Sunday, February 23, 2020

Alice Cooper, Golf Monster: A Rock 'n' Roller's 12 Steps to Becoming a Golf Addict by Alice Cooper with Keith and Kent Zimmerman

Here is a surprisingly sensitive song from Alice Cooper.  He wrote it for his wife.  I think the video is cute.  I especially like it because I'm a big fan of those old crime noir stories and movies.

Alice Cooper has been faithfully married to his wife for 43 years.  They have been to hell and back together, but she stuck it out and they're still going strong.

Alice Cooper, Golf Monster: A Rock 'n' Roller's 12 Steps to Becoming a Golf AddictAlice Cooper, Golf Monster: A Rock 'n' Roller's 12 Steps to Becoming a Golf Addict by Alice Cooper
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Often when one reads books or listens to interviews of rock stars or actors, it's surprising, if not appalling, to hear how inarticulate or boring they are in real life.

This is emphatically NOT true of Alice Cooper. I don't know if it's the make up that made me think he was just a brainless rocker-not that being a rocker makes you brainless; most of those guys are music and business wizards, which is why they're so successful-but I was pleasantly surprised to discover the guy who makes his living looking and acting like a psychotic harlequin is brilliant on so many levels.

In Alice Cooper, Golf Monster: A Rock 'n' Roller's 12 Steps to Becoming a Golf Addict, we learn that the man in black leather, strait jackets, chopping up baby dolls and screeching, "Welcome to My Nightmare" started out as Vincent Furnier, a pastor's son.

I really enjoyed hearing Cooper's step by step account of growing up in a healthy, loving household, even though his family struggled financially. They lived in Detroit, then California then finally Phoenix. By the time Cooper was in high school he was a cross country jock as was most of his fellow future Alice Cooper band mates.

Cooper gives us a step by step account of how he and his fellow Coopers began playing and how they slowly bit by bit made it into the big time.

I must say I found his honesty refreshing. Most famous people like to keep their rise to success a closely guarded secret. They were nobodies, then they were zillionaires. The rest of us are going, "uh, what happened in between?"

Alice Cooper does not do that. I never have had someone so clearly and articulately explain how their band achieved success.

Of course there's the legend of the name and a lot of urban legend that surrounds it. Alice Cooper explains that while other bands were coming out with all these weird and wonderful, catchy names, his band decided they would go in the opposite direction.

Cooper states that he decided on "Alice Cooper" because it sounded like the little old lady down the street who bakes cookies for the neighborhood kids. In the beginning, before they were known, their band would be introduced and the audience would be expecting another surfer band or ballad singing group, or even a pot smoking hippy group.

Then a bunch of raunchy goths in white paint make up and black leather would appear on stage.

Cooper recounts their first stage experience with other performers of the day. The audience was a crowd of hippies high on acid. They had been listening to bands like Jefferson Airplane, Janis Joplin, or Jimi Hendrix. Everyone was just laid out and tripping.

Then Alice Cooper came on stage and started singing songs about trying to escape from an insane asylum. He said that by the third verse the entire place was empty. High hippies weren't ready for Alice Cooper.

What I found most interesting was his analysis of his music and how they created and arranged it so that it would work and have the most effective sound. It was not unlike listening to a composer/conductor of classical music explain how he or her creates their works. Cooper reveals great insight into the human psyche and what connects people to his songs and how they create his loyal following.

Some of Cooper's story is a common one for most rockers: their ascent into stardom, than their descent into alcohol and drug abuse. Then finally their deliverance from those demons. With Cooper it ends with a journey into another addiction.


Intertwined with Cooper's personal story are his pointers and life applications pertaining to the game of golf. Yes. Alice Cooper is a serious golfer and has played on several celebrity tournaments.

The last chapters are a testimony of his Christian faith and where that has taken him and why he chose to continue performing. Although he has changed the lyrics to some of his songs, he sees his shows as satire and the Alice Cooper on stage as the villain everyone wants and needs to defeat, which happens when the guillotine falls.

I read this book in a couple of sittings. It is highly readable, entertaining, and I recommend it for all of us old and new rockers out there.

Rock on, Alice!

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And for absolutely no reason I am posting a photo of my sister's cat.

