Cannonball Read IV

A bunch of Pajibans reading and reviewing and honoring AlabamaPink.

Archive for the tag “music”

Goddess of Apathy’s #CBR4 Review #13: My Cross to Bear, by Gregg Allman

04book"My Cross to Bear" by Gregg Allman

I am a Southern girl, born and raised in Georgia. If you are like me, and have that distinction, there are many singers and bands that are Southern and Georgian. The Allman Brothers Band is one of those bands and I have been a fan as long as I can remember. One of my earliest memories is when Gregg Allman married Cher, their picture on the cover of People magazine. Then there is the time in history when we were learning about the blues, and my teacher played “Statesboro Blues” on her guitar on front of the whole class. Then she asked each of us to write our own blues song to the same tune of that iconic melody.  I’m pretty sure I have been in love with Gregg Allman since I was that little girl. His beautiful blonde hair, soulful voice and that hint of danger has long intrigued me, even as I have grown up and he’s grown older. I have seen the Allman Brothers Band in concert many times, and had the pleasure of seeing Gregg Allman & Friends on a couple of occasions. I’ve visited his brother Duane’s and their friend and band mate Berry Oakley’s graves at Rose Hill Cemetery.  I’ve made a trek to the Big House, in Macon, the old home of the Brothers, now a museum. So of course, it was my duty and pleasure to read his autobiography, even though he might tell me secrets that might make me question my blind adoration after all these years.

I pre-ordered the book as soon as I could from Amazon. I was looking forward to reading Gregg’s life story. When the book finally arrived, I was in the middle of reading another book for Cannonball Read 4, and my husband took it upon himself to crack the spine of My Cross to Bear. The entire time he read, he kept telling me, “You aren’t going to like this.” Or he’d mutter, “This is the worst book I’ve ever read.” He was serious about his opinions. He told me the writing was terrible and was ridiculously paced. He stated Gregg’s narrative voice was like that of an old, rambling man, going from topic to topic. I insisted I had to read it for myself, no matter how bad the storytelling was; no matter how circuitous the narrative. No matter how sad and disappointed I might be learning the truth behind the soulful music I’d listened to all my life, I was still committed to knowing all I could.

I do give my husband credit for his description of Gregg’s voice in the book. I am unsure of how much he actually “wrote” of this autobiography, with Alan Light.  I know he wrote a multitude of beautiful songs about heartbreak, longing, and love, but we aren’t all authors. The book reads like a long conversation, and Gregg meanders through each story in his life, like a lazy river, sometimes cool and refreshing, other times, lazy and hazy as it wanders around the bend. I imagined Gregg telling me the story of his life as he sits on an cracked and weathered porch, his languid voice lulling me into the time machine that takes us back to when he was a child, growing up in Tennessee and then in Florida. He tells me of being packed away to military school at age eight. But, as he tells me about those early years, anecdotes about the Sear’s guitar for $21.95 or the foot shooting party, sometimes, he suddenly changes the subject, discussing an event that happened just fifteen years ago. I really had to make sure I was paying attention, or else I would get lost in the shuffle of his life.

Gregg does honestly reveal all his missteps in love and drugs, but at the heart of this story, for me, was the deep love he had for his brother Duane and for writing and making music. Duane was Gregg’s tormentor, but Gregg seems to have the deepest love and affection for Duane, even after all these years since Duane’s tragic death in 1971. The music seems to come easy to Gregg. He doesn’t give any magical clues as to how he writes a song, admitting at one point, it might sound like he’s giving you a formula, but “it’s never that simple.” He admitted  the song “Midnight Rider” is the one song he is most proud of in his career.

I am sure some readers will be fascinated by all the lovers, baby mamas, six wives, five children, alcohol, and the never ending supply and demand of drugs from pot, to coke, to heroin. I admit I was fascinated by his relationship with Cher. She was such an icon of the 70s and I remember watching Sonny and Cher and thinking how unique she was, an inspiration to all those girls out there, like I was, who weren’t considered traditional looking. I still remember signing with heartfelt triumph the song, “Half-Breed” at the top of my little girl lungs! There is more to the story than just the salacious parts. Sure, Gregg loves women; he’s still just as enamored with them after all this time. Thankfully, his love of drugs and alcohol is under control and even with a liver transplant, he is trying to live a more healthy lifestyle these days.

