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Book Review: Big Man Real Life & Tall Lies, Clarence Clemon's memoir
As Bruce Springsteen begins the Wreckin Ball tour, the 6’4” and 250-pound Big Man will be missed. Fans and band members a like will remember Clarence Clemons playing the tenor sax, and if you look close enough you just may see the a shadow in the background because he can’t be far away from the venue he loved. He died last year, June 18th, 2011 from stroke complications.
In 2009, Clemons with the help of his good friend Don Reo published a memoir, Big Man: Real Life and Tall Lies. It will make you cry a little at his passing, but it will also make you laugh. You will also realize that he was more than just a big man in stature. He walked a broad path that touched many people.
Several incidents lead to the meeting of Springsteen and Clemons in New Jersey giving music fans a sweet blend of two wonderful personalities and musicians resulting in decades of great music. Two of the more important ones include his father’s decision to buy him an alto sax for Clemons’ ninth Christmas instead of a train. The other one occurred in Jamesburg, New Jersey, 1969.
Most people would have quit, and accepted failure but not Clemmons. He was scheduled to try out for the Cleveland Browns football team. He played semipro ball, coached at a reform school. Clemmons calls the incident a “mystical, deeply profound experience.” The motor mount broke on the dark blue Buick Regal he was driving. The car shot up to a 100 miles-per-hour, and slammed into a tree. It nearly killed him, and wrecked his body. He would never play football again, but the world got a fabulous saxophone player.
Throughout the book, Clemmons remarks on the number of opportunities that came his way. As he puts it, “One amazing opportunity after another kept occurring. Sometimes I felt I was living a life in a book that had already been written.” To his credit, when an opportunity occurred, he grabbed it.
From the write up so far, one would think the book reads like an autobiography, but not so. It is an accumulation of short stories. Many of which tell a who’s who of the entertainment industry. It includes stories about his encounters with Bob Dylan, Jimmy Buffet, Don Reo and of course Bruce Springsteen. The readers learn about life on the road, concerts, and being a celebrity.
Their wild capers may stretch the truth a little bit. Especially the gray sections of the book, Clemons and Reo admit in the preface these sections may not be exactly accurate, but they swear the rest of the book is factual. In the forward, Bruce Springsteen claims the stories come close to the truth, and he only knows of two stories that are not true. Read the book with a wink and a nod, but enjoy the story, and appreciate the “Big Man.”
Springsteen tour update: On the current tour Clemmons’ nephew, Jake Clemmons, will be playing the sax along with Ed Manion, an original member of the Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes.
After the Fall, Before the Fall, During the Fall, written by Nancy Kress, is a disturbing, lively piece of fiction.
In 2014 Earth’s environment crashed. Mutated bacteria killed the plants, and geological disasters reshaped the Earth’s surface. Whether they occurred naturally or not, no one knows for sure.
The survivors live locked in a Shell with only a single small window to view the world. Creatures called the Tesslies put them there. The survivors blame the Tesslies for the destruction of the Earth.
Initially the Tesslies saved/captured 25 humans and put them in the Shell. They were given machinery and tools for survival, but this did not suffice. Twenty-one years after the Earth’s collapse, only four survivors and six offspring barely cling to life. The survivors' children suffer from mutations and sterility. Without fresh supplies, mankind will soon cease to exist.
Recently, the Tesslies provided the humans with a time machine, but it came with strict rules. Adults using it die. It only accesses 2013, the year before the disaster. The machine activates randomly, and the children have no idea where it is sending them. They only get 10 minutes to steal things before the machine grabs them back.
In 2013, Agent Gordon Fairford, FBI notices the disappearance of the children, and starts an investigation with mathematician, Julie Kahn. She discovers a mathematical pattern to the thefts, and attempts to theoretically predict where the next abduction will occur.
Julie and Gordon provide an important element to the story; they give Kress a means to paint a bleak picture of society, a culture of greed and selfishness.
In After the Fall, Before the Fall, During the Fall Kress modernizes and expands on Alfred Hitchcock’s and John Steinbeck’s 1944 movie Lifeboat. The movie places nine survivors in a lifeboat after a German U-boat sank their ship. The boats occupants must deal with questions about their survival such as doling out food and medicine.
Kress asks her characters to solve these situations and more. The survivors of the Fall face challenges that would have been taboo subject matter in 1944.
Pete, Ravi, Caity and Paolo form the band of time traveler thieves. They’re around 14 years old, and struggling with developing their identity in a world with few role models, but they're responsible for the future of mankind. They steal blankets, clothes, and food.
