Category Archives: Books

Ten things I’m thinking….


1. Van Morrison is singing better than ever, this proves it.

2. Cerphe’s Up should be on every music lover’s bookshelf.

3. We need John Lennon today more than ever.

4. It’s scary times when elected officials, especially Congress, are more afraid of the President than the power of the people.

5. The half hour black and white Gunsmoke episodes are better than the full hour color episodes.

6. Saturday morning cartoons suck. I’m so happy I grew up with Hanna-Barbara and Warner Brothers toons.

7. The new Tarzan movie was great and critics are wrong most of the time.

8. Jim Gaffigan, Chelsea Handler, Amy Schumer and Conan O’Brien have never made me laugh.

9. The Beatles could have thrown their careers away in 1964 when the refused to play America’s segregated venues, instead they changed the world.

10. The bottom line is not money, it’s people.

Small Town Talk Speaks Volumes


Any book dealing with Bob Dylan is usually full of conundrums and partial truths, but any book dealing with Bob Dylan is usually a good read. Sprinkle in The Band, Van Morrison, Paul Butterfield, Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, Todd Rundgren and other rock notables and you should have an enjoyable word stew. Barney Hoskyns’ new book, Small Town Talk, is a very good entree.

Dylan was visiting his brooding, enigmatic manger Albert Grossman in Woodstock NY. He had just returned from a hard grueling career changing 1966 electric world tour with his backing band, The Hawks. He needed to re-charge. Woodstock was the ideal place for him and his family to leave the public eye and enjoy a more rural pastoral life. In other words Bob was tired.

That all changed on July 29, 1966 when Bob wrecked his beloved Triumph motorcycle. Reports of the time ranged from his death, to broken neck to career ending injuries… at this point the book takes off.

During his recovery Bob invited The Hawks up to the village to play, write, and have some fun. The Hawks became The Band, the playing and writing became The Basement Tapes and the fun became infectious. Word leaked about what was happening up in Old Woodstock, then the songs leaked out and then Big Pink leaked out,  then everything changed.

Soon every rock star passed through, visited  or moved to the tiny village, and with them came sex, drugs, and, you know, rock and roll. It was a startling invasion of not only musicians but their entourages: parasites, groupies, drug dealers and media. This book chronicles those stories from 1966 until today. Some of the best parts of the story is how the locality and its governing officials and town business owners had to deal with this new paradigm of change. (The Chief Of Police has some fine stories with regards to the driving escapades of certain members of The Band ). Money was flowing in, but the quiet farming/art community was becoming more Greenwich Village than Mayberry. A seamy underbelly was growing underneath the narrow streets of the beautiful old village. The uneasy balance between old and new Woodstock is as much a character in the story as any musician. It is also filled with sadness as many of the Woodstock icons succumbed to their demons: Richard Manuel, Janis Joplin, Rick Danko and others.

Small Town Talk is a wonderful read, and any rock fan who cares about the birth of the Americana genre should pick it up. I’m betting most Dylan and Band fans already have. My only complaint is I wish the author would have dug deeper into the locals’ reaction to the conquering horde, being from a small town I know how my father would have.

Available at your favorite bookstore and here at Amazon.

I’m a belatedly a friend of The Friends of Eddie Coyle


I came to this party late. The Friends of Eddie Coyle is a crime novel written by George V. Higgins and published in 1970. I didn’t read it then. It was on a tertiary reading list in my college American Literature class, I didn’t read it then. Two of my favorite crime authors, Elmore Leonard and Dennis Lehane count it as a masterpiece and a major influence on their work, I still didn’t read it. Not until until I heard chef/author/TV personality Anthony Bourdain say that he has been obsessed with this book for years did I finally give in to its power.

The power of this short, tight, taunt, tough novel is the narrative movement. It is moved by dialogue. I would guess that 85% of the book is pure dialogue. Beautifully written words unique to a tough Boston and unique to each individual character. I cannot remember any novel where the flow of the story and the places it goes are all captained by speaking.

The story is a standard crime drama, cops and robbers blurred by the lines they cross, heists, murder and betrayal. But it’s not the story that matters, what matters is how it is told.

If you are interested in the art of writing, if you are enthralled by words and how they create voice, if you are thrilled to read a master at work, I cannot recommend The Friends of Eddie Coyle high enough. I know that I will visit them many more times, they are that important.