In addition to the life story that he tells, the book includes posters from gigs for the Allman Brothers, and photographs and other memorabilia to accompany the different phases in Gregg’s life and career. It was like flipping through old photo albums. I had time to peruse the pictures, looking at all the details of Gregg’s adventures. It felt as if I knew him better after reading his story. He’s hardly perfect by any means, but I felt privileged to get to know him just a little better and understand his music all the more. I wouldn’t recommend reading this book to just anyone. You would at least require love and affection for his music first, and then need the desire to spend a little time with an old man as he reflects on a journey, with pride and curiosity, at just how far he’s come and just how lucky and talented he really is.

Sara Habein’s #CBR4 Review #20 – The Recipe Project by One Ring Zero + More

The Recipe Project (cover)The Recipe Project: A Delectable Extravaganza of Food and Music lands firmly in the “Ridiculous-but-Awesome” corner of my mental filing system. It’s nestled between Party People Chopsticks and Timberbrit, an opera “that imagines Spears’ last concert, in the final hours of her life. Timberlake returns after a long absence to win back Spears’ love, but in the end she chooses the audience’s love above all else.” In this crossroads of silliness and seriousness, what exactly is The Recipe Project then?

Read the rest in my review over at Persephone Magazine.

HelloKatieO’s #CBR4 Review #22: A Visit From The Good Squad by Jennifer Egan

To kick off this review, I wanted to share something kind of scary/exciting that happened this weekend! One of my CBR4 reviews [#18: The Lover’s Dictionary by David Levithan] was somehow selected as one of this weekend’s “Freshly Pressed” blog posts and featured on WordPress’s home page.  I barely know how to use WordPress, and had no idea that those posts could come from amateurs like me.  But, it was pretty great to receive a bunch of comments from strangers who loved the book as much as I did.

Anyways, here’s to hoping that more CBR4 reviews are featured by WordPress to spread the word about how super cool Cannonball-ing is. On to the review…

I read Jennifer Egan’s The Keep and loved every creepy, fantastical minute of it. While I’d place The Keep on the mystery or horror shelf,  Egan’s 2011 Pulitzer Prize winning A Visit from the Goon Squad shows that Egan’s distinctive style translates across genres. While this book covers many topics: families, sex, drugs, passion, work and everything in between – it’s primarily about music. Music pulses through this book, whether explicitly in chapters about the music industry or implicitly in the chapters about those tangentially affected by it.

And there’s more…

moralla’s #CBR4 review #05: Lit Riffs edited by Matthew Miele

Lit Riffs is a collection of short stories inspired by songs of the writers’ choosing, the equivalent of a compilation of literary covers. So I made myself a playlist and set about this audiovisual experiment.

The stories are hit and miss, which, somewhat surprisingly, had little to do with my liking of the actual songs they were based on. They seem to work better when they are only tangentially related to their source material, best when the writing evokes the mood of the song. Certainly, the least effective were the ones that went so far as to quote lyrics – JT Leroy’s take on Foo Fighter’s “Everlong” – or take the songs too literally and therefore make the story less dynamic – Anthony DeCurtis’s on The Beatles’ “Norwegian Wood” (a pity as they are among my favorite songs included). Many of the stories try to recreate the circumstances described in the songs or how they came to be written. My favorite in that vein is “Bouncing,” Jennifer Belle’s take on Paul Simon’s “Graceland,” which, as she explains in her author’s inspiration section, is a prequel of sorts to the events in the song. It takes the disconnected images, often absurd, of the song and creates a narrative of yearning for the freedom that “Graceland” brings.

Jonathan Lethem’s contribution “The National Anthem” based on Yo La Tengo’s cover of Daniel Johnston’s “Speeding Motorcycle” has a sense of yearning too, for the things past and the things that never come to be. It takes to form of a letter between estranged friends describing failed relationships and failing to live up the expectations of your younger self. Lethem notes that “anyone whose heart isn’t broken by that song hasn’t ever been in love” and his story certainly expresses that sentiment.

Most impressive was Tanker Dane’s “Hallelujah,” a three page tale of an instrument through the ages titled for Jeff Buckley’s cover of the Leonard Cohen classic. Buckley’s version of the oft covered song has never been my favorite but Dane shines a new light on Buckley’s subdued guitar and vocals without referring to them at all, just the wonders of music and words.

Amurph11’s #CBR4 Review #11 – Talking to Girls About Duran Duran, by Rob Sheffield

“What really matters is what you like, not what you are like. Books, records, films – these things matter. Call me shallow but it’s the fucking truth.” -High Fidelity

I was at a panel at Northeastern University the other day talking about activism (specifically talking about activism around rape. That’s the only subject I ever receive invitations to speak publicly about. It’s kind of depressing). There was a professor on panel who was head of Northeastern’s Communications department, and in an attempt to explain why people don’t speak out more about these issues, he made a salient point: “Caring about things isn’t cool,” he said. “And we desperately want to be cool.”

