LilFed’s #CBR5 Review #9: Monkee Music by Andrew Hickey

monkee music

The first line in the Introduction of Andrew Hickey’s Monkee Music’ is a question: “Why would anyone write a book on the Monkees’ music?” 

Well, first off, it’s a stupid question, Andrew – thousands of books have been written about the music of infinitely more obscure, and lesser, rock artists and/or groups than the Monkees; huge, staggeringly in-depth histories, analyses and deep critical, intensely-researched tomes that both revere and meticulously document every single recorded song, from artists as wide-ranging as Doris Day  to ‘Weird’ Al Yankovich, and the questions as to why a history of their music has been given such scholarly attention and careful revisionist treatment of are no more or less worthy of answering than one would attempt to explain the existence of written instructions on opening a carton of milk or the proper unpacking of a new toaster oven.

A much more pressing question might be, “Why would anyone write this kind of book on the Monkees’ music?” I read it cover to cover and I still can’t expectorate a defensible explanation for this book’s existence. Y’think that maybe sometimes a book is written, printed and published solely to prove that an author’s own grossly overrated sense of self-importance and individual need to create such a document as verification of his/her own perceived ‘higher knowledge’ of any given subject might be a factor? Because it’s pretty damn near impossible to finish this book and justify in any logical manner why it should have been written in the first place.

Gosh, I don’t know, maybe I’m the only person who was ever so slightly impressed by such a mundane fact that, in 1967, the year of the Beatles’ legendary ‘Sgt Pepper’ album and Jimi Hendrix’s debut LP, the Monkees’ first two albums sold more that year than the Beatles, the Stones, Elvis and Jimi Hendrix combined?? Or the ‘ho-hum’ acknowledgement that the Monkees’ first single release, ‘Last Train To Clarksville’, written by two unknown songwriters, performed and recorded by a stellar lineup of equally-unknown studio musicians, with only a single vocal part contributed from one actual ‘Monkee’, shot up to the Number One spot in the country’s Pop charts months before a single Monkees’ television episode aired, or barely a one of those sixteen million record buyers could even name all four ‘band’ members of this as yet non-existent ‘group’?? Surely that trifling information wouldn’t merit a second look at the significance and endurance of this ‘pre-fabricated’ group’s teenybopper music, much less than an entire book about such adolescent, throwaway nonsense should receive? The very idea itself seems rather ridiculous, doesn’t it?

All facetiousness aside (temporarily): Please allow me to explain why this ‘Monkee Music’ book infuriates me so much: the author who decided to undertake this elementary task is as ignorant of the Monkees’ music, history, artistic intent and its cultural impact as he is of his own hubris in “analyzing” a subject he obviously has very little insight about.

Mr. Hickey believes that some clever, disposable commentary, interspersed with a variety of ‘intimate revelations’, tedious and useless technical chord-progression descriptions of some songs (“A simple four-chord song, based on a variant of the three chord trick substituting ii for IV in the verses, with a key change to IV in the chorus..”) and pontificating on selected, ‘overlooked’ tracks, while dismissing other, supremely popular songs entirely, is actually going to convince true Monkees fans that he’s written something more than a badly-researched essay that wouldn’t pass as a community college thesis requirement. This unfocused, ill-prepared “analysis of every studio track the Monkees ever released” suffers from the same conceit that has so sharply divided critics and pop music fans alike since the very first rumblings from the music community upon the not-so-secret ‘realization’ that – gasp! – the Monkees didn’t play on their own records! The horror! In recounting the major, near-disastrous threats to our domestic security that the U.S. narrowly avoided in the turbulent sixties, only the Cuban Missile Crisis could lay claim to being nearly as potentially devastating to our fragile collective American psyche and standing in the world community as this ‘non-participation’ by Davy, Micky, Mike and Peter in the music-making process of ‘I’m A Believer’! What other nation could have persevered through such blasphemy and disregard as nobly as our own United States in the face of such horrific reality?

I’m disgusted at paying over $15 for a cheaply-thrown-together ‘vanity’ project- a throwaway, redundant checklist of recorded music that wastes 200-plus pages of otherwise useful paper to spout clueless opinions about a sixties TV cast of young actors thrown together as musicians, and this punk writer Hickey thinks he has their music all figured out, that his vapid, condescending ‘analyses’ are even worth glancing sideways at.

WHO is this book written for?! Whether you’re a huge, or just casual, Monkees fan, no one needs a breakdown of the musical structure behind an all-but-unknown song titled ‘My Share of the Sidewalk’ (“…intro of four bars of 5/4.. breaks down as two bars of 7/4, two of 4/4 and one more of 7/4…“), any more than you need to read for the 1000th time that Davy was the least musically inclined of the group.

