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A WHOLE NEW BALLGAME Book Blog Tour!

I’m off on a book blog tour to promote A WHOLE NEW BALLGAME! Interviews, excerpts, character chats and more!

Day 1: The Next Best Book Club
Day 2: Booked In Chico
Day 3: : Book Puke offers a review and a short chat about the characters and their motivations.
Day 4: I talk about my favorite ballpark foods over at Books, With Occasional Food
Day 5: The Guy Who Reviews Sports Books reviews the book and has an interview with me.

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Welcome back, Paul & Tommy

Replacements at Maxwells circa 84?  Photos by me. I really gotta buy a negative scanner.

It’s your band; you wrote the songs; you get to decide what to call it. We get to decide if we want to show up or not.

In celebration of this auspicious event, I present the very ‘Mats-centric chapter of my first novel, over at Scribd.

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Review: “Everybody Loves Our Town,” Mark Yarm


Mudhoney at the Croc, 2000

I moved to Seattle in March of 1995. I had to get out of New York City, and it was Seattle over Chicago or San Francisco because I had a friend offering me a free room in her house. I was a jaded New Yorker who knew that living in Seattle didn’t mean I was going to run into Chris Cornell shopping for green beans any more that living in New York meant you ran into Lou Reed when you went out to buy milk. It was post-grunge, post-Nirvana, post-Everett True. It was two years after Mia Zapata was murdered and not even a year after Kurt killed himself. It was before they routed Pine Street through Westlake Park (and that will only mean something if you have lived there long enough to remember the difference), it was still quiet and dark and odd in that very Northwest, very Seattle way.

I explain all of this to give you background why I was so interested in, and thrilled by, Mark Yarm’s oral history of the scene, “Everybody Loves Our Town”. I have to admit that I was dubious when I heard about the book originally; lots of people have traveled to Seattle over the years and tried to put together the pieces and figure out how musician A ended up in Band W, and most of them have gotten quite a lot of it wrong, or just plain didn’t get it. I am not a grunge insider by any stretch of the imagination, but there is a sense of things you get by being at shows night after night and reading the local papers and hearing the local gossip in real time that you can’t just get remotely or by arriving 15 years later and trying to put the pieces together. Add to that a scene that was insular by nature and by geography, which was then exploited internationally, and people just don’t want to talk, and if they do want to talk, they certainly don’t want to tell you the truth. Somehow, Mark Yarm got people to tell him the truth, or at least enough of the truth that he could find the rest of the pieces from someone else and put them together in a form that told the story of the Seattle scene.

The book is almost 600 pages of intricate, painstaking storytelling and research that tells what I would agree is the backbone of the story, the assertion that the Seattle music scene starts back with the U men, and that all roads lead back, through and around there. It’s a less sexy story than focusing on ALL NIRVANA ALL THE TIME, which isn’t true or accurate anyway, and overshadows everything else that happened, much of which was incredibly interesting and compelling. “Everybody Loves Our Town” is, I think, the right story, it’s the story that needed to be captured and chronicled once and for all, before people forgot, died, or just stopped caring completely.

I wondered how on earth Yarm, as an outsider, was going to get people to talk, and how he would parse his way through the politics and the inside baseball. I think that being an outsider actually worked in his favor – he wasn’t part of anyone’s camp, but had trusted individuals who crossed borders speaking up for him. He repaid that trust by not taking sides and letting people tell all of the stories, not just the famous ones or the good ones or the ones with the happy endings.

My litmus test these days with an oral history is whether or not I feel like all of the rumors were quelled or the loose threads were tied up and if all of the legends were told. I don’t need to learn something new but I want to feel like someone else who knows nothing about the subject will be able to acquire what I consider to be the essential basis of knowledge. I was definitely going to learn something new from “Everybody Loves Our Town” just on the basis of not having been there for the years that proceeded the scene. While I wouldn’t have traded my years of sitting on the edge of the stage at CBGB’s for being down front at Gorilla Gardens, Seattle deserves more props than it actually gets. If I had a dime for every person that dismissed “grunge” without actually knowing anything about it (including the fact that it was a media label), I would be a very rich woman. This is not about Eddie Vedder’s love life. This is a story about a scene that doesn’t exist any more, about the way people used to connect and listen to music that has vanished.

