Category Archives: books

Rock Island Party Line: Roots, Radicals, and Rockers: How Skiffle Changed the World by Billy Bragg

Lonnie Donegan collectionFor the Dallas Morning News, I reviewed folk singer Billy Bragg’s new history of skiffle, a largely forgotten British musical form that linked blues and “trad jazz” with rock and roll in the mid-to-late 1950s. Enjoy.

Your Favorite Band Is Killing Me, reviewed for Washington Post Book World

Favorite Band

I’ve admired music critic Steven Hyden’s writing in Grantland since I first took notice of it a couple of years ago, so I was grateful for the opportunity to review his new book, Your Favorite Band Is Killing Me: What Pop Music Rivalries Reveal About the Meaning of Life, for the Washington Post. If you’d like to read an excerpt from one of my favorite chapters, about the mid-80s clash of egos between Michael Jackson and PrinceSlate ran a piece of that chapter the day that Prince died.

I haven’t written about Prince (save for a few hundred Tweets) because I’ve been busy and I’ve found the prospect of it too overwhelming. His sudden death hit me much harder than Bowie’s did. I’m not sure why. I had enormous admiration for both of them, but I listen to Prince a lot more.

George Jones Talks About His Greatest Lines

My review of Rich Kienzle’s new biography The Grand Tour: The Life and Music of George Jones, is in Sunday’s Washington Post. There’s probably some other stuff in there that would be good to read, too, I bet.

Here’s a paragraph I had to cut for space.

Amid his dutiful, carefully sourced recounting of booze-lubricated recording sessions and singles, Kienzle highlights some amusingly unexpected sides of Jones, like when he told his ex-wife Tammy Wynette in a 1980 interview in Country Music (a magazine Kienzle contributed to for 24 of its 31 years) that if he had to find a second career he would enjoy being an interior decorator. He might fare better than he did as the proprietor of three outdoor country music parks, which he opened at three different points in his life and quickly abandoned. He was also wanton enough with his brand to lend it to random products: George Jones Country Sausage and, also, troublingly, George Jones Country Gold Dog Food and Cat Food. Kienzle notes that a TV spot for the latter was called “George Jones Talks About His Greatest Lines.” If a TV commercial has to have a title, that’s either an unfortunate one or a brilliant one for a pitch from a man whose life and career were so damaged by an eight-year dalliance with cocaine.

I wouldn’t ordinarily be so flip discussing something as serious as an addiction problem, but that ad beggars belief.

Audrey and Bill, reviewed for Washington Post Book World

Audrey Hepburn and William Holden in a promotional image for Billy Wilder's "Sabrina," 1954.I reviewed Audrey and Bill: A Romantic Biography of Audrey Hepburn and William Holden, a crummy book about the two stars’ affair during the making of Sabrina in the early 50s, for The Washington Post. If decades-old Hollywood gossip is your bag, I recommend Karina Longworth’s podcast You Must Remember This. The author of Audrey and Bill, Edward Z. Epstein, is a former publicist; Longworth is film critic and historian. It’s a crucial difference.

UPDATE: Whoops, You Must Remember This already covered Hepburn and Sabrina. 

WaPo Book Review: Stevie Nicks: Visions, Dreams, & Rumours

Stevie Nicks - Dreams, Visions, RumoursMy review of Stevie Nicks: Visions, Dreams, & Rumours, a new biography by British rock journalist Zoë Howe, is in today’s Washington Post.

Almost all of the music that shaped my taste at an impressionable age is contemporaneous with Fleetwood Mac‘s heyday – 1975 to 1989 or so – but I never got into that band though they’ve obviously written some sublime songs. I won’t pretend to have more than a passing familiarity with their catalog, but the ones I’ve always liked are Nicks’, especially “Landslide” and “Dreams,” their only No. 1 hit. Continue reading

WaPo Book Review: Season of the Witch: How the Occult Saved Rock and Roll

David Bowie in Nic Roeg's "The Man Who Fell to Earth."

In tomorrow’s Washington Post – the part of it that’s already out today, in fact I review Peter Bebergal’s Season of the Witch, a book that actually manages to make the intersection of rock and roll and the Occult seem boring. The Bowie photo is from Nic Roeg’s creepy movie The Man Who Fell to Earth, wherein the Thin White Duke plays an alien visiting Earth from a drought-stricken planet.

But other than the skull cap and the contact lenses, that’s what he really looked like in 1975 when a 19-year-old Cameron Crowe interviewed him. His raging abuse of cocaine during this period had made him paranoid, and specifically convinced that witches were trying to steal his semen to create a homunculus. According to Bebergal. I regret that I couldn’t find space to mention this in my 500-word review. (I don’t remember anything about that in the Bowie biography I wrote about in the Dallas Morning News a few years back, but my memory is worse than useless.) Continue reading

WaPo Book Review: One Lucky Bastard: Tales from Tinseltown

private-signing-with-roger-moore

“Passion without pressure” is how Roger Moore describes the kissing technique he says in his (second) memoir that Lana Turner taught him in 1956, a century or so before he replaced Sean Connery as 007. Gross. This poor girl. Gross.

Roger Moore was 45 when he made his first debut as James Bond ­ — older than Sean Connery, who’d played the role in five films before he got fed up and abdicated, then was coaxed back and quit a second time – and approximately 110 by the last the last of his seven appearances as 007 12 years later. On the DVD extras for Live and Let Die, his 1973 debut as the superspy he and no one else refers to as “Jimmy” Bond, Moore tellingly bemoans the “30 minutes of daily swimming” he endured to develop the not-particularly-athletic physique he displays in the movie. In the three Bonds he made in the 80s, he rarely looked hale enough to survive a tryst with one of his decades-younger leading ladies, much less a dustup with punch-pulling henchpersons like Tee Hee or Jaws or May Day.

Such was the strength of the Bond brand: Audiences would buy that this guy, who looked and acted like the world’s most condescending game show host, was an elite assassin, as long as he looked good in a tuxedo. Which just happened to be Moore’s primary, not to say only, skill.

Continue reading