Sunday, February 16, 2020

Dark Passage by David Goodis

Here Sarah Chang plays Sibelius Violin Concerto in D minor

Josh and I attended friends of ours' 30th wedding anniversary at a rather swank restaurant Friday.  This fellow presided over the festivities.

Call me weird, but I love cows.  I think they're beautiful and I have my eye on a book that I will be buying and reviewing before the year is out.

Well, I hope he led a good life before he met his maker.

Dark PassageDark Passage by David Goodis
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
David Goodis is a recent discovery and a happy one at that. I had read Shoot the Piano Player in an anthology so I was encouraged to give more of his stories a try. This one, in my opinion, surpasses Shoot the Piano Player in story and character development, suspense, and looking into the dark corners of the human soul.

Vincent Parry is condemned to life in San Quentin for killing his wife. He claims he is innocent, but his wife's dying words were that he did it. The prosecuting lawyer persuades the jury more by slaughtering the man's character than providing concrete proof.

Through a series of fortunate events, Parry manages to escape from prison and, after several close calls goes into hiding. But if he didn't kill his wife, who did?

There are many characters in this book, many suspects, and every chapter ends with a close call, leading the reader to believe it's all over for Parry.

The characters are very interesting, each of them believable, but also representing a type of person:

The woman who believes in him and wants to help him.

The woman who is psychotically obsessed with him and wants to destroy everyone and everything she can't have.

The woman who held him in contempt, even up to her dying breath, accusing him of her murder.

The man who seems to want to help him, but actually has ulterior motives.

The men who are in power to turn him in, but show a compassionate side and a surprising amount of insight and accurate measuring up of a man's real character.

Then those that are caught in the cross fire of Parry's drama and end up dead or desperate.

Goodis, himself was a desperate man. His characters are outcasts, innocent people who are in the wrong place at the wrong time. Loners who must escape their misfortunes.

The best part is the writing. Parry thinks a lot and at a gun fire pace. We read his stream of consciousness throughout the book, since it is all from his point of view in limited third person.

Even though Goodis will never be ranked with Hemingway, I found his writing to be comparable and often surreal.

A movies was made of this novel, starring Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall. I remember seeing it, but I don't remember how it ended. I guess I'll have to watch it again.

Goodis also wrote The Fugitive, which was made into a TV series and also a movie, starring Harrison Ford and Tommy Lee Jones.

Goodis was a kind of fugitive himself. He lived with his parents and schizophrenic brother and would haunt the seedy neighborhoods of Philadelphia. His last slumming escapade ended with him getting badly assaulted. He died shortly after. Maybe Goodis wrote himself into all of his stories.

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Sunday, February 9, 2020

The Infernal Library: On Dictators, the Books They Wrote and Other Catastrophies of Literacy by Daniel Kalder

One of my favorite pieces is the Earl of Oxford.  I hope you enjoy this performance by the Eastman Wind Ensemble.

I traveled to the Florida Gulf Coast to bring in the new year with my parents.  I may have told you that my mother has stage four lung cancer.  It didn't stop us.  Every evening we watched the sun set and took her on walks (in her wheel chair) or just drove as close as we could to the beach and enjoyed the scenery.

One day we visited Destin.  My mom took a nap in the car, so my friend Felicia and I walked up and down the beach while my mother slept.

Felicia is a friend of mine here in Texas.  She lives alone and cannot drive so I asked if she'd like to take a road trip and she did.  It was nice to have a companion for a change.  Since my son has moved to China, I go it alone, because my husband can't get the time off.

Destin, Florida

Felicia getting as close as she dares to the water.

The Infernal Library: On Dictators, the Books They Wrote, and Other Catastrophes of LiteracyThe Infernal Library: On Dictators, the Books They Wrote, and Other Catastrophes of Literacy by Daniel Kalder
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
The Infernal Library by Daniel Kalder is one of the best nonfiction books I’ve read in recent memory. He took a tedious subject and turned it into a rip roaring good history about the reading and writing habits of twentieth century tyrants.

Not only do we get to understand the historical background of the likes of Hitler, Lenin, Stalin, Mussolini, Mao Zedong and others, he intertwines it with a fairly full biography. This provides the reader with the political and cultural context which inspired these bully boys to write and allowed them to rise to power.

It is impressive that he can write so colorfully and at times hilariously about plowing through the most tedious literature ever to blight the earth and brainwash millions. His use of hyperbolic adjectives, similes and metaphors perfectly drive home to the reader just how mind-numbing these works are. I applaud him that he survived. I never could wade through such evil tripe.

