Saturday, December 15, 2012

Day 15: Let's Rock And Roll!

Those of you who follow our 24-day Adventish countdown of books may have noticed that “a book a day” often means “a group of books a day” in our lexicon. We can’t help it: 24 days just isn’t enough time to tell you about our favorites if we can only do one a day. So we're going to push the envelope today, Day 15 in our 24 Days of Books, and tell you about an extraordinary number of new memoirs and biographies this year from musical folks.

Did you make it to the recent  Springsteen concert? Who doesn’t love The Boss? Peter Ames Carlin’s book, Bruce, is the first biography of Bruce Springsteen in twenty-five years to have been written with the cooperation of the man himself. Allowed unprecedented access to the artist as well as his family and band members, Carlin’s assessment of this musical giant shows the human as well as the heroic sides to a very complicated, often controlling, and always passionate figure. Mr. Carlin, formerly a television and music critic for The Oregonian, lives in Portland and we have signed copies on our shelves now (signed by Mr. Carlin, not by Bruce).

Waging Heavy Peace by Neil Young chronicles his career from his early days with Buffalo Springfield through his solo career and collaborations with Crosby, Stills & Nash, Crazy Horse, and dozens of other notable musicians and groups. He has seen it all, and here he tells it all. Acclaimed for both his musical talent and his artistic integrity,  he has had at least one major hit in every decade since the sixties and has been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame twice. Known almost as well for his political and philanthropic involvements as his music, he was a cofounder of Farm Aid and an annual fundraising concert for The Bridge School, which assists children with physical and communication impairments.

Mick Jagger is the story of the most notorious and enigmatic rocker of them all, written by a seasoned biographer of such animals. Philip Norman, who previously wrote bios of the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, Elton John, Buddy Holly and John Lennon, works his magic here to peel back the layers we all know are there (narcissist, drug and alcohol abuser, archseducer of women) and exposes some suprisingly human qualities and vulnerabilities. We recently learned that the average age of the Rolling Stones is higher than the average age of Supreme Court jurists. Mick is 70. Has he mellowed? Read it and see. If you're really into the Stones, you might also be interested in The Rolling Stones 50The only official book celebrating the band's 50th anniversary, this is a coffee table book with more than 1000 illustrations and photographs, as well as Stones memorabilia.

Two years ago, I attended a Portland concert by Leonard Cohen that was part of what we all assumed was his farewell tour. And this year, he was back again, falling to his knees and skipping around the stage as if he were in his twenties! At age 78, this mellow, sage Zen master of song is still taking us along on his oh-so-cool ride, cocked fedora atop his head and mellow voice deepened with age, cigarettes, and experience. Sylvie Simmons recounts his remarkable life and legacy in I’m Your Man: The Life of Leonard Cohen. From Montreal to the Chelsea Hotel to the monastery to the concert stage, this book tells the definitive account of an extraordinary life.

And as long as we're on the topic of Leonard Cohen, you should check out The Holy or the Broken: Leonard Cohen, Jeff Buckley and the Unlikely Ascent of "Hallelujah," by Alan Light. The book offers a fascinating account of the making, remaking, and unlikely popularizing of one of the most played and recorded rock songs in history: Leonard Cohen's beautiful and heartrending song, "Hallelujah."

Who I Am is Pete Townshend’s autobiography. One of the most literary and literate musicians of his time, Mr. Townshend and his band The Who have been called The Voice of a Generation. He thought he would write his story when he was 21, but found himself much too busy. Finally, at age 67, he got it all down on paper. Did you know that he loved The Everly Brothers but thought Elvis was a “drawling dope”? That he is banned for life from Holiday Inns? That he nearly died several times (alcohol, cocaine, and following Keith Moon off a hotel balcony into a pool)? That his favorite job was working as an editor in a respected literary publishing house?  It’s all here, along with every smashed guitar and trashed hotel room.

The John Lennon Letters is a handsome volume that is a perfect gift for fans of the great songwriter/musician/singer/performer/legend. This collection of nearly 300 letters and postcards is edited and annotated by Hunter Davies, whose authorized biography of The Beatles was published to great acclaim. Including hundreds of photos of the actual letters and doodles and drawings, the book also prints the texts along with informative commentary by the editor that puts each piece of correspondence in context and reveals the intimate life of an extremely private man.

The Gershwins and Me: A Personal History in Twelve Songs is by Michael Feinstein, a performer who has been called the “Ambassador of the Great American Songbook”. Known primarily for his interpretations of songs by such iconic writers as Irving Berlin, Cole Porter and especially George and Ira Gershwin, the author worked for Ira for 6 years in his twenties. As caretaker of the Gershwin’s legacy, he offers this reminiscence, including unforgettable stories and memorabilia he’s collected through the years. Each of the 12 chapters highlights a classic Gershwin song, telling what the music meant to them and how it came into being. HUGE BONUS: the book includes a CD that includes Feinstein’s original recordings of all 12 songs (can’t list them all here, my faves are I Got Rhythm, Embraceable You and Someone to Watch Over Me).

Lest you think that only men can be rockers, let us dissuade you from that thought by telling you about a couple of recent memoirs from rocking ladies who just happen to live in our own fair city. Coal to Diamonds, a memoir by Beth Ditto (co-written with Michelle Tea), tells the coming-of-age story of the lead singer for the group Gossip. Mary Beth Ditto was born and raised in Judsonia, Arkansas, a place where indoor plumbing was a luxury, squirrel was a meal, and sex ed was taught during senior year in high school -- long after many girls had gotten pregnant and dropped out. Ditto was a fat, pro-choice, sexually confused choir nerd with a great voice, an eighties perm, and a Kool Aid dye job -- in other words, she didn't blend in. She gave up trying to remake her singing voice into the ethereal wisp she thought it should be and intsead embraced its full, soulful potential. Gossip gave her that chance, and the raw power of her voice won her and Gossip the positive attention they deserve.

And no discussion of musical memoirs would be complete without talking about Crazy Enough, by Storm Large. Although the book came out last year, the paperback version has just recently been released. Storm -- and yes, Storm Large is her real name -- spent most of her childhood visiting her mother in mental institutions and psych wards. It was a hard way to grow up, especially when the doctor told her that her mother's illness was hereditary, but Storm's strength, charisma, and raw musical talent gave her the will to overcome the challenges. As one review says, "We're in complete awe of the blunt, surprisingly memoir...told in honest, poignant prose... [Large shows] all of us how to let go—not without fear and doubt, but with it."  We are also -- and especially -- in awe of her amazing voice.

As always you'll find lots more great gift ideas in our Holiday Books guide, available in our store. See you soon!

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