Books

BOOK REVIEW: The Show Must Go On – The Life of Freddie Mercury by Rick Sky (1992)

Old review from the archives (revised).  This book has long been ejected from the collection.

RICK SKY – The Show Must Go On – The Life of Freddie Mercury (1992 Fontana)

This book is shallow to the extreme. If you ever wanted to know how much money Freddie Mercury spent on lavish parties, then this is for you. If you want to learn anything at all about Queen and their music, you will have to look elsewhere.

While the book dwells far to long on Freddie’s fabulous friends and fantastic parties, I did find the closing chapters regarding his death very sad and heartfelt. It puts you in the moment. There were also some interesting bits about his childhood and youth. Not enough to redeem this book, which just isn’t up to snuff for any fan, serious or casual.

1/5 stars

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BOOK REVIEW: KISS Still On Fire – Dave Thomas & Anders Holm (1988)

The KISS RE-REVIEW SERIES Part 37: bonus book review

 Still On Fire – Dave Thomas & Anders Holm (1988 Melody Line)

In the 1980s, there were generally no Kiss books on the market.  If you found one, you bought it.  The only widely known Kiss book back then was 1978’s paperback Kiss by Robert Duncan.  I was lucky to find Kiss Still On Fire in Stratford Ontario on December 27, 1990 in a great little store called The Book Vault.  Still On Fire is very very unofficial, but it was unequalled in its time:  130 magazine sized pages, mostly in full colour, loaded with pictures, facts and a few errors.

Peppered with old interviews and article snippets, Still On Fire takes a balanced look at the band and isn’t afraid to get critical when it’s warranted.  It also attempts to take a crack at who played what on some of those tracks where it wasn’t quite clear.  For example, Ace Frehley is pictured on the front cover of Killers, but didn’t play on any of the new songs.  Still On Fire quotes a Paul Stanley interview.  Was it Bob Kulick playing lead on these tracks?  “Bob did come out, yes, but he didn’t play.  When I couldn’t handle things — and I don’t consider myself the ultimate lead player — another friend of ours came in and gave us a little help.”  The book states this friend was Robbin Crosby of Ratt, a claim that is not backed up in other sources.  Did Crosby play on Killers?  Who knows, but according to this book, he did.  Other books such as Julian Gill’s Kiss Album Focus claim Bob Kulick did play some on Killers.  In other words, if you read something interesting in this book that contradicts what you’ve read elsewhere, take it with a grain of salt.

There’s a bit of content here about what Gene was doing in the 1980s outside of Kiss:  producing bands such as Black & Blue and EZO.  Gene was responsible for EZO’s fantastic single “Flashback Heart Attack”, co-written by James Christian of Simmons Record act House of Lords.  Gene was also working on movies but was having trouble finding the time.  Apparently Sergio Leone really wanted Gene Simmons for Once Upon a Time in America in the role of Max, ultimately played by James Woods.  Can you imagine?

Besides the ample photos, the most impressive feature of Still On Fire is the discography.  Though incomplete, Still On Fire attempts to document myriad Kiss bootleg recordings, including cover art.  There are also interesting promo and foreign releases, such as the Special Kiss Tour Album and Kiss – The Singles.  Side projects and solo albums are included, from major (Frehley’s Comet) to obscure (Bruce Kulick’s band The Good Rats).  A variety of singles, picture discs and videos are on display, fully illustrated.  All of this was completely new to me then.  Not to mention the titles of unreleased songs!  What the heck were “Don’t Run” and “The Unknown Force”?  (The Elder demos.)  This is also where you’ll find the most typos and spelling errors.  (I really want to hear this song called “Pick It Up”.)

Still On Fire isn’t definitive nor is it definitely 100% accurate, but it should still prove to be a valuable resource for your Kiss library.

