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The Outsider "Muso" (London)

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Bruce Springsteen: Live - VH1 Storytellers [DVD] [2005]
Bruce Springsteen: Live - VH1 Storytellers [DVD] [2005]
Dvd ~ Bruce Springsteen

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Eloquent, modest, self-aware Boss, 11 Feb 2012
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
A very revealing format, Storyteller calls on artists to explain their craft. Some are obviously better at it than others, and the Boss must come close to topping the leader board. Filmed in 2005 just after the release of the disappointing Devils and Dust, this episode of the series is not in the least disappointing.

Springsteen is a naturally nervous man, hard working and serious and he takes the craft of songwriting much more seriously than most. His explanations are always lucid and honest, and his natural charm overwhelms the viewer - he builds incredible respect and admiration throughout.

Two things disappoint - one is the show begins fantastically well and ends less so, and the choice of songs (due to album plugging) is not always the best. I was surprised how lacking his explanation of the deep irony of Waiting for a Sunny Day, and he skips through The Rising - one of his most incisive, personal songs as if he doesn't want to reveal anything. But I now know all I could ever want to know about Devils and Dust, Brilliant Disguise, Nebraska and Thunder Road - all revealing.

I will second what all the reviews mention - Bruce Springsteen is worthy of respect no matter what you make of his music. He is a human being of great feeling and real charisma, arising from personal integrity.

The Beatles: The White Album
The Beatles: The White Album
Price: 13.91

2 of 13 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant Pastiche, 6 Feb 2012
When I was a teenager - back in 1968, I was 18 - I loved the Beatles. I thought they were original, trendsetters and supremely talented. Now, after all these years, I realise that the 'fab four' were over-hyped, very derivative and, though great in some ways, were not as fab as I thought.

I remember listening to this record over the Christmas/New Year at a party just after it was released - I did inhale - on a pair of headphones. Wow! I paid no attention to the huge gaps on this - and on every other Beatles album except Rubber Soul and Revolver - I just loved the sound. Over 43 years later, the record still sounds good. But it is not nearly as good as it was in my youthful memory. The true star of the Beatles was George Martin - he was the greatest producer of the 1960's bar none. The spirit of innovation and experimentation belongs to him even more than the band. In fact, without him there is no way this group would have transcended the childish pop they originally produced.

The truth is, the Beatles wide variety of sound proved they had no centre - no core sound. Once they sounded like Buddy Holly, then the Shirelles, then... The White Album is a collection of pastiche, for the most part, that proves the thesis. Some of the pastiche is great, there are a few original tracks that are brilliant, but if you go track by track, you'll see what I mean.

* Rock and Blues pastiche - Back In the USSR, Yer Blues, My Monkey, Helter Skelter

* Musical Hall pastiche - Obla Di, Honey Pie, Good Night, Birthday

* Country pastiche - Rocky Raccon, Don't Pass Me By

* Broadway pastiche - I Will, Martha My dear

* Noise/crap - Revolution 9, Do It In the Road, Wild Honey Pie

15 tracks leaves little time for original gems. There are a few:

* Blackbird, Mother Nature's Son - McCartney

* Happiness is a Warm Gun, Cry Baby Cry, Julia, Sexy Sadie - Lennon

* While My Guitar Gently Weeps- Harrison

The rest are just brilliantly produced mediocrity. The truth is the Beatles didn't have very much to say, but they did say it very well. It makes me sad to say it, but like most of their output, there is not a lot that's great on this. They were better in 1966 - Rubber Soul and Revolver are their best, by far. Sgt. Pepper is beautiful sonically, but often, the songs are dreadful (Within You, Help from my Friends, the title track, etc.).

It hurts me to say it - the Beatles were the most over-hyped act in popular music. Their moments of brilliance were far fewer than we imagine. They only started being great in late 1965, and by 1969, it was game over. They produced some brilliant stuff, but so did the Stones (also pastiche, of course,) the Kinks, Traffic, etc.

Compared to Bob Dylan, they were just another pop band with a great producer.
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Nov 4, 2012 5:24 PM GMT

The Sisters Brothers
The Sisters Brothers
by Patrick deWitt
Edition: Paperback

5.0 out of 5 stars Civilization Creeps, 4 Feb 2012
This review is from: The Sisters Brothers (Paperback)
This is a great, fun to read second novel from a Canadian or American (born in British Columbia) much in the line of the Coen Brothers. It has a distinctive narrative voice - that of Eli Sisters, the fatter, younger dumber brother, with an unusual cadence, that lifts the novel another notch from the plot and themes explored. The chapters are short, eventful and entertaining.