What made me reflexively curse this lousy book in contempt, though, was the author’s own admissions, such as “not being sure” whether or not Davy is singing a backing vocal on Micky’s ‘Randy Scouse Git’, or if Mike Nesmith indeed plays the innovative guitar riff running through ‘Pleasant Valley Sunday’! Hey, it’s alright for the average Monkees‘ fan to not know these things – it’s a blatantly stupid thing to write as a self-proclaimed ‘authority’ on the Monkees’ music. Hickey’s text is littered by ambiguous contributions regarding, say, vocal parts that any Monkees’ fan who can distinguish between four very different singers have never had to think twice about. There are fine writers such as Andrew Sandoval and Glenn A. Baker, solid authorities on the Monkees and their music, with literally four decades of simply listening and appreciating their recorded discography – Hickey thinks so little of his subject that he assumes every other reader and follower of the Monkees’ history has never bothered doing similar research. But hot damn, we’re well-versed in Carole King’s “metrically difficult” composition ‘As We Go Along’ – “starting out with an extended intro in 5/4 once Dolenz’s vocal comes in  (sic) we have a verse of three bars of 5/4 (in one of which the bass accentuates the wrong beat, adding to the metrical confusion -” he goes on to much more clearly explain that “the bass seems to be implying that these fifteen beats should be broken up six, four, five rather than the five, five, five everything else implies) one of 6/4, three of 3/4 and one of 6/4.” However, he does reassure us that “The chorus, though, is in pretty straight sixes.” Well, la dee dah. Anyone who makes sense of that crap other than Hickey must be a pathetically dried-up shell of an actual personality that would put a music class to sleep with that kind of lesson.

This book is an insult to publishing, to readers both curious and cautious, to any place that sells it, and to every tree that was sacrificed to produce it. Horrifyingly enough, Hickey has also written such page-turners as ‘The Beatles In Mono’ and ‘The Beach Boys On CD Vol. 1: The 1960s’, for those of a newer generation who are dead set on completely misinterpreting every classic sixties song and group history in their lifetime.

xoxoxoe’s #CBR5 Review #13: More Room in a Broken Heart: The True Adventures of Carly Simon, by Stephen Davis

I picked up More Room in a Broken Heart: The True Adventures of Carly Simon, by Stephen Davis, at the library and found it a quick, if not fabulous, read.

I grew up hearing many of Carly Simon’s songs on the radio (“You’re So Vain,” “Anticipation,” “Nobody Does It Better”) without knowing too much about her. Then a few years ago I read how James Taylor, her husband of 11 years, had been a junkie throughout their marriage. How did she cope with that? How did these two seemingly mellow soft rockers live a druggie existence? I always liked Simon’s rich, honeyed voice, but have to admit that I never cared too much for Taylor’s music — I found it so laid back to be almost soporific.

Carly Simon and James Taylor

The best part of the book are the opening chapters, where Simon’s parents early lives are outlined — they were quite interesting people — as well as Carly’s first forays into music, with her older sister Lucy as part of the duo The Simon Sisters, and then her tentative but determined efforts to go out and perform on her own. Simon (as well as Taylor) was born into a privileged background. Her father Richard Simon was the Simon of Simon and Schuster. The family shared time in a large home in Riverdale and an even larger summer estate in Connecticut. Richard Simon was an accomplished classical pianist, and through him Carly Simon met such musical luminaries as George Gershwin, who would visit the Simons from time to time. Music was always a part of Simon family gatherings. The family communicated best through music, as both father and mother seemed rather distant from their children.

There is no bibliography or notes or references in More Room in a Broken Heart, but there are sporadic references throughout the text to old interviews or magazine articles about Carly Simon. It soon seems that one is reading a cut-and-paste job. For some reason author Davis feels compelled to list every song on every Carly Simon album, while glossing over, or just simply not trying to dig into the personal sides of Simon’s and Taylor’s lives. He has no problem listing old lovers (Warren Beatty, Kris Kristofferson, Cat Stevens) and breakdowns, but not much interest in probing the whys and wherefores. The complicated Simon surely would provide plenty of opportunity for more in-depth analysis and investigation. She stuttered as a child and suffered from extreme stage-fright, which caused many difficult situations throughout her career, always reluctant to go out and tour to perform her latest album.

For someone who prefers the relative safety of the recording studio, Carly Simon has not only been prolific, but has been honored many times for her music (Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1994, Grammy Hall of Fame in 2004 for “You’re So Vain”). Her song “Let the River Run,” which initially appeared on the soundtrack of the film Working Girl, was the first song ever to win a Grammy, Academy Award, and Golden Globe Award for a song written and performed by a single artist.

Mid-’70s Carly Simon

More Room in a Broken Heart is an unauthorized biography, and after a little searching online it apparently is chock-full of factual errors. Some of the mistakes with dates are less glaring or annoying than some of the completely off-the-wall “interpretations” of Carly Simon’s lyrics. One of the more amusing is Davis’s summary of her 1980 hit “Jesse,” which he describes as “a song about a woman’s ambivalent feelings for an incontinent lover who wets the bed and needs fresh sheets … by the end of the lyrics, she decides to put fresh sheets on the bed.” Really? Here are Simon’s lyrics:

Oh mother, say a prayer for me
Jesse’s back in town, it won’t be easy
Don’t let him near me
Don’t let him touch me
Don’t let him please me

Jesse, I won’t cut fresh flowers for you
Jesse, I won’t make the wine cold for you
Jesse, I won’t change the sheets for you
I won’t put on cologne
I won’t sit by the phone for you

If you hoped that this (or any) book would give an insight into the real story behind her top hit “You’re So Vain” this is not the case. As many errors or missteps as this book may take, there are a few underlying suggestions, that if they are true, are quite interesting. That Carly’s interest in working with Rolling Stone Mick Jagger led to a long-term friendship (and possible affair). That her success may have fueled jealousy with husband Taylor. That she enabled his relapses into drugs. The last few chapters of More Room in a Broken Heart gloss over most of her recent work as well as a (successful) bout with breast cancer. What was the rush?

