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Just Another Review-Slash by Slash w/Anthony Bozza

slash biography coverSlash by Slash with Anthony Bozza
Published October 30, 2007

Slash is the autobiography of, well, Slash, written with Anthony Bozza. If you know anything about Slash then you know the highlights of his story: Guns N’ Roses, Velvet Revolver, drugs, sex, Axl Rose. Those are the things you read an autobiography of Slash for and those are the things you receive in large doses. This is not The Beatles Anthology. You will not get an in-depth description of the creative process that surrounded each song on Use Your Illusion II. You’ll find Slash much more in line with Life by Keith Richards. This is a story about dealing with an enigmatic (to say the least) lead singer, drugs, women, more drugs, and more women. This is not a bad thing.

Early on Slash suffers, as all autobiographies do, with too much time spent on Slash’s childhood. One’s childhood, is always infinitely more important and interesting to the person who lived it than to anyone who is reading or hearing about it. Slash’s childhood stories are more interesting than most, but that’s a low bar. I wish all autobiographies would cut the childhood stories down to no more than one chapter, but I know that’s wishful thinking.

Things pick up quickly when Guns N’ Roses begin to come together. Guns was easily the biggest band in the world for a short period of time and the behind the scenes stories are fascinating. With all the turmoil that has surrounded the eventual breakup of the band and the strangeness of Axl Rose, it’s easy to forget that this was the band that released Appetite for Destruction. Slash does a wonderful job of providing interesting, and often hilarious, storytelling Read more…

You Should Be Listening to The Lumineers

Over the past few years there have been a number of bands burst on to the music scene with little more than acoustic instruments and strong melodies. From the Avett Brothers, to Mumford and Sons, to the Civil Wars, these bands understand the appeal that a simple melody can have when built around relatable and heartfelt lyrics. For those of us who tend to run screaming from the first note of a synthesizer, this has been a wonderful development. Fortunately, this trend continues to grow with the debut self-titled album from The Lumineers.

The Lumineers, made up of Wesley Schultz, Jeremiah Fraites, and Neyla Pekarek, have managed to release a debut album that instantly belongs with many of the best albums released as a part of the so-called “roots revival.” “Ho Hey,” the first single, is the type of song that will stay in your head for hours and may leave you randomly wanting to chant “ho” and “hey” at entirely inappropriate times (or maybe that’s just me). “Stubborn Love” conveys the love/hate relationship we all have with, well, love. Take this piece of wisdom:

It’s better to feel pain than nothing at all.
The opposite love’s indifference.

“Morning Song” does a tremendous job of capturing the feeling of loneliness that goes with losing someone you care about. It also addresses the most haunting post break up question that everyone has but never talks about:

Did you think of me when you made love to him?
Was it the same as us?
Or was it different?
It must have been.

Yea, that feeling sucks.

If this all sounds depressing, well, much of it is. You won’t find anything approaching the Avett Brothers’ more fast paced stuff or the funkiness that Old Crow Medicine Show have on a song like “Down Home Girl.” However, “Flapper Girl” and “Classy Girls” are fun songs. “Dead Sea” makes being compared to a super salty body of water seem like the best compliment one person could give to another. “Flowers in Your Hair” will remind you of Ryan Adams, but in all the good ways. The only below average song is “Submarines,” but one bad song out of eleven isn’t too shabby.

Whenever a new musical trend gains momentum, the worry is that eventually there will be an overload of bands all sounding the same. Remember The Hives, The Vines, and every other band that wanted to be The White Stripes? That’s bound to happen eventually with the “roots revival,” but it’s not going to start with The Lumineers. They have pushed that trend forward with one of the best albums of the genre and what is bound to be one of the best albums of 2012. If you haven’t listened yet, then you’re making bad decisions.

Just Another Review: Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson

Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson
Published October 24, 2011

Need to know: Released just 19 days after his death, this biography tells the story of Steve Jobs. Jobs asked Isaacson specifically to write his life’s story and conducted over 40 interviews with the author. Isaacson also interviewed over 100 family members, friends, colleagues, friends, and enemies for the book. This is likely the most definitive biography of Steve Jobs that will ever be written.