Their pilfering campaigns spread beyond the basic necessities to include toddlers from their cribs. The population of the future needs people with non-mutated genes to perpetuate the species.
This band of juvenile delinquents answers to the survivors' alpha female, McAllister. She instructs the adolescents on survival in the old world. She also teaches them kidnapping techniques. Does the fact that she is saving mankind make her any better than Charles Dickens’ Fagan?
Pete and Ravi, barely past puberty, comprise the colony’s only remaining sexually active male members. They struggle with the concepts of McAllister as a Mother, an instructor, and a potential lover. They find themselves competing for McAllister’s sexual favors.
Kress asks the readers to evaluate their own morals and ethics. What ethical boundaries would you willing cross, if the survival of mankind depended on your actions? Is theft justifiable? Is murder? Is kidnapping children? Where does love and romance fit into a world with only a few people capable of reproduction? If you were the last women, and the only remaining male was a mutated 14-year-old, would you?
The use of the Shell teases the readers. It’s oval and white with seamless walls. Do the Tesslies intend for it to be an artificial egg giving birth to a new civilization or are they planning on making an omelete? Read the book and find out.
Kress boasts a prolific, award-winning writing history. She’s published more than 20 novels and four short-story collections since 1976. She has won four Nebula awards as well as a Sturgeon, a Campbell and a Hugo. In addition to her science fiction and fantasy, she teaches aspiring authors about writing.
After the Fall will be launched on March 20th at Visions of the Apocalypse, a conference being held at the University of South Florida Tampa. Book signings and reception will occur in the Education Building lobby at 6:00 pm followed by readings in the TECO conference hall. The conference runs from March 19-21, 2012.
Aldo Leopold, Father of Land Management
January 11, 2012 marked what would have been Aldo Leopold's 125 birthday. He’s historically important because Leopold was one of the
first environmentalists and conservationists as well as the founder of wildlife management. He spent
almost thirty years with the U.S. Forest Service, and taught Wildlife
Management at the University of Wisconsin.
Three concepts in modern environmental conservation are attributed to
Leopold. First he sought to establish primitive wilderness areas. He believed, we can’t manage the
land correctly, if no preserved spaces exist to use as a standard or benchmark. Primitive spaces should not have roads built through them, and they should be big enough
for populations to survive.
Secondly, Leopold wanted to reintroduce and maintain populations of predators in ecosystems. This would help balance populations through natural attrition rather than planned attrition or starvation. Environmentalist need to study wildlife areas as they once were in order to understand them.
Leopold believed in a land ethic. He considered land community property, and not a
commodity. The National Forest Service does not always share this opinion. He also believed people needed to do more
than vote for an environmentally friendly politician. He felt people need to actively protect the environment. This included all native plants and animals, and not just the economically viable or cute ones. It also means protecting the soil, air and water as well. He did not support monocultures or single species
operations currently endorsed by tree farms.
His view of land as property to be protected and not
exploited was a novel notion at the time. Among some people and companies today it is still
a novel notion. There are those today that still ignore the ecological value of
land, and its long-term use potential. They refuse to see the necessity of
preserving land for future generations.
In A Sand County
Almanac, Leopold summarized his life work and his conservation
beliefs. The book contains three
collections of essays.The first
part of the book describes one hundred twenty acres of land bought by him along
the Wisconsin River in Baraboo.He
referred to it as his sand farm.Leopold and his family spent their weekends restoring this little piece
of prairie. A portion of this land is still preserved by the Leopold Foundation.
The second collection of essays describes his travels while
growing up, and working for the Forest Service. The sights and adventures he
describes happened 70 to 100 years ago.Few alive today could describe these scenes, but Leopold preserved them
for us in his words. These essays are highly recommended for anyone wanting to
experience the American wilderness from over a hundred years ago.
In the last part of the book, Leopold presents his theories
on conservation, wilderness areas, and land management principles.He groups them together in what he
terms the land ethic. He basis these principles on over thirty years of
experience working closely with the land, and watching it deteriorate. He
writes about the decreasing quality of the water as well as the impact of the
extinction of species on the health of the environment. He demonstrates the
need for biodiversity in ecosystems.
Aldo Leopold laid the foundation for ecology and
conservation. He believed in biodiversity and sustainability long before they
became buzzwords and sound bites. Because of him we still have some primitive
areas to enjoy, but they are becoming fewer. He fought to keep cars out of
these areas. However, today, people would prefer to drive-up, take a picture and move on to
the next attraction rather than hike-in, turn off the cell phone and enjoy
a massive amount of data regarding the early 1960’s in the United States, and
the events leading up to the assassination of John Fitzgerald Kennedy (JFK).
