Those weren’t Queen hits, you freakin’ idiot! Was this a typo or just poor reporting? It’s things like this that annoy the heck out of me about this book. Still, it was a quick, easy read and I might have learned one or two things about Freddie I hadn’t known. Maybe. Whatever the case, not recommended.

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A Review of Queen: The Complete Works

Posted by Scott Holstad on May 29, 2013

Queen: The Complete WorksQueen: The Complete Works by George Purvis

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Wow! This was exhausting to read and it had to be exhausting to write. This is the most comprehensive reference book I’ve ever seen relating to a rock band, or any musician for that matter. It’s amazing how much information is contained in this book. As the blurb on Goodreads says, “Georg Purvis’s meticulous, session-by-session, song-by-song, album-by-album, tour-by-tour record of the band’s progress is the complete reference source that Queen fans have been waiting for.” No kidding. This book details every album, every song (even unreleased songs), every tour and set list, every side project and solo efforts of the members of Queen. It’s unbelievable! Now, I’ve been a big Queen fan since the mid ’70s, so I’m biased. Someone who’s not a fan probably wouldn’t get much out of this book. And even though I’m giving it five stars, there are some weaknesses. Redundancy is a big one. There are only so many descriptions one can read of the same tour for North America, Europe, Japan, Australia, and South America with maybe three song changes in the set lists before boredom sets in. And I don’t care as much about all of the side project and solo work of the band members, so reading about Roger Taylor’s adventures with his band The Cross was uninteresting to me. But each song — are you kidding me??? That is research, my friends! The author of this book is a Queen fan, but also a strict critic who pulls no punches with songs he considers to be weak or bad. He also reports many of the reviews the band received, both good and bad. I learned a lot in reading this heavy 475 page book, and at times, it was highly enjoyable. But, as I mentioned, at other times it was drudgery. One thing the book lacked that surprised me was commentary on the album cover art. I would have enjoyed reading about that and am disappointed it’s not in there. There’s commentary on the videos, so why not the album art? However, I can get past that. I’ve read a lot of Queen books and have many more to read and while it often seems there’s not much more I can learn about the band, a book like this comes along and you realize how much you don’t know at all. It was a lengthy process to get through this book, but I’m glad I did. Recommended for any Queen fan.

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A Review of Stairway To Heaven

Posted by Scott Holstad on March 27, 2013

Stairway to Heaven: Led Zeppelin UncensoredStairway to Heaven: Led Zeppelin Uncensored by Richard Cole

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book was a quick and easy read, and quite entertaining at times. But I’ve got one word to say: debauchery. I thought I had heard/read it all, but I was wrong. These hedonistic, narcissistic, thoroughly debauched drug addled alcoholics were disgusting human beings, and the author, their road manager for 12 years, is no better, and perhaps even worse. The book is told from his perspective, and I’ve heard that Robert Plant really hated the book, and the band denied most of what is written, so who knows how much of it is true, but the thing that annoyed me the most was Cole’s insinuation that he was virtually a part of the band, that John Bonham was practically his best friend (and apparently his roommate on the road, much of the time), and that Zeppelin couldn’t have done it without him. This from a man who basically confessed to kidnapping, drug trafficking, assault (sexual and otherwise — battery too), bribery, and willful destruction of property. I mean, this book should have been written from prison! Yes, it was fun to read about the hedonism at times, like when the band, Cole, and their manager consumed 260 drinks in four hours, or virtually anything they did, since it was so degrading to others, but Cole was a heroin addicted alcoholic who got prepubescent girls for the guys in the band to, you know, … bang. It was especially appalling to read about Jimmy Page falling for a nubile 14 year old, especially as he was 28 at the time. He apparently liked them very young.

It was interesting to read about the beginnings of the band, back in 1968, and their tours, mainly through America, and the terrible reviews they got even though they sold more records than virtually any other rock group in history. It was interesting to read about the music — how it was created, snippets of information about many of the songs, how it was performed, etc. But the books really is about sex, drugs, and rock and roll — meaning, mostly sex and drugs — and it gets redundant after awhile. I’ve read a lot of band bios over the years. Journey stayed clean. Rush stayed clean. Until now, I thought Queen threw the most debauched parties, but I think Zeppelin beats Queen in this area. Sadly, the band was steeped in moral degradation on the largest possible scale with their craziness, their nutso destruction of property, assaults on concert-goers, out of control spending and alcohol and drug use, and a sexual preference for girls barely into puberty, if even. I was prepared for some debauchery, but nothing like this. Sadly, I think I’ve really lost a lot of respect for the band, and I think it’s fair to say they should all be rotting in prison. I mean, they got away with everything, and they expected to. And Cole was instrumental in helping them get away with anything. He bribed cops, he beat up people, he got them drugs. What a slime ball.

Cole had a crush on John Bonham, clearly, and barely tolerated Robert Plant, which made me wonder how skewed events in the book were. Cole was crushed with Bonham’s death, which incidentally, a lot of people chalk up to Zeppelin’s “curse,” brought on by Jimmy Page’s dabbling in the occult, which Cole really tries to steer clear of. Why? I’m not sure. I wanted to read about Page’s occult fetishes, aside from his obsession with A Crowley, but Cole writes that Jimmy didn’t really introduce them to his occult practices and beliefs. That’s a little hard to believe, but oh well. Other things happened to the members of Zeppelin that helped this curse idea along. Bonham got in a car wreck, as did Plant. It took Plant a long time to recover. Plant’s five year old son died. $230,000 is stolen out of a safe box. There’s more. Cole goes to prison in Italy, accused of terrorism (which is how the book begins).