3.5/5 stars

 

BOOK REVIEW: Eric Danville – The Official Heavy Metal Book of Lists

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ERIC DANVILLE The Official Heavy Metal Book of Lists (2009 Backbeat Books)

“Official”?  How the hell does anyone claim to publish an “official” heavy metal book of lists?  Maybe by getting Lemmy Kilmister to write your forward, perhaps?  That will do for a start.  Using the KISS font and putting a great illustration on your front cover always go a long way to looking “official”.  That “parental advisory” stamp in the corner is the final touch.

This book is tremendous fun.  I generally don’t go for “list” books.  Mrs. LeBrain bought this book for Christmas one year, because she thought it looked cool.  Always grateful, I gave it a shot.  You will always have your own favourites to add to any list, but this book isn’t really like that.

These lists are far more entertaining, interesting, and page-turning than “top 10” this or that.  For example:

  • The PMRC’s infamous “Filthy 15” songs and their ratings.

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  • 15 metal bands who got their name from J.R.R. Tolkien.  I for one didn’t know that Burzum was an Orcish word for “darkness”.  (And yes, Marillion is on this list.)
  • Oderus Urungus’ 10 sickest things to ever happen at a GWAR show.  A fan in excruciating pain because he got his hair caught in Beefcake the Mighty’s tuning pegs had to have it cut on stage.
  • 8 heavy metal songs the government has used to torture prisoners at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo Bay.  “Enter Sandman”?  Really?  Do terrorists hate the Black album too?
  • 19 unlikely heavy metal pairings.  Unfortunately, I do remember when Lil’ Kim appeared on Tommy Lee’s first album by Methods of Mayhem.
  • 9 non-metal artists who do a song called “Heavy Metal”.  Miles Davis!
  • 12 people who found themselves on the business end of Sharon Osbourne.  Elton John tried to bed the same man as Sharon, so she drove to his house, shit on his driveway, and then smeared the shit all over Elton’s Rolls.

Then there are lists assembled by people that some may have heard of.  A porn director named Matt Zane lists 25 metalheads who were in porn movies.  Twiggy Ramirez is somebody I never want to see naked.  Then porn star Jasmin St. Claire lists 20 reasons that metal dudes and metal girls are so hot.  Sasha Grey lists her 16 favourite metal albums, and she has some heavy tastes (she loves Rollins).

The book is rounded out by fun caricatures by Cliff Mott. He makes it pretty easy to identify the rock stars he’s depicting.  Lemmy kind of looks like Lemmy no matter how you draw him.

5/5 stars

BOOK REVIEW: Jesse Ventura – American Conspiracies (2010)

Cheers to this article at the KeepsMeAlive site for the inspiration!


 

VENTURAAMERICAN CONSPIRACIES: Lies, Lies, and More Dirty Lies That the Government Tells Us by Jesse Ventura (2010 Skyhorse)

I’ll admit that I was a Jesse Ventura fan as a kid, so this book was not too hard to like. Ventura is an afficianado of conspiracy theories. Not so much the really fringe stuff such as UFO’s and Roswell, but the stuff that most people in this day and age have their doubts about. Stuff like the assassinations of JFK and Malcolm X. Stuff like 9/11.

The writing style can be a bit rough at times, but by and large this is an interesting read and a potential launch point to pick up some of the sources Ventura mentions in the book (and there are a lot). Ventura supplements his research with his own personal anecdotes and experiences as Governor of Minnesota and a former Navy SEAL. For example, Ventura once had a face-to-face one hour meeting with Fidel Castro, and could not resist asking him what he knew about JFK….

American Conspiracies will not make a believer out of a hard core debunker (nothing will). It will however allow you the chance to read possibly for the first time a lot of vintage news stories and testimonies that have since been buried. Some of Ventura’s arguments are very well drawn and cogent. Others are not as convincing. Ventura’s personal encounters with personnel from the CIA however are seldom friendly and usually foreboding.

I think most people today believe that our governments lie to us on a daily basis. Nobody believes a politician anymore. So why read a book by the former Governor of Minnesota? Because he was an independant outside of the political structure. His perspective is different from the rest.

