PositiveThe Pittsburg Post-GazetteThe challenge of capturing such an idyllic moment in print is intertwining so many stories while keeping each one clear and engaging. Brownstein manages this deftly. While initial chapters focus on one particular form of entertainment and center on the story of one or two artists, films or shows, later sections seamlessly blend various artistic and business endeavors along with politics. The conceit of covering 1974 month by month is the only contrivance that feels a bit forced ... More than just summarizing or reviewing what such films and shows were about, the author dives deep into how they were created, financed, promoted and received. His many interviews with actors, writers, directors and executives of that era lend such renderings veracity and energy ... Brownstein also covers music well, though many critics, particularly those with an East Coast bias, might quibble about the greatness of the three acts he profiles in the most depth ... This is a book out to capture the moment when LA became America’s pop culture crucible, briefly eclipsing New York City before punk rock brought the Big Apple roaring back to preeminence. Brownstein gives LA and the moment a gauzy glow, capturing it best in the words of those who lived there at this apex ... lets readers swim in those heady, deeply creative seas.
Mitchell James Kaplan
PositivePittsburgh Post-GazetteThe rarified world Swift inhabited provides rich raw material Kaplan uses to tell a complex and involving story ... In a biography, such luminaries could become footnotes. In Kaplan’s historical novel they turn into essential characters, often-fascinating friends and foils. While the plot about Swift’s divided romantic allegiance drives the book, it also allows Kaplan to examine all manner of interesting social and political complexities of 1920s and ‘30s America ... If Rhapsody has a flaw, it is that Swift gets to have her cake, and eat it, too, for too long ... she lives a life of abject luxury and few real problems ... It’s an interesting life, thankfully, but one lacking deep, plot-driving conflict. A little over halfway into the story, tensions finally heat up and provide more narrative thrust ... Rhapsody never proves less than engaging reading, however. Swift’s dialogue sings especially, capturing both her intellect and wit ... Mitchell James Kaplan’s prose luxuriates in depicting her surprising and wildly artistic world.
PositiveThe Post- GazetteThe whys behind this nearly-year-long trip are interesting but not especially noteworthy or requiring extensive commentary. The places visited turn out to be fairly arbitrary, dictated by various family members’ interests and opportunities to visit friends or stay in accommodations arranged by them. The people involved make this journey notable, particularly Wheelan’s three children, all brought to life on the page through the sort of telling, and often embarrassing, details it takes a parent to reveal ... much of the story is quite funny. While unlabeled buses, unhelpful bureaucrats and unexpected airport detentions were surely awful in the moment, they make for engaging tales of ultimate triumph in retrospect ... If enjoyable travel is about the company kept during it as much as the places visited, the Wheelan family make wonderful partners and guides for a meandering stroll around the world. They offer no earth-shattering perspective shifts, no dazzling epiphanies, just engaging stories of a family bonding over the unusual challenges and opportunities presented by budget-minded globetrotting. They learn a little, amusingly summarized in the eight-page chapter \'The Things We Learned,\' and reveal a lot about what truly matters in life.
PositiveThe Pittsburgh Post-GazetteWhen it comes to putting together a story from other sources, as well as a number of interviews he conducted, Mr. Norman does yeoman’s work. Having lived in England during the era when it became Hendrix’s sometime home and the birthplace of his musical legend, and having written about musicians for so many years, Norman’s wealth of knowledge allows him to bring scenes from this story to vivid life. He also knows how to tell a story engagingly, if at times brashly, and keep the pace brisk ... Norman paints a clear, sad portrait of a reluctant celebrity chewed up by others’ machinations ... So what’s missing from this book? The music ... where are the detailed stories of how more of his classic songs were written and recorded? Where are the descriptions of precisely what made Hendrix’s guitar playing so astounding to his peers? Where are the celebrations of just how poetic and searing and searching and funny his lyrics could be? ... sets up an expectation that is never met ... But, perhaps such glories are best discovered in the works themselves. Mr. Norman presents a flesh-and-blood, warts-and-all Jimi Hendrix most vibrantly. Readers most likely to care have probably already experienced Hendrix’s music deeply and would prefer to learn more about the man behind it rather than the artist creating it.
