The May issue of Harper's has some great cover stories:
First, Soldiers of Christ I
, by Jeff Sharlet (he also wrote Jesus Plus Nothing
, and edits The Revealer
, a weblog about religion and media), about Colorado Springs and the gigantic New Life Church
(mentioned in the same article, check out The Mill
, New Life's ministry for college students and twentysomethings (they've got Starbucks
coffee at their 'cafe-style' meetings), the Royal Rangers
, an evangelical alternative to the Boy Scouts, and Thomas Blackshear
, a painter who is, I'm told, very popular with fundamentalist Christians).
Second, Soldiers of Christ II
, by Chris Hedges
(who also wrote War is a Force That Gives Us Meaning
and What Every Person Should Know About War
) about the National Religious Broadcasters
conference--even better than the time Jello Biafra
visited the same conference. And when Hedges attended, Richard Kiel
probably wasn't also in attendance, trying to get funding for his born-again-Bigfoot movie (not to be confused with Legend of the Desert Bigfoot
, which has Focus on the Family
money behind it (and did you know that James Dobson has a son
who's also in the Jesus biz? Let's just say that he's no Jay Bakker
And, partially to hit the trifecta, here's the third story: Gordon Bigelow's "Let There Be Markets: The Evangelical Roots of Economics
" (some links
More book reviews that I emailed to myself back in March:Another City, Not My Own, Dominick Dunne
Dunne's O.J. book is packed with gossip, unverifiable facts and bizarre intersections. How many O.J. Simpson books also have cameos by Andrew Cunanan? Yeah, that's what I thought. Part sleazy celebrity journalism, part sleazy trial journalism and a very small part classy and thoughtful. Oh, and it's nominally fiction. What the fuck? Is Dunne eccentric, or just crazy? This might be the third-best book about the O.J. trial (after Jeffrey Toobin's and Vincent Bugliosi's, and ahead of Larry Schiller's), or it might occupy a bizarre place all its own. In addition to people who are obsessed with O.J., and celebrity in general, and wealth and power and modern Los Angeles, this book would also be good for people who like E!
. Come to think of it, I'm pretty sure Dunne's got a show
on CourtTV.Scar Tissue, Anthony Kiedis with Larry Sloman
Sloman seems to have dropped the nickname 'Ratso' that served him so well when he was writing books about Bob Dylan and the Grateful Dead. Anthony Kiedis? Downgrade. This must rank among the least interesting stories about a junkie ever written. Not enough sex, not enough drugs, not enough celebrity and, worse, Rick Rubin barely appears in it. RHCP fans
might, I suppose, dig this, though I can't imagine there are very many of them reading. Eyeing the Flash: The Education of a Carnival Con Artist, Peter Fenton
A memoir of years spent as a sleazy operator of crooked carnival games. I think this book is great--it reads more like good fiction than memoir, and I suspect that's largely because the world that Fenton describes was always hidden, and seems to be lately disappearing. Good for Penn and Teller
fans, and people who like hucksters and grifters and con games and fleecing pigeons and whatnot (they used to call me Grifty McGrift--I wrote the book on flimflamming). After you finish this book, read Malcolm Gladwell
of Ron Popeil
More book reviews from the memory hole:Freaks and Geeks: the Complete Scripts
In case you didn't know, I am a big fan of Freaks and Geeks
. These scripts, divided into two volumes, are a good time. Besides shooting scripts (with original edits, and alternate lines--NBC's standards and practices department didn't always let 'em get away with things) for all 18 episodes, there are also introductory essays for each episode, usually by the episode writer, essay introductions to each volume (one from Paul Feig and the other from Judd Apatow) and 'scrapbook' pages which excerpt character descriptions and whatnot.
Recommended for people who like reading television scripts, and for Freaks and Geeks
fans. People who are new to this wonderful program would be better served, of course, by watching the program, which means either hitting up p2p or getting the DVDs. Also: there's a volume of the first two seasons of Seinfeld
scripts. Worth reading, if you're into that kind of thing, and available pretty cheap secondhand.Midnight Lightning: Jimi Hendrix and the Black Experience, Greg Tate
I like Greg Tate a lot. I seek out his Village Voice
writings, I'm a big fan of his anthologized pieces, I've interlibrary-loaned Flyboy in the Buttermilk
more than once and I've even considered checking out his band, Burnt Sugar. Yeah, it's a music critic's band, but like I said, I like Tate a lot.
It is clear, though, that Greg Tate likes Jimi Hendrix even more than I like Greg Tate. Midnight Lightning
is an introduction, a primer, a collaborative history and an attempt to simultaneously introduce Jimi to an African-American listening public that never gave him as much fame as the white folks and reclaim him as part of the same black cultural pantheon that includes Satchmo, Miles and Trane. Ugh. Who am I, Maynard G. Krebs? Make that Louis Armstrong, Miles Davis and John Coltrane, lest the familiar be mistaken for the diminutive.
And I digress. It's an ambitious premise, and Tate's the right man for the job. He's an excellent writer who moves smoothly between slang, poetic diction and the language of academia. What's more, my man's a consummate hipster and an astute observer of race relations, popular music and American culture. Excellent, well-written musical and cultural criticism.
This is Pop: In Search of the Elusive at Experience Music Project, Eric Weisbard, ed.