Read if:

  1. You enjoy well written and well crafted biographies. This is as good as it gets in that respect. Isaacson is a tremendously well-respected biographer and he does the subject justice here.
  2. You enjoy pulling back the curtain to see how things at large corporations such as Apple and Pixar are done, and how some of the world’s great products came into being.
  3. You enjoy eccentric personalities. It would be hard to categorize Steve Jobs as a “normal” person. Few geniuses are “normal” and Jobs is no exception. From his bouts of rage to his strange eating habits, Jobs possessed interesting personality and that personality is at the forefront of Jobs’ story from childhood through his battle with cancer. Some biographies drag simply because the subject, no matter how historically important, just isn’t that interesting of a character. There is no such problem here. This isn’t Life by Keith Richards, but you will be entertained.

Don’t Read If:

  1. You hate biographies out of some strange principle.
  2. You are one of the five people in America (or much of the world for that matter) who does not currently or who has never owned any Apple product. I mean, even my parents have owned an iPod.
  3. You hate Apple products out of some strange principle.
  4. You prefer to imagine Steve Jobs as some form of deity. Steve Jobs was a genius, but that isn’t the same as being a good person. He didn’t make products because he wanted to make the world a better place. He made products out of a desire to make great products and to crush his competition. He would never be nominated for any husband or father lifetime achievement awards. He often treated his employees poorly. There are episodes in the biography that will make anyone who follows common social norms cringe and there are times when you will think “Steve Jobs was actually an asshole.” If you don’t want to ever think of Jobs as an asshole then stay away.

Final recommendation: I would recommend this biography to almost anyone. Some may be cold to the idea of a biography of a corporate CEO, but few CEOs have ever overseen products that reached individuals on such a personal level. If you own an iPod, iPad, or iPhone, then you also likely know how closely linked that device is to your everyday life. The stories of how those products came to be are fascinating in and of themselves. Add to that the portrait of Jobs personality as told through his own eyes and those around him, and I can promise you will come away from this biography entertained. You won’t regret reading.

Just Another Review: Downtown Owl by Chuck Klosterman

Downtown Owl by Chuck Klosterman
Published September 16, 2008

Need to Know: This is the first novel written by well-known pop culture commentator Chuck Klosterman. Downtown Owl depicts the fictional town of Owl, North Dakota.

Reason(s) to Read: Chuck Klosterman. If you like the man’s nonfiction work, there is a good chance you’ll like this. The characters living in Klosterman’s Owl are both entertaining and relateable for any of us who have lived in a smallish town. Klosterman grew up in North Dakota and paints an accurate picture of living in a place where everyone knows everyone else and there is little to do but spend your nights driving back and forth on the same street, playing sports (often poorly), and drinking in the same three bars night after night.

Reason(s) to Ignore: Chuck Klosterman. If you’ve read Klosterman before and were turned off, you won’t get a reprieve here. Every character thinks and speaks as Klosterman. Example:

“What kind of play was it? I used to watch the Packers with my dad. Was it a flea-flicker? I love flea-flickers. If I were a football coach, my team would run a lot of flea-flickers. The flea-flicker would be the key to our offense.”

Very few people anywhere would speak the dialogue above, let alone a 23-year-old female history teacher in a town of 600 people (even if she’s “from” Milwaukee). This is just one of the many examples throughout where the characters are obviously speaking in Klosterman’s voice rather than their own.

Also, don’t come here for the plot. This novel is about painting a picture of small town life and the character’s living there. Sure, there is a one weather related event that the novel leads to, but that’s really not the point of the story. Come for the characterization, but don’t expect the plot to drive you along.

So?: Whether you should read this really comes down to how you feel about Klosterman. If you’ve never read Klosterman in the past, this probably isn’t the best place to start (read Killing Yourself to Live or Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs). Klosterman does a great job of creating an entertaining town and set of characters living within it, but it’s hard to separate the characters from the author. Klosterman has always provided entertaining insight into largely meaningless or hypothetical situations, but it’s hard to imagine every single character in a North Dakota small town thinking the same way. In Klosterman’s Owl, they do.