I could tell right then and there that I was getting old, because my first thought was, “wait, when did this fucking start?” As background, age-wise I am placed squarely in between generations X and Millennial – I think they call us Generation Y, which seems like an insulting afterthought. Growing up as the bastard middle child between two generations gave me some amount of perspective on both, and I can tell you: Gen Xers did not think caring was uncool.

Let me qualify: the 1980s and 90s offered up a lot of opportunities for activism (activism that was albeit scoffed at by narcissistic Boomers because it wasn’t loud enough for them), but that’s not the kind of caring I’m referring to here. Gen X was marked by how much they cared about their pop culture passions. Movies, music – these things mattered. They were cool as fuck, but more than that, they were important, and people treated them as such.

Author Rob Sheffield is just such a person. By his own account, Sheffield was definitely not that cool growing up. In fact, you might call this book a catalogue of his uncoolness, from his obsession with religion, to his really overbearing Smiths phase (didn’t we all know someone who went through that phase?). It is here, at this intersection of an uncool young man and his music, that we find both the heart of the story and the meaning of its title.  The young Sheffield didn’t know how to be cool. But Simon LeBon of Duran Duran – that guy knew how to be cool. He was cool, and women loved him. Therein began Sheffield’s education in love and coolness, because don’t kid yourself – they go hand in hand.

The book is fantastic, just to be clear. Like his first effort, Love is a Mixtape, each chapter corresponds to a musical moment, in this case, songs from the 80s and early 90s. Each of those songs corresponds with an intimate moment of Sheffield’s childhood – nostalgic, usually embarrassing, always poignant and hilarious.  The music ranges from Madonna and New Kids on the Block to the Psychedelic Furs and Roxy Music, Haysi Fantayzee to, of course, Duran Duran. There are some really good songs in here, and there are some really bad songs. What impressed upon me the most from the musical selection was that even the really bad songs (“Cars With the Boom,” by L’Trimm, for example, and don’t tell me you don’t remember that song because you’re lying) are so much better than most of what is on the radio today. Because at least they have a personality.

Dave Grohl made this point about the dearth of diversity and personality in today’s music at the Grammy’s (which was then ridiculously misinterpreted, more on that here), and I think it bears repeating. I’m not saying there isn’t still great popular music out there – though I would argue almost all of it is being made by rap and hip-hop artists – but the mass of auto-tuned shit that dominates the airwaves today is indicative of a much broader, much scarier cultural theme: the music on the radio all sounds the same because it all is the same. It’s the audible interpretation of a culture where it’s uncool to care too much, to try too hard. I’m not arguing Duran Duran’s “All She Wants Is” is some sort of masterpiece of lyrical perfection (what? what does she want??), but it’s certainly better than fucking “Baby” (“and I’m like baby, baby oh, like baby, baby, baby no?” REALLY, BIEBER?). That’s why I loved this book so much. Because it brought me back to a time when the good music was great, but even the bad music was at least trying. When, in short, people gave a shit about what they did and didn’t like.

This book is many things, but it is at it’s most basic point achingly, sometimes cringe-inducingly, sincere. In that way, it’s like the best of John Hughes and Cameron Crowe put together – two Gen X directors who taught us that it was never uncool to be yourself, and to stand up for what you like.

That’s the beating heart of the book – it is goddamn cool to care. It doesn’t even particularly matter what you care about: music, movies, liturgy (because there’s some of that in here too), the Red Sox, obscure first edition graphic novels. All that matters is that you claim something in the world as your own and love it fiercely, even if it doesn’t particularly deserve it (Duran Duran is not that good). You know the saying, the opposite of love isn’t hate, it’s indifference? The same thing goes for coolness. Indifference is easily confused for cool because of its uncanny similarity to confidence. But those indifferent assholes who think Leonard Cohen is old and boring and has a shitty voice, whose taste in film doesn’t go past the top 5 box office performers of the present year, who root for whichever team is currently winning championships, who sure as hell wouldn’t be spending their free time reading and reviewing 52 books in a year: fuck those people. Those people are going to be so boring once they hit adulthood. Hell, they’re boring now, and they definitely aren’t cool. Because coolness isn’t about being apathetic and auto-tuned. It’s about embracing what you love and not giving a shit what anyone else thinks about it. By that measure, Simon LeBon is indeed cool but you know what? So is Rob Sheffield.