If you want some not-light but not-too-heavy summer reading, I would recommend American Conspiracies by Jesse Ventura. I plowed through this one in a weekend, I didn’t want to put it down.

4/5 stars

JESSE

BOOK REVIEW: C.K. Lendt – KISS and Sell: The Making of a Supergroup

KISS AND SELLC.K. LENDT – Kiss and Sell: The Making of a Supergroup (1997 Billboard Books)

Chris Lendt used to be an accountant for Kiss’ management company (from ’76-’88), and according to him, quite close to the band. He spent a lot of time on the road, with the band, keeping track of the money.  The story he tells is amusing at times, off-topic at others, but also often critical of his former bosses.

Lendt distills Kiss’ legacy to profit/loss diagrams. At the same time, he tells a lot of stories about excess, touring, and groupies, but not a lot about rock and roll. If you are looking for the nitty gritty details about Kiss and the music, this is not the book for you. For that book, check out Black Diamond by Dale Sherman. If you want one person’s account of the inner workings of the Kiss business, then read on.

Lendt describes parties, extravagent budgets, and stage shows. Where things get really interesting in this book is when things start to go sour for Kiss, right around the time of the Dynasty tour in ’79. He desribes Gene’s plan for “Kiss World”, a traveling amusement park that was to play outside of Kiss’ concerts on that tour. Needless to say it never happened, but it’s not something that’s well covered in other books, at least in this level of detail. He talks about recording budgets, about Ace Frehley building a gajillion dollar home studio that was never used (and later turned into a swimming pool), about wigs (Gene’s), about gurus (Paul’s), and about desperately copying every move Bon Jovi made when they hit it big in ’86, before his company was fired by Kiss in ’88.

He also spends a bit too much time talking about Diana Ross, whom his company was also managing. There are too many pages about investments, stuffy boardroom meetings, profit margins, and budgets. While this book is very insightful, covering many details that nobody else was privy to, it’s not enough about rock and roll. I can’t even tell if Lendt really likes rock and roll. Certainly, he liked working for Kiss in the early years, and the touring, but the later years are marked by constant criticism.  (A bit like my own Record Store Tales, I guess.)

Pick up Kiss and Sell cheaply, read it and enjoy it; but please also pick up Dale Sherman’s Black Diamond, and Kiss’ own Behind The Mask. Both books are more about the music, and both books are actually surprisingly critical as well. All three together will be a very well rounded reading of the hottest band in the land.

3/5 stars. More if the author would stick to the topic!

New book: Martin Popoff – Live Magnetic Air: The Unlikely Saga of the Superlative Max Webster

You know this is gonna be good. Popoff writing the definitive book on his fave band of all time? I’m in. I ordered this with his Scorpions bio.

Dirty details:

260 pages, 100,000 words. Pics: live, studio, records, etc.

The sound, as per Popoff: 92% Blue Oyster Cult crossed with Cheap Trick, topped by 4% Kansas and 4% Zappa.

I’ve made no secret of my love for this band, and Martin’s books.   Now he’s finally shedding light on a band about whom info is usually scarce.   It’s a must for me, and all fans of Canadian rock.

Contact Martin, and his site for lots of books and ordering info. Martinpopoff.com.

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GALLERY: Canada Day Weekend NEW ARRIVALS!

Just in time for the long weekend, some new tunes!  I also ordered a book:  Sean Kelly’s Metal On Ice, as reading material for next week’s Sausagefest!  Seen below:  Original Soundtrack to the movie Still Crazy (thank you The Earl of Swirl for reminding me about this great film) and the new Helix album, Bastard of the Blues.

BOOK REVIEW: Brian Vollmer – Gimme An R! (2005)

BRIAN VOLLMER – Gimme An R!
The story of Brian Vollmer, lead vocalist of Helix
(2005)

Forget all those books by the mega stars like Slash and Sammy Hagar that have come out in recent years. Those books have one thing in common — they were written (or co-written, anyway) by guys who are rock superstars! Megastars! It’s hard for me as a reader to relate to a guy who hasn’t had to hold down a job in 30 years. Not that there’s anything wrong with stardom, it’s just an observation.  I can’t relate to the human beings.   Not so with this book!