There is another book on Carly Simon, “Girls Like Us,” by Sheila Weller, which Davis may have “borrowed” heavily from. The book covers the careers and lives of Carole King, Joni Mitchell, and Carly Simon and may have been a better read. It has recently been optioned to be made into a film, with Taylor Swift rumored portray Joni Mitchell. Oh boy.

You can read more of my pop culture reviews on my blog, xoxoxo e

Valyruh’s #CBR5 Review #34: The Jewels of Paradise by Donna Leon

After reading and enjoying Leon’s satisfyingly intellectual mysteries for years, I was truly stunned at how positively uninspired and boring her latest novel is. And this, despite the fact that I found out about Leon’s latest book by reading about Italian opera diva Cecilia Bartoli’s newest passion, the music of mid-seventeenth century singer, composer, cleric and diplomat Agostino Steffani. Leon’s newest book (not coincidentally, as she and Bartoli are friends) centers around Steffani as well, and I thought, how bad can this be? Hmmm.

First and foremost, this is a stand-alone novel with a new protagonist, baroque musicologist Caterina Pellegrini whose constant musings throughout the book are of absolutely zero interest to either the plot or the reader (in fact, I found her sister more interesting merely by reading a few of her letters to Caterina). After meandering from job to job across Europe, Caterina ends up taking a job back in her hometown of Venice, cataloguing the contents of two newly-discovered trunks that had reputedly belonged to Steffani and which ownership is being contested by two unsavory descendants of the composer who are convinced of a secret treasure to be found. Although she was hired to look for proof of which descendant is favored by Steffani, the two thugs take a back seat in the plot to their slick lawyer, who appears to be wooing Caterina for devious purposes. In fact, he has another mission entirely, we ultimately learn. The trunks are stored at the offices of an esoteric art institute which appears to serve no purpose in the plot, other than to inject another character of rather amorphous purpose into the story.

Leon devotes the bulk of her novel to intensely detailed offerings of Steffani’s admittedly interesting history, and it is clear that she is lending her own popularity to give Cecilia Bartoli’s latest passion a broader audience, where what she should simply have done is offer to write Steffani’s history. Instead, we Leon aficionados are forced to wade through the most superficial plot and poor excuses for dialogue between less than interesting characters, only to discover that this is not a great, or even very good, Leon novel.

And, most unhappily, there is no Commissario Guido Brunetti in Leon’s The Jewels of Paradise. It is Brunetti, in my opinion, who gives depth and character to Leon’s famous detective series and raises them above the hundreds (thousands?) of mediocre police procedurals out there. In her previous novels, Leon has given us a decent family man and dedicated police inspector who is not a drunken misogynist and who has still managed to win the hearts of mystery lovers everywhere.

 Perhaps you’re tired of your Brunetti novels, Ms. Leon, but your readers are not. Let Cecilia resurrect Steffani, and you resurrect Brunetti.

Sara Habein’s #CBR5 Review #12: Unknown Pleasures: Inside Joy Division by Peter Hook

Unknown Pleasures: Inside Joy Division
by Peter Hook

This review originally appeared on Glorified Love Letters.

Rock bios used to be one of the main types of books I read and the first section of the bookstore I would visit. After awhile, I grew tired of the poorly-written ones — accounts that were either overly fawning without introspection, or maybe they were inaccurate, or perhaps they held too much of a grudge. One’s music taste is highly personal, and it bothers me to see someone do a poor job with material that I love. Still, there are great music-related books out there, and certain subject matter is always going to get my attention. For instance, Just Kids by Patti Smith goes above and beyond (though it’s not strictly about music), and I quite enjoyed Willie Nelson’s recent Roll Me Up and Smoke Me When I Die. It seems that the better music biographies are written by those who lived through their subject matter, but that’s not always a sure bet either. Music and memoir meet at a difficult intersection, is all I’m trying to say.

Rock from the North of England is one of those subjects that consistently holds my interest, which is no surprise to anyone who has paid any attention to my writing. Upon discovering Unknown Pleasures: Inside Joy Division, I knew it was a book I needed to read. Peter Hook, bassist for Joy Division and New Order, has produced a satisfying, insightful account of the formation of Joy Division up until singer Ian Curtis’ suicide. 33 years have passed since Curtis hanged himself, and perhaps those decades have provided an adequate amount of time to gain some perspective. Hook writes in a relatively grudge-free and informal way, and ghostwriters (if one is to read between the lines in the acknowledgments) further flesh out the timeline in italicized paragraphs between sections.

I am not begrudging the use of a ghostwriter or two, to be clear. Musicians are not always natural prose writers, but that shouldn’t prevent them from telling their story. It is merely the difference in writing styles that alerted me to an additional writing presence. Consider this paragraph:

On May 29, 1977, at the Electric Circus, the band played their first-ever gig, supporting Penetration and the Buzzcocks. Tony Wilson was in the audience, as well as Paul Morely, who by this time was writing for NME and was impressed by Warsaw’s “twinkling evil charm.” “The bass player had a moustache,” he later wrote. “I like them and will like them more in six months’ time.” Photographer Kevin Cummins was also there, as well as Steve Shy of local fanzine Shy Talk; John the Postman, who led the crowd in a rendition of “Louie Louie” at the end of the night; and punk poet John Cooper Clarke, who performed after Warsaw.