The small town flavor and the development of the local characters give the book
a plus. However, if you’re expecting a Stephen King horror story, forget about
it. Instead, think love story, romance and R-rated sex. It is not a typical
Stephen King horror story.
Instead, King stepped out of his safety zone, and for the
most part, he carried it off. The story has strong characters, and is good
historical fiction. You’ll enjoy his protagonist Jack Epping, a.k.a. George
Amberson. You’ll root for him as his relationship with librarian Sadie Clayton
grows. The reader will wax nostalgically for the little Texas town of Jodie,
and a slower way of life. It will remind you of Larry McMurtry’s, Last Picture Show.
In the early part of the book, King resurrects the Clown
from his novel, It as George passes
through Derry, Maine. However the scare doesn’t really go anywhere. In this
book, you’ll get no vampires. Instead, you get a real-life demented fellow, Lee
Harvey Oswald, notorious communist, wife beater and the man who assassinated
King had two main messages he wanted readers to take away
from this book. Oswald acted alone, and history resists change. He uses
extensive research to support his stance that the assassination did not have a
government cover up component or unknown participants. King also repeatedly
showed the difficulty associated with changing time. It resists being changed, and you certainly can't predict the outcome.
King is a master storyteller, and a successful author. Most
of the book reviews endorse 11/22/63
with accolades. However, this reviewer feels the story could have been stronger
by spending a little time on the editing table. King teased the reader with a
taste of the eerie from Derry, Maine but he never developed this angle. It hung in the
background throughout the story, almost as if King wanted to use it more.
If you like books about John F. Kennedy or Americana, buy
the book. It’s well written and interesting. If you’re hoping for a horror
story, then look for something else.
Book Review: A
Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness is the first novel in the “All
Souls Trilogy”. The protagonist, Diana Bishop comes from a long line of
witches. Her lineage traces back to Salem and beyond. However, she refuses to use
her inherited magic. After all, that’s what got her parents killed.
Diana works as an academic, and her current research on
alchemy has her delving into the ancient manuscripts at Bodleian Library in
Oxford. Unfortunately for Diana, one of these is the Ashmole 782, an ancient text that causes the netherworld of
vampires, witches and daemons to snap to attention.
Bishop becomes ensnared in a centuries old feud between the
not so mystical beings. She has no choice, but to embrace her witching powers
as Oxford employs a number of witches, vampires and daemons. They form quite a
nasty crowd, and all of them want access to the Ashmole 782. In particular, geneticist and vampire Matthew
Clairmont wants it, and maybe her as well.
Diana and Matthew soon find they share a number of common
interests. The reader gets treated to a food and wine feast throughout the book
as the main characters sort themselves out. Diana and Matthew share a strong chemical
attraction for each other. They must determine if it is similar to the
relationship between a mongoose and a viper or is it more like Romeo and
Juliet? To gain time, they flee from England to Europe, and then to upper New
York. As the story ends, they travel backwards in time.
The second book in the Trilogy, Shadow of the Night is scheduled for release in July 2012. The main
characters return to Elizabethan London so Diana can polish her witches’ skills
from some of the greatest witch and warlock masters of all time. Being a
vampire, Matthew already lived through this era once, and he must deal with
some enemies from his past.
The author, Deborah Harkness hails from the burbs of Philly.
She’s also lived in Chicago, upstate New York, and both Northern and Southern
California. She loves to drink her wine and write about it too. She is a fellow
blogger, and even though she can probably afford wallet tingling wine, her blog
provides witches wanting affordable wine some recommendations.
She spent many years, working, studying and doing research
in London and Europe, but mostly Oxford. Harkness has worked at many famous
libraries including the Bodleian Library at Oxford. Who better to write about
the inner workings of this esteemed depository of books.
Besides her writing, she currently pesters the minds of
young scholars at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles. Her courses cover European history as
well as the history of science. This is probably a good thing, since she
manages to keep the science of genetics in A
Discovery of Witches in terms we can all understand. She also provides the
reader with good science unlike some television shows.
Deborah Harkness incorporates her knowledge and experience
into writing Discovery of Witches. As
a result, the story flows smoothly and provides great entertainment. She began
this endeavor to answer the question, if there really are vampires, what do
they do for a living? Enjoy reading the book, and discovering the answer.
