Andrew Loog Oldham – “Stone Free”

I was pretty sure I would never own a Kindle. My love for the paper book is so big that I tried long and hard not to let this “wicked” gadget bewitch me. And then I went and I bought the gizmo.

As I “kindled” myself just as I was about to finish the online course on the history of The Rolling Stones, the first book I laid my virtual hands on was one by Andrew Loog Oldham, their manager, the guy who took them from being a resident group in a bar to being international stars. For the same reason (just having finished the course), I decided on something slightly different than exactly what I had finished learning about. So I chose his newest book: “Stone Free”.

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Oldham takes each “hustler” (that’s his term) in the British music industry of the 60’s and paints his portrait, relying mostly on his own, personal history with each one of them. These hustlers are the managers of Bob Dylan, The Who, The Beatles, as well as the stars of that age.

I have to confess that getting used to Oldham’s writing style was no easy task for me. He’s as British as they get in every comma, in his topic, style, and especially in his humour. And if that wasn’t enough, all the dialogues he reproduces are filled with the 60’s London slang. That’s why I started appreciating Kindle’s in-built dictionary from the very first page I ever read on this device.

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Once you get used to its style, “Stone Free” is quite the charmer. It has a very sharp sense of humour which the author generously directs at anyone, especially at his very own self. This book is actually a directory of the people who turned music (at least the British side of it) form a craft into a powerful industry. I read this book with great pleasure and I’m saving the rest of the books by ALO for later, so as to not gobble the whole desert in one bite.

You can buy this book here.

My favourite “Stone Free” quotes:

“The word ‘hustling’ has been degraded by the times, but if I can ascribe purity to such an activity, it is marked by the author’s divine apprehension that he is witnessing the coupling of a singer and a song in the bedroom of a cathouse to which he holds the keys.”

“A good artist, with respect to the relationship with his hustler, is like a good dog. He is trainable, and if treated well, willing to please. But if the player confuses his role as a leader with that of a parent or a lover, the dog’s inner beast will eventually bite.”

“It seldom works in the star’s favour when the hustler crosses the line from professional to personal.”

“Make sure your vision isn’t on the wrong side of the next techno wave.”

“There must be always something missing, that the artist intuitively relies on the manager to provide. Once a growing boy has had his fill of milk, the need for someone to hold the bottle disappears. It is a sad fact of the hustle that ultimately the best hustlers eliminate themselves from the picture.”

“It’s often easier to talk to the drummer when you’re distracted and you’ve got nothing to say – they don’t mind, they are elsewhere as well.”

“We aimed to live in an unreal world while earning real money.”

“Jerry is so damned imaginative I sometimes think he has spent the better part of his life avoiding his own ideas in case they killed him.”

“I love people who say they have no regrets; I’d like to meet this guy, Mr. No Regrets. Even Jesus has regrets. I don’t trust a man who can’t be embarrassed and who has no regrets. Never.”

“The things that get into the papers are not the ideas that the entrepreneurs hatch, it’s the accidents that they cannot predict, but which they learn to manage regardless, expecially in America.”

“Failure confirms the manager’s incompetence, success breeds the suspicion that the manager is unnecessary.”

“Sid met his maker. He got it. He wanted it that way. He was a fan of the group, originally an then he became a member of his favourite group, which is something that most fans dream of. His dream came true, so what was he going to do then? To be, in his mind, the greatest Sex Pistol. And how was he going to do that? Die! And who was going to kill him? His mum. She was a junkie. She scored for him. He asked fo it.”

“When you hear someone disparage a former partner without restraint, remember, you’ll be next.”

“Our motto, “Happy to be a part of the industry of human happiness”, artfully expressed our hopes and schemes.”

“Now, in most cases, when a producer, manager or record label is asked about underpayment, they simply lie. They are innocent of stealing from the artist until proven guilty, by a very expensive and/or very clever accountant and/or buyer. Who is probably stealing from the artist as well.”