Warsaw, by the way, was one of Joy Division’s previous names, after they’d changed it from Stiff Kittens. Now, read the account of the same evening written by Peter Hook:

Anyway back to our first gig. Clueless or not, we got set up. The changing rooms were in the old projection rooms. (Not that we ever changed clothes as such — in fact, we used to look down on bands who did. I bet those bands on the Alex James program “change” … ) I remember we walked down the steps to the stage, and Ian saying, “We’re not Stiff Kittens. We’re Warsaw,” and that was it — we were off — and I can’t remember a thing more about it because I was so frightened. When we came off we felt we’d done okay and there was a lot of relief that we’d got through it, that first step of playing in front of people. Because it’s the weirdest sensation: I mean, I find it pretty weird even when I do it now, to be honest …

The writing styles are quite different, aren’t they? Most of the book is indeed in Hook’s voice, but I think it’s all right to include the information he can’t remember, rather than having him pretend that he can. We go on and on about honesty in memoir, so why not let another writer help you research? Yes, it’s a bit strange when it’s your own life, but compared to the absence of that information, can the reader really complain?

Another way the book provides additional detail is through press clippings and commentary from audience members who were present at some of the old shows, who now frequent‘s message board — a site whose layout looks unchanged from its 1998 origins. Still, fair play to the die-hards, and fair play for consulting with an unofficial site because there is something to be said for having an outside view.

There are some photos and artwork interspersed throughout the book, but the nearly 400 pages are text-heavy, which is great to see for a period of only a few years. The cover is also gorgeous — a black-on-black reproduction of the Unknown Pleasures album cover, fitted with a separate white band featuring a band photo and the book’s title. The page edges are also dyed black. The web-sized image I have embedded here does not quite do it justice. It’s just one more way that the book spends a lovely amount of attention to detail.

Okay, yes, yes — I’ve gone on about what the book looks like, who wrote it and other miscellany, but what of the actual content of the book itself? As I said before, 33 years have passed and have provided Hook with some perspective, and though he’s the first to admit that he could be a wild, laddish-type, he is not angry about the same things anymore. One of the highlights for me was Hook’s willingness to say, repeatedly, “He was right, and I was wrong.”

[Producer] Martin [Rushnet]’s big thing was still clarity. He always said that for a recording to have a lasting effect and impact it had to have clarity and seperation. Now, remember: me and Barney [guitarist Bernard Dickin] still didn’t like the sound of Unknown Pleasures. I mean, I suppose that by then we’d grudgingly accepted that it was a great album, and knew that part of that was due to the work Martin had done, but it still wasn’t how we heard Joy Division. We wanted a harder, harsher, more metallic sound, like a group playing in a garage with metal walls, like the Stooges or Velvet Underground. He wanted us to sound like — how did he describe it? — adult gothic music or something.

Well, he was right and we were wrong. Sorry, Martin, if you’re up there. But it didn’t stop us bitching at the time because he’d make us play the song then take it apart.

Barney went on to be in New Order too, and more than once, Hook references clashes of personality that they’ve had over the years, and how they’ve grown into different people. However, he does not belittle his former bandmate, nor does he go out of his way to speak poorly of him. There isn’t a sense of trying to “get back at him,” and things like teasing him about bringing a sleeping bag along or hogging the space heater in freezing rooms are the same sort of teasing one would probably do to any bandmate.

I point this out — and this is certainly an aside unrelated to Unknown Pleasures, but bear with me — because this perspective and even-handedness is certainly not present in Tony McCarroll’s book about his time in Oasis, in which he jabs at everything about Noel Gallagher, save his songwriting, while everyone else comes out mostly unscathed. There is a grudge, an attempt at trying to “prove” something, and reading this other Northern band account, I had to wonder, if we gave McCarroll another decade, would he not be quite so angry? Or am I comparing apples to oranges? Probably, but again, if you know my writing, everything music comes back to Noel Gallagher at some point — a quirk/narrow-focus of mine for which I make no apologies, but do openly acknowledge.

Perhaps death has a way of forcing perspective onto a person, even more so than time. Hook does an excellent job of talking about Ian’s growing problems — marriage troubles, epilepsy, fatherhood while near-broke — without speculating too much. Ian Curtis began frequently having seizures during gigs, yet would often come back on stage when he’d “recovered.” The saddest lines in the entire book are when Hook talks about why the band did not slow down:

Guess what? We brought him round, he said he was all right, and we carried on. I should call the book that, shouldn’t I? He Said He Was All Right So We Carried On.

How could they know what was coming? They couldn’t, of course, and their success, while slow-building at first, had transformed into a marathon sprint.

With hindsight you can look back and say that he wasn’t going to be right at any gig, whether in America or in outer space. Even so, the idea of canceling or rescheduling America never came up.

We were so excited about going, so wound up about it and desperate to do it. Ian, the fan of the Doors and Lou Reed and Iggy Pop and Burroughs, especially. I don’t care what Genesis P-Orridge says, he was looking forward to going. I mean, we had so much going for us then. The word was getting out that we were a great group to see live. We had “Love Will Tear Us Apart” up our sleeve. We were on our way up.

That’s what always gets me about what he did. Sometimes you can see just why he did it, and it makes a kind of sense.

Other times, it just makes no fucking sense at all.

I’m not going to parrot Joy Division’s timeline or talk about the book in terms of a “plot.” As far as its place in the world of rock bios, I believe Peter Hook has written a book that is as honest as he can manage, and it’s also a fitting tribute to his departed friend. If you want to know more about Joy Division, from a man who was in it, about everything from the formation, the songwriting, and the silliness that was also present in the process, read Unknown Pleasures.

