Friday, August 28, 2009

Losing Everything by David Lozell Martin

This book has opened up more insights into my own past than even I could have imagined.

The author was raised in West Virginia by a mother who is mentally ill and a father who is abusive enough to have at least contributed to that illness.

This is the story of one mans battle with his own inner demons while acknowledging the demons that stalk us all.

A compelling read, Mr. Martin takes you on a journey of his own life up to and including the point where past meets present and he finds himself in, and reacting in the same way to, all the things that happened in his family as a child.

Together with his brother and sister he retraces the events and the shadows that hung over him while growing up. While reading it I became aware that I had not addressed some of my own childhood demons in my writing.

An accomplished author of fiction, Mr. Martin has written a very telling book, one that must have taken some courage to write. That he faces his demons and takes from them some very valuable insights make this book the gem that it is.

Ellie Greenwich and Tin Pan Alley

Once upon a time there was a place known as "Tin Pan Alley." This was an area in Midtown Manhattan where so many popular songs of the
20th Century originated.

In the 1950's Carole King went door to door selling her songs there, even while attending James Madison High School. Prior to that Irving Berlin, George Cohan, George Gershwin and so many others walked these same streets and knocked on the same doors. Commodore Records was located nearby. This was all before the mass migration of music to the West Coast.

I grew up listening to AM radio. Some of my favorite songs were written by Ellie Greenwich who passed away yesterday at the age of 68.

I will always remember The Dixie Cups "Chapel of Love" and can still sing the lyrics without error. She was one of the last to roam those fabled streets in search of a publisher. Her passing marks the end of an era in American music that will probably never be equaled.

If you grew up listening to songs like "Hanky Panky"(Tommy James and The Shondells),"Leader of the Pack"(The Shangra-Las),"Doo Wah Diddy Diddy"(Manfred Mann),"Doo Ron Ron"(Ronnie and The Ronnetes),"And Then He Kissed Me", "River Deep Mountain High" (Ike and Tina Turner) and so many others, then you will miss her.
I know I do.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Movie Review- You Kill Me

This movie came to me via one of our fine librarians and she was right on target. I do like this movie. A slow start but the plot keeps you hooked.

Essentially this movie is about an alcoholic hit man in Buffalo, N.Y. who works for the "mob", who happen to be his family. They are the only remnants of the Polish "mob" and trying to horn in on the Irish and the Chinese business. But our hero, played by Ben Kingsley, falls asleep, misses the hit and is confronted by his relatives. It's an intervention - He has a choice- 6 months in rehab in San Francisco while working a normal job- or the family has him "taken out"-related or not.

His "watcher" in San Francisco is a gay real estate agent who monitors our hero's attendance at AA meetings. He also gets him a job as an assistant mortician, which leads him to meet the step daughter, played by Tea Leoni, of a deceased man. They have an unusual attraction to one another that blossoms when their mutual passion for the "dark side" emerges.

What follows is the transformation of a hard drinking, non thinking hit man into a semi sober, pre-meditated killer- with wild repurcussions for everyone-even his "family".

Crisp and calculated direction by John Dahl give this movie the pace it needs to keep you onboard for a very unusual story.

The Ragman's Son by Kirk Douglas

From the opening line through to the last page this book is one of the most intimate and honest auto-biographies I have ever read.

Issur Danielovitch Demsky was born in Amsterdam, N.Y. to a Russian born "ragman."I still remember the ragman from my own neighborhood in Brooklyn, NY. He was a kindly,though somewhat mysterious figure. Imagine if that man was your father!

This book is the first of three that Kirk Douglas began in 1988. I have read all three. Follow Issurs'(Kirk Douglas) career through a childhood of poverty to his high school years and then World War Two.

Honest to a fault about everything, including his own shortcomings, this book will draw you into his life and thoughts. His confrontations with anti-semitism and his growing understanding of what it means to be Jewish contrast starkly with his name change. This is a complex man.

His movie years and 2 marriages are a good look at Hollywood and how it affects people and who they are. His insights into himself are what keep him searching for the meaning of all that has happened to him during his remarkable career.