“I know that the pain of rejection is never limited to the snub at hand. It comes in waves, reverberates like a chord with all the other disappointments in a life. Rejection is an old friend who can only hurt you if you are foolish enough to let it.”

images: www.paulgormanis.comwww.telegraph.co.uk

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John Steinbeck – “Grapes of Wrath”

 

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Steinbeck was one of the greats missing from my authors’ list. Yes, I have to concede: I haven’t managed to get myself to read any of his books until recently. And yes, I know: shame on me! But what else is there left for me to say now? Should I sweeten the situation with a platitude like “better late than never”? I read it! That’s what matters.

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John Steinbeck is too socialist for my taste. The capitalists are too piggish and the poor folk too suppressed. And thus ends the list of things I don’t like about “Grapes of Wrath”. I simply devoured its pages, written with a perfect blend of energy, humour, suspense, and about any other ingredient that will transform a bunch of words into high quality literature.

I like the simple man’s family. The hierarchy is clearly set by age and personal history. Everyone knows their rights and their duties. Treason and misdeeds are forgotten and understood with such haste as only love can cause. “Grapes of Wrath” is a picaresque novel in its essence. The ragged Joads serve as a pretext for a calm and often philosophical dissection of the great and hollow dream of the California heaven.

The way Steinbeck describes the Joads’ journey gave me a hint of Kerouac from time to time. It’s only normal, since the two were good friends. The contemplative calmness of the family, the clean and beautiful judgement used to reach decisions, the simple wisdom of people who aren’t used to ever having much of a choice, these are the paths John Steinbeck uses to reach the reader’s soul. No. I won’t use big words. That’s how he reached my soul.

Although it’s only been a few weeks since we’ve met, I am happy to make your acquaintance, Mister Steinbeck. I can’t wait to read you again. I am pleased to inform you that I think you’ve earned your place on the shelf where I keep all my literary idols. I hope you won’t mind the company of Miller, Bukowski, Murakami, Rushdie, and Llosa.

I promise I’ll have my favourite quotes here asap!

You can buy John Steinbeck’s “Grapes of Wrath” here.

Images: www.steinbecknow.com (John Steinbeck), www.prweb.com (The Grapes of Wrath), 

F.M. Dostoyevski – “Poor Folk”

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This is one is in the “read again” category. I frequently toyed with the thought of digging into Dostoyevski again. Many years ago, even as I was reading him in my raging teen years, I felt that I wasn’t grasping everything this man was trying to say. I’m happy I started out with the light version: a short epistolary novel.

I don’t think I found humility described in so many nuances and such minute detail as I did in Dostoyevski. The Russians are naturally impetuous and they have a way of even rushing into humility headfirst. And Dostoyevski has this almost gruesome way of meticulously dissecting the minds and souls of “poor folk”.

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Aside from Choderlos De Laclos’ “Dangerous Liaisons”, I don’t recall reading another epistolary novel. It’s a very different literary genre, where what you’re reading between the lines is of utmost importance. Somewhere in the thousands of books I still must read in this lifetime, I’m sure I’ll try a few more literary letter collections.

I received this book as a gift. It was bought in an antique bookstore. Its yellow pages, the fact that it’s been read many times before I opened it, its careful and pompous language, they all made the days I spent reading it very dear to me. As dear as opening a box full of very old pictures.

My favourite quote:

“Ah, my friend! Misfortune is a contagious disease. The unfortunate and the poor should stay away from one another, or they’ll end up worse.”

You can buy “Poor Folk” here.

images: www.bbc.co.uk (Dostoyevski), www.wikiart.org (“Poor Folk”), 

Mike Tyson – “The Undisputed Truth”

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I’m pretty sure I’ve never watched an entire boxing game in my life. Witnessing actual physical violence gives me such a shock that I must be missing something on a genetical level. That’s why receiving this book as a birthday gift baffled me. On the other hand, I regarded the present as a sign I had made a good decision. No. I wasn’t going to start fighting. My decision concerned books. I had heard someone say that anyone planning on studying success had better read as many (auto)biographies as possible. It made sense, in a way. Only successful people could sell their memoirs. From here and there you can actually pick up diverse ways of making it. Although my main interest lies with achieving success in the music business, I didn’t mind starting off with Iron Mike. Although, come to think of it, his story of success is as short as the endurance of some of his opponents in the ring.

