Nearly everyone recognizes how important the Woodstock festival is in the fabric of American rock music; few, however, understand the significance of the actual town Woodstock. Of course, the festival was not held in the town, but the creative output from the town is undeniable when viewed through the lens of history. The subtitle of Barney Hoskyns’ latest book, Small Town Talk, lists the major players that decided to “get it together in the county”: Bob Dylan, the Band, Van Morrison, Janis Joplin, and Jimi Hendrix. But there were others, such as Paul Butterfield and Todd Rundgren.
Hoskyns collects memories and anecdotes from the atmosphere of the 1960s, based on numerous first-hand interviews, telling tales of the legends of folk rock. So much of the art that was imagined there was pure and honest, and has impacted and continues to impact the world for generations since. Fans of the sixties music scene, especially the brilliance of Dylan, will enjoy this history of the time.
You’re Making Me Hate You
by Corey Taylor
Da Capo Press, 2015
There is a saying, often attributed to Abraham Lincoln: “Better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak out and remove all doubt.” This quote kept running through my mind as I read Corey Taylor’s latest offering, You’re Making Me Hate You: A Cantankerous Look at the Common Misconception that Humans Have Any Common Sense Left. Taylor, best known as the frontman for Slipknot and Stone Sour, rants for more than 200 pages against people at airports, people in cars, people raising kids, and more, but really does not say much of anything at all. Near the end of the book, it is clear why there are so many curse-riddled declarations. Taylor writes about eating his own boogers, “I need[ed] the word count. It’s getting harder and harder to space these…books out to the appropriate length.”
While I can agree with much of what Taylor writes, the tone with which he shreds those who irk him is over-the-top and irksome itself. Henry Rollins already pulled off most of this bit years ago, and did so with much more precision and clarity. You’re Making Me Hate You was unfortunately a chore to read.
How To Be A Man (And Other Illusions)
by Duff McKagan
Da Capo Press, 2015
In 2011, Duff McKagan’s first autobiography, It’s So Easy (And Other Lies) hit the bookshelves. In it, the bass player recounts the highs and lows (because of being high) with Guns N’ Roses, and his journey to recovery from drug addiction. On Friday, McKagan’s story continues in How To Be A Man (And Other Illusions), touring with a new band (Walking Papers), playing shows with Axl Rose in South America, being inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, sitting in with Slash for one song when the guitarist opened for Aerosmith, and raising two teenage daughters.
In between tales of his life, McKagan throws in nuggets that he thinks every man should know, such as one hundred essential albums and more than forty books you should read. He explains the rules of sharing a hotel room (or other small space) with another person. He gives tips on international travel. And he explains the importance of loyalty, using the example of his BlackBerry.
McKagan is an entertaining character, and his second memoir made me chuckle several times as I read it. While he has sobered up, he has not cleaned up his language, so the book is not recommended for younger readers. McKagan briefly reminisces about his time in Guns N’ Roses while discussing the South America gigs with Axl, but the majority of this volume deals with 2012 to the present. Fans of McKagan’s columns on ESPN.com and SeattleWeekly.com will enjoy the witty banter of How To Be A Man (And Other Illusions).
1954: The Year Willie Mays and the First Generation of Black Superstars Changed Major League Baseball Forever by Bill Madden (2014)
by Bill Madden
Da Capo Press, 2014
The Brooklyn debut of Jackie Robinson in 1947 ushered in a change in the way baseball owners thought about race, but it took several years for the impact to be seen. In 1954, baseball fans saw for the first time an abundance superstars at the top of their game who were not white. Larry Doby with the Cleveland Indians, Willie Mays with the San Francisco Giants, Ernie Banks of the Chicago Cubs, and Minnie Minoso of the Chicago White Sox all impacted the game in their own ways. Doby and Mays starred in the World Series that year, Banks thrilled audiences as a rookie, and Minoso was selected as an All-Star for the fourth time.
Author Bill Madden looks back through history in 1954: The Year Willie Mays and the First Generation of Black Superstars Changed Major League Baseball Forever. A recipient of the Hall of Fame’s J. G. Taylor Spink Award, the New York Daily News writer brings the pennant race to life, and shows how those black players provided a spark to their respective teams. Madden also writes about Yankees general manager George Weiss and his reluctance to sign black players, Bill Veeck and his shenanigans and feuds with other owners that ultimately cost him his St. Louis Browns franchise, and a handful of anecdotes about Casey Stengel‘s antics with the Yankees that season.
Madden’s style is part journalistic, part storytelling. The journalistic tone is difficult to get through at times in this longer format, but when he becomes conversational in tone the book reads very quickly. Baseball historians will love 1954 and the perspective presented as it relates not only to our national pastime, but to the subject of race relations in the game and how much those relations have changed in the past sixty years.
The Haunted Life and Other Writings
by Jack Kerouac
Da Capo Press, 2014
The long-lost story written by the late Beat Generation legend Jack Kerouac finally sees the light of day thanks to the vision of editor Todd F. Tietchen and Da Capo Press. The work was lost in 1944 and did not reappear for nearly 60 years when it was sold at auction. The Haunted Life was written during Kerouac’s formative years, when the author had not yet fully found his voice, and as such it suffers in comparison to his later writings.
The novella is incomplete; that should be kept in mind when reading. Even so, there are moments of pretension that surely would have been edited in later drafts had the manuscript not been misplaced. Kerouac once asserted that he had left it in the backseat of a taxicab in New York; it is more likely that it was lost in Allen Ginsberg’s dorm room at Columbia, later discovered by another resident, though never returned to Kerouac. When one finishes reading The Haunted Life, there is the desire for more, but not in the sense of craving it; rather, there is that absence of completion that haunts the book itself.
The story is easy enough to understand and follow, and the dialogue flows naturally even if the pretension distracts at times. If only Kerouac had finished it, edited it, and given it more meat. The “Other Writings” refer to preparatory notes made for The Haunted Life, as well as essays written by Kerouac about his later work, The Town and the City. Also included are letters written between Jack and his father, Leo Kerouac.
While it is a treat to see such an early work by one of America’s truly great writers, The Haunted Life and Other Writings is not an essential addition to one’s personal library. It is frankly more of a curiosity that a literary gem.