Blood Meridian. It took me 20 years to finish this book…



I started Cormac McCarthy’s first Southwestern novel, Blood Meridian or the Evening Redness in the West, in 1994 and I finished it this year. It’s not a long novel and like most of McCarthy’s work beautifully written. I stopped and started over the years due to the themes and the perpetual bleak violence of the story. I mean violence.

Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood is a masterpiece of violence and violent people. His true account has horrifying passages but Capote’s genius lies with the words relaying these atrocities. They are poetic and beautifully structured. They slip a veil across the acts, that are no less horrifying, but soft focused by the rhythm of the telling.

McCarthy has not such an agenda, his tale of the 1849 Glanton Gang, scalp hunters massacring Native Americans and others for profit and entertainment, is clear eyed and terrifyingly focused. Adding to that stew is the introduction of a teenager, referred to throughout the novel as only “the kid” and the presence  of a genius murderous, maniacal pedophile called Judge Holden.

That violence runs to the other side, too, with a blistering account of an Apache raid that covers almost a page without punctuation. It is astonishing and also the point where I usually put the book down. It’s almost too much.

So why did I always return to these horrid tale?  One, I love McCarthy’s work, No Country For Old Men, The Road and All The Pretty Horses are some of my favorite modern novels. And as bleak and violent as they are, they cannot hold the darkness dripping from Blood Meridian.  Two, its critical reverence is vast and influential. TIME Magazine listed it as one of the 100 Best English-language Novels from 1923 to 2005. So I tried, again and again.

Finally this year I pushed through the tide of blood and finally caught the phantom’s coat that runs through the story. After a while the barrage of violence numbs you and you begin to feel the beauty of the words and the power of the narrative. I realized the reason I stopped was that it was too well written. McCarthy’s prose is unfettered in its depiction of the brutality, so much so it becomes elegantly elegiac . So much so you feel guilty admiring it but you decide to travel on to see where the red beauty takes you.

I cannot recommend Blood Meridian to anyone, it’s too polarizing. I will not read it again unless to go back to a certain passage for some clarification I may need. But I will never forget it. Judge Holden is etched in my brain and I believe is one of American literature’s great, if not greatest, villain. To prove my point of this work, when I think back on it, it is not just the carnage or the atrocities that reverberate in my mind’s eye,  but also an image of a big sad dancing bear.

“Only that man who has offered up himself entire to the blood of war, who has been to the floor of the pit and seen the horror in the round and learned at last that it speaks to his inmost heart, only that man can dance. – The judge”
― Cormac McCarthy, Blood Meridian: Or the Evening Redness in the West 

My Back Pages

The Wind in the Willows

Santa in his/her infinite wisdom presented me with the “New Annotated Wind in the Willows” for being a nice boy during last year. I have this book in a myriad of editions designed and illustrated by a myriad of artists. This huge volume sums them up with footnotes and insights to the time, place and circumstances of the author, Kenneth Grahame.

I discovered “Wind in the Willows” in Mrs. Ector’s 5th grade class at Leesburg Elementary School. She, noticing my constant doodles of Batman and Hulk, and my fevered reading of  Robert McCloskey’s brilliantly written and drawn, “Homer Price” (McCloskey was so much more than just “Make Way for Ducklings”, dammit), handed me a small tattered green-clothed book. The cover had gold embossed letters and a illustration of wildlife creatures looking up at a huge centaur-looking fellow playing a flute; it was my first look at “Wind in the Willows.”

In it was a world inhabited by Moles, Water Rats, Badgers and Toads all anthropomorphised with dandy vests, shoes, hats, hell, even motor cars. This wasn’t new, growing up on Huckleberry Hound and Quickdraw McGraw, this was a universe known to all kids. But reading their adventures and how they seamlessly interacted with “human” society and taking on the mores of the society was a mind blowing experience. Let’s not fool ourselves into thinking that I even knew what “mores”  were as a 10 year old boy occupied with The 3 Stooges, comic books and English rock and roll, but even then, these characters had me.

The shy to courageous Mole, the steady loyal Rat, brave, wise and stoic Badger and the wild, gregarious, iresponsible Toad (of Toad Hall), all taught me lessons of friendship, responsibility and courtesy I still try to hold on to today. And the most mysterious character of all I never grasped until later readings, The Piper at the Gates of Dawn. His role of spiritual protector and the river-maker of all things natural and pure in a world of  hopelesness and loss rings true in all our lives.

So whatever book holds a beloved spot in your soul from childhood, I ask you to rediscover it today, read and view it with your older eyes and let it take you to new journeys you thought long gone.