This book doesn't have that much to do with the EMP
. This is not necessarily a bad thing. It's an anthology, with some of the usual heavy hitters (Simon Frith, Bob Christgau, Ann Powers) and some people I've never heard of. 25 essays, mostly kinda bridging a gap between the pop kind of criticism and the academic kind. It's nice to see Ann Powers ('Bread and Butter Songs: Unoriginality in Pop') stretch herself a little bit, just like it's nice to see Deena Weinstein ('Creativity and Band Dynamics') dumb it down enough to produce something that makes good pleasure reading. Good for fans of music criticism and highbrow pop fans, ironic or otherwise.Attack Poodles and Other Media Mutants: The Looting of the News in a Time of Terror, James Wolcott
Wait, the news media is filled with jingoists and profiteers? Peggy Noonan is kind of shallow? George Will is kind of pompous? This book is okay, though the same ground has been trod in ways both funnier and more thoughtful. It is funny, and it is thoughtful, but Wolcott preaches to the choir. Good for people who aren't already sick of reading books about the emptiness and greed of the mass media.
Rats: Observations on the History and Habitat of the City's Most Unwanted Inhabitants, Robert Sullivan
It's kind of in the same category as Salt
. That is to say, it's pretty good, with something to appeal to pop historians and amateur population biologists and cultural studies types. Great cover, too. But it needs a soundtrack. So far, and with the help of AMG
, I've thought of:
Ben - Michael Jackson
Ben - Boyzone (never heard it, but how can you go wrong?)
Ben - additional cover versions by Monty Alexander, Jennifer Love Hewitt, the Brady Bunch Kids, Hank Mancini, Sonny Stitt, Toots Thielemans...)
Rats in the Cellar - Aerosmith
Rats - Subhumans
Kitty Empire - Big Black
Allmusic returns quite a few other rat songs, but I don't think I've heard any of 'em.
Also: Someone recently donated a bunch of CDs to the library. One of them was a promo copy, and so the library couldn't use it. And so the audiovisual librarian gave it to me. Nice. It's Cecil Taylor's In Florescence
, a 1989 trio recording with William Parker and drummer Gregg Bendian. Nice work if you can get it, right?
People who know me will have no trouble believing that I wrote these brief book reviews back in February. Anyway:Open Wide: How Hollywood Box Office Became a National Obsession, Dade Hayes & Jonathan Bing
I like books about the business side of Hollywood. I like books about crappy movies. This book has both. Hayes and Bing consider one opening weekend--July 4, 2003, a weekend that saw Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines
, Legally Blonde 2
and the animated Sinbad
open across America. The promo junkets, photo opportunities, backroom brokering, focus-group testing and theater-owner-wooing are all explained in bemused, cynical detail. Then the movies open.
And, as it turns out, LB2
was, in terms of box office, slightly disappointing (though, if memory serves, my pal A was a fan). T3
was even more disappointing, domestically at least, though it didn't stand in the way of Arnold becoming governor of California. And Sinbad
was so disppointing that I suspect you've never even heard of it. That's what I like about nonfiction--it's hard to spoil the ending.
If you like Peter 'Easy Riders, Raging Bulls' Biskind, or Ian 'Sex, Stupidity and Greed' Grey, or Hit and Run
, or Julia 'You'll Never Eat Lunch in This Town Again' Phillips or Robert 'The Kid Stays in the Picture' Evans, there's a good chance you'll also enjoy Open Wide
.Lads: A Memoir of Manhood, Dave Itzkoff
Itzkoff writes about his days as an editor for Maxim
. Not that good of a book. Worse, in my view, Itzkoff's efforts to paint himself as a sympathetic character are transparently unsuccessful, or perhaps unsuccessfully transparent, or maybe both. But if you're looking for behind-the-scenes reportage from the world of lame men's magazines, or perhaps if you're wondering just what the hell happened to American manhood, you haven't got a lot of choices. Well, in the latter case you could read Stiffed
(and you should), but you get my drift.Lost in the Grooves: Scram's Capricious Guide to the Music You Missed, edited by Kim Cooper and David Smay
I've revised my criteria for books about popular music. A good one should not only make me rediscover the music I already own, and hip me to new music I didn't appreciate or didn't know existed--it should also make me reconsider music I'd ignored or dismissed or whatever. By these standards, this is a good book.
Outsider music classics, underappreciated albums from well-respected artists, underappreciated albums from Dion and Dennis Wilson and whatnot... it's got it all. Mainly short essays, though there are also capsule reviews reprinted from long-forgotten rock zines, annotated lists of the high points from subgenres like wordy jazz and psychedelic soul and jokey lists like 'Top 6 Midget Songs' and 'Top 10 Non-Goth Albums that Goths Listen To.' Contributors include Peter Bagge, Brian Doherty, Richard Meltzer, Rick Moody, Jim O'Rourke, George Pelecanos and Metal Mike Saunders.
This book made me rediscover my Sweet Exorcist
and Born to Add
records. It made me want to dig up a vinyl copy of the Temptations' 1990
and the Pictures From the Gone World
poetry-jazz compilation. It made me reconsider Prince's symbol album, Klymaxx and OMD. Decent-not-great index, no TOC.
As a bonus, here's that list of psychedelic soul albums:
Funkadelic, Maggot Brain
Eddie Hazel, Games, Dames and Guitar ThingsBaby Huey and the Babysitters
Muddy Waters, Electric Mud
James "Blood" Ulmer, Blackrock
Shuggie Otis, Freedom Flight
Isley Brothers, Givin' It Back
Cymande, The Soul of RastaThe Politicians Featuring McKinley JacksonChains and Black Exhaust