And there was plenty of it to be had. These guys apparently found writing reams of gibberish, turning reality on its head, and creating a Utopian fantasy centered around their own godhead, a type of narcotic. They got high on their ideas and the best part is they got to spray entire populations with their works like napalm.

Really, wouldn’t that be every writer’s fantasy? To force everyone in your country to buy and read your books? Think of the money to be had. No more begging an agent to read the first chapter or negotiating with a publishing company to print and distribute it. All the publishing companies would be arm wrestling each other to print it, since they knew that every single citizen was going to have to purchase it.

What fascinates me, and what Kalder gives less attention to (because it’s not the main thrust of his book) is how such bores got into power in the first place. Lenin wrote most of his theories in Switzerland and mostly against other Bolsheviks. Stalin wrote while exiled in Siberia, Hitler was in prison. In case anyone see a discrepancy with the previous paragraph, I should point out that most people were not reading their literature before these men came into power and were forced to.

Sources of inspiration for many of these despots were Nietsche, Karl Marx and Frederich Engels. Their literature in turn became inspirations for future megalomaniacs. After the fall of the Soviet Union, there were plenty of power mongers in the freshly autonomous satellite countries willing to take over and create their own utopias where everyone worshiped them. In Turkmanistan Turkmenbashi made his book required reading to pass a driver’s license test. His book lay alongside the Bible and Koran in churches and temples. In the bookstores, his book was all you could buy.

This book increases my fascinations with the personality cult. The rabid ecstasy that an entire population responds to their leader’s writings. Mao Zedong’s Red Scarf Revolution among the Chinese youth in the sixties is one example, but it was so in every country under a totalitarian regime. Young people are especially vulnerable to pie in the sky political and economic ideologies.

Speaking of Mao, I thought his writing particularly worthy of note, because he had to twist Marxism around to an unrecognizable shape in order to prove that it would work in a country that never had a proletarian generation. Amazing what a person can do with an army behind them to muscle in their own unique fantastical slant on another work of fantasy. But when the imagination is involved the possibilities are limitless.

I cannot comprehend how one person can wield that kind of power over so many. Not only physically, that comes later, but mentally, which is how they get into power in the first place. How can people allow themselves to become so brainwashed? They have to be getting something out of it.

Kalder deftly proves how literacy and education is not the magic wand to bippity boppity boo wham! produce an enlightened society. It depends on what you read and how you interpret what you read. It’s fine to read bunk, as long as you recognize it as bunk. What concerns me is that in today’s American Universities, students are not taught how to think but what to think when reading the great literature of the ages. Or they are not being taught to read it at all. Dead white males are to be avoided and female literature may only be read terough a feminist lens. Inferior literature is made required reading because the criteria has become the author’s race, gender and sexual orientation, rather than whether they can actually write well. This has had the undesirable effect of making young people, not only crippled with unrealistic expectations of the real world, but also makes them unbearably arrogant.

The only objection I have to Kalder's marvelous book is his comparison of these writings to the U.S. Constitution. Why he added this is a mystery, because the constitution was not written by tyrants who then brainwashed the population into bloodthirsty revolutionaries.

He seems to think it’s the same kind of personality cult that compels Americans to preserve the constitution in its original state (France and Italy change their constitution all the time!), as though to believe something is true is to be brainwashed. He should re-read some of his own points, namely, that as soon as a tyrant fell from power, his literature rapidly fell into oblivion. Lies can only persevere with an army behind them. True ideas, like, say, all men are created equal, endure.

I find it interesting to note that Kalder moved from his native Scotland to live in the Austin, Texas area. Hmmm….could it be that he prefers the opportunities and safe guards our “antiquated document” provides him? Perhaps he should not bite the hand that feeds him.

But lets not end on a negative note. This book is brilliant, the writer a genius at wit, a veritable D’Artagnon with the pen and I can not recommend this book too strongly.

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Sunday, February 2, 2020

The Von Bulow Affair by William Wright

Here is a dazzling performance of Ravel's Gaspard de la Nuit.