The novel is one of redemption, of the taming of the Sisters Brothers, hired killers, into something like human beings. Eli is desperate to escape his life of killing, while the elder Charlie is a father killer from his youth, who actively enjoys inflicting pain and killing. The journey the two men take towards civilization (represented by the man they are hired to kill) and the end of their life of crime is funny, sad, full of twists and turns. There is so much to enjoy in the storytelling that even a light reader will be thoroughly entertained. For those of us who like depth, there is plenty to wallow in. It is reminiscent of True Grit and Little Big Man, as the whole style of the storytelling works so well.It handles the heavy stuff effortlessly.

I think De Witt is a skilled, fascinating writer who should produce more great work. Buy it, read it and spread the word.

The Master and Margarita (Penguin Classics)
The Master and Margarita (Penguin Classics)
by Mikhail Bulgakov
Edition: Paperback
Price: 7.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Imagination Run Riot, 2 Feb 2012
If one were to offer stars for imagination, this would get six. But as an attack on the culture of Stalin, this oblique attack is formidable, multi-faceted and would have been very brave indeed during the purges.

Of course, this book is a fascinating historical document - very well written and translated - by a prominent playwright on the purges and culture of Stalin. Disappearances, magical happenings, deals with the Devil - they are all here, imaginatively and beautifully presented. Bulgakov did not survive 1940, and we have no idea what he was really capable of as a writer. This book is often thrilling, delicious and offers a glimpse into the mind who could have been Russia's greatest 20th Century writer. Unfortunately for all of us, his great book went unpublished till 1965, and he was dead 25 years.

Any plot summary is uncalled for - suffice it to say, that if you don't know what happened during the Stalinist purges, most of this will fly over your head on a broomstick. I wish I knew the names of all the real characters he was writing about, but I can only imagine what added layers of meaning would be added. It is wildly funny at times, quite shocking and brazen its boldness.

Probably a masterpiece - I wish I knew more to judge it properly.

The Better Angels of Our Nature: The Decline of Violence In History And Its Causes
The Better Angels of Our Nature: The Decline of Violence In History And Its Causes
by Steven Pinker
Edition: Hardcover

8 of 10 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Men are to blame, 14 Jan 2012
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
Steven Pinker is one of the 21st Century's greatest public intellectuals, extending his expertise from language to human nature. His latest book is his most adventurous, and for the most part succeeds brilliantly at demonstrating the dramatic decline in violence over the last 3,000 years. Using sharp, readable prose and endless graphs, Pinker demonstrates his counter-intuitive point till the reader has no choice but to agree. And he is unafraid to blame those who cause violence - men - and those who stop it from happening - women. No wonder Pinker credits Rebecca Newberger Goldstein with being his greatest influence at the end of the preface, for shaping his worldview - she his third wife (he learned nothing from the first two)!

The remorseless progress of humanity towards less violence followed first from the change from hunter-gather societies to agricultural ones - a decline of over 500%. Pinker is a believer in reason, and as reason progresses over the centuries, death rates plummet. Not only does he chart the decline of violence, he charts the benefits of peace, the rights revolution, the growth of empathy and the rise of our intellects (!) due to exposure to reason in society.

He hardly puts a foot wrong, balancing his facts and observations. But he fails to exert the same discipline over men's dominance, rape and violence towards women. Where is the evolutionary biological explanation so evident in every other chapter? How did men evolve to become this way? For Pinker, women play no role in society except as victims and punch bags of men. I get no sense of a two way struggle between the sexes - were men just too violent to compete with? For equals, it's like they never existed until the second half of the 20th Century. Suddenly then, macho men are made look foolish - feminism crushes these rape hungry fiends in a matter of a few decades and brings world peace. He relentlessly pummels men, blames them for burning witches, battering and raping millions of women. He also speaks up so often about men hounding homosexuals that you'd think some of his best friends are gay - and you'd be right - his personal tutor was gay!

Yet he is fearless in showing the higher murder rates in the macho 'red' states compared to the pacific 'blue' Northeast. He shows how blacks out-kill whites (not civilized by women, and pursuing their own justice). He reveals how a small number of criminals with violent histories commit a huge percentage of violent crimes and murder. He calls bigots of past times 'morally retarded' - Winston Churchill sounds like a beast when he describes India. Best of all, he makes the amazing and true claim that as a result of access to schooling and reason over the last 100 years, IQ rates have rocketed, and that reasonable people are MUCH less violent. Some of these points are worth the 700 page slog alone.