Full Disclosure: !t Books sent me this book as a review copy. I thank them for the gesture and I will continue to be fair with my reviews.

LilFed’s #CBR5 Review #6: ‘Satan Is Real – The Ballad of the Louvin Brothers’ by Charlie Louvin with Benjamin Whitmer


Autobiographies by famous or notable people we truly dislike, those we’ve been aware of for years only because the media or other people constantly refer to them and their ludicrous, or offensive, or attention-whoring behaviors, are most likely going to appeal almost exclusively to a core audience that the author is fully aware and knowledgeable of. By the same token, an autobiography by a famous or notable person almost universally well-liked and admired, with their own attendant fans and supportive audience, has the potential to completely re-shape one’s own personal pre-conceived understanding of what they had always accepted as the ‘one true image’. And that’s almost always bad.

At this writing, there are brand-new, heavily promoted autobiographies from ‘biggies’ like legendary record producer Clive Davis, legendary Oscar/Grammy/Emmy/Tony award winning Rita Moreno, ‘kinda legendary’ Cissy Houston, Whitney’s aunt, an HBO TV autobio from Beyonce, and others best not mentioning. The point is, an autobiography invites, even dares the readers to make our own final judgement of a person’s character, when they have willingly and voluntarily published a written account of their lives, as they themselves perceive it and choose to share such with the public. Most are self-serving and reveal nothing except someone’s capacity to talk endlessly about themselves.

But one need not be the least bit familiar with the music, nor listen to a single song by the Louvin Brothers, to fully appreciate Charlie Louvin’s autobiography. The title ‘Satan Is Real‘ was the name of a now infamous record album released in 1959, the cover of which is re-printed on this book’s cover, restyled to resemble a 50’s ragged edge pulp paperback, and has been pretty much exploited enough already, by various trade books and websites that have sought out and re-printed the more bizarre LP covers of the 20th century, of which this certainly qualifies. It was conceived by Charlie’s brother, Ira, absent of any ironic or humorous intent, which of course is exactly what has inspired the cheeky notoriety it’s gained through the years. None of that will be found here, and it won’t be missed.

Charlie’s style of communication is so affecting and honest, it’s difficult to imagine his co-writer, Benjamin Whitmer, having anything more to do with assisting him than capturing his specific language and meaning to arrange on paper. Chapters are wonderfully short, written in a conversational tone and varying from humorous recollections, memories of tragedies and deaths of loved ones, to attitudes about religion, marriage, fighting in the Korean war; small moments that obviously retained larger, lasting personal significance for it’s author. There are so many wonderful paragraphs and stories, it’s difficult to refrain from quoting more in this context. Charlie lays out his story in a casual fashion, straightforward and at times obscenely blunt, that entertains and keeps your attention, as most good storytellers do. A prime example, from very early in the book, prefaces Ira’s notorious self-destructive nature – his drinking, womanizing, and short temper that spared no one. As recalled in an incident when the brothers take time out of their touring schedule to visit their mother, who couldn’t refrain from trying to ‘save’ her son:

(Ira told mama), ‘Aw, leave me alone. I ain’t hurting nobody.’ ‘You’re hurting yourself,’ she said. ‘That’s who you’re hurting.’ ‘Yeah, well I don’t remember asking you’, he said, and tried to light a cigarette. He was so drunk he couldn’t even get his lighter to make a flame. ‘Goddamn it,’ he said.
‘That whiskey don’t do you no good,’ she said. ‘It don’t do nobody no good,’ she said.

Finally he got his lighter to work, and he poked his mouth at the lighter to light the cigarette, but he missed.

‘Your father’s in Knoxville,’ she continued. ‘I sure am glad he’s not here right now to see this.’
Ira threw the still unlit cigarette on the ground. ‘Will you shut up, bitch?’

I can guarantee you the fucking fight was on then. I beat the shit out of him right there in the front yard. He was lucky it was just words, too. If he’d have touched her, I’d still be in prison… Then I stuck him in the car and we drove away.

“I know you ain’t asleep,” I said to him once we got on the highway. He was curled up on his side of the car, holding his busted face.
“I’m only gonna tell you this once. If you talk to her like that again, I’ll beat the shit out of you again. I’ll do it every time. You can lump it or try to change it, but that’s the way it is.”
‘Oh hell, I didn’t mean nothing by it,’ he slurred. ‘That was just that old whiskey talking.’
“That ain’t no excuse,” I said. “Nobody forced you to drink that stuff. And you’d better not ever do it again.’ Then I stopped talking and just drove, fuming.

Although their songs were heavily influenced by their Baptist faith and warned against sin, Ira was an alcoholic of near-inevitable self-destruction, with a sense of harmony and musical expression that the young Charlie was in awe of; but Ira’s instinctively rebellious nature and anti-authoritarian ethos, to their father’s regularly enraged consternation, was something Charlie could never grasp yet did nothing in diminishing his own loyalty to, and admiration for Ira. But not even Charlie could reign in his brother’s self-destructive ways, fueled by alcohol and a violent temperament, and even though Charlie outlived him for over four decades, ‘Satan Is Real’ is just as much Ira’s story as Charlie’s.