I have always enjoyed Kirk Douglas as an actor. and as an author he shines with a light unique to Issur, the small boy who makes it big.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Monday, August 17, 2009

A Boy Named Shel by Lisa Rogak

I have been an admirer of Shel Silverstein ever since I was about 8 years old and looking through my Dad's Playboy magazines. There were some great cartoons drawn very simply with screamingly funny lines written beneath the one panel drawings.

Shel Silverstein was a Korean War Veteran who came from Chicago and a Jewish family. Funny how in all those years I never thought of him as Jewish. He was larger than any label. He defied being defined.

When he got bored with the Playboy Mansion scene Hugh Hefner sent him on a round the world tour. His only task was to report back once a month with either an article, photo or cartoon. All expenses paid. What a job!

By 1964 he was writing childrens books-"The Giving Tree" was one of the first. After that he went on to songwriting- collabarating with the likes of Johnny Cash- "A Boy Named Sue", "One Piece at a Time" etc. He was even the "behind the scenes" collaborator with Bob Dylan on the 1975 release "Blood On The Tracks", long considered to be Dylans "comeback" album.

This is the guy who met Bobby Bare one afternoon and they discussed writing some songs for Bobby Bares next album. The very next day Shel called Bobby and told him the album was done. He had written almost all the songs for "Lullabys, Legends and Lies" overnight!

Ever hear of Dr. Hook and the Medicine Show? "Sylvias Mother" and all the other hits were written by Shel Siverstein. What would be next?

Childrens poetry of course! "Where the Sidewalk Ends", "A Light In The Attic","The Story of the Missing Piece", "The Missing Piece Meets the Big O"..... I have them all.

A very complex man, often misunderstood, Shel lived on a houseboat and had several houses from Cape Cod to San Francisco. He lived life by his own rules. Never married and often thought to be gay, he was the father of one daughter, whom he supported for the rest of his life.

If you are a fan of Shel Silverstein, or even if you have never heard of him, you will like the man you meet in this book. A very carefully crafted biography of a very unusual fellow.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Happy Birthday Irving Henkin

Happy Birthday Uncle "I". I miss you alot- even after all this time. You taught me much while demanding nothing in return. I think of you often and you are always a part of me in everything I do. Thanks for all the good times and though we never said it aloud, I will now- "I love you, too."

Sometimes Things Just Happen....Or Do They?

We have a store in Huntersville called "Nanny's Attic and Vintage Finds". They sell bric-a brac and antiques, etc. Sue walks across the street and browses there at lunchtime.

Now sometimes things just seem to "happen"... or do they.? Put this in the "It kinda makes me wonder" category.

The following article about the store is from the current issue of The Lake Norman Herald Weekly.

Grandma’s Bible a ‘Vintage Find’

Wendy Crim 14.AUG.09

HUNTERSVILLE – Kathy Holland wasn’t trying last month to find a piece of her family’s history, but during a trip to Nanny’s Attic & Vintage Finds, it found her.

Kathy Holland and her husband, Dave, were looking for items to contribute to the Sept. 26 Historic Latta Plantation Bluegrass and Barbecue Fundraiser. Dave Holland is a Latta Plantation board member.

They spent about 20 minutes shopping before deciding on a blue vase. Dave Holland was ready to take the ornate antique home, but Kathy Holland wanted a few more minutes to look around the 2,500-square-foot shop.

Kathy Holland stumbled upon her grandmother’s Bible last month at Nanny’s Attic & Vintage Finds in downtown Huntersville after she said she felt “drawn to it.” Her grandmother wrote the names of family members inside the well-worn, black-leather Bible.

That’s when she found it.

Kathy Holland felt inexplicably drawn to a stack of well-worn, black Bibles with aged pages. When she opened one of them, a small handwritten note and an obituary of her long-deceased aunt fell out onto the floor.

She noticed some familiar handwriting in the inscription from the book’s previous owner.

The Bible had belonged to Julia Martin, Kathy Holland’s grandmother, who died nearly two decades ago. Martin had inscribed the names of her entire family in the Bible’s registry.

“I felt like I was stuck in mud or concrete,” Holland said.

