Friday, January 12, 2018

More music books....

* Paul Williams: HOW DEEP IS THE OCEAN? (1997) -- Assembles in one book all of Paul's writing on the Beach Boys and Brian Wilson, and especially on their adventurous Middle Period (roughly 1966 to 1979), during most of which they could barely GIVE their albums away. Some of this is truly great stuff -- especially "I Believe You Anyway," the long review of the Boys' GOOD VIBRATIONS best-of box set. There's also a long interview with former BB's manager David Anderle about why the Boys' SMiLE album collapsed back in 1967. This book came out over a decade before the SMiLE SESSIONS box was finally released, so I don't know if Williams ever got his view of that package down anywhere.
Interesting career Williams had -- he founded the first rock-criticism newspaper (CRAWDADDY!), burned out and lived in a commune (wrote about it in TIME BETWEEN), assembled several books of his rock criticism (of widely varying quality), assembled an interview/biography of science-fiction writer Philip K. Dick (ONLY APPARENTLY REAL), and later became the literary executor of Dick's estate. But some of his best writing is right here.
* Angus Cargill, editor: HANG THE DJ: AN ALTERNATIVE BOOK OF MUSIC LISTS (2008) -- Dozens of contributors toss in 300 pages of off-the-wall pop-music Top 10 lists, from songs that never made it to Number One but should have, to the dozen meanest and ugliest Beatles songs. First published in England, so it definitely has a U.K. bias -- makes me want to investigate The Smiths, if only for their great song-titles. Also several raves about Amy Winehouse here. Contributors include Jon Savage, Simon Reynolds, Nick Kent, Johnathan Lethem.... Learned more from this than I did from other "music-list" books, including Dave Marsh's BOOK OF ROCK LISTS.
* DAVE BARRY'S BOOK OF BAD SONGS (1997) -- Yes, Dave is hilarious, but. This book came from the answers to Dave's infamous "Bad Song Survey" that he held years ago in his nationally-syndicated newspaper column. The first 40 pages include some of the funniest and most direct music criticism I've read in years. But then -- as in some of Dave's other books -- it's like Dave gets bored, and the jokes get tired. It's amazing that with all this great bad material (the worst pop songs ever, as nominated by and commented-on by his readers), Dave can't even put together 90 pages. We don't even get a list of the biggest losers! You can read this in an hour, but after page 40 you'll just be trying to get to the end of it. Six pages are wasted on copyright and permission-to-reprint notices for lyrics. One of the book's best points is that great rock songs don't really NEED lyrics....

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

How much can you take?

Michael Wolff's FIRE AND FURY: INSIDE THE TRUMP WHITE HOUSE (2018) is a hilarious, head-spinning trip for the first 100+ pages. It's a big laugh on practically every page. Unbelievable weirdness inside the Trump campaign and White House that will confirm all your worst fears. Hunter S. Thompson would have loved this part of the book.
After that, it settles down into being merely grim and endless. But I would happily have read more....
FIRE AND FURY follows one man's political journey through the looking glass and into the White House, which turns out to be a place weirder and more stressful than he ever expected. But enough about Steve Bannon.
For politics junkies or Trump-haters, there are some surprises in this book:
* The Trump team never expected to win. They weren't prepared to win. They had no plan if they won. They thought losing would be good enough. Trump's brand -- and daughter Ivanka's -- would gain further recognition, and all the "experts" on their team would get media political-expert jobs.
* At one point on Air Force One, Trump has his inner circle swear not to reveal to anyone why Donald Trump Jr. and son-in-law Jared Kushner met with the Russians in Trump Tower -- to obtain dirt on Hillary Clinton. Is this obstruction of justice right here? Or merely a conspiracy to cover-up? No wonder the Trump Administration didn't want this book released.
* Former FBI Director James Comey wasn't fired for investigating Trump's ties to Russia. He was fired for looking into the extended Trump family's financial dealings -- including those of Jared Kushner and HIS family. The excuses for Comey's firing were all made-up afterward.
* Trump screamed about leakers in his administration, claiming Comey and others leaked tons of information to the media. This book shows that EVERYONE in the White House leaked -- including Trump. Usually to get back at each other.
* After his bankruptcies, Trump couldn't get any more credit from American banks, so he turned to the Russians for loans for his real-estate dealings. And the Russians had some money-laundering issues they needed some help with. And buying real estate is one of the ways you can launder money....
* The infamous "dossier" on Trump is important because it indicates the Russians might have been trying to blackmail Trump over his sexual ... um ... preferences.
* Despite his proclamations of loyalty to the cause, Trump strategist Steve Bannon wasn't so much loyal to the president -- Trump was just the "package" Bannon "sold" to get into the White House. Though Bannon was later fired, the book closes with him proclaiming that the weirdness in national politics has just begun.
The Trump White House has repeatedly called this book a trashy fantasy filled with inaccuracies -- and I'll bet every time they do, they sell more copies of the book. The reporting seems pretty solid to me -- especially in the early chapters, before the outrage and comedy starts to grind into seriousness.
Wolff claims he perched on a couch in the West Wing for months and took lots of notes. He interviewed on tape more than 200 people, including Trump. He certainly wasn't obligated to write only "nice" things about what he saw and heard. His only obligation was to report what he was witness to, no matter how outrageous it was.
It's too bad that after the first half, the book descends into depicting in-fighting over who is to blame for what disaster and what staffer's head will roll next. Usually it's Trump's fault, because no one can control him. But reading about this gets old.
Basically, the book reads like what might happen if your average dysfunctional family moved into the White House and tried to run the country -- without any previous experience whatsoever. Disasters happen, then multiply, and there is constant in-fighting over who caused it, how to fix it, can it be fixed, who should get stuck with the blame, etc.
Perhaps most annoying is the clear picture that Trump's people had no goals and no plan once he won the election -- and no idea how to implement their ideas once somebody finally decided what they were. One staffer has to go to the Internet to learn how to draft legislation and get it rolling in Congress. That's why there were so many executive orders in the administration's early days. Incompetence is standard in the West Wing.
Vice President Mike Pence and First Lady Melania Trump barely appear in the book. They're probably grateful. Melania starts crying on Election Night when she realizes her private life is over. And it's noted that the First Couple had clearly been arguing before Trump's Inauguration Day speech. Pence's office is mentioned as the one place in the White House where people are nice and things actually seem to get done.
If Wolff had been able to keep up the intense, outrageous, Hunter Thompson-like comedy of the first 100 pages, I would have been happy to read even more of this. But later on the book becomes too much like the grim fiasco we're seeing play out every single day.
You can get the Kindle version of this book from Amazon for half the price of the hardcover. But this is not a commercial.