Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Quickie Book Reviews: Le Freak

Los Angeles, CA

Le Freak: An Upside Down Story of Family, Disco, and Destiny by Nile Rodgers

Nile Rodgers is best known for being the co-founder of Chic, but he authored a fun memoir titled Le Freak: An Upside Down Story of Family, Disco, and Destiny. You've heard all of his disco funk hits on the radio, at weddings, and in commercials. Rodgers played guitar, but he created the infectious bass line from Good Times. The kids today might know Rodgers from his guitar licks on Get Lucky by Daft Punk.You might have heard it the first time in Rapper's Delight (like I did), but Rodgers' riffs have been lifted and ripped off more times than anyone could count. When disco's popularity fizzled out after the Disco Sucks phase swept America, Rodgers' band Chic was done. But he remained a steady forced as a producer. Rodgers produced hits for some of the biggest stars in the 1980s... Diana Ross, David Bowie, Madonna, INXS, Duran Duran, and the B-52s.

The first part of the book delves into Rodgers' strange childhood that was split between NYC and LA. His mom was a teenager when she birthed him and his step-father was a white/Jewish junkie that hung around the 1950s jazz scene. He paints pictures of a strange yet normal to him childhood that includes watching lots of television at all hours while surrounded by passed out junkies, who nodded off while visiting his mom and step-dad.

Rodgers had some amazing coincidental experiences while he lived in LA with his grandmother. As a teenager cleaned planes at a private airport in the Valley and met Frank Sinatra. In another story, while going to see some music at a talent show, he met some hippies and they invited him to a party in the Hollywood Hills that was thrown by Timothy Leary and fueled by Owsley's acid. Rodgers got a mega-dose and stayed up in the Hills for a couple of days while he partied and huge put with all these random hippies.

By the late 60s as teenager, an all hippied-out Rodgers lived in the Village in NYC. He spent time at various crash pads with heiresses and even hung out with the Black Panthers. All the while, he constantly played guitar. When the 1970s hit, Rodgers formed a band with his bass-playing buddy Bernard Edwards. They created a special technique to writing songs in Chic that involved a "deep hidden meaning." That was the key to his success during the peak of the disco years. He used it with Chic and later on used it as a blueprint for the artists he produced in the 1980s.

Rodgers told some interesting stories involving Madonna and David Bowie. The story about meeting Bowie itself is a classic. Rodgers was partying hard with Billy Idol when they went to a club in NYC. In the corner, Bowie sat by himself. A shitfaced Billy Idol screamed, "Bloody hell, that's David Fucking Bowie!" Then he ran to the bath and puked his guts out.

Rodgers was an admitted alkie and cokehead. The 70s and 80s were coke-fueled. I could only imagine how crazy those Chic sessions were. He got sober, which he admitted helped save his life because things had gotten out of control. The music industry, especially in the 70s-80s destroyed many creative people that couldn't handle the influx of money, fame, and drugs. And when the money and fame started to fizzle out, the drugs and booze got more intense. Rodgers is one of the rare survivors and he lived to tell his tale.

Quick read. I think I finished Le Freak in two settings. I probably could have read it all in one sitting, but I took time out to play different shit on YouTube that I looked up after Rodgers would reference one of his inspirations or a track he produced.

Read more quickie reviews of books I read in 2017.

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Quickie Book Reviews: Kicking and Dreaming

Los Angeles, CA

Kicking and Dreaming: A Story of Heart, Soul, and Rock and Roll by Ann and Nancy Wilson with Charles R. Cross

The sisters who founded the band Heart, Ann and Nancy Wilson, had a book on the New York Times best seller list. It's essentially the oral history of Heart told in chronological order with both sisters swapping back and forth telling their story in Kicking and Dreaming: A Story of Heart, Soul, and Rock and Roll.

The sisters were military brats. Their grandfather was a General in the Marines and their father was a Major. They lived all over the U.S. and spent significant time in Taiwan and in Camp Lejuene, North Carolina. There were three sisters in the family and they were all musical in different ways. Heart was formed by the two youngest sisters -- Ann and Nancy. They looked different and each of them resembled their parents. Ann was the husky brunette and Ann was the waif blonde. They both shared a love of music and bonded with each other while constantly moving around. The family eventually settled in the Seattle suburbs where the two sisters went to high school.