Charlie (1927–2011) and Ira Loudermilk (1924–1965) were one of many country music brother duos that achieved a measure of popularity on southern radio stations during the 40’s and 50’s, when performing music live on regular radio broadcasts was a standard form of entertainment, and selling records was more often than not a secondary source of income that only the most popular of these acts could make any substantial profit from. They adopted the name Louvin Brothers in 1940 as they began their career, first in gospel music and hymns they learned as boys growing up in church.

Like most sibling acts, they had a close harmony that helped popularize a genre of country music that had a much wider audience than the non-secular songs they grew up singing, and playing, with Charlie on the guitar and Ira on the mandolin, and they adapted to this ‘country’ style as much out of necessity as any artistic preference. They and other brother acts (Bill and Earl Bolick, better known as the ‘Blue Sky Boys’; followed by Ralph and Carter Stanley, Jim and Jesse McReynolds, the Delmore Brothers, and Bill and Charlie Monroe) were in constant competition for radio spots, most especially the ‘holy grail’ of them all, the Grand Ole Opry, which was the pinnacle of success for these struggling artists.

In these earliest days, the life of a music performer involved touring constantly and playing at every church, school or barn gathering along the way, and the luckier ones were signed to fledgling record companies that recorded crudely-produced acetates to press on a few hundred discs for radio airplay and sales to the small buying public, all while having to drive thousands of empty miles of unpaved roads, in their own ragged vehicles for all-night stretches, to play to crowds of many times less than 20 people, only to have to turn around and drive those same hundreds of miles back to play one or two songs on a live radio broadcast 7 or 8 hours later, and so it was for these early Country, Swing and Bluegrass groups for well over two decades. They were the most influential inspirations for the young Everly Brothers and Simon & Garfunkel when they began their recording careers years later, achieving a level of success far beyond any that these earlier artists could ever imagine.

When performing and drinking, Ira would sometimes become angry enough on stage to smash his mandolin. He was married four times; his third wife Faye shot him four times in the chest and twice in the hand after he allegedly beat her; they both survived. As of 1963, Charlie was making enough money that he was able to start a solo career, and Ira also went on his own.

Ira died on June 20, 1965 at the age of 41. He and his fourth wife, Anne, were struck head-on in their car by a drunken driver on the way home from a performance in Kansas City, and both were killed instantaneously. At the time, a warrant for Ira’s arrest had been issued on a DUI charge.

When Charlie died in 2011, only a few short months after this book’s publication, the Louvin Brothers had inspired and were revered by artists such as Kris Kristofferson, Emmylou Harris, Johnny Cash, Ricky Skaggs, Vince Gill and Allison Krauss (Charlie includes a chapter about meeting another young up-and-comer who had idolized them, Elvis Presley).

What most autobiographies lack is a sincere, honest voice that aims only to tell a story that doesn’t enhance ego, or attempts to scandalize and shock the reader with scintillating revelations for the singular purpose of selling books.

This book, by an early 20th-century farm boy with a minimal education who, with his older brother, became a country singer/musician and performer in the days when musicians were as poverty-stricken as the dirt-poor country folk and farmers who listened to their music, is as refreshingly stark and engaging as the most involving true-life success story.

Charlie Louvin doesn’t aim to impress, or craft any kind of legacy other than the one he’s left behind, for better or worse. What a concept.

lilFed CBR#5 Review #2: Out of Our Heads: Rock ‘n’ Roll Before the Drugs Wore Off by George Case


Okay, so a few weeks back I’m drooling at the visually stunning sights of glossy, crisply embossed books on display at the downtown Books-A-Million store: those tantalizing, sixty-five & seventy-tastic-percent-off shelves and bins; the gathered variety of heady aromas emanating from multitudes of perfectly erect, disciplined rows of hard- and soft-back binders, the faux-leatherbound tomes that I at once want to both caress and squeeze with abandon;  thrillers, romances, inspiring biographies and masterful home-repair books; all intensely mingling, tightly and forcefully in surrounding cavities of the vast warehouse of wonder: as one barely containable, orgiastic collective betwixt their dominating, unyielding bookends of cuckolded pressure… and then the intoxicating aromas my olfactory senses begin to experience- nostrils squeezing to capture the seductive musk of pure, silky-white, unopened layers of compressed pulpweed-cum-paper, their factory-bred, tree-raped scent making me giddy with possibilities of liberating the finest, most perfect literary delights, spreading out their– okay, we’ve all been there..

…and only after I’ve prematurely blown my wad over half a dozen slimy, brazenly anonymous literary lizards- that is, impulsively paying out serious money I shouldn’t be ‘blowing’ on new books I haven’t  looked over more thoroughly, or at least read some reviews of beforehand (I made that ‘blowing the wad’ part clear, right?) – WELL, now this leaves me awkwardly trying to remove myself from what I call one of those ‘should have known better’ books. It’s a hazard when searching out some narrowly-defined subjects, I imagine.

I thought this one would be different, that we might really connect, you know?? I am not so vapid as to judge a book by its cover, which I know you’re all thinking and I refuse to even go there – but come. on. : this slut is putting it aaalll out there with that hot provocative subtitle and that dangerously curvaceous, ‘look-at-me’ font, like it knows things I couldn’t begin to imagine.

But then we get home, the prologue alone begins to bore me, and then it’s all like, ‘Well, you didn’t mind pinchin’ on my thick bibliography when you was thumbin’ through my  back pages at the store now, did you?’ So, being starved anyways for some new reading on a now-ancient subject, which by the way is the ONLY reason I’ve maintained my ‘Rolling Stone’ subscription – any articles related to rock music less than 35 years old are ripped out & trashed – I reluctantly bend myself to the book-bitch’s will for the time being and try gving it a go – there have been some great books with amazingly crappy beginnings.