This isn’t a quick read. This isn’t an easy read. But it is a fun and interesting one. Oral history gets thrown around a lot these days, and in some cases becomes a substitute for actual writing or actual research. There is a skill to listening, to remembering, to finding the thread that someone you talked to a year ago brought up in a conversation you’re having with someone else now. It’s easy to be sloppy and think that it doesn’t matter, especially when you’re dealing with the history of pop music. Mark Yarm is not sloppy, and I found the scholarship of this book to be impeccable, to the point where I would suggest this book be considered part of the unofficial rock book canon. If you think grunge was bullshit and you hated the Pearl Jams and the Nirvanas and the Candleboxes, I would tell you to read it anyway, because Mark Lanegan is the best book club ever, because I clearly never gave Ben Shepherd enough credit, because of a million other things that you will get out of it that I didn’t or wouldn’t. You will be engulfed by this book and the 592 pages will fly by.

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big man talking.

Clarence Clemons is making appearances & doing book signing in support of his memoir, Big Man: Real Life & Tall Tales. Despite running on 3 1/2 hours of sleep (from being down in Philly last night and then working a full day today), I headed uptown to see if I could participate in the freak show. You waited in line, you bought a book, you waited in line again, then you were escorted into a room to wait some more.

I will be honest and say that Clarence was far more lucid and articulate than I was led to believe his current condition left him in. His eyesight was fine, his hearing a little wobbly – which is of course to be expected. He was funny, he was engaged, he was happy to be there. I have to tell you, given the prevailing rumors out there, I was expecting him to be more frail.

Clarence is appearing at these events with his co-author, Don Reo. While I appreciate that Mr. Reo is a celebrity in his own right and a friend of Clarence’s, frankly, I don’t care. I do appreciate that he (mostly) got out of the way and let Clarence talk. I will leave it at that, except to say that we do not need yet another person representing the position that every E Street Band show is the BEST SHOW EVER PERFORMED. It is possible to love every minute of being at a show and still be objective. History would be better served by the latter. They then took questions from the audience.

The Big Man was gracious and gave answers that were not always the PC version. Good questions were, “What sign would you bring?” (Consensus seemed to be “Paradise by the C”) and his favorite song (again, “Paradise”). Which album was his favorite to perform? Born To Run. (This is where Don Reo noted that he didn’t think the BITUSA songs ‘worked in the middle of the show'”. Funny, they seemed to work just fine in the middle of the show in 1985.) A good question about his specific musical influences. I will spare you the stupid questions. My companion asked – when we were getting our books signed – how he felt about having Curt Ramm around. Clarence said that he didn’t like it, that he “wasn’t one of the family yet”. (Although earlier the smile on his face when talking about “Higher and Higher” from Philly seemed to be the opposite emotion.)

My question: One of my favorite parts of the Rising tour was the instrumental break during “City of Ruins,” when Bruce and Clarence would do that little soul shuffle. And you probably noticed, every night, when they did it, they were having a conversation. It wasn’t just ‘Hey, dude, what up,” it was a pretty involved conversation that went the length of the break. I always wondered what they talked about during the break. My sister also did, and her theory was that it was just, “Hey, what you doing after the show? What are you having for dinner?” – which Clarence claimed was exactly what they were talking about. (I told him that was what we thought they were doing, so he wasn’t shattering any illusions.)

