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Books Tag

Since I didn't do this last year, I'm throwing my hat in with every one of the fine folks here at Popdose as 2014 was one of the most interesting, diverse and fruitful years - especially musically.  So rather than pontificate on the "why", etc.,

I've always been a big fan of concept albums. More specifically, I've always loved albums that try to craft an actual story - a true beginning-to-end narrative. Classics like "Tommy", "The Wall", and "Ziggy Stardust", have always been among my favorite albums, and more recent

CLIFFI’ve known Cliff Thompson for years. We both contribute to Cineaste magazine, and you can read his typically thought-provoking review of Django Unchained in the spring issue, which is available now. But I didn’t really know Cliff until I read Love for Sale (Autumn House Press), a collection of essays drawn from Cineaste, The Threepenny Review, The Iowa Review, and other publications, plus his own thoughtful blog, tellcliff.com. I’d like to tell Cliff that he has done an excellent job collating decades worth of material, and I will. More importantly, you should know, too.

Who is Cliff? He tells us in the preface that he is a middle-aged black American, a husband and father, an editor, and, “in my heart,” a writer. He writes about the art he loves, literature, film, painting, and jazz, with an affinity for the latter. (Regarding the first, he has written a novel, Signifying Nothing. And he has a stated “affection” for the third; that’s a photo of his work on the cover.) “It is jazz that helped me make sense of my cultural identity and served as one safe place in the world from which to contemplate the rest…it embodied an element central to Americanness: improvisation, or making a new way to achieve an end.” The book is divided into five sections, mostly one per art form, though in many of his essays he gets his favorite things

Marty Feldman: The Biography of a Comedy Legend, by Robert Ross

Between 1974 and 1976, Marty Feldman was the funniest person on the planet, to me, and to anyone who saw him in Mel Brooks’ Young Frankenstein and Silent Movie (and, in between those classic comedies, Gene Wilder’s The Adventure of Sherlock Holmes’ Younger Brother, which gets a lot of its chuckles from his contributions). Feldman’s face was his fortune, but a gift for physical comedy, a way with improvisation, and crack timing accompanied those beloved bulging eyes. Watching the Brooks films again on Blu-ray recently, Feldman made me laugh as hard as he did when I was 11 years old. “What…hump?” He kills.

Almost 30 years after his untimely death in 1982 Feldman is in danger of becoming a footnote, particularly on this side of the Atlantic, where his reputation rests on those movies (plus his own The Last Remake of Beau Geste, one of the few films to hold its own against the Star Wars juggernaut in the summer of 1977). Robert Ross pulls him back from the brink with this biography, which can’t help but be a lively read, given the company he kept, and his own effusive personality.

For American readers, this book pretty much begins with Chapter Thirteen, when Feldman leaves

While it seemed like vinyl was officially pronounced dead in the ’90s as a format, nostalgic lovers of the black wax held on tightly to their supposedly outdated platters. Stubborn vinyl enthusiasts could even be found among the artists themselves, who continued to release vinyl albums and singles and the occasional ode to their favorite recording medium (see Eddie Vedder and Pearl Jam’s “Spin The Black Circle” as one such reference point).

By the time you finish reading this, Max Allan Collins will likely have completed a novel, dashed off a novelization, and put the finishing touches on a graphic novel. But his prolific output–did I mention that he’s a sometime filmmaker?–isn’t what’s amazing about him. What is is that it’s all good. (I haven’t heard the band he’s in, but I wouldn’t write them off.)

The pride of Muscatine, IA, a base of operations far from NY or LA, Collins has been grinding out pulp for decades. Pulp fiction, that is, in every form imaginable, including comic strips and trading cards. You’ve seen his name in lights, as the author of Road to Perdition, the basis for the acclaimed film hit. And he does run with the Hollywood crowd, if only as one of the more prominent scribes of movie novelizations. But mostly he works in the dark, toiling on tough guy thrillers featuring (among others) Chicago P.I. Nathan Heller and the hit man Quarry. There was also a Return to Perdition, published earlier this year.

Collins’ friendship with the king of hardboiled detective fiction, Mickey Spillane, has led to an unusual partnership since the creator of Mike Hammer died in 2006. Over time Spillane more or less bequeathed Collins, a friend and occasional collaborator since the 80s, his unfinished work, and Collins has been dusting off the pages ever since. First, it was Hammer time, as Collins completed three new novels featuring the infamous shamus. More are to come. But Collins has just sprung another Spillane character, Morgan the Raider, from cold storage.

A modern-day buccaneer, Morgan was introduced in The Delta Factor, then dropped when a film version flopped. In The Consummata, Morgan returns, up to his gun sights in espionage involving Cuban exiles, the CIA, and $40 million in stolen loot. Doublecrosses and corpses abound as Morgan zeroes in on the woman at the center of the web–the elusive “Consummata,” the world’s top dominatrix. “They were closing in,” the book begins, and it’s off and running.

I e-mailed Collins about Spillane, The Consummata, and other matters of intrigue. He shot me. Shot me back a few answers, that is.


How did this particular project come to be? (I take that it has its roots in a soured film version of  The Delta Factor in 1970.)

Mickey Spillane had an unusual number of substantial unfinished manuscripts in his files. There were various reasons why–chiefly his

With so many different tools for music discovery at our fingertips these days (particularly the many internet options that change continually as technology progresses) it’s easy to take for granted that things weren’t always that way. The emergence of MTV (which at the time stood for “music television,” remember that?) was a serious game changing development for music fans. For many years, it was the DJ on the radio and the knowledgeable clerk behind the counter at the record store who were the prime dealers of the latest musical drugs we so desperately craved as young and developing music aficionados.