RaveThe Pittsburg Post-GazetteFinally, Adrianne Geffel comes to life in David Hajdu’s oral history biography of the avant-garde pianist and composer ... t turns parodic and satiric, Adrianne Geffel: A Fiction works because it shares such a believable story. Even if the title character is meant to remain a bit of an enigma, her clueless mother, childhood piano teacher, Juilliard professors, doctors, record label representative, reviewers, friends and quasi-manager often feel all too real as they recount their often-pumped-up roles in Geffel’s life. While clearly meant to be humorous, the story spins in such interesting directions that it feels unfair to reveal too much of it. Suffice to say that musician biography tropes get gloriously twisted in this seemingly traditional tale of the sensitive, put-upon artist ... Fans of the genre, as well as musicians, will probably enjoy Mr. Hajdu’s humor most ... Geffel’s friends Barbara Lucher and Ann Athema offset Zervakis’ smarminess nicely. While the satiric nature of certain characters keeps them at arm\'s length, Lucher and Athema elicit laughs while remaining more realistic and likable ... Mr. Hajdu’s book makes jokes both heady and base. They all work to remind us that music and art matter, but the process that brings them to the public’s attention is often as capricious and cruel as that of any other business. Also, the greater the talent and originality of an artist, the more the conformists will try to restrain them and the unscrupulous will pounce and take advantage. That Mr. Hajdu delivers such bleak views so wittily helps make some sad truths feel satisfying. Plus, an ambiguous conclusion leaves readers to decide just how \'geffelesque\' Adrianne’s ultimate fate proves to be.
Edward O. Wilson
RaveThe Pittsburg Post-Gazette... resists simple categorization. It is all the richer a read for it ... Mr. Wilson shares his passion for, and expertise in, myrmecology through 26 brief, clear and compelling chapters. Need one be an ant expert, scientist or scholar to enjoy them? Hardly. A bit of interest in the natural world and an ear for enthusiastic storytelling should suffice as prerequisites ... At age 91, recording his words longhand since he does not type, Wilson proves himself no relic. Here is a thoughtful man attuned with nature, boundless in curiosity, eager to share insights that could simply be the province of academics with any interested reader. The creatures he studies are physically small, but they inspire great thought.
PositivePittsburgh Post-GazetteFor the most part, Frantz delivers just the right amount of information about rehearsing, writing songs, recording, touring and managing interpersonal relationships within the band and its management team. Musicians will enjoy hearing about the group’s myriad musical and production collaborations and often unusual writing and recording processes, but Frantz explains things clearly and succinctly enough to keep anyone engaged in his tales. He also namechecks an incredible array of people who come into his orbit ... Beneath the surface of all the great gigs and unlikely encounters, however, Frantz does have an ax to grind ... While Frantz’s memoir is generally well-paced, two exceptions make for distractions. When recounting the Talking Heads’ first tour of Europe as a support act for the Ramones, Frantz suddenly shares far too much detail about every city visited and every show played ... These chapters could have been edited down to the exceptional details also shared in them. Conversely, near book’s end....Frantz casually mentions his outpatient treatment for cocaine and alcohol bingeing ... This merits a single paragraph and is left unexplored elsewhere. Thankfully, Frantz shares plenty of other stories more deftly
PositivePittsburgh Post-GazetteNo matter how sad or troubling his topic, Francois S. Clemmons radiates infectious optimism, fortitude and grace ... Mr. Clemmons digs well below superficial characterizations to share stories of moving onward and upward from the often-troubling circumstances of his life ... As much praise as he heaps on Fred Rogers, Mr. Clemmons refuses to deify him ... Still, the overwhelming number of Mr. Clemmons’ recollections about their relationship are positive. They lead to a satisfying, if a bit rushed, conclusion of Francois Clemmons making peace with his family, creating his most fulfilling artistic endeavor and finding a welcoming geographic and intellectual home at Middlebury College in Connecticut. Mr. Clemmons never shies away from the often brutal realities that helped shape him. That time and time again he chooses a path of faith, love and forgiveness speaks to his resilience and character. His hard-won positivity shines throughout this inspiring, open-hearted story.
RavePittsburgh Post-GazetteHolly George-Warren’s biography, Janis: Her Life and Music vividly renders Janis Joplin as a flesh-and-blood being, a complicated, contradictory young woman coming of age at the height of the social upheaval and possibility of 1960s America ... One of the most outstanding qualities of Janis is its readability. The sheer amount of source material could be overwhelming to a biographer ... None of the biography’s details feel gratuitous—each help tell Joplin’s life story engagingly ... Janis deftly handles all the biographical conventions. Family history? It’s there to offer worthwhile context, full of only the most relevant, interesting and influential relatives. Conflicts and contradictions of our subject? They abound and never feel like thin author inventions. They drive a fascinating story about a woman who was at turns needy, heady, outrageous, conservative, self-assured, ambitious and unmoored.
PositivePittsburgh Post-GazetteAt turns frustrating and fulfilling, linear and digressive, mundane and profound, Rick Moody’s memoir The Long Accomplishment turns a typical \'year in the life\' story into a literary look at love and loss in the life of an artist ... How involving readers will find the telling of Rick Moody’s personal tale will likely depend on their patience with a writing style that seems to try to put something like the writer’s actual thought process on paper. Mr. Moody will flat-out explain his need to insert backstory into the middle of a tale, wind through a variety of possible explanations for a feeling or reaction, dig deep into personal interests such as music and the work of other authors. He also luxuriates in language ... While undoubtedly a personal tale, especially given the appearance of the word \'memoir\' in the book’s subtitle, the story initially suffers from a lack of character development of Mr. Moody’s partner. Laurel Nakadate is always there, and integral to nearly all the events detailed, but she only starts to feel visible and relatable toward the story’s end ... If only Mr. Moody offered more of her soulfulness as easily as he describes her photographic work or struggles through medical procedures ... sometimes confounding, but ultimately rewarding, reading.