I am a great admirer of Pinker,who like Richard Dawkins, brightens our world with a clear, rational light. This book, not flawless, is wonderful, easy to access, full of brilliant discoveries and observations, and repays the effort of reading. It is, however, tinged with misandry, and this can affect how you accept or reject the book as a whole.
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jan 30, 2012 7:41 PM GMT

Price: 9.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Four Piece Drive, 2 Jan 2012
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This review is from: Brothers (Audio CD)
The Black Keys have added white keys and now sound a complete band. Having been a fan of Magic Potion and Attack and Release for the simple beauty of the riffs, the catchiness of the songs and the invention displayed by this two piece, I like Brothers for its deliberately less White-Stripes approach. Now they sound like a band, not some odd 3 wheeled vehicle, and they are all the better for it. A few detractors may criticize the more adult production, but I see it as inevitable progress. I think Dan is one of the best riff writers ever, and the whole thing smacks of greater professionalism in a positive way. Still simple, bluesy, energetic and committed, this is one great record.

El Camino
El Camino
Price: 5.01

5 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars White Keys Added, 30 Dec 2011
This review is from: El Camino (Audio CD)
Purist fans of the two piece Black Keys have expressed their doubts about the latest, and possibly best of the Black Keys contributions to R&B based white rock - but they are wrong. This is one fabulous disc.

Building on the expansion in Brothers - a great record by my standards - adding a bass and keyboards, and a new producer -not only does not hurt the Black Keys, it makes them a great normal band. Dan writes, sings and plays great songs, and Patrick adds his drumming, production and sense of insanity to one of the great iconoclastic bands of the last decade.

From the kickoff track, Lonely Boy,the album shows its wares. It fills the ears - Stop Stop, Nova Baby, Run Right Back. Where are the dud tracks, I kept asking myself? Nowhere on this record is there a dull moment, an unmemorable riff, a foot placed wrong. Yet it still has some of the rough edges of earlier recordings, the unpolished sound is still there.

Fresh as a daisy - and in the UK in February, this is a must own, must see band.

NASCAR Record & Fact Book
NASCAR Record & Fact Book
by Sporting News
Edition: Paperback

5.0 out of 5 stars Fabulous Va Va Va Voom, 30 Dec 2011
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
Any NASCAR fan will love this book - it is chock a block with data and pictures. My 10 year old son took it to bed with him every night for a week. I want one for this 2011 season to make my racing days complete.

Return Of Little Big Man (Panther)
Return Of Little Big Man (Panther)
by Thomas Berger
Edition: Paperback

3.0 out of 5 stars Mr.Bigstuff, 30 Dec 2011
The long awaited sequel to Little Big Man (a five star effort) disappoints. It is charming and well written but without the shape and meaning of the first, great novel. Little Big Man had a great story arc - the end of the Indians, from an unusual point of view - Jack Crabb - who seems to be in the right place/wrong place at the right time. He is like Woody Allen's Zelig, standing next to the great figures of the age. The fabulous voice in the first novel is still here, but the material is much less compelling. In the first, he taught us about what the Indians really were like - scalping philosophers- and made them sing.

Berger takes up the story from Custer and then puts Jack and us cheek by jowl with Bill Hickock, Buffalo Bill, Annie Oakely, Queen Victoria, etc. Stop! I thought to myself, this has more name dropping than a Heddda Hopper gossip column. While we could almost believe Jack in LBM, in the ROLBM, his credibility is shot to pieces. The story becomes a set of anecdotes along a time line, featuring famous people, and not a compelling tale. Worst of all is the awful romance between Amanda and Jack - dry as a bone, without real passion or incident and full of deus ex machina (coincidence).

Three stars for the writing, 0 for the story. Disappointing, sorry.

Adam, Eve and the Serpent (Vintage)
Adam, Eve and the Serpent (Vintage)
by Elaine H. Pagels
Edition: Paperback

5.0 out of 5 stars Christianity - We're all evil together, forever!, 9 Dec 2011
This is a brilliantly written, subversive little tome that would make Richard Dawkins purr with pleasure. Though she is very sympathetic to Christianity, any non-believer would see what a hash Christianity has made of the world for 2000 years.

Originally, according to the author, Jesus challenged the corrupt authorities and ushered in freedom of choice on a scale never before matched. Like the Jews who believed in free will, Jesus went further - you can and should, leave the trappings of the world and live a godly life. You could improve yourself. This challenge to authority worked to spread the faith - those conservatives could buy the message and envy the ascetics who lived a life dedicated to purity. Increasingly, the religion became anti-sex and intolerant. This reached its climax in St. Augustine who made up the doctrine of original sin.

This doctrine says that Adam and Eve's mistake corrupted the human race forever, and no matter what, baptism can't cure it. He won the scholarly debate against saner men, and the rest is history. This negativity has become Christianity's calling card ever since, and made the religion life destroying as a faith.

Pagels writes clearly and knows her sources - the truth emerges steadily over the course of 150 pages. I could not put it down. I came away impressed by her erudition, and convinced that religion - Christianity especially - played a role in making life even worse over the course of the centuries.

Read it and weep.

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