A good historical author should be aware that writing a compelling history, on any subject, requires much more than simply repeating facts. Disappointingly, that’s virtually all Case does in this thing; he doesn’t come close to delivering what his title promises, rather maintaining a wholly uninteresting redundancy throughout that amounts to not much more than rattling off a list of rock artists and the drugs, hallucinogenics and/or formidable amounts of alcohol they indulged in, nothing that a thousand other authors haven’t already done, and in way more entertaining and informative approaches. Case demonstrates a total lack of insight as to how, say, these legendary musicians’ addictions affected their creative process (or obliterated it completely). There are no recollections of wild, joyous release and defining moments of a heightened awareness shared by the generation that first turned on.

Most criminally, however, virtually the only perspective, single and far removed the actual time he dispassionately rambles on about, is from Case alone: no other interview pieces, reflections, or recollections, or even anecdotes from any actual rock stars – he’s not writing about Mozart or Charlie Parker, but artists that are still living and have all of this history to share. You read Steven Tyler’s book, or Keith Richards’ Life, and you know that they know what they’re talking about.

The people who grew up with and loved classic rock already know who the alcoholic, drug-addicted (or recovering) rock stars are, or were; we know how getting high affected their careers and relationships, and how a lot of those times are looked back on fondly by many; and we sure as hell knew then, even more immediately now, when their tripping asses get busted by “The Man” for various indiscretions their respective vices more likely than not contributed to, and their unfortunate discovery for the world to read about.

The closest Case comes in this book is an admittedly wonderful and detailed description of the Great “Summit Meeting” between Dylan and The Beatles, when the folk rock troubadour had the distinct honor of introducing the Fab Four to the herb that literally would change their life in “oh so many ways” (from ‘Help!’, a movie they’d started filming shortly after, where they were stoned throughout the entire production).

I mentioned a bibliography above, but it’s not “thick” at all – it has most of the highlights (Guralnik’s brilliant 2-book Elvis bio, Steven Davis’ Hammer of the Gods). But this makes nary a difference to George Case, ’cause he didn’t learn a damn thing from any of them.

And I slogged through 240-plus pages to see the ‘textbook’ example of NOT HAVING A CLUE about “Rock ‘n’ Roll Before the Drugs Wore Off” – this writer’s only achievement was in completely harshing my buzz.

lilFed’s #CBR5 Review #1 – In My Life: The Brian Epstein Story by Debbie Geller, Edited by Anthony Wall

EpsteinAs an entertainment phenomena of the 20th Century, none is more famous and instantly recognized on this planet than The Beatles, an artistically significant and enduring influential presence in music history alone for half a century now, not to mention a charismatic collective of four insanely young boys whose widespread appeal encompasses young and old, male and female, and multiple musical genres. While many would offer the same attributes to other legendary icons, such as Elvis or Frank Sinatra, highly influential artists who successfully crossed over to simultaneous motion picture popularity, The Beatles’ ever-evolving image and sound was solidly entrenched and maintained in a consistently successful level throughout the group’s entire 7 1/2 year recording career, with only very minor fluctuations in their popularity throughout. Sinatra, though adored by millions, was volatile in personality and too controlling of others to be properly ‘managed’, despite his publicist’s and agent’s most strenuous efforts to keep him out of the gossip columns and tabloids of the time, and in some instances put his own belligerent behavior in circumstances that left him no choice but to humble himself to the public and the industry due to his stubbornness to employ proper career management. On the other end of the spectrum, the young and eager-to-please Elvis had the ubiquitous Colonel Tom Parker to manage his career- straight into the abyss, with musical (and thus, artistic) control dictated by his stern insistence of using only substandard music and lyrics as vacuous as the plots of the assembly-line movies Parker could effortlessly exploit his wholesome young southern boy with, using the cheapest hack songwriters and movie-makers to maximize his own 50% lifetime commission, leaving Elvis no choice but to continue arduous touring that had demands well beyond his physical capability, up to the end of his life just to avoid bankruptcy.

Brian Epstein wasn’t an overly-gifted visionary; a somewhat privileged and pampered child who had few friends his age and was a social outcast mainly by virtue of his over-protective mother, he worked retail in his family’s businesses but never quite grasped the import of economics in successfully operating a truly thriving business that he hadn’t much emotional investment in, he was drawn to the entertainment business early in life, particularly in the realm of Shakespearean stage acting. Though Brian yearned to be a part of the show business community, he was uncomfortably Jewish, inconveniently homosexual in a very repressed early-60’s British society, and aspiring of artistic talent he did not possess. But in this book, there is ample evidence that, but for Brian Epstein’s unnatural persistence and singular determination to produce his own idea of the greatest entertainment entity conceivable, The Beatles may very well have achieved no more than a footnote in pop music history, as so many other bands following in their wake were to be destined for. This idea is not nearly as outrageous as one might think, considering the extraordinary effort he devoted to turning an adequate bar band into a polished performing act that otherwise would never have been able to get the opportunities such compromises required in the days when appearance and professionalism were considered more ‘acceptable’ than simple talent alone.