MixedThe Pittsburgh Post-GazetteAt times, all the patting himself on the back Stern does about his personal growth grows wearisome. He can still struggle to see the forest for the trees ... Stern introduces his Gwyneth Paltrow interview touting his more enlightened views on women as though it is a personal cause ...One page later he shares with Paltrow that as a teen he enjoyed pleasuring himself to thoughts of her mother, actress Blythe Danner... Is Stern truly promoting any kind of feminist stance with such bawdy nonsense? The many sections devoted to Donald Trump, stretching back 20 years before he was elected president, are likely to confound, as well ... So, is Stern just kidding himself that he has achieved a new level or respectability with his interviews? Yes and no. Anyone reading Comes Again will certainly need a high level of tolerance for random juvenilia and similar lines of questioning and commentary...That said, Stern engenders a level of trust from his subjects that has finally allowed him access to the A-listers he has long craved to place himself amongst ... Stern also wants us to know...that he’s human. A fuller exploration of that story alone might make for a better, more focused book. As it stands, it’s just another facet of this sprawling work by one baffling and often contradictory figure.
MixedPittsburgh Post-GazetteMr. Kushins...employs an unusual, compelling device to open Nothing’s Bad Luck ... This blending of the figurative and the literal is immediately intriguing. The structure of the rest of the book, however, conforms to standard music biography conventions ... That’s fine, just not especially inspired. Fortunately, stories of Zevon’s personal life and work make for interesting reading. The raw material throbs with wild energy ... If only Kushins’ prose reveled more in...tension and unpredictability. All too often, the presentation feels rote and cyclical ... Still Nothing’s Bad Luck does enough things well to make it worthy of recommendation, especially for those curious about why Zevon’s literary, melancholy and often darkly funny songs remain so compelling.
MixedThe Pittsburgh Post-GazetteUnfortunately, \'a few glimpses\' do not offer the essential ingredients for a compelling book. Goldberg writes cleanly and clearly and does a fine job working chronologically through the business decisions and personal dilemmas the Nirvana frontman faced during the final 3½ years of his life. What he does not do is offer enough first person stories of his interactions with the transformative singer/songwriter/guitarist. That leaves both Cobain and Goldberg rather flat on the page — two should-be round, vivid characters missing from their own life stories ... The issue certainly isn’t any hubris on Goldberg’s part. If anything, he goes out of his way to depict Cobain as the architect of his own artistic success and to deflect or share credit for the musician’s commercial triumphs ... The most engaging parts of Serving the Servant feature Goldberg’s firsthand accounts of challenging or interesting times in Cobain’s life ... also features outside sources giving their often lacking accounts of potentially intriguing topics ... Perhaps Goldberg’s recollections would have worked better as an extended online essay or magazine piece ... portends little new or revelatory to share about [Cobain\'s] brief life.
RavePittsburgh Post-Gazette\"... [Cullen] clearly and engagingly tells multiple stories simultaneously and brings a great number of people to vivid, distinctive life. He manages to flesh out and bring something new to the stories of the kids most readers likely know best, Emma Gonzalez and David Hogg. Even more interesting is getting to better know what makes others in the movement — like super organizer Jackie Corin and the initially wide-eyed freshman Daniel Duff, who had seven friends die in the attack — just as compelling ... The chapter \'The Memes Men\' should be required reading for anyone convinced that teens are incapable of large-scale, committed action, for any teacher still leading class as though kids don’t realize they are a mere click away from nearly anything they want to learn or create ... Part character study, part media analysis, part political critique, Parkland ends up being many things. Thanks to Mr. Cullen’s gift for clear, involving storytelling, it ends up being, above all, a compelling \'year-in-the-life\' tale of a group of ordinary, yet also extraordinary, teens.\
PositivePittsburgh Post-Gazette\"So, maybe Mr. Tweedy doesn’t make for the smoothest, most easy going cocktail party guest. His writing, however, could not be any more inviting and engaging, full of voice and rich, vivid storytelling. Mr. Tweedy wastes no time with typical autobiographical minutiae and only roughly works through his life chronologically. Instead, he composes lengthy chapters that dive deep into explanations of his songwriting and recording process, the pain and joy of his upbringing and his attempts to grapple with addiction, marriage and parenthood ... Perhaps most striking, given his reputation for not suffering fools in his audience or at the interview table gladly, is how genuinely, and darkly, funny Mr. Tweedy can be ... If Let’s Go (So We Can Get Back)