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I’m not so naive as to think for a second that Mike Tyson actually wrote this book. It’s actually the tormented child born out of the long and painful labour of dictation which was then taken, beautified, and perfumed by a pair of crafty editor’s hands. Tyson almost admits that towards the end. This book is so powerful, it even shocked me, prepared to believe nothing as I was. That’s because, underneath all the literature, under the unbelievable proofs of erudition Mr. Tyson inserts here and there just so he can “look good”, there’s some honesty. Just enough to make the reading worthwhile.

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“The Undisputed Truth” is a book about the strongest will and about its total absence. About a man strong on the outside and weak on the inside. And this interior weakness of his makes you, the reader, understand one thing and one thing only: the incredible value of knowledge and education. I don’t think I’ve ever read a book that showed me how true that saying about “you must never stop learning” is.

Well, it’s also a cool book because it’s full of drugs, drunken parties, sex, violence, money, luxury… You know… all that metaphysical bull.

You can buy this book here.

images: www.wsj.com (“The Undisputed Truth” the book),  ringtv.craveonline.com (Tyson in the ring), www.nydailynews.com (Tyson convicted)

James C. Humes -“The Wit and Wisdom of Winston Churchill”

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The man who wrote this book is sort of an expert on the subject, the best churchillian there is, if you’ll indulge me the pleasure of crafting this word. My knowledge of Sir Winston had TV documentaries as a starting point. In some of these he was a genius, in others he was a neurotic, alcohol loving drug addict. The moment I felt I wanted to know more about the guy was during a visit to the London bunker he used as an office during the worst times of the Second World War. He actually has a whole museum where, with typical British fair-play, his patriotism and legendary power hunger peacefully share about the same amount of space.

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“The Wit and Wisdom of Winston Churchill” is a title where the apparent pleonasm between the synonyms “wit” and “wisdom” actually points to the beautiful intelligence of this great brit, who was as deft at laying out grandiose plans as he was at conjuring brilliant, intelligent on-the-spot answers. The book contains some quotes that can undoubtedly be traced back to Mr. Churchill, whereas some clearly belong to the folklore that always surrounded this famous historical character. I don’t think that, in the end, their authenticity matters that much.

What really matters is the fact that this is a book to be read easily, with frequent smiles and giggles. If you expect to find a history lesson in its pages, you’ll be disappointed. I recommend it be enjoyed as a refined dessert to a meal consisting of a huge chunk of his Wellington style biography. (Beef Wellington was, indeed, his favourite dish). For, if you’ll be familiarised with the context surrounding his “wit and wisdom”, you will most certainly feel a flavour that will be  much more intense.

You can buy this book here.

image source: www.conservativebookclub.com (James C. Humes), www.harpercollins.com (“The Wit and Wisdom of Winston Churchill”)

 

Erich Maria Remarque – “All Quiet on the Western Front”

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“All Quiet on the Western Front” is a book from the “read again” category. And, although I was kind of expecting to feel this way, there still are two things that astonish me when meeting a book again after twenty years. First is the clarity of the bits I still remember. I can almost recall the position I was sitting or lying in when reading a certain sentence for the first time. The second is the enormously different flavour given by time. It’s the same pair of eyes reading the same lines, but everything else feels totally new. Even if people say that life’s too short to read a book twice, let me tell you that’s not true. Meeting a good book again after many years is an excellent “know thyself” exercise.