Unable to conceal her excitement, she began to shout about her find to the other shoppers.

“This is my grandmother’s Bible,” she screamed across the building.

Holland asked shop owner Cathy Wiltcher for a price. Wiltcher knew the find was priceless.

“You can have it,” Wiltcher told Holland.

“I just gave it to her,” Wiltcher later said, “I couldn’t believe it was happening, that she found their family Bible.”

Kathy Holland felt like she was walking on air as she sauntered out of the store to her car. Dave Holland was waiting for her and felt just as dumbfounded by the discovery.

“It’s astounding,” he said. “It isn’t as if she was looking for it.”

Back at home, Kathy Holland began poring through old photographs of the relatives who are named in the Bible’s registry, and had a new appreciation for them. She still wonders how that Bible found its way to Nanny’s Attic.

“We didn’t inherit a thing (from my grandmother),” Kathy Holland said last week, “but I would much rather have this.”

Kathy Holland plans to restore the Bible and keep it in her family.

But she plans to make another trip to Nanny’s Attic, she said, to see if any other items grab her attention. - Lake Norman Herald Weekly

Friday, August 14, 2009

Betty Hutton- Doctor, Lawyer, Indian Chief by Hoagy Carmichael

When I was about 3 years old I heard this record for the first time. It was a 78 RPM acetate. Some of my earliest musical memories are of my parents records. We had Patti Page doing "How Much Is That Doggy In the Window" and the Cast Recording of "GiGi" along with scores of others - but this was my first favorite record. I hope you will enjoy it as much as I still do. And of course I am a big Hoagy Carmichael fan as well. Ms. Hutton passed on in March of 2007 and I just know she is truly still Dancing With the Stars. So just hit the link and have fun!

youtube betty hutton Doctor Lawyer Indian Chief - Google Search

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Milton Berle- An Autobiography with Haskel Frankel

I remember Milton Berle from TV. He was hipper than Sullivan and was a part of the act, not just the emcee. His career began at age 5 and spanned 7 decades!

This book takes you on a ride that begins with his Mom entering Milton in a contest for a silver colored cup- and leads you through the Golden Age of Vaudeville to the early days of Radio and Screen. The book is fast paced and informative. You learn all kinds of things about how it was done in a world void of modern gimmicks.

The Berles were Germans and actually the name is Berlinger- he never changed it legally- as a matter of fact the whole family used Berle after Milton became famous. But officially it always remained Berlinger.

His father was a seemingly ineffectual person, but Miltons kindness comes from him. His tenacity and stick to it qualities come from his Mom, a woman known affectionatley as "Queenie." She was an imperious woman and is largely responsible for Milton Berles sucess.

The train trips across America in the 1920's, his first encounter with sex via a burlesque dancer and his increasing pre-occupation with sex make this an enjoyable read.His encounters with Elvis Presley, Marilyn Monroe, Al Jolson, Eddie Cantor and a host of others will keep you reading.

His affair with an actress he will not identify will fascinate you. He gets her pregnant- offers to marry her out of real love- only to be turned down. She is engaged to a prominent Hollywood producer and marries him instead. Though the Producer is impotent she convinces him that this is thier child and they marry.The marraige launches her career. This event is so traumatic that he opens the book with an account of it- over 40 years later.

The cast of characters is colorful. That they are all real people you know of- is a big plus and gives you that "peek behind the curtain" feeling.

His early days on TV will fascinate you with the differences in the Industry today. Doing live TV was a demanding and exacting task. You either sank or swam. Milton Berle swam with the best of them.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Chuck Berry- The Autobiography

The first thing I noticed about this book was that it has no byline. It is simply titled "Chuck Berry The Autobiography." And it is clear that this is no ghost written volume of anecdotes. This is the real thing, written by Chuck Berry himself.

With his unmistakeable style of writing he takes you from the St. Louis of his youth to his dark years of confinement in a juvenile facility. After his release he returns home, working for his Dad while learning the guitar. From there he begins to play around St. Louis, establishing a local following. His relationship with Johnnie Johnson, a local paino player with a trio of his own, and how it becomes The Chuck Berry Trio is an insight into the attitudes and the people of the era.