Tribute to Comedian Richard Pryor
After the Michigan State loss to the Wisconsin Badgers, I
needed a little levity, so I popped on Richard Pryor’s Live on the Sunset Strip. One thing leading to another, I decided
to write a little piece on Richard Pryor.
Pryor would have been 71 on December 1st had he
not died in 2005. He was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 1986. He also
experienced heart disease with quadruple bypass surgery. It was a heart attack
that killed him.
He’s best known for his abrasive often vulgar comedy about
black life on the streets, and his characters portrayed winos, junkies and
bums. Pryor’s hard life made him a perfect candidate for telling their stories.
Born in 1940, his mother abandoned him, and his grandmother
raised him. She ran a brothel in Peoria, Illinois. Pryor found himself exposed
to the seedier side of life at an early age. He was raped by a neighbor at the
age of six, and molested by a Catholic priest.Given his background, he was no angel. He had his troubles
with the law and addictions. At the age of 14, he was kicked out of school and
became a janitor for a strip club. He was also early discharged from the
military for getting into trouble.
One of Pryor’s lowest points would have to be June 9, 1980. He
set himself on fire. According to an article in People Magazine, Pryor admits he had
been freebasing cocaine for three days prior to the fire, but he says, the fire
occurred after the drugs were gone. He was drinking 151 – rum. He was lighting
a cigarette when the rum and he caught fire. The Internet Movie Database (IMDb) quotes Pryor as admitting
it was an attempted suicide. Regardless of the cause, Pryor suffered severe
burns. He spent six weeks in the hospital with 3rd degree burns over
most of his body. After this terrible episode in his life, Pryor cleaned up his
act so to speak.
In addition to his stand-up comedy, Pryor starred in
television and the movies. He wrote for shows like Sanford and Son, and did some directing. He wrote an autobiography,
and made several comedy albums. My favorite movies of his include Brewster’s Millions, See No Evil, Hear no Evil and Stir Crazy. My favorite album by him is Live on the Sunset Strip.
Richard Pryor’s comedy exhibits profanity and social
insight. He made us laugh with him, at ourselves and at society. Pryor actively
opposed animal cruelty and the use of animals for research. His work earned him
many awards including an Emmy and a Grammy as well as a lifetime achievement
award in comedy and a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
Richard Pryor, 1997 (limited availability)
If I Stop, I’ll Die:
The Comedy and Tragedy of Richard Pryor, John A. Williams and Dennis A.
Richard Pryor: The
Life and Legacy of a “Crazy” Black Man, Audrey Thomas McCluskey 2008
Jokes My Father Never
Taught Me: Life, Love, and Loss with Richard Pryor, Rain Pryor, 2007
Jay McInerney wrote Bright
Lights, Big City a quarter of a century ago. He spins the tale of a twenty something male growing upin Manhattan during the mid-eighties. It offers misguided love and eighties style club scenes. It reads fast,
keeps you interested, and you’ll want to read it cover to cover.
The reader never learns the name of the protagonist.
Instead, McInerney tells the story in the second person, you. It is an interesting approach that forces the reader to identify with the main character. For instance, "this isn't the type of bar you would find yourself in at this time of the morning, but yet, here you are."
character’s favorite party companion, Tad Allagash, works in the advertising field, but his primary occupation is partying. He keeps the protagonist well stocked in cocaine, and a constant supply of female friendlies. Tad knows
everyone. He gets drugs easily, the best-looking girls dangle from his arm, and
he knows where to find a party.
The protagonist in Bright
Lights, Big City parties all night with Tad and attempts to work all day. He works as a fact finder for a major magazine. This story takes place before the Internet. The job entailed thumbing through reference guides, and calling people to make sure information is accurate. His headlong plunge into
self-destruction comes about because of tragedies in his life, and he is not
mature enough to handle the difficulties.
McInerney's style makes this book a good read. He uses only active voice and dialogue. The lack
of passive voice keeps the story moving quickly. McInerney uses dialogue to tell the story. He doesn't do data dumps. New writers should study his style.
He Is Legend: An Anthology Celebrating Richard Matheson
Richard Matheson published his first short story, Born of Man and Woman, in 1950. Most
readers of horror and science fiction know him for his publications I am Legend, Hell House and The Shrinking
In addition to his short stories and novels, he wrote many
television episodes for several series including Twilight Zone, The Night Stalker and The Night Strangler. He worked on a number of movies including Twilight Zone: The Movie and Jaws 3-D. His I am Legend has been adapted to the movie screen at least three
times. Will Smith starred in the most recent rendition. Two of his other works made
into movies include The Incredible
Shrinking Man, and The Legend of Hell
Matheson’s stories do not border on the macabre and strange;
they stand dead center of weird and supernatural. His tales always end with an eerie
twist, and the reader should not expect a happy ending. His characters don’t
exhibit any redeeming qualities, and the reader won’t shed a tear for them.