The facts are as follows: this shy, yet petulant, vainglorious, slightly effeminate, overly- sensitive, occasionally pretentious and previously directionless young man overcame his well-cultivated reserve from an overwhelming erotic fascination and curiosity to express his absolute devotion to a grimy, greasy-haired, leather-clad, hypnotically sexual group of slightly younger Liverpool boys in the only capacity allowable – he molded and refined this undeniably powerful musical force, ‘cleaned them up’ and dressed them in smart suits to help them gain access to a wider audience, teaching them stage mannerisms and behavior that would define their live act for all time; personally visited every single record company to play his boy’s demo tape and try to convince the highly skeptical, stuffy British executives that this ‘beat group’ was going to be the next big musical trend, with countless failures; inadvertently became the most powerful manager in entertainment history, charting a meticulous, previously unthinkable course of world-wide concert and television appearances that dwarfed any other entertainment act in sheer exposure alone; and in the process became so formidable a force that he could have left The Beatles entirely to focus on his own ‘industry’ of musical acts and independent stage productions (his recurrent passion), becoming an indispensable enterpreneur in Britain’s, and the world’s, entertainment industry. All of this before he had yet turned 27 years old.

But his overall makeup was of a lonely, sensitive soul so insecure, so deeply in love with his ‘lads’ and the vicarious pursuit of comparable admiration, that by August of 1967, barely four years after ‘discovering’ them, his reckless abuse of pharmaceuticals to contain emotional extremes and paranoia over the discovery of his “deviant” homosexual activities, along with his lifelong lack of self-worth, had convinced him that The Beatles’ decision to stop touring and abandoning live performances would somehow make him inconsequential to their further advancement, even to the point where he feared the group would fire him for his own perceived irrelevance to any future business prospects. The Beatles, to a man, had never even considered such a scenario, and indeed feared for their own professional future without the all-encompassing security and business acumen that they had always depended on Brian to provide for them.

In My Life is unique merely for its existence: there are precious few insightful biographies dealing specifically with Epstein, a closeted person in more ways than just his sexuality, and Geller’s book has the advantage of actual passages from Brian’s personal diary. However, the most sincere, authentic remembrances are provided by the actual people that knew him. Literally tons of written history on The Beatles has been available for decades after their dissolution in 1970; while the majority of these source’s contributors recognize Epstein as a critical component of The Beatles’ eventual success, much is also tainted with sensational posthulations on his ‘secret life’, conjuring images of a shameful ‘queer’ obssessed with anonymous (and dangerous) sexual encounters with sailors on shore leave and other ‘rough trade’ men, as was termed at the time, creating a sordid image that overshadowed his many brilliant accomplishments. In stark contrast with such portrayals, the contributors presented in this book, giving probably the most accurate and informative insights into this man that we are ever likely to get, are almost without exception in their shared fondness, empathy and support for this unique individual.

With careful, thoughtful editing by Anthony Wall, of interviews and reminiscences by such intimates as his brother Clive and their mother, the group themselves, George Martin, their press manager Derek Taylor, and many others, deeply intimate quotes compiled by Geller, what finally emerges is a satisfactory acknowledgment of how revealing Epstein’s life and the memories shared about this ‘complex’ man truly are, underneath the artifice and veneer he himself was so consistently successful at maintaining in the unscrupulous, cutthroat world of contract negotiations and merchandising agreements that had not yet existed on such a monumental scale. Many, including The Beatles, felt Brian had been pitifully unprepared for such huge business dealings and gave up untold millions of dollars in potential merchandising. In this book, we get a better understanding of a man who knew the power that managing The Beatles gave him; however, his own unique sense of decency and fairness in dealing with this power truly made Brian a stellar exception in the music and entertainment business – it was impossible for anyone to totally dislike him, something Tom Parker, Allen Klein, Robert Stigwood and a host of other music managers could never lay claim to.

Film projects on Epstein’s life are in development – but they should have been done years ago.

This story is as compelling and unique as other peripheral ‘behind-the-scenes’ films of people such as fringe directors like Ed Wood and William Castle, or performance art individuals like Bob Fosse, not to mention scheming, slimy managers like Allen Klein or the Colonel himself – all exploiting artistic mediums, for love or profit, they never had any true understanding of. Parker saw Elvis as a sideshow curiosity whose popularity was fleeting and always on the verge of dissipating overnight, and guided his career accordingly; a man with the vision and commitment of a Brian Epstein could have elevated Presley’s career, and legacy, to heights of artistic excellence beyond imagining.

Brian Epstein was genuinely loved, by so many people and despite all of his human faults. Perhaps the saddest part is that he didn’t leave this world knowing that his own sense of shame was not only recognized by so many, but readily accepted and ultimately inconsequential to those who knew and remember him, both during his life and to this day.

Lennon and McCartney could be absolutely vicious towards Brian at various times, even taunting him in song – they delighted in mischievously changing the lyrics of ‘Baby You’re a Rich Man too’ into ‘Baby you’re a rich fag jew’ at the fadeout as their own private joke – but they were always fully aware of his genuine love in them as people, and his unwavering belief in their talent and potential, even at the beginning when no one else could. And they loved Brian unconditionally in return, much more than he ever realized..

In My Life: The Story of Brian Epstein is required reading for music historians, dedicated Beatles’ fans, and every would-be publicist, agent and aspiring show business manager who sees that the true reward in his vocation is the support he gives, and the affirmation he receives from, the talent he nurtures in the artist’s complete fulfillment of their dreams.