Friday, November 5, 2010

Recommended Reading

Occasionally friends will ask me what I am reading and/or for book recommendations. So, I decided to write a brief summary of the latest titles that I think are exceptional - moving, thought provoking, enlightening, educational, and all that. For what it's worth, this is what I got:

Roadshow: Landscape With Drums: A Concert Tour by Motorcycle - Neil Peart

Written by the master, Rush drummer and lyricist, Neil Peart. I could go on and on about this book. I have lately been calling myself a born again Rush fan as, after a nearly 10 year on again off again hiatus, I have been reintroduced to, and re-inspired by, their music all over again. I mean, these guys were a seminal influence on me as a musician. Now, Neil has become influential on my prose writing as well. This book - his fourth - is pieced together from a series of journal entries while on a concert tour with the band. Neil rides his motorcycle between all of the dates - eschewing the usual band tour bus regimen - exploring the back roads and small towns of the US and Europe. Known as being fiercely protective of his privacy, the book is a surprisingly revealing account of his life on the road. There is no gossip here, just observations, personal ruminations, and descriptive essays. Part travelogue, part memoir, part method book, overall, a very insightful, literate account of his experience as one of history's greatest rock drummers traveling with one of history's greatest rock bands.

Me, the Mob, and the Music: One Helluva Ride with Tommy James & The Shondells - Tommy James & Martin Fitzpatrick 

Lent to me on a whim by a neighbor, I only had a vague impression of who Tommy James is at the time. Oh yeah! The guy who wrote Mony, Mony and Crimson and Clover. However, his story is deeper and much more convoluted than his classic hits will have you believe. Scooped up by the mob ruled record label, Roullette Records, at a very young age, he was soon under their thumb. You can imagine all of the rock-n-roll cliches that would come of such an arrangement. All of the lascivious trimmings are included - drugs, sex, money, violence, etc. (Fun fact: The record label head, and mob boss, Morris Levy, was the model for the Sopranoes character, Herman 'Hesh' Rabkin.) And of course, Tommy was never paid his proper royalties and over time, he lost millions and millions of dollars. The good news is Mr. James is ultimately redeemed. It is a fun read and also an interesting take on the music industry at large during the 1960s - 70s.

Autobiography of Andre Agassi: OPEN - Andre Agassi  

One of my heroes. I have always felt a certain kinship with Andre. My wife makes fun of me for that. After reading his book, that feeling has only increased. So, writing an objective summary is very difficult. Even if you are not a fan of tennis, or Andre, you will enjoy this book. The tennis stuff is interesting, sure, but more so, it is a revealing story that exposes Andre as a far more complex, at times troubled, human being - very much at odds with the image that we all know. I found it oddly comforting that despite all of his success and rewards, he was never fully at peace with himself. He was always searching for the real Andre, the better Andre, even when he was the best in the game. The good news, like Tommy James above, he too finds his redemption.

When I Stop Talking, You'll Know I'm Dead: Useful Stories from a Persuasive Man - Jerry Weintraub

I would love to meet Jerry. Talk about a media tycoon. This guy has been a manager, agent, producer, directory, promoter, movie mogul, and on and on for over 50 years. He has worked with so many giants of the industry: Elvis, John Denver, George Clooney, Frank Sinatra, etc. that he is now a veritable giant himself and just loaded with wisdom acquired from such an amazingly rich life. This is a true by the bootstraps success story and truly inspiring. Written in a perfect conversational style, it is a slick read with tons of parables and insight into the entertainment business at large. I want to read it again as there are so many life lessons to be learned from this old wise man. The final quote in the book is really the perfect summary:  I was never afraid to fail, which meant I was never afraid to try. I was never afraid to look silly, which meant I was never threatened by a new idea. I see the road ahead, too, a stretch that bends into the undergrowth. I do not know what will happen there, but I do know, whatever it is, I will rush to meet it with joy.

Lilac - Helm Matthews 

I know Helm from the music scene of Rochester, MN some 20 years in the past. He his also known as Ted. I picked up his first novel a few months ago and I am duly impressed. It is a well formulated story - emotionally gripping, relatable, grounded in realism with a hint of Twilight Zone overtones. The perfect kind of balance in storytelling that I find to be most compelling. Here is the brief review I sent his way:  I am no literary critic, so, I won't try to say anything profoundly insightful, but, GREAT book. Seriously impressive. It is very well written - a tight, concise, right to the point (to the emotions most importantly), well told story. When I had time to settle in, the pages just kept turning on their own. Consider me a fan and I am spreading the word. I look forward to your next work. Also, makes me want to visit Winona again! Was cool to connect with all of the MN references as well.

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