Unlike in real life, the nasty protagonist actually gets what he or she
deserves from an even nastier antagonist.
He Is Legend pays
tribute to the great Richard Matheson. A notable list of current horror authors
utilizes their favorite Matheson story to create a new terror tale. The author
may choose to do a prequel or a sequel. They may choose to change the
characters around a bit, but keep the plot.
For instance, Joe Hill and Stephen King collaborate in Throttle. They slightly twist the plot
of Duel, a 1971 movie. Matheson wrote
it and Stephen Spielberg produced it. In this road rage story a trucker and a
motorist duel across the desert. In Throttle,
Hill and King, modernize the story to include rogue bikers, meth, and an
enraged truck driver. Stay alert for the emotional twists.
Mick Garris writes a prequel to I am Legend. In Matheson’s written version*, a viral disease killed
off most of the population. Bob Neville remains healthy, while Ben Cortman
turns into a cross between a vampire and a zombie. Throughout the story Ben and
Bob try to kill each other. In Mick’s story, I am Legend, Too, the readers find Bob Neville and Ben Cortman have
a history of antagonism for each other that stretches before the viral
outbreak. Matheson challenges society’s choice of what is normal? What is an
abomination? Garris asks the reader the same question, who is the villain? Who
deserves to die?
Return to Hell House
provides the reader with a prequel to Hell
House. Nancy A. Collins, author of modern vampire stories, gives the reader
a haunted house story. The previous owner, possibly now deceased, but most
definitely mentally diseased with a strong sexual appetite, treats the ghost
hunters to a ravaging time. Only young Benjamin Fischer escapes intact. Unfortunately,
he didn’t learn his lesson and returns to the Hell House at a later date in
Matheson’s version. Not a good read for young readers.
(1989) inspired Whitley Strieber’s Cloud
Rider, possibly the best story in the anthology. Strieber’s pens a
horror/science fiction tale of modern greed. Infinitely rich investment moguls
use secret technology to control the commodity market. With them more is not
enough, they also want the power that comes with it. They show no concern for
the individuals that get hurt in the process. In this lighter than air story
Chris Booker takes on the owners.
He Is Legend
contains fifteen stories of horror and science fiction modeled after Richard
Matheson creations. Some of the stories are a bit odd, but then so were some of
Matheson’s stories. The collection sought to offer readers a piece of nostalgic
horror, and they have accomplished the task.
* The short story, I
am Legend has a different ending than the movie versions Omega Man and I am Legend. The two movies also have different endings.
The American Civil War began in 1861 and ended on May 13th,
1865. Private John J. Williams, the last American to die in the war, lost his
life in the skirmish at Palmito Ranch, Texas. His death occurred roughly a
month after the war officially ended on April 9, 1865. Over 620,000 others
joined Private Williams in losing their lives during the war.
General Robert E. Lee commanded the Confederate Army of
Northern Virginia. His troops battled those led by Ulysses S. Grant,
General-in-Chief of the Union Army and Commander of the Army of the Potomac at
Appomattox Court House, Virginia. Lee hoped to break free of the Union Army
long enough to get supplies, but the Union Army blocked Lee’s retreat.
Surrounded by Grant’s soldiers, Lee surrendered on Sunday, April 9, 1865,
marking the end of the war. Coincidentally, this day also happened to be Palm
Five days later, on Good Friday, April 14, 1865, a most
infamous date in United States history, John Wilkes Booth assassinated
President Abraham Lincoln at Ford’s Theater, Washington, D.C. The assassination
occurred during Act III, Scene 2 of “My American Cousin.”
The American Civil War primarily resulted in the
emancipation of slaves, which was a good thing. However, it also resulted in
the loss of life and destruction of property. It destroyed agricultural and
industrial facilities across the country, but mostly in the South. For four
years, the imagination and ingenuity of the United States turned to improving
the tools of war. Guns, cannons, and mortars became deadlier. The war changed
means of transportation with improvements in trains, and iron hulled ships. The
military found new ways to utilize technology such as hot air balloons for reconnaissance and telegraph lines for
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