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“All Quiet on the Western Front” is a war novel. A First World War Novel, to be exact. Maybe the literature snobs will despise me for my next statement, but for me a war novel is synonymous to Sven Hassel. That’s the truth as far as the Parrot is concerned. For me Hassel is the standard for any piece of literature about soldiers getting busy at slaughtering one another. By this personal standard of mine, Remarque wrote a very good book. In fact it’s so good that “The Arch of Triumph”, “Gam” or “Black Obelisk” seem written by an entirely different person. I’m pretty certain that Erich Maria Remarque could’ve written any of Sven’s books. As certain as I am about Porta’s war comrade being incapable of the swift psycho-philosophical discourse found in Remarque’s novel.

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It’s a really beautiful book. Rough, as any war book goes, but also delicate as the souls of the children made to wear fatigues too early, sent out unprepared to take bullets for a cause that meant nothing to them. If this is the first Remarque book you’re reading, don’t expect the rest of them to be the same.

My favourite quotes in this book are:

“We set out as soldiers, and we might be grumbling or we might be cheerful – we reach the zone where the front line begins, and we have turned into human animals.”

“Every soldier owes the fact that he is still alive to a thousand lucky chances and nothing else. And every soldier believes in and trusts to chance.”

You can buy this book here.

Images from: oscarbootcamp.wordpress.com (young Erich Maria Remarque), ipco.io (World War I flags)

“The Ultimate Illustrated Encyclopedia of Classic Cars”

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When I received this book as a present I promised that I would read every single one of its pages. I must admit it was no easy task. But I regarded this little enterprise of mine as a quite needed patience exercise.

This is certainly not a book written to be read like an action novel. While I was fighting its many pages I remembered my father. He once told me about a colleague of his who was reading the Encyclopaedia Britannica as if it were the most captivating of stories. I don’t know if he ever got to the end of it, but I kept my promise. I read it all, even though it took me about a month and a half.

On the bright side: it has pictures. I’m serious. Otherwise reading might prove a little dry, as the words mostly serve the purpose of explaining what’s in the photographs. There was also a bunch of interesting stuff I found in “The Ultimate Illustrated Encyclopedia of Classic Cars”. I particularly enjoyed the history of the industry’s grand failures, stories from which you can learn a lot about marketing, advertising, and economic relations.

The only thing that slightly annoyed from time to time was the obvious British origin of its authors. They stuffed their book with all the big, small or failed cars on three or four wheels that Her Majesty’s subjects managed or tried to build from the dawn of time until the present day. All this while the great French, German, and Italian builders were often treated with the polite and and absentminded superiority so typical for the Brits.

It’s a wonderful book for all the car aficionados. If you’re not sure if you’re passionate about the subject, try reading “The Ultimate Illustrated Encyclopedia of Classic Cars”. If it’s still interesting after ten pages, it’s clear. You’ve got it!

You can buy this book here.

Jean Louis Gaillemin – “Dali, the Impresario of Surrealism”

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Unfortunately, the Parrot’s knowledge of painting is close to non-existent. This is actually one of my greatest regrets, not even possessing the minimal information capable of sustaining a general conversation on the huge topic of painting. That is probably why, in a late-blooming and futile attempt of bringing some life to that particular deserted area of my life, I started reading Dali’s biography. It’s certainly not the best, but it’s one that I received as a birthday gift a while back.

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Dali, as much as I’ve managed to understand him, doesn’t seem hard to grasp as a whole. And that’s also because his painting holds a certain linearity in the themes and the way he chose to represent them. Salvador Dali – the man fascinated me, especially the first part of his life. The one in which he was still searching for his artistic self. In “Dali, the Impresario of Surrealism” I saw photographs of paintings you would never say were his. Quite as interesting was the gradual way in which his own style emerged. It could only be guessed in certain details in the beginning, gaining ever more force and substance as time passed.jean louis

I imagine the impression that this book made on me is the same as reading a city guide of a place you are about to visit: a mishmash of information and a slightly frustrating desire to find out more.

You can buy this book here.