As the story goes, Ann fell in love with a draft dodger who was holed up in Canada. She went to go live with him in a hippie commune outside of Vancouver. During those rough, but magical months, she penned several songs that would become huge hits later on in her career. She had formed a band that played in various clubs in Vancouver and begged her younger sister to skip college and join her. Nancy left school and moved up to Canada. She was an instant hit with the band, and they started to make a name for themselves in Vancouver. They got involved in a shady club owner and promoter, but eventually found a decent manager who got them on the road to Montreal, where they had a local hit... The Magic Man.

During the early 70s, Ann and Nancy dealt with tons of sleazy dirtbags that hover around the music industry. A frisky DJ/station manager was the inspiration behind Ann Wilson writing the hit Barracuda. She would later explain how angry she got when Sarah Palin adopted the song during the 2008 campaign, because Palin missed the entire point of the song and just thought it would be cool to be associated with awesome song with a catchy hook and be known as a barracuda.

After the Vietnam War ended, the band could return to the U.S. Like many bands in that era, Heart got involved in a bad record deal. Despite some big radio hits, they didn't reap the financial benefits. As a result, they had to compromise artistically on the next couple. They landed some smash hits in the mid 80s, but the Wilson sisters dd not write them.

Heart had a minor resurgence in the 1980s courtesy of MTV. That's the Heart I remember as a kid. Lots of hair and leather.

I forgot that Nancy Wilson was married to Cameron Crowe. Yes, William Miller from Almost Famous married a rock star! Nancy married the young music journalist that worked for Rolling Stone when he was still in high school. Wilson and Crowe had an intimate relationship that began with him making mix tapes for her. During their marriage, Nancy Wilson assisted Crowe as a copy editor. She read every script he ever wrote and was the first person to see his screenplays as soon as he finished them. They would go through script line-by-line together. Definitely a team effort. Nancy put the rockstar life on hold while she raised a family. Meanwhile, in the early 90s, Ann became the prominent elder for the growing tribe of Seattle musicians. During the height of the grunge era, Ann's house in Seattle became a special place where musicians could hang out and jam out.

Kicking and Dreaming is an oral history of Heart, but Charles R. Cross also got a writing credit. You might recognize Cross's name from numerous books he penned about Nirvana, Kurt Cobain, and the "grunge" scene.

Kicking and Dreaming: The Story of Heart, Soul, and Rock & Roll was one of the first books I read in 2017. When I got back from a 2-week trip to NYC, I was holed up with the flu a couple of days. I read the book during that downtime. As per usual, I spent some time deep diving on YouTube and checking out vintage Heart songs from earlier in their career. I also re-watched Singles by Cameron Crowe.

Read more quickie reviews of books I read in 2017.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Quickie Book Reviews: The Sun and The Moon and The Rolling Stones

Los Angeles, CA

The Sun and The Moon and The Rolling Stones by Rich Cohen

Rich Cohen got one of my dream assignments. Rolling Stone (ahem, Jann Wenner) sent Cohen on the road with the Rolling Stones to cover their tour. The bulk of Cohen's book focuses on a tour he embarked with in 1994 that included getting a behind-the-scenes glimpse at their practices/rehearsals leading up to their massive tour through North America.

The Sun and The Moon and The Rolling Stones title originates from an actual quote from Keith Richards when he was talking to Cohen, who was 26-years old at the time he landed the assignment to tail the Stones. Richards told Cohen that the Stones existed his whole life and as far as he was concerned it always been, "The sun and the moon and The Rolling Stones."

If you dig the Stones, then Cohen's book is a nice and hazy walk down memory lane. Cohen gets a lot of candid quotes from Jagger and Richards at a time when they smoothed over their antagonism for each other and got the show back on the road... even after the shit that Richards wrote in his epic book, Life, that said some pretty nasty shit about Jagger.