My Useless Opinion: Ashes and Fire by Ryan Adams

Ashes and Fire by Ryan Adams
Released October 10, 2011

Reason(s) to listen: You know how Ryan Adams seems to release a new album or EP every three months or so and you enjoy them all, but still find yourself wishing that instead of five good albums he would just release one more great one? Well, this is one of the great ones. It’s easily the best since 2007’s Easy Tiger and comes close to the greatness of Jacksonville City Nights, Gold, and dare I say it, Heartbreaker. There’s no “Halloweenhead” type atrocity on this album to pull you out of it (sorry, Easy Tiger). Every song is good, and many are great. “Dirty Rain” and “Invisible Riverside” go above that. This is the most consistently good and well put together album Mr. Adams has put together in a long time.

Reason(s) to ignore: For some reason, there seems to be a large number of people, many of whom like good music, who continue to ignore this guy. Why is this? We’re talking about one of the greatest singer/songwriters alive. Is it because his name reminds you of the guy who sang “Summer of ’69”? It’s not the same guy. This one’s good. Is it because he’s never had a “hit song?” Does anyone other than Lady Gaga and the Black Eyed Peas have “hit songs” anymore? My Morning Jacket has never had a “hit” but it’s cool to like them (and deservedly so because they are amazing). I just don’t get it. Listen to Ryan Adams people.

Oh, this album? I guess I don’t love “Lucky Now” and “Rocks.”

So what are you saying?: I’m saying that you should find a way to listen to this album immediately (Spotify). If you’ve never given him a chance, now is a great jumping on point. Then go listen to Gold and Heartbreaker and Jacksonville City Nights. You’ll realize you’ve been making a mistake all these years and be glad you came around. If you already like the man, you’ll love this album. Simple as that.

My Useless Opinion: Cleopatra: A Life by Stacy Schiff

Cleopatra: A Life by Stacy Schiff
Published November 1, 2010

Reason(s) to read: Everyone seems to have an opinion of Cleopatra, but that opinion is often based on myth over reality. Schiff does an adequate job of showing that Cleopatra was more than a woman who used her sexual appeal to seduce both Julius Caesar and Marc Antony, two of the most important figures in ancient Rome. The writing is engaging, particularly for a biography, and the history is well researched. Schiff does an excellent job of painting a picture of Alexandria and Rome at the time.

Reason(s) to ignore: If you’re looking for a historically rich, factually based account of Cleopatra’s life, you won’t find it here. You won’t find it anywhere. As Schiff readily admits, there are simply not enough historical records of Cleopatra’s life to provide such an account. The accounts that do exist are provided by Romans who often viewed her as little more than a sexual being with an uncanny ability to seduce. Schiff uses the sources available to make a strong argument that Cleopatra was far more politically astute and intelligent than she is given credit for, but much is still based on conjecture. The case presented for Schiff’s viewpoint is solid, but unless your only knowledge of Cleopatra is Elizabeth Taylor as Cleopatra, you won’t come away with many definitive answers.

Recommended?: Unfortunately, not really. While Schiff’s theories on what Cleopatra would have been thinking or feeling at a particular time are interesting, they are still theories. Through no fault of her own, Schiff is unable to deliver much more than that.

My Useless Opinion: Life by Keith Richards

Keith Richards spent ten years in the number one spot of the New Musical Express list of rock stars most likely to die. This was in the 70’s. Nearly 40 years later Keith Richards is still alive making music with the Rolling Stones, a band he formed and, along with Mick Jagger, became the foundation of. After reading Life, Richards’ incredibly entertaining autobiography, you’ll realize how unlikely this is. Keith Richards should not be alive.

