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R.E.M. Inside Out

R.E.M. Inside OutOrder this bookStory: Journalist Craig Rosen collects anecdotes and information about every song on R.E.M.’s albums from 1981 through 1996. Rosen draws on his own interviews with the band plus many of the articles and books on the band in print at the time to talk about production techniques, instrument lineups, lyrical inspiration and other tidbits. Heavily illustrated.

Review: There are a number of good books about R.E.M., so at first glance it might seem like this relatively short, photo-laden book is superfluous. But its subtitle suggests the niche that Rosen has managed to find and fill quite well. Every song gets at least a few lines of discussion, and many get considerably more. Some of the detail is probably best suited to the hardcore R.E.M. trivia fan who’s interested in things like the source of the siren wail on “Leave,” or why Buck plays drums on the 11th untitled song from Green. On the other hand, someone not fully immersed in the band’s lore might appreciate this quick history that focuses primarily on the band’s recording career (as opposed to live performances, work with other artists, personal biographical information, or political activism, to name a few topics covered in detail elsewhere). Continue reading

Remarks Remade: The Story of R.E.M.

Remarks RemadeOrder this bookStory: In a revised and expanded edition of this band-authorized biography, music writer Tony Fletcher recounts how Bill Berry, Peter Buck, Mike Mills and Michael Stipe made their way to Athens, Georgia in the late seventies and formed a band to play at a friend’s birthday party. Eventually adopting the name R.E.M., the band became leaders in the college/alternative rock movement of the 80s and broke through to enormous worldwide success in the 90s. Fletcher tracks their story through Berry’s departure in 1997 and Buck’s acquittal in a British air rage trial 22 years to the day after their first performance.

Review: Fletcher does a great job of collecting details of the band’s recording, touring and other activities and forming them into a coherent narrative that spans more than two decades. I personally enjoyed the earliest chapters the most, because Fletcher is so effective at bringing those days to life. He quotes Peter Buck as saying “I just figured that you’d meet the right people, then you’d get in a band, then you’d make the good music, and people would come and see it.” Buck makes it sound ludicrously easy, and yet that’s what R.E.M. made happen, thanks to talent, a lot of work, and a fair amount of being in the right place at the right time. I can only imagine what it was like to live that lightning-in-a-bottle experience, but simply reading about it in “Remarks Remade” is exciting in itself. Continue reading

Looks Like Another Brown Trouser Job

Looks Like Another Brown Trouser JobOrder this bookStory: In a series of recordings culled from his series of one-man lectures in the 1980s, Monty Python star Graham Chapman talks about life before, during, and after his years with the seminal British TV comedy troupe, including a painful stint with the Dangerous Sports Club, an extreme sports outfit (before that term was even invented) that brought bungee-jumping into the public eye (and certainly right into Chapman’s). Chapman also discusses his battles with alcoholism, his close friendship with The Who drummer Keith Moon, and the inevitable censorship battles that have followed his brand of outrageously silly humor.

Review: I was surprised to see this CD appear so long after Chapman’s death (in 1989, just one day short of Monty Python’s 20th anniversary) – one would have thought that interest had long since waned, and it almost begs one to ask “Why now?” The answer is simply because the man’s humor is still relevant – and still quite silly, thank you. For those of us who didn’t get to take in Chapman’s college lecture tour in the ’80s, this is the next best thing. (There’s also a DVD available, of which more in a moment.) Those accustomed to Chapman’s outrageously iconic Python characters may be surprised to find that the man himself, while still quite silly, can be surprisingly circumspect. Continue reading

You’re Him, Aren’t You?

You're Him, Aren't You?Order this bookStory: Actor Paul Darrow, best known to SF fans for his four-year stint as the amoral Kerr Avon from the BBC’s Blake”s 7, discusses his childhood, his early decision to become an actor, how his stage name came about (he reasons that “Paul Birkby” isn’t a name that would’ve kept him working), the many twists and turns of his career both before and after Blake’s 7, and of course, knowing who’s likely to be reading, spends quite a bit of time on his most famous role, deconstructing the character and even offering an episode-by-episode breakdown of his own analysis of the stories and his memories of making them.

Review: If there’s anything I’ve gleaned from listening to and watching some fairly recent interviews with Paul Darrow, it is that this guy who is remembered as one of British television’s quintessential badasses of the 1970s and 80s is, naturally, a soft-spoken gentleman with both a great deal of pride in his career, and a great sense of self-effacing humor. These traits are even more to the fore when Darrow puts his own story on paper. He comes across as one of the most pragmatic of actors – he freely admits that he’s taken some roles to set his bank overdraft right (!), and has put everything on hold for other roles (including Avon). Amusingly enough, much of “You’re Him, Aren’t You?” is a glorious exercise in name-dropping, with Darrow telling stories of his experiences with such luminaries as John Hurt, Ian McShane, Patrick McGoohan, and every Doctor Who except William Hartnell and Christopher Eccleston. Darrow admits that he wouldn’t mind piloting the TARDIS himself (Russell T. Davies, please take note, as I’d love to see Paul in a guest-starring role on the new show), and even has a fairly reasonable theory about the longevity of Doctor Who vs. Blake’s seemingly frozen-in-amber-and-never-to-be-continued state. Continue reading

The Actor Speaks: Paul Darrow

The Actor Speaks: Paul DarrowOrder this bookStory: Best known as the gravelly voice, stony face and acid wit of unscrupulous genius Kerr Avon from the cult favorite BBC SF series Blake’s 7, Paul Darrow talks about his career – both Blake-centric and otherwise – as well as reaching the age of 60, playing the role of Elvis Presley on stage, and performs several short dramatic scenes written especially for this presentation.

Review: Though it might seem, on the surface, to be a slightly silly idea to combine listener-submitted Q&A sessions with dramatic readings, this fourth entry in MJTV Productions’ The Actor Speaks CD series really, upon further reflection, gives you what you’d get from a really good convention appearance – except you can have that experience in your headphones rather than in a crowded convention center. As usual, Darrow is engaging and gracious when faced with the usual barrage of Blake’s 7-related questions, even though some of them have been asked before. (To give credit to the show’s producer and presenter, Mark Thompson, there did at least seem to be enough foresight to realize that the fans who would be this product’s target audience would be well-acquainted with the most frequently asked questions, so the Q&A material tends to venture further afield, or at least presents familiar questions with a twist.) As usual, Darrow demonstrates that he’s put an awful lot of thought into what made Avon tick – and what could continue to make him tick in any continuations of the story. Continue reading

Feel This Audiobook

Feel This AudiobookOrder this bookStory: Comedians Ben Stiller and Janeane Garofalo dispense relationship advice both plentiful and disturbing, using the rather unfortunate model of their own failed celebrity romance as the basis of their words of wisdom. Stiller later goes off on tangents involving new-age affirmations and an attempt to discover himself on a cross-country trip. Garofalo takes well-earned potshots at the Hollywood concept of what makes people attractive.

Review: Ben Stiller and Janeane Garofalo’s vocalization of their own Feel This Book self-help spoof does a rare thing – it exceeds the potential and enjoyment of the original medium when performed vocally. Continue reading