An impromptu trip to Chicago and an encounter with Muddy Waters (nee McKinley Morganfield) lead him to the Chess Records Studio. From there we share his amazement and wonder of touring in places like New Yorks' Paramount Theater and the Alan Freed Shows.

Learning the business along the way was not always easy and he gets cheated along with all the rest of the pioneers of Rock and Roll.But he keeps rocking and rolling, establishing himself as one of the Fathers of the Genre.

You meet,along the way, such luminaries as Howling Wolf, Ike Turner and Little Richard to name just a few. He describes their struggles as well as his own, learning the business the hard way in an industry controlled by whites.

The writing itself is often laced with internal rhyming and interesting word plays that evoke the lyrics of Chuck Berry's hits. The man is a lyrical treasure chest and sees everything as if it were a song waiting to be written.

He very casually explores and explains how some of his earlier records were written. He describes in detail the interactions of learning to play in different clubs to different audiences and makes you want to grab a guitar and hit the road.

Never a shrinking violet, Mr. Berry talks freely of his fascination,and interaction with white women at a time when such things could be deadly. Think Emmitt Till in the summer of 1954- the very year that Chuck hits the road.

The inner workings of early rock and roll are explored through the Alan Freed "payola" trials. Mr. Berry carefully explains some of the sinister practices that robbed our early rock pioneers of money and pride. He does it without bitterness or rancor- this was just the way things were then.

The Chapter on his problems with the IRS in the early 70's is of interest. The way he accepts the penalty and reports to Lompoc Prison in California are also another insight into the character of this legend.

Of course this book only goes up to 1986- the year before Keith Richards of The Rolling Stones would make a landmark film with Chuck Berry and Johnnie Johnson(who was working as a bus driver at the time)called "Hail. Hail Rock and Roll."

This book cries out for a sequel from a man who really took music a step further toward the Rock and Roll we all know and love. A music that came to define a nation, if not a whole generation.

Hail, Hail Rock and Roll!

Monday, August 3, 2009

The Woman Who Named God by Charlotte Gordon

This book is a confirmation of most of what I believe to be true concerning the Biblical story of Abraham and Sarah; his child by Hagar, Ishmael; and thier banishment at Sarahs' insistance. This ignited a whole series of events that we all understand to have led to the creation of 3 Religions- all laying claim to the same Patriach-Abraham.

At the heart of the "Arab-Israeli" question has always been the dispute over who received Gods' mercy, or who should have? The first born son of Abraham with his hand maiden Hagar-Ishmael; or should it have been Isaac; his first born by his marraige to Sarah? Our cultural and social moors were set by this story and are almost "etched in stone" so to speak. And culminating with the creation of Islam in 625 AD we have been at odds since. Christian against Jew and Islamic versus everyone.

Ms. Gordon with her careful analysis of this Biblical story shows us the difference in the roles of women in Judeo-Christian tradition since Sarah and juxtoposes it against the same issues in the Islamic world. The social diffences and political ramifications lead to a polarized current based on this one story. And the more firmly entrenched we become in each of our respective versions of this story, the further the polarization becomes.

This book tackles the issues of the role of women in the oppossing cultures, and how it all affects us today. That it does so in a style that is at once easy to read, yet preserves the historical context and insights of the subject, is a feat in itself. At the same time the author steers you to a new understanding of what may have taken place on Mt. Moriah so long ago.

This will be a controversial read for some, and an exciting journey for others. The important thing to remember is when you read a book like this you are getting another piece of the puzzle that has been the center of literary and philosphical argument for thousands of years.

With my own understanding of the Bible and it's history somewhat limited I found this book to be full of stuff I did not know. What is the Islamic version of this event? Where did it occur? How old was Isaac at the time? Did Abraham visit his illegitimate first born, Ishmael? What happened to the relationship between Abraham and Isaac after the trip to the mountain? And how did that affect the history of the Mid East? And how does all this affect us right down to the present day?

You may come away with more questions than answers- and either you will have gained some insight into your own doubts- or reinforced your previous convictions. And of course the third possibility is that these challenges to the conventional "take" on this subject will lead you to try and know more.