There’s a lot of craziness that goes on in this book. Televisions are thrown out of hotel windows, hotel rooms are trashed, cars are bought and crashed, girls are bartered like livestock, drugs flow freely, the alcoholic consumption would be enough to kill most people. There are transvestites and transsexuals, hookers and groupies (including the famous Plaster Casters). There’s one memorable moment that involves two groupies, a bathtub, and an octopus, and it’s truly disgusting. Then there’s the girl with the famous red snapper incident, which is also disgusting. The band members have got to be the most immature and spoiled men in the history of the universe, most especially Bonham. It’s rather disappointing.

This book is entertaining, if you can stomach the filth, and it’s a real page turner — I couldn’t put it down. If half the stuff in this book is true, everyone involved should be in prison, as I’ve already alluded to. I hope in their older years, the remaining members of the band have matured. Cole has apparently been sober and clean for over 15 years, so I guess that’s good. If you like reading about rock and roll excess or about Led Zeppelin, this is the book for you. If your stomach is easily turned, maybe you shouldn’t read it. Cautiously recommended.

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A Review of Don’t Stop Believin’

Posted by Scott Holstad on October 18, 2012

Don't Stop Believin': The Untold Story of JourneyDon’t Stop Believin’: The Untold Story of Journey by Neil Daniels

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I thoroughly enjoyed this fascinating and entertaining book. I’ve enjoyed listening to Journey since the 70s & have developed an even greater appreciation for them since I discovered their early pre-Steve Perry albums earlier this year. I didn’t even know they existed, but I happened upon them and I love all three, particularly Next. Neal Schon just shreds the guitar on “Hustler” on that album. Even though these three albums are called jazz fusion, there’s definitely some rocking going on. I had heard that Neal Schon was a guitar prodigy, but I didn’t know Eric Clapton invited him to join his band when Neal was 15, with Neal turning him down to go with Santana. In 1973, he and Greg Rolie left Santana to form Journey with some other musicians and they signed with Columbia, the company that put out the majority of their records. However, their first three albums didn’t sell too well, with Greg singing while doing keyboards, so they were pressured to hire a front man to sing — that’s how Steve Perry ended up with the band.

The book relies heavily on interviews with ex-manager Herbie Herbert, who literally hates Steve Perry, so you get a biased view of things at times, but it’s really fascinating to read how Infinity came about, as well as Escape, Frontiers and the other well known Journey albums, and how they consciously changed their sound to AOR. Was it a sell out? Some people would say yes. They claimed that they just wanted a bigger audience and this was the vehicle toward that. It worked too. Are there too many ballads and a lot less rocking with Perry? Yes, but still there are some amazing songs that stand the test of time. Of course, Perry left the band in 1986 after Raised on Radio because allegedly, his pipes were done. He couldn’t sing in range anymore and needed a break. However, they reunited in 1996 for another album, which didn’t do too well. It’s apparently below par. It’s one of the few Journey albums I don’t own. They were planning on doing a big worldwide tour to support the album, but Perry injured his hip during a Hawaii hike and had to have hip replacement surgery, knocking him out of the band, this time forever. There are rumors that this is merely an excuse, that there was bad blood. This may or may not be true. The point is, Journey continued without him and people had to get used to that.

Journey hired a new singer named Steve Augeri, who by all accounts was pretty good. They produced two studio albums with him in the early 2000s, but they weren’t huge sellers. After 10 years with the band, his voice gave out too and he was forced into retirement, replaced by Jeff Scott Soto, who lasted 11 months with the band. He wasn’t a true tenor and couldn’t realistically carry the old Journey standards sufficiently, so they let him go.

We get to the current Journey now. In late 2007, early 2008, Neal was checking out YouTube and came across a Filapino man named Arnel Pineda doing Journey songs on videos. He was so good and sounded so much like Steve Perry, that Neal flew him to California to audition for the band. He got the job. They decided to cut a new record, so Revelation came out in 2008. It’s a two disc album, with one being new, original stuff with Arnel singing and the other being old standards, introducing Arnel to the fans. They then embarked on a world tour which was quite successful. I’ve seen a DVD of them in concert in Manilla, and they really rocked it. The book was written in 2010, so it doesn’t get the current album from 2011 — Eclipse — in, but it talks about a new album being in the works. I have it and it’s actually very good. They shed many of the old Journey-style ballads for some real rockers where Neal shows his guitar chops and it’s pretty cool. Arnel is a good singer.

I learned a lot in this book. I learned that “Lights,” allegedly about San Francisco, their home town if you go by Perry’s statements on the live Captured album, was actually written by Perry about L.A. I learned that the band was pretty straight laced and recorded from 9 to 4, as opposed to so many big bands who come drunkenly crawling into the studio at 7 pm and record til 4 am. These people were businessmen, and to some little surprise, serious musicians. While Journey got a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, they’re not in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, even though they’ve sold over 75,000,000 records over the years. It’s addressed in the book. I suspect they’ll never make that Hall of Fame because most critics consider them pretty lightweight, and there might be some truth to that.

I was particularly excited to get this book because there’s nothing out there on the band. Nothing at all. Allegedly one book was produced some time ago, but it’s long gone. This book is thorough, interesting, fair and the author did exhaustive research. My only real complaint is that the band members all signed various confidentiality agreements about what they can and can’t say about the band, so while there are many quotes, I suspect there’s a lot left unsaid as well. Still, I couldn’t put it down and I heartily recommend it for any Journey fan. You won’t be disappointed.

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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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