Play a word association game with Keith Richards and it won’t take long to arrive at drugs. Life starts off with a story related to a drug bust, and the stories continue throughout the 500 plus pages. Richards, to his credit, neither boasts nor shies away from his drug use. Many rock biographies touch on drug use and then quickly move on. Drug use was such an integral part of Keith Richards life, that he discusses drug use in the same a common person describes the weekend. Richards has moved on from many of his vices (no more heroin or cocaine), he regrets none of them. There is no self-righteous “don’t do drugs” spiel at the end. Richards did a hell of a lot of drugs, more than nearly anyone who has lived to tell about it, and he was quite successful while doing it. If there’s a lesson in there somewhere, I didn’t find it.

Not surprisingly, Keith’s relationship with Mick Jagger is also a running theme throughout the book. Few duos in rock history have had more public infighting than the Glimmer Twins.  At one point Richards describes the relationship, saying: ”Sometimes I think, ‘I miss my friend’. I wonder, ‘Where did he go?’.” It’s clear that Mick and Keith love each other, but they’re certainly not best friends.

If I have one criticism of Life, is that Richards spends a somewhat excessive amount of time on his side and solo projects, and not enough time on the Stones. If you’re looking for an in-depth look into how Sticky Fingers  was made, you’re looking to the wrong place. This is not The Beatles Anthology. There is no track by track discussion of Let it Bleed. You will, however, get several pages on the formation of the Wingless Angels and Keith’s various other musical projects. That’s not to say that there are not entertaining stories surrounding these projects, because craziness seemed to follow Richards, but I would have preferred more pages dedicated to the Stones’ music.

Perhaps no character in rock and roll history has led a more outrageous existence than Keith Richards, and that alone makes Life a must read. While not a play-by-play of every Stones song recorded, it does give you the feelings and emotions behind many of their best records. If you’re not a Stones fan, there are more than enough sex, drugs, and rock and roll stories to keep you entertained throughout. This is easily one of the best books on rock and roll you’ll find. Read it.

Aniston to reprise role of Rachel Green…again

Will someone please off Jennifer Aniston already?  Is it just me or has she played the character of Rachel Green in every role she’s ever gotten?  Does Rachel Green have a devoted cult following at the box office or something?  My brain tells me that’s a ludicrous notion, but I guess that could explain why she continues to get movie roles for continually reprising the character of Ross Geller’s on again off again love interest in new, albeit generic, romantic comedies every year (like the most recent waste of time, “The Switch” with Jason Bateman).  Maybe the movie makers know the train wreck of a romantic comedy they cast her in will get at least a few bodies in the theaters, even if those bodies are single women still caught up in the whole “Team Aniston” thing, you know, hostile women who are committed to supporting Aniston because they believe they have something in common with her since the big breakup scandal that took place between Aniston, Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt…seemingly decades ago.  Get over it, white women!

Or maybe she’s just sleeping her way into these roles?  I mean, she does have a pretty good body for her age.  And her nose job is still one of the best plastic surgery successes in the biz (apart from maybe Ashlee Simpson…oops, did I let the cat out of the bag?).

But really, before too long Aniston will probably be forced to pull a Meg Ryan and do full frontal nudity,  because, Read more…

My Useless Opinion: The Dead Weather’s Sea of Cowards

If you’re not familiar with The Dead Weather’s, this is Jack White’s other, other band.  While The Raconteurs allow White to play around with his poppier side, The Dead Weather allows him to throw himself full force into fuzz and distortion.  Imagine a blues band gone punk and you have the general idea.  Sea Cowards, the band’s followup to Horehound, was released this week clocking in at barely over 30 minutes playing time. Unfortunately, there is no significant improvement form their first and their first was not impressive.  Read more…

My Useless Opinion: Kick-Ass Review

“Okay you c**ts. Lets see what you can do now.”

Judging by the box office numbers, I am one of the few people who saw Kick-Ass on its opening weekend.  The movie made less than $20 million and finished behind an instructional video on dragons.  This is unfortunate, because Kick-Ass was the most fun I’ve had at a theater in a LONG time, maybe since The Dark Knight. Read more…

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