MTV changed all of that and not only put a face on the DJs (to be referred to from this point forward as “VJs,” meaning “video jockey”), it additionally took music from being an often faceless experience to being completely in your face, 24 hours a day. With the release of MTV Ruled The World: The Early Days of Music Video, author Greg Prato has written a amazingly comprehensive oral history featuring over 70 interviews with both the talent from that era of MTV and a plethora of the A-list artists featured on the channel during the time period.  Police drummer Stewart Copeland, Ann Wilson of Heart, Chuck D of Public Enemy, Daryl Hall and John Oates and Jerry Casale of Devo are just a few of the many artists that spoke with Prato for the book.

And that’s just one of the two books that Greg Prato published at the end of last year.  The Eric Carr Story finally delivers the first extensive career summary and analysis of KISS drummer Eric Carr to be published in print (and additionally, it includes one of the final interviews with legendary KISS manager Bill Aucoin).  The book functions not only as an in-depth exploration of his life and musical artistry, but also as a fascinating view of the oft-condemned ’80s period of KISS music and what it was like to be a KISS fan during the era. Greg and I conversed recently about both books and you can now read the results of that conversation here, so let’s dig in.

For those who are unfamiliar, what’s your background as a writer and what are you up to when you’re not writing books?

I’ve been a writer since 1997. I’ve written for All-Music Guide, RollingStone.com, Classic Rock Magazine – primarily those three. About three years ago, I started writing books. The first one was A Devil On One Shoulder, An Angel On The Other, which was a book about Shannon Hoon and also Blind Melon. And I’ve done a few books since then – in 2009 I did Grunge Is Dead: The Oral History of Seattle Rock Music, for which I interviewed members of Pearl Jam, Soundgarden, Nirvana, Alice of Chains – all of those bands. And my latest two books are The Eric Carr Story, which is about KISS’s former drummer and also MTV Ruled The World, which is about the early years of MTV from about 1981 through 1986.

You’ve now done a total of five books with Lulu.com – how hard was it for you to make that initial leap from being a journalist to the idea of doing a full blown book and how did you arrive at the decision to self-publish.

Well, I look at self-publishing as kind of the DIY stuff that was going on in the ’80s with all of the record labels like SST and those types of labels. It’s gotten to the point now that the only way you could even get in contact with a main publisher is if you have an agent – they won’t even return your phone calls if you don’t have an agent. And even someone like me, not to toot my horn, but I’ve written for RollingStone.com, All-Music Guide, so my name is somewhat out there. And even I couldn’t get major publishers to get back to me because I just didn’t have agent. I’m sure there are good agents out there, but the few agents that I’ve dealt with have been schlubs. [laughs]

So, like I was saying, I think self-publishing is really a great opportunity – it’s really giving the power back to the author, not just some publisher who’s just going to put in a minimal [effort], I mean not that all publishers are like this, but it also reminds me too a few years ago what it was like with the record companies. It was just a bunch of record companies that are getting big and fat on money and then suddenly the whole entire industry got turned upside down and now it’s totally changed. And I think the same is [true] with publishing, I think that self-publishing is a really great thing. As well as files, people are able to read stuff on Kindle and lots of those types of things. So I think that the book publishing industry may be in for some rough times, just like the record companies were. Because it seems like that they’re kind of a little bit too old school and going by old rules and you constantly have to I think keep a finger on the pulse of what’s going on. And from what I’ve seen, most publishers are just sticking to old rules, which I think is going to come back to bite them in the ass.

Does it surprise you how much publishers and record companies just aren’t getting it? Meanwhile, folks like yourself and also today’s bands are figuring out that they don’t need the support of the big company and that there is a different way.

That’s really the beauty of the net. It’s really given the power back to bands, just to put music up on sites. And also for publishers, for instance, the book that I did about Shannon Hoon, I actually reached out to several places and they all said “no, it’s not a big enough market and it’s not going to sell that way.” Meanwhile, it’s sold very, very well, like I’ve been getting feedback still to this day about how people really enjoy that book, so it really just comes down to if it’s something that you really believe in and that you really want to see succeed, you can always find a way to make it thrive and also be successful. It’s just hard work and putting your mind to it. If I always listened to people saying “well, this book wouldn’t sell,” then I probably never would have been a writer. Sometimes you just have to listen to your heart and go with your gut feeling.

You conducted a huge amount of interviews for both books, but for the MTV book especially. Start to finish, how long were you working on the MTV book?

Well, the MTV book and also the Eric Carr book, I started both of these in January 2010 and I had them both finished and ready to be sold, the 1st of December 2010. You know what it was, I kind of figured that both books ran somewhat similar timelines. Like I know Eric Carr was a member of KISS from 1980 to 1991 and the MTV book ran from 1981 to about 1986. So there’s a few instances where I was able to get interviews for both books, like for instance, I interviewed Bruce Kulick, who was the guitarist for KISS during that time and I also asked him some questions about the channel and also filming certain KISS videos. So I was able to do that type of thing. I guess was in an ’80s frame of mind too, so I guess that kind of also helped both of those books, so that’s basically what happened with them.

What’s the next best thing to going to the movies, taking in a play, or watching TV? Reading good books about movies, theatre, and TV, of course. And there’s still a couple of days left to stuff a few stockings with these.

The Art of Hammer: The Official Poster Collection from the Archive of Hammer Films Does Marcus Hearn have the sweetest job or what? I assume someone’s paying him to pen intros and other supplementary material for jaw-dropping collections like this one, a delectable assortment of poster art from Hammer Films, which recently returned from the dead with the superior Let Me In. I grew up on Hammer horror, and this assemblage of blood-dripping