Brian Vollmer, lead vocalist of the hardest working band in Canada (that would be Helix), comes across as a pretty regular guy.  (I’ve met him a number of times, and he’s about as regular as anybody you’d know.)  Yes, he’s traveled the world in a rock band and played for thousands of people, but at the end of the day the book is something I can still relate to. Through crappy jobs in crappy convenience stores, crappy apartments, getting mugged, it doesn’t seem like a rock star’s life.  There are parallels in the story similar to other bands such as Anvil (another hard-working Canadian band). While Vollmer always manages to scrape by and continue to Rock Us, nothing comes easy.  Incredibly through it all Brian Vollmer never really stopped being an artist.  He seemed to always keep music, and Helix in his life even after dozens of lineup changes and band members.  (Approximately 35 people have been in Helix since 1974.  The newest member is Cambridge’s Chris Julke, replacing John Claus.)

From humble beginnings in Listowel Ontario to playing in Sweden, England and Trinidad, Vollmer’s tome has plenty of rock and roll stories. As one of the first Canadian bands to release independent albums in the 1970’s, he was a bit of a pioneer. Gimme An R! is loaded with rock star encounters one after the other, from Eddie Van Halen (on stage!) to Gene Simmons.  Vollmer remains himself through it all, even after Helix signed their big deal with Capitol and released “Rock You”.  The tragic death of primary co-writer Paul Hackman nearly derailed the band.  Even after the departures of longtime partners Brent Doerner, Fritz Hinz, and finally Daryl Gray, Brian kept going.  He kept the Helix name alive, finding success on the internet which was a brand new way for him to make contact, and sell albums directly to his fans.  Then, a little TV show called Trailer Park Boys helped expose Helix to a new audience.


Included between the covers are dozens of black and white photos of the band over the years.  From small-town Ontario to meeting superstars like Richard Pryor and Robin Williams, it’s a pretty cool collection of snaps. Unfortunately while reading I found myself distracted by spelling errors — “Atlantis Morissette” for example.  I would like to see a second printing that corrects these mistakes.  (A new chapter on the last decade would be cool too Brian!)

Vollmer’s prose is not frilly or poetic, but it’s conversational and descriptive.  There’s no ghost writer, so the pictures that Brian paints of all those seedy bars in the dead of winter come straight from his memory to the page.  He’s a great storyteller.  The bottom line is that the story of Helix keeps you hooked.  I’ve had friends come over and pick up the book, and they just get entranced. It’s a really different side of the rock and roll tales.  It shows what old fashioned determination and hard work can accomplish.

I have to knock off half a star for the spelling errors. It’s just one of those pet peeves — nothing personal, Brian!  I do highly recommend it Gimme An R! to rock fans world wide who’d like a different, more humble angle on the whole rock star thing.

4.5/5 stars

Gallery: Christmas Haul 2013

Music, movies, and books! I’ve been very occupied these last couple days.

I get the Guiness’ Book of World Records, and the Ripley’s Believe It Or Not books every year. I imagine my surprise when I discovered a friend of ours in both books! Apparently, Sweet Pepper Klopek holds the world record for “Most Baking Sheets Buckled Over the Head for One Minute.” This is a guy who has been on my living room couch!  Lemon Kurri says:

“He’s in there a couple times. Most mouse traps sprung on a tongue in 1 min too.”

 

Gallery: Christmas Comes Early

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The “A” is for Aaron!  Thanks man!  This parcel wasn’t a total surprise but the contents inside sure were!  I’m really excited about many of these items.  (The Olivia Munn film looks great…)  I’m so overwhelmed I don’t even know where to begin.

Ahh hell.  Yes I do.  Let’s start with Pearl Jam!

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