Sometimes the sentences would get too rambling (this coming from me, of course), but Cohen packs lot of into into his chapters. And the Keith Richards idol worship is out of hand. I mean, Cohen has the hugest man-crush on Richards it definitely slants his view of the Stones' universe, like dismissing Brian Jones as a total druggie.

Supposedly Charlie Watts took a liking to Cohen during his time with the band. That's super rare according to Richards, who remarked that Watts generally hated all journalists -- especially music journalists -- but for some reason he really liked Cohen. Too bad Cohen did not delve a little deeper into the story of Watts. Volumes of books have been written on the Stones, especially Mick Jagger. Even Keith Richards and Bill Wyman penned memoirs. But Watts never really said much.

Cohen wrote from Rolling Stone mag for many years. He later on collaborated with Jagger and Martin Scorsese on the HBO series Vinyl. This was a solid book, but it is nowhere close to the best books ever written about the Stones such as Life by Richards, or books by Stanley Booth and Robert Greenfield.

I read The Sun and The Moon and The Rolling Stones in two or three sittings over a weekend, while cranking various albums (from the peak years with Mick Taylor)... Sticky Fingers, Let It Bleed, and Exile on Main Street... The holy trinity of Stones' albums.

Read more quickie reviews of books I read in 2017.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Quickie Book Reviews: Your Favorite Band Is Killing Me

Los Angeles, CA

Your Favorite Band Is Killing Me: What Pop Music Rivalries Reveal About the Meaning of Life by Steven Hyden

Steven Hyden gives you a quick look at a dozen or so intense rivalries in pop music. The major one -- Beatles vs. Rolling Stone -- is included, but he barely broke the surface of the intense competition the two behemoths had in the 60s that spilled over into the 1970s. Hyden kicks off Your Favorite Band Is Killing Me with a rivalry between 90s British bands -- Oasis and Blur. It was good timing for me considering I just watched the Oasis documentary. Each chapter is essentially its own essay as Hyden touches on a different rivalry. Some of the rivalries worthy of its own chapters...

Beatles vs. Stones
Blur vs. Oasis
Nirvana vs. Pearl Jam
Prince vs. Michael Jackson
White Stripes vs. Black Keys
Taylor Swift vs. Kanye
Clapton vs. Hendrix
Sinead O'Connor vs. Miley Cyrus
Roger Waters vs. Rest of Pink Floyd
Smashing Pumpkins vs. Pavement
Neil Young vs. Lynyrd Skynyrd
Biggie vs Tupac
Toby Keith vs. Dixie Chicks
Dr. Dre vs. Easy E
Dave Mustaine vs. Metallica
David Lee Roth vs. Van Halen brothers
Madonna vs Cyndi Lauper
Britney vs. Christina

Interesting class division between Oasis/Blur and their approach to creating music. The Cobain/Vedder pissing match could be its own book. And a movie. The Black Keys/Jack White drama was worth a chuckle or more, especially the so-called email chain that revealed how deep the rivalry ran -- so deep it spilled over into selecting Nashville private schools in Nashville for their kids. The Mustaine/Metallica drunken bout references the Lars/Mustaine confrontation in the amazing documentary Some Kind of Monster. The Clapton chapter inspired me to buy his memoir. And the Waters/Floyd stuff is kind of sad, especially considering what happened to Syd Barrett. That could be its own documentary (with salty subject like in the awesome doc on The Eagles).

Your Favorite Band Is Killing Me is the first book I've read from Steve Hyden, the former music editor and writer at Grantland, so his style/tone was somewhat familiar. If you dig Chuck Klosterman's musings, then you're in the same ballpark as Hyden's nostalgia-drenched approach to music writing. The structure of this book (rivalry per chapter) consisted of 16 chapters. I skipped around and skimmed a few, but read a chapter or two at a time during the mornings at the local diner. Definitely wasted unknown time deep diving on YouTube with many of the artists that Hyden referenced.

Monday, January 02, 2017

NYE, Umbrellas, Raining Cats and Dogs

New York City

Happy New Year. I faded 2016.

Here's what went down at the stroke of Midnight. Indoor rain at MSG. Raining cats and dogs onto Phish.