Instead of reviewing the event, I will offer you hints and tips as to how to get the most out of it:
1) Think of a question before you get there, and have another in your back pocket in case someone asks a similar question.
2) Put your hand up as soon as they ask if there are any questions. Get your question in quickly, get over any nervousness you have, the sooner you ask it, the better chance you have at being called upon. Once one or two questions are asked, people that don’t really have questions decide they do and raise their hand, and then they start asking stupid questions, which will start to try Clarence’s patience.
3) Do not ask about specific shows unless they happened recently. Do not go and ask about your favorite show from 1978 – he will tell you that there have been so many and he doesn’t remember it. Do not go expecting to have an E Street Band member validate your personal opinion that Show X was the most transcendent version of X song, ever.
4) Speak loudly and clearly and make your question brief and to the point. See note above about his hearing.
5) If you don’t have a question but just want to proclaim your love for the E Street Band, save that for the signing, you will get at least a few moments to convey that information. Do not, however, take up valuable public time to make sure we know you are the biggest and best fan in the world and have seen hundreds of shows over 30 years. You are boring.
6) If your child cannot sit quietly, DO NOT BRING YOUR CHILD. It is unfair to everyone else to have a fussy, loud toddler squirming during the questioning.
7) Do not ask questions about what happens after the tour, when the next album is coming out, when the next tour is, what Bruce is doing – even if he knew that Bruce asked them all to keep their calendars open for the next 9 months, HE CAN’T TELL YOU. Don’t waste the question.

As for the book — I have seen some good reviews of this book on the internet, but they make me feel like I got a different book than they did. On the other hand, there *are* good stories and good information in there, I just would have like to have seen a higher tone taken with the actual writing in the book. It is worth a read if you are a Springsteen fan, and at a minimum, the photos worth thumbing through at your local bookstore on a rainy day. I would suggest you peruse the book’s contents before making a decision as to whether a purchase at full list price is warranted. But it goes without saying, if you have an opportunity to spend an hour in the same room with the Big Man, you should go.

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book review: “All Over But The Shouting”

It is odd to eagerly anticipate a book about a time or place or event you were part of. By “part of” I mean nothing more than I was one of the great unwashed, one of the thousands of people who discovered and fell in love with in the Replacements while v1 of the band were still an active, functioning unit. I never stopped to count back then but by a rough guess I must have seen them at least two dozen times, and that would include travel to outposts like Philly and Trenton and Boston and other locales within that magic three-hour radius from NYC that translated into “reasonable after-work drive” back then.

If anyone should have been the one to write this book, it was Jim Walsh. He was there on the front lines, in the hometown, knows the leading actors and the bit players equally. He knows the geography and the landscape. He knows the history by rote. His eulogy of Bob Stinson still brings tears to my eyes. I have been waiting for this book, eagerly, since I heard about it. I put the release date on my calendar so I could get it as soon as it was available. (The last time I did that was for the Strummer biography, which I wanted so badly, I ordered the import from the UK.)

The book is billed as “an oral history of the Replacements” and I for one thought that on the surface, this was the absolute, 100% true and right concept for a book about this band. They were the people’s band, so let the people talk. Given that there was an active, vocal community of ‘Mats fans online from the second the internet was available to people who weren’t rocket scientists (one of the first things I ever did online was to subscribe to The Skyway), I knew there was no shortage of people willing to talk and share… and existing material to pull from.

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this says it all, really

“Because Steve Perry’s cover story for the October 1989 issue of Musician magazine called them “The Last, Best Band of the 80s,” and the next month, Jon Bon Jovi wrote a letter that asked, “How can the Replacements be the best band of the 80’s when I’ve never heard of them?”

from all over but the shouting, review forthcoming

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book review: Everything I’m Cracked Up To Be

Everything I’m Cracked Up To Be is a memoir chronicling Jen Trynin‘s catapult through the music business jungle. The subtitle is “A Rock And Roll Fairy Tale” which isn’t exaggeration; she went from obscurity to having 11 labels following her around everywhere she went, being the target of a classic major-label bidding war, and then – and then –

almost.

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