Images: www.albantiquites.com – Jean Louis Gaillemin ; www.citylifemadrid.com – Salvador Dali

Jonathan Safran Foer – “Incredibly Loud and Extremely Close”

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9/11 is a subject that sells. Any tragedy that happened during our lifetime makes us become a lot more tolerant with anyone weaving their story around that unfortunate event. This way, we end up with bestsellers that would never attain their privileged place, should their writer have chosen a different subject.

I started reading “Incredibly Loud and Extremely Close” hoping I could leave any prejudice aside. After the first few lines, I was hooked. And then, in broad eyed awe, I gulped away paragraph after paragraph. I felt the child’s clean soul, I understood his self inflicted bruises. I got lost in the old sculptor’s demented wisdom. From time to time I interrupted my reading for a few seconds without closing the book, to let my feelings slow their whirling frenzy just a bit.

The rules of the game set by Safran Foer, rules that he obeys with great ease, are incredible. At least to me they are. I have never before in my life met an author that mastered the craft of moving his point of view so often and at such depth in the soul of his characters. This man is everything he writes. He must be. Although it’s been quite a while since I’ve finished reading this book, I find myself flooded with very intense feelings now, while writing about it.

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Its greatest merit is that is shows you how, with simple words that are beautifully brought together, the way between the writer’s and the reader’s souls is easy and straight. Notice how I haven’t said anything about the movie? I haven’t seen it. It can be the best movie in the world, I just don’t want to spoil the wonderful memory I’ll always have about this book.

This is, by far, the saddest book I’ve ever read.

You can buy it here.

Images: galleryhip.com (the book); www.theguardian.com (Jonathan Safran Foer)

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Patrick Modiano – “L’horizon”

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Every time I open a book that has been written in this period of time we’re living in right now, I expect a touch of bitterness. It’s the general taste of the present time. From the sickening, bitter taste of bile to the suave bitter-sweet flavour mastered by the most skilful confectioner,  all the our time’s writers find themselves wrapped in a fold of frustrated sadness at one time or another. If it’s a Nobel Prize winner, then my doubts are even stronger. All you have to do is watch the news in order to understand that winning the Nobel Prize for literature has nothing to do with the writer’s talent. The thing that matters instead is his/her ability to find the year’s hot subject. I found this quite upsetting for a while. It’s an award for literature, not for writing in or about a certain country that’s trending in the news of the moment. Then I realised that I could be wrong. That in this general bitterness the poor jury members needed something to separate the winner from the rest. The news is as good a reason as any.

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Patrick Modiano is a skilful confectioner. His bitterness is sweetened with finesse, clad in a carefully studied dullness that you end up falling in love with. “L’Horizont” is about two normal people, boringly normal, that we discover through the looking glass of a funny old man’s wisdom and through his memories. A man that’s come to peace with the world and especially with himself. This peace is as frail as his health, but it’s peace nonetheless. It’s a good thing that Modiano’s main characters are boringly normal, because the rest of the lot looks like a carnival made up of lunatics tripping on LSD.

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The book is well written and beautifully structured. It puts its spell on you quite fast and doesn’t let it fade away until the very end. It’s the first book by Modiano that I’ve ever read, but I’ve made my decision: in my house, it’s on the same shelf with Rushdie, Llosa, and Murakami. (The Parrot is a fan of those three writers, as you will discover in the near or distant future.)

My favourite quote in this book was:

“But this city is my age. I’ve also been trying, for the past few decades, to build perpendicular avenues, straight facades, signs with directions in the middle of the swamps and of the primordial mess; bad parents, a young man’s sins. And still, from time to time, I run into an empty lot that instantly makes me miss someone, or upon a row of old buildings whose walls bear the scars of war, like a remorse.”

You can buy this book here.

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images: www.telegraph.co.uk – Patrick Modiano; joyeuxluronsdelaculture.wordpress.com – “L’Horizon”, www.cparama.com – Auteuil, Paris