Sunday, April 7, 2013

#650: The perils of self-publishing

THE MOODY BLUES COMPANION, edited with an introduction & historical essay by Edward Wincentsen, 2001, 185 large-print pages, around $15 from

This is a beginner's book. It's for beginning Moody Blues fans, it's put together by a beginning writer, probably published in his basement, & it's tough to read because it has dozens -- possibly hundreds -- of typographical errors in it. The sentence structure in the intro & historical essay is awfully rough, & the best writing in the book isn't by the guy with his name on the cover.
In cases like this, you hope the information inside makes up for the awkward writing, the errors in punctuation, the bad structure, the sentence fragments, the factual errors, the lack of a table of contents or an index.
I was prepared to do a hatchet job on this book. I was ready to call it the most disappointing book about progressive rock since Jerry Lucky's PROGRESSIVE ROCK FILES or Joe Benson's UNCLE JOE'S GUIDE TO PROGRESSIVE ROCK -- 2 other self-published "classics."
But there are actually some good things in here, tho it's definitely not worth the $15.
The best thing here is a 10-page interview with Moodies producer Tony Clarke -- he provides the perspective & humor that isn't found anywhere else in the book. And my hometown heroes Providence get a name-check!
Other than that, the best writing comes from articles published in the HIGHER AND HIGHER Moodies' fan magazine, & from newspaper or magazine interviews with the Moodies or former band members.
The historical essay has a couple of interesting sections & is very strong on the circumstances surrounding the recording of DAYS OF FUTURE PASSED -- how the Moodies were invited by Decca to record a "rocked-up" version of Dvorak's NEW WORLD SYMPHONY, etc. It's on the money about paring-down production on A QUESTION OF BALANCE so the guys could do the songs justice on-stage.
But it's thin on the period surrounding SEVENTH SOJOURN & their vacation in the early '70s. Most of their other albums are just barely mentioned. & the info about how Beatles manager Brian Epstein might have managed the Moodies to greater heights had he not died in 1967 is a whole new area to me, & I'd not seen it mentioned anywhere before. Not sure what Wincentsen's source is for this info.
But overall, the history's a disappointment. The history in the TIME TRAVELER box-set is better, though still not an award-winner. Hell, I wrote an essay on the Moodies in high school creative writing class that had more depth than this....
So this book would not have satisfied me as a high school fan & it doesn't tell me much that's new now. But Wincentsen brought all the data together & says he hopes somebody will write an "authorized" book on the Moodies soon. So do I -- I'd like to read it. I'd really like to see somebody do a John McPhee-style history on the band, before the stories get any older.
The biggest problem with self-published books is that by definition they were probably too weak to be published professionally. There's usually an obvious weakness. Usually with self-publication the problem is that the manuscript never gets professionally proofread by somebody trained in spelling, punctuation, sentence structure....
You may think none of this matters much, but try reading it. This book has WAY too many punctuation errors and sentence fragments, & was clearly written by a writer who didn't know how to edit or proofread his own work. Referring to the Moodies' early history as an R&B "beat" band, Wincentsen refers to this music more than once as "R&B's music."
While I didn't find too many spelling errors, there is one VERY embarrassing reference to former Moodies keyboard player "Mink" Pinder. That mistake is enough to make you wonder about all the other information being presented. If the author can't spell someone's name right, what else has he messed up?
The writer owes it to his paying customers to do the job RIGHT. Writing clearly, fluently, correctly, isn't really that hard. But it does take time ... or even a second draft....
Other problems: The discography is a joke, there isn't even a list of songs on each album -- listing song titles & songwriting credits could have filled up the dozen empty pages at the back of the book, & it wouldn't have been that much more work. The discography doesn't include release dates -- the only place they're mentioned is in the historical essay. Solo albums aren't listed in the discography -- they're only mentioned in the history.
There's an essay that takes the central metaphor from the Moodies' album TO OUR CHILDREN'S CHILDREN'S CHILDREN and goes way too far.... There's a list of Frequently Asked Questions that actually has some good info in it, but not enough.... Did you know the Four Tops did a version of the Moodies' classic B-side "Simple Game"? Well, you didn't learn that by reading this book....
There's a long section with fans' stories about meeting the guys in the band, & they're nice, but ... they're probably not what you'd buy this book for....
Kudos to Wincentsen for seeing a need for this book and pulling the info together. He DID make it happen -- but then he didn't seem to know what he wanted to do with it, whether he wanted to make it a non-fiction overview or a fan's souvenir. One thing it ISN'T is an in-depth investigation of the band's work.
Overall, not much of a companion if you're a big Moodies fan. Two stars, max.

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