I stayed with my parents in Florida over New Year's, bringing in the New Year with them.  I've told you all that my mother has stage four lung cancer, but she is doing very well.  She's back home and, while her energy is gone, we're able to drive to the area beaches and enjoy the sand, sun and, in the case below, rain:

Artistic, isn't it?  It was raining hard and I took the photo from inside the car.  What you see is the distortion caused by the rain on the windshield.  I like it.  Rather like an impressionistic painting. We drove as close to the water as possible.  

It was cold and rainy outside, but warm and cozy inside my car.

It cleared up a little finally.

The Von Bulow AffairThe Von Bulow Affair by William            Wright
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
In 1979, Martha "Sunny" Von Bulow collapsed into a coma and was not rushed to the hospital. Only after the maid, Martha, begged Sunny's husband, Claus, to get help multiple times, did he call the doctor, but only several hours later.

Sunny recovered, but in 1980, she was found lying on her bathroom floor, unconscious, bleeding from the head. She had been like that for hours. This time she never recovered and stayed in a vegetative state for the next twenty-eight years.

Sunny's children from a previous marriage, along with Sunny's maid, Martha, believed that Claus Von Bulow intentionally murdered his wife by injecting her with insulin.

William Wright (1930-2016) was a writer who attended the court case and interviewed family members, lawyers, financiers, witnesses and others involved in the affair, not the least of which was Claus Von Bulow himself. The only one he could not interview was the victim.

Wright's book only covers the first trial, in which Von Bulow was convicted of two counts of attempted murder (Mrs. Von Bulow did not die until 2008). There was an appeal and with different lawyers, Von Bulow was acquitted in the second trial.

In the meantime we get a glimpse of the luxury and comfort the very wealthy enjoy and I must say, while I did not covet it, I found certain aspects of it appealing. It must be nice to have a roomy apartment on Manhattan's upper east side near Central Park. I bet it beat the heck out of the studios I lived in, when I lived up there on the Jersey side or the cramped dorm I stayed in in downtown Chicago.

One of the things Sunny Von Bulow indulged in was eggnog. When they stayed in their mansion in Newport Rhode Island, around Christmas, her butler made up pitchers of eggnog for her to indulge in at her pleasure. This was brought up, because high amounts of sugar can cause someone with hypoglycemia to go into insulin shock. Insulin shock is considered the cause of Sunny's comas.

While I was reading I thought, "Hmmmm....pitchers of eggnog just for me...."

It's an interesting thought to simply have everything you need without worrying about how to get it. I've never had that. However, I have been happily married to a man who loves me and I'll take that any day over roomy apartments and pitchers of eggnog

Sunny Von Bulow, for all her wealth (which was 75 million at the time), could not seem to find real love. Her first marriage was to a European belonging to that class of post-war penniless aristocracy who welcomed the American rich class. It was a mutual admiration society. Europeans married into money and the Americans got to add a title to their name.

However, there were cultural conflicts. Sunny's husband, Prince Alfred of Auersperg saw nothing wrong with having open affairs and was surprised that Sunny's definition of marriage included fidelity. The marriage lasted eight years and produced two children.

A few years later Sunny married Claus Von Bulow, who was not titled gentry and personally added the "Von" to his last name. Their marriage was not happy either and they were contemplating divorce when Sunny fell into a coma. The fact that Von Bulow was seeing another woman who insisted he divorce or she would leave him, provides a motive for him to rid himself of Sunny, while retaining the comfortable and extremely wealthy lifestyle he was accustomed to.

Wright describes the whole affair as an open and shut case, but I have to say, I did not find him to be absolutely objective. It was easy to forget that he himself was not an eye-witness and that all the incriminating evidence was based on hearsay, primarily from the maid and reinforced by Sunny's two oldest children.

There is much circumstantial evidence to make Von Bulow a likely suspect. However, one can want to leave one's spouse, want to keep her millions, and bad mouth her to everyone in sight (he told many friends that Sunny had a drinking problem-this was later refuted by family members and house servants in court) without actually having murdered her.

Maybe he did want his wife dead. Maybe he tried to kill her by injecting her with insulin. I really don't know. The lawyer for his second trial, Alan Dershowitz, has also written a book. I'd like to read it, even if it's slanted the other way, just to get another view point.

All in all an interesting read.

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Postscript:  Not to get political, but I just read Alan Dershowitz is representing Trump in the impeachment trial.  Since Dershowitz is liberal I think this should prove interesting.