Recommended for: Gen X-ers for the nostalgia factor, but really anyone who loves music or a good coming-of-age story.

Read When: You’re on a bus, or somewhere otherwise tedious, like the waiting room of a dentist’s office. It’ll make the ride/wait/whatever much better.

Listen With: The book is literally a playlist, you lazy fuckers.

Erin is Scrumtrulescent’s #CBR4 Review #05: Talking to Girls About Duran Duran by Rob Sheffield

When I was fourteen, I was a friendless mute in the halls of my high school. In classes I barely spoke and spent most of my time with my limp hair over my face, hiding both my acne and the tiny headphones from my Discman. It all changed when one of my brother’s friends tapped me on the shoulder one day and extended an olive branch in the form of pointing out the fact we were both wearing the same exact band t-shirt. The year was 1995, the band was the Smashing Pumpkins and from that day on everything else in life got easier. I had someone better than a friend; I had somebody who also spent way too much time memorizing song lyrics, minutiae about four people we had never met, and who also spent their money on unofficial picture-laden biographies and singles remixes.  You just don’t find that every day, people.

This is the general theme behind Talking to Girls About Duran Duran.  Having grown up in the 1980s, Sheffield starts each chapter with a song from a year within that decade. Sometimes the chapter is about that song or band and sometimes it is just an undercurrent in memories from that era. It is a fun look back at a decade I am too young to really remember through the eyes and ears of somebody whose record collection I would love to pick through. Everybody from Madonna to The Replacements to Haysi Fantayzee is included, and Sheffield does a great job of convincing you that you do remember that song and band even if you have no idea who they are.

While I have not always been crazy about Sheffield’s  contributions to Spin magazine, I really enjoyed his debut Love is a Mix Tape. While this book does not have the emotional gut punch that his debut had, there are still some very nice moments captured. A large chunk of my memories between the ages of thirteen and twenty-three are based around music as well, but it was nice to read about somebody else’s. I would not go so far as to say you have to be a huge music nerd to enjoy this book, but it certainly would not hurt.

In one of the essays in the book, Sheffield goes into detail about the ups and downs of his relationship with the Smiths. His love was so intense at one point that even listening to them while doing mundane things made it seem as though Morrissey was reading his thoughts and having a conversation with him through the lyrics he was hearing. Even things like walking around or doing laundry were totally different with or without a soundtrack. This sounds a bit ridiculous, and you sense that Sheffield knows this as he is writing about it.  I laughed when I read it, it DID seem silly but it was a silly I am still young enough to remember but old enough to already miss. I never thought I would miss seeing Billy Corgan in shiny silver pants but, God help me, I still do.

Erin is Scrumtrulescent’s #CBR4 Review #04: The Death of Rhythm & Blues by Nelson George

Covering from the 1930s through the mid-1980s, Nelson George’s The Death of Rhythm & Blues is a pretty excellent account of how “race music” changed over the years, transformed into a ever-changing genre and eventually got watered down into what he refers to as crossover music. The thing that makes Nelson George’s book a bit better than most is that he does not just give you the necessary background on many of the artists (among them: Sam Cooke, Al Green, James Brown, Michael Jackson, Prince, B.B. King, etc.) but also on a lot of the behind-the-scenes players. Booking agents, arrangers, managers, record company honchos and the disc jockeys that all played a huge part in the process of helping (and occasionally hindering) black music reaching the masses.

Anybody could have taken a dozen or so notable black artists, devoted a chapter to them, and made a pretty interesting book. Nelson George manages to weave stories about record executives and managers into those about artists to not just explain how it happened but why and its significance in history. Racism, payola, what failed artists didn’t do right, how the music industry itself made it easier for some artists to blossom and he makes it all seem effortless. He paints you a robust and not always positive picture of the bigger themes throughout but you can close your eyes and see all the tiny stories, too: The disc jockeys who worked long hours, got paid next to nothing, and didn’t need a playlist to tell them what was popular; the neighborhoods that James Brown told to keep their shit together after Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated; the blues men and women who went virtually unnoticed until white artists started ripping off their sound decades later – it is all in there.

Be forewarned, while I really liked this book, I probably would not recommend it to everybody. Unless you are a pretty big music nerd then this might not be your thing. I really cannot express enough how both informative and well-written it really is though. I mentioned in an earlier review that one book managed to get me into a subject that had previously held very little interest to me simply because it was so damn good. Could this book do that for somebody out there? I really hope so.

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